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Friday, March 30, 2012 25 comments

#FridayFlash: Let It Be

I was at the park with Mason yesterday, and saw a girl sitting on a bench with a sketch box. She looked like she wanted the entire world to keep its distance… and then she became the centerpiece of a story…

Let It Be

“You drawing?”

Mary pulled her pad to her chest and glared at the intrusion. An older guy, leaning over the fence behind her, smile a little too wide. “Yeah.” Eff off, creeper. She pulled one leg up.

“Okay. I just like art. Can’t draw for crap myself.” He shrugged and walked away, stealing one last glance over his shoulder.

She looked up — her nephew Adam was on the highest level of the jungle gym, tearing around with the other first graders. He saw her and waved; she waved back and he dived head-first into the tube slide. He’d burn off a bunch of energy, while she made ten easy bucks and had some time to work on her drawing, and her sister Kim would have a peaceful evening for a change. Everybody wins. She was working on the beast’s outstretched claw… she knew it was holding something, but what? There will be an answer, she thought, and stared across the playground to the pond beyond the fence. She pushed her hair back and thought some more.

The image of the creepy dude wormed back into her mind, and she nearly flung her pencil. “Asshole,” she growled, and flipped to a blank sheet. Without thinking much about it, she sketched the creeper on his back; the front end of an SUV loomed over him. A few more details suggested themselves, and she added them: the jogging track crossing, backstop fence in the background, planter with flowers. She looked it over and did a double-take: under the creeper, the words LET IT BE were repeated several times. She had no memory of writing that.

“Huh,” she grunted — but suddenly she realized the beast was holding an orb. No, a huge eyeball, big as the soccer ball rolling across the playground, with a slit pupil like a cat’s. She checked the time on her phone, and made sure the alarm was set for 6:30, then dived into her drawing.

After strapping Adam into his booster seat, he gave up whining about having to leave the park and picked up his toy F-16. He made whooshing noises as she got in a long line for the exit. The best thing about being sixteen was being able to drive. It got her a long way from her crazy-bitch Mom and the fights she picked with her and Dad. She sort of hoped Dad would divorce the hag so she could move in with him.

“Sh— oh no!” she gasped. Someone was flat on the crosswalk; the cop assigned to the park had his patrol car off to the side, lights flashing like a rave with extra weird drugs. As she drew closer, she realized the guy on the pavement was the creeper. A big white Expedition stood with a crushed grille, and the driver — a woman whose hairdo was wound way too tight — was arguing with the cop: “I was supposed to get my daughter from soccer practice ten minutes ago! Am I liable for every jogger who comes popping out of nowhere?”

Mary gave the scene a goggle-eyed stare — all the details in her sketch were there. “Too weird,” she breathed, and scooted away for her sister’s house.

The slap of thunder, shaking the classroom floor, matched Mary’s mood. That bitch Amber seemed to go out of her way to make life miserable for Mary. Always talking smack, “accidentally” knocking stuff out Mary’s arms, you name it. Thank God it was study hall — maybe she could get her act together before next period. Her U.S. History assignment was done, so she opened her sketchpad. The beast was almost finished, but again she flipped to a blank page and started drawing: the school, torn open by a force unmeasurable. Debris everywhere, cars overturned. A funnel cloud dwindled in the distance. From under one car, a girl’s hand, wearing a big class ring. And that repeated LET IT BE, snaking under the arm and around the hand.

Her stomach turned a flip, and she hustled to Ms. Larson’s desk. “Need a bathroom break,” she whispered.

Ms. Larson nodded. “Hurry, okay?”

Mary returned the nod and ran to the girls’ room. She closed the stall door behind her and stared at the toilet, taking deep breaths —

The alarm went off, three short barks, over and over, nearly drowned out by a constant rumble. Tornado warning, she remembered, and crouched in the corner between the toilet and the wall.

They found Amber under a car in the parking lot. Her friend Heather said she’d cut Sociology to take a smoke break outside.

Mom was on a drunken rampage. Dad hadn’t come home from work, and wasn’t answering his cellphone. Mary had slipped her sketchpad under the dresser, maybe the one safe place for it. Mom would fling her drawers everywhere, but she was too lazy to move something that heavy.

From the sound of it, she was now tearing the kitchen apart. Mary pocketed a flashlight, grabbed her sketchpad, and opened the bedroom window. The roof of the screened-in porch was just below, fortunately; from there she could drop to the deck and get away. She’d done it before.

Dad left her. And me too. What a shit! she thought. Was this the way things would always be? Disappointment punctuated by hours of Hell on Earth? Mom would be so apologetic in the morning, and maybe she’d even mean it, but it would happen again.

The house next door was foreclosed, its empty patio a welcome retreat. Mary opened the sketchpad and shone her flashlight over the beast. It was tearing itself out of the ground, ready to render its sentence on the world. The drawing was almost done. Almost. She picked up her pencil:

LET IT BE, LET IT BE, LET IT BE, LET IT BE. There will be an answer.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012 9 comments

Writing Wibbles

In the words of the immortal Thing, it’s wibblin’ time!

Like most writers, I tend to run hot and cold on my own work. On one hand, perhaps more often than warranted, I think I’ve got a set of pretty good stories in the pipeline. People who read them have positive things to say about them; all they need is some cleanup and I’ll be smokin’ up the charts on Amazon.

Then there’s the other hand — what I call writer angst, for lack of a better term. “My writing’s crap, my stories are crap, my ideas (writing and otherwise) are crap. Why am I even bothering with this?” I was going to say I’m particularly susceptible to this phase, but (judging from what I hear from others) I’m neither unique nor particularly notable in that regard. (See, even in self-deprecation I’m only mediocre!)

I have two equal and opposite theories about writer angst:

  • One, it’s a necessary prod to improve, whether that means a particular story or writing in general. Once through the woe, I can pick up the work and set about making it better.
  • Two, it’s an excuse to be lazy. If I can convince myself that the work is crap, beyond redemption, then I have an excuse to avoid the hard work of making it better. If I can convince myself that I’m wasting my time writing, I could move on to non-writing projects (that I will also shelve as crap later on).

Often, perhaps more often than not, the angst turns out to be unwarranted. Last year, I submitted Assignation to the Best of FridayFlash (Vol. 2) anthology. I edited it, had Brooke Johnson critique it, edited it a little more, then sent it off. And started second-guessing myself immediately. When months went by with no word, and about a dozen stories (not mine) were listed in a “Reader’s Choice” poll, I assumed the worst. But Monday morning, I got an email to let me know it had been accepted! Emergent Publishing is handling publishing and distribution; I’ll let you know more when I know more.

The boost couldn’t have come at a better time, in my opinion. I’ve been doing a ton and a half of second-guessing about White Pickups lately: should I cut it (and the sequel) down to one novel? should I just dump it entirely and focus on the current shiny writing thing? or just give up altogether? And what about… Mary Lou?

The boost from one little email has reinforced a couple of blog comments I’ve received lately… in short, White Pickups is in no danger of finding a permanent home in the drawer. I’m drafting an action plan to get it out of the garage (so to speak) and then finish Pickups and Pestilence. In short:

  1. Print out the whole book, giving my old laser printer a thorough workout. (done, and I finally figured out what to do with that ream of pre-punched paper)
  2. Edit with an eye to fixing (if nothing else) one major issue I’ve heard from two beta readers. If that leads to combining the two books into one, so be it (but I don’t think that’s going to happen at this point).
  3. See if the other tenor at church, who has some editing chops, wants to make a pass through it.
  4. Format it and get it uploaded before I have a chance to change my mind!
  5. After a few months, have a “typo hunt” contest, then roll out a second eBook edition and a paperback.

As for finishing Pickups and Pestilence, I should do what I did with both White Pickups and FAR Future: write past the place I’m having trouble with and fill in the in-between when I figure it out. Fortunately, I don’t think I’ll have the same problem with Book 2 that I have with Book 1.

By the time I get all that done, I might know how Accidental Sorcerers continues… and maybe I can get the Wings trilogy started too.

Friday, March 23, 2012 15 comments

#FridayFlash: Asmus and the Dragon

“The land is at peace,” said the brave knight Asmus, looking sadly into his empty mug. “And I am bored, to the point of death.”

“Well then, have another,” said his serving-woman, Tisa, exchanging the empty vessel for a full one. It was like a ritual: he would eat, drink, complain. Tisa would help him to bed. Some nights, he needed some special comfort, and Tisa would provide. It was almost like being married, except Asmus treated her better than did her late husband.

But to her surprise, Asmus rested his chin on his arms and only stared at the mug. “I need purpose. Direction.”

“M’lord: you tamed the realm, routed the bandits, and the last wolf anyone’s seen in years is hanging on yonder wall. The people are content. You’ve done well by them. Any would say you have earned your rest and ease.”

“I’m done with rest and ease!” he yelled, slamming one fist onto the oaken table. The mug (and Tisa) jumped, ale sloshed. “I need a quest — for I fear I will not live until I stare down Death anew.”

Tisa sighed. The realm featured few fair maidens, and none of them had needed rescuing of late. “Perhaps you could visit that fortune teller in the village,” she said at last, putting a warm hand on his shoulder. “Let me help you to bed now.”

The fortune teller was a kindly grey-haired lady whose name was Helena. “Would you like your palm red?” she asked, producing a jar of cherry juice.

“Um, thank you, but no,” said Asmus. “I need a quest, for I am bored with rest and ease. I come to you for purpose and direction.”

Helena smiled and poured herself a cup of juice, then peered into her orb and was surprised at what she saw within.

“Go to the land of Aht-Lann-Tah,” she said, “and there will you find a dragon, a mighty terror to the people who live there.”

Now you might think Asmus went straightaway to this distant land, but a knight going into battle never travels alone. He has an armor bearer, weapons bearer, a squire, a page, and a minstrel. The page, Bert, was a clever and quiet fellow. Asmus had learned to listen when Bert spoke, for his counsel was always wise. Indeed, it was Bert who freed him from the clutches of a yellow giant, stepping between those huge fingers to free his knight and the fair maiden. (Thus the people say, “let your pages do the walking through the yellow fingers.”)

The journey to Aht-Lann-Tah was not without incident, but the armor bearer has paid well for my silence in this matter. And so, when the people learned that a brave knight had come to deliver them from the dragon, they rejoiced and put on a great feast. There was music, and dancing, and food, and drink, and many fair maidens draped garlands of spring flowers around the neck of Asmus. A few, who had partaken more than their fair share of drink, garlanded the squire and Bert as well. The merrymaking went on to dawn, when only Asmus and Bert remained standing.

“What shall we do with these, Bert?” asked Asmus from behind his blanket of flowers.

“Take them along,” said Bert from behind his own blanket. “Perhaps the dragon will be too curious about what approaches, and you may spit him unaware. Besides, if the garlands bring you luck this morning, they may bring more luck tonight.”

“Excellent counsel, as always!” Asmus chortled. “Now let us gather up the others and find glory!” Sleep-deprived and tipsy as he was, Asmus was anxious for action. The bearers could not be roused, though; fortunately, they slept with what was entrusted to them. The squire was nowhere to be found. So with some help from Bert, Asmus donned his armor and they marched to the lair of the dragon. It was a fearsome-looking cave, bones strewn for a long way outside.

Bert, footpad-quiet and unencumbered by armor, took a peek inside. “He’s asleep!” he whispered, gesturing to Asmus to approach. “Glory is yours!”

“Seems unsporting to spit even a dragon in his sleep,” said Asmus, but entered as quietly as he could anyway.

Alerted by the clanking of armor, the dragon opened one eye and sniffed. “What — what —” It sniffed again, then reared back. Before Asmus could charge, the dragon sneezed. He expected to be bathed in fire, but found himself drenched in dragon-snot.

“You are disgusting!” Asmus shouted, raising his sword.

“I’m allergic!” the dragon bellowed. The great worm sneezed again, but Asmus ducked and the huge wet wad hurtled outside. “Flowers! Ah!” It fell to the floor of the cave, exposing its soft belly. “Kill me now — better that than this!”

“Sir! Wait!” Bert shouted, running inside. “I have a better idea!”

After securing certain unbreakable promises from the dragon, Asmus and Bert shed their flowers outside and brought great news to the people of Aht-Lann-Tah. The feast began anew, and the fair maidens made good on their implied promises until Asmus fell from exhaustion. Then they wore out Bert, which took a little longer.

Later that day, Asmus and Bert left the bearers and squire behind and flew home on the back of the dragon. Asmus and the dragon sparred daily, drawing crowds from far and wide, until Asmus finally named Bert Knight of the Realm and settled into a quiet retirement with Tisa. Flowers were not allowed in the palace, and they all (including the dragon) lived happily ever after.

Thursday, March 22, 2012 3 comments

Here Comes the Sun

The guts of the system (plus some load)
Solar panels, I’ve been told, now cost about half of what they did a year ago. And it’s true — for less than $200, you can build a charging station for your mobile gadgets from off the shelf parts. Just add one sunny window, or take it with you on camping trips to run lights and a radio.

I bought most of the pieces for my system at Amazon and a local auto parts store. Here’s a list of similar items (links go through my affiliate account, so I’ll get a few cents if you buy them through the links). Prices shown were current at the time I typed this in. More about these items below.

Stuff you need:
Left to right: solar panel +/-, battery +/-, load +/-
The heart of the system, obviously, is the charge controller. The controller that comes with the solar panel is a dirt-cheap single-chip design, and is good for 3A at 12V — sized perfectly for one 30W panel. I was expecting the controller to simply provide regulated voltage, and was planning to hack a UPS I had laying around. But when I looked at the instructions, I found that it has a built-in charger circuit, and you just have to attach a 12V battery using the furnished alligator clip leads. Sweet!

The solar panel itself is pretty basic. It has an aluminum frame and a power cable coming out the back. You should cover the leads and the panel itself until you have things hooked up — bare wires touching metal on a bright day can make an impressive spark! (How do I know this?) There are optimum positions for solar panels, but hanging it in a south-facing window (preferably not shaded) is sufficient. It will produce power from dawn to dusk.

Speaking of the battery, you want an appropriate size. Too big, and you spend a lot of money for no gain. Too small, and you’ll be out of juice too soon at night. Since the USB charger I have is rated for 1A, and most gadgets only take a couple hours to fully charge, anything between 8Ah and 12Ah should work very well. Unless you’re only using the system outdoors (like on a camping trip), or installing the battery in a ventilated basement, always use a sealed lead-acid (SLA) battery for this system. Car batteries vent hydrogen gas, which could cause havoc inside your house.

If you’re willing to hack your car charger, you can skip the auxiliary power outlet (also called a cigarette lighter socket). On the other hand, it does provide a clean way to disconnect the car charger if you need to break the system down (like if you’re moving it around). Car chargers are also fused, which provides some protection if you overload it or short it out.

Finally, the power delivery. I personally wouldn’t fool with a USB car charger that isn’t capable of delivering 1A or more — large tablets (like an iPad) won’t charge with anything less, and you want to have some juice left over for your other gadgets. A charger that provides one or two USB jacks and two or three cigarette lighter sockets is a good way to go: the lighter sockets provide a convenient way to plug in your cellphone car charger, and you could run a fan during the day while the solar panel is holding up the battery.

The nice thing about this setup is, the only tool you need is a small Phillips screwdriver. Attach the battery (using the clip leads, don’t forget that red is positive!), then the solar panel, then the auxiliary socket. Plug in the car charger, then plug in your gadgets.

Now this, of course, is just the gateway drug. Eventually, I hope to upsize the system to provide enough power to run the laptop and the network (DSL/router) gadgetry, along with a few emergency lights. I think 100W should be sufficient, but prices continue to come down… and the wife would be thrilled if it could run the TV and DVD player…

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 3 comments

Writing Wibbles

Dogs got their kibble, I got my wibble…

But first, let’s welcome the new followers here at the free-range insane asylum:

  • Taryn Raye — a romance writer hailing from southern Kentucky
  • Jennifer Shirk — another romance writer, and a Red Sox fan (and I’m a Tigers fan… hm, I’ll bet Jennifer could write a baseball romance based on that!)
  • Maureen Hovermale — writer and reviewer
All three are fellow members of the Writers Worth group on Goodreads. Badges are on the desk. Watch out for the little short inmate; he likes to sucker you in with his cuteness then steal your pens…

Craig Smith has been especially encouraging me to continue with my Termag stories. Most of my fantasy writing has been in that world, in two different ages: the Age of Heroes is where Chelinn and Lodrán hail from; and the Accidental Sorcerers live in what I call Middle Termag (they just call it home), nearly a thousand years after. There’s also an early age, called Camac That Was, but it’s more a fount of legends than the setting for stories.

This does simplify a few things for me behind the scenes — I only have to keep track of one magic system, and stories in one age provide backstory for another. I’ve been amazed at how much of a writing world I can keep in my head — and my dear wife would, if she knew, chalk it up as proof that my memory is selective — but it’s probably time to start writing things down. I started a wiki on my laptop; that makes it difficult to just send out to the world but that’s probably all to the better since I can keep track of things that would be spoilers to you.

I’m starting with the magic system. As you may remember (Sura explained it as part of her own backstory), magic on Termag is governed by the Three Principles — Necessity, Power (Intent), and Closure — but that’s how it regulates itself. The power is based mostly on the classic four elements, with a little extra wrinkle:

Purely elemental magic is not as common as that based on how two elements combine. The “bowtie” shows that any two elements may combine — except for Fire and Water (it’s said that the two were joined in the time of Camac That Was, which may have opened the door to destruction). Different combinations produce different results: for example, Earth and Water is how Sura flooded Bailar’s basement; Water and Air govern concealment; Fire and Air makes what John Xero called “big flashy battle magic.”

Off to the side are Chaos and Making, two opposites. Chaos is thought to have rules, but too many for a mere human to comprehend. However, that doesn’t stop some sorcerers from thinking they can do an end-run around that… usually, with messy results. Weather magic is chaotic in nature, as are emotions (i.e. love and hate spells).

The opposite of Chaos is Making — the physical creation of something imagined. As Ethtar explained in the latest #FridayFlash, Makers no longer walk Termag… well, maybe…

Not shown is the astrological system, which governs Fate. The Moon powers curses.

And all this is well and good, but sometimes I think it’s an excuse to procrastinate a little more on White Pickups. I have some general comments from my last beta (thanks, Icy!) and now the hard work begins. I keep wondering if I should try to tame this 180,000 word beast into something that will fit into a single novel. But whatever I do, I need to get doing it — especially if I want to get it out next month.

Sunday, March 18, 2012 5 comments

Junk in My Trunk

It’s been a long overdue chore to clean out the trunk of my car, and I finally tackled it this weekend. Here's what I found:
  • Trash. Enough to half-fill a big trash bag. Actually, there was already a trash bag a quarter full.
  • Lots of hardware. I knew The Boy had a screw loose, but not that he had a couple dozen of them in my trunk.
  • Scat-loads of his and Snippet’s clothes, and a few of Mason’s.
  • A couple of Mason’s toys (he was happy to have another ball).
  • $1.14 in loose change.
  • Three UPS batteries. Oh yeah, that's where I put them — thinking I’d soon find a place where I could replace them — two years ago.
  • A skateboard. I texted The Boy about it, and he thought he might have put it in there to keep stuff from slipping past the gap at the front of the plywood platform.
  • Daughter Dearest’s kite (in a vinyl bag, so it survived).
  • A shade for the back window, that I bought last summer to keep it from getting too hot on Mason when I took him somewhere.
  • Two binders that belong to the choir.
  • A bunch of CDs (all The Boy’s, I presume).
  • Three pens. Two of them still write.
  • Two screwdrivers and a wrench.
  • Two jacks, various extensions and the like — but no spare tire (I knew that) or lug wrench (oops).
I think I excised a good 20 pounds from the trunk, when all was said and done. The thin plywood that serves as a floor over the spare tire well is seriously warped and coming apart, so I’ll need to replace that soon. I’ll reinforce the replacement so it doesn’t sag so badly over time. I just wish I knew where the water was coming in back there; it’s keeping me from stuffing some camping gear in there for an impromptu getaway.

Thursday, March 15, 2012 19 comments

#FridayFlash: World With End

I must admit, I read Lord Dunsany’s Book of Wonders this week and it went straight to my head. And yet, there were a couple niggling things I’d written about in my world that needed some tying-in, and this is a good vehicle for it.

World With End

Source: WikiMedia Commons
Protector Ethtar shook his head at the large man leaning out the window. “Wet enough?” he asked.

A rumble of thunder answered him, then Chelinn withdrew from the window and closed it. A flicker of lightning lit the rippled glass, clear enough in the light of their oil lamps. “I’ve always enjoyed storms,” he said, wiping his face and hair on his cloak before sitting. “Air and Water forget their alliance, and go to war.”

The third occupant of the room was Chelinn’s adopted daughter Sarna, herself a noted warrior-mage; she gave a hearty laugh. “When I was a child, Mother said this was the kind of night that wants a story.” She sighed. “Showing fear was not allowed, in our House.”

“A story…” Ethtar scratched his thin beard. “Ah. I know just the one. This is a story that has only been shared among Protectors. And yet, if we are going to break Termag’s habit of hoarding knowledge, we must start with our own, eh?” He stood; his tall, rail-thin figure threw strange shadows as he strode to the window.

“Once, in the time of Camac That Was —” Chelinn snorted and Sarna laughed, as this is how many children’s stories begin — “there was a legendary Protector, Thurun.

“Now it was a common conceit among folk in those days, that the world was flat. To them, the world consisted of these lands in the center, the ocean around it, then a ring of land that was the Edge of the World. The learned knew better, of course, and Thurun was one of the most learned who ever walked Termag. And so, he dwelt in Camac itself, in a high tower, and thus had no end of dealings with folk.”

“Perhaps he would have preferred your relative isolation!” Chelinn laughed.

“Perhaps. But we all have something that nettles us, and idle fancies about an Edge of the World was Thurun’s. He would try to correct folk — sometimes gently, sometimes not — and yet they persisted in their error. And at last, Thurun decided if folk wanted an Edge, they would have one. Because Thurun was also a Maker.”

Chelinn and Sarna both sat up straight at that. There were ancient legends of Makers, those whose magic was the opposite of Chaos, men and women who could create anything they could imagine. But if Chaos was beyond the ability of even a Protector like Ethtar, how much more so Making?

Ethtar smiled at their reaction. “Yes. Now some say the many worlds were Made by those such as Thurun, whether for fancy or some purpose? That is no longer known. But Thurun Made a world with an edge.” A wooden orb, the kind apprentices use for practice, floated to Ethtar’s hand. “A world is usually round, like this ball. Thurun Made half a world — as if you were to slice this ball in half — and set it ‘round its sun, the round half always in daylight, the flat hinder part always in night. The marge between them — that was the Edge.”

“Fascinating,” said Chelinn. “I must admit… it has been long since I have been awed by mere words.” He wore a wide-eyed look that neither of the others had ever seen on him. “What was the flat part like?”

“It was a vast plain of obsidian, flatter than a puddle on a calm day. To cross the Edge of the World was to find oneself in eternal Night. The stars above were reflected in the blackness below, and it was said that folk who came there would lose their way, and then their mind. And although the plain was flat, it drew them away from the Edge and into the Great Nothing, which is what those who dwelt on that world called it.

“But in the very center of that plain was said to be a great valley. And in that valley, shining by its own light, lay a city whose buildings were shaped from the obsidian that surrounded it. Thurun created this city as a refuge for the Makers; for throughout the time of Camac That Was, Makers were hunted. The wealthy enchained them to create more of what they had; the poor hounded them for the stuff of life. Others simply considered Making an abomination and sought to exterminate them.”

“If this were a children’s bedtime story,” said Sarna, “there would be a moral. So is this but a story, or is there such a world? Father has seen other worlds, some even stranger than Thurun’s. He took me there once.” She laughed.

“It may exist,” said Ethtar, returning to his seat. “Or it may be only a tale. And yet, for sorcerers, it does explain a few things — especially why there are no Makers among us now.”

Chelinn nodded. “Those who did not find their way to Thurun’s refuge were slaughtered by the ignorant and fearful. As before, as now, as then — world without end. Except, of course, the world that has an end.”

As it turns out, there’s more to this story

Monday, March 12, 2012 7 comments

Just Shoot Me

Big V came up here Wednesday and spent the night. “It’s for this week,” says the wife, “until she gets her glucose under control.” Like The Boy, Big V has diabetes — and like The Boy, she does absolutely nothing to keep it where it needs to be. So her levels have been running anywhere from 220 to 490 (100 is ideal), and “until she gets it under control” could be a long, long time. She had the audacity to ask me for ice cream over the weekend, then I had to chase her away from grabbing a box of Teddy Grahams in the kitchen. Maybe I should just give her the gun; it would be a lot quicker and there’d be more of her left in the casket. Yes, I’m being morbid, but that’s pretty much the situation.

Of course, with Big V up here at the manor, Skylar is here too. Of the two, he’s less hassle. Usually. There’s always the screaming matches with Mason over some toy that one didn’t care about until the other one picked it up.

Monday nights are extra-special. The Voice is on, and SWMBO insists in devoting her full attention to it, and woe to anyone who makes undue noise while it’s on. That wouldn’t be so bad, but Mason sleeps in the living room for now. I need to show her Hulu, so she can watch her shows on the iPad once Mason’s asleep. Of course, if you try using the iPad in Mason’s presence, he’s all over you wanting to play Otto Matic or something. I think once things warm up more reliably, and Big V is no longer here, we’ll move Mason into the guest room until he’s old enough to want The Boy’s old room upstairs.

I give this situation another week. By then, Big V and SWMBO will get into their own screaming match over something and Big V will drive home in her powerchair with Skylar in her lap.

But to end this on a more pleasant note, Mason got his first ice cream cone this weekend. He also got his first taste of kiwi, and I’m not sure which he liked better — his eyes lit UP over the kiwi, and he gave me the Happiest Kid in the World grin when he saw me bringing his cone. Of course I got a pic!

That’s pretty much the way things are at FAR Manor for now. As always, I’ll have to wrest an afternoon from the clutches of everyone else so I can get a few things of my own done.

Friday, March 09, 2012 15 comments

#FridayFlash: Rescue (Accidental Sorcerers, Season 2 pt 5)

The final installment. Hope you enjoyed it!

Accidental Sorcerers, Season 2
Part 5: Rescue (Conclusion)

Season 1

Season 2: Part 1Part 2Part 3 • Part 4

Image source: Webweavers
“Your master had my dragon all along,” said Ahm Kereb, pointing his dagger at Mik’s heart. “I may not be able to make him pay for his theft, but I will teach him that stealing from Ahm Kereb has a high price regardless.”

Mik tried to push Sura behind him. “I took the dragon. Leave her alone.” His voice shook only a little. Reason over emotion, he thought.

“We both took him!” Sura pushed Mik’s arm up and stood with him. She was already thinking, just a little time. Focus.

“Oh, you will die for that, boy. But not right away. Soul for soul. You shall come with me, and stand in for the dragon as the sacrifice.” He nodded at Sura. “And she will come too. Her safety will guarantee your cooperation —”

Something darted through the trees and struck Ahm Kereb’s ear, hissing and biting. Kereb yowled, dropping his dagger and slapping at his head.

Sura clutched Mik’s hand. “Don’t let go!” she rasped, and everything took on a second edge as she pulled him into the shade of a large tree. By the strangeness of his sight, Mik knew she had concealed them. They would be nearly invisible unless they strayed into the patchy sunlight, or if he let go. “Do something!” she hissed. “I can only hold one spell!”

“Where are you?” Kereb hissed, snapping his head back and forth, flinging blood from his torn ear. “Your simple spells… I will find you!” He took up his dagger and swung it around him in wide arcs, moving ever closer.

Something I won’t have to hold, Mik thought. He closed his eyes and reached out, finding Ahm Kereb’s mind. A simple adjustment.

Kereb stopped and gave a mighty yawn. “No,” he said, swinging his dagger in a slow loop. “No. I cannot…” he stumbled on the uneven ground and went to one knee. “Ah. No.” He yawned again, tried to stand, then fell snoring to the cold leaves.

“What did you do?” Sura whispered.

“I adjusted his clock. His body suddenly thought he’d had no sleep for a week.” Mik glared at their sleeping assailant. “The mentor taught me the spell he used to put the dragon to sleep —”

“Mik! The dragon! It attacked him! Where did it go?”

“See if you can find him.” Mik picked up the rope. “I’ll see to Kereb. Look,” he said, showing Sura the broken rope. “He cut it partway, next to a knot, so we wouldn’t see it.” He took Kereb’s dagger, cut off a length, and got to work.

As Mik finished tying Ahm Kereb — elbows, wrists, ankles, then all three together — Sura shrieked. “Mik! He — he —” Mik rushed to her side, finding what he feared: the crumpled and twisted body of their dragon. “Oh, Mik.” Sura buried her head in his shoulder, as he lifted the lifeless heap. “He gave himself to save us.” She wept, and Mik wept with her.

Reeve Tanber and five guardsmen answered Bailar’s distress signal, rowing a skiff straight across the river as if the current were nothing. They debarked to find the sorcerer with his two apprentices, standing over a canoe containing a bound and sleeping man.

Bailar looked as angry as any of them had ever seen. “An attempt on my own life, I could forgive,” he growled. “But this coward wished to avenge himself on two children instead. I will tell you what I know, but you will want Aborsa to confirm.” Aborsa was the town soothsayer, an honest man who had the power to discern truth. “I charge him with plotting to murder my apprentices, and with rogue enchantments.” Bailar told their story as Tanber took down the particulars.

“And theft,” said the reeve. “We had a complaint this morning about a stolen skiff. We’ll likely find it upriver. Rogue magic is your purview, sorcerer, but he’ll hang for the rest.”

“Eh, he tangled wit’ the wrong sprouts, he did,” said one of the guardsmen in a Low Speech accent, and laughed. “Well, he won’t be a bother, snoozin’ the day away, he is.”

“Oh,” said Mik. “I need to close the spell.” He waved his hands, as Bailar had taught him to do in front of folk, as he reversed his adjustment. Ahm Kereb’s eyes snapped open; he cursed and strained against his bonds.

The guardsman put his short spear to Kereb’s chest. “‘Ere now, they’s no sort of words to use in front of sprouts,” he growled. Kereb stared at the spear point and hissed something in his own language.

To their surprise, the guardsman reversed his spear and jabbed Ahm Kereb in the belly with the butt end, making him gasp and wheeze. “Yar. An ill-mannered brute are ya, sayin’ such things about a girl-sprout. Now you stay quiet. Curse the hangman all ya like, ya can.” Two other guardsmen lifted Kereb from the canoe and deposited him in the skiff.

“You know the Eastern tongue?” Bailar asked.

The guardsman grinned and tapped his ear. “Have an ear for languages, I do,” he said. “A fine skill for when foreigners grace our jail!”

“The three of you must tell your side to Aborsa,” said Tanber. “The prisoner will tell his side, and the magistrate will do the rest. We’ll be off now, no need to keep you from your work.” Tanber waved the guardsmen to the skiff, and they rowed away.

“Here,” said Sura, pointing at a patch of ground in front of their home. “The sun always shines here. It’ll be warm for him.”

“As good a choice as any,” said Bailar. Mik nodded, and began digging. They buried their little friend with tears and gratitude.

And Heaven welcomed home a long-lost soul: a warrior, fallen in battle at last.

THE END (but wait, there’s more… Season 3!)

Sunday, March 04, 2012 4 comments

The Winter That Wasn’t

To misquote Monty Python: “And fall gave winter a miss and went straight on to spring.” If you don’t count what was essentially two days of winter, we didn’t have one. By the numbers:

Number of nights with lows below 20°F: 3

Number of days with highs below freezing: 0

Number of days with snow accumulation: 1

Accumulations over 1 inch: 0

The last three Thursdays have been sunny and over 70°F, which has driven me out to the patio with my work laptop. I’m very glad that I can get a decent wifi signal out there — it means I can get away with doing that. Mason likes to join me, of course, and tries to punch keys on the work laptop (not a good idea) or steal my phone if I’m not watching. Little twerp. This has been the pattern for about a month now: warming through the week, gorgeous Thursday, then storms come in and leave weekends windy and cool with occasional residual storms.

I’ve been saying this winter was more like one long November — it ate December, January, February, and March and now we’re having an early April. Any week with two tornado watches is not so wonderful. Usually, when we have significant thunderstorms in January, that has signaled a mild April peak for storm season. But with winter getting skipped over the way it was, all bets are off.

The Friday storm-blast almost completely passed us by. We had a severe storm go about eight miles south of us that might have started to spin up into a tornado. Other than that, we watched the game from the stands (so to speak). Boom, wind, rain, and then more wind. Lots more wind and low 50s for the highs all weekend.

Thursday’s forecast looks like the forecast for the last three: sunny, 70s, me working shirtless for an hour or so.

Friday, March 02, 2012 14 comments

#FridayFlash: Healing (Accidental Sorcerers, Season 2 pt 4)

It occurred to me that some of you never read the first part… click the “Season 1” link below if you want to read what went before this.

Accidental Sorcerers, Season 2
Part 4: Healing

Season 1

Season 2: Part 1Part 2Part 3

Image source: Webweavers
The next several days were tense. Bailar delayed as best he could, but knew Ahm Kereb was growing suspicious. Mik and Sura rarely squabbled, but stress over the fate of the dragon now set them at odds about things that seemed trivial afterward, and the fights left them confused and heartsore.

On the morning of the fourth day after Ahm Kereb met Mik and Sura, the apprentices prepared breakfast in the kitchen while the little dragon watched from the warmth of the stove hearth. Most mornings, they would be chatting, laughing, touching as they worked, but now the only sounds were the clatter of cookware and what few words were necessary to do their work.

The little dragon watched them for a while, then wandered to the edge of the hearth. He stretched his neck toward the two and chittered.

“He wants sunlight.” Sura’s voice was toneless. She let the dragon hop into her hand.

Mik hesitated, but finally spoke. “Did — did you dream about the hawk last night?”

For the first time that morning, Sura looked at him. Her eyes grew wide, then she nodded and turned away. Mik thought about his dream:

Worry, worry at the wire along the bottom of the cage — snap! Crawl through. So cold here. But free now!

Fly! Welcome sunshine! So cold! So cold! Which way home? Sun so bright, so welcome, why does it not warm? Fly!

The cry of a familiar enemy — dive! turn! The hawk strikes, tears a wing but does not catch. Pain! Fall! Fluttering through scrub, so much higher than familiar, to grass whose color may provide a hiding place.

So cold. So cold. Will die here.

Creatures, rarely seen. Found. Warmth. Healing.

Mik joined Sura at the sunlit window as she let the dragon hop onto the sill. It stood facing the window, and stretched its good wing. Suddenly, it turned and began snapping at the cloth strip binding and protecting its injured wing.

“Maybe the wing’s healed,” said Mik. “I think we should take the bandage off and see.”

“Are you sure?” They both winced at the sharpness in Sura’s tone.

“Yes,” said Mik, eyes moist. “But I don’t want to fight about it.” He turned away.

“Mik, stop…” Sura caught his arm before he could take more than a step. “I don’t — I don’t want —” she pulled him to her, and they held each other for a long minute, the only sound an occasional sob. The dragon stopped worrying at the bandage to chirp at his humans.

At last, Mik sniffed. “The bread!” he gasped.

They rushed to the oven; Sura grabbed the thick pad and Mik jerked the door open. Sura snatched out the bread pan, turned it onto the cooling rack, and sighed. “Just a little brown. Not burnt.”

They looked at each other, then their laughter seemed to brighten the whole kitchen. The dragon chirped from the window as they embraced anew.

“I’ve been so worried about what’s going to happen to him,” she said, leading Mik back to the window. “But you’re right. Let’s see if it’s healed.”

Mik nodded and took out the pin holding the bandage. It slipped free, and the dragon slowly lifted the wing. Sunshine through the window made both wings translucent. There was a jagged scar, but the skin looked healed. The dragon spread both wings wide, less than the span of Sura’s hand; it seemed as if he were stretching.

“I don’t think I told you,” said Sura, “that was a marvelous idea you had with the splint.” She nodded at the splint: a sliver of wood on either side of the bone, with three tiny bronze clips keeping them in place.

“I’m just glad it worked,” said Mik, but he was grinning. The dragon turned and sniffed at the splint. “But I’m more glad we’re talking again.” He slipped an arm around her; she turned to him…

The dragon stared at the shiny clips, then nibbled at them. One by one, the clips dropped to the sill. With the third clip, the rest of the splint fell away as well. It stretched its wings again, then flapped up to the latch. A few quiet moments of tugging and pushing, and the window swung open. It slipped through.

A draft brought them back to the present. “The window!” They looked at each other wide-eyed, then flung it wide and caught a glimpse of the dragon disappearing into the trees, above their path to the river.

“Fly! Fly free!” Mik whispered.

“Do you think he’ll be all right?”

“I hope so.”

“It’s a long way home for him. Maybe we should go look. If he stays with us, we can take him when we go downriver and set him free at Queensport.”

Mik thought a moment, then nodded. “All right. We’ll go look. If we don’t find him, we’ll tell the mentor. I hope Kereb chases him all the way back East.”

Watching the trees above and around them, Mik and Sura made their way down the steep path as Mik paid out the knotted rope.

“It’s still too cold for him out here,” said Sura. “I hope we find him.”

“I just hope he’s all right,” said Mik. “If we could keep him warm away from —”

The rope went slack. Sura gasped and stumbled into Mik, whose footing was already slipping. They fell, sliding and rolling down the steep hill. Finally, scratched and sore, they came to a stop not far above the river.

“Are you all right?” Sura asked.

Mik nodded. “You?”

“Yes. What happened?”

“The rope broke.” Mik held up one end. “How did I hold on to this all that way?” He gave the rope a disgusted look and dropped it. “We’ll have to go to the landing to get back up —”

“You two are going nowhere.” Ahm Kereb slipped out from behind a tree, dagger in hand.


Thursday, March 01, 2012 7 comments

Writing Wibbles (Conversation with Mik sim Mikhail)

It’s wibbling tiiiime!

Before White Pickups had ambitions of being a “real” novel, I posted episodes on Monday — and on occasion, side-episodes called “Conversations” on Tuesdays. They were, as you might expect by the title, conversations with various characters in the story. They provided a little backstory for the spotlighted characters, and helped me figure out their motivations.

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been caught up in the world of Accidental Sorcerers lately. As I’ve been writing, Mik has told me a little more of his own backstory. I was planning to just do a data-dump, but that’s no fun to read. So… I have a little bonus treat for those of you who read these little status updates about my writing. I speak in italics in these things, for some reason.

Conversations: “Accidental Sorcerer” Mik sim Mikhail

Um… how do you greet each other here?

“Is this thing on?” is a popular greeting.

What does that mean?

Never mind. I was joking. Just talk about yourself.

Well, I’m Mik sim Mikhail. I come from Lacota, a little farming and ranching town near the Laughing River. We’re part of Stolevan, or the Stolevan Matriarchy if you want to be formal about it. I guess everyone knows about what happened with the ice dragon, right?

Right. Why not talk about your life before that?

Is there really that much to tell? My mother’s a baker, and my father’s a roustabout. That’s someone who does anything that’s needed on any of the local farms or ranches. I had a pretty normal life for a kid in Lacota. I went to school through the winter, and worked on my aunt's ranch during the summer.

What was school like?

They teach you to read and write, work numbers, some of our history. There’s lessons about gardening, cooking, and mending for people who don’t learn it at home. It was my last year of school, so I would have been apprenticed — well, I guess I was apprenticed. Just not where I expected.

Where did you expect to end up?

I was hoping to get apprenticed to Mattu, the local merchant. I would have had a chance to travel, maybe see Queensport some day. The kids all get to write down three choices, and the mentor — master — talks to the kids to see if they’re suited for the work. If I got passed by, I suppose I’d have ended up working for my aunt.

You worked a ranch. What was that like?

I spent five summers there. My aunt is… unique. Some of the folk who don’t like her say she’s part-goblin, but nobody dares say it where she can hear! She won’t read this, right?

She won’t.

Well, I can see where folk might get that idea about her being part-goblin. She’s almost as wide as she is tall, and she can out-wrestle and out-curse a blacksmith. I saw her do both, but she’d cuff me if she knew. I saw her take on an angry bull once, and that bull learned who was boss around the ranch right quick!

She sounds like a hard woman.

Only if you made her mad, and that took more than you might think. I mean, if she told you to do some chore, you’d be all right if you at least tried. She’d make you do it again, but she’d show you how to do it right. But if she thought you just walked off it, though, watch out!

One thing about the ranch: there wasn’t any “men’s work” or “women’s work.” There was just work, and whoever was around did it. I’d be peeling potatoes in the kitchen before breakfast, then pitch hay in the morning and herd cattle in the afternoon. Come evening, everyone was expected to mend and stitch. She said I wasn’t any good at sewing, but I could put a keen edge on a knife. So I’d sharpen the cutlery or fix broken handles, and she and the others would do the sewing. And she’d drink beer and tell dirty jokes too. I didn’t understand those for a long time. Now that I do, I can’t tell them to anyone.

Did you get any kind of special treatment, being her nephew?

No privileges, if that’s what you mean. She wouldn’t let me back down from anyone though, be it a ranch hand who thought he could boss a kid around or a cow who thought she could do the same. I got banged up some at first, but I learned how to get the better of them. Maybe that helped with the ice dragon.

Now that you’re an apprentice sorcerer, what’s next?

Well, I hope Sura and I stay together. I know being a sorcerer is dangerous, but so is being a rancher. Or a merchant, or a soldier. But it’s not so bad when you have someone to watch your back, eh?


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