Monday, October 12, 2015

Gearing back up

Okay, so it's been a while. Yes, I know. I actually had to sign back in to my own blog, if you can believe it. "Haven't seen you in a while -- you sure you're who you say you are?" the computer seemed to be saying.


Anyway, was in a dark place for a while, and was recovering for longer, but none of that matters anymore. I'm back.

Did you know that, according to the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) you shouldn't follow the em hyphen, which indicates a major break, with a comma or period when it ends a sentence? I didn't either. Hence all the errors in my previously published books that even a pro editor didn't catch.

It's fixed now. Okay, it's fixed now in Prophecy and in the newest, most awesomest, book Trial of Ice, which was just released this week! Return of the Gods, I'll fix when I get time.

Still, isn't it exciting? I haven't even blogged for months, and yet now I'm cracking that shell back open. Talk about cool -- at least, for me.

Looking forward to it.

So, I've pushed out Book 2 of Elf Queen. Hope you enjoy it. I've also significantly shortened the series in my head, to the point where you should actually see the big bad, bad guy in the next novel. Yay! You also won't see any periods or commas following em dashes, but that's -- well, kind of a grammar nerd sort of yay! 

Meanwhile, I have Life with Bacon, a coming of age story about a farm boy who detests his father's GMO and non-organic practices, story to get out, and at the same time I'm really putting pressure on myself to finish Book 4 of Return of the Gods. Not that there's anything specifically timely about that story, but it's about death and the living's view toward that eventuality, and it's in honor of the real life people who inspired the characters of Phoenix and Birch, who happened to have passed along recently themselves, and so it's kinda important I get that done.

Thus, no NaNoWriMo for me this year, but I have so many other important projects that I don't figure anyone will mind.

Y'all have a great start to October!


Sunday, June 14, 2015


Are you up for a contest?

Those of you who've read Prophecy: Elf Queen of Kiirajanna, thank you! I'm glad so many of you have enjoyed it in the year and a quarter since it's been out.

Now, about Book 2....

It's been a whole coming. As I've mentioned before on the blog, I was in a rather dark place emotionally for much of last year, which in turn caused my writing to be pretty dark as well. Thus, once the draft of Book 2 was done and revised, it was -- well, dark. Not at all like the first one. And while darkness is, in fact, coming to Kiirajanna, it's not there yet, nor is Alyssa's tone ever going to go that direction.

So, yeah. Near-total rewrite.

And I'm almost done with the editing phase. Yay!

Here's the thing, then. I need a title.

The book blurb (which still needs some editing, too -- getting to that!):

Join Alyssa as she and her band of companions journey to the northern forests of Kiirajanna to seek the endorsement of the mighty chieftain, Padrig, on behalf of his clan. There she's treated to delights only available in the north: frozen fields of ice, moose head stew, a bear encounter, and the northern lights. She also finds the Cult of the Wyrm, who she'd believed to be defeated and destroyed, flourishing and plotting its next attack against her. Will she and her friends be able to escape the trap tightening around them, or will they discover it too late?

So -- yeah, it's rough, but that's kinda the gist. What do you think? Ideas for a title?

G'head and post your thoughts about the title in the comments. I can't wait to read them! If I use your idea, I'll send you a free copy of the ebook once it comes out.


(PS - as always, if you help me out with the book, you'll also get a mention in the Acknowledgements page)


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Lesson - Genres

Happy June! June 2nd, to be specific. Sometimes I'll type the date into Wikipedia just to see what it comes up with. Happy Decorations Day (honoring veterans) to my Canadian friends! Happy Sack of Rome Day to my -- um -- never mind.


The almighty genre. Find one and stick to it, they say. Write the genre you love to read, they say. Don't spread your efforts, your brand, your time too thin, they say.

They say a lot, whoever they is. But is it useful? In the case of genres, companies stretch their brands all the time, and more or less successfully at that. Take Disney, for example: from movies to amusement parks to cruise ships, with hops in between. Then there's Virgin: music, airlines, banking.

And who doesn't like Trump vodka on Trump airlines? Oh, wait -- those both failed.

Trump isn't alone; according to a Nielsen report I just read, one out of every two attempts to enter a new product genre ends in failure. Yes, some succeed, and grandly (and profitably) at that. Back to writing, Stephen King's a master of the art of brand-stretching. Robert Gailbraith? Not so much.

Recently I've thought of trying my own hand at it. Heck, I figured, I've been more or less successful with fantasy now. Not J.K. Rowling successful, mind you, but not bad either. But, see, there's this romance genre over there that's tantalizing. I mean the genre, not the work. It represents the largest customer base out there.

TV-wise, there's been plenty of action for fantasy, with Game of Thrones and so on. No options envy there, then. Still, I've watched Outlander with my family with interest, in large part because that series successfully bridges fantasy with romance. It's got great characters, and it's a very well executed storyline from a historical perspective.

Just watched the last episode of the first season, though. Nope. Can't do it. I can't write that stuff.

Gonna go back to my gods and elves and dragons and so on. They, at least, play nice with each other. Usually, anyway; when they're not playing nice, they're just killing and maybe eating each other.

No genre-stretching for me....


Tuesday, May 19, 2015


I remember hearing a story about how lion taming worked. That fascinated me, honestly. I mean, the idea of going head-to-head with an animal that's heavier than you, faster than you, stronger than you, and -- um, claw-ier than you -- armed with nothing but a chair seemed like it was doomed to end in tragedy. But no, it works, and according to the story, it works because Mr. Lion gets confused. So the story goes, and as I confirmed over at HowStuffWorks, the beast, the very King of the Jungle, tries to worry about all four legs of the chair at the same time. When he can't, he just decides that maybe there's easier dinners out there. Like, I don't know, Burger King.

While it astonishes me that this technique actually works with mighty predatory cats, I've seen it work on humans often. Hey, it even works on me, and here's how. We recently launched my beloved bride's blog on eating with allergies, Gluten Free with Heide. (somehow I expected the universe to end when I linked to from, but it didn't) At the same time, I'm shifting all my works over to Smashwords in order to enjoy the multi-formatting options over there, but to do so requires significant reformatting. I'm still trying to keep up with this blog, and with my own meager marketing efforts. Meanwhile, I'm refining a couple of short stories to try to sell them to SFWA markets. Then there's the pesky little novels that I'm still trying to get refined to the point that y'all will enjoy reading them.

And that's an authorpreneur's life.

Let's see, that's one, two, three -- six chair legs, if I counted correctly. Yep, I'm getting Trained. Only, instead of slinking away to the other side of the circle like Mr. Lion, I open a DOSBox window and play me a round of Empire (an 80's-era strategy game in four colors that takes a good 24 hours to play out on a moderate-sized map). That, and heading over to Facebook, where instead of using my author page to engage readers and potential readers, I sit on my personal page and poke fun at the hundreds dozens of people declaring themselves candidates for the next Presidential election.

...which is all fine, if Facebook were going to pay my rent.

I'm not the only one. As a career college dean I've seen hundreds of students fall into this trap. "Oh my goodness, I have four things to do, so I can't do any of them!" seems silly when said that way, but remember that it works on the King of the Jungle, too.

What do you do about it, then? Well, first, recognize that it's happening. If your keyboard is perfectly clean, yet you're cleaning it again anyway, you might be in this trap. If you're engaged in a discussion on Facebook about gay extraterrestrials landing on the moon, and yet you're neither gay, nor an alien, nor from the moon, then you might be in this trap. And if you're in the trap, make a decision to stop it. Facebook, powerful as it may be, has the same little X button at the top that every other window has. Admit to yourself that nobody really cares if you manage to win an Internet debate, were that even possible, nor does anybody care how clean your keyboard or your desk is, and just -- stop.

Then -- prioritize. What puts you into the trap in the first place is having four (or more) things coming at you with apparently equal force. That's an illusion, though. Some of those are going to be more important than others. Some will take more or less time than others. Pick the most important one. If things are relatively equal in importance, pick the quickest one to get out of the way (hence, in my case, a blog post).

And then? Just do it. Focus on one leg instead of four (or six, or eight) and knock it away. Celebrate -- yay! And then get to another leg, again based on priorities. And while you're getting all accomplish-y and stuff, try to remember how fun it was when you got into it in the first place, okay?

Good luck!


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

From Amazon to Smashwords

I'm excited! 

So excited, in fact, that I'm making my first blog post in over a month.  *ahem*  Sorry.  If I told you about being busy with a new day job, helping my beloved launch her own blog (yay for Gluten Free With Heide) and working around the clock (ish) to get Volume 2 of Elf Queen done and ready for you -- well, that would sound like excuses, and I don't like those.  So I'll just say mea culpa and move on to....

I'm excited!  (you got that, right?)

Why?  Well, I've been holding on to the promotional deals that Amazon has available through their KDP Select program, to the expense of some of my readers.  Specifically, Amazon allows you to use their promotional tools, but you have to, in return, give them exclusive rights to distribute your book.  That means it's all about the Kindle, 'bout the Kindle, no Nook, and -- oh, sorry.


So bad singing aside, the exclusive deal used to be worth it.  The promotional tools used to work well in conjunction with other efforts, and sales were good.  But recently they've changed their algorithms, and added some new stuff, and -- not trying to bash them, but it isn't working for me.  Granted, my own personal promo plan over the past few months has been pretty skimpy as I've settled into new digs.  Still, that notwithstanding, I decided to make a move.

This past weekend I took the three works that are no longer in KDP Select (Cataclysm, Prophecy, and Undercover Truths/Undercover Lies) and uploaded them into Smashwords. 


Wait -- what's that mean, you're asking?  Well, Smashwords in turn uploads -- or crossloads -- or downloads -- or, well, whatever silly direction we wish to indicate -- loads the appropriate version to all appropriate venues.  That means those three ebooks will soon be available from B&N online, iTunes, and so on.  That, in turn, means that all you Nookies can read them! (sorry, I probably shouldn't have -- well, heck, it's funny)

It means one other thing, by the way.  Amazon makes money from sales of the book, of course, and so books that are set to permanent free aren't welcome.  Hey, I have an MBA; I can dig that.  But Smashwords does not.  Well, they do make money from sales of books, that is, but they are fine with perma-free. 

What's that mean?  I set Undercover Truths/Undercover Lies to free.  That's not "free till Friday" or "free today only," that's free.  Free as the birds.  Free as the meat in fresh roadkill.


But no, seriously, it's free.  Go download here: .  It's available in whatever format you wish to read it in. 

And then?  Please, go post a review of it somewhere.  That's the most awesome-est-est-est gift you can give me, or any author. 

And, I know what you're thinking: "that might work, but how will we get the God of War to wear a tutu?"  No, sorry, that was a bad flashback.  What you're thinking is: "when will the other two books in the first series be available in all formats as well?"  Answer is, they're still under contract with Amazon.  One comes out this week, and the other in a couple of months.  Sorry for the delay, but I'll get it as soon as I can honestly do it.  In the meanwhile, enjoy a double dose of first volumes!

Thanks, as always, for reading!


Friday, March 27, 2015

Hating the Language

I have a historical adventure story in my head that I'm a little bit intimidated over writing.  It's not the story part; I'm getting used to that.  No, it's the language.  I mean, I can barely keep up with changes to the mother tongue in my own lifetime; how am I to handle it 400 years ago?

Now, I grew up in a linguistically unpretentious region in the southern United States.  Back home in Mississippi, we might've used a metaphor or two to make ourselves sound cooler'n a....  Um, smarter'n a....  Well, you get the drift.  Anyway, that was the extent of our linguistic shenanigans, generally speaking.  Words just plain meant what they meant back then.

Okay, I know what you're thinking, and you're right.  There is one rather well-known exception to my previous statement, and it has to do with blessing peoples' hearts when there really isn't any blessing being done to any hearts whatsoever.  In fact, it didn't just mean one thing; the phrase could be used to signal all sorts of sentiments.  The connotation depended -- and still does -- entirely on usage.  For example, the three words at the end of "my cousin's entire mobile home park was taken out by that tornado, bless their hearts," mean something entirely different from the three words at the end of "they found the permanent markers to use in drawing on my kitchen wall, bless their hearts."  Same words, different intention, and if you didn't catch it, you're as sharp as a cue ball.

Back then, though, it should be pointed out that we didn't have an Internet to pass things around, either.  When I moved to California to finish high school, they actually thought I was wishing blessings upon their hearts.  Now, I did, very quickly, stop contracting "you" and "everyone" into the vernacular "y'all," but that was simply because I didn't enjoy the attention that the shortened, more flexible utterance brought me.  Overall, the language was the language.

Now?  Sheesh.  The "mother tongue" has spawned some really strange offspring.  Thanks in part to the rapidity of dissemination and complete lack of grammar checking on the Internet, linguistics has gotten nuttier than a squirrel turd.  I mean, do you remember when literally and figuratively meant opposite things?  Recently they literally changed the dictionary definition so that they're the same word, but only if you mean 'em that way. And then there's gay.  Used to be that word meant happy, lighthearted, carefree, but my generation was pretty effective at redefining it to refer to someone who is homosexual -- because, um, someone who is homosexual is obviously happy, I -- um, guess.  Now, though, it means something completely different.  How gay is that, right?

And what's up with hate?  Growing up, to hate meant something fairly specific.  You knew if/when you were being hated on.  That, though, was before the haters and the haters of haters got hold of it.  Now, if you write a law that somebody disagrees with, you're hating.  Meanwhile, if you disagree with said law, you're hating.  If you disagree with the disagreement--you hater, you! 

(that said, let's please leave the actual political stuff to my personal Facebook page)

I hate it.  Literally.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Origins - Sorscha

Okay, after starting this Origins series, I absolutely have to write about the most awesome character I've ever created.  No, I'm not talking about a Greek/Roman god come to life.  Nor am I talking about his wife, who when she finds out the truth refrains from trying to beat his brains in for making her live a lie.  And although Seph and Keion are both pretty cool to my opinion, they're still not beautiful-woman-who-can-transform-into-fricking-dragon cool.

Yes, I'm talking about Sorscha.

Sorscha the character began as a foil to the poor war god's significant other.  As I explained in a previous episode, the introduction of the S.O. went through a deliberate thought process.  Of course a god should own a fancy palace, right?  And of course he'd have servants maintaining that palace. And the god of war?  Depending on the story you read, he either stole the goddess of love from her consort, or had her stolen from him, and so in either case you realize that he's got quite the eye for an attractive female form.

So yeah, at the end of this line of reasoning was the unassailable conclusion that Matt would have a personal servant who absolutely had to be smoking hot.

That fact, then, leads down another trail of questions.  If the god of war's servant is smoking hot, why should he leave his mansion in the first place?  Why bring a human woman back?  Why would he not, in the grand cataclysm, just say, "you know, you're awfully awesome, but I have smoking hot back there at my mansion, so sayonara"?

That, then, led to the requirement that she can't -- well, give him what he needs.  No, seriously!  Think about this for a moment.  If the gods were creating a race of beings who could serve alongside their deified masters and mistresses for a long, long period of time, yet the gods wanted to ensure a continued interest in human affairs, wouldn't the gods then also be smart enough to make those beings asexual?  I mean, most, or at least much, of the messiness of human existence falls into the realm of sexual issues, right?  Why get involved in that if you can avoid it?

On top of that, why would you want a race of dragons to be self-propagating?  After all, the premise behind the series is that Matt et al created the dinosaurs first, got bored with them for lack of interesting interaction, killed them all off (well, a pair of them did, as explained in Cataclysm), and then created humans.  Sort of, anyway. 

(Matt et al are actually not powerful enough to create life, but that's not brought up in any of the books so far)

No, no, the dinosaurs and the humans were the playthings.  The dragons were the servants.  Period.  One set could self-propagate and dally around with deities and so on, while the other could not.

So anyways, long story short, I realized that if I were creating a race of long-lived beings who could serve beside their gods/goddesses with maximized serving intent which in turn calls for minimized drama, I'd make them asexual.

The initial idea, actually, was to make them not only asexual, but also devoid of emotion.  Thus they can serve, but they can't do anything more than that.  Problem is, the non-emotionality isn't really possible in any reality I imagined.  Heck, I can't even imagine living on Vulcan, to be honest, no matter how much I like the worlds of Star Trek and the character Spock. 

The thrakkoni, then, can have emotions -- but -- BUT!  As long-lived beings who have been forced to watch their gods and goddesses play the fools, their emotions would of course play out differently.  You know, smoother.  Wiser. More musical.

Yes, more musical.  Hey, that chapter -- and if you've read Cataclysm you know which one -- came out of nowhere.  Initially I just wanted Matt to take everybody through some sensory overload set to music to prove how powerful he was.  But then as I wrote and experimented with it, it developed and grew, and I ended up having Sorscha sing Mozart, writing it as I was while listening to Mozart.  Thus I breathed life into a chapter that I still love.

Incidentally, the name of the race -- thrakkoni -- comes from an old spelling of dragon.  Used to be that th and d were the same character, the thorn thing.  It also used to be that doubling up of consonants was just something you did when you felt like it.  So, yeah -- thrakkon, and thrakkoni for plurals.  I Googled the name to make sure it wasn't already in use, and it wasn't.  It is now.

So all that said, Sorscha ended up taking over a major part in the books as I continued revising.  My editor, Debra Ginsberg, said in the beginning how intrigued she was by Sorscha.  By the character's position, she deserves that kind of intrigue, having stood beside the god of war for a very, very long time.  She's the one who takes Crystal in while the wife is completely lost.  She's the one who helps prepare Crystal for her first trip to Olympus.  She's the one who helps not just Crystal but also the twin girls in the second book, while Crystal is going through her quests.

In fact, were I to write the first few books over, I'd no doubt give Sorscha even bigger parts, even more to do.  That's kinda what Debra told me to do, after all, but at the time I didn't really have the skills or knowledge to follow through. The fourth novel, though?  Watch out, man.  This one's gonna zing Sorscha into the action a lot of a lot, while playing with some of the initial characters and creating some others. 

Oh, and did I mention what an awesome editor Debra is?  Go see her page.

So all that said, hope you enjoyed! 


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Saint Patrick's Day

Happy St. Patty's Day!  Pass the beer, would ya?

I think all major holidays and celebrations have a twisty-curvy bit inside them if you hold them up to the light long enough.  Saint Patrick's Day is an example that doesn't require all that much light, to be honest, being the weird sorta-religious, sorta-nationalistic, sorta-besotted global party that it is.

But hey, when else can ya drink the beer that's green, eh?

Edna Barth, author of Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs: The Story of the St. Patrick's Day Symbols, puts it pretty well: "For most Irish-Americans, this holiday is partly religious and partly festive.  St. Patrick's Day church services are followed by parades and parties, Irish music, songs, and dances.  To other Americans, the festive side is the one that is known the best.  Cheerfully noisy, greener than spring itself, the Irish holiday on March 17th is a welcome harbinger of the coming season."

Ahh, greener than spring itself -- a great way to describe the festivities, isn't it?

Growing up, even before I was old enough to enjoy the imbibing, I always loved St. Patty's Day for the greenery, the pinching, the horribad fake Irish accents, and so on.  Turning 21 (well, ish) just made it all that much better. And then, I learned that there are people who resent the holiday.  What...?

Yeah, there's more to it.  In fact, there's a long history of more to it.

Saint Patrick, as most people know, became famous for driving all the snakes out of Ireland.  Yay!  Who wants snakes, anyway, right?  Though, hold on a sec -- if you're talking about literal snakes, you have to agree that some are useful to have around.  They keep rodent populations under control, for one thing.  From a non-religious-metaphoric, non-ophidiophobic (fear of snakes) standpoint, then, why would the guy who de-snaked an island be a hero?

They weren't literal snakes, though.  They couldn't have been.  People who have studied fossil records have concluded that there were never snakes in Ireland.  The explanation I've read seems legit; way back when, those islands north of continental Europe were way too cold for cold-blooded reptiles.  As they warmed and the seas rose, a few snake species were able to migrate over to jolly old England herself, but none made it all the way to the Emerald Isle.  So, no snakes in Ireland for Saint Patrick to remove.

So if Saint Patrick didn't drive out the snakes, what did he drive "into the sea"?

Druids, the answer goes.  His charter mission from the Catholic church, after all, was to convert the pagans to Christianity.  That was what he was sent to do.  Basically, it was his job, and who better to do it than the bishop who, according to what I've read, actually grew up, up there? 

I can only imagine a similar thing today, with the performance statement saying something like, "Congrats and good job on exceeding goal on pagan-conversion rate.  Based on metrics, your annual performance raise will be 4.2%.  Advise increasing 401K participation in order to take advantage of new increase to matching funds."


So, pagans.  Druids, in other words.  The pagans in Ireland called their pagan priests druids (well, the Irish dialect version of the word, but you get the idea), and it was those folks who had to convert or leave in order for Saint Patrick to succeed in his mission.

So why snakes as a metaphor?  Well, the story is that the druids used a serpent as their primary symbol, and so "driving the snakes to the sea" is a less-metaphoric-than-usual metaphor for ridding the nation of druids.  Right?

Right, except that I'm struck by one question, that being the case.  Why would pagans, a group whose "religion" involves a close attachment to the world around them, choose as their symbol an animal that doesn't exist where they are?  It's kinda like how the University of Southern Mississippi chose "Golden Eagles" as their mascot when there isn't an eagle within hundreds of miles of them.  Granted, USM has the Internet to look up cool stuff about golden eagles, while the Irish pagans had -- um....  Yeah.  So what -- how -- when....?

Frankly, I don't get it.  Except, I have to point out, the poor snake really has gotten short shrift in Christian literature, hasn't it? 

Ah, well.  Anyway, that's the religious side of the holiday.  Then there's the green side.  Which is weird, too, because apparently Saint Patty's color was blue.  Oops.  But as tensions rose over the past couple of centuries (like they were ever low) between Catholics and Protestants, Irish and non-Irish, and so on, it's said that a great nationalistic wave swept over the holiday.  Green is the Irish color, and Saint Patrick's Day is the Irish holiday, and so therefore the holiday's color is green, begorrah!

All right, so green it is.  I like green.  But what about all the drinking?  Not that I don't like drinking -- far from it -- but why that on a sorta-religious mostly-nationalistic holiday?  Well, keep in mind that March 17th happens to fall, no matter when the moon cycle actually phases, somewhere deep within the vast expanse of Lent.  To folks like me who aren't Catholic, Lent generally means "hey, time to pretend to give something up for 40 days, and oh, look at all the purple cloth."  Many Catholics, however, view Lent in a much more serious light.  It's their 40 days to fast, to pray, to abstain, to contemplate -- in short, to really get serious about the whole religious thing. 


Hey, every deeply serious process needs a moment or two of levity, right?  This one is particularly important, too, since it celebrates what can be claimed as a major accomplishment for the Catholic church.  Thus, many Catholics lift the Lenten rules just a tad--a wee bit, laddie!  Many bishops, from what this non-Catholic writer has heard, even make the lifting of rules official policy, thus creating what is effectively another Fat Tuesday right smack in the middle of the thing. 

Hey, not casting stones here.  It's a celebration.  Humans need celebration.  Ancient pagans recognized that, creating as they did the four solar and four mid-season holidays spaced out so nicely through the year.  The Catholic church agreed, doing much the same and even adopting many of the same time frames. 

No, no aspersion intended.  Quite the opposite, actually.  I love Saint Patty's Day, myself.

It's just -- interesting.  Ain't it?

Enjoy the celebration!  (just consume your green beer safely, and no driving afterward, okay?)


Monday, March 9, 2015

The Dragon Queen Needs A Break

Hey, y'all!

I've been so happy to be getting my writing life back in order.  If you didn't notice, I managed to kick-start the blogging efforts once again (yay, blog!) and I've been working toward getting some of these Works in Progress off of my "To Be Completed" list.  Part of that has included my excited announcements and notices that The Dragon Queen, Book 2, is coming right along and will be out soon.

So, yeah....  Scratch that bit.

No, don't worry, I'm not not going to get the book out.  It's not the end of the series; I love the story and the characters too much for that.  It's just that what I've got isn't working.  I mean, last time I did this with Book 1, I spent hours reading aloud to the family, then I went and spent hours revising based on that reading, and then later they'd beg me for more reading.  This time, with Book 2, I've spent hours reading aloud to the family, and they haven't asked me for any more, and I also haven't gotten to the revising yet, days later. 

"It's not bad," my beloved bride (with whom I celebrated our fifth anniversary yesterday--yay, us!) said.  The cool thing is how honest she can be when it comes to my work, and I appreciate that.  "It's not bad" is actually pretty good, coming from her.  It's just not -- well, it's not good. 

I'm not even considering putting "not bad" anywhere close to my beta readers.  Sorry.  Thus, it's back to blank pages for this one.  Oh, I'll keep some of what I've got, but I'm gearing up for my first large-scale rewrite since Cataclysm. 

Again, it's not bad.  The plot lines, both main and sub-plots, have been pretty well thickened in, and it's a story line that I think everyone will like.  I've got an overwhelmingly pleasant array of characters, some returning from the first installment and others brand new.  It's not a problem, then, with the plot arc, or with the characterization, or with the scenes.

It's the tone.

Dragon Queen is told from the point of view of an 18-year-old girl.  She's jaunty, she's naive, she's snarky.  It's supposed to read in a fun, fun way.  Oh, it'll have dark points in the story, coming soon -- y'all have no idea of the level of evil I'm planning on putting her and her subject elves through later in the series -- but not yet.  Not in Book 2, at least; she's still just figuring out the depth of the resistance against her.  In Book 2 she's supposed to sound like the same person she was in Book 1.  Even later in the series she'll sound like a stressed-out, almost-defeated version of the person she was in Book 1. 

Problem was, I wasn't the same person writing this manuscript as I was for Book 1.  Or, to be accurate, I was the same person, but I wasn't in the same place, either physically or mentally.  I'd gone from having a day job and a house and a community that I loved to--well, kind of the opposite of that.  Some day, perhaps, I'll tell the full story of what we went through while I wrote Book 2, but now isn't the time, so you'll have to just take my word for it that my mind was in a dark, dark place.  Thus, my writing has a dark, dark tone that might make Poe proud.  It's not jaunty at all.  It's not snarky at all.  In fact, when the humor comes, when it comes at all, it's mean and biting, not snarky.

I realized in the reading aloud that all my characters sounded like Prince Charming on a bad day, in fact. 

So--yeah, Alyssa needs a break.  I'm gonna work on another project for a few weeks while I follow my beloved's advice and re-read Book 1, and then it'll be back to Scrivener for me. 

Sorry for the delay, but the end result will be worth it!


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Origins - Matthew and Crystal

I've been asked quite a few times where the story of Matthew and Crystal (main characters in Return of the Gods) came from.

First, I must admit that I daydream.  I'm not alone, as the Secret Life of Walter Mitty (the book, not the movie) shows.  I don't do it as much anymore now that I'm happily ensconced in both a family and a career that I adore, but over the years I've imagined myself a lottery winner, a captain of industry, a ninja, and many other things.  Other things, including a god.  I mean, who wouldn't think it cool to one day up and tell your boss, "I'm outta here now, going back to doing what I do best--being worshipped"?

Along the way, I started wondering what might happen should the god of my imaginings have a wife or girlfriend.  Would he take her along to--wherever he lives (which in turn brings up the question of where a god might live)?  If he offered, how would she likely respond?  If she went along to his palace in the sky, or on Olympus, or wherever it was, how would she fare?  Gods have servants, right?  What if his personal servant was a stunningly beautiful female--how would his girlfriend/wife react then? 

(is this starting to sound familiar?)

Meanwhile, many years ago I toured the Biltmore Mansion and saw a magnificent tapestry that depicted the interesting love triangle between Ares, Aphrodite, and Hephaestus.  In that story the latter two were married and the god of war stole the goddess of love away from the god of hammer-time.  Hmm--interesting story, that.  It's not the only version, of course; Greek myths, like most mythologies, have some variations in the telling.  Still, I wondered, would gods and goddesses really wed, or become consorts, or whatever you wish to call a pairing up?  How might an immortal being speak the words "till death do us part"?  What would happen, then, when they sleep around on each other?

At some point I realized that the wife/girlfriend was more interesting than the guy in my original story.  Guy tells boss "Seeya, I'm outie!" and then tells girlfriend/wife "you're coming with!" and then goes back to being a deity....  Meh.  Not much interesting stuff there. 

Her side, though: normal housewife (who's certainly not just average; she was, after all, chosen by a god) gets swept out of her normal life with her normal kids to a fantasy world, by said god -- hey, not just any old god, but let's make him the god of war.  Yeah, now we're talking.  Ares, after all, wasn't exactly everybody's favorite deity.  He was known for being a tough guy to live with, after all.  I mean, the Greeks often built the temples to Ares way out away from their towns, as a way to say, "please stay out there and protect us, but -- well, you know, kinda stay out there, if you don't mind, um, away from our women." 

Yeah, Ares.  He was arrogant, he was brash, he was immature at times.  In short, he was all those qualities that are great in the swordmaster fighting by your side but might kinda take some getting used to in a lifemate.  He'd hide them just fine in a normal, civilized role, but give him back his mojo and see the battle glory in his eyes. 

Now, Mars was seen a little bit different.  That's unsurprising, really, since his role in the pantheon -- warfare -- was seen a little bit differently by the Romans than by the Greeks.  So how, I wondered, should I tie him into other notable pantheons?  A little bit of artistic license and suddenly he became the mischievous one -- not playfully and sometimes disobediently mischievous like Loki/Hermes, but selfishly so instead.  The Norse legends uphold him as a glorified god of justice because, well, he helped write those legends.  And so it began.

Thus was the main story behind Cataclysm: Return of the Gods born.  In hindsight, I probably should've titled it differently, as the cataclysm is just the vehicle I used to kick the story off.  The main plot, as I'm sure you already know from reading it, is about Crystal, the wife of the god of war (who is for the most part modeled after my own dear beloved bride) and how she deals with all of the loss in the cataclysm as well as the kinda major surprise that she's married to the immortal guy who's the ex-hubster of the goddess of love.  "Oh, sure," she says inside.  "Forgot to mention something, Matt?"

To add some extra-special spice to the story I decided that the goddess of love would be wanting her old fling back.  Come to think of it, I don't think I ever said why, but then again, that's a story for another Origins post.

Hope you enjoyed!


(PS--you did already know that from your reading, didn't you?  If you haven't, and you'd like to, then head on over to my author page and get a copy.  And then please do me the favor of recording your thoughts on the book in the form of a review)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Live Long and Prosper

I'll never forget hearing the news that he'd died.  I was sitting in the food area of a mall, having just been to a bookstore of all places, and the TV ran the news that he'd passed away.

No, I'm not talking about the equally devastating news we heard this week about the passing of Leonard Nimoy.  That news hit me in the gut, but it wasn't the first time.  The instance I'm referring to was in April of 1992, a month before I was to leave the Army and seek my fortune as a civilian, and it was Isaac Asimov who had taken his last breath.

Both men were inspirations to a bold new world, weren't they?  Asimov repeatedly hit the proverbial nail on its proverbial head with his science fiction, but what a lot of people don't realize is how prolific a nonfiction author he was, or how other writings of his made actual science more accessible to many of my generation.  I still cherish my copies of Asimov on Astronomy and Asimov on Physics, in fact.  In both books the giant of a writer crafted tales of conundrums of the world around us--true tales, in fact--in a scientific yet descriptive manner.  He, or more specifically his writing, is, in fact, the reason I went on to study physics as an undergrad.

I look up to Leonard Nimoy's work similarly.  He's best known, of course, for his portrayal of a half-human, half-alien character on that most seminal of sci fi TV shows, Star Trek.  The character and its fellows on that serial are arguably part of the foundation (hehe--I worked "Foundation" into this!) of modern science fiction.  But much more can be said of his character itself, what with his continual, explicit grappling between the forces of logic and emotion.  He was the half-alien with super-human strength and a paralyzing pinch who nevertheless generally set his phaser to stun.  Spock really could be said to be the alien who made us reconsider what it means to be human.

While Spock was his hallmark, his other contributions shouldn't be forgotten.  His narration of the Ancient Mysteries series was spellbinding (and is still available on Youtube if you didn't see the shows when they initially came out).  Later, Our 20th Century continued to fascinate.  Honestly, the man could probably find a way to make a tale about a rock in your back yard entertaining. 

"Live long and prosper" is a phrase we owe to Nimoy, thanks to his portrayal of Spock.  Both men did that, really, living past their 70th birthday and, in Nimoy's case, his 80th.  Both men gave the world incredible, boundless vision of what the future might become. 

To both, then, I say Rest in Peace, and may our world truly become the magnificent place you saw in your creative vision.


Friday, February 27, 2015

A Letter To Momma

The sleek black Mercedes turned off of the narrow rural road, its freshly-shined tires crunching along the gravel that led up to the unpretentious wooden home.  The house's lone occupant opened the front door as the car rolled to a stop.  The driver, a tall man in pressed suit and dark shades, rose from the car and entered the house silently, the woman equally silently pressing the front door to behind him.  The neighbors would be discussing the visit, she knew.  The visits happened nearly every other week now, and each time it was a different gentleman in a different rented luxury sedan, always dressed impeccably.  The neighborhood hummed with rumors.

The woman didn't mind.  It amused her.  In fact, she relished the part she was able to play in giving the neighborhood a touch of fresh intrigue to stir the otherwise-bored Southern souls. She made a game of it, timing the relaxation of the window curtains up and down the street while the expensive car left her driveway and headed home after the visits.

This time was different, though.  The tall, handsome stranger handed her the usual envelope, but instead of accepting her exchange of letters and leaving immediately as all the rest had done, he stood, waiting.  He nodded toward the packet he'd just delivered and, in a clean British accent, said, "My Lady, I was instructed to hold while you read the contents of the letter, which will explain the follow-on errand I must ask your assistance with."

She grinned.  Nobody called her "My Lady."  Nobody ever called anybody that, as far as she knew, in down-home rural Mississippi.  There were still a host of "Sir" and "Ma'am" politenesses floating about, but the sharp British honorific struck her as especially wonderful.

The woman turned the envelope over in her hands, reading the outside.  She recognized her daughter's handwriting immediately, knowing the neat parallel lines Alyssa had practiced as a child.  On the front, it was addressed simply "To Momma" with a much larger "FOR HER EYES ONLY" printed in block letters underneath.  She grinned again.  Alyssa always filled her writing with little details that mothers cherish but others surrounding her daughter, the new crown princess, might find offensive.

She tore her eyes away from the handwriting on the outside, remembering that the elf had to stand and wait for her to read what was in the envelope.  It was so beautiful, though; she loved receiving the letters, and she usually slowed down while reading them just so that she could enjoy it longer.

"I'm sorry.  Can I offer you a cup of tea while I read this?" she asked as she gently worked the flap open and removed the parchment inside.

"Much appreciated, my lady, but no."

Dearest Momma, she read in Alyssa's neat cursive, the phrase bringing a gentle sigh.  She'd spent every day since her daughter's birth with the beautiful young girl, and she missed her dearly.

I hope everything is going well there.  I miss you like the dickens, I hope you know that I do and I always will.  I still have your picture by my bed and hold it close to me every night. 

I assume the royal courier is still standing there watching you read this.  I asked him to do me a favor and bring me back some comfort food.  He said he'd be happy to go shopping for me there on Earth, but the cooks here told me that he wouldn't have any way of knowing what I was after unless you either showed him or just went with him. 

I want to make my absolute favorite dishes that you always do so well -- fried okra and catfish.  There isn't a word in elf for okra, though, and when I got to asking around I learned that the plant apparently doesn't grow in Kiirajanna.  Then, when I asked Seph about catfish, I had to describe what they look like.  She just turned her nose up and said eww.  I guess those do grow here, but apparently nobody wants to think about eating them. 

They also don't deep fry a whole lot here.  By not a whole lot, I really mean nothing.  Grease that I can use for frying, they have plenty of, and they also have a weird-tasting flour that is made from ground root, but I need some real flour and some corn meal.  I'm sure the courier will have no idea what I'm talking about, too, so would you mind showing him?

Everything else is just fine, Momma.  Since I got back from the library and went through all that coronation hoopla, it's gotten a lot quieter.  They keep saying that I need to travel around the realm to win each of the four major clan leaders' approval, but I figure they're probably going to wait through the winter since they've already put me through so much this year.  My trainers, including old High Priestess Sternyface, are still working me over on history and geography, but I rarely see the queen's kids any more.  The two girls I don't mind not running into, but Keion -- well, I'm trying to convince myself I don't mind not running into him either.  Oh, Prince Charming is around.  I catch him watching me every so often when I'm doing my morning archery practice.  

Speaking of that -- you oughtta see what an archer your daughter has become!  I didn't believe him at first, but Keion's requirement of 100 arrows a day really has made a difference.  Not only can I thwack the arrows pretty much anywhere I want them to be thwacked, now, but I'm even feeling stronger in the pulls.  

Dad says hi, and that he misses you.  I suppose he probably sends his own love letters, doesn't he? 

The woman stopped reading to look toward the master bedroom, imagining as she did that she could see through the wall to the box she still kept hidden away.  It contained years worth of letters from her husband, the King of Kiirajanna, and Alyssa had only caught the royal courier once, or maybe twice, delivering them while she was growing up.

He's a really cool guy, Momma.  I mean, besides being King and all.  I can see how you and he belong together.  He makes a point of spending a little of every day with me.  Sometimes we talk about governing, and sometimes about how much he loves the elves.  Sometimes he tells me stories of the years with you, and how much he misses them and can't wait to be back there with you again.  

Speaking of that, have you ever tried to cross over into Kiirajanna?  I know it's fixed to where humans without elf blood can't cross, but here's the thing, Momma.  I ran across your picture in a history book.  I mean, it wasn't you; it was an ancient elf queen.  She looked just like you, though.  She was also the one who created the pendant you gave me -- did you know it's got a name?  It's called Draignerthol here.  I mean, maybe it's a long shot, but there was such a strong resemblance.  

Maybe you could come over here and the three of us could all be together?

That's probably too much to ask for, isn't it?  Anyway, I hope this letter finds you well, Momma, and I can't wait to read your next letter to me!



The woman sighed again and looked up, her eyes meeting the courier's.  He smiled tenderly in return, guessing the meaning behind her emotional expression.

Silently she rose and stepped to the refrigerator.  As it happened, she'd just gone shopping, and on a whim she'd bought Alyssa's favorites.  Then when she'd gotten them home she'd sobbed over the bags before tossing them into the darkest recesses of the shelves. 

"Here, take these," she offered the courier, handing him the ingredients.  She'd never cook them again.

"Thank you, madam," he replied, holding three crisp hundred dollar bills out.  She took them, knowing it would do no good to try to explain pricing and value to a native of Kiirajanna, which had no currency.  The Earth-bound side of the elves' holdings was massively wealthy, built up over millennia, according to how he'd explained it to her.  It handsomely covered the elf king's bride's expenses, he'd said, and then, later, suitably managed to provide a nice retirement income for the former king and his wife. 

She would want for nothing for the rest of her life.  Except, of course, for her daughter's company.

She found herself in no mood to watch the dance of the window coverings this time as the courier pulled out of the drive and headed back toward the portal to Kiirajanna.


Hope you enjoyed this little bit of fiction!  Those who haven't read Dragon Queen yet--this occurs after the first book -- and hey, why haven't you read it yet, hmm? 

Those who have read it, thank you!  Please keep your reviews coming, and know that I'm always interested in your feedback on how I can make the stories better to read.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Origins Part 2: Literary Trios

Three's company, right?  Everybody loves Los Tres Amigos?

And then, don't forget Harry, Hermione, and Ron.  That's the most recent literary trio I've read, but there have been plenty over the years. 

Let's face it, I spent a lot of time writing Return of the Gods to be a fairly linear, solo Hero's Journey.  Yes, I left some of the elements out, more or less on purpose, but that book series tells a story in which Crystal learns and grows and pulls teachers to her side so she can learn some more, and she ends up--well, where she ends up.  Part of the journey is taken with others, but that's just part of the journey, and they're just secondary characters. 

(as a quick side note: that's also why I've had the fourth novel of that series on the back burner for so long.  Crystal learned what she needed to and got to where she got at the end of the third book.  It took a while to come up with a compelling story line to push beyond that, though I've got it now and you can expect to be able to read it sometime, for certain, in 2015, and this time it'll be dedicated to the real-life Phoenix and Birch, who have both unexpectedly passed away in the past extremely sorrowful year.  But that's another story.)

That writing experience then led me into the Elf Queen series wondering who the cast should be.  Alyssa, of course, who must bravely face her fate as the beloved and despised Dragon Queen of prophecy.  Her father, and her mother, and of course the queen.  But who else?

As my beloved bride Heide and I discussed it, a plan germinated and took hold and built the story that you will now read in Prophecy.  It wasn't me, to be honest; Heide deserves this credit.  She's the one who pointed out that Harry Potter had been so captivating in large part because we got to watch not one, and not two, but three characters grow up, each within the others' shadows.  Of course, Harry is the star of the show; heck, his name is on the book covers.  But ask any group of readers who their favorite character was, and you're just as likely to hear the name Ron or Hermione as you are to hear Harry. 

Besides, writing three coming of age stories at the same time, intertwined as one, is a challenge.  I like challenges.

So who to include in the trio?  One, of course, was Alyssa, who I'd already characterized out.  I'd run a contest early on, and a dear friend of mine had won the right to name a character in my coming book.  Sue, my friend, had asked me to name the character Sephaline, after a D&D character she'd played in our tabletop games.  To tell the truth I took some pretty dramatic artistic liberties, pulling some of her character Sephaline into the role and adding some of another couple of characters she'd created.  I wanted this character to be the equivalent of Ronald Weasley, after all, which meant there had to be a significant amount of charming, bumbling humor there, but Seph also had to have an inner core of competence.

Anybody who compares Prince Charming--Keion, First Prince of the Realm--to Hermione is getting my original intent dead on.  He's supposed to be perfect at everything the elves consider important, at least in his own mind, just as Hermione is perfect at everything the wizarding world considers important.  Granted, this is playing out in a male figure instead of a female one, and so I've had to work hard at making him princely arrogant instead of just a jackass. 

And then there's the romantic thing.

Just like most coming of age stories, nobody in this story really knows how to deal with the whole business of romantic interest.  Nobody, that is, except for the Adults in Charge, who in this case are in quite interesting (and fun to write) positions regarding that bit.  And trust me, it's only getting started; I have so many plans for interesting things to happen in the future episodes.  The cool thing for my position as the author is that I have a trio to play with.  The--well, the other cool thing is that it's not the primary plot line; it's got nothing to do with what the Cult of the Wyrm has planned for Alyssa and her reign.  It's just a whole lot of fun.

Anyway, so that's how the trio in Prophecy was invented.  If you haven't read that book yet, you'll probably want to get it and read it.  Northern Lights, the second part of the story, is coming out very, very soon!



Sunday, February 22, 2015

Origins - Kiirajanna

I'm occasionally asked where I come up with stuff, and I often answer sarcastically just because a) it's funny (to me) and b) I like saying the word "Schenectady."  But the truth is, as so many of us know, ideas are all around us.  The problem, really, is to pick the one we wish to write about.  Then we write about it, and as the story line is clicking along we make other decisions based on the silly stuff our characters are doing.  In the end, what looks like a single plot arc was really a series of more or less considered decisions.

So all that said, I want to go through a little bit of why I've done what I've done and published in a sort of "Origins" type of series.  This first?  Why Kiirajanna.

I've already kind of touched on the overall reasoning behind the Dragon Queen series in several interviews I've been in.  The short version is this: we (my family) were at Disney World a few years ago.  The kids were off doing something far more energetic than Heide and I had the ability to do, and so we sat and consumed a couple of adult beverages while talking about the future of my writing efforts.  We both wanted to see an elf story, because we hadn't read many good ones lately.  So--what kind of an elf story?

I'd already written an alternate history storyline in Return of the Gods, and as much as I enjoyed (and still am enjoying) writing on that line, I wanted something else.  As we discussed it, I looked around marveling at what goes into a single day at the Magical Kingdom.  It's no secret that there are miles and miles of tunnels underneath, along which the "cast members" travel in order to pop out into public view when/where needed.  That got me to thinking about a world behind the world--a shadow place, similar to the Earth but not exactly like it, a world where magic exists.  A world, to go further, that is run by elves.

Now, that's all well and good, but the problem with any story is that you need compelling conflict.  That's where I came up with the succession plan the elves have, where half of the new royalty has to come from Earth stock.  Genetically it's a brilliant idea, but emotionally and sociologically it would be problematic, as Alyssa rapidly finds out.

You can't just have one conflict, though, which is why the Cult of the Wyrm was inserted into the story.  I won't ruin the plot for any who haven't yet read Prophecy, so I'll just leave it there.  The interesting thing about that insertion, though, is that I started at the end.  There is a definite, central "villain" in the story, believe me.  You don't see him in the first book, nor will you see him in the second book despite seeing significantly more of the conflict he is creating.

Thus was the primary plot line for Prophecy: Dragon Queen born.  In future episodes of this Origins series I plan to discuss other things, like where the characterization ideas came from and why certain things are the way they are.  Hey, I find it fun to talk about, and hopefully you find it interesting to read.

Till then, enjoy!


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Dumb Questions--or, What it Means to Be a Creator

What does it mean to be a creator?

I've been a more or less lurking participant in one of the best-known writer resource groups on Facebook for a few years now.  To give credit where it's due, that group is Indie Author Group, which upon this writing time is nearly 9K members strong, and it's the first group I always recommend my friends join when they ask me about writing, whether or not they actually plan to become Indies. Simply put, it's an awesome group of awesomeness.

That said, I've seen dumb questions there for years.

I know, I know.  I've been a teacher, and now a teacher's teacher, for nigh on two decades now.  "There's no such thing as a dumb question!" we thunder at the beginning of every class, in the hopes that our students will be brave enough to venture into that realm we call engagement.  It's an important thing to say, even if it's not really, necessarily, technically, always, um, true.


So to be perfectly honest, yes, there are indeed dumb questions.  And yes, they're much more frequently asked by teachers than by students.  So no, if you're a student, don't worry about asking one, just ask what's on your mind.

But back to the IAG and dumb questions.  Yes, there are.  I'll be happy to add, though, that the questions are only dumb when taken from the position of experience.  In other words, when the new folks ask them, they're really not dumb questions.

One of those came (back) up the other day.  Somebody elsewhere posted a blog about how writers can only consider themselves authors if they meet certain (higher, of course) conditions.  Yes, this is complete hokum, because if you actually look up the meaning of the words, they're perfect synonyms.  It's just somebody's way of feeling all elite and shiny and stuff.

Then, more recently, somebody else posted a question that is in the category I was referring to.  I'll not name names, nor will I repeat the question, but it was another of the fairly standard breed of "is it acceptable to..." questions about writing.  Now, let me be clear: the group wouldn't exist without those questions.  We get a lot of them regularly thanks to the number of new authors who join our ranks.  To them, they're absolutely not dumb questions.

To those of us who've done this a while, though --?

Generally speaking, the answer to any "is it acceptable to violate such-and-such rule" question, for those of us who've done this a while, is that if you have to ask, it's not.  Now, I really didn't get that when I started, and so I don't expect new folks now to get it, either.  Regardless, no.  Just -- no.  The rules are there for a reason.

But wait! you'll exclaim.  There are tons of writers who've become famous while breaking the rules of writing.  Many of them became famous specifically for breaking the rules, right?

Yes!  Yes, that's right.  But they didn't have to ask.

Look, writing is a craft, an art form.  It's something that you learn the basics of, the rules of, early on, and then as you do it, and you read more, and then you write more, and then you read more, and all along you're accepting criticism on what you've written, eventually you might get pretty good at it.  At that point, you'll be a craftsman -- er, person.  Whatever.  You'll be an artist.  You'll be a creator.

The thing is, artists and creators don't ask if it's okay to break a rule.  They just do it, because they know when it needs to be done.  They know when it needs to be done because they've gone through and followed the rules for long enough to achieve a certain level of mastery, of craftsmanship. 

So, again--if you have to ask whether it's okay for you to break a particular rule, the answer should always be no.



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Army Training, Sir!

General Barnicke: Where have you been, soldier?
John Winger: Training, sir.
Soldiers: Training, sir.
General Barnicke: What kind of training?
John Winger: Army training, Sir.
Soldiers: Army training, Sir.
- from the motion picture Stripes

You know, when I entered the Active Duty military as a young second lieutenant, I figured that it was all business, all good soldiering, and there wasn't any of that joking around silly stuff of fiction to be had anywhere, anytime.

Boy, was I wrong.

My second day on actual Active Duty, in fact, is a day I'll remember for a long, long time.  See, I'd shown up the day before, dropped off of the back of a 5-ton truck in the middle of what most Seattle area residents were enjoying as a nice, relaxed snow day, to take charge of a platoon-leaderless platoon of motorized infantrymen doing light infantry maneuvers.  Yes, that all works out to mean that guys who were used to putting their rucksacks in the back seat of a Hummer and driving to the battlefield were ordered, on a day of inclement weather, to put those rucks on their backs, move on foot through thick woods, and close with and destroy enemy forces.

In retrospect, just that last sentence is comical as crap.  Shouldn't be, but it is.

For our first enemy contact, we were crossing a narrow but rapidly-flowing stream that had been covered in snow when an opfor (opposing forces--our own troops playing against us in war games) machine gun (firing blanks) opened up on us.  We closed with and destroyed the position in a suitable timeframe, granted, but not before one of my soldiers slipped and fell directly and completely into the 12-inch-deep stream, causing instant hypothermia followed by a quick Medevac.  *sigh*

Oh, he ended up being just fine, but I wasn't just worried about his welfare.  We'd been told over and over at West Point that a platoon leader whose troops had to be removed due to heat or cold injuries was liable to be removed of leadership on the spot. So there I was, first day on the job, liable for--yeah.  Dang. 

They didn't, though.  Relieve me, that is.  I stayed in charge, and we kept pushing forward to the next objective.  There, we assaulted a hill, again firing blanks, and we successfully took the hill and dug into defensive positions.  Only, then my platoon sergeant needed medical attention, and not due to cold injury. No, he'd consumed too many Cokes in a heated Hummer, and he was dehydrated. 

Double dang.  Crap, even.  Any chance I ever had of becoming a general officer, I saw slipping through the cracks down the mudslide that was the hill we'd taken through the warming snow, and all that on my first day.

The next day dawned cold and crappy, but that is the kind of weather that makes most infantrymen happy.  We rose and left behind the comfort of--um, holes in the dirt--and continued in a southwestward direction toward what was marked as the Final Objective.  I, the newbie platoon leader, was in the middle, the second most senior platoon leader to my left, and the senior PL, the guy ready for another post soon, to my right, all moving steadily through the damp and chilly forest.

It didn't take too long to get there--which I must admit I found a little suspicious at the time.  "Alpha Six," the company radio called out for the my commander, "enemy position spotted to our front.  Sending scout, over," the senior platoon leader to my right said, and wow, I thought--smart man, apparently--I'd had us as not quite there yet according to my own map readings.

Then again, you know what they say about second lieutenants with a map.  If you don't, then go to any web site where there's a lot of derogatory cursing going on, and you'll get the gist.  Despite the weekends I'd spent as a kid with my dad roaming the Tombigbee Forest with a map and a compass, I was supposed to have no idea where I was, as evidenced by the golden bar upon my lapel, and I was fine with that as I waited for instructions to attack from the company commander.

"Alpha Six," an embarrassed voice finally came across the line, "We scouted the enemy position, and found that it is our position from last night."

They'd left our side and land-navigated into a full circle.


I giggled a lot that day, thanks to the confirmation that others were as prone to errors as I was.  More so, even, when it came to land navigation.  In fact, I still giggle about that, today, many years after I left the active duty infantry behind me for good.

A year, ish, later, I had my own Senior Lieutenant moment.  This time we were at Yakima, our major training ground for motorized Fort Lewis troops.  We were playing against an opfor again, and to be honest I was really looking forward to being relieved as a platoon leader by some young butterbar so that I could move up to battalion staff. 

"I see troop movement to the front," one of my squad leaders called, and I relayed that information up to Alpha Six.  I didn't see anything, granted, but I was hunkered down in a Command & Control position near the middle, and the squad leaders, all experienced sergeants, were looking out over the killing field we hoped to command with their night vision sights.

"Keep me informed," my company commander radioed back. 

Some time later--I don't know; it was well into the nighttime hours, and I wasn't watching a clock--the same squad leader reported more troop movement to his front.  I relayed it up, and the company commander radioed back, "Keep me informed."

The third time the squad leader reported movement, it was well into the early morning hours, and so I was tired of the lack of progression.  I raised the platoon radio handset in preparation to order one of the forward troops to get out of their vehicle and check out the movement to the front when another, somewhat more senior, squad leader radioed in.

"You idiot, those are cows," the rebuke came clearly across the platoon's frequency.

Dutifully, I reported the cows up to the company commander.  After all, I wanted him to get whatever rest--and, um, giggles--he could, right?

In the morning I asked him whether he'd relayed the cows report to battalion.  "Nope, didn't have the courage," he said, and that made me laugh.

Hey, at least I had the courage to report the cows.

The strange, writer-centric part of this?  If I hadn't lived it, I wouldn't believe the incredible humor that was part of the service lifestyle.  Too often we writers get drawn into ideas about how things should be instead of how things are, and we forget that real life is way, way stranger than any fiction we can create.



Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Absence of Noise

"If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers." - Doug Larson

How strange our language is, to define certain things as the absence of other things.

I'm specifically thinking of the word quiet, which is defined by Ye Olde Dictionary as the absence of noise.  Noise--yes, that can be defined, and pointed to; we all know noise when we hear it.  Right?  But quiet?  It's--well, um, it's the lack of, um, well, it's, I guess, it's the lack of noise.

See what I mean?

There are any number of sonic physical definitions we could come up with.  After all, sound is merely a vibration in the air around us, and that is easily measured in terms of decibels.  I suppose one could--and, now that I think on it, someone probably already did--specify "quiet" as a certain number of dBs.  Still, that seems a waste, since few of us carry dB-meters around with us.

That said, we all know what quiet sounds like, right?

Quiet's certainly not the only word that's defined like that.  Take my own pastime, writing.  It's got an entire category of genres--and here I refer to non-fiction--that is defined by what it is not.  Fiction is fairly well defined; it is prose that's imaginary, made up, false.  Romance, for example, is fiction (take that for what it's worth).  The same is true of science fiction, but I suppose that one was too obvious.

So the antonym, or opposite meaning word, of fiction is truth, right?  Problem is, that space in the bookstore contains far too many books by folks like Rush Limbaugh to be called "The Truth Section."  Thus, I imagine its title is the result of a bookseller of old nodding at it and saying, "Forsooth, verily, I supposeth that yon volumes be not entirely made up."  Not Entirely Made Up is too long a title for that area, though.

Hence, the non in non-fiction.

But I digress.

I've written about quiet before.  Then, it wasn't completely quiet; I was actually surrounded by the beautiful crescendo of a natural wooded environment awakening for a splendid fall morning.  This morning, on the other hand, the lack of noise was pretty much complete.

I awoke to a power outage.

I didn't realize it at first.  Upon my eyes fluttering to their open position, I noticed a couple of things in rapid succession.  The first was that it seemed quiet--but then again, it was morning in our new Mobile, Alabama, home, a solidly brick house with a decent quantity of sound-proofing.  Second, my bladder was full, full, full.  The second sensation rapidly overwhelmed the first, and so I staggered toward the bathroom along a path I'd already walked a few times that was luckily rather well back-lit by the morning sun streaming through the open window shade.

As usual, I closed the bathroom door first so as to not disturb my beautiful wife's slumber, and only when the door latch caught did I flip the light switch to its on position.

Nothing happened.

Now, I wasn't entirely awake yet.  That, and my mind was occupied in dealing with the screaming sensation coming from my bladder.

Slowly it dawned on me that what should've happened--a bathroom appearing before my very eyes--hadn't, and that could only mean one of two things: either the bathroom had been taken away in the middle of the night, or the light switch was broken.  So I did the only thing any sane person would do: I reached over, flipped the light switch back off, and then moved it back up again.

Again I was shocked by the amount of nothingness that happened.

By this point I was coming out of my morning stupor enough to wonder if it could be a power thing--I didn't take those electrical engineering classes at West Point for nothing, after all--but also by this point my bladder was starting to wrap itself around my entire abdominal cavity and do its best boa constrictor impersonation.  Luckily I knew pretty much where the toilet was, and I'd learned a secret trick long ago that drastically improves my aim first thing in the morning, especially in the dark. 

(don't tell anyone, but I'll share it with you--the secret trick is called sitting down.  I manage to avoid hitting the seat and the floor 100% of the time when I do that little amazing trick--just, never in public.  I am, after all, a manly man)

Bladder finally satisfied, I sallied forth to discover the extent of the not-noise.  Our bedroom ceiling fan was off, I noticed for the first time.  It's almost always on, and though it's not a noisy one, its soft shwoop-shwoop is noticeable in its absence, once you--um, notice it.  The main bathroom similarly didn't have any light no matter how many times the switch was flicked.  Every appliance in the kitchen was dark, and even the little guy in the refrigerator refused to turn that light on when I opened the door.

Definitely, the power was out, I realized as I closed the refrigerator door.  See how much good that excellent EE education I received was doing for me?

I tried using the spiffy cell phone app the power company has to check it.  Problem is, Mississippi Power and Alabama Power are so close together--literally--that they use the same system, apparently, and so when I signed in I got a "well, of course your power is out; your account was closed five years ago," message.  No, no, no--not that account in Biloxi, this one here in Mobile, I told my cell phone, which for once didn't prove itself smarter than me.

Finally I called the actual phone number, and right away they told me that there was, in fact,a power outage, and that crews were working on it, and that power was expected to be restored within a couple of hours.

Ahhhhh, I was finally able to say.  Coming up: a couple hours of--well, of quiet, and today I'm working the late shift and don't have to be in till afternoon, which meant that I could enjoy the entirety of it.

What was I to do?

Sleep, was the obvious answer, and so I did the only sane thing I could think of.  I went back to bed.

Have a great day, and--oh, by the way, have a great 2015!