Friday, September 24, 2010


Out of our past and from our future, one day one will come to us. This one will be both driven and led by she who lights our day. This one can see without seeing and feel without touching. This one can hear what we cannot say and smell our sorrow. This one will touch the heart of us and mend our soul. Then this one will lead us out of our long darkness and back to she who lights our day.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Book Doctor

In my search for the people and the knowledge to help me further my writing skill, I have found now two editors who, though untried, are great people. Today I checked out Jason Black's website - Plot to Punctuation - I'd been following him for a while but in truth, I hadn't gotten around to really taking a look until this morning. He offers a variety of editing services I can only drool for, and it's for a fair price, what's great about this is, he will accept a sample and then offer you an honest estimate.

Gotta love honesty in this business. I've had little feedback at all, let alone honest feedback, so today, courtesy of Jason's generosity, I got my very first writing lesson ever, and not only that, it was on 'show vs tell', my nemesis. In fact, he told me he's going to be speaking at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association meeting next week, and get this, he's going to be talking about 'show don't tell'. I wish I could attend, but, sorry folks, he gave me a taste first.

His words: "It's a bugaboo for everyone" and I can believe that.

We all know what emotions feel like, but we can't see them. They are invisible. My telling you how someone feels is 'telling'. So how do you 'show' an emotion? You do so my showing us the reaction to emotion. If a person is sad, what are they doing? If they are angry, what do you see? The people around us show us their emotions all the time, we've just become so accustomed to seeing them that we don't really see them anymore. They are the white noise in our life that fills everything around us and dictates to us how we react to those around us. Your friend is crying, you put your arm around their shoulders. Your brother is throwing a temper tantrum, you maybe leave the room. So here's the stumbling block for writers. Not to tell your readers that your friend is sad, but to let them know that she is crying. Not to tell your readers that your brother is really pissed, but to let them hear his incoherent screams and stamping of feet (or maybe the slamming of a door too, as you leave the room)

Jason gave me a simple assignment.
Character: John, a typical middle-class office worker.
Character: Mary, a girl who dumped him wretchedly in High School, whom John has not seen in 15 years.
Invisible thing: Although John has moved on with his life, deep down he still really hates Mary for what she did.
Challenge: write a scene which allows the reader to infer the invisible thing, the emotion, without ever naming it. That is, don't use the word "hate" anywhere in the scene. Make us understand "hate" without telling us that he feels hatred.

I took like ten minutes and jotted down a quick scene:
My spur of the moment effort:
John walked down the street, whistling the theme song from Star Wars; his intended goal, the coffee shop up the street. Cappuccino mocha with cinnamon on top. Mmmmm he could taste it already, he wanted it so bad. He looked in the window on the way to the door. There she sat. What was she doing there? He shoved his hands in his pockets and walked on by. Suddenly, cappuccino mocha with cinnamon tasted

Yeah, I bombed, but in bombing I learned, and Jason continued to teach. I got John down sorta. Where he was going wasn't important to the big picture. I tried to show that seeing her made going to his favorite coffee shop for his favorite cappuccino was now totally ruined because she had found the place. Nearly totally leaving her out of the story.

So I tried again. I was sorely tempted to move the scene to a more fictional setting because in truth I know nothing of city life and less about what an office worker might do about a years-old bitter breakup. Totally out of my element on all counts. But no, being out of my element wasn't going to change the 'show don't tell' weakness, so I stuck with it.

Effort #2:
John glances up at the clock, then he closes the file and turns to prepare to file it away. A knock sounds at his door. “Come in,” he calls and turns to finish his task. He hears the click of high heels as the visitor comes to stand in front of his desk. He turns, his mouth open with a ready greeting, but as soon as he sees her, he clamps his jaw shut.

“Hello, I was wondering if you could help me find George Michael’s office. I’m afraid I’m a little lost.”

George, the office gossip. “Never heard of him. I’m busy.” He turns away and opens the bottom drawer of his desk. He rummaged through the files there until he hears her heels click out of the room and the door close behind her. With a hiss he rammed the drawer home. He looked at the clock again and then up at the ceiling, never really seeing either of them. Abruptly, he shoves away from his desk, yanks his jacket from the coat hook and strides from the office, slamming the door in his wake.

The change of scene didn't help. This effort failed even worse than before. Here, there was no connection what-so-ever between John and the woman who entered the office. Who was she, who knows. Why was John pissed, coulda been anything. Maybe he was just a total jerk.

Then Jason pointed out something - yet another one of my weaknesses. Two of my stories involve main characters who either can't talk or simply don't have anyone to talk to - you know the kind, the professional wall-flower. 'Showing' in a story without talking is really very hard. But just because they aren't talking doesn't mean they're not thinking. So guess what guys, thoughts are on the way, at least for those two characters - and for others too.

Back to my lesson - Jason took me back to the coffeehouse and showed me how it should have been done:
John froze as he caught a glimpse of a woman outside the Starbucks.
'Mary?' John wondered, as she slipped out of sight. 'Oh my God, that really WAS her.' He took a sip of his latte but tasted only bile. He dropped his newspaper on the table and chucked his half-full cup in the trash. 'Dammit. Now I have to find a new Starbucks.'

John grabbed his briefcase and made for the door, waving one more time to the cute barista with the ponytail. "Nice knowing you."

That covered it all. We know who she is. We know how he feels about her. And we can feel his disgust and anger, and we know it was directed at Mary, blaming her for his having to find a new coffee shop. All the whys and wherefores aren't important to this scene - the emotion - the invisible - was what we were after.

Sigh - can I do it? I'm going to give it my best shot. I love a challenge.

I've subscribed to Jason's blog. It is full of tips and tricks about character development, among other things. Jason has been blogging for 2 years now. It'll take me weeks to read everything he posted, but it will be a ready research resource for years to come.

Thanks so much for being in my world, Jason

Friday, September 10, 2010

When Love does the Dressing with Magic - from THE MAKING OF A MAGE KING

“You still have to get me something to wear. I’m not wearing that red dress to go visit a bunch of female starved, bush crawlers.”

“Bush crawlers? First they were my troops; now their bush crawlers.”

“They are still female starved, what do you want to bet? Besides, it’s cold.”

Sean made the blankets disappear and Aaunika squeaked again. “What do you want to wear?”

“I’ll be wearing a dress, thank you very much, but it needs to be far more practical than that hussy-dress. I am going to be riding a horse, after all.”

“I like that hussy-dress. I hope you don’t lose it. I hope you wear it for me - often.” He watched, grinning, as she stood up and pulled on her slip. “I don’t know anything about dresses,” he said. “Tell me what you want. Describe it and I’ll make it for you.”

“Well let’s see; it’s cold, but the sun might be bright and I don’t want to get sunburned; I don’t like red very much.” She jumped and squeaked again. Royal blue velvet crept across her shoulders and caressed her neck under his hands. Soft white satin reached up and brushed her cheek. Blue velvet crept down her arms with a wide white streak of white satin down the outside. The blue velvet touched and held together at a point midway between her shoulder and elbow, then again, midway between her elbow and her wrist then the white satin flowed out over the back of her hand, stopping before it could get in the way of her fingers. The bodice flowed down leaving the neckline dangerously low like the red dress, but the delicate skin was protected by more soft white satin. The skirt flowed down in soft folds that weren’t nearly as full as the red dress; instead, they were divided for riding. Underneath, unseen by any eye, white satin touched every inch of her legs and soft leather boots grew up to her knees. He completed her look with a silver necklace that held a gem identical to the one she made for him to put on his armor except that it was the size of his thumb and nestled just under the hollow of her throat, only just visible amongst the satin.

Sean pulled his hands away reluctantly. Every inch of satin rested against skin he longed to touch. “What do you think?” he asked, huskily. “I’ll take it all off again if you don’t like it.” If he took it off, he’d take her right back to bed in a heartbeat and to hell with riding the patrol.

“You said you didn’t know anything about dresses,” she said, grinning. “This is wonderful. What kind of cloth is it? I’ve never seen anything like it before. I like it.” She did a graceful turn to show it off for him. “It’s beautiful.” She swept up to him and pulled him down to kiss him. “Thank you,” she said. “Now you.”

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Over the next few days, the celebration continued seemingly without any end in sight, until one day it all came to a halt as everyone stopped whatever they were doing and watched an approaching war party as they thundered over the northeastern horizon toward them. There were only about fifty of them, and as they drew closer, it became apparent that they had ridden hard to get here. They halted a couple hundred yards away, and one man rode forward alone and turned sideways, almost as if he desired to put himself on display. Like all the men seemed to be in these northern districts, this man was also big, though not nearly so massive as Bull. And instead of the prevalent blond or red hair, his hair was about as black as possible.

Harris grabbed a nearby horse and moved to take up a position much like the other’s. As he moved beyond the perimeter of the fairgrounds, Greathorn called out to him, “This may be your challenge, Thunder Rider! Are you ready for it?”

Harris spotted him standing on the front edge of the crowd and saluted him briefly before riding forward. Saarloq and Juan moved to accompany him, but Harris halted them.

“No, this time I think you should remain here.” He didn’t linger to decipher the expressions on their faces. He felt strange enough riding out alone. He rode out until the other’s voice stopped him about a hundred feet away.

“I am Raven Hawk. I challenge you. I have waited all winter for you to come.”

“You challenge me, for what?” Harris called back with as much arrogance as the other. He knew he could not afford to appear intimidated here.

“If I win, you die. If you win, I die. What happens after will not matter to the dead,” said Raven, speaking sharply.

“You challenge me for the right to die? I have no wish to die, nor do I wish to kill you, and what happens after matters a great deal to me,” retorted Harris. “If I die, all I have tried to rebuild will crumble again, and more people like Kain will come. If you die, I will lose a great warrior and leader, and I have so few.”

“You call me a great warrior and leader? You do not know me; you assume a lot for a small man.”

“I don’t think so,” said Harris. “I look at you, your men and your horses, and I see that you have made only one mistake today. But I will accept your challenge, as long as it is not to the death.”

“Are you a coward, that you are afraid to die?” yelled Raven with derision, trying to goad Harris.

Jon rode out just then. He had no shirt on and he rode bareback. It was so obvious he was no threat, no one moved to intercept him. He stopped halfway between the two parties and shouted his support. “He’s not afraid. He’s a ruler, and must consider more things than just personal gratification.” Raven stiffened with indignation. Jon continued quickly, “Do not take offense, Lord Raven Hawk. Our training is the same. He also seeks to preserve your life.”

Raven was incredulous; he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Are you trying to tell me I have no chance?”

Harris spoke up again in an effort to maintain peace. “Raven Hawk, come, share a cup of mead with me and rest yourself and your men. If you still want to challenge me tomorrow, I will accept whatever terms you want.”

Raven was further confused. “You would share a cup with me, knowing that I came here intending to kill you?”

“It is still my hope that this can still be avoided, but yes, I will share a cup with you,” said Harris. “You have ridden hard. You, your men and your horses are winded. If you truly want to fight me, or anyone, you should be rested and at your best. Plus, if you accept my offer, we are both safe, at least until tomorrow.”

As Raven paused to consider his words, another man rode up from his ranks. He was younger and also had black hair. Harris figured he was probably Raven’s younger brother. “It’s a trap, Raven. If you go into their camp, you will never come out. Someone will slit your throat for you, or the cup will be poisoned.”

Bull called out from where he stood, “You wouldn’t insult the hospitality of a king, would you?”

Raven growled, and hearing it, Harris dismounted. He handed his reins to Jon and waved him back to the crowd. “Have your men set up camp right over there.” He said to Raven and pointed to an area a short distance away near a small pond. “You and I shall share a fire right here until tomorrow. We can share some food and drink, and some good conversation.”

Raven dismounted also and handed his horse to his brother, who retreated to the indicated campsite with the rest. “I don’t trust you,” he said as he stood there.

“I can see that,” replied Harris, he too just stood there.

A woman approached carrying firewood and started a small fire. When she had finished, another approached and set a tray containing a jug and some cups beside the fire. After she retreated, another came with a tray laden with food of all sorts, and after her, the first returned with another armload of firewood. With her came a girl with pads to sit on and blankets to wrap around their shoulders. The preparations complete, everyone withdrew to their home fires to wait quietly for morning.

It was only shortly after midday, but a casual observer might think everyone was either preparing for the evening meal or a funeral. All those gathered there believed that the dawning light would bring a funeral. No one could see a way out of the challenge that wouldn’t somehow demean one or the other. So, with a funeral on the horizon, no one felt much like celebrating anymore.

Harris and Raven stood silently across the fire from each other until everyone else had settled down and everything was quiet. Then Harris stepped forward, sat down on the pad by the fire, poured himself a drink from the jug, and waited for Raven to settle also. When he did, Harris handed him the cup from which he had been drinking. “My mother killed my father with poison and then left him to rot. I have no sympathy for a poisoner.”

Raven accepted the cup and drank. “Did you put her to death?”

“I didn’t get the chance. She was pregnant, so I waited until the baby was born. She died in childbirth.”

Raven felt that he learned a lot from this small exchange, so he grew more comfortable, no longer worried about poison or any other underhanded treachery.

They ate, drank and talked until the sun once more began to lighten the sky in the east. The only subject not spoken of was the coming challenge. Raven discovered he liked and respected this man, and regretted ever uttering the challenge, but the custom was too ingrained into their society even to consider backing out.

They paired off under the dawning sky. They ordered the sentries to say nothing of their movements, so the camps were alerted only when the clashes of their swords woke them.

The people all gathered, but no one pressed close; this was not a boxing match for spectators who cheered their favorite and kept them within a ring of bodies. Everyone watched from whatever vantage point they could find, and they watched in silence. This fight would cause a loss, and that loss would be far greater than the loss of just one man; no one could bring himself to cheer for either side because of it.

When Harris’s sword snaked past Raven’s defense, he spoke. “Understand; I will not kill you.” Then he laid a cut across Raven’s chest right above his heart cutting the back of his guarding hand in the process.

Raven did not reply, but his teacher’s words came to mind: “If you do not attack, your defense is weakened by at least half, and you must then retreat to make up for the weakness.” So he pressed his attack twice as hard, only to discover that, even though Harris did not attack, his defense was impeccable, and every time he extended to penetrate it, Harris’s sword dealt him another cut.

After a dozen or more such cuts, Raven backed up for a breath. “Do not toy with me,” he hissed. “I cannot walk away from this fight defeated.”

“Yes you can, and we would all benefit for it,” returned Harris.

“No, I can’t,” insisted Raven. “This was a challenge to the death. If I walked away defeated, my own people would set upon me and kill me.”

“They wouldn’t dare. To attack you for that reason would be an attack against me.”

“They would, either now or later, but they would.” He gave Harris no further time to consider alternatives before pressing his attack again; then he noticed the strange expression of defeat and profound regret on Harris’s face. At the same time, he saw the glint of white through the hair that covered Harris’s forehead, and then a fire lit up his chest. He looked down to see Harris’s sword buried there. He looked up again to tell Harris that it had been an awesome fight, but he had no breath for the words. Finding suddenly that he had so many things he wanted to say to this man, he grew frustrated at not being able to draw even enough breath to say farewell. Then he found himself looking up at the sky without memory of how he got there.

Sholeh reached their side in time to see that Raven was still aware. “Harris. Harris!” She got his attention. “Remove your sword - and pray. There still may be time.”

So he did just that, and there were many now close enough to hear. He knelt upon one knee and grasped the hilt of his sword with both hands. “Mother, please protect him and guide him to Your side if You must. But Mother, please . . . I need him. Allow him to serve me for a time yet.” Then he pulled the sword out and stepped aside.

Raven watched all this from the other side of a barrier of numbness, and he marveled that his opponent would pray that he survive such a fatal blow, but what held his attention most was the elegant woman who approached, unnoticed by anyone, to stand behind Harris and rest a hand on his shoulder. When Harris took his sword and moved away, she took his place and spoke to him in a soft voice reminiscent of the spring breeze. “I have provided many servants for him to do my work, but he needs many more, so I will give you to him as well. Serve him well.” She laid her hand over the cut in his chest and Raven gasped a ragged breath and fainted as the numbing buffer melted away, leaving him to struggle briefly with the pain.

Raven’s brother, Black Bear, was standing close when his brother fainted, and he believed Raven was now dead. The laws dictated that he must now swear allegiance to this man, but he had loved his brother very much and was loath to serve the man who had killed him, regardless of what the custom dictated. Even though it looked like Harris truly regretted what he had done, Black Bear could not bring himself to trust him, and he vowed that - though he would not incite any open conflict - he would not be one to capitulate either.

Everyone was surprised when Sholeh announced. “He lives. I need a campfire, water and my medicine pouch from my tent. Now!”