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Friday, November 21, 2014 2 comments

The Voice of the Forest (#FridayFlash)

This one runs a little long, not quite 1300 words, so I hope you’ll forgive me. This is Bailar the Blue’s “origin story,” which takes place when he was 13…

Thanks to Catherine Russell for providing a quick beta read.



Image source:
openclipart.org
“Drunk again?”

Bailar sim Prensin caught his footing, not falling this time, and kept walking. Farl’s gibe was hardly original, after all, not worth responding to.

“Crazy lout,” the older boy muttered as Bailar stumbled by. “Someday, the Forest will eat you.”

At this, Bailar smirked. In this little farming community along the edge of the Deep Forest, children tested their nerve by venturing into the trees, daring each other to go a little farther in. But the Forest never held any terror for Bailar—indeed, to him it was a welcoming place. Even as a child, he had oft embarrassed Farl and other older children in their game, wandering farther into the trees than any.

“Don’t know why the mothers let you watch their babies,” Farl sneered, turning away. Bailar often wondered the same, but it was one of the few useful things he could do to earn some coins. He was too clumsy for most physical labor, and there was little call for intellectual pursuits here in the hinterlands of the Stolevan Matriarchy. Still, babies enjoyed his company, and he prided himself on never dropping any of them. As for the mothers, they seemed to like him—or perhaps they pitied him.

He left the road and walked the edge of a rye field, using the fence to help with his balance. A few younger children capered ahead, probably nerving themselves up to dash into the trees beyond. They slowed as they drew closer to the edge of the Deep Forest, though, and he caught up to them. Bailar could hear the trees whispering, even from here, although there was no wind. He knew why: ages ago, the Unfallen had once dwelt in the Forest. The trees awakened under their care, and Unfallen and trees protected each other. The last of the Unfallen had passed on, transcended, centuries ago—but the trees still remembered.

“Crazy Bailar,” one of the bigger girls said. She looked about two years younger than Bailar’s thirteen. “He wins.”

“I’m not playing the game this time,” Bailar retorted. “And yes, I’m just a boy, but I’m older and you should have at least a little respect.” The girl stuck her tongue out at him.

“What are you doing, then?” one of the boys asked.

“I’ll show you.” Bailar stepped past the first trees. “Hoy!” he called. “My eldest sister is sick. Will you allow me to gather everbalm and flameweed to help make her better?”

The trees whispered a reply. Bailar could not make out words, as always, but the whispers sounded agreeable. The younger children gaped as he found his balance and hiked away.

“If a boy can do it, I can do it,” he heard behind him. A girl jogged toward him, the one who had insulted him. “Hoy! Bailar! Wait!”

Bailar stopped to oblige her. It will be interesting to see how long she lasts, he thought. It would be a new experience, hiking the Forest with someone at his side—even a sharp-tongued girl.

“How do you know what to look for?” she asked, matching his stride but stealing glances over her shoulder.

“Healer Rosha told me,” he replied, looking around. “Flameweed to help with her fever, everbalm for the coughing.” He stifled a laugh, thinking about the conversation with Rosha and his mother:

“If I had the herbs,” said Rosha, “I could cure her. But the barge won’t be here for a week, and who knows if it’ll carry any?”

“I can get them,” said Bailar.

“Where?” Mother cocked an eyebrow, perhaps knowing the answer.

“I’ll ask the Forest.”

“The Forest?” Rosha looked horrified. “You’ll go… ah. I forget.”

He had laughed, but thought at last, this might be my calling. Rosha had an older apprentice, but perhaps if he could bring her what she needed, she might take a second…

“How do you know where to go?” The girl’s question brought him back to the present. “Do the trees talk to you?”

“No,” Bailar replied. “You have to have magic in you to hear what the trees say. That’s what the old grands say, anyway. But you know how you can tell someone something without words?”

“Indeed.” She stopped, a step behind Bailar, and looked back. “What are you doing?”

“Looking for the trees to point the way.” He crouched and pointed. “See how the leaves are mounded a little, going off that way?”

“No. Ah, ah, I’d better go back. I shouldn’t be alone with a boy anyway, and someone has to look out for the others.”

“It’s all right,” Bailar assured her.

She turned away, but looked up and screamed. “A dragon! Oh gods, a dragon!” She dashed to Bailar and hid behind him, making him laugh.

“It’s just an Oakendrake,” he said. “They won’t hurt you unless you try to grab it, or get too close to its nest.” Bailar had read everything he could find about dragons, which was not much. But he had seen Oakendrakes before. He looked up at the green dragon, only as long as his arm, crouched on a tree limb. “Hello, dragon. Would you fly away long enough for my friend to run back to her other friends?”

The Oakendrake squawked, making the girl cringe, and disappeared above the trees.

“That way.” Bailar pointed, and the girl wasted no time sprinting away. He shrugged and followed the path the trees laid out for him. The Oakendrake returned, flitting from branch to branch. They were curious creatures, after all.

The line of leaves led to a clearing. The north edge held a riot of different herbs, all vying for a place in the sun. Bailar found what he needed, and gathered a small bag of each as the dragon watched from a short distance.

“Thank you for your aid, O Forest,” he said, bowing with palm to forehead. “And to you, Oakendrake, for watching over me.” The little dragon squawked and flew away again. “I should have asked for a stick to use for a staff,” he muttered, as he left the clearing. “I could—”

His foot caught an exposed root, and he went sprawling. Somehow, he kept a grip on his bags. His free hand caught something hard.

Take up, he heard. A whisper like the trees, but as clear as any voice.

“What?” He pushed himself to his knees. “Who said that?”

Your staff, came the reply. Take up.

In his hand was a dry root, as long as he was tall. He stood, stick in hand. One end was a gnarled knot, the other a ragged break. There were no cracks in between. It would make a perfect staff, with minimal work. “I—I—thank you again, O Forest.”


Later, braced against the work table, the stick clamped down, Bailar sawed off the broken end. He kept his free hand well away, and took his time. He could often avoid hurting himself if he took enough time and care. His sister, already feeling better, had offered to sew a leather boot for his staff, and Mother had donated a handful of fat to help cure the wood. But his mind was elsewhere. I heard the trees speak, he thought. ‘Prenticing himself to the Healer was no longer the best he could do.

He had a little money from caring for infants. But now, minding children was in his past. With two older sisters, he had no inheritance to speak of. So, when the barge came, he would leave his old life behind. Surely a sorcerer downriver would take him as apprentice. He had heard the voice of the Forest, and all things were possible.

Thursday, November 13, 2014 6 comments

Lost in Nightwalk COVER REVEAL!

The story is with the editor now, and I don’t have an exact publication date set just yet, but I’m still hoping to launch by month’s end. Here’s the blurb:
Lord Darin is pursuing Sura. The Web is pursuing Bailar and Mik. Still, they continue teaching combat magic to sorcerers in Koyr and the Northern Reach.

Training for conflict in the Goblin fastness, soldiers and mages start using Nightwalk, the vast maze under Ak’Koyr, for war games. Fleeing an assassination attempt, they find themselves lost. Now the problem isn’t Lord Darin or The Web—it’s getting out.
Okay, how about a look at the gorgeous cover?


Meanwhile, Beyond the Sea of Storms (Book 6) has been drafted, so at least one of them survives Nightwalk. Or maybe it’s a reluctant Charn or Isa who pick up the mantle…

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 1 comment

New release: Green Zulu Five One by Scott Whitmore

Scott Whitmore’s new Military/Sci-Fi novella, Green Zulu Five One (and other stories from the Vyptellian War), is out! It could use a little signal boost, so go check it out. I’m reading his steampunk/vampire mashup Carpathia, and it’s racing toward the conclusion now.

A war of millions is fought by individuals. For sixteen years humanity and the alien Vyptellians have battled in space and on hundreds of planets in a distant corner of the galaxy.

Tyko is a teenage space fighter pilot who has never known peace; insulated from the horrors of the battlefield, he’ll learn war isn’t a game. Sergeant Siengha is one of a handful to survive the war’s first battle; surrounded and vastly outnumbered by a merciless enemy, it takes everything she knows to keep those around her alive and fighting.

These are just two of the countless stories from the human side of the Vyptellian War. To those on the frontlines and their families at home, why the war began is unimportant, forgotten when the first shot was fired. What matters is the survival of the species.

But after years of bloody conflict, the war’s end is closer than anyone realizes.


OK, now that we’ve talked about the book, let’s talk about—I mean, to—the author:

Where did the idea for Green Zulu Five One come from?

In August last year I was asked by writer and editor Tara Maya to contribute to the Space Jockey anthology, and I submitted a story about Tyko, a fifteen-year-old pilot whose call sign is Green Zulu Five One and who is fighting in a war against an alien race that started before he was born. The first reviewer of the anthology mentioned the story favorably and said he thought it would make a great opening chapter to a longer work. That got me to thinking about where Tyko’s story may lead.

But the book isn’t just about Tyko, is it? 

No, Tyko’s story is just one of many, hence the subtitle “and other stories from the Vyptellian War.” Each chapter is essentially a short story about some event or aspect of the war; some characters appear in more than one chapter and some are one-offs. Tyko’s story arc is told over several chapters and is the longest, with that of battle-hardened Platoon Sergeant Siengha the second longest. Tyko and Siengha represent space and ground operations of humanity’s war against the Vyptellians.

I’ve read a couple books using this connected vignette format, most notably 3024AD: Short Stories Series One by DES Richard and Planks by SC Harrison, and wanted to try it for myself. It was fun but challenging because I was determined to keep the book short, less than 50,000 words, while still exploring as many aspects of the war as possible.

Tyko’s story arc has some similarities with Orson Scott Card’s Ender novels. Were they an influence?

No, I’ve actually never read any of Card’s work or seen the movie. There are a lot of influences on the stories, including some books and movies, but not those.

Okay, so what would you say influenced you in writing these stories?

For starters, a lot of real-world events. Growing up in the 1960s the war in Vietnam was never far from my consciousness, through hearing my parents talk about it to movies and the nightly news on TV. For the longest time as a kid I did not realize being at “peace” was an option and that’s something Tyko realizes at one point. We’re right back in that state of perpetual war, too.

I served twenty years in the U. S. Navy, starting out as an enlisted Sailor and then being commissioned as an officer, so certainly that is an influence in everything I do, not just writing. I was never in combat, but I was in uniform for the end of the Cold War, Bosnia, Desert Shield/Storm, 9/11 and the beginnings of Iraq II and Afghanistan.

Other influences on my writing are books like The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and Dispatches by Michael Herr; movies like Zulu, Three Kings, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket; and  TV shows like Battlestar Galactica and Space: Above and Beyond — among others.

Who created the cover?

I asked Norman Dixon Jr., who is the author of several excellent novels, to beta read the rough draft. In addition to giving me great feedback he offered to do the cover. Norm created the covers for his own books and is interested in branching out, doing cover work for hire. Working with him was wonderful and he created a very cool cover.

Your favorite character? Favorite chapter?

Ah, that’s a tough one — like which of your kids do you prefer? I like Tyko a lot but honestly Sergeant Siengha is probably my favorite. She was going to just be a one-off character, too, but after introducing her I realized there was more of her story I wanted to tell.

The people I asked to beta read the rough draft really liked the final chapter, “A Promise Kept,” which is good because it’s one of my favorite, too. “Three Minutes Out” is another chapter I like a lot; it was actually written after getting comments back from my awesome beta readers because I felt the book needed something with a little more action in the early chapters.

Any chance there will be more stories told from this sandbox?

I would never say never, but for now my thinking is probably not. My goals starting out were to do something fairly short that was a thought-provoking look at war, character-driven but with action sequences, too. I believe Green Zulu Five One (and other stories from the Vyptellian War) checks all those boxes.

But … if readers really like this book and ask for more, I know there are more stories to be told about this part of the galaxy, the war, and at least a few of these characters. So, again, never say never.

About the author

Born and raised in the American Midwest, Scott Whitmore enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1982 and was later commissioned as an officer. After retiring from military service he joined the sports staff at The Herald, a daily newspaper located in Everett, Washington. In 2009, his feature story about a young Everett sprint car racer was awarded third place in the annual writing contest held by the National Motorsports Press Association.

Scott left The Herald in 2009 to begin working as a freelance writer. In addition to his novels, he has written for various sports and motorsports magazines and blogs, and his profile of NASCAR driver Danica Patrick was included in the August 2011 New York Yankees Magazine as part of a special issue celebrating women in sports.

His previous novels are Carpathia and The Devil’s Harvest, available on Amazon.com. Contact him by email at 40westmedia@comcast.net or follow @ScottWhitmore on Twitter.

Monday, November 10, 2014 4 comments

Piling On

The last few days have been the good part of November—sunny, cool, perfect for getting outside and doing stuff.

Sunday afternoon, I hunted for the rake… and I could have sworn it was in the garage just last week. Oh well, I was able to lay hands on the leaf blower and a really long extension cord, and got to work on one section of the back yard. It wasn’t long before I had a big pile of leaves, and let Mason have at it:

video


Very soon, he insisted that I jump in and join him.

Deep in the heart of autumn

Oh… why not. It’s been quite a few years since I’d buried myself in a leaf pile. Laying in the leaves, I took a shot of the deep blue sky:

We won’t see skies this nice for a while

So we played in the leaves until it started getting dark. He complained mightily about having to go in, of course, but maybe we’ll have another shot later. That arctic blast is on the way, and things will get cold in a hurry after tomorrow.

Friday, November 07, 2014 8 comments

The Knights of the Irregular Polygonal Table (#FridayFlash)

Any resemblance to Sabrina Zbasnik’s Rejected Story is purely, uh…

OK, let’s pull the pin and see what happens with this one. For other stories in this world, enter “strange lands” in the search box at the top of the page.



Image source: openclipart.org
Once upon a time, in the Strange Lands north of Aht-Lann-Tah, there was a tavern. Actually, the Strange Lands has plenty of taverns, as drinking oneself stupid was far easier than trying to understand one’s neighbors. But this tavern was situated at the foot of Aiken Butte, and was named for the landmark. As it was near the border of the Dominion and several other states great and small, knights of the nearby realms would gather there to drink, tell tales, work out minor differences between the kingdoms, drink, boast of their prowess, drink some more, and set dates for golf outings. And when they finished all that, they got down to some serious drinking.

The owner of the tavern had set aside a long table in the back for the knights. The corners were worn away by years of swords rubbing against them, so everyone called it the Round Table (Sir Pedant pointed out that it was actually a rough irregular polygon, with a general oval shape, but “the Knights of the Irregular Polygonal Table” just didn’t have the same ring). Besides, irregular is the norm in the Strange Lands.

But I digress. One fine day, knights from several realms were drinking and doing the other things that knights do when they’re not golfing or trying to knock each other off their horses. Into this peaceful debauch entered Sir Slice, so named for his golf swing rather than his swordplay.

“Ho! Ha!” the other knights shouted, pulling up a chair and making room. “What news?”

“Dire news, indeed,” said Sir Slice, slamming down his ale. “A dragon has captured another princess.”

“Not Stonebelly?” asked Sir Umber.

“Nay, good Dragonpooper,” Sir Slice grinned as the other knights laughed. “Just a regular dragon.”

“Dragonslayer, if you please,” Sir Umber growled. He had ridden out against a dragon one day, and the dragon laughed itself to death when Sir Umber soiled his armor. His now-former squire had let slip the truth, and nearly lost his head for it, for a secret once out can never be hidden again. “A dead dragon is a dead dragon, no matter how it is slain.”

Sir Slice waited for the laughter to die down. “Be it as it may. Who among us will go forth to rescue the unfortunate one?”

A long silence worked its way around the sort-of round table. “You haven’t heard?” said Sir Pedant. “It’s all about affirmative consent these days.”

Sir Slice scratched his oily head. “What does that mean? You sally forth, you slay the dragon, the princess is yours. That’s the way it’s always been done.”

“Not anymore,” said Sir Umber, glad to change the subject. “The princess must want to be rescued, and tell you she wants to be rescued. Those are the new rules of chivalry.”

“What? Of course she wants to be rescued!”

“She may want to rescue herself,” another knight said. “Or she may find the dragon’s company preferable.”

“So what are we supposed to do?” Sir Slice asked incredulously. “Marry a peasant woman?”

“Nay, whatever you do, don’t go there!” Sir H’rangid shouted. “You haven’t seen Hell on Earth until you share a roof with a peasant woman whose elevated status goes to her head. Ask me how I know. I even have to leave my golf clubs at Sir Umber’s keep, and tell her I’m out on patrol when I go anywhere.”

“Again I ask, what are we supposed to do then?” Sir Slice cast a baleful eye around the table, as if he had learned an unpleasant truth about his comrades.

“‘Tain’t so bad,” said Sir Bubba. “Ya ain’t riskin’ yer life for someone who don’t appreciate it anyway, and ya got more time to play golf and drink beer with yer compadres.”

“Bah. I never thought I’d see the day when my fellow knights would refuse to aid a damsel in distress. It is up to me, then.” Sir Slice turned on his heel, stumbling a little, and left the tavern.

“Calm, my fellows,” said Sir Pedant. “Our friend must learn for himself.” He swallowed the last of his ale and waved his tankard at the serving-wench. “As we all did. Now, to the business at hand. What golf course shall we grace with our presence?”

Wednesday, November 05, 2014 2 comments

I Write Escapism, and I’m Okay With It

Source: openclipart.org
From Wikipedia: “Escapist fiction is fiction which provides a psychological escape from thoughts of everyday life … The term is not used favorably.”

I don’t hear it as often as I used to, which may reflect the decline in reading overall—or maybe it’s because those who used it most have gone to the Great Library in the Sky. The description does seem to have a sneering quality to it, that implication of not reading the “right” kind of fiction—usually published in the 19th century at the latest, because surely nobody born after 1820 has had anything worthwhile to say, right?

What brought this to mind was a recent The New Yorker article called The Percy Jackson Problem. A literary-minded mom writes about Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson novels, which her son incidentally loves to pieces. If you’re like me, and haven’t read them, they’re about an adolescent demigod, the son of Poseidon and a human mother. There’s this tension between “well, at least he’s reading,” and “but he’s not reading the claaaaaaaaaassics” oozing all through the article. Still, she at least implies that he knows more about Greek mythology at this point than she does. I’m intrigued, and will have to check them out myself now.

I remember those pre-junior high years as a near-dystopia, not that it got much better afterwards. Books were my escape from that life, and even back then I knew I wanted to write my own stories someday. I read a lot of different things, but none of them were “classics” nor titles that literary types of the day would have approved (with the possible exception of Rabbit Hill). One series I remember was The Boxcar Children, the stories of four orphaned kids who moved into an abandoned boxcar. I’ve forgotten the title of another story, but it was about a brother/sister duo who rowed out to an island on a lake and got stranded there. And of course The Hardy Boys, about two brothers who solve mysteries. (Ironic that, since I was such a timid child.) I suppose you could classify the first two as survivalist tales, but without the boxcar full of weaponry or tinfoil-hat politics.at, since I was such a timid child.) My White Pickups books, from that angle, are an adult version of those older stories—abandoned or stranded, people fight to survive and somehow beat the odds.

In junior high, the local librarian pointed me to the sci-fi section, and I was hooked. Who needs a boxcar in the woods when you have a fracking spaceship, am I right? Thus began a stretch of years when, like Cody in White Pickups, “the only books I ever picked up [had] a spaceship on the cover.” I’m not sure who it was that pointed me to Lord of the Rings in high school, but fantasy became an ever-increasing part of my reading mix. Who needs a spaceship? Just zap yourself to another world, and defeat that overwhelming evil with determination and heart!

I read a lot, and I needed stories that would take me Elsewhere for a while. Things did get better in college, but the habit was set. I got into Dungeons and Dragons, and that was addictive—acting out a story on the fly, where your own decisions and reactions affected how it ended. As you might imagine, that pulled me even farther into the fantasy realm. In our D&D group, we passed around our own book collections. I discovered The Sword of Shannara, Dragonriders of Pern, and the collaborative Thieves’ World anthologies came out around then. I spent the summer of 1980 in Biloxi MS and points south (i.e. the Gulf itself, working offshore helping cooks feed hungry drilling platform workers). I took a sheaf of scrap computer paper with me for my off-time, and wrote the first novel I actually finished, The War of the Seventh Trumpet. I never gave serious thought to finding a publisher, because even in the 1980s that kind of fantasy was already getting formulaic. (Not to mention it’s a typical first effort, pretty awful.) While I won’t ever publish that one without some extensive rewrites, it became background material for other Termag stories.

Thirty years later, here we are. I’ve published four Accidental Sorcerers stories, with the fifth (Lost in Nightwalk) coming out later this month and the sixth (Beyond the Sea of Storms) drafted. A sorcerer and his two love-struck apprentices travel Termag and have lots of adventures.

It’s escapist fiction, and I’m okay with that.

Sometimes—or all too often—you just need to get away from everyday circumstances. Fly that spaceship to Antares and fight the Vegans (aliens from Vega, that is… seems like they’re always hostile). Or follow Bailar, Sura, and Mik around Termag and see what kind of scrape they get embroiled in this time. Or stay out of those talking pickup trucks and try to make a better world for yourself, and the other four dozen people around you.

In the Victorian era, they had what they called “improving” literature. The “right” kind of books, written by the “right” kind of people. Maybe it was about building character, a phrase used only by people who aren’t doing the work (or reading those kind of books). Reading escapist fiction lets you try on a different person—that timid boy I was could become a survivalist, or even a hero, if only for a little while. Did I grow out of that timidity, or was I “improved” by escapism?

And now, I have another escape—I mean a new book—to get ready. Until then…

Friday, October 31, 2014 9 comments

A Web of Vengeance (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
Wilson woke up.

Spiders. Everywhere. In his bedroom.

The bugs had invaded his house lately, perhaps looking for shelter from the coming winter. Wilson had declared all-out war. He’d used bug spray, shoes, the vacuum cleaner… and they just kept coming. He had two of those “set off and leave” kind of bug bombs, in case things got out of hand.

“Time to go nuclear, you bastards.” Wilson tried to sit up, but thick layers of spider silk bound him to the bed. He cursed and struggled, trying to wriggle out from under the covers, but he was stuck.

Suppressing a scream, Wilson watched as hundreds—thousands—of spiders dropped or climbed onto the bed.

A weight on his feet. The queen had arrived.

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