Monday, May 30, 2016

Craft of Writing: Setting the Pace

It is hard to be an author. It is especially difficult when you frequently feel it is an 'all or nothing' prospect every time you take up the pen or sit down to type. With challenges like NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo, it is easy to get caught in that particular deception. After all, when the challenge is structured where prodigious output is the goal and people in the community that are praised generally are ones who seem to hit all the high notes, it can be discouraging when you are not churning out words like some kind of machine. I, for one, struggle a great deal with this deception.

Some days, I feel like I should just give up entirely on this grand dream of being a successful author. I look at my own work and I feel like my paltry daily production is just evidence that I am not cut out for this. I have days where bitter envy over other aspiring authors' successes is like bile at the back of my throat. This excessively harsh tendency to judge my work as flawed or my efforts as doomed to failure is simply another manifestation of that 'all or nothing' view. It really is something that I struggle with everyday in just about all areas of my life. (I'm working on that with my therapist, who says I am making progress. Pathological perfectionism is not healthy. Don't fall into this trap, please.)

The thing that helps me keep going is giving myself benchmarks to meet. I make myself work towards goals with fixed and visible signs of accomplishment. Sometimes, I will expect myself to meet a timetable that is unreasonable. (It's a bad habit. I don't recommend short changing yourself time for any project to anyone. It just gives you more stress. Learn from my errors, please.) My execution of this pace setting maneuver is not the best, I'll confess. It is, however, something that helps me stay sane.

With out those visible signs of accomplishment, I start making wild demands upon myself based upon the false notion that others in similar circumstances are doing more. Comparison with others, I have heard it said, is the death of self-esteem. Take control of your situation by making a list of concrete goals. Determine your success by your own measure. Don't expect yourself to write the Great American Novel in two days time, unless you are in favorable circumstances that encourage you to do so. And, even in those circumstances, allow yourself the forgiveness and understanding to accept that it may not be 48 hours from first word to the finale of the manuscript.

It may take some time and some practice. When you do your goal setting exercises, you are doing more than just getting experience meeting deadlines. You are learning what pace you work best at. Once you have learned where you do your best work, create the environment that encourages it. Don't demand that you do more than you can accomplish on a bad day. It sounds counter-intuitive, true, but setting your pace against the less productive days makes you feel more accomplished when you meet your median day production rate.

Setting your pace according to your abilities keeps you from falling into the trap of 'I must do EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW' or 'There is NO POINT, I can't DO EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW.' Your goal is progress, not perfection. The best way to make progress is with a realistic assessment of just what you can do right now. Yes, it is excellent to want to improve your skills and accomplish mighty goals. The way to do so, however, is to be very good at what you can do now and learn more at a pace that does not make you panic.

It may be that for one month, your goal is to get an hour of writing done. It doesn't matter that your next door neighbor can commit to an hour of writing every day. Their lives are different from yours and they have an entirely different situation they are working in. Focus on your goal. Once you can meet that goal consistently, make your next modest step up.

We are not born with the ability to write a novel, run a marathon, or be the best car salesman. These are skills we acquire with consistent, conscientious, and careful effort. Take baby steps at a pace that doesn't make you panic. Give yourself time to learn. As you make progress and grow more, you will find that the advanced things are not quite so intimidating and that the process gets easier (and faster) as you go.

Set a healthy pace. Focus on progress. You can do this. Rome wasn't built in a day. And that's ok because eventually, Rome became one of the world's first superpowers as they perfected their skills over the course of a natural growth curve. Seek your own natural growth curve. Build your empire.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Late in the Day.

It is nearly 10 pm (eastern time) and I am only just getting to writing anything on the computer. Admittedly, I could have been posting an hour ago but I was too busy getting caught up on Facebook drama. (If you are in the NaNoWriMo group, check out the horse gif that is making the rounds. All I could think when I saw it was 'Oh, that's Stormchaser with anyone OTHER than his chosen people.' Stormchaser has an attitude. Even the animals are characters in my books!) I suppose I could have taken this lap top with me when I was out and about, but there really is nowhere to plug the thing in at the park. And, to be honest, running the fan to keep the apartment below the mid-80s was a higher priority than typing things.

Today was long and tiring. The boys had off from school. Like I said, we went to the park and were there pretty much all day. I was surprised to see that there were very few families out today. I know it was really hot and humid but I can not fathom keeping the kids indoors all day. When I wasn't watching my eldest try to swing the highest he ever had on the swing set or my youngest attempting to build the largest 'mountain' out of sand, I was writing in my journals. As I was writing, it struck me that I could be making better use of my writing time.

Most of my writing is unplanned and free form. This makes for some awkward moments and a great deal of inconsistency. I apologize for that. When I was sitting and staring at my journal, desperately trying to think of something to write, I realized that I had the most success last year with more organized writing. I realized that giving myself some sort of structure to work within made for easier effort in producing the work. This thought kept bouncing around in the back of my mind this evening as I was looking at stuff about art journals. (I am seriously considering starting one in the vain attempt to finally get my sketches done. I had this mad idea that I may actually make a few illustrations to slip into a book or something. I have my tools but I've just been intimidated by it all and have done nothing on it.)

I can not promise that there will be a huge burst of work produced over the next few days. I have two very active boys who suck up a lot of my time. I also am in the midst of preparing to set up a possible book signing at some point over the next two months. This matter of promoting my own work is a bit more challenging than I thought it was going to be. (Which is hilarious considering that I am a social-phobe who didn't think I had to meet the public to sell stuff. Irony: lighting the world one supernova at a time.)

Monday, May 23, 2016

The History of the World (Part 2)

In the previous post, I covered much focusing upon the history of the kingdom of Evandar and immediate environs. East of Evandar lies the kingdom of Ranyth, whose fate is closely entwined with Evandar's. The elves of Evandar passed through Ranyth to the mountains that stand north of this kingdom and the grassland of the Plains of Llyrian. Evandar is a place of pluralities. Ranyth, however, is more a place of less robust diversity. This is partly due to the fact that unlike Evandar, Ranyth has been a single kingdom for a substantial period of time. It is also due to the fact that the people of Ranyth tend towards somewhat xenophobic attitudes.

The hostility of Ranyth towards outsiders arose due to the waves of assault that it had endured over the ages. During the era before the Great War, Ranyth was caught up in wars with the kingdoms to the south. The Cyrenaican Empire sought to unify the lands around the Sea of Dreams. Their successes against their neighbors on the southern shores of the Sea of Dreams made them bold. Thus the Empire set its forces in motion against Ranyth and its satellite holdings along the eastern shores of the Sea of Dreams. Ranyth was embroiled in this conflict when the Great War broke out.

The Cyrenaican Empire took hold of the satellite lands of Norcium and Muretania as Ranyth was struggling with the deamonic incursions. These incursions drove the kingdom of Ranyth out of their place along the Sea of Dreams except for a few ports nestled in the end of the mountain range known as the Dragon's Teeth. The size of Ranyth was reduced by approximately half when the Great War was done and the Cyrenaican Empire deemed the mountainous boundaries to the south of Ranyth too great of a problem to continue their campaign of unification. The Empire also found itself unable to continue its aggressive expansion campaigns due to uprisings in Epirus, a region that was under great stress due to the deamonic forces and their allies on their eastern front and due to the way the Empire focused a significant amount of recruitment for their armies from this zone.

Following the Cyrenacian Empire's pressures on Ranyth's south-eastern neighbor, Bythynia, the people known as the Kordid/Cordid/The Riders, were driven into diaspora. These tribes moved into the grasslands Elspar, which has been known for seven generations as the Plains of Llyrian and considered cursed. The peoples native to Elspar put pressure on the Kordid and scattered the tribes after many conflicts. The Kordid were then driven into Ranyth. There was a period of conflict through northern Ranyth during the westward migration of the Kordid. They were driven farther north in some cases. In other cases, uneasy peace was made between the tribes and the people of Ranyth. And there were many tribes driven east back into the Plains of Llyrian.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Have a little faith.

I honestly didn't think I would be saying this, but I sold out of my hard copies of book one. I have learned a valuable lesson today. Get more than what my pessimistic anxiety says is going to sell. I walked in to this month's spinning guild meeting with three books in my bag. After holding up a copy and giving my elevator pitch to the group, I quickly sold all three copies in around five minutes. And I had several people asking me where they could find it on-line and if I was going to bring copies with me next month.

I walked into the guild meeting feeling like I was going to make one sale. I walked out with all of my books sold and several people interested in acquiring it. I have learned that I really should have more faith in myself. I spent a good while being worried that my elevator pitch was pretty awful. I spent a while being afraid that my work wasn't good enough to see the light of day and worrying that all of this effort to be a 'real' author was just vanity. And then today happens and I learn that I actually can do this.

I am thrilled beyond words. I am humbled by this also. I offered people my book at what functionally was the cost of printing and shipping. They paid me that and a bit more. One person actually gave me double that. I sit here now with enough money to possibly buy dinner for my husband and I. (I don't think, however, he will agree to that just yet. I think he would exhort me to reinvest that into the books.) I haven't stopped smiling all day.

Today is more than just a good day. Today is a magnificent day. I have accomplished a massive goal. Thank you to everyone who has helped make this happen.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Stepping out of the Comfort Zone

Today was a day much like any other for most of the people in my household. Beloved went off to work and did things great and small to keep things running smoothly there. The boys went off to school and did all manner of educational things (and had a little fun in the process). I started the day off just not feeling well because I haven't slept well in the last several nights. When I did finally manage to get all my ducks in a row and get moving, I discovered that the mail had arrived. With it all was a big, brown, cardboard box that I was actually expecting to arrive next week.

I opened it up and found that the handful of copies of my first two books in the Umbrel Chronicles had arrived. It was with great delight, I brought the first one on the pile to the gal down the road who had expressed interest in buying a copy just a few weeks ago. I walked into the restaurant where she works and at first she thought I was there for another one of their spectacular beef brisket sandwiches. I will be honest, if I hadn't had lunch a bit before then, I would probably have indulged. Their stuff is amazing.

When I held up the book, she lit right up like a kid getting the present they were hoping to get for their birthday. It was adorable. She immediately handed me a bit of money for the book and insisted that I autograph it. I was more than happy to do so for her. She asked me to keep a copy of the second volume aside for her to pick up when she finishes book one of the series. I think that the best part of my afternoon was watching how excited she was.

On Saturday, I am going to go out to the monthly meeting of the spinning guild I'm apart of. I will be bringing some of the books with me. I get to give my 'elevator pitch' to a room of approximately 100 people. I am not too great at public speaking. I think, however, I am going to do well. I have been rehearsing this pitch for a while. It is less a matter of landing a contract from some big publishing house and more a case that I want to get things sold by word of mouth.

I am a little nervous about this. I am also excited as all get out. I hope this goes really well. In either case, I just made my first sale today and I think that is an auspicious thing.


The large print version of The Dragon's Daughter is available for purchase as a paperback through Amazon. Here is the link. It will be available as an e-book sometime within the next two weeks. If you are interested in picking up a hard cover version, it can be purchased via Lulu. Here is the link.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Iron Lily (Part 7)

The cat stopped and sat down in the middle of the road several yards away from where Halthor stood with the pony and dog at his side. The burnished gold of the cat's eyes gazed impassively at them. The dog beside Halthor barked but did not move from where it stood rigidly. The wild cat's tail flicked but aside from this, it gave no sign of concern at the dog's outrage. Its straw colored coat gleamed faintly in the light that filtered down through the thickening snow clouds above. As fat flakes began to swirl down from high, Halthor moved towards mounting the pony.

The cat made a noise that was a cross between a yowl and cough. The dog growled as the cat stood. Halthor frowned. He considered what to do. The axe was an almost comfortable weight in his right hand. As the cat began to pad forward, the dog moved to stand between it and Halthor. The cat yowled and raised its right forepaw. Halthor leaned down and picked up a chunk of ice off of the slate roadway. He threw it in the direction of the cat with a shout, "Get out of here!" The cat backed up and hissed at Halthor.

He leaned down and picked up another rough slab of ice. Again he shouted at the cat to leave. When the oblong bit of ice struck the cat's shoulder it snarled but moved farther away. He was in the midst of grabbing a broken stick off of the side of the roadway when the cat looked back, as though it heard something. The dog went quiet except for a low, threatening growl. The cat turned and began to run south down the roadway in the direction it had come from. Halthor put the axe back through the loop on his belt where he customarily kept a hammer. As he mounted the pony, Halthor wondered if they were going to meet the cat farther up the road.

He patted the grey pony on her neck. As she shook her head, Halthor said, "Go on, you." The pony moved forward at a walk. Halthor held the lead from the halter in his left hand. He did his best not to think about how sore he was going to be later or of how much his thighs ached from his first day of riding. As they passed beneath the trees, he mentally assessed the arboreal giants. He recognized ironwood with its rust red bark. He saw several beech trees that looked as though they were afflicted with some sort of sickness for they seemed stunted and gnarled. As they passed by the one closest to the road, he wondered if the wood would be useful or if it would be weakened by the mystery illness.

Upward and onward, Halthor followed the road south and up the hill. It was beginning to draw near to evening when he saw the trees thinned out. At the apex of the hill, Halthor saw a dense grove of pines. He frowned and remembered the bailiff of Wye's warning. As he drew closer to the trees of the ledge, as the bailiff has called the place, Halthor pulled the axe from its loop and set it across his lap with a fold of his cloak covering it. The dog trotting beside him began to growl as the wind shifted and blew from a more southerly direction. "Probably that damn cat again," he muttered.

"Ho, there!" a voice called from among the trees. Halthor's right hand gripped the axe haft tighter. A man stepped into the road. Halthor noted that the man before him didn't seem armed but he doubted that the man was alone. Thus, Halthor did his best to watch to either side of himself as the road delved into the grove. Out the corner of his eye, Halthor saw a pale faced man coming forward from the trees towards him. Halthor raised is right hand and revealed his axe. The man approaching him from the left abruptly stopped. The one that tried to come from the right found himself facing an angry, snarling dog. "Call off your dog," the man standing in the middle of the road demanded.

"Call off your men," Halthor answered. The watchman of the royal road into Lord Cuthbert's holding glowered at Halthor. The man on the left took a step towards Halthor. Halthor moved the axe from his right to his left hand and fixed his would be opponent with a dark look. "I'd prefer it if you went back into the wood, friend," Halthor said to him.

"Who do you serve?" the apparent leader of the group asked. Halthor didn't give him a look as he stared down the bearded man at his left. "Answer me," the man demanded angrily. Halthor pointed at the man at his left with the axe. "Clear off," the leader barked at his subordinates. They moved back as Halthor looked forward.

"I serve the King and no other," Halthor answered. The man before him squinted at him. "Let me pass," he demanded, "I am bound for Wynnwode and south." The watchman opened his mouth to say something more when Halthor cut him off. "I'm not sleeping in the cold for your sake. Let me pass or I'll ride you down," Halthor said, trying to sound bolder than he felt. The watchman bared his teeth in a scornful snarl.

"How am I supposed to know that you're not being sent to cause trouble by Lord Wintrin?" he spat at Halthor.

"A night in Wye is hardly an audience with a lord," Halthor snapped, "I'm a builder going south to do work. Now let me pass." The watchman's companions observed the exchange with some irritation. They were growing bored with watching the builder argue with their leader. The dog did not move from Halthor's side and Halthor did not let his attention stray from the man nearest to him. When the leader of the group started forward, Halthor looked over at him. "What do you want from me?" Halthor demanded, "Coin? Food?"

"You're coming with me," the watchman said, "Wynnwode is a way point to Lord Cuthbert's castle. You are going to remain there until I know what your business is going south in the dead of winter." Halthor gave an exasperated sigh. The man at his left darted forward, thinking to take hold of the pony's lead when Halthor was otherwise occupied. Halthor's axe flashed and the man staggered back, grasping his upper right arm where blood gushed out. Halthor looked at the other two.

"Are we done?" he demanded as the man gripping his wounded arm swore mightily. The watchman looked at his companion. Suddenly, he didn't feel quite so cock sure of himself. It didn't help that Halthor was the first person he encountered that actually resisted. "Get on wi' yeh," Halthor said to the pony. As the grey mare began to walk forward, the leader of the group stepped back, careful to keep himself outside of Halthor's reach. The trio watched Halthor ride down the Royal road into Wynnwode. As the man who swore shouted vulgar things after Halthor's retreating back, his leader cuffed him upside the back of his head.

Halthor ignored them, deciding that he wanted to get to the inn at Wynnwode before dusk came. When he reached the town, he realized that Wynnwode was much larger than Wye. He road down the Royal road where it parted the town in half. On the western side, Halthor saw the ramshackle building that served as the temple of the Bound God. He usually would have been indifferent to the state of the holy building except there appeared to be someone living within the ragged place. As he passed by, a priest dressed in black and red came out. The man glared at Halthor. For a moment their eyes locked and Halthor saw the priest's expression move from irritation at a new arrival to utter loathing for some reason that Halthor was not aware of. As Halthor continued on to the inn, the priest's lips moved with some muttered incantation.

Inwardly, Halthor prayed that the Light Father would keep the evil of his cursed brother away from him. Halthor rode up to the inn and a stableman came forward. He awkwardly dismounted. The man with straw in his brown hair looked him over from head to toe. Halthor anticipated a sharp comment. Instead the stableman said, "Two groats and yer beast has shelter and feed. Three and it will be a blanket too." Halthor rummaged around in his pack. After a moment of searching, he pulled out a purse with coins in it. He counted out three of the heavy silver coins before putting them in the stableman's hand. The stableman nodded and helped Halthor take his sacks off of the pony.

With three sacks thrown over his shoulder and two held in his left hand with his purse of money, Halthor walked into the inn. The innkeeper looked over. Her eyes narrowed slightly until she spotted the purse. Soon, she was talking to him about a room for the night and less than subtly hinting that she could warm his bed for him for a bit of extra coin. Halthor made noncommittal comments as he paid for his room and a hot meal. When he had finished his food and made his way up to his small room, Halthor found himself bone weary. He fixed the purse to his belt and laid down on the narrow bed. Wrapped in his cloak, Halthor was soon asleep.

The sound of the door opening woke him deep in the night. He opened his eyes to see the watchman of earlier creeping into his room. Halthor took the small axe from where he had hidden it beneath the mattress. When the other man was at his side, Halthor brought up his axe and pressed it to the man's throat. The watchman froze, alarmed that his quarry was indeed awake and armed. "Leave and you will yet live," Halthor said quietly. The watchman looked down at him, troubled by the fact that his night vision was substantially worse than Halthor's. The watchman stepped back a pace. Halthor watched him. When Halthor sat up and put his feet on the floor, the watchman fled.

It was difficult for Halthor to sleep for the remainder of that night.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Craft of Writing - Staring at the Page.

"The best way to become a successful writer is to read good writing, remember it, and then forget where you remember it from." ~ Gene Fowler

At one point in time, I was told that we never write anything truly original. I was told that all the stories had been told and that all we were doing was rehashing earlier material with our own spin on it. That concept that the well of ideas was a limited data set never sat right with me. On days like today when I look at the blank page and I am feeling overwhelmed, that quote comes back up to gnaw on me. It does a great deal to throw a damper on my excitement for writing and ratchet up my anxiety.

I try to keep the stuff I have read in the past in mind. The good is what I uphold as my idols to emulate. The bad is what I use to remind myself that I can do better. Somewhere along the line, I find myself feeling like I'm just stuck in mediocrity. It is a painful place to be. I hate to admit it, but I want desperately to be special. I want to be someone that is upheld by others as a positive role model. I want to be the next great innovator of the craft.

They're rather insane goals to hold. Well, ok, the role model one may not be an insane goal to have. But the idea that I could some how bring a great innovation to the craft of writing is something that edges into grandiose egoism. I struggle with my voice and I struggle with my confidence. It is hard for me to see anything Earth shattering coming from this place I'm in right now. Still, I refuse to give up.

Perhaps I should work on stealing a page from Oscar Levant's book:

"There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line."

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Iron Lily (Part 6)

Halthor tended the fire as his companion stretched out on her cloak. Out the corner of his eye, the builder watched her set her bowl down. The dog trotted up to the bowl and sniffed at it. As she ran a hand over the dog's back, the thin creature began to lap up the remnants of the thin soup that had served as their meal. She watched the dog with her tawny eyes, looking more concerned with the dog's state than Halthor.

She said something in the strange language that she had earlier. The dog paused in bolting down gobbets of meat. As it sniffed the air, the woman slowly began to sit up. The dog moved closer to her. Carefully, she picked up the dog and cradled it in her lap. Lightly, her hands ran over it as she began to sing. Halthor sat on the sleeping platform. A pang of guilt washed over him at keeping his companion from the warmth of it. He coughed slightly.

The woman continued her song and ignored him. Halthor heard the wind blowing hard outside. The woman paused in her caressing of the dog to reach up and take hold of the rope handle of the door behind her. She pulled it more firmly shut before turning back to the dog that was curled up in her lap. When she resumed her song, she looked from the dog to Halthor. "Nict ist longe," she said, "Sleap." Halthor looked at the sleeping platform and back to her. She shook her head and pointed at where she sat.

Halthor silently questioned if the woman would steal his goods or otherwise try to do him harm. He reached up to touch the hidden talisman beneath his tunic and felt the charm that the strange woman had given him. Decided that someone who had given him the means to hide the king's talisman and warned him of the black priests waiting down the road was not someone that would do him evil as he slept, Halthor laid down on the platform. With his cloak wrapped around him, Halthor soon found himself drifting off to sleep.

He dreamed of Starhaven. In his dreams, it was late at night. The builder's guild walked through the streets from the guild house with torches. Behind them, young men bore Aleric's body wrapped in a shroud on a board between them. They walked with a stately pace beneath the cold light of the high stars and fading moons. A man beat a drum as they walked as another played the shrill pipes that Aleric had always hated. The procession moved from the guild house to the northern wall of the city. They then laid the body upon a bier. Halthor ran through the procession but men passed him by as though he were a ghost. A flagon of oil was poured over the master builder's lifeless body as someone chanted the litany of Aleric's ancestors. Halthor watched helplessly as the masters of the guilds each laid their torch against the bier. As the flames crackled and popped, Halthor screamed.

He woke with a start with his cry of agony on his lips. The first thing that struck Halthor was that the traveler's rest was cold. He sat up and saw thin fingers of light reaching around the door. Halthor realized that it was at least a few hours after dawn and he had lost valuable travel time. He looked around his shelter and discovered that the mysterious woman had gone sometimes as he slept. Halthor looked to his belongings and found everything remained as it was when he fell asleep. He picked up his cloak and wrapped it around himself to ward off the chill. As he set his pack on his shoulder, he heard a noise outside the door.

Halthor walked over to it and opened it. He winced at the brightness of the daylight. The pony stood near the door, pawing at the earth. Halthor stared at the pony trying to determine what it seemed to queer. Then he realized that the saddle was upon her back and all but the bag that laid close to him was loaded and lashed in their proper place. Halthor counted the bags. All was accounted for and seemed to be in proper order. He looked around for the dog. When he didn't see the perked red ears bounding through the snow, Halthor decided that perhaps the woman had taken the dog with her.

He turned back to pick up his pack. The dog's happy yip startled him. Halthor looked to where the lowest point of the sloping roof was. There, he found his canine companion stretching and seemingly waking from its own rest. Halthor realized as he looked at the dog that the dog's coat was sleek and it no longer looked to be a painfully neglected animal. Halthor shook his head with confusion. He walked over and picked up his bag. "Come on, you," he said to the dog as it trotted up to him.

Halthor stepped out and secured his pack to the pony. With a little effort, he managed to mount the patient creature. Giving the beast its head, Halthor rode back to the royal road. The dog bounced merrily at his side. When he was again moving southward along the royal road, Halthor wondered what he was going to do about the black priests. The road sharply began to climb up a steep hill. The sure footed pony walked up the rise with surprising ease. Halthor looked back and realized he couldn't see Wye behind him anymore.

He turned his attention back to the path before him. A part of him insisted he should turn back for Starhaven. Troubled by the dream from the night before, Halthor felt the pains of homesickness even sharper than he had the day before. The path leveled out and Halthor wondered how much farther it was until he reached another traveler. After a time, he began to get uncomfortable with how the pony jostled him with her steps. Halthor dismounted and walked, holding the pony's halter. The cold seeped into his boots and began to make his feet ache. Halthor's stomach rumbled, reminding him that he had not eaten.

Halthor paused and looked up at the sky. Though low clouds were filling in from the west, he realized that it was drawing close to midday. Halthor took one of the sacks of grain and began to arrange it for his mount to feed. He was partly through the process of getting it settled when the dog barked. Halthor looked over at the piebald animal. The dog barked again in a tone of greater urgency as it stared southward. Halthor looked in the direction that the dog was. He squinted but couldn't see anything untoward ahead of them on the road. Halthor nudged the dog with the toe of his right boot. "Quit it," he said, "It's just the wind." The dog looked up at him and then back to the south.

Halthor shook his head. He dug into his pack and pulled out the remnant of the day before's loaf of bread and a lump of hard cheese. Halthor broke off a chunk of cheese and tossed it to the dog. As the dog began to worry at the cheese, Halthor ate his food and questioned how long it would be before the weather became unpleasant. Halthor finished his food and stepped off the road to tend to the necessities of nature when the dog began to bark again. He was in the midst of tying his belt about his waist when the dog's barking changed to growl of warning. Halthor rushed out of the trees.

He looked towards where the dog was staring. A large cat was padding towards them. Halthor swore softly to himself as he took hold of the hand axe that was given to him in Wye.

Word-smithing In Progress!

I may not be slaving over an anvil and forge right now. The act of writing is generally less physically labor intensive as black-smithing. Still, I am at work on generating words and putting them into correct order. Today, the majority of my work was off line. I am not entirely pleased with my work, to be honest. I feel that the vast majority of what I produced today was dross.

Still, I am putting in the effort and plying my trade as best I can. Blog posts have been difficult for me because I simply wasn't sure what to share. Spending several days trying to write your way out of a creative hole is not exactly much fun. It also does not lead to entertaining reading. (I did have some vexation over shenanigans I was witness to on the internet earlier this week. It lead to my writing my first script ever. It is a very off the cuff and rough bit. Still, if you want to take a look here is the link. It is satire and there is a bit of adult language.)

Right now, I am steadily working through the process of getting a manuscript ready for publication. I think that I am nearing the final stages of the editing process. Line edits are painfully tedious but necessary part of the process. I find myself optimistic that the text is ready. The next major step is the development of covers and the blurb. I will be posting previews of the covers when I have them ready. It will be a few weeks.

I am a loss for how to proceed on a few projects relating to the world of the Umbrel Chronicles. I think, however, inspiration will come. At the very least, I will find a solution through the sheer volume of work that I will write until I reach that point of inspiration.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Iron Lily (Part 5)

Halthor didn't like the way the grey pony he rode jostled him with each step. He did not enjoy the bracing cold air that made his face hurt and his breath turn to ice in his beard. He especially did not like how the sun's light was nearly blinding off of the snow on the fields as he rode south. The dog's white coat made her hard to spot when her head was low. Though the ruddy tip of her tail whipped back and forth like some sort of flag when ever Halthor stopped and dismounted, for that was when the dog scampered and jumped. As much as he didn't want to admit it, Halthor was enjoying the comical company of his canine companion.

Wye was just a dirty smudge in the distance that he could see if he craned his neck just right when he was on the back of the pony. Now, however, he was walking southward, holding the pony's lead as the dog ran excitedly around him. The brilliant blue sky seemed unnaturally so to Halthor. The silence of the wood made him uncomfortable. What perhaps made him most uncomfortable was the fact that it wasn't an absolute silence. He could hear noises of animals and of snow falling off of the high branches of the trees. The wind made an eerie sigh through those branches, and blew about his cloak just enough to send a knife of cold through him where his coat had a gap in the front.

"Bugger it all," Halthor muttered, "Where am I going to find a dry place to sit and eat?" The pony's ear's flicked back as he spoke. She then stopped walking. Halthor pulled on the lead but the equine did not move. "Come on," he snapped, "We've got leagues to go before dark." The pony pulled hard on the lead and jerked the rope out of Halthor's hands. She then turned and began walking into the trees. "God rotting beast," Halthor snarled before stomping after it. As Halthor began to catch up to the pony, she tossed her head and walked faster on some sort of path that was buried in the snow. "Get back here!" he shouted. The dog barked loudly.

Soon, they reached a clearing with a low, ramshackle structure built on the leeward side of the boulder on the far side of the clearing where they entered. The pony walked to the side of the building and pawed at the snow. Halthor approached and wondered who cared for this place. As he drew closer to it, he realized it was far more sturdy than it had seemed when he first laid eyes on it. The rough hewen logs that at first looked so haphazardly thrown together revealed that they were joined together by the builder with some competence. Between the gaps of the logs, Halthor saw the ruddy clay that served as mortar and the bark applied over it. While the bark was peeling, enough of it remained that from a distance the building seemed entirely fashioned of wood. A door stood on the far side of the building, which Halthor discovered as he walked about it.

The handle was a length of weathered, braided cord passed through a hole in the door and looped over a peg to hold it closed. Snow was piled before the entrance, but the boulder managed to prevent much of a drift from forming. Halthor dug away some of the snow and pulled the door open. It was dark inside the building after the bright light of the day. when he stepped in and his eyes adjusted, Halthor found the shelter was clean and dry. A rough platform for sleeping lay near the clay fireplace. He leaned down and looked closely at the fireplace. He nodded slightly with appreciation of the anonymous builder's skill when he realized that they had diverted a measure of the chimney to pass under the sleeping platform, thus warming it from below. Looking at the sloping windward wall, the traveling builder could see random graffiti and markings left by those who had passed by before him through this traveler's rest.

Halthor walked out into the day. He found the grey pony waiting near the door. He patted her nose. "I suppose I was wrong about you," he said, scratching her behind her ears. The dog trotted into the traveler's rest. As it sniffed its way around the one room structure, the tail continued to wag happily, possibly a bit faster than it was when chasing the pony. Halthor took the packs off of the pony's back and carried them into the traveler's rest. As he set them down, he looked in the ones that the bailiff of Wye had given him. Finding two bags of grain that Toby had somehow managed to load on the pony with out Halthor's realization, the builder opened one and brought it out to the pony.

Awkwardly, Halthor gave the pony her feed. He walked back into the shelter and saw the dun and white colored dog sniffing at his bags. The auburn haired man knelt beside the underfed dog and sighed. He opened the pack he had brought from Starhaven and pulled out some of the leathery strips of jerky that were near the top of the stack of food within. He tossed two to the dog, which immediately turned into the red eared dog snapping it up and worrying at it. Halthor sat down on the sleeping platform and began to chew meditatively on his strip of jerky. He considered the distance he had come and found himself feeling troubled.

"I've never been this far before," he said out loud. The dog didn't look up from the strip of jerky it was gnawing on. "I hope that Aleric is all right," he continued, as though the dog had taken interest, "I'm sure that he's well. The weather hasn't been harsh. And I know that the king's men have been bringing him wood to work with. The scraps are more than enough for him to keep warm with. I don't know if bumble footed Ruah is actually going to be useful, though. He's a bad apprentice, drinking most of his wages. I'm sure Aleric will find away to keep him straight." Halthor sighed.

He set his strip of jerky on his knee and opened the wineskin that Aleric insisted he carry. Taking a drink of the surprisingly potent stuff, Halthor considered the bailiff's warning. Halthor had moved the hammer to resting in his sack with his other tools. The worn axe that Griff handed him now hung at his side. Halthor found himself curious if the small axe had chopped more than wood in its use by its previous owner. The wind grew sharply louder and the door swung slightly as a gust blew in. Halthor looked towards the door.

Outside, the sky had begun to dim as clouds piled up. Halthor fixed the stopper in the wineskin and walked out the door. He looked up at the sky and frowned. "That doesn't look good," he muttered. The dog trotted up to him and sniffed at the bit of jerky in his left hand. Halthor looked down at the hungry creature. "Eh, here," he said, "I've got wood to cut." He tossed the jerky towards the interior of the traveler's rest and the dog darted after it. Halthor stepped out into the clearing and the pony lifted her head from where he had the feed bag propped up in the snow. "You don't know where there's dry wood, do you?" he said as he patted her neck.

The pony turned and started to walk towards the treeline. Halthor shook his head in amazement. "Gods strike me," he said, "I think you do." He followed the grey animal until they reached a thicket. A mound stood a short distance into the trees. The pony walked up to it and pawed at the snow covering it. Halthor moved to the mound and dug in the snow. Soon, he reached what seemed a pile of leaves. As he pushed the leaves aside, he found a large piece of leather. With some effort, Halthor pried the stiff material up and was rewarded with a pile of firewood. "Who tends this rest?" he muttered as he picked up an armload of the material before letting the flap he lifted fall back.

Halthor made his way back to his shelter and soon had a small fire going in the hearth. He was pleasantly surprised to see that his canine companion did not go digging through the sack with his food in it for more dried meat. Instead, the dog had sat waiting at the doorway, chewing on the strip of jerky that he had given it. As Halthor built the fire, he heard the wind whistling around the chimney top that was built against the boulder. After a bit of work, Halthor had his fire and a pot of snow melting over it.

When the door of the shelter opened, Halthor looked over. His pot of snow was nearly fully melted and he was in the middle of pulling out some of the dried roots that Aleric had given him for soup stuff. A woman dressed in heavy furs and woolens that were dusted with snow stepped in to the shelter. Halthor started to stand. In her right hand, she held a bow that was unstrung and in her left, a brace of rabbits that had been skinned and cleaned for the pot. She motioned towards Aleric's old pot with the rabbits. Halthor moved to the side and she walked up and carefully deposited them.

She pushed back her hood and Halthor saw that her skin was as pale as one of the noblewomen he had seen at Starhaven. Her eyes were a tawny gold and her hair was almost the color of polished maple. As the mysterious woman walked to the door to secure it more firmly against the blowing wind, Halthor said, "Are you traveling north?" The woman turned to face him. She gestured north and then pantomimed walking three times. "You are going to Starhaven?" Halthor asked. The woman shook her head and held up five fingers. "Five days?" he asked. The woman nodded. "That will bring you to the edge of the high mountains. It is a hard road there. They say that fey things live there. Men come back changed when they go past them."

The woman gave a small laugh. Halthor looked at the pot and sighed. The woman reached into the pouch she wore on her belt. She pulled out a folded packet of parchment.  Thrusting it into Halthor's hands, she walked over to sit beside the door. The dog trotted up to her. She began to pet it and the dog made a happy noise before flopping on the dirt floor for belly rubs. Halthor opened the mysterious packet and found a small quantity of sharply scented powder within it. He touched the tip of his little finger to his tongue and then the finger to the powder. As he tasted it, he recognized the spicy bite of fireweed. The woman motioned towards the pot. Halthor added the spice and noted that the pot conveniently began to boil shortly afterwards.

Halthor sat down on the sleeping platform. His companion tapped her chest. Halthor looked at her in confusion. She did so again and he looked down at himself, wondering if something about his clothes was amiss. The woman moved towards him and began to draw in the loose earth. He soon found himself looking at the image of a stag's head with a line drawn through the tines of the antlers. Halthor's blood chilled as his mind went to the talisman he wore beneath his shirt. Unable to keep the look of surprise and concern from his face, Halthor looked at the woman before him numbly.

She made a dismissive gesture and rubbed out the image she had drawn. Haltingly, she said, "Fadur sends me." Realizing that he didn't understand her, the woman began to draw a series of images on the ground. From her pictures, Halthor realized that someone had sent her north looking for someone.

"Me?" he asked. The woman nodded. Halthor shifted in his seat. He attempted to stealthily reach for the small axe beside him. The woman noticed his motion and held her hands up in a gesture of surrender. She moved to sit beside the door again. Halthor looked at her warily. The woman opened the clasp of her cloak and spread it upon the ground. She sat down upon it. She drew forth from beneath the neckline of her own coat a pendant. It was a flat, round stone. Bowing her head, she took the pendant off and held it out to him. When Halthor made no motion towards her, she looked at the dog.

She said something in a language that sounded almost like his own but also birdlike. The dog sat up and looked intently at her. She set the cord of the necklace in the dog's mouth and it carried the affair over to Halthor. He took it from the dog and looked down at it. Engraved on the disk was a stylized bird with some kind of ribbon over its eyes, blindfolding it. Halthor looked over at the woman. She pantomimed putting the necklace on. Warily, Halthor did so. Suddenly, he felt the weight of the king's talisman vanish. Halthor gasped and pulled the pendant the woman had given him off. As the cord snapped at the back of his neck, the crystal talisman returned.

The woman again mimed putting on the necklace. Halthor did so and the curious sensation returned. "Blak sonnes waht en sur," the woman said. Halthor looked down at the pendant. Though the rabbit broth was fragrant and his stomach rumbled, Halthor discovered he had no appetite. The woman's words sounded strange, but Halthor knew what she meant. The black priests were waiting farther down the road. He looked up from the pendant.

"How many days?" Halthor asked. The woman held up one finger. He looked down at the small axe at his side. His stomach twisted. The thought of possibly having to fight for his life on the morrow made him feel sick. The woman motioned towards the steaming pot with a gesture of urgency. Halthor looked over and discovered that the rabbits were cooked. As he dipped his long handled spoon into the pot, the woman approached with a pair of cunningly wrought bowls. She offered one to Halthor. He spooned the broth into each, making sure that they both had a goodly portion of the cooked rabbits. Halthor took his horn spoon out from the pouch on his hip.

He pushed the meat around and tried not to think of Matias's ruined face. The woman reached out and touched his wrist. Halthor looked over. She put her spoon to her lips. Halthor nodded and began to eat. As he did so, he worried about what the next day was going to bring and what more his new companion was going to do.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Promo... wut?

I don't have any new volumes out to exhort you to read. I don't have any nifty blogs to connect you to right now. I am really batting 0 out of 1000 at the moment. Sorry about that.

On the plus side, however, I saw around 16 birds at the three bird feeders in my front yard today. I felt almost like a Disney princess as I sat there attempting to come up with something to post or write. I had very little luck in the writing department but the goldfinches were charming.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

New Writing Buddy!

I don't share enough pictures on here. So, I have decided so indulge in a bit of whimsy tonight. Here is the picture of my newest writing buddy. I have sitting on the desktop computer a one-eyed elephant beanie baby. He's named Odin. He happens to be neon pink and he has an aftermarket eye patch that I made from a bit of brown plaid ribbon. It is his left eye that is missing, but I'm not going to be worrying about the authenticity of the little plush pachyderm.

On the tag for my dragon buddy (who is an order of magnitude larger than the elephant, which is proper for all things) the name given is Darla. I'm not feeling much love for this name. Thus, I have decided that they require a new name. Despite being pink with sparkles, the dragon is not female. Nope, this is a gender fluid pushie who is sparkly because of how awesome they are. I ask you, my readers, to suggest names for this mascot! Post your suggestion in the comments. :)

Monday, May 2, 2016

Flora et Fauna: Exotic Plants & Animals

This week's post about the wildlife and plant life of Evandar is a departure from previous posts where I featured an individual species. There is a very wide array of plants and animals in this world. The geography is varied and the biosphere is complex. This is something that we should expect in any world. Sometimes, plants and creatures from parts of the world are brought out of their native regions and to a place that is less hospitable. Like in our world, this creates challenges to animal husbandry and horticulture with these exotic species.

A thriving trade system that ferries these exotics from their respective native regions to elsewhere is both a thing of great financial challenge and reward. There are parties who view the ability to bring rare specimens to their clients as a thing to boast about. This, however, is something that is only valuable if you can actually deliver the goods. In some cases, the methods of transport will have a high cost in supplies for their specialized cargo. In other cases, the cost is in the acquisition of that cargo is going to be high and securing it against people who would steal it is very much a thing to be concerned with.

While the technology for thing such as hot houses is not common, they are not unheard of. It is partly a thing of technological effort and partly a thing of arcane practice. As such, when a person of high degree has some type of exotic plant or animal that requires such specialized care, they are viewed with a mixture of awe and suspicion. The common person lacks knowledge of such creatures and generally views them as mythical. And mythical creatures are almost unilaterally beings that are regarded with fear in this world.

Interestingly, exotic plants are not regarded with quite the same degree of suspicion. They would be assumed to be poison as a general rule, but there would be less fear of somehow getting involved in an otherworldly mess. There will also be far more production of faux product with the exotic plants. The idea of plants being 'safer' than animals is rooted in the mythology that says the plants are the result of the efforts of the benevolent deities. Animals, however, have the potential of being tangled up with the malevolent deities.