Friday, November 30, 2012

The Wrong Bus by John Noel Hampton

Are you in the mood for a really touching Christmas story? Please allow me to entice you to read this one.

Here we have a sweet little old lady (white, by the way) living a lonely life with only her best friend and house keeper (black, by the way) as company. With the anticipation of her son finally returning from the war she decides to go shopping, and being a very proper lady, she simply dress properly, no matter if her shoes hurt her feet. It was such a lovely day, she decided to take the bus.

The times having changed since the last time she rode the bus and her hearing not what it used to be, our sweet little old lady ended up a long way from home, tired, footsore, and very confused.

Enter our second main character

This young man (black, by the way), despite all the hard knocks the deck of life dealt him, wanted very much to make his grandma proud. However, to accomplish that, he has to make some hard decisions, like keeping his mother from coming home to visit. He's been trying to save up enough to go to college. There's also her pimp who keeps looking him up whenever his mother goes missing.

Needless to say, boy meets girl, so to speak, but all is not roses. There's quite a few thorns mixed in, and you know thorns draw blood, a little. Is black and white an issue? Since I mentioned it? No, not as much as you might expect. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Read it - you won't regret it. Take my word for it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Lammas Night by Mercedes Lackey

A waning moon conceals her face
Behind a scudding wind-torn cloud.
(a wind-torn shroud)
She wraps herself in its embrace
As in a tattered cloak.
(a shadow cloak)
The wind is wailing in the trees.
Their limbs are warped and bent and bowed.
(so bleak and cowed)
I stand within my circle now
To deal with what I woke.
(I wake--I see, but not yet free.)

A wanderer of wizard kind
I was, until a month ago
(so well I know)
The headman of this village came
And begged that I should stay.
(so cold and fey)
"For since our wizard died," he said
"And why he died we do not know--
(so long ago!)
We have no one to weave us spells
And keep the Dark at bay."
(the dark, so deep: so cold the sleep)

"His house and books are yours, milady,
If you choose but to remain."
(remembered pain)
His offer was too tempting
To be lightly set aside
(remembered pride)
I'd wearied of my travel, being
Plaything of the sun and rain--
And I said that I would bide.
(I hope--I pray--and you must stay)

Perhaps if I had been a man, 
And not a maid, perhaps if I
Had been less lonely, less alone,
Or less of magic folk--
(the spell-bound broke)
Whatever weakness was in me,
Or for whatever reason why
(my reason why)
Something slept within that house
That my own presence woke.
(You dream so much--I try to touch)

A half-seen shadow courted me,
Stirred close at hand or by my side.
(to bid you bide)
It left a lover's token--one
Fresh blossom on my plate.
(a fragrant bait)
I woke to danger--knew the young
Magician still to Earth was tied--
(for freedom cried)
And tied to me--and I must act.
Or I might share his fate.
(I need your aid, be not afraid)

I found a spell for banishment--
The pages then turned--and not by me!
(look now and see)
The next spell differed by one word,
A few strokes of a pen.
(and read again)
The first one I had seen before,
The spell to set a spirit free;
(so I will be)
The second let the mage-born dead
Take flesh and live again!
(one spell and then I live again)

Now both these spells were equal
In their risk to body and to soul.
(I shall be whole)
And both these spells demanded 
They be cast on Lammas Night.
(the darkest night)
And both these spells of spirit
And of caster took an equal toll,
(task to the soul)
But nowhere is it writ
That either spell is of the Light.
(to live and see and touch, to be)

Can it be wise to risk the anger
Of the Gods in such a task?
(yet I must ask)
Yet who am I to judge of who
Should live and who should die?
(don't let me die--)
Does love or duty call him?
Is his kindness to me all a mask?
(take up the task)
And could I trust his answer
If I dared to ask him "Why?"
(give all your trust--my will [you must])

So now I stand within the circle
I have drawn upon the floor--
(the open door)
I have no further answer if
This spirit's friend or foe
(nor can you know)
Though I have prayed full often, nor
Can I this moment answer if
I'll tell him "Come" or "Go."

First there was this song, and then some friends got together and wrote up some endings. The end result was a delightfully varied collection of each author's interpretation of how this song might end. All of them are fairly short scenes, some covered only a couple days, some covered some months of story time. Some were only a handful of pages, but I don't think any of them were more than twenty pages long. The endings they all chose were as varied as the number of writers. 

I found Mercedes Lackey on Facebook. I even messaged her and asked permission to continue the concept, making something of a blog hop was the idea, but I got no reply. So consider this merely a book review. A good one. It is obvious that each story is tied to the song, but there is no danger of getting mired in the same old story over and over. The only sameness is, as would be expected, the main players as outlined above, but the hows and whys, and of course the endings make for a delightful collection of opinions. I highly recommend you pick this up. It's a delightful distraction from the full length novel.

Friday, November 16, 2012

DRUID DERRICK - How it came to be

Most of the time when I start a book, I have an idea or a scene in mind. I then create a character and give him or her a goal where the book can end. At that point, it's like getting in the car and driving across the country - you know where you want to end up, but the trip, the places you might pull aside to visit, are completely impromptu. You gotta love that kind of journey, especially if there is no real deadline to worry about.

DRUID DERRICK came about in much the same way and it yet was very different. Growing up, I was never much of a game playing person, meaning board games then, though I do enjoy playing monopoly from time to time. I have the game on my computer but I haven't played it in ages. When I came online and discovered Facebook, as what I think of as a natural progression of the discovery, I tried out a few of the games I found there. In favor of my writing I have blocked whatever games I've been invited to, keeping my distractions down to only three and maybe soon just two. Outside of that, my most favorite of all games I have EVER played is Dungeons & Dragons. Never before or since have I had so much fun or laughed so much during a game. I still have all the books though I no longer play because there's no one around to play with and it is really difficult to play with only two people. Plus, just like all my other games, I'd rather write.

So the next best thing is to mix the two. Here's how I started. Following the rules of the game I rolled up a Druid. Now according to the rules that I had (the rules are constantly evolving so I know what I have is rather archaic), a player character couldn't become a druid until he was already a level nine Cleric. Then I had to determine some sort of timeline. Out of curiosity, I figured I'd take my druid all the way to the highest level. Now how can I determine how long that would take?

From time to time, as Dungeon Master, I have been asked how long a character needs to spend on studying a spell, thus giving the rest of the characters in the party the problem of what to do in the mean time. So I decided to give spell study a time value. I figured a level one spell would take a month to learn, a level two spell, two months, and so on, so a level seven spell would take seven months.

By the D&D rules, each character advances in level when they acquire a certain number of experience points, and with each level came a certain number of new spells. There is a different list of spells for Wizards and Druids or Clerics just as there is different rules involved with these characters and how many of what level of spells they get, but how many spells a character can use per day is handled the same way - this is one rule that always bothered me, but the rules were the rules and at the time I had no idea what to do about it.

Wizards went off to school or to some higher wizard to learn their new spells (all behind the scenes) - hence the need for a time span, but Clerics, Druids, Paladins and I think one or two other character were bestowed their spells by their god(s). Because of this major difference I wanted there to be a difference between how spells are recalled and used. I was okay with Wizards being able to memorize only so many spells per day, and as they gained experience, they became better at this and could therefore be able to memorize more spells per day.

According to the D&D rules, Druids' spell casting was handled the same. I suppose, in the interest of simplicity, that was best, but it never settled well with me. Recently (long after I no longer played) I decided to make another small change to the rules. Just as I assigned a time span to learning a spell, I assigned an energy value to those spells bestowed by the gods. Now there's a little difference here because there are level zero spells so I assigned them one point, level one spells got two points, and so on, so level seven spells got eight points. Using these points, my character had 41 energy points as a level nine Cleric turned level one Druid, and he could spend these point rather like hit points on any spell he has been given. That means he could cast up to eight level four spells or forty-one level zero spells before needing to rest and reconnect with his god (meditate). I stay with the rest of the spell restrictions when it comes to acquiring a new level of spells. So as a level one druid he can only cast up to level four spells. At level two he can cast level five spells. At level four he can cast level six spells. And at level nine he can cast level seven spells. He reaches Grand Druid before he can cast level eight spells, and since that is where my book ends I didn't take my table any further.

Enough of that - back to my timeline

Going back to the need for time to pass, especially since I didn't have experience points to go by, I went back to what I gave a Wizard to learn a new spell. I also went back to the original table listing how many of what level spells a Druid gets when he advances a level. Using this information I determined that it would take an average of 7.6 months (sometimes seven, eight, or nine months) to advance a level. That was the backbone of my timeline. Now it was time to fill in some details. How many and of what level spells he gained determined how many spell energy points he gained.

Here was the beginning of my biggest problem. My timeline would cover ten years. But what did I know at the time - onward with my planning.

According to the rules, there were special skills acquired as time went on so those had to be added in, and there was what was called feats where over time he becomes better at some skill or another. There was also set times when he is can figure out how to use a new weapon or he has managed to get better with one he already has. The best is the special skills, the most notable of which is his ability to change shape, but there is something to go with every level.

Okay, so that is the meat and bones of my timeline, but that is by no means the end. According to D&D rules, I'm supposed to roll the dice for wandering monsters every day, and twice during the night; it served to fill the game day, as the character party was going to or from some dungeon, or even within a dungeon for that matter. Now here's another thing I changed in the game. I figured in the 'real' world, a level nine character stood just as good a chance of finding a level one monster as anything, but since I didn't want my level one characters to be immediately squished by some level nine monster, I figured they weren't really going where the big monsters were anyway, however, I was rather more brutal than the game rules called for, meaning level nine characters could meet level nine monsters. The pesky rats and bats might annoy a level 36 player but I figured if they ever existed in their world, they would always exist in their world, so why not include them. If any of you gamers out there would like any of my lists and tables just shoot me an email and I'll send it to you. As you might have guessed by now, I've spent a lot of time thinking on this game even though I no longer play it.

I didn't want to clutter up my book with wandering monsters on every page so I altered the world. Since my druid was walking around in USA today, I put the recognized D&D history, battles and most of their monsters and magics into a carefully hidden past. The war was ultimately won and most of the monsters were wiped out. Much of the magics that enabled extra-planier monsters to come over was outlawed along with any magic involving animating the dead. Also in some great council of magic users, everyone agreed that humans could no longer be trusted with the skill - yes even the human Wizards agreed, besides by then they were likely in a minority. At any rate, because of all this, and what with a little extinction along the way, my list of monsters narrowed down to something far more manageable. So, to free up the pages of my book, I decided to roll for 'monsters' only twice a month, once for sentients and once for animals.

Now I had my timeline. Now I could start my book.

Now I needed an event, a trauma, a reason for my character to turn druid being as he's only a normal fifteen year old American kid. To sculpt this, I gave my character an unpleasant home life - not so bad that he was driven from his home, allowing enough ties to keep him home (his friends and perhaps his mother) with enough enticements to wish for things to be different (the D&D game he played with his friends). The trauma I picked was a rape, something I figured would be particularly traumatic for a boy. I've been told from a couple different sources that this is way too cliche, but I can't think of anything better. At any rate, I used that to tip the scale, that and a little magic to hide his memories, not that he wanted to remember his life, and my character was heading into his life as a Druid.

Now you might think that an average American boy taking up the life of a Druid, no matter how close to a D&D Druid he wanted to be, would be little more than a hermit, but not only did he have help during his first few steps, but there was a reason he had help, that reason being rather sinister, after a fashion, and planned since before his very conception, believe it or not. Ah but now I'm getting into some of the threads I've woven in since I started the story. Always a puzzle - the whys of the things that happen, and the stumbling upon the clues as we go along. Also, if he was only a hermit, no matter how glorified, there would be no dryads in the grove, no Chrystal Palace somewhere in the Rockies full of elves, no pixies living under his bed, no centaurs, halflings or dwarves either.

This is the foundation of this book. In another month (book time) year seven will begin, so in book time I'm a little over 2/3rds of the way to the end. Here is where the problem with my ten-year time span comes in. As of today, my document is 793 pages long and the last month of my timeline is on page 818. Those last 25 pages is not all simple timeline with small notes to tell me who or what he meets, there's also notes on ideas for parts here and there. Though not many, they can be anywhere from a paragraph or two to a page or two. In most of my timeline, each month takes up only from say 4 lines to around 8 lines. Then there is section breaks for when a new 'level' is reached - these levels are the only place where I start the chapter on the next page.

This book is the only book where I constructed any kind of an outline. Notes like what creature he meets or what skill he learns all need a plausible reason to occur, therein is the text of my book. I hope to finish it this year, or rather by this time next year, but there is no real hurry. Like I said I really love the impromptu journey to a known end. I figure when Derrick takes his seat as the youngest Grand Druid in centuries, at age 25, he's going to outline some drastic changes that will change the entire druid society.

I'll have to get there though. You never know what might happen along the way. I certainly don't.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Books Not to be Finished

We all run across them sometimes. Some of us even manage to buy them once in a while, either because the blurb on the back was enticing enough, or because someone we trust recommended it. Fortunately for me, both of these books were gifts given so long ago I'm not even sure where they came from.

Desperate for something to read, I gave them both my very best shot, but really couldn't stomach more than a third of each one. What books am I ranting about?

The first - Puerto Vallarta Squeeze by Robert James Waller

This book is about an author, Danny, declining in popularity. An ex-journalist, he turned to fiction with a brief flair of success and moved to Puerto Vallarta to indulge his depression with the best looking girl in town and a lot of sex, partying and of course alcohol.

His life takes a turn toward the interesting when he witnesses a professional hit. The hit man had gone to great lengths to go unnoticed; if Danny hadn't been looking in exactly the right spot at the right moment, he'd have missed it too. In the excitement of the two suddenly dead people out in the street, Danny and his really good-looking girl decide to go somewhere else.

Coincidentally, our professional hit man decides to follow our American to ask if he could take him to the American border. With the right amount of money incentive, plus Danny gets the brilliant idea to  grill the guy with the thought of his next stab at fame in mind. And so began their journey. I didn't get much further.

There was all manner of back story concerning the hit man, really a rather sad case, but rather than have it come out for some reason during the interaction between him and Danny, this information was completely disconnected from our author and his thoughts, for that's pretty much all we got from him, that and his impressions of the so very dangerous man riding in the car with him.

As a completely background character, the girlfriend was nonetheless everyone's eye-catcher.  She rode in the back seat playing no bigger part than to be an extra thread of actions, someone to wait for upon occasion, someone to make a comment now and then, certainly not a source of local information. Her biggest attraction was the occasional head-hop where someone admired her ass in passing. Really annoying if you ask me.

Now I've never been to Mexico, but rather than taking me on something of a tour, seeing this or that point of interest along the road, we got road numbers and miles to the next intersection, and the occasional comment on a choice of roads that would lead them to this destination or that one. This story was such an opportunity lost. I couldn't take anymore.

The next book I tried was Wild Animus by Rich Shapero

This book opened up at a college protest it sounded like some time in the 60s but I'm not at all sure; it was a minor issue to me. My brother went to college during that time, so for me it started out as something of a curiosity into the time. That didn't last long. Right off guy main, Sam, and girl main, Lindy, spent most of their time as high as they could get, likening their trips to touching god, and when that wasn't enough, they focused on an Alaskan magazine with a ram on the cover. This ram, the description of which waffled from that of a Dall Sheep to that of a Mountain Goat, soon became Sam's 'totem'. Now I'm all for totems; I happen to believe mine is a cat, a tiger or a mountain lion, but that's beside the point. Sam went so far as to become completely obsessed with the creature, and of course the illegal drugs made sure the two of them did little else, even forsaking friends and family.

Eventually, authorities started cracking down on the drug trade, so Sam and Lindy left town and college and headed west. Now bereft of whatever funding they used to have, they had to get jobs. There was little mention of this other than the fact that Sam couldn't keep one, leaving the burden of supporting them and their habit up to Lindy. To her credit, she seemed to be growing up, but she couldn't manage to say no to Sam, even when he spent all their money on mountain climbing and camping gear.

On one such 'trip', Sam changed his name to Ransom for no reason I could determine, but he also decided he and the ram were so united, he was now the ram's prophet or something of that nature - in other words, Sam decided he was about as close to godly as it was possible for a two-legged human could be.

Eventually, Sam traveled to Alaska so he could get to know his god, and at some point Lindy was able to go too. Up in Denali park they got their wish. They also had another revelation. Upon hearing the call of the wolf, Lindy came to the conclusion that the wolf was her totem. The reasoning behind this was that the wolf always followed the sheep and she was always following Sam/Ransom. Weird but okay - whatever floats your boat. But then they decided to consummate this revelation with sex right there on the mountain, doggy fashion. If you mix their totems in there, and how could I not, that's just freaky to me.

I did a little skipping ahead and not much changed. Sam/Ransom ended up following his ram up to the edge of some active volcano where he died, while Lindy tried to rescue him having drummed up a helicopter somewhere somehow, I didn't read that part. There is a disclaimer of sorts on the back, the very last sentence, where it says "Shapero's focus has been on the exploration within. The real goal, he maintains, is a fresh discovery of ourselves."

While some drugs may spark this 'exploration within', I have my doubts. I will not go into my thoughts on illegal drugs. I never tried any; I never saw the logic in skewing reality, but reading a 300+ page book of drug-induced delusional haze was way too weird to be interesting.

As I walk back to my bedroom after posting this, I do believe these two books will end up in the trash. And I never throw books away - until now.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Meet Virginia Alison

A couple days ago Virginia Alison asked to join my writing group on Facebook. As is my habit with both my groups, I go to the profile to make sure they are some kind of fit. For my writing group, the potential member needs to at least want to write. Now, mind you, erotica is not my kind of writing, but I just adore a good muse tale. Virginia is a prolific writer; take a look at her website for a long list of stories. I certainly will.

Here's how she came to be where she is today.


Where to start? The question is the easy bit; the answer is still unknown.

The Heaven Scent Trilogy is the culmination of a year's work, which all started with a poem. In July 2011, I met a Cowboy online, from Texas and yes, one of those meetings where you feel you have known this person all your life. Three weeks later he sent me a poem called –On Finding Someone– by Joel Nelson, the Cowboy Poet, and I immediately saw a story in it.

If on some better than average day 
I should be riding along 
 Observing—not expecting—well maybe 
And should see just as hoof swept by 
One flawless arrow point 
If on that bright shining morning 
I should step down to lift this point 
Turning it delicately—feeling its smoothness 
Beneath my fingertips 
I would marvel at its perfection 
At the way some ancient one 
Had tempered and crafted such beauty 
At how it came to lie there 
All these centuries—covered—uncovered 
Until it came to me 
To happen by this place 
On this day made now more perfect. 
And I would ponder such things 
As coincidence and circles and synchronicity, 
And I would pocket this treasure near my heart, 
And riding on I would recall 
Having seen such treasure as this elsewhere 
But not this one—not this one. 
And for one brief moment I would stiffen with fear 
At how one quick glance in another direction 
Could have lost this to me forever, 
And I would touch my shirt over my heart 
Just to make sure. 

With permission of © 1998, Joel Nelson 

I began writing and the ‘chapters’ just poured out, and ten days later I had over 20,000 words, at which point said Cowboy disappeared. I duly put the short story onto my website, Breathless Nights Erotica, which I co-own with Keith David – my writing partner of three years. Then I started writing something different. Within a month an editor I knew from Facebook, messaged me and suggested I make the short story into a novel. It took me about two weeks to look at it again, but eventually thought ‘what the heck, in for a penny, in for a pound.’ (Good old English idiom haha) Removing the last 1000 words to keep for the ending, I began filling in the middle.

It took until September to complete the novel. When finished, I decided that the book would benefit from having the poem printed in the front so set about finding the poet. It did not take long and after a few emails and phone calls, he kindly agreed to let me use the poem in the book. Joel also suggested that I attend the ‘Cowboy Poetry Festival’ in Alpine Texas at the end of February. That thought appealed even though I live on a little speck in the Atlantic Ocean known as Madeira Island – over 5000 miles away! Needless to say, not only did I attend the event, I also wrote two more books before I left for the USA, which made up the trilogy.

The Festival was an emotional time. I felt as if I belonged in that little Cowboy town situated in the middle of nowhere in West Texas. During my time there, I discovered all sorts of coincidences pertaining to the book. I described places I had never seen, people I had never met; it all became a little spooky. By the time I got back on the coach five days later, I had decided to buy a house there.

I arrived back on the island and this is where things went downhill. I asked my husband of thirty-two years for a divorce and put my house up for sale. My friends thought I had lost my mind, my family thought I was having a midlife crisis.

In July, I returned to Alpine with my daughter and mother in tow. They understood why I loved the place, which was a bonus, and have supported me with my decisions. Joel and his wife are now great friends and I look forward to returning there soon.

So here I am, my life turned upside down because of a poem. I published the first book on Amazon on 31 October, and hope to finish editing the other two and put them out before Christmas. Something is telling me to do this, I do not know why; I am just going with the flow.

They say people come into your life for a reason. The unknown cowboy who sent me the poem did just that. However, the person I owe everything to is Keith, I could not have done this without his constant nagging, poking and support. A fourth book is now on its way, based on another of Joel’s poems called ‘The men who ride no more’. I wonder where this one will take me…

Don't you just love a good Cowboy poem? Stop over and say hi to Virginia; she's a real sweetie.