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#FlashFictionFriday: Astorica (Reprise)

Astorica is a flash-fiction, set in a version of Astoria that may exist in a parallel universe, just one or two shadows away from our own frequently odd universe. It was originally posted here in July of 2016.  Enjoy!


Chance Jensen approached The Duck Walk Inn, aiming for the front door. It was classier than most of Astorica’s cocktail lounges, and was the third place she’d looked that afternoon. She entered, peering around to see if Jack was there.

He was, and ignoring the worried glances from the few men who were present in the otherwise empty bar, she walked toward him.

Stella, the bartender, chatted with Chuck Moore, Astorica’s lone hooker. Chuck’s clientele was comprised mostly of lonely, blue-collar laborers, women who worked in the shipyard. Stella nodded at Chance, as she lit Chuck’s cigarette.

Chuck exhaled a cloud of smoke, and glared at Chance. “You’ve been neglecting him, Chance Jensen. Don’t take your husband for granted. You’re a lucky woman to have a man like Jack. He shouldn’t be sitting in a place like this.”

“I know. I’ll do better, I promise.” She did have to smile, getting advice on her marriage from the local whore. But, she supposed, Chuck had seen plenty of marriages fail.

“Good. I don’t want to have this conversation again.” With a flounce, Chuck turned back to Stella.

The nervous-looking men at the corner table had moved their handbags to hide their cocktails, obviously regretting their decision to be so daring as to go into a cocktail lounge unaccompanied.

Jack looked out of place at the bar, dressed in his usual proper, suburban, house-husband style. He glanced up from his iced-tea. “What do you want? I’m not going back unless you’ve changed your mind.”

800px-Ladies_safety_bicycles1889“Jack, we had a quarrel. I’m sorry I shouted. But, you can’t file for a divorce, as you don’t have grounds. I don’t beat you or cheat on you. You’re just angry because I can’t afford to buy you a bicycle like Loris did her husband.”

Jack straightened his sweater and crossed his trouser-clad legs. “You’re right, I am unhappy about that. I might not be able to get a divorce, but I don’t need one. I’m not interested in dating, so I have no desire to be single. But no law says I have to share your roof. If I got a job as a waiter or a housekeeper, I could support myself and buy my own bicycle. One with a good-sized basket for carrying things.”

Chance attempted to reason with him. “Jack, if you took a job outside our home what would people think? They’d think I can’t manage on my salary. I’m just starting out with this company. I don’t need that kind of image dogging me, holding me back, or I’ll never be promoted. They’re assigning me better routes now, so things will improve. I promise.”

He burst out, “I have needs too, you know. I want to go places, and do things. I’m tired of being cooped up, with nothing to do but slave away, making sure that when you come home, you find a clean house and a hot meal. Where’s the joy in that?” Jack wiped a tear, a sure sign he was really worked up. His voice, however, was calm. “It’s just, if we had a child, I would feel needed. I don’t have a purpose, Chance.” He met her eyes. “Give me a purpose, and I’ll stay.”

Chance sighed. It always came back to that. “I’d like a child too. I don’t know why we haven’t been blessed. We’re both healthy. There’s no reason we haven’t conceived.”

Jack looked around the room. “See? They’re the same as me. We’re bored stiff. Playing bridge on Tuesdays and going to Tupperware parties just doesn’t fill the void. It’s not just us. Fewer and fewer babies—something’s wrong with this world, and no one will admit it.” He stared down at his handbag. “It’s more than that. It’s everything. I get up at five to cook  breakfast and fix your lunch. The darkest corners in our house are so clean they glow in the dark! I do laundry. I wash windows. Every day, the same things.”

Chance started to agree, but Jack cut her off.

“At ten I get all dressed up and take the bus to the market, then I haul the groceries home and put them away. Once that’s done, I change and go out to work in the flower beds, because God forbid the neighbors should see an untidy yard! Once every bloody just-sprouting weed has been yanked, I prepare your dinner, and fifteen minutes before you get home I get all dolled up, just to look good while I serve you dinner. Then I have to clean the kitchen. The next day it starts all over again. My life revolves around cooking, cleaning, and what the damned neighbors might think of us.”

Hoping to calm him, Chance said,“I know it’s difficult for you, depending on public transportation. But I’m a truck driver. You knew that when you married me. Maybe I’m not as romantic or rich as the wives in your soap operas, but I do try. Don’t I give you a large enough allowance? I never ask how you spend it. I don’t care if you have lunch out with the boys, or have your hair done twice a week. I love you! I married you for keeps, and I respect the vows we took.”

“You could tell me you love me more often.” Jack sat  hunched in on himself.

“I know. I’m not good at saying how I feel.” Chance put her hand on his shoulder. “I’ll try to do better.”

Jack burst out, “I could learn to drive, but men aren’t allowed to. I could vote and help pass laws that would improve society, but no, men aren’t allowed to. We’re too emotional, too high strung to be allowed the same privileges as women.”

Desperate to head off the men’s emancipation argument, Chance said, “I know you’d be great at all those things, better than some women if I’m truthful. But it’s the way things are, and we have to live with it. And guess what—I got a raise, today.”

Jack’s eyes it up. “Really? That’s wonderful.”

Pressing her advantage, Chance said, “You know what that means? We can save up for your bicycle. If we’re careful, next month you can buy it.”

Picking up his handbag, Jack stood up. “Let’s go home. I’ll make a pie to celebrate your raise.”

Relief flooded Chance. Taking his elbow, she opened the door for Jack and guided him across the parking lot, reminding herself that men were the fairer sex, and required gentle handling. Chuck was right–she had been neglecting Jack’s emotional needs. She resolved to be more attentive.

She loved Jack , but he confused her. He had an overabundance of paternal instincts. It occurred to her that a puppy might take Jack’s mind off things. And, it just so happened Chance’s new boss, Carol, was trying to find homes for six dachshund puppies.

That was a brilliant idea. She’d gain favor with the boss and surprise Jack with a puppy, solving both problems in one swoop. Smiling, Chance opened the car door for her husband, helping him into the sedan.


“Astorica” © 2016-2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved

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#amwriting: Midpoint in the Character Driven Novel

LOTR advance poster 2Some novels are character-driven, others are event-driven.

ALL novels follow an arc.  For my personal reading pleasure, I prefer literary fantasy, which has a character-driven plot. Events happen, often in a fantasy setting, but the growth of the characters is the central theme, and the events are just the means to enable that growth.

You may have built a great world, created a plausible magic system or, conversely, you may have created an alien world with plausible technologies based on advanced scientific concepts. You may have all sorts of adventures and hiccups for your protagonist to deal with. All that detail may be perfect, but without great, compelling characters, setting and action is not reason enough for a reader to stick with your story.

Despite your amazing setting and the originality of your plot, if you skimp on character development, readers won’t care about your protagonist. You must give them a reason to stick with it.

In a character driven novel, the midpoint is the place where the already-high emotions really intensify, and the action does too. From this point on, the forces driving the plot are a train on a downhill run, picking up speed. There is no  turning back now. The characters continue to be put to the test, and the subplots kick into gear.

Of course, plotting and pacing of your entire story arc is critical, but it is especially so from midpoint to the third plot point.

As you approach midpoint of the story arc, the personal growth for the protagonist and his/her friends begins to drive the plot. These are the events that tear the hero down, break him emotionally and physically so that in the final fourth of the book he can be rebuilt, stronger, and ready to face the villain on equal terms.

How does the protagonist react to the events? What emotions drive him/her to continue toward the goal?

In a character -driven novel, this is the place where the protagonists suffer a loss of faith or have a crisis of conscience. It may be a time when the main character believes they have done something unfair or morally wrong, and they have to learn to live with it.

What personal revelations come out about the protagonist, or conversely what does he discover about himself?

This part of the novel is often difficult to write because the protagonist has been put through a personal death of sorts–his world has been destroyed or shaken to the foundations. You as the author are emotionally invested in the tale and are being put through the wringer as you lay it down on the paper.

What has happened? Remember, the protagonist has suffered a terrible personal loss or setback. Perhaps she no longer has faith in herself or the people she once looked up to.

  • How is she emotionally destroyed by the events?
  • How was her own personal weakness responsible for this turn of events?
  • How does this cause the protagonist to question everything she ever believed in?
  • What makes her pull herself together and just keep on going?
  • How is she different after this personal death and rebirth event

LOTR advance posterThe truth underlying the conflict now emerges. Also, the villain’s weaknesses become apparent. The hero must somehow overcome her own personal crisis and exploit her opponent’s flaws. It’s your task to convey the hard decisions she must make, and show that she truly does have the courage to do the job. The villain has had his/her day in the sun, and they could possibly win.

This low point is a crucial part of the hero’s journey, the place during which she is taken down to her component parts emotionally, and rebuilds herself to be more than she ever believed she could be.

At this point in the novel, if you have done it right, your reader will be sweating bullets, praying that Frodo and Sam can just hold it together long enough to make it to Mt. Doom.

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#amwriting: Interview with author Stephen Swartz

Today is the final installment in my series of interviews with working authors who are also teaching writing craft. This has been a wonderful series, as each approaches the craft from a different angle, and my final guest has a great deal to offer.

stephen-swartzA little background on today’s guest, author Stephen Swartz. He is a Professor of English at a major Midwestern university, and is a world traveler, often spending his summers teaching in Beijing, China at the University of International Business and Economics. Also, he is the author of numerous short stories and novels, and is a fellow founding author of Myrddin Publishing. He has also published poetry and written for scholarly journals on the subject of composition and identity, linguistics, and psychology.

CJJ: What do you enjoy the most about teaching?  Conversely, what would you change about your job if you were able?

SS: I’m rather parental when it comes to teaching. I like seeing my students become excited about writing and push themselves to explore their potential. I enjoy seeing their writing improve paper by paper, not only technically but also in showing their deeper thought processes. As it is, there are constraints on what I think would be best when it comes to writing instruction. Partly, it is a matter of budgeting, enrollment, and accreditation requirements. It is also a matter of what students are interested in career-wise; many do not think they will need to write in their careers. So I have limitations I must work within. And, of course, each semester brings a new mix of students so I must constantly adapt the lessons to accommodate them; it really is like reinventing the wheel. Writing fiction keeps me balanced.

CJJ: As you know, many authors are writing for children, preteens (middle-grade), and YA. In a comment on this blog recently, you said, “Meanwhile, the style (I think) should match the nature of the story and especially the mindset and education level of the narrator.” Can you expand on that idea a little?

SS: What I think I meant was in reference to the sophistication of the language the narrator of a story uses. That’s the author’s responsibility. If the narrator of a story is well-educated (for example, see my vampire novel A Dry Patch of Skin), he would speak in a well-educated manner, with sophisticated style and a large vocabulary. A less educated character (or a child) would speak differently, using simpler vocabulary and often incorrect sentence constructions. A foreign character speaking English would have similar language limitations; the dialog should show those limitations. However, we cannot let the language be too authentic if doing so would cause the reader difficulty. I once wrote a character who was supposed to speak with a Scottish accent; the result was rather bad. Having just enough (a particular repeating word or phrase) to hint at the accent would have been enough. I’ve been fortunate to have both studied linguistics and foreign languages as well as listened to speakers of varying ages and accents. I lived in Japan for five years and teaching English there taught me how non-native speakers “butcher” the language. I think I captured that effect well in my novel Aiko, set in Japan. Besides formal training, I also think I have a good ear for speech and so I do my best to replicate the character’s way of speaking based on the real speaking I’ve heard.

aikoCJJ: You have published eight books, in a variety of genres, and are now finishing up an epic fantasy novel (of EPIC proportions!). Yet, none of your characters have a sameness to them. How do you visualize your characters when you begin to place them in their story?

SS: Excellent question. My answer must, however, be simple. I’m schizophrenic. My mental defect allows me to grab pieces of other people’s lives, behavior, speech, and motivations which I then craft into plausible, even realistic, fictionalized personas. I recognize I have a few stock-in-trade character I use over and over with names changed and perhaps a quirk switched for a different quirk. I suppose I take one of my stock characters and customize him/her for the role I need him/her to play.

The hardest character to write is the protagonist because that character usually starts as a version of myself. The challenge is to let the hero act as the hero would naturally act (following his/her motivations and typical behavior) and not as I, the real me, would likely act. When I wrote out the story of a friend of mine who grew up in Greenland, I was writing a female protagonist—and using the first-person point of view. That novel was based on her life so I could imitate her way of speaking from interviews with her. The challenge for me in writing that novel was to make her language style change from her childhood to her teenage years to her adulthood.

For my current work-in-progress, the epic fantasy, I returned to a basic male protagonist, a hunky dragonslayer, and cobbled together a bit of a movie star, a little of me, and a pieces of other people I know to create the singular hero.

CJJ: In your upcoming novel, EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS, you portray a variety of races in a fantasy environment, each with unique cultures. What tips can you give in regard to keeping fantasy cultures diverse, and yet not devolving into too much backstory?

 SS: Not truly different races, not in the sense that Tolkien has them with dwarves and hobbits. I tried to keep the ethnicity in my story more subtle. Given the setting (no spoilers here), there is a wide variety of “types” among the cast members, not just to make a politically correct checklist but because they mix well in interesting ways. One famous author (I think it was Dostoevsky but it may be a more modern writer) liked to think up unique people and ponder how they might interact if put in a room together. I did the same with my epic fantasy only on the larger stage of the story world.

Regarding the world-building, I cheated a bit in this novel by setting it in a familiar setting (again, no spoilers here). Readers may recognize it eventually but it is not explicitly “given away” in the text. Even so, as I traced the path my hero would take on his quest, I marked certain locations on the map as being “different” societies with unusual customs—not different races or ethnicities. Like all good epic fantasy tales based on a quest, there is a series of episodes—self-contained mini-story arcs, strung together, one adventure after another—so the structure is easy to arrange. Following the geographical layout of the setting, what “can happen” to our hero necessarily changes from location to location.

A better example of world-building may be my science-fiction trilogy The Dream Land, which involves a pair of nerdy teens who discover a doorway to another world—which I created as a fully realized planet with continents, oceans, history and culture, and several different races, as well as unique flora and fauna. The world-building was half the fun of writing those novels; pushing my hero and heroine into this new world and watching them figure things out was the other fun part.

I think the key to “keeping fantasy cultures diverse, and yet not devolving into too much backstory” is to remember that, to the characters in the story, it is all known and common (usually) so they should speak and act toward everything there as though it was all common to them. You have to find creative ways of introducing ideas and details without them coming out as a “Let’s go meet Bill, your cousin, who, as you know, is also my long-lost brother” kind of writing. In my current epic fantasy novel, I can get away with some of that “messaging” because my hero is on a quest and does not know about the places he visits, so having a local character explain things is quite natural. People like to talk, so I let these “local yokels” ramble on and the history and customs of the place come out in a more natural way.

CJJ: In all of your novels, there is a certain amount of world building, even the novels set in contemporary environments. What advice can you give regarding making the settings feel real to the reader while keeping the backstory minimal?

SS: Research, if it is a real place. Read other books about the location, fiction or non-fiction. As I wrote A Girl Called Wolf, which is set in Greenland, I also read a very evocative book on the travels of early explorers written by a woman undertaking her own contemporary travels there. Her writing and descriptions painted such vivid pictures for me that I could describe the locations both accurately and passionately.

The most realistic setting I’ve ever used was my own city in the set in the same year I was writing it. I’m referring to my vampire novel, set in Oklahoma City with places named, set in 2014, when I was actually writing it so what happened in real time happened in the book. That was a fun exercise. But then our hero goes to Europe so I went back to researching.

For make-believe worlds, I think it’s simply a matter of transposing what we know of real locations to an imaginary location. For example, in The Dream Land Trilogy, I would think of an Earth animal and reinvent it as something more exotic: the common mount, a horse, became a 3-toed donkey with a dewlap, stripes on half its body, long rabbit ears, and a rat tail. Similarly, I’m more science-focused so even in a fantasy story I remain concerned with such things as the distance of the planet from its sun and the ratio of land to ocean, and so on. Even in my epic fantasy, a genre where magic is required, I have magic operating on scientific principles but it is explained in highly metaphorical language—but it still looks like magic!

CJJ: Thank you for indulging my curiosity, Stephen. I love talking craft with you around the virtual water cooler at Myrddin, and enjoy your blog, The DeConstruction of the of the Sekuatean Empire.

>>><<<

You can find Stephen Swartz at any of these places:

Stephen Swartz Amazon Author Page

Website: The DeConstruction of the Sekuatean Empire

Stephen Swartz  Myrddin Publishing page

Twitter: @StephenSwartz1

Stephen Swartz’s FB Author Page

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#amreading: The Karaoke Novelist

BIF Blog Print ScreenI used to write an indie book review blog, before I got too busy to read as much as the blog required. The blog was called Best in Fantasy, and I still post reviews to it once in awhile, but only when something really rings my bells.

Sometimes I had to attempt to read six novels before I found one worth reviewing. In the process of searching Amazon for those really good fantasy reads, I’ve read a large share of badly written books. There is no  describing the agony of seeing a perfectly good idea for a plot destroyed by an author who was too eager to share their genius and rushed to publish what was clearly an excellent first draft .

You will get no snarky reviews from me—in fact I don’t review books I don’t like. I just move on to the next one in my pile and hope for the best.

Instead, I focus on the really awesome books I have enjoyed, some written by the famous, but most by the NOT so famous. Many of the great books I have enjoyed will never be best sellers because they are just one drop in an ocean of Kindle books.

It’s the wild west of indie publishing right now, and while it’s not necessarily a terrible thing, many untutored authors publish less than stellar works. These books are written and published by people who have no idea how the industry works.

Writing is like any other craft. There is a learning curve. Publishing is a separate craft, but nowadays the two go hand-in-hand.

At some point,  as indies gain the knowledge of what is involved in writing and publishing a good novel, the overall quality will  improve and level out. Those who are in it for the long haul will gain better visibility.

I have some hard-earned advice for new authors, those of you who want to leave the ranks of the Karaoke novelists, screeching their inept renditions of Wind Beneath my Wings. If you’re serious about your work, get your manuscript professionally edited.

Yes, it will cost you money, and you may get feedback you don’t want to hear. But that experience will enable you to put a book out there that you can be proud of, one that will stand up to any put out by the big publishers.

When I was writing a book review blog on a weekly basis, I often spent my week looking through five reasonably priced books only to discover they were

  1. Poorly formatted.
  2. Poorly edited.
  3. Rife with newbie errors such as beginning the book with a big info dump (been there done that).
  4. Thick, lush descriptions of “creamy blue eyes” (pardon, must barf now).
  5. Written by an author with no concept of a story arc.
  6. Boring filler conversations to fluff up the word count.
  7. Threads to nowhere,
  8. A random event that was intended as a cliff-hanger ending, but was obviously stuck there to entice the reader to get the sequel, which hadn’t been written yet and was now on my “No Way in Hell” list.

This also happens regularly with traditionally published books.  TOR can publish a novel that was poorly edited and no one will blink an eye, because they are one of the Big 5 Publishing houses.

Indies have to be better than that. Indies are scrutinized more closely and are held to a much higher standard. Flaws in our work are held up as an example of all that is wrong with the industry.

I used to curse at my Kindle when I read the first pages of books, both indie and traditionally published, that were  travesties. Many had gorgeous covers. I feel strongly the authors would be better served if they spent that money having their manuscript professionally edited.

I cringe when someone blithely tells me their friends edit for them. Most people aren’t best mates with a professional editor, and if you don’t have a degree in creative writing, you probably need a professional eye on your work.

Indies–aren’t you glad I only reviewed the books I liked? I didn’t want to be known for being a bitch, which is what I felt like when I read some of those travesties.

Thus, I say

  1. Go to writing craft seminars and conventions.
  2. Take writing classes at your local community college.
  3. Take online classes in writing.
  4. Buy and read books on the craft of writing.
  5. Write every day, even if it is only a paragraph.
  6. Hire a professional editor and consider following their suggestions.
  7. Have your manuscript proofread professionally before you publish it.

keep clam and proofreadI can’t stress this enough: before you publish that book you wrote during NaNoWriMo, please develop the craft of writing and rewrite that amazing novel.

You can join a writing group in your town and they will help you with these things. With the right group helping you grow, you will develop the skills needed to truly be a published author. And remember, if one group doesn’t really feel like a good fit, keep looking until you find a group you can work with.

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#amwriting: evoking a sense of place

800px-El_jardí_de_l'autor,_Josep_Benlliure_Gil,_Museu_de_Belles_Arts_de_València

The Garden of the Author, by José Benlliure Gil via Wikimedia Commons

Summer has officially arrived here in the Pacific Northwest. This is a time when I can take my notepad out on the back porch, enjoying the garden and, to a certain extent, people watching. I love my back yard and my porch, feeling as if the heart of my home is there.

My work involves creating worlds and making them real to the reader. All the worlds I write about are a composite woven of my personal experiences and places that I love.

My town is a tiny place, slightly more than a village, and less than a city. Historically it is a mining town. Three things kept my town alive during hard times: the sandstone quarry, the coal mines, and timber. Now it’s a bedroom community for Olympia, the capital city of the State of Washington.

I’ve been here since 2005, and although I love my small house and garden, I don’t really fit into this community, which is probably my fault. Most of my writing groups are in Olympia, and my favorite places are in that city too. But I have a “soul-home,” which is comprised of the places that had the most profound meaning to me in my life. My soul-home is made up of three places that I have lived, which have all had a profound effect on me.

One part of that soul-home is Seattle. I lived there until I was 10, and went to West Woodland Elementary School.Our house was in Ballard, an urban community of fishermen who spent most of their time fishing in Alaska, and who were first-generation Norwegians. Everyone, including my family, was Lutheran, which was a cultural thing as well as religious. In the late 1950s to the early 1960s, Ballard was a small town within the big city, and the kids in my neighborhood were close-knit.

Seattle and the greater Puget Sound area is one component of my soul home, mainly because of the many immigrants whose cultures made it what it is today. The Pacific Northwest and Seattle, in particular, is a fusion of Asian, Norwegian, Native American, and hardy sons and daughters of the pioneers who came from all over the world seeking a better life. We are a unique mix and happy to be so.

In Seattle, music takes on a life of its own, and the world listens. Wikipedia has a page that lists all the famous musicians who came out of Seattle, and it’s pretty impressive. You can check it out here.

Music, art, and literature are celebrated in Seattle, and the influence the city has on Pacific Northwest culture is felt all up and down the Puget Sound region. I was fired to write my own books by reading the works of local area authors like Frank Herbert, Greg Bear, J.A. Jance, Terry Brooks and so many, many more Northwest authors. The Puget Sound region is a breeding ground for creativity, and Seattle is where it comes together.

Amaranthus and Savvy at the needles by haystack rock cannon beach 2012

But I am also a product of many summers spent in Cannon Beach, Oregon. I love that place so much that it is another piece of my soul-home. Terry Brooks and Ursula K. LeGuin are also fans of the North Oregon Coast, as are many famous musicians and actors. Something about it calls to the wilder side of me, and it seeps into my work.

But the primary portion of my soul-home came into my life when I was ten, and my family moved to Olympia, to a home on Black Lake. We moved from a nice, large, two-story home in a middle-class neighborhood to a tiny, rundown, ranch-style vacation house miles from civilization. It was cold and damp in the winter, and cool and pleasant in the summer. The house was barely livable, but the property was what my parents moved there for: the 350 feet of waterfront and the sandy beach, with forested land going back 5 acres to the county road. Dad was a WWII vet, and fishing was his greatest hobby.

The first thing I saw the day we moved there wasn’t the lake, although it was impressive. It was the Black Hills that dominated my view—black and forested with cedars, firs and hemlock, and rising high over the other side of the lake, they dominated the front windows. The many moods of the lake were out there for us all to see every minute of every day. You knew what going to happen by the direction the wind was coming from.

I hated it. I was torn from everything I knew, thrust into a world where I had no friends, and didn’t know my way around. Nevertheless, after the first, terribly difficult months of adjustment, I grew to love my Black Lake home, relishing the rural privacy and the deep connection to nature we formed, without our knowing it. When I left home, I carried a piece of it in my heart, and it will always be with me. My contemporary literary fiction is usually set there, with the bits and pieces I loved so much about that home forming a memory that shines, and I am able to give that place to my readers.

Just as my world, and the place I think of as my home was created by many generations of immigrants and pioneers filled with hope and the dream of a better life, so are most other cities and cultural centers.

The sense of place you instill into your work is the sure knowledge of where it is and what it represents to the protagonist. If you are crafting a world that doesn’t exist, as I have done with most of my work, you must make it real. Take some of what you love about your home, your town, and your culture, and write it into your work.

The knowledge of place is created in the reader’s mind by subtle cues, small descriptions, minor mentions over multiple scenes. A few words, little references to the background setting give the reader a framework upon which his imagination will build the rest.

Terry Brooks’ world of Shannara is real in his mind, because he lives there, just as Neveyah is real to me for the same reason. Both worlds have evolved from the reality and landscape we live in and love so much, yet they are radically different, both from each other and from the Pacific Northwest. They are composites of our imaginations, made real by our experiences.

Haystack_rock_monochromeWhen you write a novel or an essay, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, the setting is how you create the sense of place, and must be a creation of many layers:

  • Place: where the protagonist lives, whether in the city, a village, a wandering life with no fixed address, or a farm in the countryside
  • Landscape/Terrain: mountainous, forested, high desert, seaside
  • Culture: in many stories, broad hints of what passes for political systems, the influence of religion, and the amount of respect accorded by society to music and art.

None of these layers will be overtly discussed or described at length in your work unless it is part of what creates the tension and drives the plot. But you, as the author, must know and understand these components as if they were your soul-home. That knowledge will come across in your work via small cues, and your readers will have a firm picture of the world in which your work is set.

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#TalesFromBlackFriday : The Marriage Counselor

Digital Clock FaceI shook my head to get rid of the sudden, loud buzzing sound in my ears. Feeling a little disoriented, I looked at the calendar, which said Thursday, the day I dreaded most. Sometimes I felt like it was always Thursday. It was nearly time for my regular two o’clock appointment…the couple from hell, pardon my cursing. After my heart attack about six months before, they had begun coming to me, and were likely to give me another one. They never missed an appointment no matter how I wished they would.

I watched the clock tick from one fifty-nine to two o’clock.

My receptionist opened the door. “Mr. and Mrs. Haydes are here. Shall I show them in?”

 ***

I lifted my pen from the notepad and regarded the couple seated across from me. “Would you listen to yourselves? You make marriage sound like hell. It doesn’t have to be that way. You both sabotage it every chance you get.”

“Of course marriage is hell,” said the husband across from me, dressed in a double-breasted, blue suit, giving him an almost nautical appearance. Add a captain’s hat and he’d look like a cast member on The Love Boat. “It’s the absolute worst thing that could possibly have happened to a once-studly man like myself. But just like the moth flying into the flame, I had to do it. ‘Don’t go toward the light,’ my friends all said. But did I listen? Hell, no!”

His wife snorted. “Luke always does the exact opposite of what anyone advises him to do. That’s what he gets for being a devil-may-care, I’m-gonna-do-it-my-way sort of a guy. He’s Satan. That makes me Satan’s wife. Of course it’s hell—it comes with the territory. If I can put up with him, he can put up with me.” This week she wore little makeup and was neatly coiffed, with not a hair out of place. In a counterpoint to Luke’s dashing attire, she wore a beige wool suit, cut to just below her modestly crossed knees, with low-heeled pumps. Mrs. Haydes could have been a proper matron from any Protestant congregation, right down to her puritanical sense of morality.

This forty-five minute session of misery began promptly at two o’clock every Thursday. They booked their appointments under the pseudonyms, Lucifer and Persephone Haydes. He preferred to be called Luke, and she preferred to be called Mrs. Haydes. After six months of working with this pair of nut cases, I was beginning to suspect they were playing a game of mess-with-the-counselor.

Last week she’d been dressed like a teenaged skateboarder, and he as an English literature professor. The week before that, she was a hippie, complete with headband and love beads, and he was a cricket player.

Every week it was something different but always opposites. Mrs. Haydes seemed to choose her wardrobe based on what she thought would annoy him most, and he went with the opposite because he really couldn’t do anything else. He had the worst case of oppositional defiant disorder I had ever seen.

“Why are you here?” I had to ask, despite knowing I wouldn’t get an answer. “I no longer understand what you are trying to save here. You never take my advice. And you’ve been aware since the outset that I am a pastor, not a magician. What do you hope to gain from this?” I tapped my foot and looked at the clock. We were only fifteen minutes into this session, and I was already exhausted. “What you really need is a good divorce lawyer, not a counselor. I can tell you every reason why you should stay married, and if you are looking for religious affirmation, I can give you chapter and verse on the apostle Paul’s views regarding marriage. Over the last six months, I have done so repeatedly.  We’ve discussed what you originally saw in each other and what you each want from your relationship, but you’re still at this impasse.  I think that at this stage divorce is the only answer for the two of you.”

Luke snorted. “Don’t bother telling me anything the apostle Paul said—I wrote that book. I was delusional.”

“I think the pastor is right,” said Mrs. Haydes, primly folding her hands. “Divorce is the only option. I’m sure no one would blame me for leaving a devil like you.”

“I’m not giving up half of everything I own,” said Luke, clearly aghast at the notion. “Do you know how many divorce lawyers she has access to? No way am I going to let her off so easily.”

“I come from a broken family,” said Mrs. Haydes, discreetly wiping a tear. “I don’t want our children to grow up in a broken home. But it would be better than Anaheim. It’s a bad environment to raise children in. I want to move back to our palace in Hell. All it needs is a little remodeling.”

I couldn’t stop myself. I had to ask it. “And you think Hell is a good environment to raise kids in?”

“Well, at least there’s no crime in hell. We have the finest law enforcement professionals in the universe.” She glared at me defensively. “Where should I be raising them? Seattle? I’m not exposing my children to a bunch of pot-smoking vegans who ride bicycles and wear socks with sandals.”

Luke brightened up. “I love Seattle—perhaps we should move there. I could get some goats or raise alpacas. They have the best coffee in the world!”

Mrs. Haydes sniffed. “The place is full of vulgar vegetarians. They’re always taking their children to yoga and soccer, where everyone gets a trophy whether they win or lose—it’s just wrong. We will most certainly not be moving to Seattle.”

“Enough,” said Luke. “I’m going vegan and we’re moving to Seattle and that’s final.” He turned to me, missing her small, satisfied smile. “What I really want to talk about is the stint we did on ‘Home Hunters.’ She destroyed me in front of millions of people, and I have to watch it every time they rerun that episode, which they seem to do three times a week.”

“Well dear, it airs on one of your networks, and you make the rules. You’re the one who decides why the television viewing public has 999 channels available to them, and all but three of them at any given time are showing the same reruns of Pawn Shop Heroes, Home Hunters, or Gator Boys.”

From the look on Luke’s face, I could see that Mrs. Haydes had the knife and was twisting it for all she was worth.

“Besides, I said very clearly that I wanted the extremely modern condo, with all the sleek furnishings and the gorgeous, terrazzo floors. I said it at least six times. It’s on the videotape of the show.” She smiled at him smugly. “You just had your heart set on that cozy, little pink bungalow with the seventies’ décor and the orange shag carpet. You insisted, and so, of course, I gave in. Once you make up your mind, it’s impossible to change it.”

“See?” Luke exploded. “See how she manipulates me? How could I not go for the house she said she didn’t want? It was like asking the dog not to eat the chocolate you left on the coffee table. I’m Satan! I’m not really an agreeable sort of guy, and she knows exactly how to manipulate me, so now, twice a week, everyone in America gets to watch me buying grandma’s overpriced, decorating nightmare. It’s been voted the most popular episode of all time! She embarrassed me in front of God and the world.” He dropped his head into his hands. “We’re moving to Seattle now, and it’s going to be hell trying to sell that dump in Anaheim. I won’t even be able to rent it out for enough to cover the carrying costs. What a life!”

I knew this session was going nowhere. Their sessions never went anywhere positive because they were masters at circular reasoning. “What is it you want from me? You must have some reason for putting me through this agony every week.”

“I despise him, so I want a divorce, of course,” said Mrs. Haydes, with a smug, little smile. “I’ll be happy with my half of everything, and, of course, alimony. I gave up my career to raise our children, you know, and of course, they will need child support.” She aimed her tight, fundamentalist smirk  at me. “We won’t waste your time any further.”

“No. No. No!” Luke’s eyes popped out of his head. “No divorce. I adore you, Persey—you’re the love of my life!” He kissed her hand.  “I would be lost without you. Think of the children.”

“I love you too, Luke—I just hate being around you. And now you’re going to be forcing all your hippy, vegetarian food on me.” She turned away from him, primly pursing her lips. “You know how I love steak.”

“No dear, not vegetarian. Vegan. It’s good for you, you’ll love it. Why, I’ve a recipe for smoked tofu that will put a smile on that pretty face in no time.” Luke smiled his most charming smile. “If there is one thing I understand, it’s how to barbecue. You’ll adore my smoked tofu salad.”

“If you say so, dear. I’ll likely throw up.”

The two rose and left my office. I sighed.

Luke might claim to be Satan, and yes, it was even possible given how contrary he was, but if that was case, Mrs. Haydes ruled in Hell. There was no mistake about that.

I heard my receptionist speaking in the anteroom. Yes, Mrs. Haydes was scheduling another appointment…two o’clock next Thursday.

Satan might move to Seattle, or he might not. Somehow, I knew his new penchant for tofu and coffee wouldn’t get me off the hook.

I shook my head to get rid of the sudden, loud buzzing sound in my ears. Feeling a little disoriented, I looked at the calendar, which said Thursday, the day I dreaded most. Sometimes I felt like it was always Thursday. It was nearly time for my regular two o’clock appointment…the couple from hell, pardon my cursing. After my heart attack about six months before, they had begun coming to me, and were likely to give me another one. They never missed an appointment no matter how I wished they would.

I watched the clock tick from one fifty-nine to two o’clock.

My receptionist opened the door. “Mr. and Mrs. Haydes are here. Shall I show them in?”


The Marriage Counselor © Connie J. Jasperson 2015

“The Marriage Counselor” was first published March 6, 2015  on Edgewise Words Inn

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#Flashfic: Metamorphosis

MetaMorphosis cover for WattPad copyYrena Rozhenko ran, not knowing if she was headed into something worse.  It didn’t matter—the transformation had begun and she couldn’t seem to halt it. One way or the other she had to get away from Benton.

The sounds of distant pursuit penetrated to her newly-altered hearing, spurring her on.

She took to the foliage. The shade and mottled light of the strange underbrush eased the pain in her eyes, dimming the glare. She raised her hand to her face, wondering why it felt so bruised. Hard nobs had begun to form above her eyebrows, turning them in ridges. Her heart nearly stopped when she saw the scales forming on her hands and long, deadly-looking talons where neatly manicured fingernails once had been.

What’s happening to me? We ate nothing and drank no water from this world. We touched nothing ungloved. Could it be the air?

Their mission was over. In the UFA records, they would be officially listed as MIA, something that happened frequently on first exploration missions. Benton had murdered Jackson. Jenner was either dead or in hiding, and she…she was changing into some…thing.

Was she going to die next? Benton’s fear and loathing of anything different made him…the only word she could think of was evil.

Why had he not begun to change? The answer came from all around her, from the forest. I was waiting for you. He is not worthy.

She heard Benton softly call her name, a sing-song taunt. “Rozhenko…come out, come out, wherever you are….”

What could she do? With those talons on her hands she wouldn’t be able to return to the ship, even if she could make it to the lander. Besides, she couldn’t leave without knowing if Jenner was alive, and if he was, she wouldn’t leave him behind.

And even if she made to the ship, what then? She knew the change was happening to her on a genetic level, as if this planet had claimed her. Something told her it was irreversible.

Gods, her back ached.  Her shoulder blades, her tailbone were like points of…gah! Whatever. She had to ignore it and get deeper into the brush.

Jackson had begun to change the first night. By dawn he’d transitioned into something…else.

The others had discussed his condition, deciding to take him back to Lodestar Station where the medical team was, despite it being a ten-day journey and meaning the end of their mission. They would have to declare Sirius C a class N Biohazard planet, meaning the established ecology was too dangerous for human settlement.

Benton had been the lone holdout, shouting they had to destroy Jackson before he destroyed them. “He’s a killer. Look at those claws—he’s not human anymore!”

When Yrena and Jenner shouted him down, he had walked up behind Jackson and shot him in cold blood, with no further conversation or discussion, murdering the man who’d been their commander with no qualm or shame.

He’d been proud that he’d done so and now claimed Jackson’s position as expedition leader.

Jenner had begun to change right after Benton murdered their commander, but he’d vanished while Yrena was in the shuttle sending the message detailing the hazard and Benton’s mutiny.

Yrena feared that Benton had killed Jenner while she was busy, but if he had, the body was nowhere to be found.

Benton had shown his true colors. He’d always bragged that he had what it took to rise to the top. He was a capable enough navigator and a solid geologist, but he’d never understood finesse or compassion. How he’d been put on their team in the first place, she didn’t know, but he’d been nothing but a sour pain in the…ass.

She suppressed a groan. Even her ass ached. She was afraid to reach back there and see why.

Some new instinct told her to get off the ground, that safety was in the tree-tops. Yrena’s new talons made excellent assists for rapid tree climbing. Perched high in the canopy and hidden by the triangular, golden leaves, she watched as Benton combed the forest floor, not even thinking to look up.

She had burst out of her shipsuit, which was now nothing but shreds. Carefully she balled it up and hid it in the hollow of the tree. She could nest there if she had to.

What was she thinking? She had to get back to…what was that? A glint of gold caught her eye. A gold-mottled form was perched on a branch near her, one sharp-taloned finger held to his scaly lips for silence. Relief swept through her—Jenner had completed the transformation.

She was not alone.

Benton passed under their tree. Yrena clung tightly to the trunk, remaining perfectly still. She needed a few more hours to complete the transformation, but if he looked up, she would never know what she was transforming into, never again know love or laughter or….

A flash of golden wings…Benton’s sudden strangled cry….

Yrena looked down and saw Benton’s bloody form lying in several pieces.

Jenner flew back up to perch beside her.  She let go of the trunk and went to sit beside him, their arms going around each other.

They had been colleagues but she’d not really known him well. He was all she had now.

The setting sun cast a ray that glanced off the abandoned shuttle. Above the forest, stars began to come out and a tiny star passed overhead. Once it had been a research vessel, but now it was an abandoned hulk ending its days as a small star in a new sky.


Metamorphosis © Connie J. Jasperson 2015  All Rights Reserved

Metamorphosis was first published July 10, 2015 on Edgewise Words Inn under the title “Transfiguration”

It was republished on Oct. 18, 2015 on WattPad under the title “Metamorphosis”

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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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