Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Our First Meeting

   Myself and three other writers had our first in-home critique meeting last night, and I think this will work out just fine. Since it was our first get together, we had a chance to go over some ground rules (as it were) such as how often we want to meet and how many pages of material to submit each time, etc. We also had a chance to share what our expectations are for the group and how we envision being helped by the others in our writing.
   One of the drawbacks to a monthly critique with a sizable group of people is that they have a hard time visualizing what a particular writer is trying to accomplish with a larger project. It's easy to comment on a short scene or even a full chapter, but sometimes they lose sight of the overall story from the beginning. For example, the story I'm working on is complex with many characters and spread out over several countries. When I post later chapters for critique, it's obvious that the newer members of the group haven't taken the time to go back and familiarize themselves with the story. Their comments are still helpful, but the questions they usually ask would have been answered if they'd read the beginning of the story. The same thing has happened to the others, that is why we decided to get together on our own.
   An advantage to us meeting like this is even though we have read the beginning of each other's story, we weren't all clear as to where the story was headed. Now we are. Last night gave us the opportunity to share that. Now I have a better understanding of what to look for because I know where the author is trying to go with their story, and can adjust my critique accordingly.
   Like I said at the beginning, I think this will work out for all of us. I'll let you know in a couple of months how successful we are.

   This week I will again share a scene from my book "The Princess and the Apprentice." This is when Odessa first learns she has the power of a Blood Mage. Any comments are greatly appreciated.
   Thanks for reading.

           Odessa held Aldan’s hand as she stood and gazed down at his ashen face. Tears burned her cheeks as fear and helplessness knotted her up inside. A longing for the ability to help him filled her in a way nothing else ever had. She only half listened as the old woman gave instructions for Jon and Derek to retrieve the bodies of the outlaws, lay them behind the barn and remove all evidence from the road.
At a gentle touch on her elbow, the princess turned and stared into the face of a mature woman with glossy black hair and milky white skin. It was the eyes that made her stare. Irises the color of old blood surrounded pupils that were no larger than the head of a pin. A tight, humorless smile revealed a set of perfect white teeth.
Not pleased with the deception, Odessa stood straight and glared at the other woman. “Is this an illusion or was it the other?”
“Both are illusions. My true form is no longer pleasant to look upon.”
“Men are never intimidated by an old, fragile appearing woman but that is no longer important. Come, you and I have much to discuss. You stand at a crossroad in your life and what I have to offer may not be what you truly want.” With that she clamped down on Odessa’s hand with an iron grip and attempted to pull her from the room but the princess refused to move.
“I will not leave Aldan alone.”
“There is enough magic in the staff and tome to keep your young mage alive for now. Whether he continues to live or not depends on you. We haven’t much time. Come.”
This time, Odessa allowed the woman to lead her out of the room and over to the table which now contained a pot of tea and two cups, steam rising from the contents. She refused to drink anything offered; instead she focused her attention on the woman seated across the table.
“Who are you?”
“I am Alicia Gertrude d’Morano, Queen of a kingdom that no longer exists in the memories of men, and a Blood Mage. I have waited for generations beyond counting for someone like you who I could pass on the knowledge I have gained.”
“If you are such a powerful mage, why don’t you just heal Aldan and let us be on our way?”
“I have the knowledge but no longer have the power. You have the power buried deep inside you but not the knowledge. The choice is yours. Accept my offer and Aldan will live. If not, he will die.”
Odessa slumped back in her chair, eyes shut tightly as the realization washed over her that Aldan had become more important to her than anything else. Would it enhance their relationship if they both were mages or just the opposite? She decided it didn’t matter.
“What must I do?”
“Kill me.”
Her chair crashed to the floor as Odessa recoiled in horror as if struck a physical blow. Body trembling, she stared at the once queen, revolted by her words. A moment passed before she could whisper, “I cannot.”
“You can and you will if you wish for that young man of yours to live. Don’t you understand? With every fiber of my being, I want to die. Only by the hand of another mage will my journey finally come to an end.”
She reached under the table and produced a normal sized book, bound in a style similar to Aldan’s Tome of Magic. The Blood Mage stood up and beckoned Odessa towards the bedroom. The princess followed slowly, tears blinding her sight.
Once inside, the old woman laid the book on a table next to the bed and instructed Odessa to remove the tome and staff and place them on the floor at the end of the bed. She managed to lift the tome off of Aldan’s chest but the staff refused to be removed from his hand.
Alicia stood, hands on hips, and stared down at the staff which had begun to glow a weak blue light. “You don’t have any more power left than I do, you old goat. This is his only chance and you know it. Now let go.”
After a brief flare, the glow diminished and Odessa was able to remove the staff. She leaned it carefully against the end of the bed then followed the mage back to the table next to Aldan’s head. Alicia lowered herself with a sigh on to the chair beside the table and pulled out a small, thin bladed dagger. She pricked the end of her finger and squeezed until a drop of blood appeared, then handed the dagger to Odessa with instructions to do the same.
As the drop of blood fell from Alicia’s finger to the face of the book, she intoned, “With this token of my blood, I release all previous claims to you.”
As the drop of her blood landed next to the other, Odessa forced words past the tightness in her throat and spoke as instructed. “With this token of my blood, I lay claim to this book as mine and no one else’s.”
With her features beginning to blur, the Blood Mage gently wrapped her fingers around Odessa’s and placed the point of the dagger against her chest. With eyes closed, she continued, “My life I give freely for the purpose of restoring the life of another.”
Alicia’s eyes snapped open and locked onto Odessa’s. “Now push!”
With a cry of anguish, Odessa forced her trembling body to press the blade through the woman’s ribs and into her heart. The body collapsed in upon itself as a wave of power and euphoria washed over her. The book slowly opened with a sound like rusted hinges and a voice whispered in her mind, “Let us begin.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Next Step

   Myself and several other members of our monthly critique group have decided to form a new group that will meet in my home at least every two weeks. The four of us have full length novels that we've been working on for quite some time and are familiar with each others stories from the beginning. One problem with the monthly meeting is that too much time goes by between critiques and progress is slow. The other reason is that the other members of the group are fairly new or don't come regularly and are not familiar with our stories.
   Our hope is that by meeting more often and concentrating on only our novels, we will make better progress and receive more meaningful critique on overall story flow and character development. We have been attending the monthly meetings for several years now and I think our personalities match fairly well, so coming together in a close knit group should not pose any problems.
   Unfortunately, I need someone to hold me accountable to actually write. It's too easy for me to procrastinate when I see that a number of folks have already submitted something for critique and I tell myself I'll just wait and submit something next month. With the new group we plan on everyone submitting at least ten pages for critique every meeting. It won't be a worry for me that I'll get my hand slapped if I don't submit, but more of a feeling that I've let the others down by not doing my part. Hopefully this will force me to get off my butt and start writing seriously again.

For those of you who are interested, I'm sharing another short scene from my book, "The Princess and the Apprentice". This is a conversation between the Spirit of the Mountain Citadel and the ancient dragon who guards the entrance as they watch the companions continue on their way.
   Thanks for reading.

From the shadows of the cavern, two figures watched in companionable silence as the four young humans descended into the valley below.
The spirit of a man gazed with sadness and remorse at the emaciated body of his oldest and truest friend. “Will he come back?”
“He will, if he isss the one.”
“Nice illusion by the way. You fooled them completely.”
Broco shrugged a bony shoulder in reply. “It isss easssy to cassst an image of my former magnificence. Now if I had wanted to look like a toad that would have been difficult.”
A sad chuckle escaped the lips of the spirit. “As time passes, my old friend, I regret more and more the decision I made so long ago. Even though you may have forgiven me, I may not ever be able to forgive myself.”
“It wasss necesssary.”
“Yes but was it right?”
Broco snorted twin puffs of smoke from his nostrils as he turned and began the slow journey back to the wall of the citadel, “Bah! You humansss, alwaysss worrying about thingsss that cannot be changed.”
He snorted again, this time emitting a small flame that caused the spirit to look up at his guardian and friend.
“One thing could have ruined the illusssion. I almossst forgot how to breathe fire.”

The spirit laughed out loud in spite of himself as he passed through the blank wall into the citadel.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Book Sales Have Flat-Lined. Now What?

   Even though I've been sick for weeks, I still had to undergo two days of mandatory training to keep my HCA Certification. I was going to try and write my blog last night but the classes wore me out. I feel slightly better today so I'll attempt to come up with something interesting.
   From what I've read of other's experiences, the gambit of emotions a writer goes through during the course of publishing a book is similar for everyone and something a non-writer probably wouldn't understand. That feeling of accomplishment when you finish your drafts turns into despair that you will ever get it edited well enough for folks to actually enjoy reading it. Then it's the frustration of formatting and creating a cover that will appeal to readers. The moment you click on the publish button, a void forms in your emotions, ready to be filled with disappointment if it doesn't sell or hopefully a feeling of joy when the numbers start to come in.
   Fortunately for me, because of my wonderful friends, sales started appearing that first day and the pages read was really exciting. In the first week there were over three thousand pages read which is pretty amazing since the book is only a little over one hundred pages. The first 4-star review left me smiling like the Cheshire Cat while others soon followed. Eventually reality set in and sales slowed even though pages continued to be read. Purchases completely flat-lined a month ago and there hasn't been a page read in over a week. Should I try and drum up interest in the book again or just let it rest and concentrate on the next one?
   If you read the story but didn't like it, please shoot me an e-mail or comment here to let me know where I need to improve. I've still got a long way to go as a writer but I can't fix it if I don't know what's broke.
   If you haven't read it yet, maybe I can entice you with a short scene from the book that occurs right after their first battle with the goblins.
   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.”
She nodded and looked over to where the men had started to pile the dead goblins. “I want you to place Harold’s body on top of that pile before the fires are lit. Forever will the spirits know that my man rose above these beasties and proved himself this day.”
They soon had Derek safely loaded into a wagon and sent the companions on their way. The rest of the men and wagons followed shortly. It was decided that the inn should be burned also since it was defiled and no longer fit for use. The old woman stayed behind along with Braun and his men and watched the fire blaze until nothing was left but ashes. By that time, the young man returned with his cart to take her home.                               

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Can't Write When I'm Sick

   Today's post will be short due to sickness. I have the mother of all colds and can't concentrate. I sure you all have been there at some time. Can't sleep cause I can't breathe. Nose is red and sore from constant blowing and my chest and stomach muscles are on fire from sneezing and coughing.
   While trying to come up with something to say here, I thought, why not just share a favorite scene from my book. This is a short scene from 'The Princess and the Apprentice' that I still get a kick out of. Hope you enjoy and thanks for reading.

In the morning, the sound of splashing water brought Aldan up out of the depths of empty dreams. It took a moment for his heavy eyelids to lift far enough to focus on the person standing by the wash basin. Embarrassed by the sight of Odessa running a wet cloth over her nude body he groaned and rolled over to face the wall. His imagination however relentlessly filled his mind with a vision his eyes could not see as the sounds of cloth against skin continued. Silence and a gentle hand on his shoulder brought an end to the fantasy.
“Are you awake?”
“Are you dressed?”
“Then I’m awake,” he answered, rolled over and made room so she could sit on the edge of the bed. Her expression told him nothing but he could feel the heat travel up his neck. “Forgive me, Odessa. I didn’t mean to peek.”
“Did you like what you saw?”
As her dark green eyes pinned him to the bed and a vision of her smooth pale skin flooded through his mind, all he managed was a nod. Words weren’t needed.
“Good. Now sit up so I can change the bandage on your chest.”
Aldan did as he was told and held up his arms so she could un-wrap the strips of cloth. The effort required less than it would have been yesterday and the original pain in his chest non-existent. Her gentle hands and the scent of her bath soap chased away the last of his embarrassment.
With the last strip of cloth dangling forgotten in her hand, the Princess stared un-blinking at his chest. After a moment she raised her eyes to his. “There isn’t even a scar. How is that possible?”
Aldan had known what she would find beneath the bandages and reached out to take her hand, removing the strip of cloth and placing it with the others. “I have read that the original purpose of blood magic was healing so I’m not surprised.”
Fear and sorrow fought for control of her expression as she stood and tried to pull away. “You must hate me.”
“I could never hate you, Odessa. Just the opposite. But you are wise to be afraid. The magic of blood can be very seductive. The temptation is always there to shed a little more blood to gain more power. I will help you if I can but you will have to overcome those temptations on your own.”
She searched his eyes for any sign of deceit and finding none, leaned down to kiss him on the forehead. On the way out she turned back to him with a mischievous smile. “I’ll let the others know you’ll be down as soon as you put your clothes back on.”

“Odessa!” But it was too late. Only the closed door heard him.