Tag: Dresden Files

Impala Nights: Part 1

I’m not the kind of guy who likes surprises very much.

I never had much in the way of birthday parties to begin with, but surprise parties in particular always rubbed me the wrong way. I mean, you want to celebrate my life by trying to scare me to death? No, thank you. It’s really difficult to prepare for that sort of thing if your friends are any good at keeping secrets.

And for a wizard, especially a professional one like myself, preparation is the name of the game.

The old house creaks under my feet as I make my way through it. I whisper a word to light the wick inside of the lantern I’m carrying, and pale orange light spills out into a circle in front of my on the floor. It’s something Bob the Skull helped me whip up, an old “bullseye” style lantern, with a minor enchantment that let me see ghosts and pierce minor veils. The word is that there have been a bunch of disappearances around the house, which is in a run-down neighborhood situated between downtown Chicago and one of its suburbs. It’s one of those areas you just keep driving past if you know what’s good for you.

But when you’re Harry Dresden, and someone pays you to look for their lost child in a place the police are unwilling or unable to go, you really don’t have that choice.

I make a face as the heat from the lamp starts cooking some of the dust on the floor and in the air. There’s a musty smell about the place in general, and the sudden heat source doesn’t help to abate that. I’m used to foul smells, but I wish I wasn’t. I’d much rather be back in my lab, helping Molly do some research into her father’s sword, Amoracchius, and trying to coordinate some of the activities of the Gray Council of which I was now apparently a founding member. I have a lot of things to deal with in my world, from vengeful vampire lords to ancient magical conspiracies, and this is taking time away from them.

All thoughts of the world outside of the house go flying out of my brain, though, when I step into the basement.

The world goes… weird. I feel off-balance, sick to my stomach, and get a headache, all at once. It lasts for a few interminable moments. Then, it’s gone. I blink, shake my head to clear it, and raise the lantern to look around.

The basement’s a basement. Cobwebs, mostly empty shelves, creepy corners. I turn, and look at the stairs I just walked down.

The stairs are collapsed.

They hadn’t made a noise. I shine the lantern into the threshold. There’s just enough room for me to step back through. I do, and the vertigo slams into me again. Once I recover, I’m looking up the stairs I’d just walked down, whole and intact. My brain finally gets through its warm-up cycle and I realize where I’d felt those things before.

The first time I’d ever used a Way into the Nevernever.

This was different, though. The Nevernever has a very particular feel to it. Stepping through (retch) a second time, it still feels like the real world once I recover. I walk through the basement to the storm doors, up the stairs and out, and look around. It’s the same neighborhood, still a Chicago no-mans-land, and nothing in my natural or wizardly senses tells me it’s an illusion or a construct. It’s real. Just… different.

“I hate surprises,” I say to myself.

As if in response (me and my big mouth), a engine rumbles up the drive on the other side of the house.

I stay low, and I Listen. The night’s relatively quiet, with just a couple of crickets that were silenced when the big car, some classic muscle-style beast, rumbles to a stop on the driveway. The engine sputters to silence, and I hear two doors open and close.

“Look, I don’t want to talk about your anger issues, okay?” The first voice is on the gruff side, and clearly annoyed. “I’m not your damn therapist.”

“No, you’re not.” The second voice is more refined, collegiate, but also exasperated. “You’re my brother, Dean. And you’re the only one I can talk to about this sort of thing.”

“You really want to keep doing this? Huh? In case you’ve lost track because you’ve been too busy flying over the cuckoo’s nest, we have a fucking Apocalypse to stop.”

There’s a pause.

“Then what are we doing here, Dean?”

“The last place we stayed at said that this house is where people have been disappearing. Come on, Sam. Some classic, old-school monster-hunting. Just what you need to put that anger to use. It’s what I do.”

“Yeah. And you’re so well-adjusted.”

There’s an audible shrug. “At least I’m not bitchin’ about it constantly.”

“And that’s healthy.” Sam sighs. “All right, come on.”

They come around the corner, flashlights in hand. Guess who’s standing there out in the open.

“Hi,” I say conversationally. “You boys lost?”

I lift my lantern to get a look at them. One’s tall, over six feet, with a lanky build, stylishly long dark hair, and a somewhat pained expression, probably from the end of that conversation. The other, shorter guy is built more like a boxer, all compact muscle and attitude, with close-cropped hair and narrowing, suspicious eyes. I know what they’re seeing, too – the silhouette of a guy in a leather duster holding a bullseye lantern in his right hand, and leaning on a large staff held in his left.

“Um. No.” The shorter one’s eyes narrow even more. His voice pegs him as Dean. “We’re… just passing through.”

“We saw your light,” says Sam. “We got curious.”

I make a face. One of those you boys are full of it faces. Molly says I’d make a good parent, with faces like that. I shudder to think what I’d be like as a parent.

“Well, then, you can keep passing. This isn’t something you guys want to be involved in.”

“Really?” Sam looks incredulous. I don’t blame him – I would, too.

“Really. There are monsters out here. Ghosts, at the very least.”

Dean nods in my direction, smirking. I can smell the smartass comment coming before he speaks. “So you, ah, watch that Ghostfacers show?”

“I don’t own a TV,” I say. “All I know is, I walked out of that basement in a city that isn’t mine, with my car nowhere in sight, and Goofus and Gallant rolling up here talking about the Apolcalypse.”

The young men stare at me.

“So,” I continue into the silence. “How about you leave the monster-hunting business to the professional wizard, get back in your car, and drive on down the road.”

“Wizard,” Dean repeated. “So… you’re a he-witch?”

I blink. “A what?”

Dean doesn’t let me clarify further.

Instead, he shoots me.

DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fan fiction. Harry Dresden and all attendant characters, locations, and creatures are property of Jim Butcher. Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester, and all attendant characters, locations, and creatures are property of Supernatural. Please support the official releases of both properties.

Book Review: Cold Days

Courtesy

“Turns out your friend here is only mostly dead.” – Miracle Max, The Princess Bride

It certainly seemed that Harry Dresden, Chicago’s sole professional wizard, was as dead as dead could be. He was shot at the end of Changes and spent almost the entire length of Ghost Story haunting his friends and watching them deal with the fallout of his absence. But it seems that death is too good for Dresden. Before his assassination, he entered into a pact with Mab, Queen of the Winter Court of faeries, to be her Knight, a bound mortal servant who is equal parts enforcer and hitman. Mab absconds with Harry to her ice fortress and, by trying to kill him on a regular basis as he recuperates, ensures she’ll get the most from her investment. By the time Harry is up and about on his own, events are already in motion back home that will force him to take up his old duties, as well as dealing with his new ones, all while struggling against the price he must pay for the deal he struck to save his daughter.

Jim Butcher is an author rather skilled at shaking up the status quo and keeping the stakes on an ever-increasing level. Cold Days is a great example of this. From the intimate, personal start of the tale in the frozen halls of Arctis Tor, we watch Harry come to grips with his recuperation and new station and abilities. When Mab gives him his first true assignment – assassinate an immortal – he returns to Chicago, and things almost immediately threaten to blow out of control. Disaster looms, friends question his loyalty and sanity, and someone is most definitely out to kill him, permanently this time. Now more than ever, Harry has to walk a fine line between power and discretion, and after the events of Changes and Ghost Story, he worries about the impact his actions will have on his loved ones.

This is where Butcher really shines. Despite his ever-escalating levels of power, Dresden remains a sympathetic and likable protagonist. He may possess powers tied into the very creation of the Universe and now has access to superhuman levels of speed, strength, and resistance to cold, but he still sucks at talking to people, especially those he cares about, and his plans very rarely work out the way he would like. Still, his friends are there for him, and his interactions with them are the high points of the book.

If I had a major quibble with Cold Days it is that, for all of its action and dealing with Harry’s return to Chicago and great character moments, it mostly feels like set-up. There is some pay-off of previous plot points, to be sure, and the ending is still satisfactory, but the introduction of the ‘true cause’ of all the bad news in Harry’s life feels somewhat uninspired. On top of this, the suggested influence this previously unknown threat has had on Harry’s life plays out more like a retcon than a major revelation. It doesn’t really detract from any of the over-arching drama of the story in Cold Days, but I felt that existing threats could have been used more effectively rather than introducing something new. But we’ll see how it plays out.

Despite my nitpicks, Cold Days is a worthy return to form for the Dresden Files. I’m quite curious to see what happens next, mostly because Butcher continues to write characters that I enjoy and care about. If you’re a fan of the Dresden Files… well, you probably already read the book. If not, I’d say go back to Storm Front and get caught up. It’s well worth your time if you like modern supernatural urban fantasy.

How I Met Morgan

Courtesy LionsGate Entertainment
I like my female protagonists to kick a little ass, too.

“I finished the first draft of a novel.”

I feel bad that I say those words with bittersweetness instead of a sense of accomplishment. I finished a novel. It should be a major accomplishment. A milestone I’ve kicked in the face on my rampant rise to superstardom. Instead I feel like I just made it to base camp on the slopes of Everest and I’m staring at the rest of the big cold bastard I’m going to be climbing inch by excruciating inch for the forseeable future.

It’s also probably not as bleak as I’m making it out to be, but I’m trying to be realistic about this.

There was a time when I didn’t know a thing about writing properly. Oh, I could write, sure. And I did. So much so that when I was in seventh grade I wrote a novel. It was a spy novel and it was, looking back, pretty awful. I’d filled it with cliches, nonsensical turns in the plot and a protagonist who was so idiotically perfect I wonder today how I managed to make something so absolutely putrid. Then I remember that I was about thirteen at the time and still figuring out how to talk to girls when all they wanted to do was get closer to the football players.

If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because I’ve talked about it before. More than once. Let an old man ramble, I’ve got a point to make.

Anyway, I realized not long after that my story was frought with problems. So I looked through it and realized that I liked things about the protagonist but there wasn’t enough bad crap happening to him. It occured to me that part of the problem might be that he was male. So I flipped the gender switch, called down some lightning to reanimate the thing’s rancid corpse, and out of it popped the character of Morgan Everson.

Now, she still needed work. And my first attempt at putting her through a novel, while better, still wasn’t all that great. I managed to finish it in my mid-twenties. A lot of bad shit happened that had me a little pre-occupied, and when I finally circled back again, I realized that while the novel was completely different, it still wasn’t terribly good. Oh, I’d written some good characters in addition to Morgan, but the story was still a little too contrived, a little too cliche, a little too amateur. By then, however, I’d happened upon the world of Acradea in my mental wanderings, so I spent a little time there instead.

Between rewrites of the novel that would become Citizen in the Wilds, I took a few stabs at reviving Morgan while shifting the story into territory that was, quite frankly, pising me off. If I’m thankful to Twilight about anything, it’s making me aware of the fact that there was a need for good supernatural modern fiction with a female protagonist who wasn’t a doormat. All of my attempts to get the novel off the ground that were variations of Morgan as a member of the BPRD (or my analog thereof) went nowhere. This pissed me off even more, and I channeled that anger into the last rewrite of Citizen (which, while decent, still needs some working. Get to that in a moment).

I had ideas born from sessions of World of Darkness tabletopping, notes scribbled about my take on a world beyond our own right under our noses, and Morgan waiting patiently for me to do something with her. It took some mental chasing of my tail, but I finally figured out that what was missing was a common element. I puzzled out the particulars, gave the guy a name, and tossed him into the woodchipper with Morgan hot on his heels.

The result is the first draft of Cold Iron.

I guess some of the bittersweetness comes from the long, hard road I’ve been on trying to get something decent to come out of all of this ambulatory grammatical masturbation. And I’m closer than I’ve ever been. I’m wary, however, that upon reflection I’ll realize that it’s too short, still a bit contrived and too much in a hurry to be awesome that it skips important moments in the lives of its characters. I want to look at it without disgust and with a minimum of mental fatigue (like that’ll happen) and prejudice born of other works. That way, when I tear it apart, it’s nothing personal.

My plan is to finish reading Ghost Story, finish writing the two (maybe three) stories for an anthology of ancient-myth-and-legend-in-varying-genres I’ve been planning (more on that tomorrow) and put Citizen through another rewrite. Once those things are done, I’m circling back to Cold Iron. Not a month or a year after that point, right away. I want to put more writerly irons in the fire. I need to push out more content. I’m not going to go anywhere other than another cubicle in another office if I don’t stay on top of this and keep my ass writing.

I’m looking forward to you all meeting Morgan. I think she’s pretty cool. But I’m not going to slap makeup on her, strap her into a skimpy outfit and kick her onstage to dance to hair metal. I owe her, and you, better than that. I feel exhausted because this is not the first time I’ve chased this woman around a plot structure, and I know it won’t be the last. But when I do finally hammer out a story that’s worthy of her, the idea is that I won’t feel exhausted or bittersweet or pissed off about it. The idea is that I (and, I pray, some of you out there) will consider it worth the wait.

Dresden Zen

Courtesy the Dresden Files

In the process of writing Cold Iron, which is still in progress, I’ve reached for inspiration and motivation from contemporaries in the field of supernatural detective mysteries. First and foremost and long overdue is my reading of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, a series of novels about a Chicago-based wizard who operates a private investigation practice. Beyond the appeal of Harry Dresden himself is Butcher’s take on the supernatural world. The more I read these excellent books, the more I find Harry encountering situations in such a way that can actually inform the life of the reader. It could be a case of me reading too much into some works of genre fiction, but as far as I can tell, Harry’s got some lessons to teach, and not just about the proper care and use of one’s blasting rod.

Lesson: True power comes from within.
Book: Storm Front

One of the first and biggest uses of magic we see in the series takes place about two-thirds through the first book. A demon comes calling on Mister Dresden at home, and our hero is unfortunately not dressed for the occasion. In fact, he’s not dressed at all. His magical implements are not at hand and he needs to muster a defense lest a series of novels quickly become a short-lived one-shot. He taps into the elemental powers of the thunderstorm outside and his own emotional power to find a way to succeed. Without much preparation, without tools, without even clothes, Harry prevails. It’s not just a testament to the power of magic but also to that of the human spirit.

Lesson: Keep an open mind; things aren’t always what they seem.
Book: Fool Moon

Having introduced his version of vampires in Storm Front, the natural thing for Butcher to do in his second book is introduce werewolves. In pursuing a particularly nasty lycanthrope called a loup-garou, Harry goes down a bunch of blind alleys of reasoning and supposition. He always realizes his mistakes and checks himself afterwards, but it does lead him into some bad situations with far-reaching consequences. In later books we see Dresden taking a bit more time to discern what’s going on around him, and it saves his bacon more than once.

Lesson: Unlikely friends can be the best friends.
Book: Grave Peril

In hunting down poltergeists and investigating why they’re so violently prevalent all of a sudden, Harry teams up with a man named Michael Carpenter. Michael is a literal knight in shining armor, though he often wears jeans and a flannel shirt instead of the mail & tabard. He carries a holy sword, Amoracchius, and chides Harry for his habits and occasional disrespect for the Almighty – without being a dick about it. He’s a legitimately nice guy, and turns out to be one of Harry’s best and most trusted friends. You wouldn’t think this to be the case, given the tension that often exists between people who live in the Bible and those who gather the forces of the world unseen, but this sort of unlikely alliance yields a deep and abiding partnership that borders on bromance. Of course that could just be my take on it because I have a soft spot for Christian characters acting like actual Christians and not being Bible-thumping douchecanoes.

Lesson: Nature is both beautiful and fearsome; treat it with respect and wonder.
Book: Summer Knight

The very nature of the Fae is that of nature herself – breathtakingly gorgeous, timelessly alluring and very dangerous. Harry knows this from experience and, coupled with his growing skills of discernment, wades into what amounts to a turf war between camps of Fair Folk with open eyes and canny thoughts. He appreciates the wonders he sees but controls himself accordingly to get his job done. It shows his growth as a character and helps the audience realize that, even when it comes to pixies and water-clad nymphs, this world he protects us mundane folk from is an extremely deadly one.

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