Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

   First of all, I'd like to wish all my American friends a Happy Thanksgiving! Hopefully, most of you will have family around to enjoy along with loads of good food. For those of you who are away from family or for whatever reason don't have family to get together with, I know how you feel. I've spent a number of Thanksgivings in a tavern or on a ship in the Western Pacific. I may not have always had family around me but I was never alone. Please, whatever you do, don't sit at home by yourself. I've met some really interesting people just going out to a Dennys for a holiday meal. If you have the means, don't forget that single friend of yours and invite them over for a meal and company.
   This is also the time of year that my writing slows down even more than normal. With three kids and six grandkids, it seems like there's always some family thing going on. Plus we have the only house big enough to hold everyone so all the big meals and get togethers are here. Since I'm the only one physically able right now, keeping the house clean, shopping and cooking meals is up to me. My granddaughters would probably help with the cooking but I'm a stubborn old man who likes to do things my way. Anyway, I'm still making progress on the rewrite of my novella but as other writers know, sometimes it takes longer to do the edits than it did to write it in the first place.
   I don't have any writing to share this week but since no one comments it's probably not being read anyway. Hopefully I'll have something to share next week.
   Thanks for reading and have a happy holiday!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Turtle or a Snail

   For this week's ramble, I find myself thinking about all the people who are churning out words for NaNoWriMo. My hat is off to those people. Even if I spent several hours a day scribbling down a bunch of nonsense, I physically couldn't produce that many words in a month. My arthritis won't allow it. Plus, when I write, I picture the scene in my head and repeat over and over until I'm happy with how it plays out. Then I write it down and read what I've written. If it doesn't match what I had envisioned then I start over. It could take hours just to get a single page of story written the way I want it.
   Most people would see that as working at a turtle's pace but that's on a good day. When health issues or depression raises their ugly heads, I end up shifting down to a snail's pace or stopping altogether. If it wasn't for the wonderful comments and encouragement I've received from my new online friends, I probably would have given up long ago.
   I am making progress though. Final edits are almost complete on my novella as soon as I receive the last of the beta comments and suggestions from my critique group. Not sure how well it will turn out since the money I had set aside for an editor was burned up by an ER visit. Hopefully the feedback I've gotten and with the help of a friend who will look it over for punctuation, it will be alright. I'm also slowly adding new chapters to my epic fantasy and have entered several short contests.
   If you're getting tired of reading scenes from my fan/fic, I decided to share the first scene of a western a friend of mine challenged me to write.
   Good luck if you're doing NaNoWriMo and thanks for reading.

                                    Chapter One

                         Never Look Back


Even though nothing had changed, everything felt different. The smell of bacon frying, and the sizzle of eggs in the griddle were just like every other morning in the kitchen. As of today, it could no longer be called their kitchen. The ranch now belonged to another.

Maebelle Cutter set the plate of flapjacks alongside the eggs and bacon, sat at the head of the table, and joined hands with her two boys in silent prayer. All the words that needed to be said had come out over the past several days. Today was the day for goodbyes.

Joshua finished first, gulped down the last of his coffee, stood up and carried his dishes to the sink. Emptying the water bucket into the large pot on the stove for hot water, he headed for the well outside, and gently shut the door behind him.

“Yer brother still ain’t keen on the idear, is he?”

“Na, don’t you worry bout him, Mama. He knows it be fer the best. He jus not be liken it.” Sonny finished his coffee, got up and kissed her on the forehead. “Ya shore there ain’t nothing else we can do?”

She reached up and placed her hand on top of his were it rested on her shoulder. “You boys need to hit the trail if you aim to reach your uncle’s place in time. Mr. Crenshaw and his younguns will be here shortly to help me pack up what’s left and finish movin out.”

“Best be getting the horses saddled up then.” He squeezed her hand and left, passing Joshua on the way back in with a full bucket. Crossing the yard, he led the horses out of the now empty barn, and stopped to gaze out over the open fields where herds of cattle used to roam.

The beginning of the end came three years ago when the railroad forced his Papa to sell a strip of land right through the middle of their property. A right of way they called it. Then at Christmas time that same year, the old man lost his battle with a sickness that had plagued him all year.

Even though he and Joshua tried to keep the ranch going, their hearts just weren’t in it, and it pained him to watch the fire diminish in his Mama’s eyes. It was time for everyone to move on.

“Come on little brother. Let’s say our goodbyes to Mama and hit the trail. Uncle Travis is waiting for us.”

She stood on the front steps to hug the boys, and kiss each of them on the cheek, then held them at arm’s length. “Papa’d shore nuff be proud of you boys and the men you’ve growed up into. Sonny, I expect you to watch over your brother, and see he don’t come to no harm.” With a tear in her eye, she continued. “Now get on outta here, and live your lives jus as it were meant to be! Never look back.”

One last hug and a kiss before the brothers mounted up and rode out through the front gate for the last time. If they had looked back, they would have witnessed their mama huddled on the top step, head in her hands and her body racked with sobs.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Support Our Veterans

   I feel the need to post a little something on this day to commemorate the brave men and women who have served this country. As a veteran myself, it is a great honor and privilege to be counted among the many who have fought and died for the freedoms we hold dear.
   It makes me sad when I see people protesting against the military and veterans. Hopefully, someday they'll understand that it's because of the veterans they have the freedom to do so. I wish there was a way to communicate to them the positive effects of serving in the military. Lifelong friendships arise from working side by side with people you probably wouldn't even talk to at home. The discipline and self-esteem generated while working as a team to accomplish a mission that would be impossible for an individual, are things that stick with you forever.
   While the majority of vets go on to live successful and productive lives, there are those wounded either physically or emotionally, who have found it difficult to achieve that success. I believe it is the responsibility of all Americans to help those disabled vets find a new team to be a part of. To give them that helping hand to overcome whatever obstacles are in their way.
   It reminds me of a story of two young sailors working deep down in the belly of a ship doing preservation in the bilges. One is overcome by the fumes and attempts to climb the ladder before passing out but can only manage a couple of rungs. His partner came up under him and pushed, taking them both up the ladder to safety. In normal circumstances he could have easily scaled the ladder, but in this instance, just a little push was all he needed to succeed.
   Please take the time today and reach out to any veteran, whether family, friend or stranger and thanks them for their service. You'd be amazed at what a difference a few friendly words can make in someone's life.
   I won't post any of my stories since the purpose of my blog today is to voice my appreciation for our vets, not to promote my writing.
   Thanks for reading.

#VeteransDay  #DisabledVeterans

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Importance of Beta Readers

   So, you've completed your story except for edits and think you're done. Wrong. You are just getting started. I've been working on my novella for a while now and have gone back several times to edit and rewrite sections of the story. Still not good enough. Even though critique groups are great for individual chapters or scenes, they rarely see the story in it's entirety. That's where beta readers come in to fill in a vital piece of the puzzle.
   A number of folks graciously volunteered to beta read the novella and I've already received feedback from some of them. While not everyone is going to like your story, you can still benefit from their comments as to why they didn't like it. That's actually more beneficial than the one who says they loved everything about the story but gives no suggestions for improvement.
   I don't care how accomplished a writer you are, there is always room for improvement. Sometimes writers get so close to the story that they don't notice the things that are missing. I forget that the reader doesn't know what I know and needs to be given hints to help them come to the conclusions I want them to. It frustrates me the number of times I write that the character reached their destination or finally met up with someone and readers ask who is this person or I didn't know they were headed there. Sure enough, when I go back to check, I realize I never mentioned where they were going or who they were supposed to meet. It was in my head but not on paper.
   Based on the feedback I've received so far, I'm sharing the rewrite of the first chapter, and hope some will comment whether this is good enough or needs more work.
   Thanks for reading!

                                    Chapter One

                               The Castle


Aldan Beaverson hurried along the cobblestone street leading to the King’s Castle at the west end of Westalia. For five days he’d outpaced the army approaching from the south. Rumors abounded at every village along his route as to King Romar’s intentions. However, today the weather became unpredictable along with greater numbers of villagers headed for the city in search of safety. He’d arrived in the city later than planned and hoped the rain would delay the army even longer. The rich aroma of roasting mutton and the sound of laughter coming from a nearby inn pulled him away from his intended destination. The promise of a hot meal and the chance to dry off outweighed his need to reach the Castle.

Aldan stepped through the door into silence as every eye fell on him and then quickly turned away. Forced laughter erupted from several tables as it appeared patrons were more interested in their ale than food. With the one serving girl busy refilling mugs, Aldan signaled to the innkeeper who seemed loath to abandon his sanctuary behind the polished wooden counter.

The food was surprisingly good but he wasted no time in savoring the meal. Silence fell once again when he stood but the laughter returned full force as the door shut behind him. The rain had tapered off while he ate, but heavy, dark clouds still filled the sky. Shifting shadows from overgrown bushes and the rustle of leaves from ancient oaks, added to his unease after leaving the inn.

Aldan breathed a sigh of relief as the dark silhouette of the castle came into view. This was the first castle he had seen outside of the pages of a book and the reality of it stopped him in his tracks. It would not have surprised him to hear the ground groan at the weight of the massive stone structure. Dull faced granite blocks, most covered with moss or ivy, were a testament to its extreme age. The foul odor he encountered was unexpected.

Apparently they drained the castles garderobes into the moat, probably as an extra deterrent to keep enemies out. Fortunately, the drawbridge was lowered. Holding his breath, Aldan hurried across to the sally port in the massive wooden gate. A quick pull on the bell rope and a voice from somewhere above called down.

“Who goes there?”

“Aldan Beaverson. I’m the new apprentice mage.”

“Aye. We’ve been expecting you. A moment please while I summon the mage.”

Aldan hoped they would hurry as one of the shadows detached itself from the nearest building and slowly made its way toward the bridge. He quickly rehearsed one of the few defensive spells he had learned and loosened his sword in its scabbard, just in case.

About the time he determined to cast his spell, the portal opened and he was unceremoniously dragged through as the nervous guard peered out then slammed the door.

Unaware he’d been holding his breath, Aldan gasped, “What in the Seven Hells was that?”

“That is why you are needed here,” announced an elderly, silver haired gentleman. “And why the gate is always kept closed. Well met, young Beaverson. I am Jordan Ryecliff, King’s Mage. I must return to the King but the chamberlain should arrive shortly to escort you to your rooms. I will see you as soon as I can, but plan on asking your questions on the morrow when we have more time.”

With that, the mage spun in a swirl of flowing, dark blue robes and disappeared down a corridor just as a harried, portly man approached from the opposite side of the entry tunnel.

“Ah, Master Beaverson! So glad you finally arrived. Welcome to Greystone Castle. I’m the chamberlain, Horis Whitely. Please follow me and I will show you to your rooms.”

Before Aldan had a chance to answer, the chamberlain headed back the way he had come. Hurrying to catch up, he couldn’t help but notice the poor state of the castle. Dust covered everything in the hall and cobwebs hung from the ceiling. The wooden banisters and railings of the three flights of stairs they climbed, hadn’t seen a polish cloth in a very long time. The hour was not that late, yet the only sounds to disturb the eerily quiet halls were their footsteps.

They arrived at a door the chamberlain opened with one of the many keys attached to a ring. Aldan entered the room, pleasantly surprised at what he saw. His rooms had been thoroughly cleaned and several lit candles gave off a pleasant scent. A small fire crackled cheerfully in the fireplace. Tapestries hung on the walls depicting forest scenes and someone’s garden. Not really to his tastes but better than scenes of battle in their blood spattered glory.

Master Whitely waved in the direction of a small table to one side. “I suspect you are quite weary from your journey but a small bottle of wine and a platter of meat and cheese has been provided in case you are hungry. I must leave now and return to the King but the Mage indicated he would visit you before turning in. A key to your room hangs on a peg next to the door. Just as a precaution, always keep your door locked. Goodnight.”

Aldan shook his head as the chamberlain quickly exited the room and shut the door behind him. Other than the one question he’d been able to voice upon entering the castle, they had given him no opportunity for further conversation. He didn’t need to be a scholar to figure out something was terribly wrong. Where were all the staff, and why keep his door locked in the King’s castle?

A knock at the door put a hold on further musings. With the chamberlain’s warning still fresh in his mind, he cautiously stepped to the door and called out. “Who’s there?”

“Your royal welcoming committee—as it were.”

Intrigued, Aldan opened the door to be confronted by a stunningly beautiful young woman about his own age. Long dark hair framed the face of an angel with deep green eyes and wearing a simple but elegant gown. Having someone like her appear at his door did not happen every day.

“Are you going to invite me in or just stand there and stare?” she asked as one corner of her mouth twitched, and the twinkle in her eyes threatened to un-mask her royal attitude of indifference.

“Ah, sorry my lady,” he stammered in apology. “I was expecting Mage Ryecliff.”

Aldan held the door as she glided in on slippered feet. The material of her dress made a swishing sound as her perfume filled the air. He shut and locked the door as he’d been told, all the while desperately trying to regain his composure. Why would Princess Odessa visit him in his rooms, alone?

He faced the princess and executed his best bow using the form taught to him by his mentor. “Forgive me your Highness. I am Aldan Beaverson, apprentice mage, at your service.”

After a perfunctory glance at the rest of the room, the princess returned her gaze to Aldan. Wavy blond hair that just touched the tips of his ears, framed an angular face dominated by a set of expressive dark brown eyes. The tall, slim body that would fill out as he aged gave her a glimpse of what the future promised.

 “At least you are more pleasing to the eye than our last apprentice. Your hair is shorter than I prefer but that will grow out in time. Now come away from the door and join me at the table. We must talk.”

Aldan rushed to position her chair as she sat down, then sat across the table hoping she had missed the color in his face at her frank appraisal. So many questions flashed through his mind, but where to start?

The princess sat there quietly with the same faint smile as if waiting for something. This time, the heat that rose up from his neck was for his own lack of manners. “May I pour you a glass of wine, Princess?”

She answered with a nod of her head and a quick glance at the platter of food in the center of the table.

“Please help yourself, Princess. Meat and cheese are all I have to offer you.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, but we can talk about that later. Right now, I feel I must inform you of the happenings inside the castle.”

“Please do. The city is on edge with the approach of King Romar and I’ve felt something else was amiss ever since I passed through the gates. It has only gotten worse now that I’m in the castle.” Aldan gestured with the knife he used to cut slices of the meat. “Even the air around me feels oppressive and filled with malice.”

The Princess nodded in agreement. “That is one of the reasons why most of the staff has abandoned the castle. That and other things.”

His attention riveted on her face as the hair on the back of his neck rose in apprehension. “What other things?”

Eyes wide in fear, trembling, she pointed to the door with a piece of cheese and whispered, “Those things.”

Reluctantly, his head swiveled to face in the direction she pointed and watched in fascination as a black cloud oozed under the door and formed into a being unlike anything he had ever seen before. How do you defend against something that appears as solid as smoke?