Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Last Days of Twisted: Guest Post by John Blackport

So here in lovely New England, we got slammed with a lovely snow storm...a trick instead of a treat!  I've had no internet connection over the last few days, but I've actually been one of the lucky ones because we've had power.  So you'll have to excuse my tardiness with the last two posts I had planned for my Twisted feature!  This being said, you'll be getting the last two posts today...first up, John Blackport, author of Raingun....

I’ve got the most shocking Halloween costume planned.

Everyone’s going to hate it! It’s offensive! It’s disgusting! I’m dressing up as one of the most depraved, miserable things in existence.

I’m going to jump out at passing Trick-or-Treaters dressed as an adverb.

Kids will run in horror, and even the most jaded adolescent roped into shepherding their siblings through my neighborhood will pale at the sight of such a horrible menace. The first batch of kids will run away screaming. The second batch will require years of therapy. Before a third batch can be traumatized, the police will cordon off my property with yellow tape, which will soon be lined by legions of outraged parents with torches and pitchforks. Police will wait for haz-mat suits, wondering how they’ll contain a threat like me in time to head off the military nuking the town from orbit.

Thanks to Anti-Adverb Hysteria.

Sometimes anti-adverb fervor is misapplied by an over-reliance on typing “ly” into Word’s "Find and Replace" function. This is because when it comes to overused adverbs, the most insidious of these DO NOT END with the -ly suffix: "just", "even", "quite" and "still". This can be confusing: “just” is good when used as an adjective, while “even” and “still” can each be used as a verb or an adjective; but when used as adverbs, they are often unnecessary.

Come to think of it, "often" is a distant fifth to that list --- because it's "often" unnecessary. (Not here, though!)

Anti-adverb hysteria also claims innocent bystanders. Decent, law-abiding adjectives can get caught in the crossfire of drive-by adverb hunters because the letters "ly" happen to grace their caboose. “Friendly” and “lovely” are the most obvious examples, along with “deadly”, “lonely”, “silly”, “ugly” and “smelly” --- all of which are useful adjectives to have around on Halloween!

I once wrote a scene once where a single mother --- a professional dancer --- was separated from her son after she was wrongly accused of child trafficking. As it happened, she was cleared a day or two later, and was taken by wagon to be reunited with him. It was a very emotional moment for this character: she was worried about her son’s safety, eager to hug him again, but still angry at having been falsely accused.

Coming out of the wagon, she slipped. I was not telling the story from the mother’s point of view, so I couldn’t get the reader directly into her head. But I felt it important to show --- not tell! --- the reason why she slipped just then (it was her emotional state). If I didn’t show the reason, readers may have thought the woman had been too nervous to eat (and was hungry); hadn’t slept (and was tired); or was eager to touch her son again (thereby leaping off the wagon before it had come to a complete stop). I didn’t want anyo f these outcomes.

Readers may have even ignored the fact that she slipped --- which I didn’t want either. Dancers don’t slip all the time. And mothers forcibly separated from their children don’t get reunited with them every day either.

I suppose I could have made a bigger deal of the woman’s slip --- I could have her do a faceplant into a mud puddle, for example. And if she was fifty pounds overweight, maybe I would have done it that way. But she was a dancer.

So I found it appropriate to add a smidgen more description to modify the verb, “slipped”.

To modify the verb, I suppose I could have used a phrase rather than an adverb. But the worst effect of adverbs isn’t their overuse, but the outrages spawned by the semantic gymnastics of writers trying to *avoid* them. The most common effect seems to be the Unwanted Prepositional Phrase, i.e. "in a sad lament", "with a happy lilt to her voice," "under her angry brow", “with a predatory look in her eye”, or the like --- which only makes the prose more wordy.

The purpose of including the scene of the mother-son reunion was to foreshadow conflict in their future relationship. Since it was expository, I had to keep the pace fast.. Nothing’s faster than one word. So I used . . . an adverb. I’ll bet you’re wondering which one! But that will have to remain a mystery.

Frankly, I’ve forgotten precisely which adverb I used. Looking it up would be difficult because ultimately, I cut that scene for word count. But if it hadn’t been cut, I would have kept the adverb!

And I’d do it again!

Try and stop me . . . !


Synopsis of Raingun:
Rick Rivoire is flush with money, women, and prospects. He protects his country as one of the Rainguns, an elite regiment of spellcasting cavalry.

But national policy drifts ominously into slavery and religious persecution, sparking rebellion. Joining the rebels could land Rick on a prison ship, in slave-irons --- or atop the same gallows where he watched his father hang.

The alternative looks no brighter. The status quo imperils Rick’s hard-won self-respect. Supporting tyranny would doom his dream to emulate the valiant swordswoman who braved a den of monsters to rescue the lonely, terrified nine-year-old boy he once was.

Rick can’t stay above the fray forever. He must either defend an aristocracy whose actions disgust him --- or risk everything he has.

Half of this e-book's royalties will go to the Scleroderma Research Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit. The story contains sex and violence, and is intended for adults only.

Excerpt from Raingun:
           "Those two are cute together, old and in love,” said Danya. “You mustn’t tell them that, though. Shall we sit?”
“I’m sure you want to sit again after singing so powerfully. So how did Joaquim lose his eyes?”
“In Fedyrshchenkoff. He was tortured, for stealing. When he was in the army.”
Rick’s blood slowed. “That’s awful.”
“The awful part was losing his eyes. But you knew that.”
“When did this happen?”
“Many years ago. He sold the army’s korba on the black market. He’s lucky they didn’t execute him.”
“Execution might have been kinder.”
“He had only one Gift left, even then. Or at least he said he did. No doubt that helped convince them to spare his life.”
“How long did they have him?”
“Oh, many months. Over a year, maybe two. You can see from the way he shuffles, his hip was broken too. Twice, with a hammer.”
“Why do all that to a helpless old man?”
“He wasn’t so old and helpless then. They hoped he’d give up names of the buyers. But he didn’t know their names, so that was that. Eventually they believed him and sent him home.” Danya finished rolling something between papers, lit it on the table’s candle, and brought it to her mouth to inhale. “But they beat him very often. He had a bad time.”
“How did he get through it?”
“Why don’t you ask him.”
“I can’t do that. It might upset him.”
“And so what? He’s blind. He can’t hurt you.” She grinned archly. “If he tries to hit you, you can run away.”
Rick tried to sound firm, but not too serious. “I will not force an amiable old blind fellow who reminds me of my grandfather to relive torture.”
“Oh why the hell not! He makes everyone else relive it. Some days he won’t shut up about it.”
“So he talks of it often? How did he get through it?”
“Well, Joaquim says. . .” she tapped her hand holding the gasper, trying to shake off ash it didn’t have. “He imagined Samantha’s face. When someone tortures you? They control your thought, so there’s no escape. But some people escape, back to comforting memories, and stay there.”
“What do you mean, stay there?” Rick didn’t like having his brow knit in front of Danya, because it didn’t show him at his best. But he couldn’t help it now. “Do you mean, they stay there forever, lost forever? Don’t the torturers try to drag them out?”
Danya exhaled, her face resigned. “I’m sure they do.”
“Like a wolf, trying to get at a rabbit hidden in a hollow log. Only the rabbit can’t bolt out the other side, because it’s stuck now.”
Danya surveyed him. “You’ve thought about this a lot, haven’t you?”

Raingun is available at: 

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  1. An ADVERB!!! Now that is truly horrifying! :-)

  2. The hunt for words ending in 'ly' in the quest for the extermination of adverbs can hurt many innocent bystanders: not just adjectives like 'lovely', 'lonely', 'ugly' and 'wily', but nouns and verbs like 'rally', 'gully' and 'tally' and even names like 'Willy', 'Billy' and 'Sally'.

    Checking a whole manuscript for 'ly'-ending words, and deciding in every instance whether it deserves to live or needs instant execution is a nuisance.

    But at least we have the 'find' function. Writers in the pre-computer age had to retype the whole manuscript.

    Maybe the best approach is to use adverbs sparingly in the first place, and get into the habit of using expressive verbs which don't need adverbs.

    I mean, actually, this would be really good...