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.