#FlashFictionFriday: The Author’s Dilemma—Milking the Dragon

Milking the Dragon was first published in its proto form here in May of 2012. It was one of the first flash fictions I posted here, and with a little polishing and reshaping, it has become one of my favorites.


Writing fantasy has its drawbacks. For one thing, your creativity must never flag, which is my current dilemma. My work-in-progress is stalled. I keep repeating the same old crisis with slight variations. Readers notice when you milk an idea over and over, no matter how you change the scenery around it. Unfortunately, my head is stuck on dragons, and I’m not sure what to do at this point. It’s a medieval fantasy, and dragons are the medieval thing, right?

I could probably do better without all the interruptions, though.

“Ahem. You there.” Sir Belvedere stands at my elbow, looking over my shoulder. “Are you the person plotting this book?”

Surprised, I nod, wondering where this is going. Usually, my heroes just leave me to the task of writing and don’t feel compelled to harass me.

“Well, the dragon is dead. Did you notice?”

Again, I nod my head. “Yes. I wrote that scene, and if I do say so myself, you were magnificent.” Heroes require obscene amounts of praise, or they become sulky, and Sir Belvedere is no exception.

“Thank you,” he replies, attempting to appear modest and failing. “Well, the thing is, Lady Penelope has thrown herself into wedding preparations.”

“Yes, I did know that,” I reply. “I’m designing the dress.”

“Well, I’ve been booted outside. Apparently, no one needs the groom until the big day so, heh-heh, here I am… bored… looking for something to do.”

I never noticed it before, but my hero is rather unhandsome when he scowls. Note to self: give Sir Belvedere a charming pout to disguise his serious lack of a chin.

Sir Belvedere taps his foot. “Well, really, what sort of author are you? Here we are 32,527 words into your novel, and you’ve already shot the big guns! You wasted the big scene! I mean really, unless this romantic comedy is a novella, you just blew it big time.” Apparently, he also whines.

I’m shocked that this man who owes his very existence to my creative genius should speak to me thusly. “What are you talking about? I have lots of adventures and deeds of daring-do just waiting to leap off the page, and occupy your idle hands.” See? I can give a dirty look too, and I don’t whine about it.

“We-e-ell?”

I despise sarcastic heros.

“You have 70,000 or so words left, and I hope to heck you don’t intend to spend them on wedding preparations.” He looks at me expectantly. “I have nothing to do! Find me a Quest! With a capital ‘Q.’”

By golly the man is right. I have timed my big finale rather poorly, and now I must come up with something new for him to do. Hmm… maybe trolls. No, too reminiscent of Tolkien… I know! A magic ring! Nope, still to Tolkienesque.

I need to reflect on this for a while. I gaze at Sir Belvedere, wondering what I was thinking when I designed this air-headed piece of eye candy in a tin suit. “I can’t work with you staring over my shoulder, so find something to do for a few minutes.” Good Lord, I should have made him less impatient and given him a few more social graces. “Look, why don’t you sit here, and play a little ‘Dragon Age’ for a while?” I park him in front of the TV and give him the game controller.

“What the hell is this?” he looks first at me and then at the object in his hand. “I’m sure you find this odd-looking thing quite entertaining, but what is it?”

Sighing, I show him how to turn it on, and help him set up a character file. For some reason, the palladin wants to play as a dwarf-mage. That takes an hour.

Go figure.

Finally, I can sit down and invent a few more terrifying plot twists to keep this bad boy busy. The trouble is, all I can think of is dragons, but he’s already fought one, and killed it. Reviewers turn vicious when you milk plot twists. Of course, that means he has acquired a certain amount of skill in dragon molesting… heh-heh… but what good is that sort of expertise?

“Ahem.”

I look up, only to see Lady Penelope’s stepmother, Duchess Letitia, standing at my elbow. “Yes?”

“I’m sorry to bother you, but we’re in desperate need of a certain magical ingredient for my special anti-aging cream.” She looks at me expectantly. “My stepdaughter’s wedding is a big deal. As you’re no doubt aware, I’m being forced into retirement after this, as the plot you originally designed said Belvedere and Penelope will assume the throne upon their marriage. You published it on your website, so it’s canon now. That means I’m done, kicked to the curb in the prime of my life.” She dabs the corners of her squinty eyes with a silken handkerchief. Her voice turns crafty. “Since this wedding is doubling as my retirement party, I simply MUST have my beauty cream.”

“And that ingredient is…?” I hope it’s not a complicated thing because now I have two bored characters nagging the hell out of me.

She beams and says, “Dragon’s milk.”

How odd. Another thing I never realized until this moment—Penelope’s stepmother looks positively evil when she smiles like that.

“I’m sure our dear Sir Belvedere can get me some since he’s just sitting around pretending to be a dwarf.”

Duchess Letitia’s malicious smirk offers me no end of possibilities. I consider this for a moment.

I could rewrite the original battle scene, add a bit here, tweak a bit there, and subtract the dead dragon part… ooh! Sir Belvedere could get singed milking the dragon… Lady Penelope would have to rescue herself and then him… but what the hell, he’s a hero, right? Bad days at the office come with the territory.

I look over at Sir Belvedere, who is now bashing my coffee table with the game controller. Okay, this boy definitely needs to get outside and play in the fresh air. “HEY! Sir Belvedere, I have a task for you! Take this bucket and get some dragon’s milk. It’s a matter of life and death.”

Yes, folks, I have decided to milk the dragon.

He looks up, wild-eyed and sweaty. “I will in a minute. I need to get to a place where I can save. Gah! No, no, no! I only have one health potion left!”

That’s another good plot twist. Note to self: have Duchess Letitia volunteer to supervise the stocking of Sir Belvedere’s kit with “medical supplies.”


Credits and Attributions:

The Author’s Dilemma—Milking the Dragon, by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2012-2017 All Rights Reserved. Milking the Dragon was published in its first incarnation on Life in the Realm of Fantasy in May of 2012

Illustration from The Romance of King Arthur (1917). Abridged from Malory’s Morte d’Arthur by Alfred W. Pollard. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham. This edition was published in 1920 by Macmillan in New York. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fe/324_The_Romance_of_King_Arthur.jpg

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#amwriting: Using repetition and parallelism

Some aspects of writing craft were never taught in school. I know! I was shocked to discover this too. Many people learn these things through getting their MFA, but the rest of us must educate ourselves.

One concept I discovered through reading is how my favorite authors will use the intentional repetition of certain key words and phrases to highlight an idea or show a scene. This technique is an accepted rhetorical device and is commonly found in mainstream fiction. It is used to evoke an emotional response in the reader and can be exceedingly effective when done right.

Literarydevices.net says, “The beauty of using figurative language is that the pattern it arranges the words into is nothing like our ordinary speech. It is not only stylistically appealing, but it also helps convey the message in much more engaging and notable way. The aura that is created by the usage of repetition cannot be achieved through any other device.”  (End quoted text)

Also, according to literarydevices.net, repetition as a literary device can take these forms:

  • Repetition of the last word in a line or clause.
  • Repetition of words at the start of clauses or verses.
  • Repetition of words or phrases in opposite sense.
  • Repetition of words broken by some other words.
  • Repetition of same words at the end and start of a sentence.
  • Repetition of a phrase or question to stress a point.
  • Repetition of the same word at the end of each clause.
  • Repetition of an idea, first in negative terms and then in positive terms.
  • Repetition of words of the same root with different endings.
  • Repetition both at the end and at the beginning of a sentence, paragraph, or scene.
  • A construction in poetry where the last word of one clause becomes the first word of the next clause. (End quoted text)

One thing that has been a pain in the pen for me is the way my narrative will feel awkward to me, and I can’t figure out why. When I take a closer look, I realize the awkwardness is caused by poor sentence construction.

When you present two or more ideas in a sentence or paragraph, they must be equal in importance, or parallel. When using repetition for literary effect, parallelism is crucial.

What parallelism means can be shown by a quote attributed to Julius Caesar who used the phrase in a letter to the Roman Senate after he had achieved a quick victory in the Battle of Zela.

I came;

I saw;

I conquered.

Caesar gives equal importance to the different ideas of coming, seeing, and conquering. In literary terms this is elegant on two levels:

  1. It employs repetition of the word ‘I’ to good effect
  2. Three ideas are presented in one sentence: He arrived in Zela, saw something he liked, and took it.

Washington.edu offer us this example. Consider the sentence: They fought in the streets, in the fields, and in the woods.

If you leave out the second instance of the word ‘in’ the sentence is no longer parallel. They fought in the streets, the fields, and in the woods.

In a series of phrases beginning with a word such as to or in, repeat the word before each phrase or don’t repeat it at all after the first one:

They fought in the streets, the fields, and the woods. However, in literary prose, there is magic in the number three: the emotional impact of three repetitions of such a small word as ‘in’ elevates the prose from merely reporting a fact to something poetic.

‘In’ is a correlative word, a word or concept that has a mutual relationship with another word or concept. It is rarely a standalone word, so when used in repetition the words it modifies must be given equal importance.

Intentional repetition of key words can create impact:

Pulling loose from his grip, Ellen wept. “I hate you, I hate your mother, and I hate our life!”

What we want to remember is that when we intentionally repeat a word or a phrase, each repetition must be given equal importance, or the phrase will become awkward in a subtle way.


Sources and Attributions:

Repetition Copyright © 2017 Literary Devices. All Rights Reserved

Quote from the PDF Parallelism: They fought in the streets, the fields, and in the woods.  http://faculty.washington.edu/davidgs/ParallelConstruc.pdf

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#amwriting: The Vegan Road Trip

tacos and burritosI had planned to be out of town this week, babysitting one of the youngest of my grandchildren (13 months old), but alas! The four-year-old has a cold, and Grandma is not interested in having another bout of pleurisy — last fall’s episode was enough, thank you very much.

It’s a busy week, here at La Casa Del Jasperson. On Tuesday we will hosting a guest for a few days, an adult granddaughter who will be up from Los Angeles for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

For me, traveling out of town for any overnight stay involves a lot of logistics, as I am vegan.  My daughters aren’t vegan, but all three have been in the past and know I’m not difficult to cook for. Bake me a potato, offer me some guacamole to dress it up, and finish it off with a salad dressed with oil and vinegar, and I’m a happy camper.

I know it seems odd to many people, but being vegan means I eat nothing that came from an animal. No cheese, no meat, no eggs. People immediately think “how complicated!” but it’s not complicated at all. It’s simply a diet that celebrates vegetables and grains and all the many ways to eat them. Vegans consume nothing from animals, vegetarians may or may not eat dairy or eggs.

So, what do I eat and how do I flavor it? Beans, rice, any vegetable, or grain. I do like certain tempeh dishes, as tempeh is made from soybeans, but differs from tofu (which I love for curries) in that it is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. Tempeh has ‘tooth.’ As in everything, how you marinate the protein, tofu or tempeh, before you cook it is what will make it tasty, whereas just plain tofu or tempeh is too bland. That blandness is that is what gives them the bad reputation among new vegetarians who don’t understand how to prepare them.

A great source of simple recipes for creating flavorful tofu and tempeh can be found at Veg Girl Rd .Com.

But you don’t have to cook these things for me. I’m happy with rice and veggies.

Flavor for gravies, pilafs, and soups comes from vegetable broth. There are two ways to get good rich flavor using vegetable broth, but my go-to store bought product for use at home is the reliable kitchen staple, Better Than Bouillion Vegetable Base. Otherwise, I make my own veggie broth base, using the recipe I found here: Homemade Vegetable Soup Base. It’s quick and simple, and is one of those shortcuts to great flavor that I regularly employ.

Other than that, I eat regular vegetables, just sautéed in olive (or any other organic vegetable oil) rather than in butter, which comes from cows. I use almond milk or coconut milk,  Tofutti brand Better Than Sour Cream, and also their Better Than Cream Cheese, two dairy-free and delicious products. I also use an egg-free mayonnaise, Veganaise, which tastes just like Best Foods Mayonnaise (Hellman’s if you are from the East Coast) but is made with no animal products.

bread machineThe great thing about being vegan is how little it costs to eat well. Going sans meat is the lazy person’s dream diet. It’s amazing how quickly you can get a meal on the table, and when you are making beans from scratch, the crockpot is your best friend. I even make my own bread from several different recipes using my bread machine, which takes less than five minutes to assemble the ingredients. It hardest part for me is remembering to push the button to start baking. (I laugh, but it is a problem.)

I would far rather spend my time writing than cooking, but meals in our household are celebrated. Our time at the table is where we come together and talk about the day and things that are important to us, and good food makes our mealtime cozy and comforting.

So, in honor of that family tradition, I offer one hour a day to the cooking gods, and try to be as creative as the fresh vegetables in the grocery store will allow. On the housekeeping front, I may spend 20 minutes a day tidying the house (or not), but the rest of the day is mine to do as I want, which is writing or reading. And, since I don’t spend a lot of time cooking for me, I don’t expect anyone else to either.

Portland, Oregon is paradise for vegans and vegetarians. The city and  surrounding suburbs are full of restaurants catering to those of us who are of the vegan persuasion, and so this road trip will be both full of family events and delicious.

Food is central to a region’s culture, and the West Coast, Portland and Seattle in particular, are great places for vegans and vegetarians to travel and dine when on the road. Fortunately for me, this area is where I do most of my traveling.

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#FlashFictionFriday: Valentine Run (part 3 of 3)

Valentine Run Cover copySleep came slowly and was filled with vague and disturbing dreams. Waking half an hour before the alarm, Reina showered quickly, preparing for the run to Valentine system. In the mess, she stopped to chat with the crew who were all laughing at Cookie’s silly puns. Still chuckling, she entered the pilot’s ready room.

Ladeaux and Ryo had not yet arrived, but then she was always first. Ryo’s involvement with Ramona Flores meant he was always the last to arrive. The door opened, and she looked up, smiling as Brandon Ladeaux crossed to his locker.

“Here we go again.” His weathered, but still handsome features smiled back. “I hope we don’t have to do anything too spectacular to get this pile of rocks to Valentine Station.” He saw her look.  “Silly me. They’ll require spectacular measures, no matter what I wish. I’ve prepared accordingly.”

“Good,” she replied, fighting the feeling of finality, the fear it was the last time she’d see him. “Once we’re done rumbling with the Alzhaa, we should be well out of their space. Hopefully, they won’t follow us all the way to Valentine.” She finished closing her shipsuit and stamped her feet into her boots.

“If the Alzhaa strike the way they have up to now, they’ll expect the captain to stop running, to stand and fight. I wonder how adaptable they are. They’ve never shown any adaptability so far, but maybe they’re hiding it.” Brandon’s smile elevated him to handsome. He stood up, leaning against the wall, closing his shipsuit. “Are you in love with Cora?”

“Nope,” Reina’s laugh was unforced. “No chemistry in that way, right? Just a friendship between equals that was never meant to be anything more than it was. But now, I’m Captain Laine’s subordinate. I like her and respect her ability. She is a great leader and, believe me, I’ve worked with many who weren’t. She lacks experience in battle, but who’d have thought battle tactics would be required for captains of cargo ships? Besides, I wouldn’t jeopardize her career by taking advantage of our friendship if I did love her that way.”

“I’m proud of you.” Brandon pulled his boots on, stamping his feet down into them. “I like to think I would be able to be that noble.” He grinned at Reina, obviously liking what he saw. “I tend to take advantage of every situation that I can. Life is too short to let the good things pass you by. I’m not that decent a human being.”

“Yes, you are,” Reina grinned again, frankly admiring his charms. “You’re the most decent man I know. Not a real smart man since you’re still driving a sled, but quite decent!” They were still laughing when Ryo entered the ready room.

“Are you hoping for this to be over? I sure am.” Ryo bent over, burying his cheerful face in his locker, rooting around for something. Having apparently found what he was looking for, he dropped to the bench to begin suiting up. “So how are only three of us going to do a running firefight? When we practice in the simulator, we always start out as one of six.”

He had asked the question Reina had been asking herself all morning.

Ladeaux replied, “The formations are the same as when your sim squad gets whittled down to three. You’ll have your flight plans, well in advance, so you’ll know what formation.”

“I’ve always had a support role during our battle since the Captain conscripted me. La Fontaine, Morgan, and the others did all the dirty work. I’ve been training in the simulator for the last two weeks, but I have no idea what we’re getting into, how it differs from the sim. I was never in the service, right? I’m just a mech with a pilot’s ticket. I’ve seen the stuff you do, Jacobs, so you’ve got to be good enough. Same with you, Ladeaux. I’ve heard stories about you and seen the way you work too.”

“I’m still here.” Reina’s chuckle was wry. “I haven’t done an actual running firefight in years, though. Because of that, I too have spent time in the simulator these last few weeks. I’m going to do exactly what Ladeaux tells me to do. At this point, you just want to survive, and teamwork is the key to survival in this sort of a melee.”

Ladeaux said, “Don’t worry, Ryo. You have a finely tuned sense of survival. It won’t be much different than the simulator, which you’ve been acing. I set it up with every possible hindrance I could think of, so… but have you played Split Infinitum?”

Ryo turned red. “Um… yeah. I was quite the sim gamer, before Ramona. I guess I had too much free time.”

“The principal is the same, except when you lose… it’s more than merely game over. From what I could see, the game control panels are similar to these old gunsleds.”

“I did notice that. It’s probably why it’s been easier for me, both as a support sled in combat and in the simulator.”

Grinning at Ryo’s worried expression, Ladeaux walked over to his desk and sat. “With only three of us, we have to work together to make up in cleverness what we lack in strength, so I’ve come up with something new to spring on the enemy. We’re going to make them think they’ve taken the Saracen out.”

Ryo smiled nervously and glanced at Reina, who was curious to see what that plan would be.

Ladeaux inserted his notebook in the com-dock and flipped it on, paging back and forth until he stopped at a screen with diagrams. “So, this is my plan for dealing with the first wave.” He tapped the desk, and the holoscreen sprang up, fully lit, displaying the diagram from his notebook. “You’ll get phase two uploaded to your sled if this works. We shouldn’t need a phase three.” Ladeaux’s briefing lasted for fifteen minutes, then they went on out to the deck and the waiting gunsleds.

>>><<<

Promptly, one hour after the Saracen began the run, the first four Alzhaa cruisers showed up. They followed the usual pattern of assaulting the Saracen en masse. Ryo and Ladeaux converged on them from the ten and two o’clock positions, and Reina came up from under the Saracen at the six.

The first three cruisers were sitting ducks. The fourth was a little more work, but they too finally went down. “Looks like they’re running out of pilots too,” Ryo quipped. In a short time, the Alzhaa cruisers were debris, and the Saracen was still traveling as fast as she could.

“Four down, God knows how many to go,” Ladeaux’s voice crackled over the comsender. “Judging by how long it normally takes their ships to arrive, we should see the next action as we near the edge of Alzhaa space. That’s when the fun begins. Rest up while you can.”

“I don’t think they knew what to do, with us not stopping to fight like we usually do,” Reina commented. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe they aren’t as adaptable as they should be. So what about the plan for the next wave?”

“I’m loading it now,” Ladeaux’s voice was calm.

“Got it,” Reina looked at the diagram. “I can do this. You been reading old adventure novels again?”

Ladeaux laughed, as she hoped he would.

There would be absolutely no margin for error. If Reina was off by even a hair, the special delivery wouldn’t detonate the Alzhaa shipdrive. If she did manage to drop it on the sweet-spot, even running like hell might not save her. There was no time to calculate what would happen when they briefly turned the enemy ship into a mini-nova. The resulting wave could manifest as a disc or sphere. Either way, no matter how fast she ran, she would be caught in the backlash.

“Are you okay with it?” Ladeaux asked, concern coloring his voice.

“Well, someone’s gotta do it, and I’m the one with the experience and the death wish, so yeah,” Reina replied. Her tone was wry as she said, “I did promise to go easy on the fuelcels as much as possible though.”

“You’ve enough juice to do this and make your getaway. Either way, the fuelcel situation won’t matter after we’re done here,” replied Ladeaux. “If this works, you’ll be retired again. If not—still no worries, right? Even if you manage to deliver the goods, who knows what’s going to happen? There’s a first time for everything, and this is definitely a first.”

“Well, they won’t be expecting this.” Ryo’s muttered comment sounded worried. “Won’t they know the difference?”

“Don’t worry,” Reina replied. “Physics are physics. Some things are bound by certain laws whether you’re breathing methane or oxygen. If they choose to investigate, this battle will be long over, and little will remain for them to examine.”

Ladeaux’s voice sounded as sure and confident as ever. “Jacobs is right. The burst will happen in every spectrum, and should hide our movements for several days. If they don’t send a third group after us immediately, we’ll know we’ve been successful at concealing our escape. We’ll be long gone, and all they’ll have are unanswered questions. I think they will choose not to investigate.”

Two more hours had passed when four Alzhaa cruisers appeared. The three Mirandan gunsleds detached from trailing the Saracen, turned, and engaged the battle, leaving the Saracen to continue making a run for it.

Dropping into a wedge, the three sleds strafed the enemy bloc of cruisers with their lighter weight torpedoes, and then peeling apart from each other, they swung back. Ladeaux took out the rear cruiser using heavy armaments. Letting their shields pulse the debris away, Ryo took out the next one in line.

Immediately Ryo and Ladeaux made themselves into the visible targets, encouraging the two remaining cruisers to converge on them as they pretended to turn back toward Alzhaa space. The Mirandan defenders continued following the usual pattern they always had except for one thing: the Saracen continued fleeing toward Valentine at its top speed. Only the gunsleds were heading back to Alzhaa space.

Reina pulled back, arcing over the top of Ladeaux and Ryo. The three gunsleds formed a triangle, with Reina trailing. Suddenly, one of the Alzhaa began peeling away, apparently realizing the Saracen was getting away. Reina was on it, firing and dodging as her volley caught the enemy’s bridge, herding them back toward their companion. Just as Ladeaux had hoped, the other cruiser had caught on that the Saracen was still running and slowed down to turn back.

Reina rotated under and came up nearly on top of the stern of the fore cruiser and delivered her bundle dead center. The instant she launched the package, landing it squarely in the vent. Reina pulled up and fled in the opposite direction, heading at full throttle for Valentine.

Several seconds passed, and then the cruiser flared, shining too brilliantly for human eyes.

Bracing herself for the worst, Reina gritted her teeth. Her gunsled bucked and shuddered as the leading edge of the shockwave overtook her, but somehow her shields held together as, briefly, she rode the wave, gaining a little speed as it passed her. Relief nearly overwhelmed her. “Ladeaux! It worked. Good plan.” Tears of relief stung her eyes, and her headset crackled with hoots of joy as Ladeaux and Ryo celebrated her survival.

Her joy abruptly turned to disbelief. “No….” Reina groaned as the display showed the shockwave catching Ryo’s shields. She watched as, almost in slow motion, his shields buckled and failed under the onslaught. The pieces of Ryo’s gunsled joined the cloud of debris that rode the silent tsunami traveling back toward Alzhaa.

Ladeaux’s gunsled pulled into formation alongside her. With the destruction of the Alzhaa ship, the implants for head-to-head communication were working again, and she removed the headset with a small sense of relief. “I guess it’s just you and me, now.” Ladeaux’s mental voice didn’t betray his emotions, but Reina knew he felt the same sense of incredulity and depression she did. Her heart ached for Ryo and the loss of his future with Ramona Flores.

The rest of the day was uneventful. Reina and Ladeaux landed their gunsleds on the flight deck of the Saracen. In the captain’s ready room, there wasn’t much to say. “Thank you, both, for everything. You two need to get some rest. If anything comes up, I will let you know, but it looks like we’re home free now. We’ll be watching to be sure. In the meantime, Acting Science Officer Jacobs, you’re no longer flying. I’ll see you both tomorrow at the regular staff meeting, but you two are off until then.” It was a dismissal if ever Reina had heard one, but given Cora’s wounded pride, she’d expected it.

As they walked back to the pilots’ ready-room, Ladeaux flashed Reina the cheeky smile that captivated her. “How’s about we get together sometime and have a drink to Ryo and all the others who should be here but aren’t?”

Reina looked at him, standing there looking as sweaty and exhausted as she felt.  “Let me get a shower, and I’ll see what Cookie’s got that’s fit to drink. Half an hour, in my quarters?”

Ladeaux’s eyes lit up. “I’ll be there.”

Reina smiled, feeling the weight she hadn’t realized she carried leaving her shoulders.


To Read Valentine Run  Part 1 click here

To Read Valentine Run Part 2 click here

Valentine Run, Part Three, © Connie J. Jasperson 2011-2017 All Rights Reserved

Valentine Run is dedicated to my parents who loved nothing more than a good space opera, in memory of those hours we spent gathered around the flickering light of the TV, watching the original Star Trek.

Cover Art © Innovari | Dreamstime.com – Space Cruiser Spaceship Photo

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#amwriting: Power Punctuation

A little power is a dangerous thing, and certain punctuation has power.

Exclamation points!

Em dashes—

Ellipses…

These are all wonderful, fun things to play with, but making too free with the power punctuation makes the narrative too breathless, or in the case of ellipses, too slow. When prose is well written, it conveys the excitement of the moment without force. A good author doesn’t resort to creating excitement with the overuse of exclamation points as this makes the narrative breathless. It tells the reader what to think, rather than showing them a scene that is exciting.

When I am laying down the first draft, I am just as guilty of filling the manuscript with exclamations, em dashes, and ellipses.  I am in a rush to get the ideas down on paper, so in some places, this is a subconscious shorthand for the second draft, which is where I take those telling scenes and show them.

I do a global search for exclamation points, ellipses, and em dashes. At each one, I examine the scene. Nine times out of ten, I change the power punctuation to a period, or I find the em dash or ellipsis was not needed.

Exclamation points, em dashes, and ellipses are like speech tags. They are necessary, but simplicity is the key to making them unobtrusive. Generally, dialogue worded powerfully, along with the way you visualize and then show the attitude of the characters and their situation will serve to convey the emotions.

When it’s done right, you will only need one or two morsels of power punctuation, and the punctuation you use won’t be a needle in the eye of the reader. The common, garden-variety period or comma will usually serve the situation well, and won’t throw the reader out of the book.

All punctuation has its place and should be used appropriately. Exclamation points, em dashes, and ellipses should be used, but only at important points. For the most part, the way you have set the scene combined with the dialogue itself will convey the tension without your having to sprinkle the narrative with power punctuation.

I suggest you do a global search and change most of them to a period.

But what about !?  I only recently learned that these are called “interrobangs.” Comic books frequently employ interrobangs, generally because the authors are limited on space for narrative and use creative punctuation as a shorthand. They do this as a way of telling the story.

It’s your narrative, so of course, you will do as you see fit. However, the exclamation point before a question mark is not accepted punctuation in literature intended for adults, so don’t be surprised if you receive negative feedback in reviews. Interrobangs are a writing habit professional writers will avoid if they want to be taken seriously.

Peppering the narrative with exclamation points and interrobangs is a form of telling the reader “this is exciting”as opposed to showing the excitement. We want to immerse the reader, not blow them out of the manuscript. A great resource for ideas on how to convey strong emotions without telling the reader what the character is feeling is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

All sentences should have only one punctuation mark to signify the end. “Ahah!” you say. “What about the ellipsis?” When the ellipsis falls at the end of the sentence, it should be three dots followed by the required punctuation.

  • If the ellipsis falls at the end of a sentence in dialogue, use a comma at the end of it followed by a speech tag. “But, my dog…,” Annie said, her brow furrowed.
  • If no speech tag is used, employ a period, question mark, etc. “But, my dog….” Annie’s brow furrowed.

This is because the ellipsis or em dash at the end of a sentence symbolize unspoken words, trailing off. They are not considered punctuation.

This is what the Chicago Manual of Style says:

Use an ellipsis for any omitted word, phrase, line, or paragraph from within a quoted passage. There are two commonly used methods of using ellipsis: one uses three dots for any omission, while the second makes a distinction between omissions within a sentence (using three dots: . . .) and omissions between sentences (using a period and a space followed by three dots: . …). An ellipsis at the end of a sentence with no sentence following should be followed by a period (for a total of four dots).

Once again, I emphasize that we use the Chicago Manual of Style if we are writing fiction and intend to publish it. The Chicago Manual of Style is written specifically for writers, editors, and publishers and is the publishing industry standard. All the editors at the major publishing houses own and refer to this book when they have questions.

What is the best style guide for writing technical user manuals?

Are you writing for a newspaper? AP style was developed for expediency in the newspaper industry and is not suitable for novels or for business correspondence, no matter how strenuously journalism majors try to push it forward. If you are using AP style, you are writing for the newspaper, not for literature. These are two widely different mediums with radically different requirements.

For business correspondence, you want to use the Gregg Reference Manual.

If you develop a passion for words and ways in which we bend them, as I have done, you could soon find your bookshelf bowing under the weight of your reference books. Writing is not a one-size-fits-all kind of occupation. There is no one style guide that will fit every purpose. Each essay and book may be meant for a different reader, and each should be written with the style that meets the expectations of the intended readers.

However, some things are universal:

Exclamation points must be used sparingly.

Ellipses symbolize omitted words and are not punctuation, so when the conversation trails off, you must add an ending punctuation. My God, I thought. What…?

Em dashes can either set off phrases—like this—or if used at the end of a sentence an em dash can indicate cut off words.

Consider the following quote from A Dog’s Tale by Mark Twain. In this case, you do not add punctuation:

It did seem to me that life was just too lovely to—

It is your task to write the narrative so that it shows the character’s emotions. Their eyes will widen, or their mouth will drop open, or they will stop and stare. When it comes to punctuation, do you tell, or do you show? You make the decision, but I see the interrobang and the overuse of the exclamation point as if they were too much seasoning, strong flavors that can ruin the the taste of the narrative.


Sources and Attributions:

The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.), page 639 sections 13.51 – 13.55 The Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition text © 2010 by The University of Chicago.

The Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed.), page 334 Section 6.84 Em dashes to Indicate Sudden Breaks, The Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition text © 2010 by The University of Chicago.

A Dog’s Tale,  by Mark Twain. © 1904 Harper & Brothers, via Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Dog%27s_Tale&oldid=769178379 (accessed May 16, 2017).

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#amwriting: Impressionism and Realism

 

Perusing beautiful art is one of my favorite downtime hobbies. Art inspires my writing because I see the art of writing a short story as being comparable to the art of painting a picture. Writing a novel is painting a word-mural.

I study the way talented artists convey an entire story with one image. The nearest art museum is many miles away, in Tacoma or Seattle, so my local  museum is Wikimedia Commons, a great resource for researching art, both modern and classic. Using the internet offers me the ability to get as close as I want, and also to discover something about the artists’ lives.

When we want to convey ideas, we consider impressionism. According to the Fount of all Knowledge, Wikipedia, Impressionism is a 19th-century art movement. Impressionist painting characteristics include relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, open composition, emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities (often accentuating the effects of the passage of time), ordinary subject matter, inclusion of movement as a crucial element of human perception and experience, and unusual visual angles.

I love examining the work of the early 20th century American artist, Paul Cornoyer, and also the works of the 16th century dynasty of artists, Pieter Bruegel, and his family.

Cornoyer’s work is quite intriguing, and much of it is done in an impressionistic style. But what is it about impressionism in painting that so inspires my writing? The artist doesn’t give you the minute details–they give you what they saw including the mood of the piece.

Impressionism is flash fiction on a canvas. All the important things are there, everything the eye needs to have a perfect vision of the mood, the setting, and characters at that moment in time. The important things at that moment are depicted within the piece, but with economy.

The same holds true for micro-fictions: When you limit yourself to expressing the complete idea of the story in less than 300 words, you discover just how well (or how badly) you can write.

I love Cornoyer’s The Plaza After Rain because, even though it depicts New York City in a different time, it shows the way rain is in the springtime. The sky is dark, but the trees are just beginning to leaf out. The streets are wet with rain, but a hint of blue is showing through the dark sky. When you see this painting, you know it’s a cold, rainy spring day, but sunshine could happen any minute.

That sense of time and place is what we try to convey in flash fiction, and that is why it’s so important to practice writing in short, complete bursts. You never know when an idea in three paragraphs will inspire a longer tale. Write these ideas as if they were complete stories and save them. I keep mine in my author folder in a file labeled:

Flash_Fiction_Ideas.

I admire authors who can create an entire story in 3 paragraphs. It is truly an art. Sometimes I do well at it, and sometimes not so much. Still, it is important to practice writing flash fiction and micro fiction–this is how you exercise your writing muscles. By saving each short burst of random creativity separately in a clearly labeled file, you will have a well of ideas to draw on when your inner genius is on holiday.

So, now we come to Realism, both in writing and in art.

When it comes to writing longer works, sometimes the details are important. Writing, even writing fantasy, involves a certain amount of reality checking. There are times when you need to know how things actually worked.

We write stories for the public, people we haven’t met. These are readers with knowledge and life experiences we authors aren’t aware of.  We should assume they understand what we are writing about. With that in mind, if we don’t do the proper research, the reader will know we have gone off the rails and into the realm of impossibility. At that point, the reader won’t be able to suspend their disbelief, and we will have lost them.

For example, if you are writing a story set in a medieval environment, you may need to know what clothing the common European people wore in medieval times. Or you might want to know what their home looked like, or a village. For that, I suggest you seek out the art of the Flemish Painters. There you’ll see what men and women looked like and how they dressed, both for celebrations, and for working. You will see what their towns looked like, and the public places they gathered in. The interiors of their homes are also found in the great Flemish painter’s works.

Any time you want an idea of average European village life in the Late Middle Ages through the 17th century, you need look no further than Wikimedia Commons.  There, under the heading  Category: Painters from the Northern Netherlands (before 1830) you will find the brilliant works of the Dutch Masters. These were artists living in what is now The Netherlands, and who were creating accurate records of the everyday life of the common people, along with stylized religious images.

They painted their subjects with a heavy dose of religious allegory, but that was a part of village life–both the Inquisition and the Reformation were under way, and the politics of religion was in the very air they breathed. If you are going to write about the Middle Ages, you must understand how strong the influence of the Church was and how entangled it was in politics. You must understand how the Church and its politics affected the common person’s life.

I especially love the work of a particular family of early Dutch painters from Flanders, the Brueghel Family. Five generations of their family were well-known painters and printmakers.

I love the art of any time-period, especially that depicting the lives of ordinary people. I find the small details intriguing. It shows us that in many ways we are not that different than they were. We want food, decent shelter, and of course, stylish clothes to attract a mate.

Impressionism and realism are not just terms for paintings. They are two components we authors must combine to create our word pictures. Knowing when to share the details and when to offer impressions is a balancing act.

Read the authors whose works inspire you and see what tricks they employed to fire your imagination. I suspect you will find they alternate using impressionism and realism, blending the two seamlessly, so you were never thrown out of the story.


Sources and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Impressionism,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Impressionism&oldid=779459401 (accessed May 14, 2017).

The Plaza After Rain, Paul Cornoyer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Wedding Dance, c.1566 (oil on panel) by Bruegel, Pieter the Elder (c.1525-69) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Impression Sunrise, Claude Monet 1872 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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#FlashFictionFriday: Valentine Run (part 2 of 3 Parts)

What has gone before: Part 1 of Valentine Run can be found by clicking on this link.


Ten hours later, Reina slowly woke up in her quarters, pondering how she’d gotten there. Finally, she gave up thinking about it and staggered the two steps to the hygiene unit. Covered in goose bumps, she stood under the lukewarm stream, lathering and rinsing as quickly as possible. Toweling herself dry, she hurried into a clean jumpsuit and fluffed her damp hair with her fingers, then brushed her teeth.

Quickly straightening her quarters, she exited. Image, Reina. Image is everything, she cautioned herself. Portraying herself as a vibrant, well-rested woman, she smiled and greeted everyone. Her manner proclaimed that today was just another day and nothing to worry about. The crew knew as well as she did who hadn’t come back, but they needed to know she was not worried about the situation, that she believed the captain had it under control.

She stopped in the mess hall, grabbing a nutri-bar and a cup of coffee, chatting with the staff there. Then she continued on to the science lab—a closet one meter by one meter on the same corridor as the captain’s ready room. Since the death of the science officer when they first entered Alzhaa space, the room had become her domain. Laying her palm on the key-pad, she entered, so preoccupied she didn’t even hear the door as it whisked shut behind her. The bank of holoscreens sprang up around her immediately, seemingly eager to serve.

Rotating the stool out from under the console, she began accessing her random notes, enjoying the sound of her antique-style keyboard rattling as she moved information from screen to screen. She loved her keyboard and its familiar clatter. It had been trendy to own one when she was in college, and she’d grown attached to hers. Keying on the holoboards just didn’t have the same feel.

Actually, like so many things in space, they had no feel to speak of. Having spent so much of her life in space, Reina Jacobs needed to feel things. The quest for feeling, the desire to truly experience things drove her, more than anything else.

She sat looking at the screens, seeing nothing, still thinking about the situation. Finally, she pulled her thoughts together, formulated her conclusions and recommendations, and uploaded the information to the captain, along with her final summation. She signed it “Professor R. Jacobs, Acting Science Officer.”

She did this instead of chasing Ladeaux’s very charming ass, much as she would have liked to, or hanging out, getting drunk, and talking girl stuff with Cora, whom she’d grown to love like a sister. Instead, she avoided them both in her off-hours except for meals. Ladeaux, damn his warm blue eyes and warmer lips, understood quite well. Cora didn’t, but she had never been in the military.

And her lack of military training was the crux of the current problem.

As long as they were flying, she and Ladeaux would not cross the line by allowing themselves to fall into an affair while they were working together. For pilots, it was an error that could be fatal.

The blurring of the line between friendship and professional behavior was the problem Reina now had regarding the captain. During the first part of the voyage, she’d been a bored passenger and was drawn into an instant friendship with the charismatic Captain Cora Laine. They drank together, played poker, worked out, and joked the way equals with a lot in common often do. They had become—God forbid—friends the way normal women did.

Unfortunately, they weren’t normal women and weren’t equals any longer. Cora was still the captain, but now Reina was a sled-jockey doubling as science officer and was under Cora’s command. If this miserable journey had gone as planned, Professor Reina Jacobs would have been long gone, safely in her new job with both feet on the ground. She never would have served as her best friend’s subordinate when she was so unfit to be anyone’s subordinate.

Cora was smart and savvy, but she had no combat experience and simply did not see the situation and the solution the way a battle hardened tactician did. She saw her pilots as people, not as the tools they were.

When the Alzhaa had finally whittled the able-bodied sled-jockeys down to twelve, five less than it took to fully man the Saracen’s gunsleds, Captain Laine had been forced to conscript her and two other crew members who were former pilots.

Reina’s gut-instincts in the cockpit were still as sharp as ever, and her prosthetic leg was as good as anyone’s natural leg, maybe even better. It was fortunate they were older sleds, much like the ones she’d spent so much time piloting while in the service, and she’d fallen back into the old routine easily.

Cursing the futility of her thoughts, she switched the screens to show the notes on her main research project. Immediately focusing on the problem, Reina began right where she’d left off two days earlier to go and shoot at the Alzhaa. That was how she preferred to spend her waking moments, writing the justifications and preparing her paper on bioengineering common human food crops to adapt to a terraformed environment.  If she ever arrived on Valentine, she intended to present it to the scientific community at large.

Later at dinner, Reina sat in a quiet corner of the mess with Ryo and Ladeaux, eating the rather unusual meal the mess staff had put together for them. Their chef, Ludmila Borisova, commonly known as Cookie, still had rations, but she was going to have to be creative if they were going to stretch until they made it to Valentine.

By silent agreement, they talked about everything but the Captain’s intransigence in regard to their current situation. Ladeaux and Reina, both experienced military officers, had tacitly made it clear they would not participate in any sort of discussion that would undermine the captain’s authority. It would do no good to stir up the rest of the crew because at the very least, the way it was now they were all pulling together.

Brandon Ladeaux was tall, his hair was still mostly dark, and he was somewhere near her age. He exuded the same confidence as Reina, that of a lifetime spent successfully cheating death. Ladeaux was the last of the complement of pilots who’d originally left Miranda.

Ryo was a recent addition to the team and was only on his third run as a sled-jock. “I don’t get why they won’t let us leave. We’re transporting cargo, that’s all.”

“How they think is a complete mystery to me.” Ladeaux grinned. “That’s the dilemma though. The Alzhaa don’t understand us at all and don’t want to. They don’t care what our problem is. They just want us to stay the hell away from their systems.”

Finally, Ryo nodded. Ladeaux took a few bites, and Reina said, “The trouble is, the Alzhaa are so alien even the other methane breathers find them impossible to communicate with.”

“It sucks anyway,” said Ryo, his relative youth and inexperience showing. “We’re an asteroid-barge, for God’s sake. It’s easy to see the Saracen is a small planet, not a war-bird. We’re packed to the gills with cargo, not heavy weapons. The Saracen has never even transported weapons between our own systems.”

“I suspect they’re making a point, and we’re being targeted simply to drive it home to both Miranda and Earth,” said Ladeaux. “They don’t want our sort here, and they don’t want us to ever forget it. This is the last shipment of assistance Valentine will ever get.”

Reina nodded her agreement, idly admiring Ladeaux’s rugged profile. The man exuded animal magnetism.

Glancing slyly at Reina, Ladeaux said, “How is it going with Flores, Ryo? You two seem to spend all your free time together.” His eyes twinkled at Ryo’s sudden flush.

The younger man looked down at his cup. “I keep having these random daydreams about settling down with her and starting a family, maybe even on Valentine.”

Ladeaux nodded. “I think you should.”

“I’m going to spring a proposal on her when we’re done with this mess,” Ryo admitted. “I don’t really have anyone back on Miranda anymore, and she doesn’t either. It’s only been five years for me, but it’s time I spent in space between Earth and Miranda. My niece just became a grandmother.”

“None of us has anyone after we’ve been at this job for long. We outlive our planet-bound families and friends by several generations. At least I certainly have.”  Reina pushed down a pang of grief for the loss of her friendship with the feisty captain. “I’m happy for you and Ramona. Relationships are hard to sustain when you’re never planetside.” She paused and then said, “If I may give you some advice: don’t let space separate you. Find a job planetside.”

“Yeah, that’s the trick though, isn’t it,” replied Ryo morosely. “My skills don’t really run to planetside occupations. I’m a good mech, and I’m learning how to be an adequate pilot, but I suspect the colonists have their choice of applicants.” He shrugged and added, “If I hadn’t been the only one left with a ticket to fly when they conscripted me, I wouldn’t even have this to put on my resume. I guess this farce has had one positive effect.” He laughed, but it was hollow. Ryo knew the only reason they had tapped him to be a sled-jockey was no one else was available.

“They’ll always need mechanics for the shuttles. I’ll help you find a job when we get there,” offered Ladeaux. “I’ll be staying on since I’m retiring after this run. I have a job lined up piloting shuttles from the moon base to planetside.” He looked out of the corner of his eye to see Reina’s reaction. “It’s my first planetside job in thirty-nine years.”

Reina had idly wondered if Ladeaux would retire and stay on Valentine after this trip was behind them, and he’d just made her day. Still, although her eyes betrayed her interest, she didn’t otherwise indicate anything she felt.

After dinner, Reina did her usual stint in the flight simulator, practicing battle maneuvers. Ladeaux’s tests were complicated, realistic, and in some cases, harrowing. Following that, she showered, then lay on her bunk in her quarters, drinking the brew of the week and reading her mail. It was all from her new staff, detailing the arrangements they were making for her arrival.

As she clicked through her missives, she realized she was stopped only a month away from Valentine if they were to light up the drive, but years away if they had to idle along as they were doing. The Saracen was a cargo ship and not set up to be self-sufficient so the crew and passengers would starve long before they got there. Now they were down to three fighter pilots, there was the distinct possibility Reina would never have the opportunity to meet her new staff or put her antique book collection on those lovely shelves in her new study.

The tap on her door made her look up. “Enter.”

The door whisked open, and Cora entered. She dropped into the desk chair. “I know what you’re doing. You’re separating yourself from me so when you get yourself killed, I’ll still be pissed as hell at you.”

“You still don’t understand. This isn’t about you or me. This is about expedience and what is best for the Saracen. Fraternization is an unduly familiar personal relationship, and it interferes with getting things done in the most advantageous manner. I have to do it.” She clicked her mail off, set the notebook aside and sat up. “You have no combat experience. Your attempt to protect your marines is compromising your mission. Friendship has no place here, Captain, though you are the best friend I ever had. I just know what has to be done, and you refuse to accept it.” Reina’s words felt harsh as she said them. “Since you’re here, you may as well at least drink the last of this week’s vintage. I’ve already had more than enough.”

“I thought you’d like to know I’ve come to a decision.” Cora poured a short shot into the glass Reina handed her. “Per your recommendation to Ladeaux and his complete agreement with your assessment of the situation, I’m taking the Saracen in to Valentine system tomorrow, no matter what. I’ll either berth her in orbit there until I get enough fuel and supplies to take her home the long way, or we’ll find another way home. You and Ladeaux both assure me I can get her away clear if I run like hell now.”

Reina nodded, not trusting herself to speak.

Cora swirled her glass, watching the amber moonshine as it eddied. “It’s the only choice. I can’t take the Saracen back to Miranda system through Alzhaa space right now, which is what the plan was. The Saracen never had the ability to go around the Alzhaa if she’s carrying a full payload. But now, thanks to all the delays, if I were to turn back to Miranda, we wouldn’t have enough food to make it even half the way home. Hell, we may not have enough to make it to Valentine on full rations, even though we have only half the crew left. It’s eighteen hours to the safe zone on a dead run and another month to Valentine. But since I can’t go back, I must go forward.”

The captain stood and walked to the door and then turned back. “La Fontaine died an hour ago.” Cora chuckled bitterly. “Here we are on an asteroid stuffed to the rafters with the most modern medicines and medical technology our civilization has to offer, and we still can’t figure out how to keep a woman alive when her guts are shredded.” She sighed, a gesture of resignation. “Only three of you pilots are left. I hope you’ll be enough. Ladeaux is putting together the final plan as we speak.”

Reina nodded as a feeling of relief swept over her.

Cora continued. “We’ve been idling along as fast as we can since yesterday, building up speed preparatory to slingshot out of here. Since the Saracen’s drive signature is what seems to attract the Alzhaa, we can’t really go until the sleds are all in place to cover our ass. Once we have your birds up and flying, we’ll light up the drive and run like hell, and won’t stop for anything.

“Maintenance tells me the fuelcels are failing to hold a complete recharge. There’s little room for horsing around. If you want to actually get to Valentine Station, stick to the plan.”

“The fuelcel issue has me worried too,” Reina agreed. “I’ll do my best, I promise, but what’s the point of all the lives that have been lost over this if we can’t protect the Saracen from some suicidal Alzhaa whacko?” Reina’s gaze was stone cold sober. “I spent thirty-three years in the service. Every single day I knew what I was there for. It was my job, my duty, and my privilege to protect our people in situations like this. Trust me, Captain. I am prepared to do what it takes to get you  and your cargo to Valentine.”

Cora just nodded curtly, the door shutting behind her.


Valentine Run, Part Two, © Connie J. Jasperson 2011-2017 All Rights Reserved

Valentine Run is dedicated to my parents who loved nothing more than a good space opera, in memory of those hours we spent gathered around the flickering light of the TV, watching the original Star Trek.

Cover Art © Innovari | Dreamstime.com – Space Cruiser Spaceship Photo

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#amwriting: Drawing on Life Experience

Writers, even dedicated, passionate ones, have lives outside the confines of their craft, and while it frequently derails our ability to write, it is also where we find the realism we need to inject into our work. Life must come before writing because writing doesn’t pay the bills unless you are one of the fortunate few.

I have several family members with serious health issues. Sometimes, I must step away from the keyboard and be the wife, niece, mother, or grandmother they need and you know what? My writing is better for it.

I nursed my mother, with whom I had a complicated relationship, through the last year of her life. She had smoked until the age of 42, and was addicted to perfumes and air-fresheners. She was a self-described clothes-horse who loved expensive cologne and used it liberally.

Even after her death, after they had been laundered and dry cleaned, her clothes still smelled strongly of her brand of Estee Lauder’s cologne.  In her home, she had a Glade plug-in in every outlet, and the spray bottle of Febreze in her hand at all times.

She died of lung cancer.

During her last year, we spent four days a week at the cancer center, and the rest of our time with me caring for my frail mother as if she were my baby. It was difficult mostly because watching someone you love slowly die is the worst. My sanity during that difficult year was made possible because of writing. I wrote 260,000 words during that year, some of it good, some of it off the rails. Much of the experiences of that year are unconsciously referenced in my current writing. It is the part of me that goes into each tale.

It was a devastating year made more difficult by my brother’s mental illness and drug addiction. Yet, that same year was made richer by the strange friendship that developed between me and my mother. All the many things that had stood between us and which had seemed so important were set aside and never addressed. This was because, in the face of her final battle, the hurts of the past just did not seem that important to me. We began to enjoy being in each others’ company, enjoy the quiet of an afternoon, or the bustle of a Starbucks. The ‘F’ word that some of us find so hard to say, forgiveness, became such an easy thing, and when she died, I had lost a friend as well as a mother.

On this blog, I’ve discussed the way epilepsy has affected my two of my adult children, and how our lives are affected by witnessing their struggle. Many hours have been spent writing in hospitals, and this last weekend was no different. I am there when they need me, and when they are ready to stand on their own, I allow them the space they need to do just that.

I have also mentioned how having an eccentric father with battle related PTSD forged my need to escape into books and inspired my writing. Some of us have survived the alcoholic parents who did their best, but dealt with an addiction they denied having. Every writer deals with family issues and experiences, both good and bad, and we are a composite of all of them.

Every time our heart is broken, every time we feel that glorious rush of infatuation, and every time we stick our foot in our mouth or must eat humble pie—these moments should find their way into our work and emerge as characters with real emotions, people who live and breathe and feel real to the reader.

Life in all its glorious beauty and ugliness fuels my writing, and I am not alone. We authors take what we know and reformulate it into something we can live with. In some ways, hope drives my writing. The fact I have hope allows me to write about things that are painful. I find that the fullness of life and the occasional emptiness of despair are easier written about when I set them in an alternate universe, and wrap it in a story that embraces the emotions, even though the story doesn’t parallel my life directly.

I’m like the character in a long, brilliant and sometimes bad, novel. My life is a mix of great joy, romance, helpless sorrow, extreme anger, and faith in the future. I hope your life is balanced as well as mine is, with the good outweighing the bad. This maelstrom of life experience is the well we draw from when we are creating our characters.

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#amwriting: creating intimacy: Point of View

Narration is the use of a written or spoken commentary to convey a story to an audience. Wikipedia explains that a narrative consists of three components:

  • Narrative point of view: the perspective (or type of personal or non-personal “lens”) through which a story is communicated.

  • Narrative voice: the format (or type presentational form) through which a story is communicated.

  • Narrative time: the grammatical placement of the story’s time-frame in the past, the present, or the future.

We want to create a sense of intimacy, of being in the character’s head. One way to do that is to use stream of consciousness, a narrative mode that offers a first-person perspective by attempting to replicate the thought processes as well as the actions and spoken words of the narrative character.

This device incorporates interior monologues and inner desires or motivations, as well as pieces of incomplete thoughts that are expressed to the audience but not necessarily to other characters. Consider this passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses:

“A dwarf’s face, mauve and wrinkled like little Rudy’s was. Dwarf’s body, weak as putty, in a whitelined deal box. Burial friendly society pays. Penny a week for a sod of turf. Our. Little. Beggar. Baby. Meant nothing. Mistake of nature. If it’s healthy it’s from the mother. If not from the man. Better luck next time.

—Poor little thing, Mr Dedalus said. It’s well out of it.

The carriage climbed more slowly the hill of Rutland square. Rattle his bones. Over the stones. Only a pauper. Nobody owns.”

In this narrative mode, we see the POV character’s rambling thoughts, as well as witness their conversations and actions. This is a tricky device to do well, and the only time I have employed it was in a writing class.

When they want to tell a story though the protagonist’s eyes, many authors employ the first-person point of view to convey intimacy. With the first-person point of view, a story is revealed through the thoughts and actions of the protagonist within his or her own story.  The waves carried me, and I fell upon the shore, a drowning man, clutching at the stones with a desperation I had never before known.

I have used first-person, and find it easy to write. I prefer to read a third-person narrative so that is what I write in most often.

If you prefer, as I do, to write in an omniscient voice, the story is told from an outside, overarching point of view. The narrator sees and knows everything that happens within the world of the story, including what each of the characters is thinking and feeling. A way to convey intimacy when writing in third person omniscient is to use the third-person subjective.

Again, Wikipedia says, “The third-person subjective is when the narrator conveys the thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc. of one or more characters. If there is just one character, it can be termed third-person limited, in which the reader is “limited” to the thoughts of some particular character (often the protagonist) as in the first-person mode, except still giving personal descriptions using “he”, “she”, “it”, and “they”, but not “I”. This is almost always the main character (e.g., Gabriel in Joyce’s The Dead, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, or Santiago in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea). Certain third-person omniscient modes are also classifiable as “third person, subjective” modes that switch between the thoughts, feelings, etc. of all the characters.”

This mode is also referred to as close 3rd person. I like this mode and frequently use it. At its narrowest and most subjective, the story reads as though the viewpoint character were narrating it. This is comparable to the first person, in that it allows an in-depth revelation of the protagonist’s personality, but differs as it always uses third-person grammar. Because it is always told in the third person, this is an omniscient mode. I like reading works written in this mode as it is easy for me as reader to form a deep attachment to the protagonist.

Some writers will shift perspective from one viewpoint character to another, such as George R. R. Martin does. I admit I don’t care for that but occasionally find myself falling into it. I then have to stop and make hard scene breaks, because it’s easy to fall into head-hopping, which is a serious no-no.

Head-hopping occurs when an author switches point-of-view characters within a single scene and happens most frequently when using a Third-Person Omniscient narrative because the thoughts of every character are open to the reader.

Experiment with POV. Write a scene from one of your works in progress using a different narrative mode. You might be surprised what insights you will gain in regard to your own work.


Sources and Attributions:

Wikipedia contributors, “Narration,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Narration&oldid=777375141 (accessed May 7, 2017).

Quote from Ulysses, by James Joyce, published 1922 by Sylvia Beach

Wikipedia contributors, “Ulysses (novel),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ulysses_(novel)&oldid=777540958 (accessed May 7, 2017).

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#FlashFictionFriday: Valentine Run #serial (part 1 of 3)

The enemy, a crippled Alzhaa cruiser, now at two hundred units distant and closing fast, appeared to be preparing to ram the Saracen.

“No….” Feeling almost as if she were dreaming, Reina Jacobs watched as Baker deliberately intercepted the enemy’s volley meant for the Saracen, inserting his sled in the path of the enemy’s bombardments. The rainbow sparkles as his sled disintegrated mesmerized her for a moment.

Reina  was perfectly lined up for what had to be done but was too close to do it safely.

Whatever safely meant any more.

Hopefully, her shields could take what she planned, or she’d be joining Baker. Gauging the charge left in her fuelcels, she closed on the enemy’s stern. They’d proven unable to see sleds as small as hers coming in so close to their cruisers, one of the few advantages the Mirandan fighters had. The little shimmy as her shields brushed theirs had surprised her. Hopefully, if they felt it, the Alzhaa would assume it was debris from Baker’s sled.

Now traveling as fast as her sled would go, Reina was directly behind the Alzhaa ship, on their tail and closing. As soon as she was lined up, she pressed the firing button, launching her torpedo into the odd-shaped opening that seemed to be a vent of some kind for the craft’s propulsion system.

She was too close behind them and traveling too fast, with nowhere to escape. The enemy boat fragmented around her, and she put everything she had into driving through the debris. A sudden, loud clanking noise and a slight shudder of the craft indicated something had gotten through the shields, which flared as most of the bits of flotsam and jetsam that had once comprised a fully crewed Alzhaa cruiser pulsed away from her now partially crippled bird.

The gunsleds were normally quiet, with little ambient sounds to speak of, so noise of any kind when you were in space was bad. A red light appeared on the holodash of the console and Reina noticed it was growing warm in the cockpit. The tang of ozone flavored the air being vented into her suit. The air cleared, and the red light stopped flashing as the backup system came online.

She was alive and would make it back to the Saracen, which surprised her. The chatter on the comsender continued, pilots verifying positions, and Ladeaux answering, “meet at the rendezvous,” and then “Damn, Jacobs… good one.”

“Yeah. Made it, alright. I got winged though. It took out my ventilator, but the backup is still functioning.”

Something about the Alzhaa ships inhibited their implants, making normal head-to-head communications impossible, so Baker and Ladeaux had cobbled together old-time communication gear, which worked well enough over short distances. The headsets with an earpiece and a small microphone were awkward, and you had to listen hard sometimes, to discern who was speaking.

Sitting in the pilot’s bucket, Reina usually felt nothing. Other than the brush with the underbelly of the Alzhaa cruiser and the impact of the debris, the ride had been as smooth as if she’d been sitting in her berth.

Her headset made a hissing noise, followed by the voice of the Captain, Cora Laine. She rattled off an unintelligible string of epithets, the gist of which meant the Saracen was still waiting for Reina.

“Gunsled 12 returning to base,” Reina responded. “La Fontaine… did she make it back?”

“Yes.” Cora sounded angry. “Your concern is duly noted, Jacobs. My ready room—immediately upon your return.”

“Aye, Captain.” As she prepared to return to the Saracen, she listened to the chatter, a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach as she heard La Fontaine had arrived back but was not expected to survive her injuries.

Her headset crackled again, this time with the voice of Lt. Ryo. “Baker… La Fontaine… they got Morgan too. We’re in trouble now.”

As if they hadn’t been in trouble all along. The pilots had just spent twenty-two hours periodically fighting off suicidal Alzhaa with no progress, but at least the Saracen had not been forced to retreat this time. Still, they hung there, staring at the edge of safety, regularly being hammered to death.

The Alzhaa cruisers were much larger than the little Mirandan gunsleds, more like giant in-system liners. Their cruisers were all-out war machines with highly advanced armaments the Mirandans didn’t have, but they were lumbering space-tubs compared to the nimble little gunsled.

The advantage the Alzhaa had was in their superior armaments. Compared to a Mirandan torpedo, their magnetic-field bombards were ship destroyers. The little Mirandan gunsled made up for that lack with speed, maneuverability, and human adaptability. The Alzhaa never altered their strategy no matter what, so the Mirandan defenders had capitalized on those advantages as much as they could. Nevertheless, the Alzhaa weaponry was gradually whittling them away.

Reina maneuvered her gunsled into the open slot on the Saracen’s maintenance deck and ran through the shutdown protocol. She could see so far only she, Ladeaux, and Ryo had made it back in one piece and that worried her because as far as she knew, she was the last to return.  Ladeaux is back, she thought with a peculiar sense of relief. She felt more than just professional admiration when she thought about Ladeaux.

God help them if Ladeaux failed to return from one of these little jaunts because he was the only person left that the captain would listen to. She desperately didn’t want to think about the others who didn’t make it. Nine pilots left this place this morning. Now we’re down to three.

The canopy snapped open, and she disconnected from lifesup. Reina stood reeling with exhaustion as the mechs swarmed the gunsled, shouting instructions and opening up the guts of the beast before she was even fully out of it. She took a moment to pull herself together before she jumped down, thanking the men and women who tended her gunsled. Forcing herself to appear confident and full of energy, she walked to the lift, the image of the iconic sled-jock.

What the crew saw and admired was the retired colonel, full of life and, despite the fact she was worth six of anyone else, forced into an early retirement over an artificial leg.

Maintaining the image was as much for the crew, who desperately needed to see it, as it was for her own vanity. “No one wants to see a tired, bitter, old woman” was her motto, and after a lifetime of habit, she never appeared anywhere public without her veneer of pleasant self-assurance. She refused, however, to answer to Colonel, preferring to live in the present. Reina was now a leading researcher and professor and proud of what she’d accomplished over the last ten years of immersing herself in her chosen field of plant biosymetry, a branch of terraforming.

She was amazed how quickly those ten years had washed away over the last weeks with her abrupt return to active duty, washed away as if they had never been. She’d fallen into the role of sled-jockey as if she’d never fallen out of it.

Her boot heels rang on the metal deck as she headed toward the captain’s ready room. Pasting a smile on her face, she entered the room fully prepared to be dressed down and not feeling at all humble or contrite.

The captain sat surrounded by holoscreens, bloodshot eyes absorbing everything, fingers flying over the holoboard while snapping instructions. Her headset lay on the desk, as with the Alzhaa interference no longer in play, normal communications had resumed. She paused, turning her face to the door as Reina entered the room.

Loosening the collar of her shipsuit, Reina sprawled in the lone chair without being asked.

“What was that all about, Jacobs?” Cora’s harsh voice grated. “Just what the hell were you doing there in the first place? Your instructions were to clear the space and return to the Saracen.”

Reina was tired and didn’t give a damn about the niceties but they had to be maintained or all her work trying to impress the importance of the separation of rank upon her friend would be wasted. “Captain, I had no intention of disobeying your instructions. However, after the enemy took out Baker and La Fontaine, I was the only one positioned to run interference for you. Please, re-run your holos, sir, and watch the remaining cruiser.”

Cora murmured “Replay trace 67329aR,” and the holos sprang to life between the captain and Reina.

Standing, Reina pointed as she spoke. “As you can see here and here, Baker and Lafontaine’s joint attack crippled the remaining Alzhaa cruiser. Still, the enemy ship was running on momentum and travelling fast. Your ass was in their sights, and they weren’t going to let you go. Their captain made the only decision possible, at least the one I would have made, and used whatever power was available to gain even more speed.

“By my calculations, they were out of those magnetic-field bombards they use so well. From my vantage point, I could see the enemy setting up to ram you. I knew what had to be done. Where would you be now if I had stuck to the plan? I can assure you this ship was not built to stand up to those sorts of negotiations. If they’d managed to blow their drive on impact, even the mighty Saracen would have disintegrated. An asteroid-barge is a tough pile of rocks, but in the face of that kind of detonation—no. You and your crew would be nothing but dust and sparkly shit.”

Captain Laine glared at her but said nothing.

A wave of exhaustion caught Reina by surprise, and sitting, she leaned her elbows on the desk, resting her head in her shaking hands. She looked at Cora through her fingers, seeing her angry and uncertain of what to say. Aware of what she must look like, with her iron-gray hair plastered to her skull with sweat, Reina suppressed a sigh. Looking like a tired old woman wasn’t a confidence-inspiring way to appear if she wanted to sway the Captain.

Still, Reina had to tell Cora the truth, to try to get her to see reason. “You’re a good captain, but the Saracen is a cargo ship. You’ve never dealt with this kind of situation before. We’re losing this fight because we’re playing their game.” She was so tired she could barely control the trembling. She was running on adrenaline these days, but what choice did the pilots have? “You’ve got to make a run for it, Cora. It’s your only hope. I think we can cover you so you can get to Valentine safe-zone if you will just commit to running as hard and fast as the Saracen will go and letting us do what we do. Let Ladeaux draft you a plan since you doubt me, but please take my advice on this.”

Cora bristled, hearing only the implication she might be incompetent. Despite her indignation, she poured a synthjuice and handed it to Reina. “I expect compliance, even from you. You bloody well better follow orders like any other sled-jock, or you’ll sit it out in your freaking quarters.” She looked at Reina, shaking her head. “Get some rack time now, or I’ll have you confined to sickbay until you do. The doctor has a prescription for you, so stop by sickbay and pick it up. Then go to your quarters and swallow it like a good girl. Do you understand?”

Reina looked at the juice and then knocked it back. Her gaze met the captain’s, and she nodded. “Aye, sir. I do need the rack time. But I’m not a marine anymore—that part of my life is long over. I’m tired and re-tired, you know? And now that La Fontaine and Baker are out of it, we’re in a bit of a pickle. For my team, we had it set up so they did the dirty work. The other teams are also decimated—I counted only two other flyable ships besides mine in the hanger.”

Captain Laine sighed. “I hear what you’re telling me, Professor Jacobs. Ladeaux told me the same thing. Now get out of here and get some rack time.”


Valentine Run, Part One, © Connie J. Jasperson 2011-2017 All Rights Reserved – Dedicated to my parents who loved nothing more than a good space opera, in memory of those hours we spent gathered around the flickering light of the TV, watching the original Star Trek.

Cover Art © Innovari | Dreamstime.com – Space Cruiser Spaceship Photo

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