Friday, January 30, 2015

Flash Friday #131: Surprise!

       The weather had been . . . Well, iffy was the best way to put it. My sister thought I was crazy to go to the cabin when the weather might change at any moment.
"You're too old to go kiting off on some getaway," she had said, her finger almost touching my nose as she waved it back and forth. Apparently she'd forgotten the incident when I was four and I'd simply bitten the offending finger. I could still see the marks. "You just don't --"
"I pretty much do whatever I please," I said, calm and smiling because that always annoyed her -- and reminded her that I still had very good teeth. She drew the offending hand back again.
"So you are going up there by yourself to commune with the trees --"
"I'm not going alone." She looked at me, shocked. "I'm taking Red."
Those words were the last straw. She threw her hands up in the air -- I pulled back in haste when she almost hit me -- and she left my apartment, grumbling something that sounded less than polite.
Red came running from the bedroom as soon Margie left. The cat was very wise and always stayed out of sight when my sister visited. Margie never tired of pointing out that by my age she was already married with four kids, as though that was the pinnacle of human ambition. She took my reluctance to leap into the gene pool as an affront to her choices.
As it happened, I liked her little rugrats. I still wasn't certain I needed any of my own. And Margie did tend not to mention her divorce.
"You ready for the trip, guy?" I asked. "Get out of the city for awhile, check out the cabin Uncle Lee left to me? That's what really annoys her, you know. He only left her a small fortune. He gave me the place he loved."
"Right. Let's go."
I'd been to the cabin several times through the years, both with and without Uncle Lee. I would miss the old guy and the tales he told around the fireplace on the cold mountain nights. He'd had an imagination and even as I grew older, I still loved his tales of magical places.
"The cabin is close to the line," he'd told me the last time we'd been there together. He'd been intense; if he hadn't died in a car accident, I would have thought he'd somehow known I would be here alone soon. "The veil between here and the world of magic isn't far away. If you're lucky, you'll get to see something from the other side. If you're really lucky, you'll make friends with some of the others. As long as you treat the land well, Michael, they'll like you."
He'd been so serious that I almost believed.
Yes, I would miss his special magic.
We reached the cabin late at night, but I knew the way and we'd had no trouble getting there. I carried Red in and started the fire before it got any later. A cold breeze blew down from the higher peaks and I feared Margie might have been right about my timing. Not that I would ever admit it to her, though.
We had a rollickingly good storm that night. Red slept under the blankets, and I admit I pulled the covers over my head as well. Lightning flashed almost continuously for an hour, some of it with odd hues, lighting the little bedroom with blue and purple glows that seemed to hold on a little longer than normal.
Then the storm passed and I slept until dawn. Red made his way out of bed when I did. The place was cold, the fire gone low, so I dressed hurriedly and started working on getting the embers stirred up.
"Merp, merp -- MEEP!"
Red charged across the outer room and threw himself at the window.
"It's just a bird, you silly cat. Just like in town --"
I turned.
Not like in town.
Not a bird.
Lizard. Really, just a lizard . . . Lost in the woods, clear up in the cold mountains where there should never be any lizards. . . .
Flapping his little wings.
Red hit the window a couple times with his paw and then turned to me. "Merp, merp, merp!"
"Merp," I agreed.
The little lizard looked like he was trembling. I stared. He stared. Red merped a few more times.
I went out the door and walked around to the window. The little guy turned and leapt at me. I thought he was going for my throat. Actually, he was trying to burrow into my shirt.
I took him inside. He and Red curled up on the hearth, nose-to-nose, and slept.
I had a tiny dragon sleeping on my hearth.
I started trying to remember all of Uncle Lee's stories, frantically jotting things down in the notebook I'd brought. I yelped when someone knocked at the door and crossed quickly to pull it open a little, afraid to let anyone in and see the dragon --
She had long blue and green hair, pointed ears, almond-shaped green eyes and a very nice smile.
"You must be Michael. I am so sorry about Uncle Lee. He'll be missed. Is Rex here?"
I pulled the door open, still trying to sort things out. She crossed to the hearth and knelt.
"I told you not to go out in that storm! But I see you made a new friend. This must be Red. Uncle Lee always talked about what a smart cat he was."
"Tea?" I asked. My brain was still trying to sort through everything. "Would you like tea?"
"That would be lovely."
So I finally met the neighbors. Uncle Lee was right -- I was very lucky. By the time I left a few days later, I started thinking about bringing Margie's kids up here . . . and the magical tales I would be telling them.
I had a legacy to pass on.

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Why not the easy path?

      Setting a character's course of action is rarely a simple act of pointing the MC in one direction and pushing him along. Quite often a far more important part is to cut off the paths he might have gone instead and making certain your readers know why he didn't take the easier way.

Easier, of course, is rarely the better choice for a story. However, harder can look manipulated unless block off other directions. If your character decides to cut through the woods on the way to the castle, rather than take the path that leads straight there, give a good reason that will make the other path not the best one. Here are several I can think of for this simple set up:

1. There is someone who lives along the path whom he doesn't want to see.

2. There is someone in the woods he hopes to meet.

3. It's the short cut (a usual reason, but good if he's running late).

4. He's not going where he says he's going, so takes a route that keeps him out of sight of others.

5. He wants to get to the castle before a wagon reaches there, so racing through the woods while it goes up the main path will work for him.

There are five reasons he didn't take the path. Now, what happens to him in the woods is another matter. You know something is going to happen, but why then and there? That's another case where you have to close off other paths to make certain this one is viable. Yes, there is chance in real life. Unfortunately, we rarely accept it as readers.

So just make certain once someone heads one way, it is because it makes sense, not just because that's how you want him to go as the author. The great part is that we, as authors, can do anything in our world to make it reasonable.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Flash Friday #130: Company Policy, Part Twelve (end)


     Alicia wasn't surprised by the new delay as she again waited. She'd been part of a bureaucracy. Even at its best, New Worlds for Humanity had the same stop-and-go movement of any big company -- or government agency.

She knew how one person could defer to another and how decisions got caught up in a fine web of waiting for someone else to make a choice.
Wait. She couldn't sleep any more. She cleaned up and even washed out her hair as best she could and spent a lot of time working snarls out. It passed the time.
The door opened. She hadn't expected Theseus to step inside.
"What the hell have you done now? Did you come to get me out?" she demanded and stood.
Then a couple others followed him into the room. He grinned with delight at her reaction.
"Things are sorting out," he explained without preamble. "The Inner Worlds Council would like to speak to both of us."
"Us. On Mars," she said. She shook her head. "I don't think --"
"You don't have to go. I can still find you that nice, quiet beach for awhile until things calm down on Earth. People still believe we're terrorists, though the government is countering those rumors. We've been helped by the fact that Brown tried to kill a number of people when he was cornered."
"They caught him?"
"Unfortunately not, but they did get a lot of the information he had with him. We're mostly in the clear, Alicia. Well, you are -- I'm still under suspicion, being an IWCS agent and working here illegally. I'm going back to Mars. Brown went off-world with Ross House help. Grey Station 9 is still in trouble. This isn't really over."
"What does the IWC want from me?" she asked.
"Help. Any information we can get on Brown and New Worlds for Humanity since he took over." He ran a hand over the top of his head and through his hair, looking as harassed as she'd ever seen him. Was that an act? She didn't think so. "We're trying to round up others from the company, both on Earth and off, who had worked during Brown's reign. If he could get hold of materials he shouldn't have had even here on earth --"
Theseus stopped and shook his head, and for a moment she saw true dismay.
She thought about Brown and how she'd never truly liked or trusted him. Step away now? She was probably one of the few top members of the company alive. How many had died at the building? How many had he killed elsewhere?
"I'll go with you," she decided. He looked pleased. "I want to see this finished right, Theseus. And I don't trust Brown, either."
"Then let's go. There's a shuttle waiting and the IWC sent a ship to pick me up."
Well. Was he that important or was it the information he had that they wanted so badly? She gave one quick nod and walked out with him, wondering if she should mention that she had no ID or anything -- how was she going to get back home again? Earth was very strict about who got on world, and she might have trouble returning.
Oddly, though, she trusted Theseus to make certain things worked out right. At least she wasn't going to be sitting in that cell any longer. Clean clothes might have been nice, but she'd washed up as best she could in that little room. She felt odd still being in Port Guard uniform, though he still wore one too.
Camouflage. They walked straight through the building without drawing any extra attention. A covert glance around showed many nervous people. Daylight streamed through the windows on the lower floor. Alicia saw smoke and could hear the wail of sirens not far away and the comm announced a problem in the southwest section of town. She'd been sealed off from the problems and for some reason had expected everything to be settled by now.
Alicia asked nothing, especially as others moved around them. No reason to draw attention. She didn't slow as they headed straight out a gate and down the tube into a small shuttle. They were the only ones aboard and as soon as the door sealed, the shuttle began powering up. Anxious to be rid of them, she thought. Or at least Theseus.
He finally looked relaxed. "Well, that was a total mess and I'm glad we survived it," he admitted.
"And we're safe now?"
"Safer." He sat up straighter and she regretted having bothered him, but maybe she needed to know things before they took off. "Brown is not happy with us. We weren't good sheep and didn't march straight to the slaughter for him. We're also finding more ties to Ross House, which makes him more dangerous than I thought. Everything he's done is coming unraveled, but he still has power."
"Ah." The shuttle began to move, heading out. She should stop it. She should get off.
He handed over her pocketcomp and smiled. "We have a few hours between here and Mars. I thought we might go over a few things."
"Yes, good idea." She keyed the pocketcomp on, glad to have something left that belonged to her. She'd never been attached to things, but having this returned at least felt as though she was not completely cut off from her true life.
They worked while on the shuttle and again on the ship, and a few hours later they were coming into Mars and finally shut down the computers.
"You are one of the most steady people I've ever worked with," Theseus said suddenly. "And it occurs to me that you are without a job. How would you like to work for Inner Worlds Council Security?"
"Become a spy?"
Well, there was a promise of an interesting new future. At least she wouldn't have to go job hunting.
The End

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During November I wrote the novel Tales from Grey Station 9, which covered problems at the other end of this story-universe. I decided to do this little side-story serial to explore the trouble back with New Worlds for Humanity. The stories are going on at about the same time. It was an interesting little experiment.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Merry Go Round Blog Tour: What to do in 2015?

      I suspect this is a sign of how 2015 is going to go in general, because I am late with the first post to this round of the tour. Dare I even make plans for a year where I am already falling behind?
Might as well live dangerously.
Every December I make certain I've finished up everything for the year. That means completing whatever drafts I am working on, tidying up outlines, and completing edits. When January 1 dawns, I am free to do whatever I want. It's a whole new year with nothing that has to be finished. I started with a lovely new sf novel a little bit after midnight on January 1.
But you know, I haven't really thought much about plans for the rest of the year.
Oh, there's the usual stuff. Write new things. Publish older things. I am determined to get at least one paper bound book out this year, which means really and truly setting down with InDesign and working my way through the entire process, not this start and stop stuff I've done for the last two years. Silky will be the first print publication, and if all goes well, there will be others.
I have changed the release dates for the new issue of Vision to get it away from the start of the year when everything is so crazy. The new first issue of the year is February 1. I may only do three issues a year from now on. This is year 15 for the ezine and it is getting very hard to get new articles. I'll work something out.
I plan for my first ebook novel release to be in March. This is a new approach for me, not to have something new coming out each month (short stories or longer novels as they get done) like I did for the last four years. Truthfully, I've run out of the 'easy' things to publish, the ones I'd had mostly finished and prepared for submission to agents and publishers. Now I'm delving into newer material that is still in the first draft stage and will take longer to process. I have 54 publications right now, the first published on February 7, 2011. That has been a lot of work.
Currently I'm working on a number of new things, all of them at different levels of completion, and requiring different types of work. It's easy for me to move from one to the other when they're in that vast array of The new sf novel, Home Year 1: Crash is moving along at about 500 words a day; a purposely slow approach to this one until I can get the real feel for the world and the characters.
I'm rewriting a fantasy novel called A Plague of Rats which is kind of up and down. There are parts of it that are really good, and other sections that I keep cutting out completely that are just dead boring.
During all this I got an idea for a new urban fantasy (Outcasts: Sleeper Awake) that looks like it could be a series if I want. I've been jotting down a few notes here and there -- and now I have about 5k in notes. LOL.
Weekly flash fiction stuff . . . Finishing off an sf/adventure called Company Policy, which is down to the last two or three entries. Since it's flash fiction, each entry is just a bit short of 1k. Those have been fascinating to write. I'll do a few weeks of independent stories, and then probably start the flash fiction serial sequel to Going Elsewhere. (Yay! Edmond the talking cat will be back!)
I also have the final, nitpicking edits on In the Shadow of Giants for February release and Silky for the print copy.
Yeah, I'll be busy for a while.
And by the time I'm done with all that, I'll have a dozen more things I want to do. Then there is the daily photo blog (just short of 3000 entries right now) which is hard to keep up in the winter when I don't go out much and we've had virtually no snow. Getting new pictures each day isn't easy in those cases. (Here, kitty kitty. Okay, teddy bears, then. Or maybe the shelves of tea again? How about pictures of pictures!)
Oh and that brings us to art stuff. I've been playing with new programs and I've been so enthralled with them that they've actually taken time away from writing for the last week or so. It's been wonderfully exciting and fun, because I get to work with my 150,000 photos (I am not exaggerating. I have them cataloged in Adobe Lightroom, which is a wonderful program)and make art prints out of them. This has been a lot of fun and a good thing to get me away from writing for a bit each day. Yes, even I need a break from it now and then.
So this might be my year for art.
And photos.
And writing.
Sounds normal to me!

Check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour for more posts by writers!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Flash Friday # 129: Company Policy, Part Eleven

They had both sat down by the time the port guards were heading up the lift -- they could hear the distant buzz of power as it neared.
Theseus patted her leg and smiled. "We're done now. Answer everything they ask, even about where we've been. My friends will have moved on by now, so don't worry about it. This may take a while to work out, but we'll be safer with the Port Guard than we have been on our own, and probably safer than if we'd been taken in by the locals."
"I suppose so," she said and tried to calm the frantic beating of her heart.
"Help will be on the way." He patted the door at his back. "They were slow to come up here. The message has gone out."
That should have given her some hope since it apparently did so for Theseus. She didn't know these people, though. How could she trust them when the ones she had known -- the people at New Worlds for Humanity -- had betrayed her on every level?
Trust Theseus? No, not particularly.
This had changed her and her world. She felt as though she had to be a different person between going to work -- was it yesterday morning? -- and by the time the lift opened and the armored troops rushed out towards them. The sight startled her at first, but then she realized they expected explosives.
"You'll want to see this," Theseus said. He pushed something golden out across the floor. Everyone froze, but a moment later a voice muffled in the armor spoke.
"No explosives. Our guy is just sleeping something off."
"We are not the terrorists," Theseus said. "But we are dealing with something from off world."
One of the people came and signaled Alicia to her feet. She stood and gave a nervous glance back to Theseus, but he stayed seated and only gave her one parting nod.
The guard said nothing at all. They went down several levels, but she was surrounded by guards and could see nothing. They didn't have hold of her and they hadn't secured her, but there was no way she could get past them, so it hardly mattered. One wrong move, she thought. One move and they'll just shoot me.
How many had died out there? These people were not going to simply take Theseus at his word, so they still believed that she was someone who had wantonly set bombs off in the city and killed anyone who just happened to be in the area. The thought made her ill.
She sat in a cell for a long, long time. No windows. No way to tell time. There was a fountain and a somewhat private bathroom. One cot up against the wall.
She sat on the edge and stared at her hands. No one had asked her anything so far. She hoped that meant they were learning the truth about Theseus and he would simply clear her in this matter. Then she would not have to clear herself.
Eventually a woman came in, sat a chair down in front of the cot and gave a nod. "I am recording, both your words and your physical responses to what I ask. Do you understand?"
"Yes," she said and swallowed. Her heart had begun to pound harder.
"Why did you set those bombs?"
She stared, shocked by the question. "You can't believe -- we didn't do it! Theseus thinks Brown is behind it all -- I think he might be right, but it wasn't us."
"What access do you have to weapons?"
"I don't know," she said, confused this time. "I've never tried to get weapons. I suppose whatever access people have to them."
A pause. The woman wore an ear piece and was clearly getting information from elsewhere.
"Tell me about your job at New Worlds for Humanity and what happened there today and afterwards."
She'd been going over that part in her mind, but even so it didn't come clearly now that she had to tell the story. The woman asked several questions that clarified what Alicia said, and so they worked through the entire sequence of events. And then again, but with a much shorter range of questions.
The woman finally nodded and stood. She went to the door and it opened.
And she unexpectedly looked back and offered a little smile. "This shouldn't take much longer."
Those were the first words of hope she'd heard. As the door closed she felt the drain of everything that had happened, and finally just laid down on the cot and stared at the ceiling until she slept.
How long? She didn't know. She woke, used the bathroom, drank some water and sat on the cot again. Waited, waited. For all she knew, the others had simply forgotten her.
Stupid thing to think, but the idea lingered in the back of her brain and brought her up from sleep with a cry of despair that seemed to echo in her brain.
All she could do was wait. They brought her food finally. The guard carried in a little table and put the platter on it, saying nothing. She nodded her thanks. The person left again.
She nibbled at the food with no appetite. The coffee was bitter. She poured it out and brought back water instead, ate a little more of the eggs and bacon and wondered if it really was morning or not.
Wondered where Theseus was now, and his precious Inner Worlds Council. Anger slipped in around the despair and she let it have full reign for a while. Too tiring, though, the hold that rage.
What the hell was going on out there?

968 Words

To Be Continued for more fantastic quick reads