Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My Writing Process

   There are times I wish I could sit down and "binge write" (that's what I call it anyway). But just as plotting doesn't work for me, writing like that doesn't work for me either. I just can't wrap my mind around the idea of spending my time writing thousands of words that according to others 'is mostly garbage and discarded'. That's why I don't participate in NaNoWriMo. If you can't use them, why write the words in the first place?
   I read and write visually. In other words, I picture the scene in my mind from start to finish and replay it over and over, changing the dialogue and setting until I'm satisfied with how it looks before I ever put words to paper. Now that isn't to say that in the middle of a scene a completely unknown character doesn't show up and impact the story in ways I hadn't imagined. That is one of the things that makes writing such a fun adventure for me.
   I also have the overall story running in the back of my mind at all times and it is being constantly updated as the scenes and characters progress but always with the same ending in mind. In the case of the epic fantasy I started, I got about 40K words into it and totally lost control of the timeline since I had characters scattered all over the world that are supposed to come together at the end. There were also issues with the very beginning of the story that others had pointed out. The all to familiar case of me knowing what's going on but failing to communicate that to the reader.
   Rather than spend a lot of time trying to figure things out, I decided to set it aside for awhile and let my subconscious work on the problem. Meanwhile, I worked on a much simpler and shorter story which resulted in my first novella. At my age, I also began to feel this pressure to complete and publish a story so that I could prove to myself it could be done.
   Now that the novella is complete and out there, I can once again concentrate on my full length fantasy. The timeline issues have been resolved and I believe I've come up with fixes for the issues in the beginning. I'm including the first chapter this week and I hope that if you've read this far you would take a few extra minutes and look it over. Is it good enough to draw you into the story?
   Thanks for reading.


      Chapter One ~ A Whisper from the Past


Flickering torch light cast shifting shadows across the courtyard as two figures faced each other in the center of a practice circle. It would be several hours before the sun cleared the eastern wall of the keep and its glow would chase away those shadows. Pre-dawn dew glistened from every surface and added to the chill of a late spring morning. It failed to match the frost that surrounded the Baron’s two youngest sons.
The sound of wooden practice swords connecting in a series of thrust and parry filled the air then quieted as the combatants circled each other looking for an opening. Formed from the same mold as his father and brothers, the older son easily outweighed the other by fifty pounds that filled out his chest and arms. This provided him no advantage over his opponent who had developed a skill and speed unmatched by anyone in the keep.
Once again they came together amid a flurry of swinging swords, neither giving ground to the other until the younger brother landed a solid hit to an upper arm.
“You will pay for that, Navon.”
“Perhaps, but I will never again allow you to abuse me, Micah. Not only am I a better swordsman, after my naming ceremony tonight we will be equals in this family.”
With a growl, Micah rushed him only to have Navon nimbly sidestep and smack him across the shoulders as he charged past. “I’ve heard a rumor that Father plans to put you in charge of the latrines after your naming.”
“At least Father chose wisely when he put you in charge of the pig farms. They match your personality perfectly.”
No longer interested in sparing, Micah cast aside his wooden sword and attacked his brother open handed. Navon dropped his practice blade also and calmly stood his ground in the face of his brother’s rage. At the last moment he grabbed one of Micah’s arms and using his own momentum, spun the older boy to the ground.
Spitting dirt, Micah slowly rose to his feet, eyes narrowed to slits. Drawing his knife, he hissed, “With that hair and pretty face of yours, you’ll fit right in with the women’s bower once I’m done with you, little brother.”
The arms-master, who had been watching from the shadows, strode to the middle of the circle and focused his fierce continence on Micah. “In all the years I have served the Baron, never has a member of this family pulled steel against another. You are a disgrace to the name of Roddel. Your father will determine what becomes of you, but for now, I suggest you remove yourself from my sight.”
He turned his back on Micah and studied Navon who now stood with downcast eyes. After enough time had passed to force the young man to look up, Master Drummel spoke. “That’s better. From this day forward, never cast down your eyes before any man. Now, since I distinctly forbade sparing without supervision, I expect to see you in the armory right after you break your fast. Maybe a day spent repairing armor will help you remember when I give an order.”
Navon nodded and turned away, the arms-master’s words barely registering. Foremost in his mind was the hate he saw in his brother’s eyes before leaving the practice yard. That look disturbed Navon more than he cared to admit.
                                                *          *          *
Every other lamp was lit in an attempt to keep the shadows at bay in a Keep designed for defense and lacked windows on the ground floor. Winter carpets still covered the floors as the stone had yet to catch up with the warmth of the coming summer. His mother’s touch was evident in the placement of spring flowers under several gas lamps. Their fragrance helped to remove the musty odor of the winter damp.
  Navon made his way down the stairs and into the passageway leading to the dining hall with a lighter step than usual, that morning’s confrontation a distant memory. He had looked forward to this day for many years and took extra care in his appearance. Everyone’s eyes would be upon him as the Baron announced his son’s coming of age and assigned him his first official duties as a member of the ruling family.
After a nod and a smile from his oldest brother and a respectful bow towards his parents, Navon solemnly took his seat at the lower table amid the excited whispers of his siblings. Micah was nowhere to be seen.
The Baron stood holding a goblet in one hand and turned to Navon with an unreadable expression before he muttered a curse, flung the goblet to the floor and stormed out of the room.
In the ensuing silence, Navon slowly slid back his chair, got up and carefully placed it under the table, then turned toward the lower entrance to the dining hall. Safely alone out in the corridor, he began to run, taking the stairs two at a time. Hot tears of shame and rejection burned his cheeks as he tried to distance himself from the looks of sympathy on the faces of everyone in the Great Hall. Why? Why had his father done that to him? Was he really such a disappointment?
  The sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs alerted him to the eminent arrival of his brother, Altair. He ran into his room and wiped the tears from his face. No one was going to stop him now that he had made his decision to leave.
   His brother walked in and stood for a moment watching him pack before he spoke. “Are you sure you want to do this, Navon?”
   “No, but what choice do I have Altair? Father made his feelings perfectly clear and you could see from the look on everyone’s face that they also understood what was happening. I no longer have any hope for a future as part of this family.”
   The youngest of the Baron’s children, Navon had been given a small room on the upper floor of the Keep. A giant oak rooted in the center of his room would have been as nothing compared to the presence of his brother. Navon wished that Altair would just leave him alone with his misery but his brother’s concern also gave him comfort. Altair had always been there when Navon needed a shoulder to cry on and never laughed at his fears of being different.
   Navon stood in front of his small wardrobe, his light blond hair falling forward to conceal the tears that threatened to flow again. Altair approached him from behind and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
   “Do you know how eagles learn to fly, little brother?”
   Unable to speak, Navon shook his head.
   “The chicks spend months standing on the edge of their nest just flapping their wings. It builds up their muscles. Then one day, the parents will push a fledgling out of the nest. He will either learn to fly or fall to the ground where he will die. I think Father just gave you that push.”
   When he didn’t respond, Altair turned his brother around and with a finger under Navon’s chin, raised his head, wanting, needing to look him in the eyes. “You have no idea how much I envy you, little brother. The rest of us will always be chained to this Keep or at least to our little corner of the country. Do you remember all those fantastic tales of the world that traveling Bard regaled us with at last summer’s festival? You are free to travel and experience those faraway places for yourself, while we are prisoners here to our duties and responsibilities. From the day you were born, we have all felt that you were someone special and that someday you would have to leave us.”
   Altair reluctantly released his little brother and quickly moved towards the door. Once there, he turned back with as fierce a look as Navon had ever seen on his brother’s face. “Learn to fly, Navon. Never forget that you are a Roddel. If you are ever in need, send word to me and I will come regardless of what Father says.”
   Unable to concentrate on his packing after Altair left, Navon sat on the edge of his bed trying to make sense out of what his brother had said. A knock at his door jarred him out of his thoughts. Wondering who it might be, he heard a soft voice outside calling.
   “Navon. May I come in?”
   By the Eyes! It was his mother, the last person he expected. She had never come up to his room before, so why now? He swung open the door and answered with a bow. “Of course you may come in, Lady Mother.”
   All the excuses for why he was packing melted away as he watched his mother calmly survey the room while holding a plain wooden box in her hand. The box was like nothing he had ever seen before. The edges had darkened with time and the simple design spoke of an age long past.
   “Long ago it was foretold that when evil once again made its presence felt in the world, the Eyes of the Deluti would return to combat that evil. That day has come and is why I am here. I have something that has been in my family for many generations. I became the bearer of this box on the day my mother passed from this world. Inside is the amulet of a Deluti,” she said and opened the box, removing a triangular amulet that contained three luminescent eyes and was attached to a small gold chain. “Once you put this around your neck, the amulet should disappear and only you will be able to remove it.”
   “Why are you giving this to me?” he asked, unable to keep the hurt and frustration from his voice. “You have many sons and daughters who are more deserving of this than I.”
   “Navon, no one in living memory has worn this. Tradition says that the bearer of the box will know who is to wear the amulet or who to pass the box on to for the next generation. The moment you were born, I knew you were the one to wear it but that I was not to give it to you until you were ready to leave. Please put it on, my son. It is yours.”
   With trembling fingers he reached for the amulet. The loop in the chain appeared to be too small to slip over his head. The chain began to glow and Navon felt a tingling travel up his arms and into his chest. The glow quickly faded and the chain separated, revealing a tiny clasp. At a gasp from his mother, he raised his eyes and stared in awe as the box disappeared in a flash of light. He reached behind his neck with the ends of the chain where they snapped together to become a solid loop once again. From the look of wonder in his mother’s eyes, he knew the amulet was no longer visible. Unnerved by the touch of the chain, he froze as a voice in his head whispered, “Go north.”
                                                *          *          *
   Far to the north, in a castle hidden deep within the Mountains of Mists, the Ancient One raised his head and smiled. Far to the south-west, on the Isle of Dahlian, the Stagwood Marshe trembled as Scorpios clenched his scarred fists in a fit of rage. The slave who had been serving him burst into flames until reduced to a small dusting of ash on the floor.
                                                *          *          *         
   In the morning, wearing comfortable leather pants and vest over a light green shirt with a touch of lace at the cuffs and neck, Navon gathered his things and went down to the kitchen. It was early enough that he should be able to avoid everyone in the family. Now that he had made his decision, he was eager to be on his way. He asked the cook to wrap up some sausages in bread that he could eat while he traveled, then noticed the furtive looks of the kitchen staff. So, it appeared that his father’s words, or more accurately his lack of words on Navon’s behalf, had reached the rest of the Keep. The cook’s words as he handed him the sausage rolls were unexpected, “May the Eyes of the Deluti watch over you wherever you go, m’lord.”
   The guard at the outer gate barely acknowledged him as he trudged through using his un-strung bow as a walking staff. Sword and knife were hung from his belt, a quiver of arrows over one shoulder and his pack and bedroll tied to his back. The pack was only large enough to hold a few of his prized possessions, some clothes and his herb pouch. The old healer at the Keep had taught Navon everything he knew about healing lore, so the pouch should come in handy.
   Defending himself wouldn’t be a problem even though he would never achieve the brute strength of his brothers. The Keep’s arms-master judged that Navon had the quickest hands of any swordsman he’d ever taught and his skill with a bow was un-matched by anyone in the Keep. He might only be sixteen summers, but imagined this is what it must feel like to be a man. Raising his face to the warmth of the morning sun, he strode away from the Keep with a spring in his step. You were right, big brother. It is time for me to fly.
                                                *          *          *         
   A solitary figure stood on the ramparts of the Keep long after Navon had faded from view. Forgive me my son, for what I had to do. Your path in this life was set the day you were born and I fervently hope I was able to prepare you for it. You will always be my special son. Turning away, Baron Rodgier d’Roddel disappeared into the Keep, his beard glistening with tears that no one would see.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Post Holiday Let Down

   First of all, I'd like to apologize to the few people who follow my blog every week, for not posting last week. This post explains why.
   The holidays, especially Christmas, have become such a mixture of emotions for me. Christmas always brings with it feelings of joy and happiness as I love all the lights and decorations and the memories of a childhood almost forgotten. It's also one of the few times I can get all my children and grandchildren, who are so busy with their own lives, together in one place as a family so I can enjoy their company. Unfortunately, this time of year also brings back the memories of all the loved ones, friends and family, who I've lost over the years. Folks I can no longer share the joy of the holidays with or sit down over a cup of coffee and reminisce about the old days.
   As someone who's life is a constant, daily battle with depression, I've become adept at hiding my true feelings. I've learned to cover myself in a facade of happiness so I don't ruin things for my family. That facade comes with a price, and after everyone has gone home, the decorations are down and put away, depression takes its revenge.
   I was barely able to maintain enough focus last week to finish formatting my book for print at CreateSpace. That wouldn't have happened without the help and unending patience of my now dear friend, C. J. Brightly, who guided me every step of the way. The rest of the week is a blank.
   Over the last several days I've actually managed to put down a couple pages of notes on where I want to go with my epic fantasy and some ideas for the next novella in my YA fantasy series. The fact that I'm able to sit down and write this blogpost is a major milestone for me. Hopefully soon, I'll be able to take those notes and actually begin turning them into new chapters.
   For this week, I decided to share the prologue to my fantasy, "Eyes of the Deluti". I may have shared this before but I'm sure it was a long time ago and it's been edited since then.
   Thanks for reading.

                                                 End of an Age

Now was the time to finish this. Only Demitrios, the last surviving Deluti High Lord, had the power to locate and if possible, destroy the Dark Lord.  He rode at the forefront of the Army of the North, an alliance he had forged between Northern Ogre, Mountain Wolves, the light-shifters of the Elintria and Humans. That alliance proved to be the turning point in a war that had lasted for decades. The Dark Lord of the South refused to acknowledge the intelligence and fighting abilities of the non-humans. For that reason, his entire army was comprised of humans, whom he treated little better than slaves.
The Army advanced steadily across the Plain of Sarglon and approached the Stagwood Forest. Ahead of them stretched an ancient, densely packed wood where the Dark Lord had established his final defensive line to protect his fortress at Bryhom. At the High Lord’s signal, the army positioned itself for attack with archers and mages to the front, followed by ogres, wolves and human swordsmen. The horsemen were positioned as rear guard due to their disadvantage in the thick forest.
As the first volley of arrows darkened the sky and fireballs launched by the human mages sped towards the forest, lightning strikes sent by the Dark Lord’s sorcerers began falling among the archers. Holding position, the mages and archers continued to provide covering fire until the wolves, ogres and Elintria assassins reached the edge of the forest. The swordsmen then followed to sweep through the forest in the wake of the non-humans. Riding among them, Demitrios provided as much protection as he dared but every death added to the burden of sorrow weighing on his heart.
His personal shield protected him from attack but did not block out the pungent odor of ozone and the sickly sweet stench of burning flesh. They had left behind a plain littered with the bodies of human and animal, but in the forest, Demitrios knew they would have the advantage. The wolves and ogre were formidable forest predators and the Elintria would quickly eliminate anyone attempting to hide in the trees.
 A sudden immense gathering of power alerted him to the presence of his enemy and the shocked realization of the terrible mistake he had made. The forest was a trap. With the last of his energy he sent out a powerful mental command to the entire army to abandon the forest immediately.  Face buried in the mane of his horse to keep from being swept off, they careened through the forest with the roar of an inferno pursuing them. Tendrils of smoke trailed from the burnt ends of the horse’s tail as they escaped through the western edge of the forest and ascended to a rock strewn meadow. The horse, lathered and trembling, stopped a few paces away from the body of a man slumped against the side of a large boulder. Demitrios fell from his saddle and stumbled over to his brother. The face of his twin was beyond recognition.
Compassion overwhelmed all other emotions as he gazed at the burnt and blackened body before him.
“Why have you done this to us Scorpios?” he cried. “Your lust for power has destroyed the last members of our race. The Council of Five gave up their lives by forging their spirits into the five Amulets of Focus that are now scattered throughout both continents. The Deluti are no more. You have placed the future of this world in the hands of the humans.”
The body of his brother convulsed, one eye cracked open and a hiss escaped through burnt and blistered lips.
“Kill me.”
“I can not. Regardless of what you have become, you are still my brother.”
Anger invoked by the senseless destruction and death his brother was responsible for rekindled the power of a Deluti High Lord in him. He rose to his feet and stood straight and tall.
“However, since you attempted to kill us all and took in more power than your body was able to control, I sentence you to live and suffer from those injuries and the knowledge of what you have done to our people.”
Demitrios walked over to stand next to his horse and stared at the smoking ruin that had once been the Stagwood Forest. With a faraway look in his eyes, he continued.
     “Many generations from now, the blood of the Deluti will return through the line of humans even stronger than before and our time on this world will come to an end. I have foreseen it.”

Back in the saddle, he turned his horse away from the broken body on the ground and whispered, “Goodbye my brother.”  He never looked back.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Back In The Groove

   Well, the Christmas decorations are all put away and the house looks boring again. New Years resolutions were made and already forgotten so it's time to return to the day to day grind of life. For me, that means once again finding time to write in between all the other responsibilities I have.
   The creation of anything new has been on hold the last couple of weeks as I prepared my first book for release on Amazon. I've also been working with a friend to get a cover formatted correctly for a print version of the book which should happen soon. I wrote up three critiques for stories submitted by my critique group and just finished a beta read of a full length novel.
   Since the first book in the series is done, I've been taking notes on where I want the second book to go and developing a basic plot line. I also have to keep in mind the time line involved since this series covers several generations.
   My main focus the next couple of months will be to finish the first book in my epic fantasy trilogy. I believe I've got the main timeline issues figured out and can resume the story. It's one of those stories where four groups of people have to come together at the same place and at the same time by the end of the book.
   I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and is looking forward to the new year. I know I am.
   Sharing another short scene from my fan/fic.
   Thanks for reading.

   Lord Talmanes, second in command of Mat’s personal army, the Band of the Red Hand, stood spellbound on top of the rise looking down at the city less that a league away. Caemlyn, the greatest city in the world, second only to Tar Valon some said, was in flames. The clouds in the night sky reflected the red glow of the fires below and alarm horns could be heard blaring from the gates. A closer inspection of the city revealed that the Trollocs had not made it out of the gates into the New City and the Palace itself was still secure. Since the Queen had taken the majority of her army to her meeting with the Dragon, he knew there were not enough men left in the city to defend against the Trollocs. Verin Sedai’s warning said the Trollocs would be coming out of an abandoned Waygate located in the basement of a shop in the Old City. If only Mat had opened the letter from Verin earlier, they might have avoided this.
   As he saw things, they had two concerns right now. First thing would be to get troops inside the Old City to secure that Waygate and protect the defenseless citizens there. The second problem was to keep enough men outside the gates to prevent any Trollocs from escaping out into the countryside. If they made it outside of the city, they would separate into smaller groups, called Fists, each led by a Myrddraal and be impossible to stop. Fortunately, the Capital was surrounded by mercenaries and small armies pledged to some of the minor Lords of Andor who had come to support Elayne in her bid for the Crown. If any one of them refused his call to arms, they would rue the day they were born!
   He walked quickly down the slope toward the center of camp, (commanders did not run), as horns sounded the call to arms. The sentries saw the flames and even though they did not know the cause, they knew to sound the alarm. Officers and Bannermen came running up to him from all directions. He raised a hand to forestall any questions and received instant silence and attention.
   “Tens of thousands of Trollocs are entering Caemlyn through a Waygate in the Old City. I don’t think I need to tell you what will happen if we let the Trollocs escape the city and they break up into smaller groups. Until we can establish some kind of communications with the Palace, our major objective will be to stop the Trollocs at the gates.”
   Lord Talmanes paused to look each one of his officers in the eye, and was pleased to see no fear, only determination.
   “Bendaron,” he continued. “Tell off ten of your fastest scouts, five to the east and five to the west, to ride to every band of mercenaries and minor Lordling they can find. Have them concentrate their troops at the East and Tar Valon gates. The Band will cover the Far Madding and the two western gates. If anyone balks at taking orders from me, remind them who commands the Band of the Red Hand and that Lord Mat and the Queen will be very upset should they fail.”
   After sending a banner of Horse and a banner of mounted crossbow to each of the western gates under the command of Lord Estean, Talmanes turned to his infantry Captain. “Daerid, pull all the wagons together into a defensive formation and leave five squads for protection, then meet me in front of the Far Madding gate with the rest of the troops. Make sure Lord Mat’s horse is saddled and brought with us.”
   Captain Daerid Ondin, a commoner but one of the first to join the Band, gave Talmanes a sober look. “Let us hope that Lord Mat returns swiftly from wherever it is he went. I think we will need every bit of his luck to survive this one.”

   As the two men hurried off with thoughts of the impending battle on their minds, a small boy ghosted through the trees on his way to the city. Completely forgotten by Talmanes and the rest of the Band, Olver led his horse Swift, a gift from Lord Mat, through the darkness and out of the camp. With a long knife gripped in one small hand and a determined look on a face that would never be called pretty, he knew he was the only one who could warn Lord Mat in time.