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.

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

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.


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.