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Monday, December 29, 2014 6 comments

Blink: Superhero Summer Camp, episode 2

Blink’s earlier adventures:

Blink’s First Adventure | 2 | 3 | 4

Superhero Summer Camp (this one): 1

This is really happening, Stevie thought, as the Heromobile turned onto an overgrown lane, barely visible from the highway, marked PRIVATE DRIVE. Ahead of them, two trees blocking the road lifted up enough for them to slip underneath.

Captain Heroic glanced up at the rearview mirror and saw Stevie watching. “That was the first line of passive defense,” he said. “There’s also a fence that runs around the grounds, but you can’t see it from the road. Here’s the blowout strip.” They drove over what looked like a narrow drain grate running across the pavement. Brush and rocks lined both sides of the road, making the whole thing feel closed in. “Active defenses come next. Fortunately, we’re expected, so you won’t see those in action.”

“Active?” Stevie unbuckled his seatbelt and joined Skyscraper City’s first and oldest superhero up front.

“Yeah. Passive defenses are there to slow you down or block your way. Keeps honest people honest, you might say. The active defenses are laser blinders, dazzlers, sonic squealers. Fair warning kind of stuff. If you’re not invited and get past those, then the deadly force kicks in. Mines, guns, that kind of thing.”

“Has it ever been used?”

“Oh, nah. Professor Zero likes to say the best deterrent is one that never has to be used. There’s cameras all along the way as well, on the road and on either side. I’m told some of the local high school kids think the spot in front of the trees is a great place to make out. If they knew there was video… well, it’s reviewed and archived. Every once in a while, one of those kids grows up to be a politician, you know.” The Captain grinned. “So don’t bring your girlfriend down here.”

“Yeah.” Like that’s ever gonna happen, Stevie thought.

The road curved off to the left, but the Heromobile rolled on across the dirt, straight toward a huge rock. “Uh…” Stevie warned, then threw his hands onto the dashboard, bracing for impact.

Captain Heroic laughed, and the Heromobile went through the rock. Lights flared on in front of them, guiding them down a tunnel. “That was a hologram. The road goes to that building you’ve seen on TV,” he explained. “We call it the conference center. It’s a facade, and the only part of the operation the public ever sees. We have press briefings and meetings with local and national authorities there, is all. And the tours, of course. The real work all happens inside this little mountain.”

“Wow.” Stevie stole a glance behind him. The other passengers were totally wrapped up in their own worlds, missing out on all this. Maybe they had seen it before. Ms. Ma probably had, anyway. Well, okay, a tunnel wasn’t all that exciting, but seeing all this in person and getting explanations was way better than just looking around after the fact and seeing you had arrived.

A light flashed up ahead, and Captain Heroic slowed down. The Heromobile emerged into what looked like a tiny city parking garage. Most of the slots were occupied by golf carts, but a few slots were open and Captain Heroic parked in one. “Here we are,” he said over his shoulder. “Your escorts should be here by the time you grab your stuff.” He gave Stevie a lopsided smile. “I’m your escort. Since we’ve already worked together on one job, the Professor figured that you’d be more comfortable with someone you know.”

Ma Ling had already opened the side door and shouldered her bag; Stevie’s mom had bigger purses than that. Sarika put her iPad in a case, then skipped around to the back of the van. She hoisted a backpack nearly as big as herself onto her shoulders with a grunt. “Okay, I’m ready,” she said, leaning forward for balance. She’s a lot stronger than she looks, Stevie thought, with some admiration.

Stevie waited for Ms. Ling to exit, then slid his pack out from under the seat. It contained mostly clothes, and a couple of books in case they didn’t have the ones he was reading. He gave Captain Heroic a nod, then looked at the approaching escorts. Ma Ling’s escort was some dude in a rentacop outfit, but he did a double-take at the young girl sent for Sarika. Nowhere near as gorgeous as Sarika, but there weren’t any girls in his school who were. Still, what were the chances of two girls around his age being here? The other girl in turn gave him a puzzled scowl, then led Sarika to a golf cart and drove off.

“This one,” said Captain Heroic, and Stevie shook himself. He tossed his bag in the back of the golf cart and took the shotgun seat. “Welcome to Zero Point, by the way. Ever thought you’d get a chance to see this?”

“I hoped I’d get to take the tour some day,” Stevie replied. “I guess that’s a big fake-out, though.”

Captain Heroic laughed. “You’re handling this better than some rookies do, so far. And all of them were a lot older than you.”

“Cool. Who was Sarika’s escort?”

“Oh, Nixi?” He pronounced it Nikki. “She’s Professor Zero’s niece. She’s some kind of wizard with computers, so I guess you could say this is a summer job for her. Maybe they sent her so Sarika would have an escort she can relate to.”

“Why are they here? Ms. Ma and Sarika, I mean.”

“Truth be told, I don’t know. You’ll find out pretty quickly, this is a huge operation. I’m not sure even the Professor knows what all goes on here in his own name, even if he gives the whole thing some general direction. It’s like a big corporation, or a government outfit—you’ll find out there’s not much difference, sooner or later—everyone’s working on a different piece of the pie, and it all comes together. Somehow.” Captain Heroic stole a glance at his young passenger. “By the way, I figured you’d be asking me a lot more about Sarika.”

Stevie blushed. “She’s okay. More than okay. I—I don’t know, really.” He had this idea that Sarika’s parents had already arranged a marriage to some guy she had never met, but it was a dumb racist jerk thing to think. He didn’t think he was racist—Lashaun was his best friend, after all—and it embarrassed him to have such a thought.

“Yeah, just remember we’re not here to find you a girlfriend. This is work, even if it isn’t the kind of job you’d expect. In some ways, it’ll be worse than a job. They’re going to get personal with you, and I mean seriously personal. We all have weaknesses, and they’re going to pry into your brain to figure out what yours is. If you know what your weak spots are, you can work on them. By the time you go home, Professor Zero will know more about you than your mother does.”

“Ha. She doesn’t know about the Blink thing, to begin with.”

“Yeah. That’s one of the things that has the Professor worried. He wants to figure out why you manifested so early, and how it’s going to affect you. It’s an awfully big secret to be keeping from your parents.”

“If he has any ideas,” said Stevie, “I’m all ears.”

“Chances are, he’ll recommend you lie low until you get out on your own. No missions, no patrols, just be yourself until you can be Blink without a mom to worry about.” He pulled the cart to a stop. “Well, here we are.”

Stevie just stared at the man standing in front of the cart. Long brown hair, streaked with gray and pulled back in a tail, round wireframe glasses, unruly beard—a face he had seen on TV many times, but now he was seeing Professor Zero for real.

Monday, December 22, 2014 9 comments

Blink: Superhero Summer Camp, episode 1

Let’s get this story started! But if you’ve just teleported in, you can click over to Blink’s earlier adventures:

Blink’s First Adventure | 2 | 3 | 4

“Mom!” Stevie Winkler shouted from the front porch. “They’re here!”

“All right, honey, I’m coming,” Mom replied, and hustled out to join her son. “Bye.” She hugged him, with some hesitation for a change. “Have a good time. I expect you to write.”

“I will,” said Stevie, shouldering his pack, already looking at the van with the Lake Walnut Grove Summer Camp markings emblazoned on the side. “It might be email, though. The info packet said they have a computer lab and everything.”

“Communing with nature by day, surfing the web by night?” Mom gave him that joshing look of hers. “Sounds like you won’t be getting much sleep.”

“I’ll be fine, Mom.” Stevie hugged her one more time, then shouldered his bag. It had taken a lot of willpower to not just pop out to the van and be gone in the first place. “At least you can get some stuff done without me underfoot all the time.”

“Seriously, Stevie? You aren’t underfoot much, if at all. But maybe I’ll get a little time on the computer, at least until you get back.”

“Ha. Maybe you can get a new computer while I’m gone.” He grinned. “Bye, Mom. I’ll miss you. Try to have some fun, okay?”

Mom nodded, and gave him a little nudge that said it was finally okay for him to burst out the door and run for the van. The side door opened when he was halfway down the short sidewalk, and he jumped in and slid his pack under the seat.

“She finally let you go?” Captain Heroic asked from the driver’s seat.

“Yeah.” This was the Heromobile, wearing a skin that Stevie (aka Blink) thought might be custom for this one job. He looked around, and realized that there were other passengers already here. “Oh. Hi,” he said, with some embarrassment.

“Get settled in,” said Captain Heroic. “We can do introductions once we’re rolling.”

Stevie dropped into the middle seat, next to a skinny Chinese-looking dude in black, and buckled up. “Okay,” he said, and Captain Heroic drove away.

“Hello,” the dude nodded. He had a thick accent and a high, soft voice. “I am Ma Ling. You may call me Linda if you are more comfortable with that.”

“Oh, okay.” Stevie clamped down on his mouth. Saying sorry, I thought you were a guy was probably rude.

“I’m Sarika,” the girl in the back said. She was dark, but not black like his friend Lashaun, and her smile made her cute beyond belief. And...

Something important dawned on him. “You’re a Devi, right? Or your parents are?” He turned to Ma Ling. “And you’re one of the Masked Warriors?”

Sarika laughed, making him feel warm, and Ma Ling nodded. “I am going to help train some of the other heroes in close combat techniques,” said Ma—no, Ling—didn’t they put their first names last or something?

“Cool.” Stevie thought he should say something else, but could not think of anything. “How about you?” he asked Sarika.

“Kind of like what you’re doing,” she replied. She had a little accent, a kind of lilt that Stevie thought sounded cute. “I’m going to help with Professor Zero’s research.”

Jeez, he thought, do I like her or something? Not like she’s going to be interested. Then again, he did have a superpower. Maybe she would be.

“And you’ve both heard of Blink,” said Captain Heroic. “Here he is. The youngest person ever to manifest a superpower.”

“Amazing,” said Ma Ling. “The universe has something important for you to do, if you must shoulder your burden so soon.” She nodded once and turned away.

“You can really teleport yourself?” Sarika asked. “Can you carry anything with you?”

“Yeah,” Stevie replied, happy that Sarika was paying attention to him. “My clothes, obviously. Anything else I’m holding, too.”

“How big?”

“Well, I got Frank Crain away from the Blackuras, and he weighed a hundred and fifty.”

“That much?” Sarika looked confused for a moment. “Oh, you mean pounds.”


“How about distance?”

Stevie wondered how many questions she had, but decided that wasn’t important. She was talking to him. “I haven’t tried to find out, really. I always just pop to somewhere close.”

“Through walls?”

“Sure. I pop in and out of my bedroom all the time.”

After that, the questions trailed off, and they all spent the rest of the trip in their own shells. Ma Ling meditated, or maybe she was praying. Or taking a nap. Sarika occupied herself with an iPad, oblivious to Stevie’s mixed admiration and jealousy. Unable to handle the conflicting emotions, he turned around and watched out the window. The supers had already come through with finding Mom a better job, something with steady hours that paid better than Slaver-Mart, but it hadn’t made much of a difference in their situation so far. Mom was too obsessed with catching up on old bills to consider essentials like a new computer just yet. It wasn’t even worth thinking about getting an iPad.

A few more miles down the freeway, and Stevie’s thoughts drifted back to where they were going—Professor Zero’s compound. He had seen a few shots of the place on Channel Fourteen and HNN, but living there for six weeks (while Mom thought he was at some summer camp) was going to be awesome beyond belief. Professor Zero would try to figure out what limits his teleportation power had—that was part of what the supers had disguised as summer camp for him—but maybe it was going to be more than that, if Ms. Ma and Sarika were along for the ride. It was kind of stupid, thinking it was just going to be about him for the whole summer.

Too bad I can’t tell Chris and Lashaun about this. Or anyone else. Being a real superhero would make him the envy of his class. Just getting more than the visitor’s tour of Professor Zero’s place would do that. If he was stupid enough to let on, of course—that thing with Frank just proved giving out your secret identity was a dumb move. But Sarika asking him about how far he could teleport himself got him thinking. He had never given much thought to that before. He occupied himself with a daydream: Strapping on a backpack, he picked up Mom. A second later, they were on the beach. Then again, that wouldn’t pay for their hotel or anything. And letting Mom know what he could do just seemed like certain disaster…

The van shifted, and Stevie jerked awake. They had left the freeway, and Captain Heroic was turning. Ms. Ma was still meditating, and Sarika spared hardly a glance before diving back into whatever she was doing on her iPad. Stevie thought he knew which exit this was; Dad had taken him out here on one of his rare visitation days last summer, to the state park. He remembered that day—they hiked one of the trails and threw a Frisbee for a little while. It seemed like Dad had wanted to tell him something important, but couldn’t figure out how. He remembered wishing they had just gone to the nearby Dari-Freez for ice cream instead.

Sure enough, there was the sign to the state park, but Captain Heroic turned the other way. Things would be different this year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014 4 comments

Writing Wibbles: New Serial on the Way!

With Lost in Nightwalk done, I’ve turned to cleaning up Blink’s newest adventure. For a lark, I collected his earlier stories, and most of the other Skyscraper City stories, into an eBook for my mailing list members. (Not a member? Sign up quick!) Here’s a little blurb…

At age 13, Stevie Winkler is the youngest known super. Being able to teleport is cool, but keeping it a secret sucks. Professor Zero and some of Skyscraper City’s most famous superheroes are training him, but Blink finds the line between hero and villain isn’t always clear.

Blink has three goals as a teenage superhero: survive, keep Mom from finding out… and maybe get a girlfriend.

I’ve finished writing this adventure, and it’s going to run 20 episodes. This is a departure for me—before, I’d write the first few episodes and turn it loose. I was having so much trouble with the middle, though, that I thought I’d better finish the whole thing first.

Each episode will drop on Monday morning at 7am Eastern time (noon GMT). Having the entire thing done means I can focus on the next part. Update: if you want to catch up on Blink’s earlier adventures before this one starts:

Blink’s First Adventure

Comments on each episode are encouraged! Remember to check in each Monday to get the latest.

I want to thank Icy Sedgwick and Tony Noland, whose superhero stories inspired me to write my own. And special thanks to Catherine Russell, who beta-read this adventure and caught some issues. And +Angela Kulig, of course, for the cover art.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014 3 comments

Writing Wibbles: the Bloom Comes Off the Unlimited Rose

Back in July, I wrote about the new (at the time) Kindle Unlimited (KU) program. I said in part:

The per-borrow payout has been a [little] over $2 for months, now, slightly more than the royalty on a $3 eBook purchase. Amazon has offered a 30-day free trial, so I expect that August is going to push down that payout quite a bit (my guess: it will be around 50¢) despite Amazon increasing the fund by 66%. For some authors, the increased borrows will more than offset the depressed per-borrow payout. Others will hate it—perhaps enough to yank their books out of Select.

Amazon is walking a tightrope. At current payout levels, an average of four borrows per member per month (about one per week) will nearly wipe out the monthly subscription fee. But if the payout drops too far, authors will pull their most popular books, making the service much less attractive.

It’s interesting to see what I got wrong, and what little I got right. First off, the per-borrow payout never dropped to 50¢. It has gone down significantly, averaging $1.60 over the first few months, a bit lower more recently, and that has caused a lot of grief in some quarters. It didn’t affect me all that much personally—I only have one book in Select, Oddities, and it would get a borrow or two every other month. That changed little; November was the first month I got any borrows since KU started, but I got two. Woohoo. I also said things would be a little more clear by the end of September… it took a couple more months than that.

Okay, now to the last part, the part I got right: Amazon is walking a tightrope, and it’s wobbling. For some writers, including some top indie sellers, KU has been a disaster. The Bookseller blog, engaging in a little hyperbole, wonders if the honeymoon is over. H. M. Ward, a highly-popular romance writer, yanked her books out of KU saying, “I… lost approx 75% of my income [counting bonuses] … The number of borrows was higher than sales. They didn’t complement each other, as expected.” Top borrowees like Ward got “All-Star” bonuses on top of the monthly pot, but it wasn’t enough to make up for the plunge in sales. (The Bookseller claims that Howey “expected to pull most of his work out of [KU]” but did not furnish a link. You toss a potential bomb like that, you ought to cite it.) Anyway, there’s a lot of good info in this very long article. If you feel the urge to TL;DR out of it, skip to the bottom for some meaty stuff.

Meanwhile, I’ve been seeing reports on the KDP forums about “writers” who throw together what amount to sales pamphlets, upload them by the dozens, then borrow them through sock-puppet accounts. At $1.40 per borrow, they need only borrow eight of these junk “books” to recoup their KU subscription fee, and they often have fifty or more books on offer. And who knows how many sock puppet accounts they have going? Some forum members estimate that the scammers are pulling down the per-borrow payout by 30¢ or more.

I don’t see a viable way forward for KU, defined as something Amazon, top authors, and subscribers can agree upon. If Amazon adjusts the pot enough to bring the payout back up to $2 per borrow, they stand to lose money as avid readers grab one book after another. But if they don’t, and the most popular authors continue to jump ship, KU subscribers will drop out as well. Some of the “name” authors suggest changing KU so members subscribe to authors, which translates to auto-purchasing books as they come out. I can see where mischief could be made there, though.

On the other hand, authors with $1 or $2 books, or first-of-series titles that they might otherwise try to make free, could still benefit from KU. A $2 book (like Oddities) under the current system earns about 70¢ per purchase—and around twice that per borrow. Instead of making the first book of a series free, put it in KU and encourage people to check it out. The author still gets a payday, and a potential new fan who buys the other books.

The question is still the same: come spring, will there be enough books in KU—and the right kinds of books—to keep enough people interested in subscribing? Floor’s open, tell me what you think!

Friday, December 05, 2014 4 comments

War Games (“Lost in Nightwalk” excerpt) (#FridayFlash)

If you’ve been avoiding my post-launch giddiness… I can’t blame you. But Lost in Nightwalk is out, and I didn’t have a #FridayFlash put together, so why not excerpt something?

It’s out!
“Strike, forward march,” Firgar ordered. “We are now in hostile territory. Our torchlight gives us away, but all we can do for that is to be at the ready, aye?”

They reached the next intersection. “Here begins the test,” the Grand Commander whispered. “We’ll put two soldiers on each side, shields out, and dash across one by one.”

“Grand Commander,” said Sura, “with your permission. Mik and I had an idea last night, and it might be worth trying.”

“It was mostly Sura’s idea,” Mik added, “but we worked out the details together.” He explained what they had in mind.

Firgar chuckled. “Let’s try our try,” he said. “It hurts nothing if it doesn’t work.”

Soldiers lined up before the corner, and Bailar held the torches, as Mik and Sura shed their white cloaks. Away from the entrance, Nightwalk was equally cool in summer and winter. The cloaks were meant to protect them from bruising by the practice weapons, but they did keep their wearers warm. The apprentices waved their staffs, as Bailar had taught them to do in front of folk, and the cloaks drifted from them. Two torches joined the cloaks, and they floated into the intersection together. The apprentices made the torches move back and forth, as people would if they were deciding which way to go.

From their left came: thwock, thwock, the sound of two crossbows, and a practice bolt struck one of the cloaks. Bailar brought the False Dawn, lighting up the corridor, as two soldiers dived into the intersection and loosed their own crossbows. They rolled across, and two more soldiers did the same.

“Five!” one of them shouted. “Now three!” the other added. “No, two!”

“Charge!” Firgar and Narvin whooped a battle-cry and rushed the remaining defenders. Each threw a spear as they charged, then drew their practice swords. One of the spears found its mark, and the victim sat down. Three of the four mock casualties scrambled out of the way, as the last defender standing drew his own practice sword and tried to back away. It was over quickly.

Four of the defenders lined up against the wall. “What’s with him?” one of them asked, gesturing at the last man lying on the floor.

Bailar made his way down the hall, using the wall to keep his balance. He knelt next to the man, who gasped and sat up. “You died in your sleep,” Bailar explained. “I cut your throat.”

“Five to one,” one of the defenders said, shaking his head. “From what I’ve been hearing, that’s the best showing from your side yet.”

“Five to none, actually,” Narvin grinned. “Our mages floated empty cloaks into the intersection for you to shoot at.”


“Hundred Thora is an excellent tactician,” said Firgar, “but Lady Sura descends from the finest tactician in Termag’s history.” He nodded to Sura, approaching with Mik and the rest of the strike.

The defenders looked at each other. “A girl planned that? Is that the Matriarchy girl, then?”

“Aye. She’ll make a fine warrior-mage, the first in centuries.”

“Good work,” the defenders’ leader said. “Perhaps we’ll have another round of this. Both sides can learn from its mistakes and successes.” They lifted torches and shuffled away.

Things get messy from here—get “Lost in Nightwalk” with Sura, Mik, and Bailar and find out just how messy!

Friday, November 28, 2014 6 comments

Writing Wibbles: Search Engine 101 for Authors

Monday night, I saw this tweet:

Being the diplomatic soul that I am, I responded “I call BS” before even reading the article. Then, I thought I should expand on that statement. Which meant I had to read the article.

In summary: Stephan Eirik Clark (the author) wrote a literary novel he called Sweetness #9. In the article (written in March), he complained about the search engine first not finding his novel at all in the early pre-order phase, then burying it under Sweet Valley High and artificial sweetener products. (Or maybe writing the article was a clever way to boost his book—Salon will always run a “bash Amazon” article, and click-throughs and sales are always good ways to push a page up Amazon's search rankings.)

Clark goes on to quote a New Yorker article by George Packer, in which he claims that publishers can pay Amazon to push books up the search rankings. Oh, the horror!

Um, wait a minute. Actually, I’ll wait an hour or so. Go to your nearest bookstore. Check out those tables at the front. Why are those books there, and not the ones you might want to see? If you answered “the publishers paid the bookstore for favorable placement,” you get a gold star!

But hey, I’ve not paid Amazon a dime for search engine placement. And yet, if you type “Accidental Sorcerers” into Amazon’s search, guess what comes up #1? (and #2 through #5?) Someone else’s book, The Accidental Sorcerer, appears a little farther down.

One of the things that +Angela Kulig taught me, early on when I joined the co-op, is that titles matter. If you pick a generic title, your book will flounder in a sea of other books (and in the case of Amazon, other products) with similar names. Just like in poor Mr. Clark’s case. A little closer to home, I once titled a book in progress Chasing a Rainbow. Angela suggested I search that title on Goodreads. Ouch. We came up with the replacement title, The Crossover, only after much banging of heads on tables (at least on my part) late at night. There are other titles that show up in a search for that, and mine still doesn't make the first page.

So, in a nutshell, this is Search 101 for authors: pick a title that’s as unique as possible. If you have a generic-sounding title like “Sweetness,” you need a lot of sales to get your ranking pushed to the top. Or your publisher can pay the online bookstore for placement, just like they do for brick-and-mortar stores. One is a little more work, but cheaper and more effective. Or, just bash Amazon and let Salon do the rest. Doesn’t matter if you prove yourself clueless in the process, eh?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014 No comments

Launch: Dust of the Dead Sea, by Angela Kulig

It’s a busy time at the end of November. Baking bread, turkeys, beans… and books?

Yup. Angela Kulig has at long last released Book 2 of the Hollows series, Dust of the Dead Sea!

There are many things between Heaven and Hell, and Marlow the Skeleton is just one of them. Taking the fight to the Hollows who tried to take her, Marlow travels with Raiden, the other half of her soul, to the worst place she can think of. The Dead Sea. Part crazy religious cult, part vengeful god, The Dead Sea isn't what she thought it would be—it’s worse.

The thing is, you don’t know you’re addicted until you’re in the monster’s teeth. Marlow doesn't think she needs The Dead Sea, but it’s poisoning her with every drop, and every raging wave, and all the dust collecting in her lungs. How do you fight a villain when the villain isn’t a man, but a place?

Old characters with new agendas break the surface again, bringing fresh pain. Beneath a starless desert sky, Marlow and Raiden will confront a destiny that will end everything. They should have never gone to The Dead Sea to look for answers—they should have gone looking for questions.

Get it here:

Connect with Angela here, here, or here:

If you haven’t read the other books in the Hollows series, grab them while they’re on sale:

Friday, November 21, 2014 6 comments

The Voice of the Forest (#FridayFlash)

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

Thanks to Catherine Russell for providing a quick beta read.

Image source:
“Drunk again?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can get them,” said Bailar.

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

“I’ll ask the Forest.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s all right,” Bailar assured her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your staff, came the reply. Take up.

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2014 6 comments

Lost in Nightwalk COVER REVEAL!

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014 1 comment

New release: Green Zulu Five One by Scott Whitmore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who created the cover?

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

Your favorite character? Favorite chapter?

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

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

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

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

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

About the author

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2014 4 comments

Piling On

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

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

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

Deep in the heart of autumn

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

We won’t see skies this nice for a while

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

Friday, November 07, 2014 9 comments

The Knights of the Irregular Polygonal Table (#FridayFlash)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not Stonebelly?” asked Sir Umber.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 05, 2014 2 comments

I Write Escapism, and I’m Okay With It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 31, 2014 9 comments

A Web of Vengeance (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
Wilson woke up.

Spiders. Everywhere. In his bedroom.

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

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

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

A weight on his feet. The queen had arrived.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 3 comments

Writing Wibbles

I always feel like
somebody's watching me
(And I have no privacy)

I had a couple of things to share this week—an interview with the creator of the #amwriting hashtag was at the top of the list—but something else reared its ugly adobe head, and vaulted to the top of the list.

Nate Hoffeider at The Digital Reader broke the story a little over a week ago. Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) version 4 “[seems] to be sending an awful lot of data to Adobe’s servers.” Most EPUB-based eBook readers on the market use some version of ADE, although I’m not sure whether any are using ADE4 just yet. Older versions are less intrusive.

How intrusive is this? Let me quote Mr. Hoffeider here:
Adobe is gathering data on the ebooks that have been opened, which pages were read, and in what order. All of this data, including the title, publisher, and other metadata for the book is being sent to Adobe’s server in clear text. …

Adobe isn’t just tracking what users are doing in DE4; this app was also scanning my computer, gathering the metadata from all of the ebooks sitting on my hard disk, and uploading that data to Adobe’s servers. …

And just to be clear, this includes not just ebooks I opened in DE4, but also ebooks I store in calibre and every Epub ebook I happen to have sitting on my hard disk.
(emphasis mine)

The Passive Guy, a lawyer who writes on self-publishing issues, has an excellent summary and links, both in the article and from readers in the comments.

Much of the outrage in the tech side of the community focuses on Adobe’s use of plain text. That is a little disturbing, yes—it means anyone who can put a packet sniffer anywhere along the path between you and Adobe can see all this data. But for me, it’s what the people owning the servers are doing that’s more important. Scraping your hard drive for eBooks makes ADE4 spyware, in my opinion.

When pressed for an explanation, Adobe finally said (in the typical corporate lawyer speak of any company caught with their hands in your pockets) that it’s part of their DRM, and they gave themselves permission to do it through their “privacy” policy.

Now I can already hear the Kindle haters shouting “Amazon does it, too!” Well, yes, Amazon does send some information back to the mothership, but there are (as I see it) three important differences:

  1. Amazon is pretty up-front about what their Whispersync feature does, and it gives back by letting you sync your books across devices. Adobe gives you nothing (or maybe they use the info to target advertising at you, who knows?). You can also turn it off at any time.
  2. Whispersync isn’t a DRM mechanism, at least primarily. It works just as well with non-DRM books sold through the Kindle store.
  3. Amazon doesn’t presume to scrape your hard drive, looking for any MOBI or AZW files you might happen to have, just because they feel like it.

To Panic or not to Panic (probably not)

Since I handle all eBook formatting for Green Envy Press, and I work in EPUB format, I’m pretty sensitive to the idea of some corporation scraping my hard drive and looking over works in progress. Fortunately, I don’t use Adobe software in any part of my production toolchain.

But this is the problem: if people with access (legal or otherwise) to Adobe’s servers were to target a publisher’s typesetting department, they could get advance notice of upcoming titles or other intelligence. Or they could target individuals for blackmail purposes. I find it quite likely that Adobe’s legal department will use this info to shake down unfortunates who land in some kind of piracy profile (whether they’re actually pirating eBooks or not)—or sell the info to large publishers, so they can do the shaking down. I also expect Adobe to “share collected information with our third-party partners” (i.e. sell information about your reading habits to anyone who wants to spam you to death).

On the other hand, this affects only a small but growing number of individuals—those who have been suckered into installing ADE4 on their computers. I don’t know whether any eBook readers use ADE4, or will load that Trojan Horse in a near-future update. Obviously, people in the Kindle ecosystem are immune (beyond the Whispersync issues I mentioned earlier). Apple’s iBooks ecosystem is also Adobe-free, or so I’ve read. Earlier versions of ADE are not nearly as intrusive, so you’re safe in that case as well.

Fortunately, and I’ve said this before, eBook DRM is ridiculously easy to disable. Buy your eBooks from any authorized retailer, strip the DRM, and use Calibre or a third-party eReader to read on your computer. Or buy from those of us who make sure the “use DRM” selection is turned off when we publish.

And then, there’s the technical fix: block the IP addresses assigned to Adobe’s servers at your router. Whether you use DSL, cable, or fiber to get your Internet fix, your router has a fairly simple way to set this up. Look for something like “outgoing filters” and add the addresses shown in the image below. Here’s what I’ve added to my DSL router, just in case:

That won’t stop ADE4 from getting all chatty if you take your laptop outside the house, but it’s a start.

If you haven’t tried my eBooks—DRM-free, available for both Kindle and the rest of the world, and priced to move—why not check them out? The Crossover is free, and the rest are cheaper than a large latte. And unlike a latte, you can enjoy them again and again.

Sunday, October 05, 2014 4 comments

Little Swingers

Meet Amelia, in the swing next to Mason. She refers to him as “my boyfriend.”

Just a-swangin'

This is a church thing. They sit together in church sometimes, and usually at the Childrens’ Sermon (where the kids all come up front). I first found out when she had her arm around him as they sat listening. Her grandmother and I were cutting up about it later. “She’s a little old for him, ain’t she?” I asked in my best fake Southern accent. She’s six, and her birthday was during the summer, so she’s definitely older than him.

They don’t do much more than sit together, sometimes hold hands as they go downstairs. Mason doesn’t seem to be fazed much by it; it’s just part of church for him. For their grandparents, it’s just one of those amusing things kids do.

But apparently, she’s a bit of a troublemaker at school. Seems like Mason’s inherited his father’s (thankfully former) attraction for troublesome girlies. One more thing to grow out of. I hope.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014 7 comments

The Boy and His House

The Boy closed on a house on September 15th. Over the weekend, we took a truckload (plus half a vanload) of stuff down to him. He and his bride had filled the back of her car on Thursday with a bunch of small things—plus Mason. They have a room set up for him, and I really wish I thought to get more pictures than I did.

But I got a picture of the front of their place:

Ready for Hallowe’en, I see…

Here at FAR Manor, I don’t have to put up spider webs. The spiders do it for me:

At least this one isn’t in the walkway

The Boy’s house is sitting on a little over 2 acres; he was showing us all the things he has planned (including a garden along one side). Amazing… he’s embraced this home-ownership thing big-time. The only downside is that it’s pretty close to his in-laws. Experience has taught me that such a location is hazardous to your mental health. But her dad paid cash for the place. The wife and I looked at each other at that news… I said, “I guess he married well.” If I got FAR Manor for free, I wouldn’t complain about it very much at all.

So October is here, and I’ve been taking the work laptop outside in the mornings when it hasn’t been raining. The mosquitos are a little plentiful, perhaps the result of a few buckets left out in the rain. I’ve dumped them out, though, so now maybe the spiders will do for the mosquitos.

Monday, September 15, 2014 9 comments

OMG WTF Lobster?!

Lobster's better sideDespite the goofy picture, this is one of the toughest kind of posts to write about.

So it seems that Lobster, a former inmate at FAR Manor who was kicked out a couple times for various reasons, ended up moving to Louisiana. His bio-father lives out there, and is in prison for drugs, and you could say in this case that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. He (Lobster) has never had good impulse control, and one time trashed the detached garage in a drunken rampage.

So anyway. Louisiana. He’s out there in Livingston Parish. He moved in with a woman 20 years older than him, another thing that was a kind of pattern for him. They probably did drugs, rock and roll, and the other thing.

I have no idea what happened for sure, because there isn’t any detail, but M.A.E. got word from a mutual friend and said meth was involved. Whatever it was, I’ll just excerpt from the news article:

A Livingston woman was found dead on her living room floor Saturday morning in what authorities are calling a homicide. … [Her] lower abdomen and throat had cut marks – from what is believed to be a knife or other sharp object, authorities said.

And he admitted to it.

And this guy was living at FAR Manor, on and off, for several years.

I think I officially have the weirdest life among white-collar types.

Friday, September 12, 2014 9 comments

End of the Road (#FridayFlash)

Image source: openclipart.org
Vincent “Van” Hendricks stopped at the curb in front of the old mansion. “This is crazy,” he said, for the eighth time since he grabbed his leather bag and jumped in his Impala. The twenty years he spent chasing Jan Meppel demanded he go, though. You are invited to my lair, the letter had said. Bring your tools, and friends if you wish, but I pledge that you will come to no harm by my design. Hendricks had chosen to come alone, but told several trusted friends where he was going that night.

Shouldering his bag, his feet carried him to the door while his mind continued to sift through the reasons Meppel would invite him over. Some treachery, no doubt, but he was prepared.

He raised his hand to knock, but saw the note: Hendricks. The door is open. Please let yourself in and proceed to the parlor. Help yourself to the wine and canap├ęs, and I will join you presently. He shrugged and followed directions. His bag held ways to test for poison, but the food and wine were safe. He poured himself a glass of wine, a vintage far more expensive than he ever bought for himself, and waited.

“Ah, Hendricks,” his enemy, this vampire, greeted him, carrying his own glass and seating himself. “I suppose you are curious why I invited you.”

“I’m sure you have a little surprise planned for me, Meppel.”

The vampire chuckled. “Indeed I do,” he replied. “I am here, you have come, and it is time for you to finish the hunt.”

Hendricks frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“Then I’ll say it plainly. I want you to kill me tonight.”

Hendricks nearly choked on his wine. “What? Why?”

Meppel stood and began pacing the room. “If you include the days of my life, my pre-vampiric existence one might say, I am six hundred and fifty years old, and am bored beyond anything you can imagine. I seriously began to contemplate suicide—which for one in my condition, is a gruesome act indeed—about fifty years ago. Indeed, had you not come along, I would have likely done it before now. Evading you lifted the long boredom for a while, but now it has returned. I’d rather hoped you could have brought me down without my help, but it is not to be.”

“Kill you. Just like that. And you’re not worried about Hell?”

“Not at all. You see, I have no soul. Or rather, my soul went on to its reward with the death of my old self. I awoke into my new existence with my mind and memories, but my soul… gone. Amusing: the one part of me that was fitted for eternity departed when my second birth made me immortal. Such is the curse of the vampire.” Meppel drank and smiled. “I spent many years researching that problem, two centuries ago, and you are the first person to hear the answer I found.”

“That’s interesting,” said Hendricks, truly interested in spite of himself. “Evil without consequence?”

“Evil? You once likened me to a parasite, feeding off those like you. Does a dog call the tick evil? Nay, the tick does what it does to survive. What it is made to do. And I do the same. I may have fed on the unwilling. I may have killed those who deserved death. But never have I done what was done to me, and changed someone against his will.”

“What? What happened?”

Meppel drained his glass and set it on the table next to his chair. “I was in the employ of a merchant, in what you now call the Netherlands. This merchant owed favors to my father, and he persuaded the merchant to hire me on. I was not aware—nor, I believe, was my father aware—that my employer deeply resented my father. One night, he encouraged me to drink my fill of his wine, and I blacked out. When I awoke, it was to my second birth. He who had done this explained how my former employer had sold me, told me of my new existence, what I could do and not do, and so forth. He had a cadre of loyal staff, who also served as our food source. We fed them well, and they fed us in return.

“When whispers of our existence became too loud, we sailed to the Antilles. My master left me his worldly goods when he chose to end his own existence, and I moved on to the Americas. And now, I have reached the end of the road. You have what you need, I presume?”

Hendricks took a stake and mallet from his bag. “I do.”

“Where is your sword?”


“To strike off my head after!” Meppel looked agitated. “You cannot tell me that you have hunted vampires and—bah. Use that one.” He pointed to an antique sword hanging on the wall. “The scabbard is around here somewhere. Take it with you when you go. You’ll need it when you go back and finish all the other kills you bungled. Will you need me to position the stake properly as well?”

“What? I—”

Meppel waved a ringed hand. “I am sure you know where to put the stake. To my chambers, now. Let us finish this.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 2 comments

Vacation Slides Along

On Monday, we signed out a paddleboat and took a little tour around the lake:

Faster, Granddad!

There's a beach area on down a ways, that has a slide going right into the water, and Mason was all hot to do that. So next morning, away we went!


There's also a raft, not something I see a lot of here in the South, although lots of lakes had them up north. On Monday, I steered the paddleboat up to the ladder so he could climb up for a few seconds, but yesterday he wanted to swim out there. Fortunately, the lake water was reasonably warm. His floaties did the job, and he got a pretty good idea of how things were when I was a kid in summer. (I hadn't swam out to a raft in decades, so it was fun for me too.) He did get to shivering after a while, so I got him up on the raft and sitting in the sun for a little bit until he warmed up.

OK, I'll skim across the water and make the turn...

As you can see, we pretty much had the beach to ourselves. That was kind of a pity, but I guess with it being the week after Labor Day, all of the kids are back in school. I hope we can get over here on daytrips next summer; Mason already wants Daughter Dearest and me to chuck him off the raft. I told him he has to learn to swim without floaties first, so he has an incentive. He really wore himself out yesterday, and slept a long time, almost until 9.

Last night, we found a playground, and there was already a little girl his age there. Both of them were glad to have someone else to play with, so they let the parental units talk among themselves for a while. The downside of that is, Mason's now bummed when we go somewhere and there aren't any other kids around.

I'm not hurling, just spinning!

Too bad it's just him and me. DD is sick, and the wife is (as usual) tied up. I've got a little cold myself. But he's trying to get me to take him to the pool up at the clubhouse, so I need to leave this here. More vacation fun, you know!

Friday, September 05, 2014 12 comments

The Last Lightkeeper (#FridayFlash)

The knock sounded urgent. Farl forced himself upright, knees popping. He shuffled to the door, trying to tame his unruly tufts of white hair.

“Are you a Lightkeeper?” the young man on the other side blurted, the second Farl opened the door. He looked concerned enough that Farl could forgive his skipping his manners.

“I am,” said Farl, pulling the door open the rest of the way. He stood aside and motioned the young man to enter. “And you are?”

“Bin,” he replied. A common enough name. “Glad I am, that I found you at last.” Bin made to put his hands on his belt, but one hand strayed close to the dagger he wore to one side. He waved his hands for a moment, perhaps trying to decide what to do with them, then ended up clasping them before him.

“And I am here,” said Farl. “But let us have tea as we talk. Putting an end to any problem is best begun with a cup of tea, I have found. Take a seat.” He busied himself with serving his guest. A pinch of leaves in each cup, and the water was already hot. Is this the one, come at last? he wondered as he worked. He would have his answer soon enough.

“So,” Farl prompted, setting a cup before his guest before seating himself. “Tell me why you have come.”

“I am an emissary from Linden Grove, the last free realm,” Bin replied, sipping at his tea. “We are beset by the Dark, that now rules over all realms but our own, and hard-pressed. I was charged to seek a Lightkeeper and beg for aid, that we may repel them, but all of those near to us are gone.”

“I am not surprised,” said Farl. “For I am the last. My fellows have succumbed, some to fear. Some to treason.” He looked directly at Bin. “Many to treachery.”

Bin quailed. “It is true then? You are the only Lightkeeper left to roam the world?”

“Aye.” Farl smiled. “But the last is not least, and I am not powerless. I have set plans into motion that will drive the Dark into the deep fastnesses from which it came. Only one thing is left to do, and then nothing the Dark can do shall avail them.”

“Then there is still time?” At Farl’s nod, Bin leaped across the table and drove his dagger into the old Lightkeeper’s chest. “Fool,” said Bin, jerking the dagger out, “you have given the world into our hands at last…”

Bin’s victorious boast trailed off, as he stared at Farl’s chest. Instead of blood, Light poured from the wound.

“That was the last thing,” said Farl. His voice held both pain and satisfaction, and he managed a smile. “I have faithfully kept the Light, and now I may at last release it into the world.”

“No.” Bin backed away, eyes riveted to the growing torrent of Light.

“You have given the world its salvation,” Farl insisted. “Be sure to tell your master that, when your shriveled soul flees to its dark bosom.” The Light poured out of Farl, stripping away Bin’s disguise, revealing the hideous minion of the Dark beneath. As Bin screamed in pain and terror, the Light dissolved the minion’s hide, bones, sinew. The bodies of both Farl and Bin crumbled to ash as the Light burst forth, free at last.

“Now,” said the Light, in Farl’s voice. “The world shall know both Light and Dark, in equal measure. Thus, the people will choose which path they follow. No thralls, content in their bondage. No slaves, begging for release. This day, they become their own masters, now and evermore.”

In the last free realm of Linden Grove, as the brave folk prepared to make their final stand, a soundless explosion of Light burst upon them from the east. It rolled forth, slow and relentless, pushing back the howling Dark and leaving the folk confused in their victory.

This was the First Dawn.

Thursday, September 04, 2014 2 comments

A Dark and Stormy Night

I thought I didn’t sleep well last night, but I apparently slept right through a pretty heavy thunderstorm. It was rumbling through the evening, so I must not have given it much thought. I do remember waking up at one point and hearing all the UPSes click. That may well have been when the power came back on, because when I went to poke the iMac this morning it was powered down. But that means I slept right through the constant nagging beeping of the UPSes, something I thought would not be possible.

So when I got to work this morning, there was debris all around the grounds. And this just past the driveway:

Then there was the email saying we lost power about 6:45 last night… must have been a really hairy storm down this way.

Here’s hoping your day is debris-free. Tomorrow’s Friday, and I’ve got it and the whole next week off! Stay tuned for a #FridayFlash queued up for tomorrow…

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 1 comment

Writing Wibbles

I finally updated the progress bar(s) over the weekend. Beyond the Sea of Storms is the working title for the sixth Accidental Sorcerers story, and I have two months to finish the first draft to stay on schedule. I have a vague idea of what I want to do for the seventh book, but I haven’t started anything yet. Oh well, I have a week of vacation next week, too close to the inlaws to be completely relaxing, but I should have a couple days free to write.

Meanwhile, Lost in Nightwalk is off to the beta readers. I have two old and two new folks working on it, and I’m interested to see how it goes. I will soon have Marginalia and The Magic App Store sent off to interested parties. I envision them as the anchor stories in a Termag-based anthology.

Tag! I’m it!

I was tagged by +Philip Overby for the Not-so-Accidental Blog Tourist hop (huh huh, he said “accidental”). You know the drill by now: answer some questions, tag some new victims, will the circle be unbroken by and by…

1. What are you working on now?

There’s that little cluster of progress bars up and to the right, that lists my active projects and how far along I am. ;-) But seriously, the important thing right now is Beyond the Sea of Storms. I’ve also written a couple pieces that will end up in #FridayFlash this week and next. About dang time, it’s been two months since my last flash.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t know of too many Fantasy books where the main characters are citizens of a matriarchy (one that isn’t a “yeah we got a queen but the guys run things anyway” variety). It’s lots of fun figuring out all the implications, and sharing them with readers. Culture shock! And the women (or girls) aren’t sitting around waiting for the guys to rescue them. A recent reviewer said “my daughter and I love reading these,” and that put a smile on my face.

3. Why do I write what I do?

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and the stories that clamor for attention are the ones that get written. I wrote White Pickups and Pickups and Pestilence because they would not leave me alone (and kept growing) until I finally finished them. In the case of our Accidental Sorcerers, one thing tends to lead to another, and the stories just flow.

There are other things I want to write—some more stories in The Crossover line, some short stories, a new and completely different series—but the stories that sit back and wait their turn aren’t the ones getting any keyboard time.

4. How does my writing process work?

For certain values of “work,” I assume.

I have to grab odd moments to write—lunch time at work, and home after Mason goes to bed, are the two primary blocks of time I have. I don’t write linearly, and I use only the barest sketch of an outline. I keep most of the story line in my head, where I can play with it pretty much anywhere (often while commuting).

When I actually begin writing a story, I start with pivotal scenes, then figure out how the characters get from Point A to Point B to Point C. I’m one of those blasphemous “edit as you go” people, a habit begun I don’t know how long ago, and it works for me. Maybe when I get out the old typewriter to see what stories want letters to physically hit the paper, I’ll change my ways.

After I finish a draft, I let it sit for a month. Then I self-edit and send to beta readers. I apply the feedback, then off to the editor. Finally, format and launch!

OK… who’s next?

Well, +Angela Kulig is a little reluctant, but if y’all raise a clamor, she might be talked into it. Might as well add +Tony Noland and +Loni Flowers to the list too… and if you want to do it, jump right in!


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