Wednesday, February 29, 2012

110 Days to Go!

I'm committed.
The dates are fixed.
The form has been completed.
The check has been enclosed.
The envelope has been mailed.
Request for time off from work has been approved.

It's time to start counting down the days.


To what, you ask?  Why to Uncle Orson's Writing Class, of course!

Two twelve-hour days soaking up all the little bits of knowledge and experience that Orson Scott Card shares at his upcoming Writing Class and Literary Boot Camp come June.  There are four additional days of "Boot Camp" available, but alas, I can't afford to take that much time off work.  (And the actual Boot Camp is limited to 14 participants.)

Can you tell I'm excited about this?  Never before have I done anything remotely like this.  And it's in Greensboro, NC, no farther away than my daily commute to work!

Maybe I'll see you there?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wish Them Not Away

We are as much a product of our mistakes as we are of our successes. 
To wish them away is to wish away who we have become because of them.

I don't know to whom that little nugget of wisdom should be credited.  Although it came from my noggin, it may have originated in some other truly wise noggin first.  (Most profound proverbs usually do.)  In any event, I blame Rain Laaman for triggering it.  I read her Hypothetical Day post on Rain-On Sentence today and commented.  It presented an interesting question and generated numerous responses.  It's worth a look.  Which would you choose?

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Game of Thrones

Twas a month before April and all through my house,
Lay presents unopened, but not from my spouse.
To watch first or read, that's my decision,
I love my videos, but books yield precision.

Yes, it's true.  I've neither read nor watched these insanely popular tales penned by George R. R. Martin.  But this is about to change.

My brother, bless his heart, indulges my incessant blathering about all things medieval and fantasy.  Being the benevolent brother that he is, he even accompanied me to the theater for each new Lord of the Rings viewing.  I'm not sure whether he did so to watch the movie or to watch me enjoy it, but he went nonetheless.  And even he extols Martin's masterpiece that so many have come to love.  He's never read the books, but he does have HBO.

My daughter, beloved co-connoisseur of the genre, has bestowed upon me the box set containing: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, and A Feast for Crows.  This act elevates her to favorite daughter status, of course.  (The fact that she's my only daughter is irrelevant.)

So, from whence cometh my dilemma, you ask?  Well, it cometh from that benevolent brother I mentioned.  It seems I'm to be the happy recipient of the complete first season as shown on HBO.  (Yes, I do have cable, but the piddly amount of time I spend in front of my very nice television in no way justifies the added monthly expense of premium channels.)  

Therefore, he has been elevated to favorite brother status.  (The fact that he's my only brother is also irrelevant, mind you.)

I believe I've decided to follow my usual pattern.  Read first.  Watch second.  Complain third.  I've done this with so many in the past, including, but in no way limited to: Lord of the Rings, Sword of Truth, Harry Potter, even Michael Chrichton's Timeline and the forthcoming The Hobbit.  Granted, this usually happens simply because the books far predate the movies or television series.  Had I not read them until the movies or series began I'd have faced the same perplexing anguish.

I imagine it all boils down to the detail provided by each.  A two hour movie has no hope of capturing the richness of the written word's narrative or preserving the many sub-plots within the book's cover.  And then there's the audience to consider.  A reader can savor a chapter, put the book aside for a while and dwell in a world the author helped him paint, then return later for another fix.  In theaters (and to a lesser degree, our homes) we're trapped.  The most innocuous activities serve to distract and detract.  Think: This popcorn does NOT have extra butter!  or  I can't even find the men's room in this place! 

In this instance, I believe I'll read A Game of Thrones first then watch HBO's season one and pick back up with A Clash of Kings.  I'm working under the assumption, of course, that season one is book one.  Do tell me if that assumption is incorrect and I'll adjust my plans accordingly.  In the meantime I'll sit back and enjoy some music.  It sounds like A Song of Ice and Fire.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Happy Little Moment

A happy moment?  In the MIDDLE of the book?  How ghastly!  Happy is for the end, or maybe the beginning, but the middle?  Really?

Am I a wuss?  A sap?  Does this writer's heart bleed too profusely for his characters?  Do their constant dilemmas and turmoil tug too tautly upon the strings of my heart?  Have I burdened their souls to the point that I feel obliged to make reparations?  Am I seeking redemption for the woes I've cast upon them? 

And it's genuine nonetheless!  Not contrived.  Not obligatory.  It's not feel-good for feel-good's sake.  We're talking sincere, not counterfeit here.  And a little thing it was too, but crucial. 

Wait a minute.  Did I say crucial?  Why would such a brief, happy moment experienced by such a minor character in the middle of the book be crucial, I wonder.  My sweet muse breaks into a sly, little grin.  She knows.  And she's watching me piece it together. 

"Ah yes, I think I see now," mutters the newly enlightened writer in me.  This isn't about the now elated Terrin at all!  It's not about pleasing him.  It's not about him being pleased.  It's about revealing character--Daaron's character.

'Attaboy, Daaron, my little protagonist.  Show these characters who you really are.  You keep on growing, evolving, maturing.  You're doing this writer--and his muse--proud.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Muse Likes It White

Nothing like a forecast of snow to waken this southern boy's muse.  Whether it falls or not doesn't matter.   It's the anticipation that excites her.  She peers out the window and her imagination ignites.  And, fortunate for me, she likes to share.

Don't get me wrong.  North Carolina sees snow.  Maybe not North Dakota style snow, but the white stuff isn't mistaken for volcanic ash.  Chicken Little doesn't scurry through the neighborhood fretting about the sky.  It's just snow.  White.  Pretty.  Unless it sticks.  (In which case it better be enough to get me out school, I mean work, the next morning.)

Where will she take me today?  Maybe she doesn't know that herself.  But she enjoys my company when she travels.  And I enjoy hers.

I'm hoping it's to Aridhum.  Nomed's there.  As is a Steward Stone.  She's showing me a river.  A long one, with a swift current that skirts the Elmarain forests and Jerok Thel.  It runs through Selenve, big city, old, historic.  It's a hub of commerce trafficking in goods and wares from Osek-Dham to Tori.  But I don't want to tarry there.  We'll travel by foot from Selenve.  Aridhum is the destination I have in mind.  I hope it's hers as well.

Feb 18,2012 Fantasy Writer's Challenge

This week's challenge was:  
"What happens to the socks that go missing in the wash?"

So, I figure, who better to answer that than socks, right?  Unwilling to hamper the muse, I rinsed my mind and wrung puns for all they were worth.  (I gave up counting them.)  Let the groans begin!

"Not a foot deep in water and I'd done lost my mate."

"Too late, Woolard," Nylo giggled. "Crue's gonna spin us another one."

"Hadn't even got dark yet and she was gone."

Stretching, Woolard whispered to Nylo. "How many times does he have to cycle through this? Week after week, it's all I hear."

"Crue's been like this ever since he lost Poly. You know that. Best to just let him get it out of his system.  He gets all agitated if you don't let him finish."

"Poly was so athletic," Crue lamented. "She could swim. She was good at swimming. Doesn't make any sense. The surf wasn't that rough. The tide was out. I should have clung to her tighter."

"You did all you could, Crue," Nylo said. "Some things just aren't meant to be."

"We weren't even gonna stay in the water long--an hour, tops."

Woolard rubbed his heel and bent closer to Nylo. "You know he's flipped his lid, don't you?"

"Don't be so rough on him, Woolard. He can't help it."

"Poly wasn't his mate, Nylo. She was his twin! He's sick!"

"Just you be quiet. He gets enough static from the others already."

"We were quite the pair. Don't you think, Nylo?"

"I do, Crue. You two made a beautiful pair."

"Hey Crue," Woolard snapped. "Look over there. You see her? The low-cut? That's Brooks. Jordan Brand said she's been wanting to starch your fabric. Go talk to her."

"I don't know."

Nylo kicked Crue's toe. "Go ahead, Crue. Just walk on over there. It'll do you good."

"You won't gain anything just lying around."

Crue stiffened and rose just as the buzzer sounded and did as they urged. Watching Crue spin away, Woolard asked, "So, Nylo, what do you think really happened to Poly?"

"Don't tell Crue this, but I heard she left Washington and moved west, someplace a lot drier."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Those Pesky Characters

They spend so much time fussing with me. It's just not fair. Do I not think for them? Feel for them? Motivate them? So what, pray tell, is their problem?

I give them depth. I place them in believable situations. I fill their mouths with realistic dialog. I endow them with characteristics uniquely their own. And yet they rebel with frightening regularity. Again, why?

Yes, I know I toss one problem after another at them, bar their way with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, dangle their dreams mere inches from their grasp, all to satisfy readers they'll never know. But hey, it's all for the greater good, no? The tale must be told!

Elanna screams, “That's not me!” Tobin says, “I'd never say something like that.” “I'm not a helpless damsel in distress!” Abby rails. “I'm not evil,” Nomed keeps insisting, “I'm holy. Really!”

Chapter after chapter they complain, resist, and often downright refuse. Is it too much to ask of them that they simply comply? Well, yes! And I think I know why.

I crafted this beautiful character, gave her purpose, humanized her, allowed her to grow and develop and evolve. Is she obstinate because she doesn't like the life I've written for her? Is she upset that I made her hair blonde and not auburn? Is her stubborn resistance just her way of going on strike?

I've come to the conclusion that the answer to those questions is a definitive no. Instead, I've learned to accept the possibility that this wonderfully stubborn character has matured to the point that she now knows herself better than I know her. And this is her way of making sure I acknowledge it.

So, in the chapters that follow I shall move my ear a little closer to the page while I write. And listen. I can only imagine what marvelous revelations she has in store for me if I simply let her be who she has become.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Gift of Time

There are just not enough hours in the day. Twenty-four and no more.
No money-back guarantees. No cash refunds. Void when wasted.
Use them well.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cathryn's Bay

Richard Daniels stared out the window and watched the girl die. 
He felt neither fear nor disgust as the bearded attacker shook her free of his impaling blade. His eyes revealed no horror as they watched the assailant strip everything of value from her. His heart never leapt. He never gasped. He knew and accepted the fact that death’s prey was often young. He never even heard her scream, not that it would have mattered. He was focused more on the bay. There should be more boats, he thought, with taller sails and brighter colors. The gruesome murder needed better contrast. He considered the matter further. She was a nameless girl slain by a nameless man for nothing more than the rings on her fingers and the chain about her neck. That was how it was in this part of town. Nameless faces, nameless streets, but the bay…the bay was called Cathryn’s.

Odd that his mind tarried on the girl, he thought. There were other things that demanded his attention, things far more important than nameless faces. But he couldn’t help it. How ironic it would be if her name, like the bay, had been Cathryn. Again, he decided it didn’t matter. The girl wasn’t important. The attacker wasn’t important. They were merely diversions, welcome reminders of life on this side of the bay. They distracted him from pondering the bay and what lay past its northern shore. Woe to any man who places his last dream in the hands of a woman. Yet he had done just that and was beyond regret. She would be his salvation. He would make sure of it. He couldn’t bear the thought of eliminating her. He had eliminated far too many already. Another glance at the girl caused him to sigh--and the sigh left his breath on the glass.

Streaking it with a wipe of his hand, he watched three boats ride the salty breeze into the bay. Proud sails stood on tall masts, rainbows of color splashed on white. They were late, he thought. They should have been there when the girl was robbed and murdered. He decided her name was Cathryn. No one would be able to tell him otherwise. And he liked the name. She still lay on the curb. Blood oozed through her white blouse and trickled onto the concrete. Her attacker had already fled. Cathryn was pretty, he decided. Although a little late to notice, he thought. He would like to have seen how the wind caught her chestnut hair, how the cool air colored her cheeks, how her topaz skirt ruffled and folded as she walked. It was a pity she had to die so young. He would like to have been able to get to know her. He sighed again. These streets were not for young girls--especially girls alone. Where had she been going? It couldn’t have been far. Again, he decided it didn’t matter and shrugged.

“Want me to warm that up for you, Mr. Daniels?” the waitress asked. 
He nodded and slid his mug toward her as he answered, “Please. And it’s Richard.” 
She refilled his coffee with a forced smile and scurried off to another table where she lapsed again into her mantra. The coffee smelled strong, so strong it drew his eyes away from her short skirt. He hated coffee that had sat too long on a hot burner. It made it too bitter. Sugar wouldn’t do. Bitter was better than bittersweet. He frowned as he sipped. The apple pie would help. He still had several bites left. He stabbed it with a fork, dirty long before he used it, and stuffed a chunk into his mouth. He nodded in satisfaction. There was bittersweet and then there was bitter and sweet. He definitely preferred the latter. He turned his gaze back to Cathryn as he chewed and wondered if she would have agreed.

Someone should go to her, he thought. Even in this part of town a girl shouldn’t be left to rot on the side of the street. But the few passersby who paid more than a curious glance just stared and walked past her. Not even a gawking crowd had bothered to gather. Scenes like this were far too common on this side of the bay for that. Getting home was more important than satisfying morbid curiosity. Should any stop and linger, they too might join her on the curb, another lump rising from the pavement for indifferent pedestrians to sidestep.

“Too bitter for you Mr. Daniels?” The red-haired waitress stood beside his table shredding a stick of gum with coffeepot in hand. “It gets that way sometimes.”

“It’s Richard,” he answered, and added, “and the coffee’s okay.”

She squinted and gave him a dubious stare. “You sure, Mr. Daniels? I saw that look on your face a moment ago. Looked like a face drinking bitter coffee to me.”

He returned her stare. “I suppose it is a bit more bitter than I like, but I’ll manage.”

Her stare grew into a scowl and her mouth reached a truce with her gum. “I bet you will, Mr. Daniels. I bet you will.” She radiated ripples of chill as she and her pot disappeared behind kitchen doors.

“You shouldn’t upset her like that.”

Richard found the man who had addressed him sitting two booths closer to the door and facing him with a frown worthy of a protective brother. Richard raised his brows. “Wasn’t aware I had.”

“I guess there’s a lot you’re not aware of.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“For a man holding all the cards, you sure don’t know what’s in your hand.”

Richard studied the man. He decided his name was Boris. He tilted his head giving him silent permission to vent his view.

Boris twisted his face in disdain. He spoke tight words through a tight sneer. “Take Rosie in there…you think she really cares if your coffee’s bitter? You think her sorry boss pays her enough to care? Or do you think her heart’s all butterflies and roses? Look around you man. For the love of God, look out there in the street! A girl’s knifed down so she won’t kick or scream when she’s robbed. The last thing she sees is cracked concrete rushing up to meet her. And you sit there sipping coffee, playing niceties with a waitress who has no choice but to try and survive this godforsaken deathtrap. It’s a living hell for every last one of us--except for you. This city’s rank, man. The stench is enough to strangle you. It’s like bile burning the back of your throat.”

Boris surveyed the café and Richard followed his gaze. The eyes of all the patrons were watching. The buzz of conversation was muted. Clanking silverware now hung suspended between mouths and plates, and a twinge of uneasiness churned in Richard’s stomach. He considered the burly, outspoken man. Was he just someone who happened in for a bite? No, he wouldn’t know Rosie if that were the case. But seeing no indication of more, Richard also dismissed the possibility of a relationship between the two. Just a regular, he decided. Someone who frequented the café. Someone who frequented the neighborhood’s horrors. 
Richard gave Boris a level stare. “It’s necessary,” he stated simply.

Boris’ bushy brows rose. “Necessary? Necessary!” He turned to the patrons transfixed on their exchange. “He says it’s necessary! The whole south side of Cathryn’s Bay is God’s own cesspool and the man says it’s necessary!” He fixed his fiery scowl back on Richard. “You have no idea what it’s like! You created this mess! You orchestrate our lives! It’s you who should pay! Not us!”

Silent onlookers began murmuring, their pitch a rising, disgruntled buzz. Richard felt their emotion. He could do that. He could determine what anyone felt…or thought. It was an ability uniquely his. He just wished these people could think for themselves at times. Having to do it for them was as much chore as delight. He put the thought aside and looked again at Cathryn. He longed to see the woman from across the bay.

Boris continued ranting. “Your little heroine isn’t coming, man. She’s fed up, too. You think she really wants to take on this whole damn city by herself? You think she’s grateful? You’re the one she’d like to see behind bars! How can you know her so intimately and still put her through all this?”

“Detective Jessica Tate is everything,” Richard answered. “Without her, I have no life. Without her, you have no life. You will endure…as she endures.”

Boris stood from the booth. “No, I won’t. I refuse to…endure…like this! It’s over! You’ll not profit from our misery any longer! Maybe I can’t just whip out a pen and change our destinies, but I can whip out this and change yours!” He reached behind his back and pulled out a pistol. He began firing indiscriminately. The patrons screamed and ducked behind tables and booths. Some were quick. Some weren’t. Boris didn’t care. With a single bullet remaining, he pointed the weapon at Richard and fired. 
Richard closed his eyes as he rubbed his chest. The mood was set. His mind contained everything it needed. He took a deep breath and sipped his coffee. Its rich flavor was perfect. Pulling a pen from his shirt pocket he began writing.

“Timothy Slate stared out the window and watched the girl die.”

Feb 12, 2012 Fantasy Writer's Challenge

This piece was written in response to Fantasy Writers' weekly challenge.
The challenge: "A dragon fight with unicorns coming to the rescue."

"Verithica's wail shook our whole village!"

"The whole village? Oh, Grandpa, did not."

"Sit down, Aric. This is Grandpa's story. Sit down now. Be quiet."

Little Aric sucked in more air than a six-year-old's lungs should hold, grunted his frustration, and sat. His lips protruded in an exaggerated frown that left his charcoal eyes peering at Grandpa from beneath thin, rigid brows.

"Mommas grabbed their babies. Everybody ran trying to find someplace to hide. Dragons are fearsome creatures, you know."

"Uncle Yaris said their wings cover the whole sky! Is that true, Grandpa?"

"Sometimes, Nevin. If they're close enough to you. But you don't ever want to be that close to a dragon. They get mighty hungry and think little boys make good snacks!"

"Dragons don't eat boys, Grandpa," Aric countered.

Nevin's eyes lit. "Uncle Yaris says they do! Especially when you don't do your chores."

"That's cause you never do your chores, Nevin. Tell him, Grandpa."

"Most dragons are rather fond of boys that don't let Grandpa finish talking." He paused long enough for Aric to fold his arms and animate a sigh. "Verithica was angry. And hurt!"

Little Nevin scooted forward in his chair. "Who hurt her, Grandpa?"

"Rendowin! The great red dragon himself. Nasty beast! All fireballs and temper that one is. And he was in a mighty foul mood."

"I thought Rendowin and Verithica were married?"

"Dragons don't marry each other, Nevin. Not like we do anyway. But they were mates. And he was mad. Flying over our houses and shrieking louder than summer's thunder. And Verithica shrieked right back at him too. She had her talons ready in case he got too close. White dragons can't blow fire, you know."

"They can't? I thought all dragons breathed fire."

"Not the white ones, Nevin. All white dragons are females. They can chase you down and claw you up, but they can't burn you like the red ones can. And they can fly higher and faster and longer than any other dragon. So if Rendowin was gonna cook her, he had to catch her first."

"He was gonna eat her?"

"We didn't want to stick around to find out. But there was nowhere for us to go. Every time Rendowin spat fire at Verithica some of it fell down here too! Things started catching fire everywhere. The barns and sheds, even our own roofs! Everything was burning! Verithica kept swooping down at him, trying to knock him out of the sky, but Rendowin's a red dragon, and red dragons are as strong as they come. And he wasn't going to let some white dragon get the better of him--even if it was Verithica."

"What'd you do?" Little Nevin nearly fell off the edge of his seat.

"There was nothing we could do! We were all gonna burn up and couldn't do anything about it!"

"Grandpa, you were not."

"Aric, Grandpa's not going to tell you again now."

"Yeah, Aric, be quiet."

"Only one thing can stop you from getting burned by dragon fire."

"A unicorn's horn! Right, Grandpa?"

"That's right, Nevin."

"Where'd you find one of those?"

"We didn't. One came to us."


"On a unicorn, silly. It heard the awful raucous the dragons were making and knew we were in danger. It knew that if we could gather around it, its horn would keep the fire from burning us. And it came and stood right out there," he said, pointing at the village's well. "And everybody in the village gathered around it, squeezing as close as we could. We could hardly breathe; everyone was pressing in so tight. Most of us couldn't even hear it neigh with all the commotion betwixt the dragons a screeching and all the folk a yelling and crying. We didn't know until it was too late."

"Know what, Grandpa?"

"The unicorn couldn't breathe either."

Nevin's voice was little more than a whisper. "It died?"

Grandpa lowered his eyes and nodded. "It died, Nevin, rescuing us from the dragons."

Aric stretched his legs and rested his heels on the floor, his arms still folded and his mouth contorting into a sneer. "Grandpa, everybody knows unicorns don't exist."

Grandpa stood and reached for the mantle. He pulled a length of rolled cloth from atop it. Grandpa met their eyes as he slowly unwrapped it. Nevin gasped and Aric's eyes grew wide at the sight of the slender horn of a unicorn.

"You're right, Aric," Grandpa said. "Unicorns don't exist. Not anymore."