Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Holiday Memories

   Some of my fondest memories are from growing up in the mid to late fifties. In the early fifties, after his discharge from the Army Air Corps, and completing a four year degree, my dad bounced around from one temp job to another. Low income made it difficult for him to find us decent places to live. In 1956, he finally landed a permanent position at Westinghouse in Baltimore.
   Half-way between Baltimore and Annapolis was a new housing development aimed specifically at returning GI's. The homes were being mass-produced using surplus steel and cement. The only wood used in construction was on the roof to attach the shingles. With one floor plan to choose from, the only option was to have one built in a mirror image. They came with a wood-burning stove in the utility room next to the kitchen, and an enclosed room in the middle of the house designed as a shelter.
   The early years were tough for my family yet I never felt lacking. Dad had to work a lot of overtime to make the house and car payments, but always tried to make time for me. Sometimes that would have to happen after I'd been spanked for a wrong-doing while he was gone. I was a pretty wild kid! LOL Most of my presents in those days were home-made, and I made toys out of scraps in the garage. Luckily for me, my dad was an engineer and could make almost anything. Sometimes I wonder just how many millions of dollars made off of his inventions. Anyway, I'll never forget the rapid fire, rubber-band rifle that held up to ten bands, or the hobby horse he and my mother made. She sewed together a realistic looking horse head with ears, eyes, a mouth and a mane. Dad stuffed it and mounted it to an old broom handle. That horse and my cap-gun saw many adventures over the years.
   I could go on forever remembering the wonderful things my family and folks in the neighborhood would do to make the holidays special for all the kids. My presents became progressively more advanced every year. I even remember a chemistry set that contained a vial of real uranium and a roll of film negatives for experiments! It's too bad the world will never experience community spirit and solidarity like that again.
   Thanks for reading.

In the morning, the inn was abuzz with activity. Not only were the companions leaving but several villagers decided this would be a good time to bring some of their early produce to market in the capitol. They also felt that the Princess and her friends would be better received if members of the village were there to vouch for them.
The only quiet moment occurred while they were eating breakfast and a group of women approached the table, two of them holding bundles.
“We stayed up all night a’maken this for ye. A mage be needin a mage’s robe and m’lady a nice gown to be meetn’ da King. Tis a gift from the women of this village for what ye done.”
Speechless, Aldan stood with tears in his eyes as the women gathered around and placed a robe on him made of the softest, bleached leather he had ever felt. Even with flowing sleeves, a hood and reaching almost to the floor, it sat lightly on his shoulders. Pockets of various sizes and shapes filled the inside while golden thread accented the seams and displayed whimsical but faint patterns on the outside.
“Our village is well known throughout the Kingdom for the soft leather and the fine linens we produce,” another woman explained. “We save up the material to bring to market once a year but its value is nothing compared to the lives you have spared.”
Odessa held up her new gown and marveled at the quality of the fabric and the expertise with which it was made. It was simple yet elegant and the color complemented her eyes perfectly. Unable to voice her gratitude, she could only smile and hug the women surrounding her.
Arms flung out and a big smile on his face, Aldan spun around a few times to the boisterous cheers of all gathered there. The women were urged forward to receive a hug and kiss from the mage which made the young ones giggle and blush and the older ones tried to stretch out the kisses as long as they could.

Jealous husbands and concerned fathers rushed forward on the pretense that they were saving Aldan from their amorous womenfolk. Odessa settled the issue by wrapping her arms around him and planted a kiss that brought forth a chorus of hoots and whistles. As they returned to the table she shared a sad but knowing look with Jon, the compassion clear in his eyes.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Fine-Toothed Comb

   We had another fun and productive critique group last night. An old member decided to come back, and we added a new member to the group. We keep getting bigger, and it has me a little worried. We've managed to streamline our critique process to cut down on the amount of time spent by each person. Time will tell. At least the group hasn't mutinied yet and sent me packing.
   Our group is set up to do a beta read on a complete manuscript the second meeting of each month. Last night's beta read brought up an important point and the focus of this blog. This was a 120k word story the writer had been working on for years. They told us they had read it several times and checked for mistakes with a "fine-toothed comb".
   It's amazing what our mind will do to fool us. If you've been working on the same piece for years, our mind will correct the mistakes automatically and we'll never see them. You know in your mind how it's supposed to read, and that's what you see. Everyone in the group commented on the large number of mistakes, such as mis-spelled or missing words, and bad grammar. I felt sorry for them as they sat there with a dumb-founded look on their face. Fortunately, some of the group took the time to mark every mistake and send the file back.
   Fine-toothed combs are not a good editing tool. LOL
   This week's snippet is early in Navon's story, and hints at a developing relationship that will change his life. Thanks for reading.

In the morning, Navon rolled over in his cot and came face to face with three hairy muzzles with fangs and yellow eyes that danced with excitement. The pups started nipping playfully at his blankets and the cot, threatening to tip it over.
“Alright, alright!” Navon laughed as he swung his legs out. “I’m getting up, but what are you three doing here?”
The young wolves turned and trotted toward the entrance of the tent, their job done. Just before passing through the flaps, the female turned, showed him what could only be described as a wolf smile, and continued with her tail flagged out playfully behind her. Shaking his head, Navon pulled on his boots, and then reached over for his sword, belting it on. He finally accepted the fact that Emma must be right, his life was in danger. He swore he would never be caught defenseless again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Description vs. Dialogue

   This came up in a conversation online where someone worried they had written too much dialogue and not enough description. They felt their dialogue was the stronger aspect of their writing and struggled to write good descriptions. This question comes up all the time in writer groups online and in my critique group. Here are my thoughts.
   One thing to keep in mind is how everyone looks at the world differently. You and I could read the same description and see something totally different. You could describe a scene in the finest, most minute detail, and the reader will see a different scene than you intended. Some of it depends on that person's life experiences. If you are trying to describe a rain forest in your story and the reader has visited the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest, then that is what they'll see in their mind's eye regardless of how you describe it.
   While it's fine to write to your strengths, too much of a good thing can get boring. If you force yourself to write a little description here and there throughout the narrative, eventually it will get easier and your writing will improve. I feel it's especially important to help the reader, when you change scenes, by adding at least enough description to set the new scene. I think you'd be surprised how little description some readers need to envision a fully developed scene.
   Today's scene is from one of my stories, and while there is plenty of emotion I hope you can feel, it is also a good example of introducing a new scene. A short description in the beginning to develop the scene, and subtle descriptions mixed in with the dialogue to enhance the emotion.
   As with everything else I've discovered in writing, balance is the key to keeping my interest. Thanks for reading!

Nestled up against the base of Mount Baltok, where the capital city of Kiplar had originally set down its roots, sat an old non-descript inn. Known as the place for late night meetings between discreet lovers, and those whose actions were best kept hidden, its innkeeper never lacked for money. No one remembered the inn’s original name. Based on the faded sign above the door, that supposedly sported the likeness of the first Queen of Dahlian with two pints of ale pictured below, the name “The Queen’s Jugs” had stuck. Only the innkeeper was aware of the irony of the name considering the identity of one of his patrons.
In a dark booth farthest from the door, two hooded figures sat in a lovers embrace. The pain of long-buried memories resurfacing threatened to overwhelm the Queen as she softly kissed the lips of the old arms-master and gently traced the scars on his cheek with her fingers. The face of a young guardsman hovered before her as the past overcame the present, and she lost herself to the feelings she had buried for so long. He reached up to cover her hand with his as she pulled back, the flickering candlelight revealing a sad smile on his face.
“The memory of your soft lips has never left me even after all these years. Please believe me when I say I never stopped loving you, Olivia. I used to curse the Eyes for the position we found ourselves in, until I realized I could protect you better from the shadows than by your side.”
“Oh Malcom, I’ve missed you so,” she murmured while resting her head on his shoulder. “What happened to our love, my handsome young protector?  Why have you chosen now to bring back painful memories from so long ago?”
The arms-master stiffened at her question and then let out a sigh heavy with regret. “The Deluti happened. It is also one of the reasons I needed to meet with you like this. The story I have to tell may not be easy for you to hear.”
It was Olivia’s turn to stiffen as she lifted her head and stared at him, the eyes of a queen replacing those of a young princess in love. “I’m listening.”

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A New Focus

   As some of you may know, I've been dealing with a fairly serious medical issue for most of the year. The depression that comes after heart surgery, loss of hair and major changes in life-style have all made it nearly impossible for me to attempt writing again. Something has to change.
   I don't sell many books simply because no one knows they're out there. I can't afford to advertise, and I haven't been well enough to go out and participate in book signings, etc. All of the reviews I have received were positive and generic. Words like; "Wonderful story", "Loved it", or "Action packed with great characters", is nice to hear, but am I really connecting with the reader?
   If I write a scene and it brings tears to my eyes, will the reader tear up also? What about the scene that has me laughing, will the reader at least smile? I don't know and that bothers me. Starting today, I will share a short scene on the blog and ask folks to please read and comment on whatever emotion they felt while reading.
   I'm hoping at least a small number of my friends will be willing to spend a few minutes helping me identify my strengths and weaknesses. I need to find a way to restore my confidence and continue writing.
   As always, thanks for reading!

The company turned as one toward the sound of trotting horses and the clatter of wagons. Everyone’s spirits lifted at the promise of transportation back home. Several men headed for the stables in search of hay to line the wagon bed for Derek. Braun and his men began the arduous task of dragging the dead goblins over to the entrance of the inn.
A two wheeled farmers cart and two wagons appeared on the road. The young man, who had run back to the village, jumped down from the cart but before he could reach them, bent over retching overcome by the stench.
The driver of the first wagon gathered up her skirts and began the difficult task of climbing down from the wagon. One of the men rushed over to help her. Safely on the ground, she tucked several stray silver locks back under her bright red scarf, pulled a cane from the wagon and searched the faces of the men.
Carefully, she made her way toward the side of the inn barely glancing at the grotesque bodies of the dead goblins. She walked unerringly to the tarp covered body that lay not far from Derek and the others. Using the cane, she slowly lowered herself to the ground, bent over and pulled the tarp away from the face of the man hidden underneath.
Gently, she brushed the blood soaked hair out of his eyes and kissed him on the forehead. Silence abounded as some of the men had to look away while others could not. Odessa wrapped her arms around Aldan and buried her face in his chest, sobbing quietly.
“Harold, you old fool,” the old woman murmured. “You just had to prove yourself one last time didn’t you.”
She glanced up at the men standing there. “Did he die bravely?”
Derek forced an answer past his own tears. “He saved the lives of several men, m’lady, including my own. A braver man I have never known.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

   It feels like the only thing I have to write about anymore is my health, or lack of it. I purposely put off writing a blog for a couple of weeks hoping I would have something involving writing or my books to talk about. No such luck.
   In the last two weeks I've been to the ER three times. My heart kept going back into a-fib. They hit me with the paddles the first time, but only lasted two days before it happened again. Then it was something into my IV, and the doctor finally decided to put me on this really nasty medication that prevents my heart from beating too fast (a good thing), but could kill me without warning (not a good thing). Who knows how long it'll be before they can schedule the procedure to isolate the nerves sending the wrong signal and disconnect it.
   And if all that wasn't bad enough, my hair started falling out in fist-fulls about a week ago. I know some of you are probably thinking, "What's the big deal?" Well for me, my long blond pony-tail was about the only thing I liked about myself. It felt like the only thing I could do right, and also identified me as a Vietnam vet. I'll be bald by next week and won't want to leave the house. All this and I want a cigarette so frikin bad I could scream. I just can't suddenly stop a 55 year old habit and deal with it coherently.
   On a somewhat positive note, I did finish re-writing the short story I was working on months ago and submitted it to my critique group. They all loved it with only a few minor comments. I addressed those and entered it into several contests. We'll see what happens.
   I hope this rainbow brings you a pot of gold! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Long Road Back

   It will be a while before I can get back in the saddle again, but at least I've been re-acquainting myself with the horse. I've gone back to a couple of my short stories and concentrated on incorporating some of the suggestions I received from my critique group months ago. Re-submitted to both groups and the feedback has been positive so far. It is so much easier to come back when everyone is so enthusiastic about your return.
   The larger stories will have to wait. I don't write using outlines, or plot every scene in my stories. They come together in my head over a period of time, and when I'm satisfied, it gets put down on paper. So much has happened over the past year or so that the second book in the series I was working on has disappeared. I will have to go back and re-read the first book and everything I've written up to this point to get the story back in my head. Only then will I be able to continue.
   It's frustrating all the little things that are interfering with my life right now. Over the last couple of months as I was healing, about the only thing I could do was sleep and day-dream. Now it's a constant battle not to fall back on that routine every time I close my eyes. Nothing is getting done! After they pulled the artery out of my leg to use on my heart, I've had trouble walking normally. Finally, yesterday it was like a switch turned on in my brain, and I can walk again. I'm hoping something like that will happen soon with my hands as it's like I've forgotten how to write. Since I write all my stories by hand, this hasn't helped my attempts to return.
   When I started this blog a couple years ago, I would always add a short scene I'd just written. People rarely commented so I eventually stopped. Would anyone be interested in reading scenes again? If so, let me know and I'll start sharing again.
   Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Day My Life Stood Still

   It's 5am and already the hospital is a hive of activity. We waited by the fake fireplace along with others who probably felt the same sense of apprehension as I did. Nothing showed on our faces, however.
   A young nurse soon arrived to escort me down to the lower levels of the building into an area partitioned by curtains into separate cubicles. The woman who greeted us was all business and efficiency, and pointed to the cloth covered table. "We have a lot to do to prepare you for your surgery. So, if you would get undressed and lay down here, we'll get started."
   The other nurse returned and they went to work. As I lay there naked while they inserted I/V's into both my arms, shaved practically every inch of my body, and used a black marker to draw little pictures on me, I wondered if I was being prepped for surgery or as a sacrifice to some pagan god.
   The doctor poked his head in and said, "It's time"
   My dearest friend squeezed my hand, and the last thing I heard was, "I love you. Come back to me."

   I'm alive, I think. But I can't see and I can't breathe. Is that my heart beating? Yes! The voice came again, and this time I could understand the words.
   "Breathe, Roland! I need you to breathe."
   I'm too hot and the blankets are wrapped too tight for me to breathe, I tried to tell him. However, the tube down my throat made it impossible to speak. Fear is setting in and I begin to panic. Being strapped down and unable to move didn't help.
   "Breathe for me, Roland. I can't take the tube out of your throat until you're breathing on your own."
   I don't know if it was the fear or my brain finally beginning to function, but I managed to draw a tiny bit of air into my lungs. PAIN! I would have screamed if I could. I don't remember him pulling the tube, but when I became aware again, the tube was out, I could see, and they had me sitting up.
   The flood of voices overwhelmed me as nurses and doctors double-checked the four I/V's, the three 1/2 in. drain tubes coming out of my chest, the catheters in my neck and arm, and all the sensors from head to toe feeding the bank of monitors next to my bed. That was 2 1/2 months ago and I still have a long way to go. Three months of cardio rehab and it could take up to a year for a full recovery.
   I still have a difficult time comprehending the fact that for 5 hours I had no heartbeat and wasn't breathing. Was I dead? I don't know, but I'm alive now and have a completely different outlook on life. Not yet sure if that's a good thing or not.
   Picture is what I saw the first time I was able to look in a mirror. Not pretty.
   Thanks for reading. Next post should be back to my struggles with writing.