Category Archives: Battles

#amwriting: Couriers, Pigeons, and Excalibur

Medieval_forest wikimedia commons PD 100 yrs

Russian Forest in medieval France (1405-1410) Gaston Phoebus

I have a great deal of interest in Medieval history because I have ancestors who lived then. I’m not bragging–everyone who is alive today is here because one or two ancestors survived the Dark Ages long enough to leave behind a child who did the same.

Life was perilous, even if you grew up in a fairly sheltered environment. No one was exempt from disease–even kings regularly died young from plagues and injuries. Regardless of their personal safety, medieval kings were forced to go to war in person. They did this for several reasons.

  1. The only way for the monarch to know what was actually happening on the battlefront was to be there
  2. It was expected that a monarch should understand the art of warfare and be proficient as a warrior. He was responsible for winning or losing the battle.

Portrait of Henry VIII (1491-1547) by Hans HolbeinDuring the Dark Ages, official news was delivered by a royal messenger and read aloud in church or in the market.

Messengers were a permanent fixture on the royal payroll. They were dedicated and well-paid to travel the kingdom continuously, carrying the king’s word. In medieval England, kings did not stay in London. Instead, they traveled all over their lands and the noble families were required to feed and house them at great expense. Their gypsy-like existence kept the messengers busy.

Wars were expensive. Henry VIII’s habit of medieval couch-surfing at the country homes of his noble courtiers was a great way for an impoverished king and his entourage to live well and cheaply, conserving the cash to pay for the troops. But it also meant that an organized and efficient messenger service was required to ensure that correspondence to and from the king: royal letters, grants, patents, and such, arrived at their intended destinations.

Tancred, Count of Lecce, King of Sicily via Wikimedia

Tancred, Count of Lecce, King of Sicily via Wikimedia

In the year 1190, when my direct maternal ancestor, Tancred, King of Sicily, faced Richard I of England, he was limited to what information a messenger could convey. Thus, their battles were fought in person and so were their negotiations.

These were not native Italians–the original Tancred of Hauteville (980 – 1041) was an 11th-century Norman and a minor baron of Normandy about whom little is known, other than eight of his twelve sons joined the crusades and became kings of southern Italy in the process.

So his illegitimate great-grandson, King Tancred, and King Richard the Lionhearted were Norman kings, squabbling over what was left of the Holy Land and the Mediterranean at the end of the crusades. However, Tancred was born and raised there so he was a third generation Sicilian, being the out-of-wedlock son of Roger III, the Norman duke of Apulia and Emma of Lecce, who was married to Ruggero III de Hauteville.

Quote from Wikipedia: “In 1190 Richard I of England arrived in Sicily at the head of a large crusading army on its way to the Holy Land. Richard immediately demanded the release of his sister, William II’s wife Joan, imprisoned by Tancred in 1189, along with every penny of her dowry and dower. He also insisted that Tancred fulfill the financial commitments made by William II to the crusade. When Tancred balked at these demands, Richard seized a monastery and the castle of La Bagnara.” (end quoted text)

Richard I Google Art Project via Wikimedia

Richard I Google Art Project via Wikimedia

Richard was joined in Sicily by the French crusading army, led by his soon-to-be-former friend,  King Philip II of France. The presence of two foreign armies highly aggravated the local citizens who, rightfully, demanded the foreigners leave their island.

Ever the good guest, King Richard responded by attacking Messina, which he captured on 4 October 1190. Once the city had been looted and burned, Richard established his base there and decided to stay the winter—after all, winters in Sicily are a bit more pleasant than those in Normandy.

But what’s a little looting and pillaging among friends? According to Wikipedia:

“Richard remained at Messina until March 1191, when Tancred finally agreed to a treaty. According to the treaty’s main terms:

  • Joan was to be released, receiving her dower along with the dowry.
  • Richard and Philip recognized Tancred as King of Sicily and vowed to keep the peace between all three of their kingdoms.
  • Richard officially proclaimed his nephew Arthur of Brittany as his heir presumptive, and Tancred promised to marry one of his daughters to Arthur when he came of age (Arthur was four years old at the time).
Excalibur London_Film_Museum_ via Wikipedia

Excalibur London Film Museum via Wikipedia

After signing the treaty, Richard and Philip finally left Sicily for the Holy Land. It is rumored that before he left, Richard gave Tancred a sword he claimed was Excalibur in order to secure their friendship.”

Yes, you read this correctly. King Richard the Lionhearted gave my many-times great grandfather Excalibur, the legendary sword of mythical King Arthur.

I doubt Richard the Lionhearted would really give away a sword that was supposed to prove his lineage back to the Pendragon if he actually believed it was truly Arthur’s. However, it is a documented fact that he did indeed give this sword of historical significance to Tancred.

I suspect that Tancred believed it was the true sword of King Arthur as much as I do, but in the interest of peace, he most likely smiled and thanked his departing guest. Whatever he did with it, it was never seen again. When he came to reclaim his island after Tancred’s death, Henry IV, king of the Holy Roman Empire, pillaged Tancred’s treasury and the sword was not there.

But what, you ask, does my illegitimate many-times-great grandfather’s possession of the possibly faux Excalibur have to do with communication?

Tancred and Richard both had to be there in Sicily in person and had to communicate through messengers to arrange all this swapping of women and dowries and swords of dubious origin.

Good long-distance communication has always been seen as critical to good governing. Wars were won and lost based on the information those kings and generals received. During the Middle Ages, postal systems were invented, became corrupt, and fell into disuse all over Europe. This recurred at different times up through the eighteenth century.

In 1505, Emperor Maximilian I established one of the more stable postal systems, but it was not a thing the peasant class could avail themselves of. An illiterate peasant could hire a scribe, but then they would also have to scrape up more coins to get the note sent to its destination. It was better to pay a neighbor to carry the news to wherever it had to go.

420px-Pigeon_Messengers_(Harper's_Engraving)There was a faster method of getting a letter home. Long before the Middle Ages and during them, homing pigeons were used to carry messages. Rock pigeons have the ability that taken far from their nest, they’re able to find their way home. This due to a particularly developed sense of orientation. Messages were then tied around the legs of the pigeon, which was freed and could reach its original nest.

This is of limited usefulness because pigeons will only go back to the one place that they have identified as their home. Pigeon mail can only work when the sender has a specific recipient in mind and has possession of that receiver’s pigeons.

So how did they  do this? The sender had to hand-carry the pigeons with them. Once released, the pigeons would fly back home with the note. Correspondents could not send a pigeon anywhere but the one place the birds considered their home.

If you are an author writing in an era other than the modern times, be diligent and do the research before you write about things that are outside your personal experience. Readers may have knowledge that you don’t and they will definitely not be shy about letting you know where you’ve gone wrong.

Much of my work is set in medieval environments, and so I can’t have my characters getting instantaneous information from afar without divine intervention. If my characters need to communicate over long distances, I have to consider the length of time it would take even a fast messenger to travel over roads we would consider impassable, but which were the medieval equivalent of I-5.

This kind of information is available via the internet.  Researching my subject online is how I discovered that regular mail delivery is a relatively modern invention. Perusing Ancestry.com is how I discovered the medieval Norman/Sicilian roots of my mother’s family, the (Fitz)Rogers family.

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Dad, the renaissance man

Fred+Flintstone+FredFlintstoneToday is Fathers Day here in the US, and my dad, long gone, is on my mind. He wanted us to be as well-educated as was possible, and I grew up in a household where reading was not only encouraged, it was required, as were music lessons, and roller-skating lessons. My younger sibs and I were definitely the product of post-war American prosperity.

During WWII, Dad had been in a radio unit. He loved radio communications even though, besides everything else a soldier carried in those days,  he marched and hiked his way across France carrying a 30lb radio on his back.

He saw many terrible things during that time, and had a few narrow escapes. He was back in the US by the day of the Ardennes Counteroffensive, known here in the US as the  Battle of the Bulge.

While my uncle, Don Hutchins, was fighting on the front in  the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia (Belgium), Dad had been rotated back to  Fort Bliss, Texas, USA.

Uncle Don came home from Ardennes with a metal plate in his head, and dad…dad was was riding dispatch between bases on a motorcycle and was run over by a lady driving a 1937 Woodie Station wagon, who didn’t see him and turned left, driving  right over the top of him.

Nearly every major bone in his body was broken, and in the rush to save his life, his left leg was accidentally set crooked. After he’d recovered from his other injuries, the doctors at Beaumont Army Hospital went in and re-broke his leg to set it correctly.

He developed an antibiotic resistant bone infection, osteomyelitis. He spent the next seven years in and out of Army hospitals, and in 1952 he was  forced into a medical retirement after fifteen years of service in the US Army. In 1954, when I was about a year old, they finally amputated his leg, and life went on from there.  He was never able to wear his artificial leg, as prosthetic limbs in those days were really more for show than utility.

Dad had not wasted his time when he was languishing in and out of the hospital. He had gotten his high-school diploma, and then went on to college, hoping to get a degree in engineering. He did get an Associates degree, which enabled him to work as a draftsman, a well-respected, well-paid trade.

He worked for the State of Washington, which was a good employer in those days, designing plumbing and fish ladders for salmon hatcheries, among other things. He enjoyed his job and was proud of what he did.

Even so, dad was frustrated by his rather visible handicap. He was, by nature, a volatile man. He regretted that he could no longer hunt, but he loved to fish. He bought us his dream house on Black Lake near Olympia, Washington, and fished from his boat every day that he could. But he was also a renaissance man–a voracious reader, an avid music lover, and a wickedly satirical, incredibly gifted cartoonist.

Dad absolutely adored modern technology. Every new technological wonder, from cassette recorders and loud stereos to color TVs and toy robots came into our home the day it landed on the shelf at Sears or Radio Shack. Working in engineering as a draftsman, he was a genius with a slide-rule and higher mathematics in general, but he owned one of the first electronic scientific calculators, which had cost a months’s salary.

I think about dad a lot these days. He would have been so proud to know I am a published author, and selling books to boot. He was always our biggest supporter, cheering us on in our every endeavor. Failure was never an option, but anything short of abject defeat was rewarded with a steak-and-eggs breakfast at the RibEye Restaurant.

I’m a vegan now, and dad would be completely mystified as to why I would do such a hippie/liberal thing. But he would support my right to do it, all the way to France and back.

WWII US Soldiers Marching, image  courtesy www.berkeley.edu

WWII US Soldiers Marching, image courtesy http://www.berkeley.edu

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Baiting the hook

450px-Flyfishing wikipedia dot com

Flyfishing on river Sava Bohinjka, Slovenia photo by Ziga (PD)

You wrote the book. Your friends read it–you hope. At least they said they did, and they still like you. They tell you it’s a good book. They think it’s publishable, so you decide to go indie and self pub it. You spend the next year getting it edited and having a flashy cover designed. You even have a launch date picked out and feel reasonably sure you can get the book through the pipeline at CreateSpace by that date.

Now you are at the point where you must come up with some sort of a blurb.

This is where it gets fun.

Not.

There are many wonderful blurb-writing gurus out there on the internet, offering advice to those intrepid indies who would write that catchy morsel of blurbiness:

www.blurb.com

Marilyn Byerly 

Digital Book World

The Creative Penn

Yes, there are many websites offering us insight, and they all have great advice for us.  But putting that plethora of knowledge to practice is a bit daunting. 

They each approach it differently but when you distill it into a simple, linear form, it all boils down to variations on these concepts (in no particular order) for you to have in your head before you begin:

  • Use words that clearly evoke the genre
  • Keep it short– 100 to 300 words
  • Get the protagonist’s name out there early
  • Introduce the core conflict
  • Make it intriguing, mysterious–can this conflict be resolved?
  • Use a little hyperbole–stunning, denouement, and so on

The Internet Gurus also offer us this advice:

  • Don’t say what a great book it is
  • Don’t give spoilers
  • Don’t summarize the book (or even the first chapter)
  • Don’t be long-winded or wordy
  • Don’t say what a great writer you are
Back Cover of Mage-Guard of Hamor

Example of what NOT to put on back of book in lieu of proper blurb.

I would also offer this advice: keep it to less than 150 words and don’t skip writing the blurb. It has become popular for the Big 5 publishers to skip writing a blurb and just go with praises for the author’s other works, expecting that their name and fame will sell the book. This tells me that blurb writing is hard and even the the big guys don’t like it. Most big publishers, like Penguin, will have a marketing department.  Penguin puts blurbs on their books, so why the others can’t come up with a proper blurb is a mystery to me.

That might work for Stephen King or L.E. Modesitt Jr., but it won’t work for an unknown indie who is trying to build a reputation and a fan base.

Readers want to know what they are buying, and if they have no idea who you are, they don’t care what your friends think about your work. They aren’t going to touch it.

The blurb is a teaser.  It’s one part of a three-part lure, the only purpose of which is to entice a customer to buy your book.

Remember, you are fishing for readers and that blurb is part of the triangular bait:

  1. Part one is the flashy cover–even for ebooks that cover gets them to stop and look a bit closer, and
  2. the blurb is part two–the part that hooks them and gets them to crack it open.
  3. Part three of this lure is the words they read once they open the bookthat is when you land your fish, whether by ebook or by paperbook.

But until they have read your blurb, they won’t open the book, so they won’t know what wonder awaits them.

I am currently working on a blurb for a stand-alone book based in the world of Neveyah, the world the Tower of Bones Series is set in.  Where the Tower of Bones series can be rather dark, Mountains of the Moon has many comic elements.

Right now, this is my blurb. My head is numb, so I’m letting it sit for another week or so then I will revisit it and have my homies at Myrddin Publishing go over it one more time:

MOTM MAPHidden away in the Mountains of the Moon, the ruins of an immense castle harbor a dark secret: entire families have vanished from the valleys in the shadow of the mountains, leaving no trace. The elderly Baron Hemsteck hasn’t been seen for two seasons.

Four mages are sent to investigate. Wynn Farmer and his companions embark on a trek to learn the truth. Along their route, they must battle against the strange beasts controlled by a rogue mage and ultimately face an evil they never thought possible.

Danger, dark magic, and mystery await those who seek the truth in the Mountains of the Moon. The Gods are at war, and Neveyah is the battlefield.

We kept it down to 114 words, and managed to get the World of Neveyah series tag-line in on the end of it.

Sigh. I admit I am not good at writing blurbs for my own books, but I do have a large posse of author-friends who are more than willing to help me hone that blurb. When the back cover is finished, I will have a concise blurb that will hopefully entice readers to read my book.

Finally, at the end of June,  I will reveal the cover.  I am pretty excited about this new book. I can hardly wait!

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Book signing events, the art of Paul Cornoyer, and inspiration

From left to right, Sechin Tower, Lindsay Schopfer and Connie J. Jasperson at Forever Knight Games 5-16-2015

From left to right, Sechin Tower, Lindsay Schopfer and Connie J. Jasperson at Forever Knight Games 5-16-2015

The signing at Forever Knight Games in Olympia went well. I met several wonderful authors I hadn’t had a chance to meet in person: Sechin Tower, Jolene Loraine, Rachel E. Robinson (Maquel A. Jacob), and Erik Kort. We were joined my my good friends, authors Lee French, Lindsay Schopfer, and Jeffrey Cook. These wonderful people write great books, and I was privileged to be counted among them!

We had a great time, and it was a good first event at that venue. I want to thank all my friends for coming out and meeting my favorite local authors. Tower of Bones was my big seller–which makes me happy.

paul cornoyer rainy day in madison square

Rainy Day in Madison Square, Paul Cornoyer

But then, after the big party was over (and it was a party–believe me) I had to drag myself back to reality. As I said the other day, sometimes my head isn’t in the right place for reading. At the event this last weekend, a friend asked me how that inability to read without the editor in my head making noise affects my ability to write. I had to answer that it does affect it to a certain extent.

The reason being in an editing frame of mind affects my writing is that while I am creative, it is like my creativity has to go through a maze to get to the ends of my fingers and into written form.

It’s a sloooooow process.

Paul Cornoyer Winter twilight along Central Park

Winter Twilight Along Central Park, Paul Cornoyer

I do a lot of things to jumpstart that creativity. I  clean things I don’t really care about under normal circumstances.  Something about a really orderly environment gets my mind relaxed enough to work properly.

Sometimes I write flash-fiction, 100 to 1000 word short stories.

I find great art that really makes my mind click–Wikimedia Commons is awesome for that.  Today I came across a download of a picture that, two years ago, sparked a 250 word flash-fiction. That  image, which I will get to later, was painted around the year 1910 by an American artist, Paul Cornoyer.

Paul Cornoyer -Gloucester

Glouster, Paul Cornoyer

His work is quite intriguing, and much of is done in an impressionistic style.

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.

The thing about the impressionists that so inspires my writing is that they don’t give you all the details–they give you what they saw including the mood of the piece.

Paul_Cornoyer_-_The_Plaza_After_Rain

The Plaza After Rain, Paul Cornoyer

In so many ways, good literature is like good art–all the important things are there, everything the eye needs to have a perfect vision of the mood, the setting, and characters–everything is there within the piece, but with economy. 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.)

This last picture is the piece that inspired one of my better, short pieces of Flash Fiction, which will be featured later this month on Edgewise Words Inn. I will post links to that here when it goes up

It is called The Plaza After Rain. I love it 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 feel like sunshine could happen any minute.

That 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 one will become a longer tale, so you will have a backlog of  fodder to fuel your creativity when you need a good story idea. Being able to create an entire story in 3 paragraphs is an art. Sometimes I can do well at that, and sometimes not so much.

 

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My Writing Life: David P. Cantrell

My Writing LifeToday indie author and blogger, David P. Cantrell, has consented to answer a few questions for us. Dave is a fellow staff-member at Edgewise Words Inn, a reader-oriented blog where Dave Cantrell, Lee French, and I post a variety of short articles, human interest stories, some short stories, memes, and generally have a great time just writing. At the end of this post, I will be reblogging Dave’s most recent post on Edgewise Words Inn, a little thing called “Ten Things I’ve learned as a Quadriplegic.” I think you’ll find that post as interesting and inspiring as I did.

But first, my virtual interview with Dave:

CJJ: Tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:
DPC: I grew up in Southern California after immigrating from Indiana at age five. I was a mediocre student in grade school, sports were much more interesting, but sadly, I was a mediocre athlete too. I wasn’t horrible at either of them, mind you—I got by.

I’ve often wondered where I’d be today if my family hadn’t moved to a new school district. I had completed one semester of eighth grade before the summer of the move. The new district couldn’t accommodate split semesters and required me to restart the grade. I became very bored in math and petitioned to join an experimental math class (eighth grade algebra—it sounds quaint now.)

The math teacher let me in for a semester with the proviso that I earn a Cee or better, otherwise it was back to regular math. I struggled, but the teacher worked with me, and I didn’t want to be put back. I think she took pity on me when she wrote a Cee on my report card. Whether she did or not, I’ll never know, but that Cee changed my life. Ultimately, I got a Bee in the subject, and took Geometry during the summer following middle school—No I wasn’t that nerdy, my girlfriend wanted company. I started high school taking a junior level math class.

I learned to enjoy reading in eighth grade. It’s difficult to remember which book lit the flame, but I think it was I Robot by Isaac Asimov. At any rate, reading eventually ignited the writing flame.

CJJ: You are right–the love of reading is the jumping-off-point to attempting to write. I happen to know what you are working on, but my readers don’t, so let’s talk about your current work in progress. 

Disturbance - the VettingDPC: My one and only book is a work in progress. I published part one, Disturbance: The Vetting, in July 2014 and took it off the market in January 2015. The initial publishing was a mistake, but I’m glad I made it. I’ve learned a good deal about the process of writing, formatting and editing because of the mistake. I’ve met wonderful, supportive authors from around the globe as a result of it too.

CJJ: How did you come to write this novel?
DPC: Well-meaning idiots made me do it. That’s mean, but true in a sense. I started posting short “Slice-of-Life” stories on Facebook, items like “The Chicken Parmesan Saga.” I was encouraged to create a blog and gave it a go. I beta read Sci-Fi novels for a talented author, Jasper T. Scott. His comments gave me the idea that I might be able to write. I jumped into the deep-end.

CJJ: I’m mostly an outliner, myself. Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?
DPC: Please define creative process. I tried to outline, but got hung-up on the order of things. What comes first, character or story? Can they exist independently? I’m a wing-it writer that prays for an outline to magically appear, and in it does sometimes.

CJJ: This is the question I hate to be asked, but here I am asking you: how does your work differ from others of its genre?
DPC: I want to write stories that make the reader think or learn something new. I love action oriented stories as much as the next person, but I want to write page turner’s that make the reader stop and think about what they’ve just read every once in a while. I get frustrated by the mantra to keep the story moving forward, if the words don’t keep it moving they are useless, not necessary.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?
DPC: I write for the joy of research (I love an excuse to learn new things) and the hope to touch a stranger with my words.  Touching strangers is why I smile and say hello to them as they walk their dog down my block. Their response makes me feel good.

I recall a day my wife asked me to pick up something from our local grocer on my way home from work. It must have been summer because daylight abounded. I was a middle aged over-weight man walking across a parking lot and saw a stunning mid-twenties women dressed to the nines walking to her own car with a bottle of wine.  I worried if I said anything she’d think I was perverted. As I passed her we made brief eye contact and I said, “You look beautiful the evening.”  The smile on her face brings tears to my eyes as I write this.

CJJ: I like that little vignette you just painted for us, and feel somewhat the same myself when it comes to making people smile. So, when it comes to publishing, I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.
DPC: Is there a better way for an unknown to get their work before a world audience? I don’t care if I make a lot of money selling books. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to do it, but it isn’t why I’m writing. I want to touch others, and honestly, I want the ego stroke that comes with it.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?
DPC: If money is your goal, try the traditional path. No one can promise better odds of making money on that path, but if you don’t give it a go you’ll always think you should have.

Dave Cantrell Author pictureDavid P. Cantrell lives with his wife of nearly four decades in the beautiful coastal community of Arroyo Grande< California. He is a retired CPA, enthusiastic (but not particularly good) home cook and avid reader. He enjoys history, historical novels, science fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, crime, thrillers, contemporary fiction and even a western now and again.

Before a spinal cord injury in 2009, he spent his creative efforts writing IRS defenses for his clients and on woodworking; building a variety of items, from chessboards to a Murphy Bed. The spinal cord injury left him paralyzed from the neck down, but with the help and love of his wife and caring therapists, he was able to recover significant function. Woodworking was behind him, and he accepted that.

Thank you Dave—you are a joy to know and to have as a friend, and you are an integral part of my personal writing life.

And now, “Ten Things I’ve learned as a Quadriplegic” By David P. Cantrell

(Reblogged from Edgewise Words Inn)

Being a quadriplegic (aka tetraplegic) is a learning opportunity. I found my opportunity when a confluence of events left me prostrate. Actually, I don’t remember being on the floor, I learned it later from my wife. She also told me I repeatedly asked if I’d had a heart attack while in the local ER. I don’t remember that either, but I’m not surprised. After all, I was an overweight, hypertensive, diabetic, chain-smoking CPA working on a deadline.

The first thing I clearly remember is the voice of an EMT talking to his ambulance driver as we arrived at a bigger hospital. I wasn’t sure why I was in the ambulance, but I knew something very strange was happening. I learned a good deal about myself over the following months.

  1. Paralyzed means: Crap, I can’t move and I don’t mean immobile.
    There’s a big difference between the two. Immobile means I can’t move right now because I’m drugged, strapped down or really-really sleepy, perhaps all three. Paralysis means so much more.
  1. Disrespect or abuse of a good woman’s love and support deserves retribution.
    If I’ve done either, shame on me. The memory of ICU, day one, is vague, but real. My teary-eyed wife held my hand, which I could not feel, and said, ‘I have your heart and your mind, that’s all I need.’ To this day, it’s our motto ….(To read the rest, click here to be transferred to Edgewise Words Inn and the rest of Ten Things I’ve Learned as a Quadriplegic)

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When inspiration fails…

276px-Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_ProserpineThere are days when I just can’t come up with a new idea. The creative juices are flowing, but they’re moving  more like unimaginative sludge. I don’t see these moments as writer’s block—the ideas are lying dormant. They just don’t want to bloom quite yet.

This is when I clean the house. For some reason, inspiration always strikes when I am doing some mindless task, and though you wouldn’t know it from my office, I work better when the house is in order. If that hasn’t jarred an idea loose, I put on some Loreena McKennitt or Blackmore’s Night and go out to the internet and search for ideas, by looking at fantasy images from Canstock or Dreamstime.

Sometimes I just peruse the old masters from the renaissance era out on Wikimedia Commons, like Dante’s Persephone.

Then there are times when I have a cornucopia of ideas. They can’t all be used, there are so many of them. I try to write them down for use later, and that helps when I have a temporary dry spell.

That is, they help unless I forget to make full notes about the whole idea—random notes like “Give the dog a biscuit” are just a bit too ambiguous to be really helpful. Know what dog would have been helpful–however that random note did inspire me to give Billy Ninefingers a hilarious sidekick, a dog named Bisket.

Sometimes I get going on a tale and all of a sudden my enthusiasm just sort of faints somewhere along the line and I don’t know why. It turns out that idea really wasn’t a novel—it was a short story and it just wanted to be done and over with.  Short stories are wonderful exercises for writing longer pieces. If you can, you should try to build up a backlog of short pieces under 7000 words in length, because you never know when a call for short stories will come along and you might have the chance to be published in an anthology.

Old Restored booksAlso, writing short fiction helps you get the hang of using a story arc in smaller increments, to help the layers of your longer pieces.

Sometimes I get stuck in the middle, and don’t know what is going to happen next. That is really frustrating, but I just set is aside to come back to it later. Other times I get a little bit of a jump-start by talking to members of my writing group.

But there are times the piece just has to be shelved for a while.  That’s okay, because when I pull it out, I will say, “Hey! This is awesome—I love this story.” I never fail to find that spark when I run across a tale I forgot I had half-written.

I never get bored with my characters, but I sometimes get bored with the drivel I write for them to do. That is why sometimes walking away from a stalled story for a short while is a good idea. At that point I am beating a dead horse and it’s a waste of time. Later I will see the manuscript through new eyes and a better way to get my heroes to the final battle will strike.

When I am stuck on a paragraph that I just can’t get right, I email a writing buddy and run it past them. We bounce it back and forth until it conveys the idea I think it needs to–or I throw it out.

I’m always happy to talk with them when they are stuck, so it all balances out.

GrandmasNoBakeCookiesMy point is that we all suffer from occasional lapses of the creative muse. I never let lack of inspiration for one project stop me from pushing forward—I just find something that does interest me and do that for a while until I have my fire back.

Sometimes I just have to make cookies for a while. Chocolate no-bakes...yummy….

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What I #amwriting

Alarm clock quote ray bradburyI normally begin my day at about 5:30 a.m. with editing for my clients–I like to do that when I am at my sharpest which is always in the morning.  I spend the afternoons writing, and right now I have two manuscripts that I am working on, and several short-stories. My evenings I either write blog posts or work on designing book covers.

Other than writing, most of my work these days centers around finishing up publishing the second editions of the Tower of Bones Series. The book itself, Tower of Bones, has been republished, and book II in the series, Forbidden Road, is in the process of being proofed and should be available soon–hopefully within two weeks.

In addition to revamping the TOB series, I hope to have the prequel to the series, a stand-alone novel, Mountains of the Moon, published by July 15, 2015, with a few copies to take to the PNWA conference. That means it has to be finished and ready to proof by June 25–which may be pushing it. However, things are moving so perhaps I will be able to meet this new deadline.

As I said, I have two novels in the works: concurrently with The Wayward Son, I am fleshing out the final book of the Tower of Bones series, Valley of Sorrows. This book deals with the aftermath of the events in Forbidden Road and winds up that story.

The road to hell Phillip Roth QuoteIn the aftermath of an incident that occurred in the last days of the war in Mal Evol, John lost the use of most of his magic. He has managed to keep that disability a secret for thirty years. The Wayward Son is the story of John’s redemption, and explains the events that happened in Aeoven while Edwin and the others were gone. These incidents culminated in John and Garran being sent to meet Edwin in Braden at the end of Forbidden Road. 

John Farmer’s story is intriguing to me, because he is a man concealing many secrets. A lot is going on under the surface–he suffers from survivor’s guilt and PTSD, which often develops after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events. In The Wayward Son, John’s rocky relationship with Garran is explored, and also his love affair with the Abbess of Aeoven, Halee.

While I was re-editing the series to date, I took the liberty of changing several once-minor characters’ names, as they had suddenly become important in the two later books, and their names were too close to other, already prominent, characters’ names. Since I was changing them anyway, I made them widely different. Thus Marta Randsdottir is now Halee Randsdottir. Her original name was nearly identical to Edwin’s wife, Marya, a problem since the two women figure prominently in The Wayward Son.

The problem was inadvertently begun in 2009 when I was writing Tower of Bones as the story-line and walk-through for an RPG, and was scrounging around for good character names. I didn’t know at that time it would become a book, and it didn’t occur to me that NEVER naming any character with a similar sounding, looking, or rhyming name is something every author should take note of. This is important, no matter how minor the characters seem to be, because, just like Halee, they may have a larger part to play later and the confusion will ruin the story.

The magnitude of the problem first became evident when I was writing Forbidden Road, but I thought I was stuck with it. Referencing the two women in the same paragraph was dreadfully confusing, since their names were only one letter off from each other.

ok to write garbage quote c j cherryhFor a long time, I didn’t know what to do about the name problem. I thought I was stuck with it, but one of the beauties of being an indie is the freedom I have to make adjustments when a gross error is discovered. Since I was completely revamping the series anyway, it was the perfect time to take the plunge and rectify that mistake. The series now has new maps, new interiors, and new covers.

It was just another lesson I’ve learned since leaping into this mad circus of indie publishing, but now I know to never name two characters in the same book with names that begin and end with the same letters. Don’t do it!

 

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When this job becomes work: the book signing event

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL AUTHORSI must admit, I am not really a people person. I’m a bit awkward, and not really sure of myself, and I have a sense of humor that is too off-the-wall for most people. That is one reason why being an author is such a good fit for me–I can work from home and most of my interactions are imaginary.

Nevertheless, there are times when I must put on the public persona of the Successful Author. I’m not really that good at this one-on-one public thing…yet. I’ve had the good fortune to be involved in multi-author events with other indie authors, with more experience at it, and I’ve been able to see how they approach the gig.

It’s tricky–you can’t just assault people, shouting “Buy my book!”

Walking the line between being obnoxious, and telling people what they want to know about the book is tricky. The minute someone asks me what Huw the Bard is all about, my mind grinds to a halt. It’s almost like I never even read it, although I do remember writing it.

My first public event was last month at NorWesCon, and that was interesting because I was a vendor, so I was there all four days, but in the vendors’ room. For me, that was a tee-shirt-and-jeans event, because I don’t own any costumes, or ren-fair clothes (yet).

My second public event was this last Saturday. Two other local indies, fantasy author Lee French, and steampunk author Jeffrey Cook joined me at the Two Sister’s Tea Room in downtown Olympia for a book signing. This was a very different situation, and was much more pleasant. This signing was timed for the middle of one of the largest festivals in the the city, the annual Procession of the Species, so we had many people stopping and conversing with us.

Dawn of Steam First LightSeveral people really stand out in my mind–I was moved to tears by one lady from Hawaii who bought Dawn of Steam, First Light, from Jeffrey.  She said she was a new reader, that she had come from a place where reading was not encouraged. She also said she was currently enjoying Charles Dickens’ classic novel,  The Pickwick Papers. I was awed by the absolute joy she took in the written word as she looked through Jeffrey’s book, and by how happy it made her that he signed it for her.

It was really brought home to me then that reading is still a privilege denied to many people of the world, often not by their wish, but by circumstances beyond their control.

dragons in pieces lee frenchThen there was the wonderful character who was absolutely crazy for dragons. He not only bought Lee’s book, Dragons in Pieces, but insisted on buying one of the little plastic Dragon heads she had created with her 3-d printer as decorations.

Lee was selling books like she owned the only snocone stand in the desert.

I wasn’t, but I had a great time anyway, and handed out a lot of book marks.

From left: Lee French, Jeffrey Cook, Connie Jasperson

From left: Lee French, Jeffrey Cook, Connie Jasperson

For that event, I went all out clothing-wise. I went to the Goodwill and shopped the fat-lady rack on senior citizens’ half-price day, and found what seemed like the perfect, brilliantly-garish, machine-washable, fancy-label jacket to wear with my rather boring black blouse and black trousers. It was only about twenty years out of style, and was the perfect price for my tapped out pocket-book: $3.99, with my old-peoples’ discount.

I am still looking for the right event-outfits. I want something a little wonderful, but with not quite as much purple as the flashy jacket. I love purple, but as an accent color.

Our next event is in three weeks, so that gives me a lot of time to find something suitable for the comfy grandma who writes RPG game-based hack-and-slash epic adventures, and also sometimes writes literary fantasy.

Maybe what I need is a green velvet renaissance faire dress, with Cloud’s buster-sword from Final Fantasy VII in a shoulder scabbard. That  should get my style of writing across well enough.

cloud strife and buster blade

 

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Rainy Saturdays

I’ve been doing a little more reading lately. I like reading on my Kindle.  Might have some book review blogs to write for Best in Fantasy soon. I had to cut back on that because my editing business picked up rather sharply and my previously copious quantities of free time suddenly became  moot.

Also I’m a regular contributor at Edgewise Words Inn, which has been a LOT of fun. But this means I must occasionally write…doh!

mort - terry pratchettThe reading world suffered a great loss when we heard the news that Sir Terry Pratchett had died. His work was hilarious, irreverent and absolutely divine. Of all his many great characters, I think Death was his best, and Mort was my favorite book in the Discworld Series.

Losing him just emphasized the rain this weekend.  It’s been a strangely warm winter for us Pacific Northwesterners. For one thing, down in my valley we had no snow. Usually we get at least a small snowstorm. We’ve had a little frost, but nothing terrible.

Also, we’ve had very little black-ice this year, for which I am grateful, but truthfully that really is odd. Black ice, sometimes called clear ice, refers to a thin coating of glazed ice on a surface. While it’s not truly black, it is virtually transparent, allowing the black asphalt/macadam roadways or the surface below to be seen through it—hence the term “black ice.”  It’s been a winter staple here for the last few years–going to work in the morning on a safe, dry pavement takes all the adventure and high drama out of the morning commute.

It was a normal rainy March weekend, and I’m so spoiled by a winter of sunshine and warm weather, that I feel all whiny about it.

I know–how sad.

a medieval pieSo  on Saturday we got over the way most people do–we went shopping. I upgraded my phone and and got a fancy thing or two–and we bought food, and baked a pie in honor of Pi Day.  But not one this fancy—>

It was sort of fun– I don’t really do a lot of shopping in person, because the Drones of Amazon will deliver anything I need, from glittery hair clips to zebra print carpets. I get my music, kindle books, clothes, shoes–you name it, I get it from Amazon. They even sell books, and deliver them right to my house!

371px-Grim_reaper -courtesy offictional characters wiki by PigheadBut Sunday was a different thing. Dealing with a kidney stone. Didn’t sleep well–woke up at 2:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep.  Suffered the agonies of the damned but survived another one. Stayed home and figured out how to use the new technology. Tried to catch up on my writing.

Accidentally blew off a write-in.

Oops.

Actually, when I am having a day like that, I doubt if I should be allowed behind the wheel of a vehicle… .

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Worldbuilding part 3—Magic

Mårten_Eskil_Winge_-_Tor's_Fight_with_the_Giants_-_Google_Art_ProjectEvery now and then I read a book where it’s clear the author has no concept of his own magic system.  You, as the reader,  are sailing; the story is flowing; and then suddenly you realize that Bart the Mage seems to have unlimited magic ability.  Well, that’s no good, because now there is no tension; no great ordeal for Bart to overcome. Bart can do anything–game over–end of story. The book goes into the recycling bin, unfinished and you never buy that author’s work again.

Every author has their own way of doing this, but I approach it from an engineering and scientific viewpoint–I spend time designing the system:

Let’s talk about Bart. He’s a lowly journeyman mage. For a multitude of reasons he has decided that he must rid the world of Evil Badguy; a very powerful, very naughty wizard.  Evil Badguy is very strong, and has great magic, and he seems unstoppable! But fortunately for our story, there are rules, so he is not omnipotent. He has a weakness and your protagonists now have the opportunity to grow and develop to their fullest potential in process of finding and exploiting that weakness.

Now let’s say that Bart is a mage with offensive magic – maybe he can cast lightning at an enemy, or perhaps he can set fires with his magic.  Can he also use magic to heal people?  Can he heal himself?  What are the rules governing these abilities and how do these rules affect the progress of the story?  When it comes to magic, limitations open up many possibilities for plot development.

Let’s say that Bart can only reliably use one sort of magic. This is good, because now you have need for other several characters with other abilities. They each have a story which will come out and which will contribute to the advancement of the plot. Each character will have limits to their abilities and because of that they will need to interact and work with each other and with Bart whether they like each other or not if they want to win the final battle against Evil Badguy.  This gives you ample opportunity to introduce tension into the story. Each time you make parameters and frameworks for your magic you make opportunities for conflict within your fantasy world, and conflict is what drives the plot.

VAYNE final-fantasy-xii_305674What challenge does Bart have to overcome in order to win the day?

  • Is he unable to fully use his own abilities?
  • If that is so, why is he hampered in that way?
  • How does that inability affect his companions and how do they feel about it?
  • Are they hampered in any way themselves?
  • What has to happen before Bart can fully realize his abilities?

Without rules, there would be no conflict, no reason for Bart to struggle and no story to tell.

So now, you realize that you must create the ‘rules of magic.’  Take the time to write it out, and don’t break the laws, without having a damned good explanation for why that particular breaking of the rules is possible.

Each world should be unique, and so we need to tailor the magic to fit each unique situation.

  • Who can use magic?
  • What kind of magic can they use?
  • How are they trained?
  • What happens to those who abuse their gifts?
  • How common is magic?
  • How does the ability to wield magic fit into the political system?

I have two worlds that I am currently writing in, and their magic systems are radically different.

The following was my first list from 2009 for creating the world when we were originally designing a game that eventually became The World of Neveyah series.

Elemental Battle Magic of Neveyah

 Water:   non battle-use can fill water jugs and basins

  • Water spout (novice)
  • Gully Washer (intermediate)
  • High Seas (Advanced)
  • Raging River (Advanced)

Earth:   non-battle use, putting out campfires, digging holes, gardening

  • Square Dance (novice)
  • Landslide (intermediate)
  • Mudslide (advanced)
  • Mountain Drop (Advanced)

Fire:  non battle use – can light candles, and ignite fire in fireplace

  • Hot Shot (novice)
  • Fire Ball (Intermediate)
  • Inferno (advanced)
  • Hell Fire (Advanced)

Lightning:  non-battle use for lightning: creating finish on armor, glazing pottery

  • Cat-Zapper (novice)   Zippety-Doo-Dah (novice-spell)
  • Thunder Fist (intermediate)
  • Curtain Call (Advanced)
  • Thunder Walking (Advanced)

This basic grocery list has since evolved into a complete curriculum for domestic uses, and the names for most of those spells has changed, but it remains relevant because it shows how I divided it. A game player would have had to gain in strength in order to use those spells, and that is how my characters do in the Neveyah books.

Saint_georges_dragon_grasset_beguleIt’s very different in the Billy’s Revenge series which set in Waldeyn, an alternate-medieval earth which is the setting for Huw the Bard. There, the actual environment is magic and Huw’s journey involves his overcoming its inherent dangers. The plants and animals of Waldeyn are shaped by the overwhelming abundance of magic in that world, like radioactivity affects and mutates life here.  Many of the most dangerous creatures are born of twisted magic, or as they call it, majik.

Mind-majik, healing, and the ability to imbue their healing majik into a potion or salve is the feminine side of majik, governed by the Sisters of Anan.

The ability to bind the elements into weapons and wield them is the male side, and they are governed by the Brotherhood of St. Aelfrid.

Part of their political/religious power comes from the fact that it has been determined the majik is a God-given gift, and all who’ve been granted that ability must be bound to the church.

There are strict rules, and if a gifted person doesn’t choose to serve the people through being bound to the church, the ability to sense majik is taken from them by the Mother Church.

I don’t have any main characters in Waldeyn who are majik wielders, although one side character in the forthcoming novel, Billy Ninefingers, is a member of the Brotherhood of St. Aelfrid: the Fat Friar, Robert DeBolt. However, many times these characters are in need of healing. (Heh heh.)

Because of my characters’ frequent tendency to bleed, gaining and acquiring good healing potions and salves is important.

In the World of Neveyah, which is where the Tower of Bones series is set, the situation was different—The Tower of Bones grew out of what was originally the walk-through for a computer-based RPG that was never built. Thus the constraints of magic are quite strict, but as you saw in the list above, they are game-based.

final-fantasy-guys-xii-basch_255851In the forthcoming prequel to Tower of Bones, Mountains of the Moon, a mage is either a healer or a battle-mage. Healing is building and preserving, battle-magic is death and destruction. It is thought that one can’t be both, because on the rare occasions that a dually-gifted mage is born, they go mad. There is a strict system in place for controlling magic and those who are able to use it, and this creates the conflict.

Once again, there is a governing body for mages–in Neveyah it is the Temple of Aeos. Children with the gifts are taken to the Temple and trained in the use of their gifts until they are adults. They are sworn to serve and protect the Goddess Aeos and her people, or die doing so.

But forty years after Wynn Farmer’s tale, during the time in which the Tower of Bones takes place, the clergy has been decimated by a great war that took place twenty years before. The goddess Aeos is in danger of losing the battle with Tauron the Bull God. She slightly changes the way her magic works. Wynn’s grandson, Edwin Farmer, is the first to be born with the ability to wield both sides of the magic who also has the force of character to survive the learning process. His biggest problem is there is no one who can teach him how to use his dual gifts—his teachers only know how one side or the other works.

That learning process forms a huge part of his story. Yes, Edwin has access to power, but so does the antagonist, Stefyn D’Mal, and he is completely mad. Even so, he has rigid constraints. These constraints create the conflict.

Remember, unlimited power in a mage equals unlimited boredom to the reader. Magic without rules is tiresome and unbelievable, and no one wants to read that story.

Thor-Everything-Loki

 

 

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