Looking for writing-related posts? Check out my new writing blog, www.larrykollar.com!

Friday, June 29, 2012 20 comments

#FridayFlash: Miss Siles

There’s been a spate of posts lately, criticizing how women are drawn in comic books. I join the dog-pile…

Our newscaster was featured earlier in Captain Heroic’s Last Hurrah, if you were wondering.

“Time for Channel 14 News, Skyscraper City’s finest and fastest news source! I’m Rudy Bass. Tonight, we lead off with breaking news at City Hall. We go now to Channel 14 On the Scene with Montana Rack. Montana?”

Cut to: exterior, City Hall steps. Montana Rack, mike in hand. “Thanks, Rudy. A new superhero has come to Skyscraper City! This ViewerCam-14 footage was just sent in by high school student Philip Wright, who happened to be on the scene at Fountain of Progress Square.”

Cut to: wild tilt and pan, a cellphone camera moved too quickly. Sounds: police whistles, running feet, growing babble. Montana voiceover: “Watch what happens.” A woman in spandex, with an impossibly large chest, moves across the scene. The camera follows her.

A man runs onto the scene, carrying a purse, looking over his shoulder. The woman jumps and spins, striking him in the head with her chest. The fleeing man flies backwards, landing on his back. He does not move. Youthful voice, presumably Philip Wright: “Holy bleeeeep! That’s gonna leave a mark!” View goes wild again, approaching the fallen man.

Cut to: Montana. “Thank you, Philip, for sending that in. We’ll be sending him a ViewerCam-14 tee-shirt and matching cap. And now, with another Channel 14 exclusive, we’re here with the heroine of the day: Miss Siles!” Camera zooms out to show Miss Siles next to Montana. She wears a tight blue spandex outfit. Logo: two rockets in flight. “Miss Siles, is it true that you have just registered as Skyscraper City’s newest superhero?”

“That’s right, Montana. I’m here to fight for truth and justice!” Camera slowly zooms in on Miss Siles, then tilts down. “Criminals beware, because you just might be the next one to get: busted!” Chest sways threateningly. Camera zooms out quickly. Montana gives camera an annoyed look, then puts on her smile. “What else can you say? This is Montana Rack, Channel 14 on the Scene. Rudy?”

Montana nods, then removes her earpiece. She glares again at the cameraman. “Kyle, that was so unprofessional. I thought you were gay!”

“Sorry,” Kyle mumbles, and carries his camera to the van.

“It’s not his fault,” says Miss Siles. “Just one of my superpowers.”

Montana laughs. “How do you do it? I’m a big girl, nothing like you of course, but I get backaches all the time. Where do you get your bras?”

“I don’t need one. That’s another one of my superpowers.”

Montana grins. “I hate you.”

“I hate you, too. You’re dating Captain Heroic, right?” They laugh together.

“What other superpowers do you have?” Montana asks.

“The Pose.” Miss Siles thrusts her chest forward, her hips back, and twists. Kyle sits down, hard. “I could have stopped that purse-snatcher in his tracks with that one, but he was looking back. I had to take more direct action.”

“Wow. This is off the record, of course: do you have a secret identity?”

Miss Siles laughs. “Are you kidding? Honey, there ain’t no concealing these weapons!” They laugh together again. “I’ve been offered some serious money to do porn, though.”

“You and me both,” says Montana. “Here’s my card. Call me any time, if you have something newsworthy to say. Or if you just want to chat. We can have coffee or something.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 10 comments

Opening Hosta-ilities

Pulling a few things together into one post…

One corner of the back yard, directly behind the downstairs bathroom(s), is one of those spots that none of us have figured out what to do with. Beneath the master bedroom is a very utilitarian cellar space; there’s about 10 feet of sidewalk in front of the door, and a low rock wall on the left (facing the door). In previous years, when I haven’t ignored this space entirely, I’ve gone in with the lawn mower and took no prisoners. But last year, I realized that there was something other than grass and weeds along the top of the rock wall. This spring, I pulled up some of the grass around the hostas planted there, and one of them rewarded me with some flower stalks. Well played, hostas. It probably helped that the tree (now the stump on the left side of the above photo) was removed, giving them a little more sunshine to play with. The lawn back here is as much wild strawberry as grass, but that’s fine with me. Mason might find some forage-snacks in late April, and they don’t need as much mowing.

Around the front of the manor, we had a handyman replace some rotted wood around the door frame. He used some kind of (I think) PVC-based composite material, which should last until the house collapses. The wife & I got around to painting it yesterday afternoon. She ever so helpfully left the paint bucket at the bottom of the ladder, whereupon I stuck my foot in it and knocked it over onto the brick stoop. Well, the window frames on either side of the door needed some fresh paint too, so I dipped brushes in the spillage and took care of it. The rest of the spilled paint I scraped into a paint tray. I figure we’ll use the pressure washer to clean off the stoop once we put the screen door back up.

After some weed-pulling outside this evening, in which Daughter Dearest threatened a rabbit who got too close to the flowers, she went upstairs for a shower. Shortly after, I heard a scream and my name being called.

“You need to come up here and kill this spider in the shower!” she yelled. Oh yeah, like I’m really comfortable with spiders? Well, I came upstairs and saw this monster in the shower. Now there are places (especially Australia and Indonesia) with much larger spiders than this, but this SOB was the biggest I’d ever seen outside an enclosure on Planet Georgia. And it was IN MY HOUSE. And its eyes reflected the flash on my phone camera. (What was even scarier was that Daughter Dearest was wearing only a towel, and it was barely adequate to keep the important stuff covered. She used this as evidence of how urgent this was to her.)

I decided I needed long-range artillery to deal with this thing, so I went back downstairs and got a shoe. Mason, meanwhile, was attracted by all the noise surrounding the situation and had to come up to get a look at it himself. Fortunately, it stood still until I opened fire; it only took two or three attempts to get the shoe angled where it could compensate for the rounded shower corners.

I reached in with the toilet brush, planning to knock the corpse into the trash can, and it stuck to the brush. It was then I realized that it had webbed the bottom of the shower stall. And the web was all over my hand. I made sure Mason didn’t hear what I really felt about that—I hate spider webs more than spiders themselves, when it comes right down to it—as I boarded the spider for his one-way trip on the Septic Express. Then I got the webbery off me as best as I could, while Daughter Dearest laughed.

With that in hand, I rejoined Mason downstairs and gladly went into his room to watch him play with his blocks, while Daughter Dearest finally got her shower.

There may be three of us having nightmares tonight. I’m self-medicating in advance.

Friday, June 22, 2012 19 comments

#FridayFlash: The Traveler

Here’s another fairy tale from the world of Accidental Sorcerers. This time, a young Mik hears a story…

Mother came to the bed. “Why aren't you asleep yet?”

“I can't sleep,” said Mik, throwing back his thin summer blanket. “Why do I have to spend the whole summer at the ranch?”

“We’ve talked about this already, Mik, you and your father and I. You’re ten years old now, and you need to do more things than help me with the bakery. Three years will go by before you know it, and then you’ll be an apprentice. Boys who know how to do more things have the best chances.”

“I know that, Mother. But Aunt Morcati… scares me.” He hesitated, his eyes growing wide in the dim candlelight. “Some of the other boys say she’s part goblin!”

Mother chuckled. “Think about it, Mik. Your aunt is your father’s sister. So if she’s part goblin, so is he! And you’d be part goblin too! Do you think that?”

Mik gave a nervous laugh. “That makes sense. But I’m still scared about this.”

“That’s natural—new things are often frightening.” Mother sighed. “Maybe this will help. After tonight, you’ll be too big for bedtime stories, but tonight? One last time.” She began:

• • •

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Once, in the time of Camac That Was, a stranger traveled to Stolevan—which was the name of Queensport in the old days. He was a big man, a South Sea Islander, and folk feared his outlandish looks. On a dark, stormy night, he found himself in a small town. The tavern was closed, so he went to the house of the village chief.

“I seek only supper and a bed,” he told the servant who let him in. “I will gladly pay for your master’s trouble.”

But when the chief saw the traveler, he shouted at his servant. “Sh’ow! Why did you let that dark giant in? He could plunder my house! Get him out, before I throw you into the rain with him!” The traveler, seeing he was unwelcome, turned and departed.

Next, he knocked on the door of a merchant. The merchant said, “You devil, you will surely knife me in my sleep and carry off my daughters,” and slammed the door.

Then the traveller went to the house of a poor man. “All I seek is supper and a bed,” he said. “I will gladly pay you for your trouble.”

The poor man feared the strange man’s size and outlandish dress, yet he said, “Come in, then. We have little food and no spare bed, but it is not right to turn folk away on such a night.”

They sat down to the table. The poor man and his wife thought, “We will all go to bed a little hungry tonight,” but somehow there was enough for all to eat their fill. The traveler was well-spoken, and complimented his hosts on their fine cooking. Soon, they were all at ease.

After supper, the poor man offered the traveller his chair, and the children sat before him. “A story?” they begged. “Tell us about the Southern Ocean!”

The traveller smiled, and sat on the floor with the children. He thrilled them with the most outlandish tales, which may have after all been stories of his everyday life. The family cat curled up on the stranger’s lap and slept as he told his stories. He refused to allow his hosts to give up their beds, but unrolled a straw mat and slept before the fire.

In the morning, the small breakfast again proved more than enough for all. Then the traveler took his leave, saying, “I shall speak of you to my family when I return home, of your hospitality and friendship offered to strangers.” The poor man and his wife bowed and bid him to stay with them again should he ever return, for they had truly enjoyed his visit.

From that day on, the poor man’s garden was the envy of the village. And no matter how little the wife had to cook, there was always plenty of food on the table. In time, the poor man’s children grew up; one became an innkeeper and the other a storyteller, and they prospered as well as anyone can in a small village. For you see, the stranger was a messenger of the gods, and the gods bless all who show favor to the messengers among us.

• • •

“Do you understand why I told you this story?” Mother asked.

“I think so,” said Mik. “I don’t have to be scared of everything different, right?”

“You’re a bright lad. You won’t have to be a roustabout like your father, unless you find you like the work. But sometimes, I feel like your destiny is far beyond Lacota. Good night, son. Sleep well.”

Mik did indeed sleep. That night, for the first time, he dreamed of flying over a vast winter landscape.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 7 comments

Writing Wibbles: Pick a Blurb!

At long last, I’ve received the edits for White Pickups. Or half of them, at least. It’s not that I’ve done nothing while waiting—she gave me some general things to look for a while ago, and I finished those last night. Now it’s on to the marked-up edits!

My #TuesdaySerial wrapped up Season (Chapter) 3 of Accidental Sorcerers yesterday. The story itself is complete, as a 30,000 word novella, and I think I’m going to publish it after a little cleanup. (I’ve run half of it on the blog so far.) There will be sequels—one is already half-formed in my head—but I have other nuts to crack before I can tackle that. But I can try to nail down a blurb while waiting for betas, cover art, and editing to happen, right?

For your consideration, I give you three possible blurbs. There is some overlap, of course. What I would like is your honest opinion: which one would most likely get you to say, hey, that sounds interesting, I think I’ll download it? (Keep in mind that this is a YA Fantasy work.) What edits would make it stronger? This isn’t a strict one-two-three choice, though—if you think two or all three have good parts, and you want to combine them, that’s a valid choice too.

So here they are…

Now comes the hard part…

The Age of Heroes is a distant memory. Folk are increasing in numbers and knowledge, and sorcery is slowly fading. When an untrained boy awakens an ice dragon to defend his village from an invasion, living to tell the tale was the easy part. Now Mik is apprenticed to the kindly but clumsy sorcerer, Bailar the Blue. He has found a calling in sorcery, and love with the sorcerer's daughter Sura.

A sorcerer's life is supposed to be sedate in this age. But Mik, Sura, and Bailar find themselves facing unlikely hazards—and learn that the bonds of loyalty and love are stronger than any foe.

Invaders across the river. A powerful spell hidden in a child's rhyme. When a boy awakens an ice dragon to protect his village, and lives to tell the tale, not even the Conclave of Sorcerers can predict what happens next.

Accidental Sorcerers is a story of sorcerers living in an age when sorcery is on the wane, and learning that love and loyalty is magic that never loses its power!

“Maybe there’s other kinds of magic.”

When Mik awakened an ice dragon, he had no idea of what he unleashed. He just wanted to protect his village from invaders. Surviving the attempt, he becomes an apprentice to the kind but clumsy sorcerer, Bailar the Blue. He and his fellow apprentice, the sorcerer's daughter Sura, soon find that there are other kinds of magic.

A sorcerer's life is supposed to be sedate, but the three of them are soon beset by unlikely hazards. In their struggles, they learn that love and loyalty is the strongest magic of all!

Oh, and “go back to the drawing board, they all suck” is a valid answer. I hope I don’t hear it though. ;-)

Finally, I kind of like When a boy awakens an ice dragon to protect his village, and lives to tell the tale, not even the Conclave of Sorcerers can predict what happens next. as a logline. Thoughts?

Monday, June 18, 2012 3 comments

#TuesdaySerial: On the Wide River #6 (Accidental Sorcerers Season 3)

And we come to the end…

Season 1 • Season 2
Season 3: Episode 1 • Episode 2 • Episode 3 • Episode 4 • Episode 5

Accidental Sorcerers
Season 3, Episode 6
On the Wide River

“So what happened?” asked Sura, as Bailar drank down the last cup of tea.

“Between us—with a little help from Cohodas, no doubt—we invoked the Principle of Closure and ended Storm Cloud’s spell. I stayed on a few more days, in hopes the road would dry out. But I grew uncomfortable under the adulation of Enzid and the folk he stirred, and feared retaliation by the former powers, so I bought passage with a north-going merchant. I have taken the river to Queensport ever since.” Bailar shook his head. “Do you understand now why I’m so leery of weather magic, Mik? It is Chaos magic, not Water magic. There are laws and principles that govern it like everything else, but there are too many of them for a mere human to understand, let alone control.”

Mik nodded. “So this Storm Cloud thought he could work weather magic?”

“Indeed. He was infamous at the Conclave. He believed that the inner mind—what folk call instinct—could grasp the principles of Chaos magic. Of course, no matter what weather he tried to call forth, it was always rain that answered him. With vigor. And in this case, the local deity magnified his usual results into a mighty curse. This too is a hazard of Chaos magic—the happenstance that a Power uses to bring down a curse is quite often its result.”

“Father,” said Sura, “why have you never told me this story before?”

Bailar smiled. “The last time we passed this way, you were daughter and attendant. Now you—and Mik—are apprentices, bonded after a fashion.” The youths blushed. “Mik, you spoke truer than you knew when you said there are other kinds of magic. It has been long observed that many sorcerers are the children of farmers. I myself am one. The ability to grow crops, often when all conditions are contrary, may well be a kind of magic. There are soothsayers, like our friend Aborsa—and enchanters, of course. But remember, most enchanters are not like Ahm Kereb. Witches are concerned with Nature and some of the edges of Chaos magic.

“Emotions are a sort of Chaos magic as well. That is why spells to manipulate emotions can go wrong in so many ways. And… and love, of course. So I tell you this story to warn you of several things.”

Mik gave a nervous laugh. “I think I understand.”

“Not completely. The Conclave is concerned about our dwindling numbers. As first-year apprentices, nothing should be said to you this year. But, as you grow older and your skills develop, there will be… pressures. The atmosphere at the Conclave is a reflection of those pressures.” Bailar looked through the walls, all the way to Queensport, thinking about a letter he had already received.


“As I said, nothing you need worry about this year.” Bailar paused. “Listen.”

“I don’t hear anything,” said Sura.

“The rain has stopped. On its own, of course.” The mentor smiled. “I think I’ve reminisced enough for one evening. You are dismissed for the day. Go enjoy what’s left of it. We have three more days, perhaps four, before we reach Queensport.”

Shafts of sunlight found their way through the overcast, splotching the rice fields across the river. Mik and Sura sat comfortably close together on Mik’s cloak, backs against the cabin wall. They shared a supper platter that Sura had made for them as they watched spots of sunlight blaze and fade on the farther shore.

“It’s so quiet,” said Sura.

“The crew got shore leave in Mosvil.” Mik grinned. “Most of the other passengers are in town too. I guess they’ll find something to do.”

“I’m glad Father didn’t take up Enzid on that offer.” Enzid had sent word, offering a suite for Bailar and his apprentices on very favorable terms, but Bailar politely declined. “It was nice, being off this barge for a while, but now? Everyone else is gone and we have it to ourselves.”

“I know what you mean.” Mik looked at Sura. “It doesn’t matter where I am. As long as I’m with you. I—I—”


Mik looked down. “I wonder what the mentor meant by pressures. At the Conclave, I mean.”

“Uh-huh. I’m sure he’ll tell us when we need to know.”

He shrugged and put his arms around her. “You’re right. There’s not much to look at out there, now. Maybe we should work on our… Chaos magic.”

Sura giggled and returned the embrace. The barge grew quiet in the deepening twilight.

Here ends Season 3.
Season 4, “At the Conclave,” is coming soon!

Friday, June 15, 2012 21 comments

#FridayFlash: Ghosts in a Can

“Your qualifications look good, Paul,” said Cynthia Bluefield, glancing at the document in her desk. “Everything checks out there. Just one problem.”

Paul Temberson blinked and frowned, but looked out her synth-window at Tranquility Base for a couple seconds. Deimos Recycling needed him more than he needed them, and this HR flack knew it. But it wouldn’t do to piss her off too much; she might spite her own company to score a point. “A problem? What?”

“You checked ‘Other’ for Religion and wrote down ‘none.’ Our application has checkboxes for ‘Unaffiliated’ or ‘Atheist,’ if they apply.” She drummed four fingers on the edge of the desk, then tapped the icon that brought up his application. “We can fix that right now, if you’d like to change it. Then we can move on to some other paperwork.”

“Oh. I was going to ask about that,” said Paul. “I thought it was illegal to ask for religious affiliation, but I didn’t want to raise a fuss about it.”

Cynthia pursed her lips for a moment. He hasn’t done his research, she thought. “Actually, for us it’s the opposite.” She tapped at her desk for a moment. “Not only is it legal for us to ask, it’s a legal obligation. Here’s the governing regs. I’m surprised you haven’t read them already.” She pushed the icon across the desk, giving it a two-fingered twist. It opened, the corners throwing off sparkles and eddies, which annoyed her. “Section three dot four, paragraph six.” Pulling up the messenger, she tapped @IT - did you upgrade my desktop and not restore prefs? Plain theme, please. Sparkly isn’t professional.

“Huh,” he said, tapping the document closed and pushing it back across the desk. “I wouldn’t have believed it. I did my homework, but never expected that in the regs. So why do you have to ask?”

“Because we can’t put atheists on a salvage crew.”


“Yup. Insurers won’t cover that situation, and they got the government to update the regs so we’re covered.”

“But why?” Paul looked truly curious.

Cynthia leaned back in her chair. This was always the hard part. “Before you recycle a can, you have to take care of the ghosts.”

He looked baffled. “Ghosts. You mean like stealth hackware?”

She sighed. “I mean ghosts. The spirits of dead humans that haven’t moved on.”

“You’re serious,” he said after a long pause. “But what do ghosts have to—and what difference does it make?”

“This is something the government and the corps don’t like to talk about,” said Cynthia. “You can imagine why. But cans—orbital habitats—are abandoned after a few decades simply because the ghosts get to be too much to deal with. It’s something about dying in micro-gee. Habitats on the moon, Mars, even larger asteroids, don’t have that problem.”

“Well, you can change me to Unaffiliated.” Paul nodded. “But why do atheists have problems?”

“Because when faced with proof of an afterlife, a few of them lose it. Anything from nervous breakdowns to full-blown psychoses. The vast majority adjust their beliefs, but there are enough problems that insurers just don’t want to deal with it.” Cynthia tapped at the application.

“Okay, I can see that,” said Paul. “You hear things, especially from people from out past Mars, but you put it down to sendep. Sorry, sensory deprivation.”

A message popped up: Sorry. We’ve adjusted your prefs. Rebooting now.

“Not now!” Cynthia growled, then looked up at Paul. “Sorry. IT just rebooted my desktop.”

Paul laughed. “That’s one reason I’d like to take this job. Trank’s nice, but you don’t have to deal with flakes like that in orbit. Everyone’s watching out for everyone else.”

“Right. So when my desktop comes back, I can access the offer letter. You’ll need to pick a crew whose spiritual advisor is compatible with your beliefs, but we have most of the major rituals represented. The spirit guides—the ones who actually help the ghosts move on—are either Tibetan or Native American. But your interactions with them will be at a professional level.” She stood and stretched her hand across the desk. “Welcome to Deimos Recycling, Mr. Temberson. We’re looking forward to having you on one of our crews.”

Thursday, June 14, 2012 3 comments

Writing Wibbles: Kreativ Blogger Award

Thanks to Helen Howell for passing the Kreativ Blogger award to me! (When she releases her young-reader book Jumping at Shadows, you’ll want to get it for your kids. The book, not the award.)

As part of the acceptance speech, I have to tell you 10 things about myself. If you’re on a diet, you might want to read before you eat—knowing me, some of these could be appetite suppressants…

1) I prefer not to use the syllable “Win” in conjunction with Microsoft products. Because they generally don’t.

2) In college, I had a small article published in Byte magazine, and several in Micro.

3) If you count user manuals, I’ve had about 15 million books published. I’m guessing maybe 1500 of them actually got read. :-D

4) When I was on the cross-country team in high school, I would run about 5 miles a day. That was… oh, 35 years and 80 pounds ago.

5) During those runs, I often had to detour into a brushy area to take care of business. I’d come home a couple pounds lighter.

6) My first attempt at writing was when I was 12. It was a Hardy Boys knockoff, and I think I only wrote about 3 chapters. But as part of the effort, my mom gave me her old “portable” manual typewriter and a typing textbook she’d kept from high school. By the time I abandoned that first attempt, I could touch-type. (I keep thinking I should post a photo of that typewriter. Think “netbook, ca. 1955.”)

7) In college, I had a job as a “galley hand” (cook’s assistant) on drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. My uncle Sonny was a cook for one of the service companies, and he got jobs for my brother and me. I completed my first novel that summer while sitting in a bunk, far out of sight of land. The whole thing was hand-written on scrap line-printer paper, and I still have it.

I thought I’d have to winnow 15–20 facts, not struggle to think of 10…

8) For several years, from late childhood to early adolescence, I would narrate my life to myself as it happened. My brother would say something, and I’d mentally add “he said” when he finished.

9) I nearly left the wife over the purchase of FAR Manor. I didn’t want to buy it for several reasons, not the least of which were the easily visible issues with the place. The decision already made on her part, she ignored every objection on my part. I’ve so far been right about everything regarding the house.

10) I wanted to retire when I was 40. It obviously didn’t happen.

Okay, now comes the other hard part: pass the award onto some other bloggers. There are some who come to mind immediately, but either never started blogging or gave it up (Jen, Janet, I’m looking at you). But fortunately, there’s a lot of other choices. I’m going to throw in my reasons for giving each recipient their award as well. So…

I’m looking forward to reading your acceptance speeches!

Monday, June 11, 2012 4 comments

#TuesdaySerial: On the Wide River #5 (Accidental Sorcerers Season 3)

When we left off last week, Bailar had fallen in the mud that was the main street of Mosvil…

Season 1 • Season 2
Season 3: Episode 1 • Episode 2 • Episode 3 • Episode 4

Accidental Sorcerers
Season 3, Episode 5
On the Wide River

Bailar gave a deep sigh and emptied his cup. Sura poured more, and he continued:

I entered the nearest tavern, expecting to be thrown out until I could clean up, but Enzid had heard me as well as Heaven. He hailed me as the savior of Mosvil, even as the rain began anew. Still, he was helpful. What few clothes I had were washed and dried by a fire. I got a hot bath, a hot meal, and a very good bed. He has seen to my needs as I travel by or through Mosvil, ever since.

Enzid believed that Mosvil was under a curse. He may well have some Talent, because when I read the ashes that night I saw both Moon and Fate. In such readings, the Moon indicates a curse, but Fate a happenstance. The two appear together often; it means an unrelated occurrence has become the agent of the curse. To lift such a curse, you must remove both the cause and the agent. Only one is not sufficient. I agreed to help, more because I had no wish to continue walking in that rain than out of any duty I felt.

In such matters, it can often be helpful to visit both temporal and spiritual powers of the area. But Willetoi the priest was unhelpful and the mayor—whose name escapes me—would not even grant me an audience. It was thus natural to suspect that the deeds of both men, separately or together, brought down the curse.

Again, Enzid was a great help. He was outraged at the news, and spread word to his fellow townsmen. Within a day, I was invited to be their honored guest at the mayor’s house. After introductions, the tea and cakes, all the trappings of politesse, at long last we began to discuss the matter at hand.

“You have come to help us?” Strass—that was the mayor’s name—asked me.

“I was not sent to help, I have only been caught up in the matter,” said I. “But since I am here? I will do what I can. My augury suggests a curse has been laid upon the entire town. That would happen only if a great injustice were caused by a mob, or the folk turned away from your local deity, or if the local powers were especially corrupt.” Being young, my diplomacy was as clumsy as my footing, but I saw that I had offended them. “Or one near to the local powers, of course, acting in their name.”

They looked at each other. I don’t think it had occurred to them that they could have thrown an underling on the dung-cart. Many more words were spoken, but very little was said beyond ruling out any general sin of the folk.

“Very well,” Willetoi said at last. “Perhaps you can join us at this time tomorrow. I shall make the necessary preparations, and we will join together in a Call to Prophecy. With the help of Cohodas, we may learn what or who is behind this, and what must be done.”

I agreed, wondering if he had in mind to falsify the prophecy and sacrifice an underling—or me. The thought that he was truly sincere and innocent did not inspire much confidence. But a Call to Prophecy requires one to focus, to put doubts of all kinds out of mind beforehand.

And so I returned at the appointed time, ready to hear. It was… very strange. The power came down, and the three of us spoke as one. They struggled—you could see it on their faces—but Cohodas the local deity had his say:

“You are the men, Strass and Willetoi, who have brought the curse on your people. For you have stolen that which the people give for the benefit of all, to enrich yourselves. You have curried favor with those who might enrich you further, and ignored the pleas of the poor. Your positions are forfeit, and you shall return all you have stolen. Upon pain of the Nine Plagues, you shall begin your work of recompense by sunset tomorrow and finish before the next full moon.”

Willetoi tried to bluff his way out. “You!” he pointed at me. “You controlled us, put those words in our mouths!”

“Do you truly believe that?” I answered. “Only the most powerful sorcerer can compel a man to speak falsehood, and I am but days out of apprenticeship. And raw and young as I am, I do know that only a deity may bring down the Nine Plagues.”

“That is true,” said Strass, looking back and forth like a trapped animal. “But there is responsibility, and there is responsibility, no? I am but a government official. Willetoi is a servant of the deity. And thus, if it is the deity who spoke, is not the greater blame upon that deity’s servant?”

“What—you are as culpable as I!” Willetoi shouted. “Whose name was spoken first? Who was it that arranged—and we are speaking of a wandering sorcerer’s falsehood—”

“It was not he who spoke, and we all know it,” said Strass. “I will not risk the Nine Plagues to preserve either your position or dignity. Nor my own, for that matter. I will begin to make an account of myself at once. But I am sure my burden is the lighter one.”

The two continued to bicker among themselves, attempting to shift or re-proportion the blame, and I departed. The Moon was now satisfied, and Cohodas had told me where to find Fate. I walked through the pouring rain, and barely felt it. In those few minutes, I was more sure of foot then than I have been before or since. Finally, I arrived at a boarding house near the river. I entered, climbed a stair, walked to a certain door, and opened it. Behind it, a man stood watching the rain, open book in hand. He turned to face me.

“Bailar!” he tossed the book aside to greet me. “A blue sash? You passed, then! What brings you here?”

“Storm Cloud. I should have known. As to what brings me, it was you—or rather, what you wrought.”

Bailar looked into his empty cup, then gave his apprentices a wan smile. “Telling this story has been thirsty work. Pour me one more.”


Sunday, June 10, 2012 8 comments

Adventures in Potty Training

From the moment I could talk
I was ordered to listen
— Cat Stevens

Nothing was exposed
in this exposure…
We’ve begun the arduous task of potty-training a toddler. Given Mason’s family tree—one branch is Type A, another branch just stubborn and contrary—it’s going better than one might expect. We’re getting into the habit of putting him on the throne when he wakes up (morning or nap) and that ’s going well (no pun intended). I think he’ll be out of diapers by summer’s end.

For now though, it’s the Atomic Diapers that are the problem. He just doesn’t want to take time off from whatever’s got him interested, and thus loads up his diaper. He knows by now that he loses TV or outdoor privileges when we gives us a nuclear waste dump, but hasn’t taken steps to avoid it yet.

But he does know when he has or hasn’t done it. Yesterday, we were going home and I smelled something. “Mason, are you atomic?” I asked him.

“No!” A very vehement “no” it was.

“It wasn’t him,” said Daughter Dearest. That was all that needed to be said, but who’s going to pass up the chance to say more?

Friday was better. His Grandmom was in the bedroom, and he came in and took her hand. “Come here,” he said.

“Where are we going?”

“Come on.” He led her into his bedroom, where he had a diaper and the wipes laid out on the bed.

“No spank.”

“What… did you put those there?”

“Uh-huh. No spank, okay Grandmom?”

He did avoid a spanking on that one, yes. But it would be better if he said something beforehand.

If Planet Georgia wasn’t so bug-heavy, I’d do what Mom did to me: let me run around all summer flapping in the breeze. For whatever reason, I wouldn’t go if I didn’t have something on. But I wouldn’t get the kind of pictures she did…

Thursday, June 07, 2012 22 comments

#FridayFlash: The Ultimate Disclaimer

A parody… or is it?

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Sideffectin®, Big Pharma™, and the Sideffectin® slogan are trademarks or registered trademarks of Big Pharma.

Writing Wibbles (the Handwave)

Trying this on Thursday, just for grins.

A few weeks ago, Tony Noland wrote a funny little blog post about hard sci-fi versus soft sci-fi. Around the same time, someone else wrote a “zombie science” rant about not focusing too much on how the zombies “work” (and I wish I’d saved the URL). Depending on how the author approaches it, zombie fic could be considered a sub-genre of SF as well as horror, but that’s not important. What’s important is that they all (including hard sci-fi) make use of a literary device called the handwave (it’s a technical term).

Like any literary device, the handwave is important but often abused. To understand why it has that name, imagine sitting down with an author who’s talking about her story while you’re plying her with questions about different details. Sooner or later, she’ll wave her hand and say something like, “oh, that’s just a given.” In the story, a handwave glosses over (or outright dismisses) details about the starship’s hyper-drive, or how a zombie can rot indefinitely. Some handwaves are necessary to prevent long tedious infodumps, although an infodump itself often handwaves certain details.

Some of the worst handwaves can be found in classic SF, some of which Isaac Asimov collected in an anthology called Before the Golden Age. By “worst,” I mean those that are so obviously handwaves that they threaten to throw a modern reader out of the story. “The world is unready for this information,” or even referring to a crucial ingredient as “X” (see The Skylark of Space), are classics. You don’t see handwaves that obvious in modern fiction, fortunately.

Soft sci-fi depends heavily on handwaves, but a deft writer can make them seamless. Over the weekend, I read Cherie Reich’s novella Defying Gravity. This is definitely soft sci-fi, even a romance with a sci-fi wrapper. She used three or four handwaves, and only one stuck out. The others went by so smoothly that I didn’t notice them right away. That’s how ya do it, folks. Keep them smooth, don’t let them jar the reader out of the story.

Use it, don't abuse it.

Monday, June 04, 2012 5 comments

#TuesdaySerial: On the Wide River #4 (Accidental Sorcerers, Season 3)

Why didn’t Bailar want to go into town? He begins to explain.

Season 1 • Season 2
Season 3: Episode 1 • Episode 2 • Episode 3

Accidental Sorcerers
Season 3, Episode 4
On the Wide River

Enzid indeed arranged for a porter to carry their purchases down-bluff, on very favorable terms, and accepted Bailar’s money with some protest. With their provisions delivered and stowed away, and the captain occupied with his own cargo, Bailar invited his apprentices into the cabin he shared with the captain. He poured tea for them and smiled.

“You did well,” he said. “Mind you, though: many merchants will try to overcharge you, not give away their goods. Something to remember next time.”

“Enzid said you saved Mosvil,” said Mik, “but he was busy and I never had a chance to ask him about that. What did you do?”

“And he spoke so highly of you,” said Sura. “I can understand you not wanting to walk that muddy path, but why not ride up in that basket?”

Mik nodded. “Or—I don’t know—couldn’t you stop the rain? Isn’t that Water magic?”

To Mik’s surprise, Bailar gave him a horrified look. His mentor quickly recovered, sipping his tea. “I was expecting this. He gave us much better tea than I’d ordered.” The sorcerer sighed. “Mik, weather magic is—it’s one reason I’m not that fond of Mosvil. Especially in the rain. It happened when I was much younger, just out of my apprenticeship.” He drained his cup, sighed again, and began.

The Royal Highway follows the Wide River, along its west bank, from Queensport to the Captain Rietha Bridge. That was the bridge we passed under yesterday. From there, it follows the east bank on past Exidy. Perhaps at one time it ended at the ruin that was once Vlis, but it still reaches the Deep Forest. There it leaves behind the headwaters of the Wide and fades away. Where the river bends away from the road, the road continues straightaway.

East bank or west, once away from Queensport, maintenance is haphazard at best. Each town keeps up its own stretch—or not. In those days, Mosvil left such matters to the Queen, which meant broken or stolen paving stones were not replaced quickly if ever. If not for the monument markers along the way, the road’s very path might sometimes be in doubt.

Thus, when it rains, the way can soon become mud. And this particular rain was… unnatural. It had—well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I left Queensport under somewhat of a cloud myself. Gilsen the White, the former Sorcerer of Exidy, was my mentor. He did the best he could with the poor student I was, and it was barely enough. We had traveled by road to the Conclave that year, the year of my testing. I earned my sash, but it was a close thing. Then Gilsen died before we had a chance to return home. Knowing his time had come, his last act was to write two letters, one to me and one to the Conclave. Among other things, he left me excellent advice along with all his worldly goods, and specifically requested that I be installed as Sorcerer of Exidy in his place.

The Protectors were reluctant—one openly questioned whether I’d poisoned my own mentor—but the only way they could deny such a request was either by my failing the test or their proving foul play on my part. While my passing score was the lowest possible, I had indeed passed, and it was soon established that Gilsen had died of old age. Natural causes. To be honest, I shared their reluctance about my taking the position so quickly, but like them I would not deny my mentor’s last request.

A proper funeral for a sorcerer takes time, as do the arrangements for installing a successor. Thus, it was several more weeks before I took up the reins of what was now my wagon and set my face north for home. Things began to go badly soon after: bandits stole my ox and wagon one night, so I continued on foot. Travelers coming south began to warn of incessant rains around Mosvil, and how the road was near impassable.

I found the rain—or it found me—a day’s walk from Mosvil. Of course, conditions being what they were, that day’s walk took three days. Meals were cold, when I ate at all. My cloak stopped shedding rain, so I left it behind. Soon I rolled up my clothes and walked in a loincloth, as mobility was more important than modesty. No one else was about anyway. It was summer, and the rain was warm.

So imagine this: incessant rain above, incessant mud beneath. The bandits had only done sooner what the mud would have done later. Other wagons stood abandoned along the way, and I took shelter beneath them to rest. And just as I thought how lucky I’d been to not fall in the mud…

Sura clapped her hand over her mouth. “You tripped.”

“I did. And after I spit out a mouthful of mud, I lifted my face and fist to the sky and swore an oath that even Captain Chelinn might have been proud of. I cursed the mud, and those who shirked their responsibility to keep up the road. I cursed the rain, and the sky that dropped it. And the rain stopped. Only then did I realize I stood inside the Mosvil gates, near-naked and covered in mud.”


Saturday, June 02, 2012 3 comments

Evil Twin Moves In

Evil Twin shows Mason
how to catch a lizard
The “more evil” half of the Evil Twins needed some space from her parents—her brothers have long since left the state—so of course she came to FAR Manor. This isn’t a bad thing for a change: unlike M.A.E., she helps (a lot) with Mason, and has her own car. She also doesn’t have the baggage associated with her own rugrat.

As I type this, she’s out looking for a job. Unfortunately, she does share M.A.E.’s functional illiteracy issues, so good luck with that. She’s also Daughter Dearest’s age, but looks (and eats) like a teenager.

While the wife isn’t 100% thrilled to have an extra body at FAR Manor, I’m not griping for a change. As I said, she helps a lot with Mason—which leaves me free to blog, write, or take care of things in or around the manor. She’ll help some with the dishes, too.

Best of all, she’s usually up for spending some time at the patio or even on a berry-picking tramp through the woods. Wife & Daughter Dearest seem to see “outside” only as a place to work. There’s that, certainly, but it also offers recreation. On calm afternoons or evenings, we’ll take Mason out to the patio, light the tiki torches and the firepit in the table, and watch Mason burn off some energy. Sometimes, I get pictures. This morning, the three of us went tramping around and found about a half-gallon of blackberries (a month earlier than usual!) and a cup of blueberries. We probably hiked two miles all told, which explains why Mason wanted to be carried a lot toward the end of the expedition. He’s usually good for about half a mile.

After lunch, I laid him down for his nap. He protested, as always, but dropped off fairly quickly. Well, he didn’t drop off so much as climb down and curl up under his bed. This is something The Boy did fairly often, but his bed didn’t have near as much clearance underneath.

So things have been fairly quiet at FAR Manor for a while. I wonder how long that will last.

Friday, June 01, 2012 18 comments

#FridayFlash: Secret War of the Birds

Wing Commander Hollowquill wasted no time when she heard the "in-coming! in-coming!" alert from the forward observers. She hadn't felt it yet, but it was only a matter of time. She readied the defenses.

The air grew crowded with the racket from the observers, but… there. A disturbance in the magnetic field, invaders coming from beyond the sky. In other places, Eagles defended the world from the invaders, but this was Hollowquill's territory. Her sensitive magnetic sensors pinpointed the invaders' path down. She trained her laser, leading just a little, and fired.

Walking below, a human looked around at the "tschuu tschuu tschuu" sound. Down the block, other birds were raising a hell of a racket. "Stupid bird, sounds like a space laser," he laughed, and walked on. Behind him, a mother bird brought the morning's bounty to a hungry nest full of babies. The Earth was safe for another day.


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