Thursday, March 26, 2015

Flash Fiction # 139: Signs of Spring (Drabble)

       Somewhere close by a bird whistled a plaintive tune.
Benley lifted his head, feeling groggy and cold. Had winter passed already? He'd barely nestled into the den with the rabbits, though his wings felt stiff, a sign of the passage of time. He didn't want to leave this warm place with the bunnies and go out into the cold.
If he stayed, how would the plants know to awaken? So the little pixie went out into the cold and began seeking out the plants and sleeping animals.
After all, everyone knows there is a bit of magic in each spring.

(Drabbles are exactly 100 words long and quite fun to write sometimes!)
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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New Release: In the Shadow of Giants


In the Shadow of Giants is now available on the Amazon Kindle and at Smashwords. It will gradually filter into other locations through Smashwords distribution, but these are the two main spots. Smashwords offers several ebook formats (Kindle, Nook, Kobo and more) besides a PDF version.

This book was a lot of fun to write. I also enjoyed the massive amount of research it took to pull everything together.

I hope all of you enjoy it!

In the far future, after humanity has spread across the stars, the Norse Gods ask a former companion's help, but Loki may not be ready for another round of Ragnarok. Reluctantly drawn into the battle against the Chinese Pantheon, his connection to chaos might be all that saves the Norse Gods and humanity from destruction at the hands of an awakening elder god.



Friday, March 20, 2015

Flash Fiction # 138: The Fog (Drabble)

      Fog arrived like liquid silver, flashing with latent power. People ran to their cottages, doors and shutters quickly slammed, prayers whispered. The village went dark and still, except for the tendrils of magic. Sometimes a flash of blue showed where it found an unlucky mouse or bird, small payment for an immortality spell gone wrong.
The thicker fog came soon after, and within it were almost human shapes, ethereal as a breeze. They whispered, those shapes.
Come and live forever with us. . . .
Whatever lived within the fog was no longer human and lured no one tonight.
The fog would return.

(Drabbles are exactly 100 words long and quite fun to write sometimes!)

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Merry-Go-Round Tour 2015/3: Hobbies and Writing

     Somehow I just keep getting later and later. I set alarms and they don't go off. I put the information on notes on my desk and the cats sleep on them. At some point, I'll get this into my brain again.

But writing and hobbies. . . .

I am a photographer. I can't think of a better hobby for an author because it does two things that helps with writing. First, the obvious: You look at the world and analyze it when you are doing photography. If you want pictures of a nice storm, you have to understand weather well enough to get out there at the right time. You need to know where -- and when -- to go to find certain kinds of birds, too. You need to be aware of light and color (even if you are taking black and white photos) -- and that doesn't take into account all the camera settings like shutter, aperture and ISO. Photography takes a lot of attention to get somewhat good at the work. It takes a lot of practice.

Taking pictures can also provide you with a wealth of inspiration. Take pictures of buildings and of roads. Take shots of newly blooming flowers and dead trees. Build up portfolios of things to look at and describe. Yes, you could do the same by grabbing pictures here and there and dropping them into a Pinterest page -- but you won't have the same connection. A picture came help you recall the sounds, scents and the feel of the breeze as you stood there.

What is the second thing photography does for writers?

Photography takes us away from the computer. Even if you're doing nothing more than taking shots of the cats in the house or birds in the yard, often you have to move away from the spot where you are likely to spend far too much time. Photography allows you to focus back on the real world, and in a way that can help you appreciate some of the small things around you. Subtle colors and unusual shapes catch your attention. Light reflecting through a glass of iced tea becomes wondrous.

You might take the photography a step farther and (back to the computer) start looking at some of the wonderful programs out there that can help you transform pictures into new forms of art. If you are lucky enough to have a skill at drawing and painting, the computer-based programs probably won't interest you, but for the rest of us they allow artistic freedom.

I've met many people who limit their photography to 'important events' and family shots. Back in the age of film-based cameras, this could make sense. Each picture cost you back then, so you might have been more careful. Now you can practice and experiment and take thousands of pictures and it cost you no more than the original camera investment. Most cameras come with CDs that have all the programs you'll need to get started, and if not, there is always the very nice Picasa program from Google.

I take pictures every day. I have a Picture-A-Day Blog that just crossed 3000 pictures and I only post pictures taken on the day of the post. (If on vacation and post later, I'll note what days the pictures were taken on to fill in the spots.)

Go to zoos, too. They're great for science fiction and fantasy writers as well as for people writing in locals they're not used to. The zoo I love (Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, about 100 miles south of me) has a wonderful indoor jungle as well as a desert. The aquarium is full of alien creatures.

Get a camera, use it often, and explore your world. You might find it makes you a better writer.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Flash Fiction #137: Forgotten Places

     The man in the copilot's chair knew a bit about flying. Kilsing hadn't been sure when Tosha insisted that he help handle the shuttle and that only the two of them go down to the world.
"I could go down on my own," he said. "I'm qualified."
"Not with my shuttle," she replied as she took atmosphere readings. "How did you ever find this world?"
"Over ten years of research."
She glanced his way, startled because he sounded sincere. Why would anyone spend so much time to find this place? The atmosphere wasn't breathable and her scans showed nothing of any interest, either in the atmosphere or the world beneath the outer cloud covering.
There were a few concentrations of metal. They looked clean -- but you could get metal just about anywhere. Easier to mine it in asteroids rather than drag it up from some gravity well.
"Head down," he said.
"Any particular place?" she asked. He was paying well. She could humor him. He'd been no trouble to her or the crew, and though this was an out of the way world, it hadn't been a problem to find.
She didn't understand the smile, though. There was nothing she could see here to draw that kind of smile. Well, he was one of those thinkers, though. She'd gathered that because he spent almost the entire voyage reading things. Thinkers just saw things differently. Her brother Lee was the same way, so that made her a little less unsettled by the man. Somin and Tala, her two crew on the small puddle jumper which now sat in orbit above them, had both been worried about him.
"Spends too much time on the computer, Kilsing," Tala had finally said, glancing nervously back to the hall and their rooms. Tala mistrusted anything not part of their regular routine, but this time she was a bit more serious. "Never trust someone what spends more time with computers than with people."
Kilsing, however, appreciated that Tosha wasn't any more trouble than the crates they often ferried from place to place. They did carry passengers sometimes, but not often, and this was the first time they'd been paid enough to drop cargo and go off into the wilds with him. He'd paid well, too -- and all to find this gray, ugly little world. From the way he leaned forward, you would have thought they'd just found a hoard of gold.
"Big world," she said finally. They were down in the clouds, which were not quite as ugly as they'd seemed. The chemical makeup added unexpected wisps of color and sometimes a little sparkle of light. "I need a direction."
"Towards the equator. Look for a long, narrow continent surrounded by sea."
"You've been here before?"
"No," he said. "I doubt any human has."
She glanced his way thinking Tala might have been right after all. Her hand left the controls long enough to touch the laser pistol in the pocket beside her seat, but she said nothing.
They swept below the clouds and into a sort of glowing air mass below. Light seemed to reflect everywhere, but she could make out an ocean of green below them. Small islands dotted the water, and then the tip of something larger came up at the horizon.
They kept going -- and she saw a long narrow continent --
"What the hell game are you playing?"
"My father gave me this before he died."
He reached into the pouch he always carried. Her hand went to the laser pistol and came back empty when he held out a piece of metal covered in etchings. She could see the outline of the island, but there were lines and circles etched all over the surface. She could tell it was writing, but no matter which way she turned it, the lines made no sense.
"I can't read this."
"Nor can anyone else. It's no known human language."
Her pulse started to pick up. It couldn't be.
"Where --" she began, hardly able to form the word.
"These were found on a backwater world by a Pathfinder team. There are five of them in all. My father gave me this one. I hunted down the other four and made copies. I've worked years on figuring out what it meant. I can't read the words, but I think what they found was the last testament of some traveler, and he wrote the instructions home. Two of the other pieces were star charts. Once it was all put together, I had a fair idea of where to go."
"You didn't go to the Inner Worlds Council with this."
"No. I had tried to get their interest early on, but they called it a hoax. So I did the work myself, with some friends, and then I set out to find the place."
"And hired me."
"Your brother sent me to you. He said if we found anything, to come back and get him -- but he wasn't leaving Terra Nova until we had a destination. Something about having traveled with you before."
She laughed. Then she gave a nervous look to the world below. "You are saying aliens -- ones with enough tech to star travel --"
"But long gone, I suspect. Chance alone allowed those five pieces to survive. If they were still here -- still anywhere this close to humanity -- we would have noticed by now. You see the metal concentrations? Head for a good sized one. We'll see what we can find to take back and convince your brother he wants to come here after all."
She began scanning the landscape below as they went closer. "We're going to be famous."
"Yes we are. I wanted to share this moment just with your brother who did as much work on this as I did, so you are in his place. You have your pocket comp? I've been recording already. Time for you to start as well. Take us down, Kilsing. Let's go make history -- or uncover it."

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And thank you to Simon Batt for giving me the magic three items for the last few stories!

Friday, March 06, 2015

Flash Fiction #136 -- Lessons

      Woodlyn wasn't a great mage which he admitted to anyone who asked. He had, however, learned you can make up for a lack of magic with two things: brains and bravery. He'd saved the capital and the King hired him to teach messengers how to get information through with a little magic. That had gone well. Very well. It was a good job.
Until the Queen came back to court.
He was in awe of both king and queen and remained polite and careful, even when the king joked with him. He had not problems with either. Their son was a different problem.
Prince Jero had a magic instructor who barely taught the boy the basics. Woodlyn soon realized why. Jero had a temper and he was used to getting what he wanted.
He wanted to learn more magic.
They were headed for a collision and Woodlyn was already considering where he'd go to work next, if he survived.
"I'm telling my father to get rid of you," Jero said as he walked into Woodlyn's room without so much as knocking.
The twelve-year-old sauntered across the room. The guard stood at the door and with the boy's back to him gave a sign Woodlyn was starting to recognize. Jero was in one of his moods today.
Ink capped, quill put aside, magic book closed and locked; he took no chances. He gave the boy a bit of a nod, though not quite a bow. He saw Jero's blue eyes narrow.
"Is there something you need, Prince Jero?"
"Didn't you hear what I said?"
"Yes. What do you want?"
Jero stared at him, shocked.
Shouts in the courtyard interrupted any tirade.
The guard grabbed Prince Jero before he crossed to the window. Woodlyn moved cautiously to the opening, his hand ready, though he really didn't have much magic and suspected he couldn't do much.
There was a battle in the courtyard. And they had a real mage with them too. He looked over his shoulder. "Tell me Mage Amis is back."
The guard shook his head.
"What? You too cowardly to go do your work?" Jero demanded.
The guard actually shook the boy. "Be silent. Your life depends on it now."
Jero looked up at the tall man and then at Woodlyn . . . And maybe for the first time in his life he was reconsidering how rude he'd been before. He wisely shut his mouth and Woodlyn found he had hope for the spoiled brat after all.
"What should we do?" the guard asked. Asked him, as though he had any idea.
"Let's get to the king and queen. I might be the only mage of any power around here right now."
Which was a problem, because first he wasn't much of a mage. Second . . . He had the feeling Amis left for a reason.
They found panic out in the halls. No one knew where to go, and the servants were fast disappearing into their own little nooks and crannies, knowing the ways of invaders. Those people would be glad to find the servants alive later.
The three ended up in the south wing's hall where the king, queen and a few soldiers had gathered.
The king scowled when they entered, and that anger was turned to him.
"I thought you would be gone with the others," he said with a glare.
"They knew better than to ask."
He shocked the man with his answer, but won a nod of approval from the Queen. The guards accepted him without question. He'd been part of the army for a while. They had long memories.
So did he.
"Amis never believed I was smart or powerful. He was right in the one -- but you don't have to be powerful if you're smart."
"You have a plan?" General Ryfeb asked, frowning.
"Get them inside."
"And then?" the king said.
"There is something mages do to control apprentices who lose control of a spell. It's simple and blunt, but I think it will work, mostly because this mage isn't going to expect it. We have to make him think he's won."
So they sat up the plan -- simple and quick because they didn't have much time. The king, queen and prince met the invaders in the main hall. Others gathered there, including Woodlyn in the crowd. Most didn't know the plan, and the fear and near panic helped cover Woodlyn who had to work to get into the right position.
The invading general and his pet mage had walked right up to the throne. Foreign soldiers followed, weapons in hand -- that would a problem for others.
"You no longer rule here," the general said, a harsh accent -- northern.
"I refuse to step down," the king answered.
This surprised the man, but he gave a nod to the mage, who lifted his hands. People cried out in fear.
And Woodlyn moved.
He hadn't lied about the blunt force. He launched himself straight at the mage, his own power in hand, but it was the act of knocking him down that allowed him, a much weaker mage, to get the upper hand. Surprise. He couldn't have done it otherwise --
The foreign mage was strong. Power surged through him, and Woodlyn had to fight to keep it contained, to make certain no one else was injured --
General Ryfeb had the sword Woodlyn had done his best to make impervious to magic. The man rushed forward and shoved the weapon into the mage's back, the blade cutting a bit of Woodlyn's arm while a different battle took place around them. He only had to hold on to the magic. Keep it controlled. Save them. . . .

A light flickered by the bed. Candle. Night. Woodlyn opened his eyes, knowing he should worry --
No. He was alive, so they had won.
Jero leaned over the bed, surprising him. The boy had been very quiet until now.
"Please," Jero whispered. "Please teach me how to be brave."

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