Thursday, October 27, 2016

Lady of the North Ascends (Part XX V)

Serenity was the meaning of her name in the language of the people of the desert, she was anything but serene. Al-Uzza came before Mina with anger in her heart. The high priestess was many years her junior. The milk skinned woman with eyes the color of grass was not of the old people as Al-Uzza was. She was born of the northern reaches and lacked the robust build that Al-Uzza felt was proper to a woman. Even after bearing a child, the high priestess remained of diminuitive stature next to Al-Uzza. The son born to the high priestess of Julara took after his mother, indeed his face was as fair as a girls and lacked the beginnings of manhood even though the lad was entering into his eleventh year.

Al-Uzza was envious, but few around her dared to name that viper wound around her heart. For the woman with the white touched hair and heavy build was one to lash out at the people who challenged her and questioned her, if they were not of higher standing. Al-Uzza was skilled at flattery, however, and did shockingly well by plying her crafty tongue to move from some village witch at the outskirts of the western empire to within the hallowed halls of the main temple of Julara. Al-Uzza somehow maneuvered her way into serving as one of Mina's secretaries.

Mina could never quite recall how Al-Uzza came to be there with her stoney expression of dour disapproval. Still, the older woman was useful in keeping things in order, as she had been for the high priestess before her and perhaps the one before that. Now, Al-Uzza stood in the throne room, her large hands folded into the sleeves of her robes and her perpetual look of malcontent. Mina regarded the older woman thoughtfully. Mina had no illusions that Al-Uzza sought to reach higher than where she stood and would have gladly poisoned Mina to claim her crown if it weren't for the fact that Al-Uzza was unsure what the results of that would have been. It was not how things were when she was a small child. Julara moved through the world with greater force and Al-Uzza did not want to risk the anger of the goddess.

"Al-Uzza," Mina said, "governor Bastizia's lady has been murdered." The lines of Al-Uzza's frown deepened. "I am sending you north. They have need of your pragmatic mind and guidance. The maidens of the villages have need of a mother to give them direction." The old priestess's eyes narrowed slightly in suspicion. Mina turned her attention back to the letter in her left hand. "In addition to strengthening Bastizia's household against the influence of outsiders, I expect you to learn who it was that killed Lady Zia and why. The resources of the Silent Sisters in the shadows are naturally going to be available to you. Bastizia's letter suggests there is some sort of unrest against the daughters of Our Lady and they who have pledged themselves to her outside of our orders."

Al-Uzza's expression slowly moved from suspicion to grim realization that she truly was being sent away to the edge of the empire. "I expect a missive answering these questions, Lady Al-Uzza," Mina continued and Al-Uzza looked surprised. Mina looked up from Bastizia's letter. "You are surprised?" Mina said dryly, "A secretary is not needed in the north. Of all who have been in my service, you have been the most efficient. When I lay ill, it was you that directed the water priestesses to come to me. You are deserving of elevation. And your steady hand is needed there. Thus, do I send you, Lady Al-Uzza. Governor Bastizia may not choose to wed you immediately but to observe a time of mourning for your sister. Do not let him forget his duty."

Al-Uzza shifted, uncomfortable with the idea of being yoked to a man. In all her time in service to Julara, she aptly avoided contact with men and what she felt were their filthy mannerisms. "Your celibcy is not at risk," Mina said, somehow knowing what the woman who was nearly her birth mother's age was thinking, "Governor Bastizia is a man of some age. He is near to your own, actually, and more interested in the running of his territory than anything equating a love match. Zia bore him his heir. After this, he had little more to do with her beyond official capacity." Al-Uzza let out a breath that she hadn't realized she was holding.>

"Your Imperial Majesty," Al-Uzza said, restraining the urge to spit with disgust at stating the words, "Is it possible that the child was involved in the mother's demise?" Mina tipped her head slightly to the left. She looked at Al-Uzza thoughtfully. It was a question that came to Mina's mind as well, but not knowing what the dynamic between mother and child was, she had no way to speculate upon it. "It is possible, Majesty, that the child has grown rebellious or perhaps succumbed to the influence of the barbarians," Al-Uzza said when the silence had grown uncomfortable.

"This is a question, Lady Al-Uzza, that you must divine the answer to," Mina said. The priestess opened her mouth to give an appropriately obsequious response when the Empress continued. "Do not call the people of the north barbarians. Name them outsiders. Name them interlopers or malcontents. Name them enemies. They are a civilized people," Mina added in a tone of stern warning, "Their gods may be different from ours but they are devout in their own way." Al-Uzza straightened and her look of sour disapproval returned. "Their ways are not our own but they are not beasts," Mina warned Al-Uzza, "Many of them live with us in the north. Their distant kinsmen offer them insult even as it is offered to us. I will not have these people dishonored because of their great-cousin's foolishness."

Al-Uzza bowed to Mina in a silent gesture of repentance. "Go and prepare yourself, Lady Al-Uzza. Your caravan leaves in three days. I shall assign one to serve at your right hand. With you shall be traveling a son of Ashur of the brothers militant. Keep him as your confidant as you move through the north. He shall have a sand mirror to speak with his brothers here in the imperial city. I expect a party of soldiers will ride with you as well for the safety of yourself," Mina said, silently questioning of the intuitive choice of Al-Uzza was wise.

"Blessings of Our Lady be upon you, your Imperial Majesty," Al-Uzza murmured before she moved to depart, inwardly wishing that Julara strike down Mina before her eyes. As the newly appointed Lady Al-Uzza left her presence, Mina watched her with a feeling of discomfort in her bones. One of the water priestesses stood off to the side with a small tray in her hands. As Al-Uzza walked past the priestess in blue, the younger priestess bobbed a small bow. Al-Uzza seemed to preen as she disappeared through the doors into the antechamber. The healer walked through the throne room and approached Mina with her tray.

With a sigh, Mina motioned the healer forward. She took the tiny glass vial off of the tray and unstoppered it. As she quaffed the tincture, Mina restrained an urge to grimace at the bitter taste. The sense of heaviness that slowly blossomed in her chased away the throbbing pain behind her eyes. Mina closed her eyes with a sigh. "Most Serene Lady," the healer murmured, "You must rest. Shall I summon someone to help you to your chambers?" Mina opened her eyes and looked at the concerned expression on the woman who couldn't have been a day older than herself.

"Yes," Mina sighed, deciding that her discomfort earlier had to be due to the ache that seemed to grow stronger the longer she was up and moving. The healer bobbed a bow and scurried off to fetch a strong servant. Mina leaned her head against the back of her throne. "Mother, why must I hurt so?" she sighed. Something of a cool, damp breath of air blew through the chamber, smelling of sweet water, and brused against Mina's face. The sensation of cool hands settling on her shoulders came with it and the distinct feeling that her recovery would be finished soon came over her. "I am so tired," Mina sighed.

"Then I shall bear you to your rest," Sorenan said as he walked through the throne room. Mina opened her eyes and looked at him. He approached her. Where others bowed before her, Sorenan simply walked forward. Mina gave him a wan smile for his boldness. Unable to find the focus to voice her question why he was back so soon from the discussion with the high council, she closed her eyes. Sorenan stooped and picked his lover up. Mina set her head against his shoulder and was fast asleep long before they had reached her chamber.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Craft of Writing: Coincidental Inspiration.

I was at the grocery store today. As I whipped through there picking up stuff to make dinner, I came upon a display of Halloween decorations. The sight brought me to an abrupt halt. It wasn't the usual coffins or skeletons (though a skeleton was involved). There was nothing cartoonish about it at all, actually.

It was a gibbet with a skeleton inside. To be more accurate, it was the box that hung off of a gibbet when a prisoner was hung in chains. They were at times locked into these cages that were just large enough for their body to be in alive, left to die of dehydration, exposure, and from wild animals gnawing upon them. At other times, the corpse of a person who had been hung or similarly executed was placed within the cage and affixed to is so that they remained upright as the limbs eventually rotted off. Gibbeting is a method of execution that serves two purposes. One is to prolong the agony of the one who is placed in their confinement alive. Two is to remind the living about the steep penalty for the crimes that the condemned was convicted of committing.

I thought about buying one. I seriously considered it. As I thought about this, it struck me that would there be ethical discussion about such a grisly mode of execution between the religious communities of the Seven Kingdoms? What of the people who were confined and had nourishment and aid smuggled to them in the dark of night? How long would they hang in chains? What became of the bodies when the period ended.

I have done some reading about the topic and how it was handled in history. Some of the details are rather repulsive. Others, while fascinating, are disturbing because it shows that we are neither as genteel as we wish to present ourselves or as humane. Contemplating methods of execution is not a pleasant thing, to be perfectly honest, and it reveals some of the worst elements of human ingenuity. As much as I find myself repulsed by it, however, I recognize that there are things that we shouldn't turn away from.

Some authors feel that their writing is to entertain. Others feel that their writing is a vehicle to discuss and consider the human condition. There are a great many writers who do both. Of the three, I have to say I find the final group to be the most compelling. I try to write to that goal. Socrates is reputed to have said during his trial (the charges were corrupting the youth of Athens) 'the unexamined life is not worth living.' Perhaps we should amend this to say 'the unexamined life is not worth writing' and take on the mantle of studying what it means to be human and what makes us so through our work?

This is what came to mind as I considered the gibbet cages I saw in the grocery store.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Interested in Advertising? New Details!

Hello Everyone!

I have whipped up a form for you to fill out if you would like to advertise upon my blogs. Follow the link below to get the discussion started. As I may have mentioned elsewhere, I require compensation for advertising space being provided to you or your organization. This is something that can be negotiated on a case by case basis. My form is just a place to get the discussion started. It will be linked to outside of this post in the footer of the page in addition to right here.

Please, if you wish to advertise, contact me. We can work together to determine what will work best for everyone involved.

Thank you for your time and support.

Advertising Request Form

Random knowledge: Poetry

Some poetry techniques are not used much anymore. Some of them are actually quite fitting for the fantasy world that I'm writing in. Here's a brief survey of them. I have not composed any exampled because I am still figuring out the techniques.

Bob and Wheel: This is seen in Chaucer's work in his satire piece where in he parodies Sir Thopas

Ballads: This is seen a lot in the secular music that has come down to us from antiquity.

We're all familiar with Iambic Pentameter.

For the Stag's sake, let me just link to the list of different poetry forms.

http://www.poemofquotes.com/articles/poetry_forms.php

I hope to incorporate poetry more into my work. I'm not entirely sure how I will do it, but it will happen.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Food of Evandar: Nine Day Porridge.

Something from my kitchen: Chickpea-Red Lentil Chili
Pease porridge hot,
Pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old.
~ English Nursery Rhyme

In the old days of merry old England, peas were known as pease. They were used to make, among other things, porridge. Now, most people today think that porridge is another word for oatmeal. This is fairly accurate in a historical sense, but it doesn't really cover just what the deal with this food was. Please forgive me as I indulge in a bit of history about pease and porridge.

Porridge was the common man's fare. It was also the food of the elite. The difference between the two dishes was the quality of the ingredients and spices used. Porridge was a very simple dish to begin with. That thick gruel that people think of when they think of this food is pretty close to the most basic version. It was not always the consistency of wall paper paste. It was prepared by cooking oats or barley with some sort of liquid. During the cooking process, the dry grain would absorb the liquid and become more palatable (and less likely to cause you to have problems with gas).

This dish could also be prepared with dried beans and legumes (peas, lentils, etc.). In both cases, it was a slow cooking time. It was the one thing for the day, in many cases. One would eat porridge for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, if they had enough that is. It was usually made with a mixture of beer and broth. Water was not generally used because it was not frequently enough to be spared from other important tasks (like watering crops and keeping livestock alive). Like maslin bread (which I will be posting about next week after I finish my research as to a proper recipe and potential experimentation with said recipe), porridge usually was a mixture of what was on hand. It was also something that was kept on the fire and added to each day as needed.

That porridge from the first day may have started out heavy on the barley, root vegetables, and some fish caught from a local stream in a weak beer base. The second day may see more root vegetables added, milk (if it were in season), and some herbs that were from the kitchen garden. The third day may find mushrooms (if it were in season) and bones from the mutton that was cooked alongside it. Similar things would continue, supplementing the dwindling supply from the original batch made until you had something entirely different several days later. This practice of adding new ingredients as the time went on would have added depth of flavor and served to make it remain an interesting meal.

If the idea of keeping essentially the same batch of food cooking over an extended period of time sounds a little curious to you and you think it is something of the dark ages, you would be woefully incorrect. There are cooks who do this with soup. Not just people who are trying to squeeze every last penny out of their food budget mind you. (Though this thrifty practice is what made things like the continual pot of soup on the stove able to turn stuff like cheese rinds and carrot tops into edible components during the Great Depression.) It is also done in several very high end eateries.

Nine Day Porridge doesn't have to be something you fashion over the course of nine days. If you are in a hurry and want that complex flavor in one day, try out the following. And if you have leftovers, don't toss them. Just put them in the next pot of soup to help make it richer.

Nine Day Porridge: Quick Version

Ingredients:
1 15 oz can of navy beans
1 15 oz can of chili (with or with out beans)
1 15 oz can of split pea soup (plus 1 can of water)
1 medium carrot, chopped roughly
1 small potato, chopped roughly
1/2 cup of diced cooked ham
1/2 cup of diced cooked chicken
1 tsp of your favorite spice blend (I like the Mrs Dash with garlic in it.)

In a dutch oven, mix your ingredients. Cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, until heated through. If you wish to convert this to a crock pot recipe, use a large crock pot. Cook on low heat for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. Add an additional can of water.

Serve this with fresh bread. Something like a dark German rye bread would be somewhat similar to what people in Evandar (or in the middle ages) would have eaten if they were in the middle class. A rustic wheat sourdough loaf with white flour would have been more like what the upper class would have had. Your beverage would be hard cider or beer. Given the flavors with this, I would lean towards beer.

Worksheets!

Hi everyone!

As I had promised, I have the first of the worksheets for developing characters and such done. I will be posting it here. Please, share this and use it as you see fit. If you adapt it, please note your changes and make a point to ping back to the originals. This is not something that you can take and make into something you are going to make people pay for. I'm sorry, but that is just not allowed. If it is the base idea that triggers you to create something of your own and is for profit, that's cool.  Please give credit where credit is due.

All of this said, here is the first worksheet that I completed. Anyone who has played in some sort of tabletop gaming system or in a LARP, you may recognize how I set this up. I found the style that the worksheets for character generation to be really helpful and straight forward. If you have any suggestion for how to improve this or if you do make another version, please note your changes and send me a link. I'd love to see what you've done with this.

Character Worksheet Version 1

This is based off of the little note cards that I started a while back. It gives you a solid basis for developing the character's back story and fleshing them out so that they have a more three dimensional quality. Obviously, you do not need to fill in all the details for every character. But, it does help with making the 'lead' characters of your story easier to work with.

Relic Worksheet Version 1

This is based off of the prop cards that the LARP troupes I played with had. I expanded a little on it, but this is a great way to flesh out the details about interesting items in your story and just why they are important. It also lets you determine details like how they are used before you bring the item into the story, so that every time it pops up it is consistent.

Setting Worksheet Version 1

In the class I had at college regarding Short Fiction, our instructor had a regular exercise for us. We were to write brief sketches of locations, real or imagined. This is based of her exercises.

Ritual Worksheet (In progress)

In pretty much every gaming system I have played in, there as the opportunity to play a character that performed some sort of magic. With each system I got involved in, the level of detail for the magic system increased. Somewhere along the way, I started keeping notes on it. And I realized that my method of keeping notes was identical to how I keep notes regarding my witchcraft stuff. Thus, this particular worksheet was developed.

Creature Worksheet Version 1

This is a more formal version of what I presented in my post earlier this week. It covers the basic questions about your creatures and the role the play in your story.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Flora et Fauna: Creature Genesis (Part 2)

In my last Flora & Fauna post, I started to discuss the process of creating creatures for your world. I did my best to show the difference between creatures that are also characters and creatures that are vehicles to move plot forward. This post, I am going to pick up the thread that I ended on: the four major questions to answer as to your creature's role in the story. Last post, I addressed the questions regarding what your creature's importance in the story is and I started to discuss the attributes to be considered for your creature in general terms.

This post, I want to focus on this point a bit more intensely. I have a checklist that I go through when I am developing creatures for my stories. It may seem a little too particular but the beauty about things like this checklist is that you don't have to fill in all the details. You can just answer only the questions you need to. My creature creation checklist is going to look a great deal like the one I use for character development. (I am in the process of drafting up worksheets for this. These worksheets will be free for anyone to use when I get them done.) Below, I am going to present the questions I use and give an example of how I answer them for my own work.

1. What does the creature do in the story?

Deamon hounds are vehicles for the Shadow Riders. They are also roving monsters that terrorize the population.

2. How does the creature interact with the protagonist, antagonist, and minor characters?

They harry the protagonists and most minor characters. They obey the deamons and some of the priesthood of Morguthu who are of exceptional fortitude and faith.

3. What are the creature's strengths?

They're very large. They have great stamina. Their jaws are powerful. They have modest intelligence, on par with most dogs. They with stand a moderate amount of damage to the upper body on the basis of the pure bulk of their muscles. They can be pack animals.

4. What are the creature's weaknesses?

Not as smart as humans. Tends to go for easiest targets first. Will be distracted from living prey by fresh kills, unless directed/trained otherwise. Can not reproduce (produced by magical manipulation of a dog or wolf). Can't see colors.  Possess many of the weaknesses of most canids. Unless specifically manufactured, they have a relatively short life span - long lived deamon hounds are rare and the result of the magical efforts of powerful deamons.

5. Where is the creature found?

No natural range. The ones that are 'wild' will frequent places with lots of dead because they default to scavengers with out direction. Small population of deamon hounds are present in the Darklands, they're the last of the ones created during the Great War. Distinguished from present population by size- they're much larger. They're also more intelligent.

6. What does the creature look like?

Largest of the deamon hounds in the present generation are approximately the size of a small pony. These are the alphas. Smaller deamon hounds are about the size of Great Pyrenees. The largest deamon hounds come from the largest dogs or wolves. The smallest deamon hound is the size of the dog it was transformed from and is a transitional state to the regular size. Transitional deamon hounds look like mutated dogs and retain some dog behaviors. Fur patterning will be appropriate to the environment but will generally looks like a diseased animal, with out the symptoms of illness.

7. What does the creature need to survive? 

Steady supply of meat and water to drink. Water needs not be fresh or clean.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Craft of Writing: Creating Tension.

Writing a story is an interesting mental exercise in placing yourself into another's shoes. To some extent, it is necessary to envision scenes that unfold as though you are an observer or participant. Conveying what your 'witness' however can be difficult. Some scenes are fairly easy to write, or so it seems. After all, a character tying their shoes is an exceptionally boring, mundane task that most anyone can imagine, for example. It is possible that scene regarding footware is a key to something else in your story. It may be, even, that the act of tying shoes is something of a conflict or part of a conflict.

This may sound a little strange, but bear with me for a moment here. Most anyone who has watched the movies that are really popular and classed as 'dramas' can agree that scenes involving firearms are dramatic. What makes those scenes dramatic? Is it the gun? Is it the action surrounding the gun? Or is it how the scene is structured? Some would argue that it is the gun, with its many overtones of violence, that makes the scene dramatic. Some would argue that the action leading up to the gun coming into the picture and the use (or not) of the weapon is what gives the scene it's drama.

The gun is not what makes the scene dramatic, it is a prop. The action is how the drama is conveyed but it can be expressed in other scenes as well. After all, weapons are not what makes Hamlet's soliloquy so powerful. All of these things are the moving parts of the scene. It is the way they all fit together and work that creates what is commonly called 'drama'. Drama is another way to express the tension within a scene. And tension is something that creates stress in the observer, when it is well written.

Painting a scene full of tension does not depend upon implicit or explicit violence. It can come from things as simple as a spinning top. Part of the tension of the scene come from the things that lead up to it. In the case of the final scene from the movie Inception, we find that the protagonist - Dominic (Dom) Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio is in a position where he is questioning the reality of his situation. DiCaprio portrays the character's anxiety by way of body language that conveys his distress and keeping a general tone of uncertainty. His walk through the airport is an exceptionally mundane thing but he remains unsettled through out it. When we reach the portion of the scene where the top is set spinning, the character has a measure of quiet desperation that is nearly palpable.

The tension in this scene is exceptional. Some of it is expressed by way of the music that accompanies it, but if you view the scene with out audio, you can still pick up on it. The composition of the scene is built in a steady rise of action (though it is subtle here) that reaches its peak which is where all of the foundational elements combine to present the exquisite agony the character experiences in that moment. You can tell from how DiCaprio portrays the character that they are experiencing some kind of crisis. Given the way the characters around him behave, it it apparent that this crisis is something internal and personal to the protagonist. It truly is, in my opinion, an exceptional bit of writing.

The tension created is built in a juxtaposition between what is expected and what is presented. It could be described as related to irony, but that is its own class of beast, to be honest. Feeding the readers (or in the case of a movie, the viewers) information that shows the characters in a precarious situation of some sort is the basis of establishing dramatic tension. The precariousness of the situation can be high or low. As the scene progresses, however, the apparent risk to the protagonist increases until a point of crisis is reached. At which point there is resolution of the crisis or an abrupt shift in focus (which is commonly called a plot twist), which then leads the reader into the next scene in the story.

Daily life can have its moments fraught with tension but they are interspersed with a great deal of boredom. In writing a story, there is the risk of putting too much emphasis upon the minor details and boring your readers between the scenes of high tension. The way to avoid this (and thereby avoid losing your reader's interest) is by cutting the supporting details down to that which is necessary to set up the crisis. It can be accomplished by shortening the apparent time frame of a scene's unfolding. It can be accomplished by limiting the amount of what is described.

Building tension between characters and the other elements in the story (be it each other or something in the environment) is a case where less is more. A sparse description of the scene may not be satisfactory to write, but it can help focus the reader's attention on the action, for example. This is one of the strengths of Shakespearean plays and in classical theater in general. The audience is not overwhelmed with various competing elements of the scene. They are instead forced to follow the principal action of the scene and become emotionally invested in the consequences of the scene. This is illustrated very well in the mad scene from Lucia Di Lammermoor.

The spartan way the set is arranged and the way that the character of Lucia is visually separated from the others by way of her costume and her physical distance from the others forces the viewer to focus upon her. The fact that for the majority of the scene, Lucia is singing a solo aria (one of the most technically demanding that have been written and possibly the best of Donizetti's work) only strengthens the focus upon her character. The break that Lucia has with reality becomes apparent in her behavior even as the lyrics show she is hallucinating. All of these elements serve to both make the viewer understand the depth of Lucia's anguish and draw them into Lucia's suffering to ideally make them pity her character. Through out the entire scene, it is an apparent movement from anguish to madness to her collapse and death.

The scene moves quickly through its different parts. The transitions are smooth and feel natural for it. Similar things can be accomplished through the written form with appropriate pacing and careful attention to transitions within the scene and leading up to it. The art of dramatic tension is a careful interplay between showing what the characters are experiencing along with what the problem is and keeping the action of the scene paced quickly enough that the readers do not become bored. It is not something that can be mastered with a single rough draft. Careful editing and revision will polish a scene that has the potential to be filled with a great deal of pathos so that the tensions running through it will be illuminated.

~*~*~*~*~*~

I apologize if this post comes off as a bit rough. I had some difficulty getting it written today. Please, sound off in the comments. Share with us what you think is the best example of dramatic tension in your favorite media. Let everyone know what you think is crucial to creating a scene that really hooks your audience.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Flora et Fauna: Creature Genesis (Part 1)

If you are like me, you have a stack of notebooks. They are probably full of notes regarding plot,
Public Domain image found via Pixbay
characters, snippets of dialogue, and gods only know what else. You may even have a recipe or two that you scratched down off of a site you found via Pinterest when looking for menu ideas for dinner. (I confess, I have more than two written down. They're also on note cards shoved into notebooks as bookmarks. Because anything makes a good bookmark, except for ketchup. Trust me on that last point.)

Last time, I spoke a little bit about how I come up with plants for Evandar's world. I wanted to take a minute to give you some tools for how to create creatures unique to your world. This is going to be a combination of techniques that I've acquired over the years and a few things that I have shamelessly stolen from other authors. (Not plagiarizing them as much as finding the concept too awesome not to play with, i.e. the elves with exceptionally LONG lives and divine origins a la Tolkien.)

The first question that I find I have to answer is what purpose the creature (plant or anything else, to be honest) is going to serve in the story. In book four, for example, dragons come on to the scene. The presence of the dragon is not just to look cool. (Even though dragons do look cool! Check out the real one here! They're just awesome!) The dragon fills a role in the story. It explains various quirks about the setting. The first one that comes to mind here is the utter lack of apex predators in Dragonwood forest, but there are others that are less obvious. The dragon also explains details about the history of the region, like why is the place called Dragonwod. And the dragon interacts with the main characters. It serves to move forward the plot lines for individual characters, that specific novel, and the over arching story arc of the series.

The dragon in this story is as much of a character as they are a creature. Many of the considerations that are taken for this creature are similar to those taken in character development because this is a creature with intelligence that is somewhat akin to human and it has agency in the story. Creatures that become characters, no matter how minor, require authors to determine their role in the story and how it is shaped by the fact that they are not human. This can range from a stock antagonist that is limited in its forms of communication because it lacks the ability to speak (such as the Shadow Rider that is in book two, they get more developed in the later books) to a creature that has a terrifying but undeserved reputation on the basis of what they are rather than who they are (like the dragon named GerĂ°a who is feared as monstrous when she is actually rather benevolent).

Then there are the creatures that are vehicles for plot but not strictly characters. The best example I can think of here is the Deamon Hounds. They show up fairly regularly but they are not characters. They are instead plot devices. They fit the slavering monster trope and hit the age old primal fears of the snarling predator in the dark buttons (ideally). They are a cross between generic cannon fodder and a recurring menace of an almost natural point. The Deamon Hounds are creatures that exist in the world as a work animal of sorts and don't merit much deeper thought than what their characteristics are and how you can use them to harry characters. Their depth is about the same as what is contributed to a faceless foot soldier in combat. Except they're not going to rate even as human. Given the generic hierarchy of what we're socialized to have empathy for, the animals are really low with the notable exception of the ones we're taught have a special place. (Check out the discussion of the Shoot the Dog trope to see what I mean.)

So, we have figured out what the creature is supposed to do in the story. Now, how do we figure out what they look like? How do we figure out what they need to fulfill their role within the story? And just how do we puzzle out what these creatures are like outside of that specific scene? Do they even matter beyond that scene?

These are four very important questions to answer. As tempting as it may be to jump to the details of what they look, sound, and smell like, we need to look at those last two questions first. Some of the creatures that you have may be recurring ones that show up for scenes far beyond the one where they are introduced. And some of those creatures are just there for a single scene. When you are considering the placement of a creature in the story, you may want to take a minute to pick how frequently you are going to use it. A single use creature is going to require less work, generally, than one that is going to show up many times. Thus, you don't need to worry about things like how that creature is going to play with your antagonist or if it is going to muddy up the details of your protagonist's next five plot points by simply existing.

Also, single scene creatures, if they're of relatively low importance to the plot line, can be described with minimal detail and not be terribly dissatisfying for your reader. If the creature is a background element that is there to serve as nothing more than window dressing or a secondary prop to the action unfurling, you can gloss over many details with relative impunity. Because your reader doesn't need to know that your exotic bird species have a distinction in the number of tail feathers for the males and the females of the species if that detail literally serves no point to your story. If those tail feathers, however, are crucial to the scene, you can include them and leave out something else that is non-functional to your story, like if they only eat red berries on Tuesdays in March. (It now strikes me that I am describing something that could have been in a Dr. Seuss book. I apologize for that, I've been reading a lot of that with my boys over the last two weeks. Gods save me from the Cat in the Hat.)

Now, let's say you have a creature that regularly shows up and is actually a part of your plot rather than a background 'image' to your story. How do you nail down the pertinent details and flesh it out? In my next post, I will share with you my check list of questions for creature development. I also hope to have some sort of a worksheet put together for you too. Because sometimes worksheets help, a lot. (True story: I forgot how much difference a worksheet makes in brainstorming until I saw my son working on one for his homework and how much easier it was for him with that bit of gentle direction. I've been out of school for too long, folks. I'm forgetting the basics now.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Saga of Book II in the Series!

It seems that I am having some difficulty with CreateSpace right now. It does not like the way I have my file set up. So, I am trying to finesse it into working. I will confess, I am tempted to hit the button for the NOPE orbital cannon right now. Still, I am not going to give up on this.

I am in the midst of learning how to tweak the cover so that it is acceptable. I recognize that at some point in the not so distant future, I am going to have to abandon the auto-generated cover styles. As apprehensive as I am about the prospect of creating my own covers, I am more troubled by the idea that my covers do not fit the theme for the books.

I am honestly intimidated by this entire process. It does not intimidate me as intensely as the prospect of aggressively marketing my work, but it still makes me uneasy. I am at a loss for how to proceed beyond this point. I know that I will figure something out as I muddle along. The learning process, however, is not that easy here.

Somehow, writer's block is a less horrible thing to wrestle with compared to this.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The title for book II has changed slightly. Previously, I had it uploaded as Dragon Child of Evandar. You will want to look for The Dragon Child of Evandar. You can also just hunt it down by the ISBN which is 978-1495954832. When the listing goes live, I will post a link here for you. I'm still working out how to set it up for distribution via e-book format.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Iron Lily (Part 11)

Halthor took the bowl of soup that was offered to him. The long silence that came after the elder priest, Moridan, told his tale had made the builder uncomfortable. "What becomes of me?" he asked when the younger priest, Mavora, refilled his cup of ale. Halthor took the cup and ran his thumb along its side, worn smooth by countless hands holding it. The young man pushed the bits of fish and tubers around in the bowl with his spoon.

Mavora noisily slurped the broth from his bowl. Ewen gave his uncle a look of mild annoyance as he chewed on the tan bear root and wondered if the tuber should have cooked a little longer to be less tough. As the ferryman considered if the toughness of the predominant vegetable in the soup was due to preparation or the fact that it was from a dried bit that was a few months old, he looked at Halthor. The builder's hands seemed too large to hold the horn spoon that was perhaps as long as his ring finger, at best. The dark colored horn seemed worn and possibly discolored. Ewen idly wondered if the spoon was a tooth gift to the man from the north.

Moridan watched Halthor eat slowly with a look of gloomy exhaustion. "You carry your father's blessing," Moridan said, "And that of he who is father of the fair ones. I doubt that an evil fate awaits you." At Moridan's words about his father, Halthor abruptly straightened and looked over at him in surprise. For a moment, a queer expression crossed Halthor's face as a thought passed through him. Though Moridan was skilled in the art of reading men's expressions and actions, he wasn't sure what went with the look that passed over his foretold guest's face.

"My father cursed the day I was born," Halthor said, "He murdered my mother. He would not bless me even if the Light Father appeared before him and commanded it."

Moridan set his bowl aside and leaned towards Halthor. As he did so, he peered intently into his eyes. A curious sensation came over Halthor, as though a long thread was being pulled from within him. Halthor shuddered and looked away. Moridan, however, did not need to see more. The visions that filled his mind as he looked into Halthor answered his questions, revealing scenes from Halthor's life, including those that it would be impossible for him to remember, such as his conception.

Moridan picked up his bowl and considered how to state what he learned. He knew clearly the anguish that Halthor suffered over the rejection from his mother's husband. If he wanted, he could touch where each bruise had been left and name the reasons why. "Halthor Sigridsonne," Moridan said solemnly, "the man that murdered your mother was not your father. It was the man who raised you." Halthor looked at Moridan in disbelief.

"Your mother married Kori Blackheart because of a prophecy she heard the day you were planted in her womb. The Good Mother's babbling daughter told Sigrid that your father would die an evil death the day you reached manhood. She turned her eyes upon Kori to spare Aleric Builder that fate, for her bones told her that you were within her fair field," Moridan explained, "Your red hair does not come from Kori's bloodline. Your mother's grandmother had hair like yours, even with the elf locks that come at dawn."

"How..." Halthor started. He looked down at his hands, suddenly feeling vindicated in the thought that he had since a child that his hands were like Aleric's. "How do you know this?" Halthor asked as he raised his eyes, "How did Aleric... My father, how did my father die?" Moridan looked at his bowl of soup. Halthor leaned forward and set a hand on Moridan's knee. His eyes silently plead for some sign that he was wrong, that Aleric still lived. Moridan's expression turned uncomfortable. "Please," Halthor plead in a voice that was almost lost in the pop and crackle of the fireplace.

"The black priests will send their dogs back again at dawn," Moridan said briskly, picking up his bowl and seeming to study its contents, "You should eat and make ready to leave at the first signs of gloaming. Ewen will see you to the traveler's rest. Davian should have all things ready for you when you get there. He has a sense about these things, like his brother." Halthor didn't move. Moridan glanced over. Pain shone in the young man's eyes. Moridan closed his eyes in an attempt to hide the surge of shame that rocked him.

The image of the fevered priestess babbling at Sigrid as the woman did her best to help break the fever with her poultices even as the other priestess plied her efforts in prayer assailed the old man. "The fickle child of the Light Father will take away the father of your child," Moridan said. Halthor went still. Moridan opened his eyes. Halthor's attention was caught by the snapping of a knot of resin in one of the pine logs. "The fickle child," Moridan started to explain in an apologetic tone when Halthor turned his attention back to Moridan.

"Fire," Halthor said. He looked over at the fireplace, haunted by the scene from his nightmare. "They burned him alive," he stated in a hollow tone, "He was sleeping but he didn't wake. The guild thought he was dead because he didn't stir when they pricked his foot with a pin or shouted in his ear. So they wrapped him in his shroud and burned him." Halthor found his taste for food fled him. He moved to set the bowl aside when Moridan stopped him.

"The sleeper who has the sleeping sickness does not feel pain," Moridan said, "It was all but a dream to him."

Halthor looked down at Moridan's hand on his wrist. The old man's skin seemed some odd cross between leathery and papery. Beneath it, he could see blue veins. He saw old scars across the back of his arm and the stag tattooed on the inside of Moridan's wrist. Halthor thought of the tattoo he saw on the inside of the king's wrist. A stylized lily was hidden within the antlers of the stag on the king's wrist. The priest's wrist, however, bore a simpler stag and something like a spear woven through the antlers.

"I am caught in the stag's crown," Halthor said. Moridan gave Halthor a sympathetic smile.

"The stag shall bear you to safety, if you do not fight him," Moridan said, "And his children will aid you."

Halthor looked from Moridan's wrist to his face. "As they aided my father?" Halthor asked bitterly.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

REMINDER REGARDING ADVERTISING.

Hi everybody!

I just deleted a pair of comments this evening. I don't like to delete comments but these ones went against my rules for posting comments. If you want to advertise something, contact me. Pitch your idea to me, convince me that it is something worth my time and space on my blog. Also, note, that your advertisement is going to come at some type of price - which we will negotiate when you make your pitch.

The people and products that I link to or permit to advertise here compensate me for the privilege. If you try to be slick and post links with out approval, your comments and material is going to be deleted. If I have to do this multiple times, I am going to contact the folks who run Blogger to ban you from commenting on any of my blogs. Depending on the material, I may even report you for harassment.

I prefer not to have to do these things. Please, when you comment on posts stick to the subject matter or topics that are related to it. If you want to advertise something, contact me via e-mail. We can work out an arrangement. If you want me to review something or promote your work, contact me via e-mail. I recognize that there are other authors struggling to make their name known in the market. I recognize that there are other artists who are trying to make a bit of coin with their work. And I know that there are many people who are at varying points within the publication and marketing process who want to have people consider their services.

I want to see all of you succeed. Let's work together. Contact me. Pitch your ideas. Send me samples even. If you can't pay me with monetary compensation, something else can always be worked out. We're all creative people. We all can find away to barter or otherwise work something out between us. Don't go against my rules for posting comments here, please. I would like for things to remain pleasant between all of us.

Thank you for your readership. Have a great week.

Ramblings.

I have started the process of copying over material from this blog to a thumb drive so that I don't lose anything. It is not working quite as well as I wanted it do. But that seems to be the way of things right now with pretty much everything writing related at the moment. It has been very hard for me.

I still try to get some writing done in my offline work. I think that unsatisfactory is an understatement on par with astrological units of measurement. I have not felt well about it at all. My therapist asks me why I keep forcing myself to write. I have restrained the urge to ask her why she keeps breathing. I suspect that sarcasm is not an appropriate response, thus I bridled my tongue.

I don't know what I am going to get done this week. I keep telling myself that this will be the week that I get back to posting daily. I keep telling myself that this is the week that I will be able to write more than a mere four sentence paragraph. It feels like a tissue of lies and that I am engaged in something less productive than Sisyphus's boulder moving competition. Perhaps I will be lucky and things will start to improve.

Right now, I am feeling a great deal of despair and frustration. I apologize to all of you for the fact that I have been so quiet.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Craft of Writing: Bonus Post - Mental Illness in Characters.

Hi folks!

Below in all of it's bad grammar glory is something I posted on Facebook. I'm not typically one to cross post stuff from Facebook on my blogs because I'm not comfortable translating things from different platforms. This, however, is one of my exceptions. Before I share it, though, please allow me to provide some context.

In a writer's group I'm apart of on Facebook, a discussion arose as to how to create a truly scary antagonist. Several people bemoaned the difficulty of providing a good scare when so much seems to be based in viewing fear as directly proportional to the amount of gory violence detailed. (Which is a reasonable complaint that is especially valid with respect to the visual medium such as television or movies.) Somewhere in the course of the discussion, someone tossed out how sociopathy is a 'scary' concept.

Sociopathy as a 'scary' trait is a heavily over used trope, in my opinion. It has become short hand for saying that a character is a villain, along with things such as bipolar, mania, and schizophrenia. This trope is so prevalent that it is accepted as common knowledge and bandied about in the media as an explanation for things such as mass murder. I have a justifiable hatred for this trope. It comes from multiple things. But, I think that this bit that I am cross posting from Facebook makes my position clear, so let me present it now.

i prefer it when the sociopath trope is turned on its head. when the hero is one, things get much more interesting in my opinion. 

also, the argument that they are inherently amoral is not really a good one to go with. there is a significant number of people in the general population who have a sociopathy diagnosis that are not dangers to society. they do tend to be very stoic and their reasoning as to why something is appropriate or not tends to be based on logic or a code of honor they choose to adhere to rather than emotion.

honestly, the idea of using mental illness as a stock trait for your antagonist can be slipshod and poorly done if you're just going to plug in what you find on the internet describing symptoms instead of building the character so that their symptoms are not their only 'scary' quality. stereotyping mental illness as the prime motivator of a villain's behavior is piss poor writing, in my opinion, and only furthers the negative stigma that people in the real world face as suffering from mental illness. it is just as bad as making your villains of an ethnic minority simply because you need to shoehorn in a minority character and some how provide an additional dimension to your character.

now, mental illness CAN be a very powerful factor in an antagonist's motivations and scare factor but it requires a degree of sensitivity to things such as how mental illness effects all parties in a situation. exquisite horror can be written showing how your sociopath character is suffering due to their illness with out removing the horror of their deeds. i can tell you that the fight with your own mind is just as terrifying as having someone directly threaten your life, especially when it is a 24-7 experience with no relief.

also, another reason to consider showing your antagonist's suffering from their illness is because it humanizes them and effectively forces your reader to view them as a person rather than a straight up monster. this plants that seed of identification with the antagonist which makes the horror of what they do that much greater because a part of the reader is forced to envision themselves enacting it.

tl:dr - mental illness does not equal good villain. please tread carefully, do your research, and make it one of many identifying traits rather than the primary trait that marks them as an antagonist. failing to do so makes it harder for people with mental illness IRL.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Flora et Fauna: Development of Species.

This week's post regarding the lifeforms of Evandar is a bit of a departure from my usual format. I wanted to share with you how I develop plants for my world. I don't have an exceptional grasp of botany. I do have the beginnings of an understanding of herbalism. I have a small reference library and the all wise oracle known as Google to answer my questions. Fortunately, this is relatively adequate for what I am working on here.

I wish I could say that my plants were dreamed up on the basis of scientific theories and such. That, alas, is not the case. I start out with the question of how these exotic plants will be used. I look at what purpose they serve the story - which usually means how are they used by people. Some of my plants are developed to create unique 'flavors' for Evandar and the world. I want to present things in my world that are there for the purpose of making mundane matters such as cooking more interesting because most anyone can make a plain loaf of bread with a bit of time and effort.

At the same time, however, I recognize that most plants that arise do more than just influence food and drink. There are plants that have medicinal qualities and also serve as magical implements. If you consider the folklore that I devised around plants, you will find many parallels to English and American folklore regarding plants. There is, for example, a cognate to mandrake. Mandrake has a very rich body of folklore surrounding it. I have taken elements of that folklore and tweaked it a bit to  make it fit the folklore of Evandar. Still, I have retained enough of the parallels that it is still somewhat recognizable that this is something that serves a role like that of Mandrake.

I try to describe the plants as I would anything that I find in our world. I do my best to make my descriptions like those of many popular herbals that are out for people in the pagan community. I confess, I do this because these herbals were my first real introduction to descriptions of plants in common language rather than the scientific language used by botanists and biologists. My background as a student scientist, however, does color my writing about these things.

I try to assemble my information in a manner that makes logical sense. And I work hard to answer questions about matters like where these plants would grow and what role they play in the ecosystem. Sometimes the answers come fairly easily. More often the answers are difficult and require research. It may sound odd to say that I have to do research about a plant that I am creating for a fantasy world. My research is into plants that fill similar niches within the ecosystems of Earth to get a better understanding how the plants arise.

I hope someday to put together a book like the Voynich Manuscript. It is most likely going to be a purely artistic effort. My goal is to write descriptions of the things I illustrate (plants and animals) as well as put down other things that are typically found in medieval codices. If I can manage it, I want to include marginalia that is reminiscent of what is found in those ancient books as well. This may sound like a maddening degree of work just for a few interesting plants.

My codex is more than a scratchpad for ideas. I have a separate notebook for that, though I haven't anything for marginalia or drawings in it at the moment. No, the codex is in some respects an endgame project. My devising recipes, folklore, and mythos that are drawn from the well of medieval Europe's history serves the ultimate goal of somehow managing to recreate something of that world in my own life. One person stitched a Bayeux tapestry styled tapestry detailing the modern saga of Star Wars as an expression of their medievalist interests and their other passions. My codex would serve the same role in my own life. Or at least, that is my mad dream and the main driving force behind my particularly detailed descriptions of these elements of my world.

The Blood of Kings and Paupers

Mina watched as the messenger recounted his report from the north. As the man spoke, her gaze strayed to Sorenan. The sandy haired man seemed to lounge in his chair like some cat with one of his long legs thrown over the left arm. His hair was unbound and fell in a tousled mane that was more than a little reminiscent of the great cats of the menagerie. A knife twirled in his left hand. He tossed it up into the air, caught it, flipped it over the back of his hand, and generally toyed with it with impressive dexterity. The messenger seemed uncomfortable with the mercenary's restless action and paused often to glance at the man who stared at the floor with a bored look.

Marcos sat at Mina's left. As the messenger was detailing the latest demands from the governors for troops to strengthen their defenses, the Emperor of Dacia was doing his best to try to gauge how severe the need was. The messenger hemmed and hawed, trying to down play what he had been told. There was some fear that he was to meet an evil end after word had spread of what happened to Temna's envoy. Marcos pinched the bridge of his nose and leaned back, closing his eyes with a harsh sigh of frustration. "Have they taken any of the cities?" he said, deciding that perhaps his best route was brutally blunt questions.

The messenger fell silent. He dropped his gaze from Marcos's face to the floor. Taking the man's silence as an affirmative answer, the priest-king of Dacia city let his hand drop to his side. "How many have fallen?" Marcos demanded in a flat tone. The messenger slowly raised his eyes. His face was pale with terror and grief. "Answer me, man," Marcos barked loudly, half rising from his seat on the dais. The messenger flinched and stumbled back a pace.

"Does the city of Sarben still stand?" Sorenan asked, sounding almost as bored as he looked. The messenger looked over at the man seated on the impressive carved chair beside the dais at Mina's right. The messenger shook his head. The man wrung his hands and then began to twist the lower hem of his travel stained tunic between them. "Are the passes at Mivan and Carlian still in our hands?" Sorenan continued. The messenger again signaled a negative answer. Sorenan raised his head and looked at the man standing before them.

In the grandness of the throne room, the messenger from the north seemed pathetically small. Sorenan couldn't tell if it was because of how the man seemed to stink with fear and cringe when one even looked at him or if it was because he clearly looked under nourished and ill. Sorenan's gaze focused on the messenger's boots. They were cracked and worn. The dull grey dust of the road was not merely coating them but caked upon them as though the man with his cloak pinned at his left shoulder with a greening brass fibula had trudged through mud but recently.

"Where did you come from? "Sorenan asked, "What city?" The messenger looked over at the blond man, surprised by his question being phrased in an unexpectedly kind tone. The messenger swallowed past a lump in his throat. His expression moved deeper into grief. "What it Sarben?" he continued as he moved to sit more properly on his chair before slipping his knife into the sheath at his left boot.

"A village an hour north of Sarben," the messenger said. Marcos's impatient noise prompted Mina to place a hand on his wrist. "I went south to Sarben because Lady Elia needed the aid of Governor Laelius's men," the messenger spoke haltingly, "Men came from the high places and troubled us over the last two passages of the High Lady and Her Children. As I left Xaxio, my village, they came again."

"What became of Xaxio?" Marcos asked. The man before them dropped his gaze and raised a shaky hand to pass it over his eyes.

"The smoke turned the sky black," he answered in a voice that was little more than a whisper, "I was almost to Sarben when they came upon me. They forced me to march ahead of them with others. We stood at the gate of Sarben. The raiders were behind us but the guard could not seem them for the fog. When the gates opened, the raiders came forward. Otho was trampled as he pushed me away from the riders. I... I laid on the ground and prayed for it to stop."

The messenger's voice gave out and he softly began to weep. "So much blood," he said in a watery tone, turning his eyes on Marcos. "They slaughtered them," the man said with a catch in his voice, "They split children on their spears, laughing as they caught them. Governor Laelius was marched to the gates. They hewed him like a tree."

"You ran," Marcos said quietly. The traumatized man dissolved into tears, unable to nod or speak. Marcos looked over at Sorenan. "Laelius was my cousin," the Emperor of Dacia continued in a hollow tone, "He was the reason why I entered the priesthood.Our mothers deemed it proper work for us." Marcos looked at the man weeping before him, seemingly through him.

Sorenan looked to Mina. Where Marcos looked to be somewhere in between anger and seeking black vengence, Mina's expression was calculating and cool. She broke her silence through out this audience, snapping all eyes that were focused on the messenger to her, as she said, "Governer Bastizia was wise to send you as his messenger. Did his Lady have additional words to send?" The messenger's eyes widened and he suddenly began to frantically dig through the pouch at his left hip.

He extracted a tightly wound roll of parchment from a narrow oilskin sleeve. The man walked forward three paces and knelt before the dias, holding the scroll up upon his raised hands while he lowered his head to press it to the edge of the dias. Mina leaned forward. She lifted the scroll from his hands. As she sat back on her throne, the Empress of Dacia said, "Lacryan, bring this man to where he might rest from his journey. See to it that he is well cared for. When he is refreshed, bring him to Sister Lydian. She will attend to the injuries of his soul."

The messenger lifted his head when Lacryan, the majordomo who served the Emperor set a hand on his shoulder. Lacryan's sober, yet compassionate, expression made the man from the north look as though he was about to resume weeping. Grey haired Lacryan lead his charge from the throne room. As they exited, General Zalaz was entering. He looked over at the messenger briefly as he departed and then turned his attention to Mina, who sat reading the scroll with a look of stern disapproval.
"Lady Zia has been murdered. Governor Bastizia has written that refugees of the domain beyond the wall built by his ancestors have come in greater numbers. This man's forced march with the tribesmen appears to have revealed that they are ... organizing," Mina said as she handed the scroll over to her husband. Zalaz opened his mouth to say something and Mina raised a hand slightly, stilling him.

She turned her attention to Sorenan. "Though you know the north and the ways of these tribes, we need you here. It is not yet time for you to go," she said as she then looked to Marcos. "I shall send an emissary to the priestesses to assist them in this. You should send one of the priests militant with her to learn what the threat is. It will be better to have one of Ashur's sons there than a low ranking officer who might be swayed by promises of riches."

Zalaz frowned with displeasure at Mina's statement. Again, he prepared to say something when Mina forestalled him. "General, word has come from the south that Temna's forces again are moving towards us. I would have confirmation of this. It would not do to have a war fought on two fronts," she said. Zalaz sighed, even more displeased with the situation in learning the news he had come to report was somehow reported to Mina and Marcos before he reached them.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Craft of Writing: Losing Your Voice

Sometimes writing is a glorious thing. Words just pour out and scenes dance before the mind's eye like some exciting play. It all is so easy. Work is done in something of a trance and when it is done, it is as though some form of time travel happened because it didn't feel like several hours had passed. This type of inspired flow is often upheld as how all authors work and that it is the ideal experience.

I wish it was so easy. It is not. Anyone who tries to convince you that it is like this all the time is selling you something or lying to you. In a casual survey over the last year with other authors I know who write in a wide range of formats and for a wide range of reasons, the type of writing where it feels like you're shoveling manure from a sitting position seems to happen more often. Now, this is not an instant kiss of doom to anyone's aspirations. Because hard work doesn't make things worth less most of the time, it usually makes them even more valuable for the labor.

Once in a while, though, that hard work is extra hard. Your tools for shoveling the proverbial manure got downgraded from that nice square ended shovel to a wee, little trowel that is bent, has the tip broken off, and the handle is more than a little bit questionable. In those times, it may be that you are tempted to just give up on it all. It could be that everything you write just looks awful to you. It could be that you look at your work and find next to nothing about it that is truly standing out as yours. It could also be that you spend your allotted writing time staring at the blank page suffering from enough existential dread to make Friedrich Neitzsche look as cheerful as a Disney princess with her songbird chorus.

Those moments where you have lost your voice are awful. Nothing quite is as gut wrenching as the feeling like you are never going to write anything worthwhile again. Except perhaps the prospect of actually doing so. Giving up on our dreams is a really hard thing to do. Sometimes there are practical reasons to give up on dreams. Sometimes the dreams just can't be manifested because the circumstances necessary to manifest them are beyond what you can orchestrate.

Sitting here at the computer at the end of a long day, I struggle to come up with words to put down. This has been the struggle pretty much everyday since sometime last spring, if not earlier. My sense of time right now is a bit skewed. Some days, I'm stuck in a sense of despair that I am going to never break this dry spell. Other days, I just grimly glare at the blank page and put down words only to erase them. I can not say that I have miraculously found my voice right now.

Even this blog post is difficult. I am, however, not going to give up. I have more than just this going on. When I find it functionally impossible to work on the fantasy novels, I switch my attention to backstory. If this fails, I move to entirely different genres. Sometimes, I find myself just writing a very emo sounding entry into my journal. And, when I am at a point of utter impasse in producing material, I edit.

At one point, last year, I literally lost my voice. I caught a fairly nasty cold and after prolonged bouts of coughing, I lost my voice. Something my family doctor told me was crucial to healing my vocal cords (which I had strained and this is why I lost my voice) was being silent. Now, with two small children, it is really hard to be parenting them effectively when you are silent. It was a challenging week and a half. But, taking that time to be quiet and use alternative modes of communication was what I needed to do to regain my voice.

Difficulty in writing is a lot like losing your voice. Sometimes, you just have to be silent in the area that you are struggling with and do something different until you are able to go back to that difficult area. It will be hard and frustrating. But, with a little time, you will find that you can get past that thing which is making writing so hard.

Right now I'm whispering. Please be patient with me. I hope to soon have my full voice back.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Flora et Fauna: Resemblance to Earth

Some would cry foul on my making the majority of the life on Evandar to be akin to what we find on Earth. It could perhaps be declared the penultimate version of laziness when the number of unique creatures and plants I devise are actually a very small percentage of the life forms that would be found on this world. If it is laziness, then I am going to do my best to make this the most glorious bit of laziness to be found in print.

There actually is a solid reason why I place so much in this world to make it a fantastic parallel to our world. Human beings arose within a fairly specific evolutionary context. While this is fantasy that I am writing and my humans are not going to be identical to those from Earth except by fiat or deus ex machina, I am not comfortable dropping humans into a fantastic world with out any of the evolutionary cohort they developed with. I could just cast such considerations to the wind and spin out my tales with out this often ignored or assumed aspect. Many authors have and done so with great success in their works.

I, however, felt the need to place my human characters into a situation where it was as Earth-like as possible with out being a complete copy. Humans have evolved with specific biological systems in place to process certain things for their survival. These things arose due to a specific set of ecological pressures, which promoted one set of traits over the course of evolution. You can not have a human with out those ecological pressures and traits. You will have something that will be human-like but it will not be truly human.

The world of Evandar is very different from Earth. It has a system of three natural satellites which influences things such as tides and nocturnal conditions. It is in orbit about a binary star system. (The second star is a ultra cool Brown Dwarf star and is not visible due to the glare from the larger main star of the system which is a Main Sequence star, like our Sun.) This also has an influence on tides but the combined effects of the triple moons and the dual stars serves to, for the most part, balance out each other and have oceanic tides that are for the most part like Earth's.

There are arctic, tundra, temperate, sub-tropical, and tropical zones. The continent that Evandar is located on spans a reach between arctic in the northernmost extremes to the tropics in the southernmost extreme. It is but one of several continents of varying size. All of these different climates and their myriad sub-climates (and countless micro-climates) have features both familiar to us and foreign. I do my best to keep the exotic elements in harmony with what we have in the real world so that my fantasy world is at least somewhat realistic. I am still in the midst of deciding the lay out of the other continents and the defining details of the different regions. I don't think I am a fool for following what I learn about Earth's climates and various regions.

Honestly, a good deal of what my exotic life forms are like is based pretty heavily in what sort of exotic life forms we can find in our own world. When we have creatures that live for an indeterminately long lifespan with out human intervention (I'm looking at you, Galapagos tortoises.) and creatures that clearly operate with a human like intelligence but in an alien fashion (ohai dolphins, how are you, you magnificent creatures?), is it really such a shock to consider that creatures of such a nature can be found on another world? Yes, my exotic creatures are strange and definitely alien. But if you take a peek in the ocean's depths or the florid complexity of the tropical rainforests, you can find lifeforms that are no less strange and alien.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Craft of Writing: Music Hoard (Part Two)

Here are some recommendations for people who are writing fantasy. These artists can be found in many formats.

Medieval Music
Sequentia
Mediaeval Baebs
Hildegarde Von Bingen*
Peter Abelard*
Richard I of England*
Guillame Dufay*


Fantasy Soundtracks
Adrian Von Zigler*
Merlin (Movie 1998)
Mists of Avalon (Mini-series 2001)
Braveheart (Movie (1995)
Lord of the Rings (Movies 2001, 2002, 2003)
Phil Coulter*
Jeff and Mychael Danna*

* Composer

This is a good start to the list. I have to sit down and go through my list of albums to figure out what exactly I have here to add. Still, here's a good place to begin.

Craft of Writing: Music hoard. (Part One)

One of my biggest sources of inspiration is music. I have many playlists that I draw off of for different genres that I'm writing in (and as per what mood I am attempting to evoke in the scenes I'm working on). It is a luxury for us to have a world of music available at our fingertips. In the past, I only had the opportunity to listen to what ever was on the radio. Then came Walkmans and cassette tapes (which was a thing when I was a kid, trust me). Suddenly, I found myself at a place where I could listen to pretty much anything I wanted to at any point in time.

When CDs and MP3s came along, it just became even easier to pick and choose what music would be in my playlists for when I sat down to write. I confess, it had me feeling a bit like I was cheating to have all of this brain food available for functionally no effort at all. When the greats like Oscar Wilde or James Joyce sat down to write their works, they did not have music at any time they wanted it. They also didn't have computers, though. So, perhaps I am not cheating as much as it feels like I am some days.

My collection of CDs is fairly prolific and combined with my husband's we have close to 300 albums. We also have a good deal of audio content available to us strictly through the computer, before we go on-line that is. Throw in what you can find on the internet and I think you could say that there is a near infinite variety of music available. (Honestly, I confess that if I wasn't using Spotify, I would be using Pandora. And if I'm not using Pandora, I am going through what I can find on Youtube.)

I have a passionate love of music. Perhaps it comes out of my youth involvement with choir. Perhaps it comes out of the fact that I have an eclectic set of tastes that I can pretty much always find something interesting. (True fact: the only form of music that I dislike is rap. I may at some point in time find a variety of rap that I enjoy, but I haven't yet.) Perhaps my love of music simply comes from the fact that it has been a part of my life where ever I have gone.

I will confess, my love of music will color much of what I do. I have hobbies that were born out of a desire to manifest some of the images that came to mind as I was listening to something. I have artwork and written material that came from a desire to put into some concrete form the stories that I heard in the music around me. I don't think this is a bad thing. I think that our creative efforts should reflect that which we love as much as they should illuminate that which troubles us so that we may know ourselves more fully.

My library of music may not be as much of an inspiration for someone else. I'm fairly sure that there will be people who will be entirely indifferent to it. That is not a bad thing. That just means that there is something else which proves such a powerful source of inspiration. Once you figure out what your biggest source of inspiration is, gather as much of it to you and reference it often. Your references may not be obvious.

I'm pretty sure that most people reading through one of my stories is not going to pick out what was inspired by medieval music and what was inspired by 90s grunge rock. That's ok, because the references do not need to be made in our work or be recognizable by anyone but ourselves. When we reference what gives us a passionate kick in the seat of the pants to progress forward in our expression, it is mainly for our own sake and the sake of our work. When we feel stalled or as though our reserves are flagging, it is good for us to reach out to draw inspiration from the proverbial well and refresh ourselves by immersion in that inspiration.

I have a music hoard that I curate and adapt to my needs at a given time. Perhaps your hoard of inspiration is something different. Don't hesitate to unlock that hoard and reach into its depths when ever you feel a need for more authenticity in your work. I will tell you that your hoard of inspiration will never fail you. The ideas may take some time to germinate and flower, but the seeds will always be fecund and ready for you.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Iron Lily (Part 10)

Moridan set his boot aside and brushed his hands upon his apron in what Halthor suspected was a habitual gesture. The priest's steel grey hair gleamed dully in the wan light of the chamber. He turned his dark brown eyes to Halthor's bowed shoulders, looking with a sight that was something more of the world that should have been than of the world that was. Where light shone near him, Halthor had the faintest of a shimmer about him. It was as though the glistening, wavering air of the forge was wrapped about the builder. A medallion hung at Halthor's breast from a leather thong that seemed to have a symbol carved that wavered from the simple luck token of pilgrims to a sigil that was familiar to the old priest though he could not recall why.

"The token you wear," the priest said, "How did you come by it?" Halthor looked up. For a moment his eyes widened and a brief look of panic crossed his face. Moridan leaned back in his chair. He turned his cup in his hands as he watched Halthor put on what he had hoped was a blank expression. "You know that I can see the lie as it is told," Moridan said quietly, "You do not strike me as a thief of any sort. What you say here, traveler, remains in these walls." Moridan glanced over at Ewen.

Ewen had quieted when his grandfather questioned the man from the north. Though Ewen was given to gossip and prate about the exploits of his nephews, cousins, and in-laws, he was wise enough to keep silence when priestly work was afoot. As much as he laughed off the solemn duty that was to be his one day and insisted his love was to dally at the water's edge, Ewen knew that his time of lassitude and youthful indiscretion was coming to a close. Odd moments of intuition, like what called him to the river bank earlier, were happening more frequently. Thus, Ewen watched closely when odd things happened about him, such as his grandfather asking probing questions of an unexpected traveler.

Halthor reached up and touched the pendant that the fey woman he had met at the traveler's rest before Wynnwode. "It was given to me by a woman," he answered. Moridan nodded. Under the close scrutiny of both priests and the man who was yet to be of the priesthood, Halthor grew uncomfortable. "She spoke but I did not understand what she said. She met me at the traveler's rest north of Wynnwode. I think she is going to the mountains of the far north," he added. Moridan leaned forward.

"What did she look like?" he asked. Halthor swallowed a mouthful of beer. Moridan raised a hand in a stilling gestures as Halthor opened his mouth to speak. "Did she have eyes of gold and hair the color of a tree's heartwood?" Moridan said, "Bearing an ash bow and wearing a hooded cloak of grey and the pelts of great wolves?" Halthor nodded. Ewen hastily looked away as Moridan's gaze shifted to him. "You were met by the maid Alyrin," Moridan said, "The daughter of our Lord who wanders this land. If he sends her north, it truly is the time that has been prophesied. And you bear the shard of the true world to where it will be hidden in safety."

"Alyrin is a myth," Halthor said uncomfortably, "The maid of Lilies is a child's tale."

"No," Moridan said, "Alyrin's sign is what you bear on your arms. It is the sign of the royal house that will bear the true scion of the Light Father. Your arms, they are more than mere weapons. They were forged by her own hand and bear in them the grace of the true born children of the gods. Alyrin was diminished by her forging of these weapons." Halthor thought about the hammer hidden in his goods.

"The maid of Lilies fashioned six weapons. The first was the war hammer that ever strikes true and faithful to the blow its wielder seeks. The second and third were the twin axes that remain ever sharp despite what they strike. It is said that they may cut even stone. The fourth was the iron stave. It is a curious thing that looks to be but a willow switch but when carried to battle, it becomes a mighty stave that is light as a switch to the one who bears it but strikes hard as a rod. The sword of Grace was her fifth weapon. The first blow kills a man where the second revives him. And finally is the shield of tears. No one knows what gifts the shield of tears bears. It was said that its name came from how it was quenched in the tears of the maid. Only the man that bears the sword of Grace may bear the shield of tears."

Moridan looked at Halthor. "You carry the daughter of the maid at your hip. I'm sure that her son is still carried by the warder of Wye's heir. It was said that the twins would be parted when the heir to the hammer came south. Which tells me that you carry the hammer and your sire does not walk this world any longer," the old man sighed, "The sword of Grace is in the city of Memmin. Count Olerand holds it. It is said that his luck is cursed for it. I do not know if it is or not. Only that he holds it."

"How do you know this?" Halthor asked. Moridan picked up his cup and took a deep drink. He watched as his grandson looked down at the floor and his eldest son keeled the pot, checking to see if the fish soup was finished. Moridan looked over at Halthor. He thought about the tale passed down through his family. They were forbidden to take up the trade of metal craft. Some of the relatives in the extended family thought it because ill luck plagued their efforts when it was attempted, for a few notable relations attempted the trade and died an unpleasant fate for it. The eldest of his family had for at least seven generations told him that the Banished God cursed them when Ewen Black lent his forge to the maid of the Lilies.

"Ewen Black met Alyrin on the road from Memmin when he was driving an ox cart with a load of ore from across the far waters. The maid of Lilies spoke to him of a wonder that awaited him in Hyle. He followed her here and found that his forge was ready for him to set to work, though it was the deeps of night when he came and his apprentice was fast asleep. That night, when all was quiet and hushed with snow, as it is now, Alyrin said that he was to midwife her children. The hammer and forge sang their song through the longest night," Moridan said as he raised his eyes and looked over at young Ewen.

"Dawn came and the maid of Lilies gathered the weapons in her arms. She left with a blessing on Ewen's line. She promised that his sons would ever stand in favor with the Light Father, beloved as his own children," the old priest continued, "When Alyrin left, the black priest of Hyle cursed Ewen's forge for what he had done. Fire burned it and his house to the ground, killing Ewen's bride. Ewen's grandfather, the priest of the Light Father, brought Ewen and his sons Edrich and Tammen into his house." Moridan looked from his grandson to Halthor. "I am the son of Edrich's line. As are Mavora and my grandson Ewen," Moridan explained. "Like our ancestor, we have done what we could to tend to Alyrin's children, where we might find them."

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The writing process goes crash.

(Yes, the title of this post is an homage to Calvin and Hobbes. The hilarious chaos of that comic seems particularly appropriate right now. Look up the book The Scientific Process Goes Boink. It's good for a laugh.)

The last few weeks have had me getting sunburned, overheated, and exhausted as I run around after the kids. I hit the end of the day with enough mental focus to look at stupid cat memes on Facebook and possibly come up with a snarky comment or two. It has been rather demoralizing, to be perfectly honest. I feel like I have hit a pot hole in the road that is big enough to eat a small fleet of Buicks and still have room left over for a couple of tasty BMWs.

I have had several days where I have done no writing at all. I just sit and stare at my piles of papers and feel like my brain is oozing out my ears. It is a decidedly unpleasant sensation. It is not quite as disgusting to me as the feeling of a bead of sweat rolling over my eyelid but it is a very close second. I have been looking at some of my older notes and trying to assess how to work details from plans I had written up literally a decade ago into things I'm doing now.

Some of the past material is very rough and I cringe as I look it over. The original idea of a single book that glosses over pretty much all of the story to create a contrived romance that featured a love interest based on a romanticized version of a guy I was emotionally involved with is probably the worst of it all. The rough draft of this 'book' was literally six pages of single spaced Courier New font at size 10. I still am a bit chagrined when I look at the thing. I have saved this, however, to remind myself how far I have come. But, that original really is awful.

Pokemon Go! is filling up my Facebook feed almost as much as Camp Nanowrimo. The picture below demonstrates my connection to this phenomenon. It is the closest I can come to boiling it all down to a single image.


This is my best impersonation of the LOLWUT pear to date.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Iron Lily (Part 9)

Halthor started to look behind him at the noise of activity in the yard before the temple. The priest at his side tugged on his left wrist and Halthor returned his attention to following the man. The hallway they moved through was dimly lit by narrow windows at the top of the leeward wall of the building. Little light came in through them between the eves covering them and the storm. Despite that dim light, though, Halthor saw richly detailed tapestries hanging on the outer wall. Most were pictorial stories of the history of Ranyth. The stylized images of the First Kings and their children grew progressively more complex and lifelike as they passed through the histories up to the cloth that spoke of the founder of the present dynasty. This cloth hung beside the door into the priest's living quarters.

As they stood at the door and Halthor waited for the priest to do what ever they were there to do, he looked at the image. At the top of the tapestry, Halthor saw a lily. Unlike any lily he had ever seen, this was fashioned in what appeared to be metallic thread. He noticed that the lily was repeated down the tapestry as a central divider with each iteration being more stylized. The final version matched what he saw upon his master's hammer and the axe given to him at Wye. The door to the priest's living quarters opened and a warm rush of air caressed the traveler. The priest tapped him on the arm.

Halthor looked over. The priest's brother in service looked up from the boot he was mending. The older man set aside his awl and brushed his hands on his apron. As he rose, Halthor realized that the old priest was easily six to eight inches taller than himself, though Halthor stood at six feet even. The tall priest had a wiry strength to him that made Halthor question if he had a life of hard labor before he was called to the Storm Lord's service. "Brother Mavora," the priest said to his companion, "Why have you brought this man here?" Mavora made a flicking gesture in the air about his head and then pointed to Halthor. The man with the leather apron squinted at Halthor. "I do not see any sign of ..." he began when an errant ray of light cut through the storm's gloom and defied the building's construction to fall on Halthor.

The priest looked harder at Halthor, his expression somewhere between suspicion and disbelief. "I did not think this day would come," the man with the stone grey hair muttered, "He bears the sign of our Lord's hand but he is not marked for him. My grand-da said that the Traveler would come at the beginning of the dark days. I thought it was age addling his wits." The old priest shook his head with a look of disappointment. "Come," the tall man said, motioning towards a bench beside the fireplace, "Ewen will be here soon with our evening's fare. Perhaps your nephew, Mavora, will bring us a fish as well. The crossing should have enough open water for him to get something with that pole and raft of his." Halthor walked over to the bench that Mavora was hastily moving to where Halthor's feet could be closer to the snapping fire.

As the younger, voiceless priest straightened there was a noise in the hallway back to the entryway of the temple. Mavora started to move towards the door when the older man motioned for him to remain. The grey haired man moved with surprising grace through the doorway and down the passage. Mavora ran a hand through his curly brown hair. He looked about the chamber with a small look of dismay. His eyes alighted upon a jug sitting on a shelf against the coldest wall of the room. As the mute man found cups and set to the task of pouring out a drink for himself and his companions, the sounds of an argument came down the hallway. Halthor moved to rise when Mavora caught his eye and shook his head.

As suddenly as the argument arose, it finished. The noise of a door slamming came shortly before the elder priest returned. He walked back into the living quarters with a look of mild disgust. The tall man shook his head. "That lot will be nothing but trouble, I'm sure of it," he said as he shut the door. He looked over at Halthor. "You're in a great deal of trouble, son," he said. Halthor sighed and looked down into the depths of the cup that Mavora handed him. The elder priest returned to where he was mending his boot. He took his cup of beer from his fellow priest and gave him a nod of thanks.

His dark eyes looked Halthor over from head to toe. The iridescent nimbus that had appeared so briefly when the stray ray of light had hit him had vanished with the movement of the clouds. Now, Halthor looked simply to be a tired traveler who labored under some secret burden and sorrow. "I can not hide you here," the old man said, "The dark priests will move this to an open fight if I do. I can not say that Hyle will survive that. I have a duty to keep this village in the light. The dark priests' dogs have been causing trouble about the way. Wynnwode has fallen into their clutches. I am sure Lord Cuthbert has as well despite the oaths of his father."

Halthor's expression fell into grim resignation. A knock sounded at the door. Halthor reached for the small axe that hung at his hip, deciding that if the men serving the Banished God had come to fight he would give them a mighty one. Mavora walked over and opened the door slightly. Halthor heard to voice of the ferryman beyond it greeting the priest. When Ewen walked into the room, Halthor realized that Mavora truly did look to be a much older man then Halthor realized earlier. Ewen looked at Halthor and gave him a lopsided smile. "Much better here than the traveler's rest. If I knew you were here to see my uncle, I wouldn't have told those Wynnwode rats they could cross," he said. Ewen handed Mavora a basket covered with a white cloth stitched with blue along the edges.

Mavora lifted the cloth and gave a contented sounding sigh. He patted his nephew on the shoulder. Ewen smiled at his uncle before turning to the elder priest. "Father Moridan," he said courteously, "I hope that I wasn't too late today." Moridan scoffed at Ewen. Ewen winked at Halthor as he said, "I expect that I will be joining your company in a few years. I keep my eyes wide and alert for that holy sign you told me of." Mavora shook his head with a peevish little expression as he took the skinned and filleted fish from the crock that Ewen brought it in. As the man lifted the lid to the steaming kettle on the fire, the rich scents of a savory broth filled the air. Mavora placed the fish pieces into the bubbling broth and covered it again.

Moridan picked up his awl and sat down again where he had the best of what little light was available to him. As their meal cooked and Ewen told his uncle about the latest mischief of his relatives, the old priest stared at the leather in his lap. Moridan was keenly aware of Halthor's distress. As he examined the boot for where to punch the next hole for the lacing, the old man tried to figure out the correct words to give the man encouragement and hope. Though Moridan found himself struggling with that concept himself. It wasn't every day that you encountered the herald of doom. And he didn't anticipate said herald being so utterly downcast by it, or unaware of what his work truly was.