Friday, March 29, 2013 17 comments

Joab Dower in the Great Cedar Swamp #2 (#FridayFlash)

Soon after posting part 1 last week, I got the result I hoped for: the impetus to finish the story. It’s going to be four parts, and here’s the second.

Part 1

It occurs to me, I should maybe plug my anthology, Oddities. More than a collection of #FridayFlash, it includes short stories that have never seen the light of blog. “One entertaining story after another,” according to book blogger Eric Townsend.



Photo credit: Keith Survell, Flickr (Creative Commons)
Sally Harper was gone and back, before the last of the folk left the church to their pursuits of the day.

“You are not dressed like a proper woman,” the preacher growled. She had changed her dress for loose-fitting pants and a man’s shirt, and her bonnet for a straw hat. Her pants were tucked into a pair of scuffed leather boots. She carried a bundle in a sling, tucked under one arm.

“It’s proper clothes for this work, preacher-man,” she said saucily. “You think me to hike the swamp in my Sunday best?”

Dower gave her a sour look. “You have all you require for our mission?”

“I do. You ready?”

“I am always ready in the service of the Lord.”

“Then let’s go.” Harper set out on the northbound road, not looking back to see if Dower followed. Her stride betrayed a purpose, but Dower’s long legs let him easily match her pace.

“This is the easiest way into the swamp,” she told him as he hauled up alongside. “It comes closest to town on the east, but there ain’t no road goin’ east. Couple miles up, this road comes alongside. I know a good place to cut in from there.”

“Very well,” said Dower. He swept his gaze around the houses and businesses lining the road on either side. “This place has been bereft of Christian comfort for five years, yet it seems to prosper well enough. What do your people for industry?”

“They cut cedar for shakes,” Harper replied. “A-course, they won’t go in the swamp until well after sunup, and not far. And they come home well before sundown. They spend a couple days cuttin’ cedar, then bring cut pieces into town and split the shakes, and that takes ‘em a couple more days. Today’s a splittin’ day, not a cuttin’ day. So we got the whole swamp to ourselves.”

“Perhaps that is for the best.”

They said little else until Sally led them off the road and down an embankment. “Watch your step,” she said. “It’s easy to fall through.”

“What manner of earth is this?” Dower looked incredulous.

Sally laughed and hopped in place twice, making the ground under Dower’s feet lurch. “It ain’t earth, preacher. It’s the cedar roots.” She glanced around, then knelt and punched an arm through. “Come look.” Dower raised one eyebrow at the black water, standing about a foot beneath them. “The leaves rot, and make dirt,” she explained. “That fills in the gaps between the roots. The water’s about three feet deep down there, in this spot. It gets deeper in some places, less so in others.”

Dower nodded. “A deceptive place makes a fine home for a deceptive spirit.”

Stopping and turning, Sally pulled off her hat and swung it at her side. “Preacher-man,” she said, “I get the feeling you know more about what you’re huntin’ than we do, and we’ve lived with it—or not—for goin’ on six years.” She stood and stared, crossing her arms. Her thin lips asked the unspoken question.

“I will tell you,” he said at last, “but to tell you true, I must speak of my wanderings. As a young man, the Lord called me to preach His word. Of course, I obey His commandments, and He led me to a flock. But when the true Word offended the ears of certain propertied men, they conspired against me and drove me out. In my despair, the Lord reminded me that great is the reward in Heaven for those who suffer for His Name’s sake. Thus, He sent me to correct the heresies of the Papist and the Unitarian. I suffered greatly for His glory, and some sought my life, so He led me unto the heathen savages that dwell in the hinterlands. As with Peter among the Gentiles, I found a warmer welcome among them than I did among my own kind.

“It was when I cast out a demon from an Indian boy, that the Lord told me my true calling. There are evil spirits and other foul creatures that plague this land, parts of which have not heard the Holy Word to this day. Some other heathens, so easily led astray, had fallen to worship of a demonic spirit. By the power of Almighty God, I drove it away, but it set itself up in the high places to the west. Again, I confronted and defeated it, although the outcome was in doubt for a time. It seems that it has now retreated unto this swamp. If by Providence I may defeat it a third time, it shall be banished to the depths of Hell, forever.”

To his surprise, his guide nodded. “I think I know where it’s gonna be, then.”

Dower looked skeptical. “How?”

“My parents and grandparents before me always made a living, huntin’ and trappin’ in this swamp,” she said. “Back before your demon came here, they took me with ‘em. A-course, they don’t come here no more, they’re old and happy on their little patch of farm, and they leave swampin’ to me. But there’s hills, over in that direction.” She pointed northeast. “One of ‘em has an altar on it, somethin’ the Indians set up forever-long ago. We never went up on that hill, though. Some places are best left be, eh?”

“Truly did the Lord lead me to you, Sally Harper. Can we reach this altar by dusk?”

“Sure. You gonna tear it down before it has a chance to wake up?”

The preacher shook his head. “Nay. Such would allow it to slip away. But after I defeat the unclean spirit for the final time, we shall pull down the Asherah. Then no foul thing may find a comfortable home in this place hereafter. Lead on, Miss Harper. Our Lord calleth.”

continued…

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 6 comments

Truckalypse Covers!

In lieu of Writing Wibbles this week, I’m happy to show off some new covers by Angela Kulig. As part of the upcoming launch of Pickups and Pestilence, we’re cleaning up a few typos in White Pickups and giving it a new cover! They’ll look like they ought to, two books whose covers reflect their close relationship.

OK, OK, here they are!

  

And here’s the start of a blurb for Pickups and Pestilence. Don’t forget to click the button to add it to your to-read list:


“Humanity decides its own fate and the means by which it comes.”

War, locusts, vermin. The world continues adjusting to the Truckalypse, and to the sudden disappearance of billions of people, seeking a new balance. People in Laurel Hills and elsewhere survive and try to rebuild what they can.

When a dream reveals the nature of the trucks, it is young Cody Sifko who must become humanity’s champion. His friends—and the enigmatic Delphinia—will stand with him, but he must face his inner demons alone.

Pickups and Pestilence takes you on a ride from suburban Atlanta, to the heights of Heaven and the depths of Hell. Buckle up and hang on!
I am really looking forward to this release, which is currently scheduled for April 25. If it doesn’t hit by then, though, it’s because I’m busy making this the best it can be.

Friday, March 22, 2013 21 comments

Joab Dower in the Great Cedar Swamp #1 (#FridayFlash)

This four-part story is an echo of Robert E. Howard's "Solomon Kane" stories. Enjoy!


Photo credit: Keith Survell, Flickr (Creative Commons)
A long shadow on the road, lined with the glory of the setting sun, gave people pause to squint into the light. That was the first the folk of Bethany saw of the Most Reverend Joab G. Dower.

As the man of God drew closer, the folk murmured amongst themselves. Those of the Papist persuasion crossed themselves. Dower wore a wide-brimmed hat and a traveling cloak, both of them as black as the heart of Satan. He was a tall man, standing a full four cubits and more, a head taller than any man of Bethany, and thin as a fencepost. His scowl could curdle fresh milk.

“Direct me to the church,” Dower told the first man he saw. “There I will take lodging with your pastor.”

“Beg pardon, sir,” the man stammered, wringing his hat, “but our pastor died four, five years ago. They never sent us another.”

None would have credited the possibility, had they not seen it themselves, but Dower’s scowl deepened even further. “Well. I suppose there is a rectory attached to the church proper?”

“Y—yes, sir, there is. Shut up it’s been, since Pastor Martin departed. But you’re welcome to use it.”

“Then I will. And I will hold a service at sunrise, on the morrow. Do spread the word. After you lead me to the rectory, of course.”

“We do beg your pardon for the condition of the place,” said the guide, standing in the rectory with Dower. “None have been in it since Pastor Martin went to Glory, sir.”

Dower raised his hat and knocked down the thick cobwebs over the dusty bed. “It will do, Mister Hat-wringer. If Providence has left behind a broom, I will make it suitable for the short time I intend to stay.”

The guide, perhaps not finding Dower’s appellation to his liking, set his crumpled hat upon his head and departed. Finding a candle in the deepening gloom, Dower produced a tinder-box and lit it, then made a circuit of the rectory. But for the years of neglect, all was as it should be. The place smelt of dust; that was an honest odor, not one foul but only what it was. The rectory and church were yet hallowed ground, and there was a broom lying on the kitchen floor.

After knocking down cobwebs and sweeping most of the dust into one corner, Dower knelt next to the lumpy bed. “Lord God,” he prayed, “Thou hast led Thy servant to this place, for Your divine purpose. Let me serve You to the best of my ability, then may I soon depart. Amen.” He rose, lay his bedroll across the mattress, and lay upon it. Many a night had Joab G. Dower spent on the cold ground, so any bed was welcome. He blew out the candle and slept.


Dower rose before dawn, broke his fast with bread, water, and prayer, and entered the church through a hallway connecting it to the rectory. He felt a twinge of surprise to find the church, nearly as dusty as the rectory, close to full at this early hour. Folk yawned or slouched in the pews, but for a handful standing in the narthex. One of those was a young woman, standing apart from the others, arms folded. Unlike the others, she met his gaze with a boldness not even the men here seemed to feel.

Laying his well-worn Bible on the pulpit, Dower opened to the passage he’d marked and began his sermon. “Lo, saith the Lord, I am with thee, even unto the end of the age.” He paused to look at the flock. “The Lord could well have written that, with this place in mind. For verily, the Lord hast not forsaken you, though you languish in this place, sheep without a shepherd. The same Lord sends me not to speak to you words of comfort, but to do battle with the demons that plague you.” A murmur went up at that, but Dower preached on.

After the sermon, he offered the traditional benediction, then strode down the aisle and out the doors into the grey morning light.

“It’s true, then?” one of the older men asked him. “God has sent you to us?”

“He has,” said Dower. “But He has left it unto you to tell me the nature of the Evil that I am to confront.”

“None has seen it,” said another. “Or if they have, they ain’t lived to tell of it. But it dwells in the Great Cedar Swamp, and roams the land on the new moon, devouring those it can find.”

“And the new moon is tonight.” The servant of the Lord scowled. “And I must find a guide afore time.”

“I’ll go with ya,” a woman’s voice broke the silence. It was the young woman who had watched him from the narthex. “None other have the nerve.”

Dower’s disapproving gaze raked the woman from bonnet to boots. Up close, a spray of freckles across her cheeks reflected the red hair that strayed from her bonnet. A girl’s face on a woman’s body, but he tamed that sinful thought. “And you do?” he asked at last.

“The swamp ain’t a dangerous place, if ya know what yer doin’,” she said, meeting his gaze with that same boldness. “I go in there for fish and mushrooms, all the time. This time of the month, I usually stay home. But if you mean to strike down whatever it is in there, I’m the one who can get you to it.”

Looking at the others, Dower saw she spoke true. “Are ye pure then, woman?”

She laughed. “None of these sheep so much as dare try me!”

“Very well. Who are you?”

“Sally Harper.” She stuck out a grimy hand, which Dower ignored.

“Very well, Miss Harper. Provision yourself, and we shall begin at once.”

continued…

Tuesday, March 19, 2013 8 comments

Cover Reveal: Oddities

Coming this month, a collection of odd little tales, both flash fiction and short stories. I've sorted the stories into Fantasy and Science Fiction collections… of course, I had to make a judgment call on a few of them.

Only 99¢, how can you go wrong?


If you want to give it a little early love…

Add to Goodreads

Sunday, March 17, 2013 3 comments

A Rotten Deal

Once more unto the breach, my friends, once more
— Shakespeare, Henry V

Shooting straight up…
and it’s shot, all right!
I always thought FAR Manor was a rotten deal from the get-go. Of course, my opinion means nothing; I’m just the one paying the mortgage. But when I saw the rotten soffit and trim above the back porch, I knew I couldn’t ignore it anymore. This was above a little decklet off the back porch, so I could do half the work on a stepladder on the deck itself, and the extension ladder off to the side let me reach the other half. It had been there for a while, but a warm and dry spring weekend meant I had the opportunity to do something about it.

So, after taking certain measurements yesterday morning, I scrounged around and found a sheet of 1/4" plywood (amazing!). The 1x8 trim boards needed a trip to Home Despot when we went that way for lunch, anyway. Now, I embarked on my favorite part of these repairs: taking implements of destruction to FAR Manor. The white trim board was only rotten on the end, but I found it was split in the middle, and my enthusiastic crowbar work finished it off. Thinking the plywood would also be rotten only on the end, I figured to cut it off halfway back… but when I misjudged the length, and cut too much, I found it was rotten along the edge almost all the way up, anyway. So more crowbar work was applied, and down it came.

Distraction
During the up-and-down that goes with measuring, getting tools, running back to grab the thing I forgot, that loose step finally… got really loose. This was an annoying distraction, one I hoped I’d have time to deal with after the main event. I’ve always been one to take steps two at a time when I can, so I just stepped over it.

So… the rotten wood was ended, but the nails lingered. More crowbar work, hooray! Fortunately, the underlying wood was okay; it was the just the outer layer that needed replacing.

Then the fun begins: measure twice, cut once, curse when it doesn’t fit, and cut again. Hoping to avoid doing this again in a few years, I found some primer and slapped a coat on the backsides and edges of the replacement pieces. This took me to “it’s getting dark” time, so I knocked off for the day.

All you need is paint…
After church, lunch, and Mason’s nap, I was able to finish the job this afternoon. I drove in the last nails, and went to get the paint. Now one of the cosmic rules of FAR Manor is: things are supposed to be in one place, but they’re usually in three. And that was the case here. The paint is supposed to be in the basement—and some of it was (including the primer coat from yesterday). The ones I needed were in both the attached garage and the detached garage. But I found the paint, found a roller (I used a brush for the primer), and had at it. The new paint doesn’t quite match the existing surrounding pieces, but I figure that’s because it was still wet. I’ll have a look tomorrow.

My enthusiastic crowbar work had split trim up above the replacement, and I had to climb onto the roof to address that part. Using the stepladder, I put the tools up on the roof, then took the extension ladder around to the garage where it’s easier to climb up. I cleaned off the screen over the chimney while I was up there, then sawed off the broken parts and pieced them together. It’s ugly, but it’ll do until I can carve up a proper replacement.

Finally, with all that taken care of, I got the drill and some screws, and took care of the step. I do need to pressure-wash and repaint them, and if it’s nice next weekend, I might get to it.

The wife then recruited me to help with feeding the cows (and other things that somehow never get mentioned until I’m in the truck), and that took us to dusk. So that was a weekend at FAR Manor—at least it was shot to hell in the way I wanted it shot to hell for a change.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 13 comments

Enemy of My Enemy (#FridayFlash)

I got requests for more Pulse, and the Muse was in an obliging mood…



“Harr Electric.”

“Do you repair computer room powering?” The voice on the phone sounded frantic.

“We can, and have, on a number of occasions.” Pulse, in his public guise as Helmut Harr, listened and jotted down names and addresses. “Do you not have an electrician on retainer? … Ya, I can send someone right away, but I will have to charge emergency rates.” He listened some more, then shuffled some papers on his desk and tapped at his keyboard. “All of my other people are on jobs right now, so I will have to come myself. No, it’s no problem.” Both were true. As a supervillain, Harr’s electrical contracting business provided not only income and a cover for his extra-legal activities, it could provide opportunities. Like now. He pulled up Maps and plotted a route. “If I am not delayed by traffic issues, I can be there in about half an hour. No, I am leaving right away. … You realize, if I am detained by police, it will take even longer. … Yes, I am leaving now.”

Hanging up, Harr turned back to the computer. Republic Industries was a nut he’d wanted to crack for a long time. Their IT was top-notch, and had thwarted prior attempts to break through from outside. Inside, things should be much easier. Like last month’s bank caper, and the ongoing campaign against spammers, this was personal. Republic had a “devil may care” attitude toward product safety, and their subsidiary’s faulty electrical equipment killed one of his workers last year. Harr’s insurance covered the monetary loss, but neither he nor the employee’s family could replace Kenny Brownfeld.

Checking his inventory, he had the repair parts most likely needed. He tossed them in a component bag in the back of his pickup truck (blue, with an aero-cap and the Harr Electric signage prominent). A few of his ferret kits were already hidden in the toolbox.

The guard at the gated parking lot waved him through, and Harr took a contractor parking space. Hefting his tool box and component bag, he entered the maw of the beast itself. The indoor security looked through his things, but found nothing to raise suspicion. The ferrets were in hidden compartments, and were powered down in any case. Satisfied, the guard led Harr to the IT director’s office.

“Thanks for coming so quickly, Mr. Harr,” the director said. “We’re in a pretty tight spot here.”

“Your redundant supplies didn’t kick in?”

“No, and it’s horribly embarrassing. One of our subsidiaries made the equipment.”

“Ah. So all of your powering is JES?” Jelsen Electrical Systems made the box that killed Kenny Brownfeld.

“You’re familiar with it, then.”

“Oh, ya.” Failures with JES products kept Harr Electric profitable, personal antipathy notwithstanding. Ironic, that it now provides a path to vengeance. Harr had emigrated from Austria, as a child, with his parents. They worked hard, and expected him to do the same. He learned English, endured the other kids calling him “Helmet Hair” and mocking his accent. When he discovered his power to create an electromagnetic pulse, he took great delight in frying their electronic toys. Vengeance brought such satisfaction…

The IT room was dark. “Everything is powered down?” Harr asked, incredulous.

“Even the security cameras. Is it going to be a problem?”

“Not at all,” said Harr, hefting his toolbox. A golden opportunity, indeed. “I always bring emergency lighting.” He put the toolbox down long enough to bring out a trouble light. “Lead the way.”

Alone in the dark, Harr plugged two ferrets into unused Ethernet ports on the primary routers. Small magnets kept them hidden inside the racks, where they were not likely to be found for a long time. It took only a few minutes to confirm Harr’s guess about the problem: the under-spec’ed relay JES used in the switching circuit had burned out. It took only ten more minutes to replace it with a better part.

With his actual work done, he loosed a little of the EMP power that gave him his supervillain name, damaging several servers and switches. They would not fail right away.

He wrote up the invoice in the IT director’s office, shook the man’s hand, and left. Whether Republic actually paid the eight hundred dollars was doubtful, and not important; Harr already had what he wanted. They would pay far, far more.

At home, working through his carefully crafted relays, he accessed the data the ferrets were already sending. He smiled, attached several files to an email, and clicked Send. Then he opened Twitter and DM’ed Captain Heroic.
sv_pulse
You have mail.

Captain Heroic (Ret.)
AMAZING! How did you get this?

sv_pulse
Unimportant. I will soon have more if you need it.

Captain Heroic (Ret.)
Sure, send what you can and I’ll pass it on. But this is actionable. You want to be in on the takedown?

sv_pulse
Justice is the heroes’ job. ^_^

Captain Heroic (Ret.)
With enemies like you, who needs friends? LOL

sv_pulse
Sometimes, the enemy of my enemy is also my enemy. Good hunting.

Harr closed Twitter, and looked at the data continuing to pour in from Republic’s no longer secure network. Soon, he would have what he needed to hang CEO Palmer Lanois himself. “All in a day’s work,” he chuckled.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 17 comments

Indie Life/Writing Wibbles

Welcome to the Indie Life edition of Writing Wibbles. Don’t forget to hit the linky at the end and see what other indies have to say about their travails, triumphs, and tips this month.

In last week’s Writing Wibbles, I described my mobile writing station that consists of a smartphone, Bluetooth keyboard, and +Evernote. I was delighted when +Katherine Hajer used that post as a springboard to talk about ferreting out the root causes that keep you from writing.

Katherine made a good point about my post: I didn’t present it as a “this is how you get more writing time” post, but rather “this is how I get more writing time.” There’s a zillion “writing tips” blogs and websites out there. Sometimes, advice on one site conflicts with another’s—but they all agree I’m doin’ it w0rNg because I edit as I go and often revise previous passages while I write new ones.

This month, I want to say hello to writers just getting started, unsure of how to find an audience and how to develop as a writer.

This is what worked for me.

When I decided I wanted to start writing intentional fiction1 again, after a long hiatus after college, I already had a blog. It seemed like a good place to post a few short stories I had sitting in my desk, and I did. Not much came of it, but infinitely more people read them on my blog than they could have in my desk.

Later on, I joined Twitter, and one day I stumbled across something called #FridayFlash. The premise is simple: write a piece of flash fiction (1000 words or less), post it on your blog, and tweet links with the #FridayFlash hashtag (and don't forget to add it to the collector). I met many of my bestest Twitter buddies through #FridayFlash.

Writing flash fiction helped me develop as a writer by focusing on the moment, and what’s important in that moment. Flash doesn’t absolutely require elements found in longer stories, like plot or character development, but it’s cool if you can fit them in. I know artistically-talented people who can sketch a few lines and make you see so much more; a skilled flash writer can do the same in a handful of words.

There’s an unwritten rule of #FridayFlash: if someone comes by and leaves a comment, it’s a courtesy to do the same for them. You don’t need to be on Twitter to get involved; just hit the collector and check out things that look interesting to you.


One thing I realized when writing short pieces: 2000 words might be a short story, but it’s a hell of a long blog post. And there were longer stories wanting to get out. Like FAR Future.

While I was writing flash, I was also writing much longer pieces, and began serializing them on my blog. Soon after I finished FAR Future, a flash piece called White Pickups blew up into something huge and I was off to the races again. Then, I discovered TuesdaySerial. It works much like FridayFlash: put up your latest episode, tweet links with the #TuesdaySerial hashtag, add a link to the collector. After White Pickups came Accidental Sorcerers and others. Somewhere along the line, I was invited to join the TuesdaySerial staff.

If you’re brave (or just crazy like me), you can start serializing a story before it’s done. It does give you an incentive to keep writing, and sometimes your readers give you ideas for subplots or can help you get unstuck. Serials don’t get the readership that flash does, simply because serials require more dedication on readers’ parts as well as the writer. But serial readers can turn out to be more dedicated fans in the end.

Feel free to share what has worked for you in the comments. Thanks for reading, and check out some of the other Indie Life writers this week!




1 My dayjob is technical writing. Some of that turned into fiction, but not by intent.

Saturday, March 09, 2013 5 comments

Bottom-feeding

Do traditional publishers think that bottom-feeding is the way to beat Amazon?

This has been a disturbing week for anyone watching the publishing industry. Random House launched four new imprints, with “you really named them that?” names like Hydra and Alibi, offering terms worse than a standard vanity publisher. As always, “the large print giveth, the small print taketh away.” The 50/50 split seems pretty good, until you realize that your share is zero until all expenses are accounted for. The thing is, it’s Random House that determines how much they’re charging themselves (and authors) for the editing, cover design, layout, and so forth, as well as any ongoing expenses they can gin up. Musicians have pointed out similarities to record label contracts, coupled with the record companies’ use of creative accounting to avoid paying royalties to artists at all.

Given the nature of the contracts, the SFWA has de-listed Hydra (the SF imprint) as a qualifying market1 for SFWA membership. SFWA president John Scalzi thumped Random House thoroughly on his personal blog. “It’s genuinely shameful that a publisher is willing to offer this contract — and for that matter, to defend it,” he writes. But defend it they do, in an email to SFWA’s Writer Beware.

One major publisher pulling this kind of stunt, ever, would be bad enough. But it’s not just Random House. They weren’t even the first. Last year, Simon and Schuster hooked up with Author Solutions/ASI, the scammiest of the publishing scammers, to create the “Archway” imprint. (Hmmm… “arch.” As in, bend over? I’m seeing a trend in these names.) Perhaps to steal a little of Random House’s thunder this week, S&S emailed major writing bloggers, offering an affiliate program. (No, I wasn’t contacted. No, I wouldn’t have signed up anyway.)

If it was just this, I could say the universe is validating my decision to not bother with traditional publishers. But then someone forwarded me an email they got from Amazon on Wednesday:



Look at what’s topping that list. Look at the fourth book down. I believe it was no coincidence that Accidental Sorcerers got yet another wind (fourth wind? fifth? eighth? I’ve lost count) after that mail went out, and jumped back into the Top 100 lists for Kindle Fantasy, Fantasy, and Teens. How many traditional publishers are going to do that kind of marketing for a new unknown author?

Say what you will about Amazon. Even 30% is a better cut than I’d get from a traditional publisher, and they actually do some marketing. Now I need to email Apple, B&N, and Kobo, and tell them, “Hey, Amazon’s including my book in ads, and we’re getting pretty good sales over here. How about you guys try to outdo them?”


1The SFWA also says indies like me don’t qualify either, to which I give a shrug and a “pfffft.” Why join a club that would have me as a member, anyway?

Friday, March 08, 2013 10 comments

Marginalia (Accidental Sorcerers ephemera) (#FridayFlash)

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Charn sim Bas trudged up the steep street. “Such a waste, having to study on a day like this,” he grumbled to himself. After a week of cold rain, drenching Westmarch and washing it clean, the first true spring day felt all the sweeter for the bright noonday sun. Fetching books from the Royal Library was an burdensome chore in winter, but today it at least got Charn out in more pleasant weather.

Reaching the Royal Terrace, Charn turned to look at all of Westmarch sprawling below him, all the way down to the crowded harbor where Prince Nalfur’s navy anchored cheek by jowl with merchant ships. Puddles from the departed rains sparkled, bejeweling his city. Such a beautiful place to live, he thought, allowing himself a little pride before continuing on his way.

The librarian took the list Charn offered him, and his empty pack. “You can sit and wait over there,” he told Charn. “This shouldn’t take long.” Indeed, it did not. Charn barely had time to construct his favorite daydream, he and Isa in any private place, before the librarian returned with his pack.

“Those who have gone before you have abused your book enough,” the librarian told him. “If you feel the compulsion to add to it, make it something useful.” Charn nodded, took his pack, and departed.

The sorcerers of Westmarch lived and worked on Kestral Terrace, among the wealthier merchants and distant relatives of the Prince. Charn brought his burden to his mentor, Zharcon the White, who nodded absently and gave him one of the four books. “Make a thorough study of this,” she said. “I’ll see that we have time to go over things later this week.”

Charn mumbled consent and carried his book away. “The Portico,” he said to himself. It was outside, and had shades overhead if the sun got too bright. The other apprentices were likely there as well. Reaching the Portico, Charn saw he was right; all but one or two apprentices were out here. One of the missing was Vibeli sam Tatrin, which was a minor disappointment. Vibeli was a frequent visitor in Charn’s daydreams, even if she was unfriendly in real life. Charn shrugged and opened the book.

A Survey of Magic Useful for the Intermediate Apprentice,” he mumbled, reading the title page. The mentor had not given him a specific area to study, so he looked over the summary. The most promising topic, COMBAT MAGIC, was crossed out. He flipped to the indicated page, to find the entire section had been excised. The book must have dated to before The Treaty, to have had such information at one time.

Choosing “Exercises in Two-Element Spells,” he opened to that chapter—and was immediately distracted by the marginalia and glosses, left by other apprentices down through the ages. “That’s what the librarian meant, then,” he said.

“What?” Charn looked up to see Portia sam Perin, a new apprentice, standing there and smiling. She always smiled when she talked to him, which made Charn a little nervous.

“Nothing,” he said. “The librarian warned me that other students had marked in this book, is all.”

Portia peered over the table. “Indeed,” she said. “Well, I have reading to do, too.” She took the table next to his and opened her own book. “Does this happen a lot?” she called to Charn. “The mentors leaving us to ourselves all the time?”

Charn shook his head. “No. There’s some politics.” There’s always politics when your ruler is crazy, he thought. “Nothing for us to get involved with. They’ll work with us some tomorrow, or maybe in another day or two. Until then…” he lifted his book, and Portia grinned and turned to hers.

The spring air and Charn’s hormones kept him distracted, or maybe it was the marginalia. Sketches of faces, detailed drawings of naked female torsos (and some male), insulting commentary about sorcerers or apprentices long on the final journey, even some interesting asides about the main text from time to time. Charn dwelt on one of the drawings, thinking about Isa and her own curvaceous torso. He’d see her at the Gathering, in a few months, and hoped he’d have a chance to see more of her (if the gods-forsaken mentors wouldn’t watch over them). Her letters were like her speech, long and rambling, and he enjoyed reading them even if his replies were much shorter. He let his mind wander, and thought about Mik and Sura for a moment. Sura was angular compared to Isa, even to little Portia, but Mik was completely devoted to her. Besides, there was a popular song about what happened to any, man or boy, who trifled with a daughter of the Matriarchy. Isa was a much safer fantasy—

“I’m sorry,” said Portia. “I was wondering if you could help me with something.”

Charn looked up at the girl standing there, politely not blocking his sunlight. “What?”

“It’s my Fire magic,” she said. “I’m supposed to light a candle, but—but I can’t get it.” She looked near tears.

Charn sighed, but nodded. “My mentor said that Fire magic is the hardest element for beginners,” he assured her. “Unless you have an affinity for it.” He followed her back to her table, where a squat candle sat.

He chuckled. “First thing, let’s make it a little easier.” He opened her book and stood it up on the other side of the candle. “There, that’ll keep the wind off it. Sit. Relax.” He pulled a chair alongside the table, keeping a little distance. “You know how to find your center?” She nodded. “Good. Find it, then this is the tricky part. Think of something that makes you angry, but not so angry you lose your center. Then, you focus…”

A minute later, Portia squealed with delight at the burning candle, and jumped up to hug the surprised Charn. Standing at the railing, Vibeli looked at them and smirked.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013 4 comments

Writing Wibbles

Between the day job and the family, sometimes I have to snatch writing time when and where I can find it. I’ve done plenty of handwriting onto notepads and journals, but then I have to type it all up again. Sometimes, it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes, it just feels like a hassle.

Technology is a wonderful thing (as long as the batteries hold up, of course). If there was a way to have something about as portable as a writing journal, but doesn’t force you to write it twice, why not use it?


Behold, it really does exist!

The required ingredients are a smartphone, a Bluetooth keyboard, and +Evernote. I have to take off my glasses to read, so they make a fine phone stand. As you can see, the A key on the keyboard has gone to the Great Computer Room in the Sky, but it only took a little adjusting on my part. All of the components here can be substituted—use a tablet instead of a phone, use whatever Bluetooth keyboard will pair with it, use Dropbox or Google Docs instead of Evernote. The whole point is to have something you can type into, then copy/paste from Evernote into your normal writing tool.

This rig does get some attention when I’m at lunch. People come by to see what I’m typing into, or just what it is I’m doing. They want to know how it works, and sometimes what I’m writing.

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