Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Battle of the Muse

   The last several weeks have been some of the most frustrating days of my life. As some of you may know, I reached the last chapter of my WIP and the ink in my pen dried up. No matter what I did, the words would not come. I took my notebook and pen with me everywhere I went and sat down with it in front of me day after day. The blank page just sat there mocking me and I could see my muse sitting in a corner, feet up and making faces.
   On Monday, I'd finally had enough and with pen in hand, I challenged my muse. The fight was on. It was like arguing with a two year old.
   "We need to write this last chapter," I would say. My muse would stick out his tongue and respond with, "I don't wanna."
   Finally I said, "Alright, how about if I start with a chapter number and title?"
   "Go ahead. Knock yourself out."
   Almost an hour later and a lot of back and forth, he said, "The least you could do is add an opening sentence."
   I had him! The ink started to flow again. Of course we had to argue over every sentence but soon I had at least 500 words on the page. It's now Wednesday and I'm almost finished.
   I hope I never have to go through this again. It had such a negative impact on my life and I'm sure it affected those around me also.
   To celebrate, here is the first scene of the last chapter. I will share the whole thing on Saturday.
   Thanks for reading.

He had read about the morning after glow, but Aldan never understood what that meant until now. It was as if, for this short period of time at least, all was right with the world. The doubts and concerns of yesterday were forgotten, and his insecurity a thing of the past. Maybe it was an after-effect of the magic he used last night to bind them together, but a golden mist covered them like a warm blanket. Unfortunately, the gravity of their situation filled his thoughts with a clarity he’d never experienced before.

He rolled up on one elbow to gaze with wonder at Odessa’s beauty and the realization that she returned his love. She surprised him by reaching up, entangling her fingers in his hair and urged his lips to meet hers in a passionate kiss. He sensed the smile behind her kiss and opened his eyes to dark green pools that threatened to drown him.

No words were needed as Odessa’s eyes mirrored the regret that he knew was in his own. There was no time. The King had made it clear that he intended to mount an attack on his old court mage as soon as possible. AS promised, a knock at their door signaled that the King was awake and expected them to break their fast with him shortly.

They rolled out of the old four post bed on opposite sides and turned to smile at each other, the bond between them still strong. Aldan washed and dressed quickly so he could help tie the straps holding Odessa’s leathers as she attempted to brush the tangles from her hair. With a look of regret for the warm, cozy nest they had to abandon, hand in hand, they approached the door. Aldan opened it just as a surprised young page raised his hand to knock. Caught off guard, he stared in amazement at Odessa in her armor before recovering and bowed low.

“Your Highness. The King sends his regards and awaits your pleasure in the dining room.”

“We would be honored to join him,” she replied. “Lead the way.”

King Rodger and a grizzled, uniformed old man stood as the pair entered, then resumed their seats after Aldan escorted the Princess to a chair next to the King. Aldan chose to sit across from the old veteran.

“Princess Odessa, Mage Aldan, may I present Regis Erikson who has commanded our guard since the time of my father’s reign. I took the liberty of inviting the Commander to join us in an attempt to save time.”

“Well met, Commander,” Odessa responded, raising her glass to him. “I only wish we were able to meet in better times than these.”

“Forgive me your Highness, for my boorish manner, but if we are to assemble and depart soon, I must eat and ask questions at the same time,” he said while cutting the food on his plate. Gesturing to Aldan with a piece of meat on the end of his knife, he asked a question before jamming the food in his mouth.

“The King tells me that you and a group of villagers defeated a nest of goblins. How is this possible? When the goblins first appeared, I sent out two patrols and both were destroyed to a man attempting to protect the residents of the city.”

“Commander, without a mage, the chances of killing a goblin are slim. They were conjured up for the sole purpose of killing men in the dark. Their only weakness is total blindness in bright light.”

It was Aldan’s turn to quickly fill his mouth with eggs and a slice of ham as the Commander thought over what he’d said.

“So as a mage, you were able to cast a bright light, blinding the beasts so the villagers could attack.”

Odessa spoke up to prevent Aldan from choking on his food. “Aldan sent a ball of light into their lair to drive them out. The sunlight blinded them. Even so, it was a close thing as their reach is greater than a man with a sword. Crossbows and long handled pikes are the best weapons to use against them. Even blinded, the goblins are extremely hard to take down.”

King Rodger, having finished his meal while listening to the others, leaned back in his chair and fixed his gaze on Aldan. “Mage Aldan, you do understand that Bartleon will stop at nothing to kill you. How will you fight him and the goblins together?”

Aldan continued to chew for a moment as he considered his answer. “I’m afraid it will be the task of your guardsmen to kill the beasts. They were designed to be resistant to the spells of a mage, so keeping them blinded and casting what protective shields I can, will be the extent of my abilities while confronting Bartleon.”

At the Commander’s look of resignation, Odessa attempted to reassure him. “Take heart, Regis. I am a Blood Mage and if you can enlist the services of several townspeople to carry the injured to me, I can heal them of anything short of a mortal wound. They may not be able to continue with the battle but should live to fight another day.”

Commander Regis rose from the table and bowed to the King and the Princess. “By your leave, I must go and begin preparations for departure. I believe I’ve heard enough here to implement our plans and brief the men.”

He headed for the door after a nod from the King, but stopped and turned back to the table. “Mage Aldan, regardless of the outcome of our impending battle, you have already achieved a great victory here. Your kind words and actions yesterday, while riding through the city, have lifted the spirits of the people. The confidence level, both in the castle and out, is higher than I’ve seen in a long time. For that, I will always be in your debt. Thank you.”

The click of the door closing behind him was the only sound to disturb the silence that settled over the room. Odessa reached out to take Aldan’s hand in hers and squeezed. Her eyes spoke volumes.

Rodger stared into the glass in his hand and softly spoke. “What he said is true. As much as I hate to admit it, the morale in this kingdom has declined from the day I took the throne. I swear to you both that after this is over, I will try and persuade my sister to return to her rightful place and rule as I have failed to do.”

Aldan tore his eyes away from the Princess and answered the King in kind, “Majesty, this I swear to you that whatever the cost to me, Mage Bartleon will not survive to trouble your kingdom.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Dialogue to the Rescue

   Ever get stuck in a scene, not sure how to continue? Add in some dialogue and the scene will come to life. Worried that you're using too much telling and not enough showing? Use dialogue to describe the surroundings and/or the body language of the other characters. Visual media such as TV and movies rely heavily on the viewer's perception of body language and facial expressions to convey the mood of a scene. Obviously, that is not possible using the medium of words on paper.
  Don't fall into the trap of transferring your telling from the narrator to your character. The character can be just as good at telling as you are. How they react to a situation or another character can be shown through how they speak. This includes internal dialogue. Face it, we all talk to ourselves and our characters should be no different.
   All emotions are easily shown through dialogue. You don't have to tell us your character is angry, happy, sad or apprehensive. Their dialogue will let the reader know how they feel. It can also give us a clue as to what they are seeing in the body language of another person. You don't have to tell me that a character is an old grump when they say something like, "Great, another picture of a stupid kitten." Compare that to, "Oh look! I just love pictures of cut little kittens." The personalities of these two characters is shown quite clearly.
   I love to read and write character driven stories, so it stands to reason that character development through dialogue is important to me. Fortunately, dialogue is one of my few strong points and I like to think that makes my stories more enjoyable.
   Today's shared scene from my fan/fic is a snippet of conversation between Thom, Mat and Moraine after they rescued her from the Tower of Genji.
   Thanks for reading.

   “Matrim,” she asked. “When you went through the redstone arch in the Stone of Tear, what answers did they give you?”

   Mat got up and started pacing. “What bloody answers,” he protested. “Those flaming snake faced sons of goats didn’t answer any of my questions. All they gave me was a bunch of gibberish that didn’t make any sense at the time.”

   “Is it possible the interpreter misunderstood?”

   “What interpreter?”

   “Matrim, the Aelfinn and Eelfinn only speak in the Old Tongue,” she informed him.

   “I know,” he smiled significantly.

   “Interesting. So what did they say, exactly?”

   As Mat got a faraway look in his eye, he whispered, “You will die and live again; You will marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons; You will give up half the light of the world to save the world.”

   Tears welled up in Thom’s eyes and a lump the size of a juggling ball filled his throat as Moraine cried out.

   “Oh! Matrim. You knew, didn’t you! You knew before you came for me what you would lose, but you came anyway.”

   “A true hero of the ages,” Thom said softly.

   “None of that now, Thom,” Mat muttered. “I told you before, I’m no bloody hero. It needed to be done so we did it. Did you think I would let you and Jain have all the fun? Besides, Jain is the real hero. He gave up his life for us. Isn’t that what heroes are supposed to do?”

   “Sometimes Mat. Sometimes.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fear of Finishing

   Around age eleven, I became interested in electronics as my father was an Electrical Engineer and I was always fascinated by how things worked. After some basic instruction from my father, I soon began to repair the neighborhood TV's and radios. I never doubted my ability to fix anything that was brought to me. At thirteen, cars took over my world. I bought my first car with a blown engine for twenty five dollars, rebuilt it and sold it. Over the years, I have built hundreds of engines, transmissions and made money on the side by flipping cars. I picked them up, either wrecked or not running, fixed like new and re-sold. Never once did I lose confidence that when I was done, the finished product would fire up and run like a top.
   Three children, six grand children, two marriages to the same woman, a career in the Navy, retired shipyard worker, owner of a construction company and one aneurism later, I found myself at age sixty living in an old mobile home in a trailer park. Having lost everything and no longer able to do the things I was good at, I found my days reduced to sitting in a recliner reading books. At the rate of 2-3 books a week, new release fantasies could not keep up, so I would re-read the ones I had over and over.
   Frustrated with the lack of new fantasy titles available, I decided to write my own stories. Of course my children had to know what dad was doing, read some of what I'd written, and convinced me to take my writing seriously. After some minor success in a couple of writing contests and gaining the attention of a local independent publisher, I attempted to write a full length story. It's taken a long time but I'm ready to put the finishing touches on the story and write the last chapter.
   So what's the problem? The problem is that I have zero confidence in what I've written. Fear has dried up the ink in my pen. What if I put this all together, finish it and it doesn't start? Has this just been a total waste of time? I don't know if anyone else has ever felt this way, but it's a new experience for me and I'm not sure how to deal with it. I know some of you will tell me to suck it up and just write, but that is easier said than done.
   Maybe I'll surprise everyone, including myself, and have something new to share next week. In the meantime, here is another short scene from my fan/fic.
   Thanks for reading.

   As the men sat back down, Thom on his log behind her and Matrim on his stump, Moraine felt the weight of despair start to settle on her. From the look of the forest around them, the world had gotten much darker. Tall pines and leather leaf trees were completely brown without a hint of green on them. What looked like oak trees didn’t have a leaf on them. How long had she been held captive? Was Rand still sane? Would she be able to catch up quick enough to be able to help? So much had changed if what she saw in Matrim was any indication. It was obvious from the way Thom looked to him, that the young man was now the leader between them and had been for awhile. What could have happened to cause the role reversal between them?

   Alongside the pain that was still evident on Matrim’s face was also a much deeper pain of loss or memories of loss. Oh, he was still a trickster at heart and a defiant spirit, but there was something new. She would just have to figure it out. Yes, many things had changed, including her, but she felt she still had a part to play. Taking a deep breath, Moraine pushed aside the despair and smiled up at Thom.

   “Please tell me what has been happening. From the look and feel of the forest around us I can tell something is very wrong in the world.”

   After a quick glance at Mat, Thom tucked his knives back up his sleeves and snorted, knuckling the ends of his mustache. “Wrong?” he replied. “It would be easier to tell you what is still right in the world. But first I must ask you something, dear one. Do you have any idea how long you were held captive?”

   “No,” she answered. “I think time passes differently in their world. It could have been weeks but felt like years.”

   The compassion in Thom’s eyes as he looked down at her warned her that the time was longer than she imagined. As he hesitated, Moraine stiffened her resolve. “Thom, I need to know.”

   “It’s been over a year since you and Lanfear fell through the Portal Arch.”

   Her resolve and everything else in her mind disappeared as she struggled to breathe. A cold chill coursed the length of her body as she finally managed to take another breath. A year! How was that possible? When she looked at Matrim he gave her a slight nod to confirm Thom’s announcement and then grimaced as he looked away.

   “What?” she asked.

   After a moment of contemplation, Mat said with a sigh. “Bloody ashes, Moraine, everyone believes you are dead. How can they not? The Warder bond you had with Lan was broken and everyone knows that can only happen when one of you dies. I don’t know what kind of reception you will receive, especially from those crazed Aes Sedai. With the Amyrlin being deposed and stilled, the White Tower itself divided and Aes Sedai snarling and spitting at each other like tomcats, they’ll probably convince themselves that you are a creation of the Dark One.”

   When Thom saw the emotions vanish from Moraine’s face and the Aes Sedai mask slip into place, he knew he had better step in before Mat got himself into deeper trouble. “Lad, I think you better let me explain to Moraine what’s been going on first. Besides, I tell a better story than you do.”

   “I can tell a good story too,” Mat grumbled, “sometimes.”

   “Tell you what,” Thom said smiling. “I’ll tell Moraine what I can about Rand and Perrin and what has been happening in the world and you can regale her with tales of the indestructible, majestic, amazing and infamous Lord Mat Cauthon!”

   “Bloody old goat of a gleeman,” Mat snarled. “There’s no call to get nasty. I don’t care what you say, I’m no bloody lord.”

   As Thom snorted through his mustache and the corners of Moraine’s mouth twitched, Mat pulled the front of his black hat down to cover his missing eye. “Go ahead and tell your story, gleeman,” he said. “And I’ll make sure you don’t leave out any of the important stuff.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Should You Hide Your Identity When Writing Different Genres?

   This post was inspired by a conversation I saw several days ago based on a female writer's negative experience after submitting her manuscript to a publisher. She re-submitted the same manuscript under a man's name and received a positive response. That got me to thinking about the reality of writing in several genres that might require the use of a different name in each genre.
   Even though I read primarily fantasy, over the years I've also enjoyed a number of stories in different genres. Honestly, I don't pay any attention to the name of the author, whether it's male or female, when deciding to read a book. I go by the cover and the blurb on the back. If the story is character driven and fairly well written, I'll remember the author's name and look for more titles written by them.
   I imagine if you are just dipping your toes into a genre and no one knows your name, it would be advantageous to follow perceived convention and use a name that best fits that genre. If I was to write a romance, for example, I'd probably use only my initial for a first name.
   However, if you are well known, or already have a number of people who follow you, why not use your real name regardless of the genre? If Robert Jordan had decided to write a romance, C.J. Cherryh a western, or Nora Roberts a fantasy, I wouldn't hesitate to read them because I'm familiar with and love their writing style. It would be fun to see what kind of a story they came up with.
   In keeping with today's theme, I am sharing a scene from a western story that I've been playing with, rather than another scene from my fan/fic.
   It's rough, but it's me. Thanks for reading.

Head bent low over his horse’s neck, Sonny was still pelted with dirt thrown up by his brother’s mount, and the flecks of sweat flung back in his face made it hard to see. He could barely make out the outcropping of rocks his brother headed for. Their old saddle broncs were no match for the ponies hot on their trail, and at this pace, wouldn’t live long if they didn’t stop soon. Of course, a sudden stop now could kill them anyway, but it couldn’t be helped.

The warbling cries of the war party rose above the pounding of the horse’s hooves. They were too close.

“Joshua!” he yelled several times until his brother glanced back. “We get hunkered down behind dem rocks, toss me your repeater an I’ll hold dem off whilst you load up da pistols.”

Joshua nodded in agreement, slowed down and angled to get behind the rocks. He was well aware of who was the best shot between them.

Sonny shook his head over the lack of cover the rocks provided, but it was better than nothing. Grabbing his own repeater, he swung down off the horse, caught the one Joshua threw at him before scrambling to a prone position behind the rocks. The first two Indians he dropped were easy targets since they were headed straight for him. Instead of backing off, the rest spread out to either side and continued to ride.

“They’s gonna surround us!” he called out.

“Afeared of dat,” his brother grumbled.

An Indian on the ground is easier to hit then an Indian on a horse, so Sonny began to target the ponies. Two more fell and didn’t get up before the others disappeared on the backside of the outcropping.

Sony laid down the repeater, pulled his knife, and took back his revolver from Joshua who had re-loaded both pistols. The brothers knew that the next few moments would determine whether they lived or died.

“How many, ya figure?” Joshua whispered.

“I reckon four, maybe five. Jus keep yer eyes peeled on dem rocks above us”, Sonny answered.

Two shots rang out from Joshua’s Colt at the same time that two knife wielding savages sprang from the rocks on either side. Sonny quickly dropped his pistol and grabbed his opponent’s wrist holding the knife. The warrior’s momentum carried him over Sonny and dragged them both to the ground just as the bodies from above landed. One struck between them and knocked their knives loose.

Sonny scrambled backward, his left hand falling on the dropped pistol, and was able to bring it up in time to catch his attacker in the chest. Transferring the gun to his right, he took careful aim at the Indian who was inches away from driving his knife into Joshua’s throat, and shot him in the head.

Collapsing on his back, Sonny stared in horror as the last Indian stood up on top of the rocks and released an arrow down at his brother before the slug from his pistol knocked the savage backwards and out of sight.

He crawled over to his brother, quickly untying the bandanna around his neck. The arrow was embedded in Joshua’s right thigh, so the first thing he needed to do was stop the flow of blood.

Joshua tried to smile around the pain.

“Who learnt you how ta reckon?” he forced out between gritted teeth before passing out.