Friday, July 29, 2016

Flash Fiction #209 -- Lost and Forgotten

Savina pounded the scanner against her hand. Then she pounded it against the ship's wall beside her.
"You'll breach the hull before you get that piece of crap to work," Joson replied.
She aimed the scanner at his head, but he pulled aside in time as she swiped it through the air where his head had been.
The damned thing beeped and they both looked at it in shock. 
"Must be a glitch," Savina said.  She peered at it with obvious misgivings.  Savina pounded it a couple more times, but it kept working, so she plotted the ship's course by the readings.
"If these readings are right, we've just made an outstanding find, Joson!  The readings are very strong.  Not high tech, but I bet we'll find a lot of treasure.  Maybe even claim a whole new world!"
"How long until we get there?"
"About ten hours.  I'm going to set the automatics to get us to orbit and then we can set it down.  We're going to need to sleep."
Joson knew there was no use arguing with her.  She'd just drug him as she had in the past.  He still hadn't figured out when she had become the ship's captain.  Probably when he'd stopped arguing with her just to save his sanity.  
Sleep sounded good, and they knew they could trust the ship to do all the tedious work and get them into orbit.  In fact, he didn't wake until she had started them down.
"Good, you're awake.  I'm getting some excellent readings, Joson.  I think we've finally found our treasure world!"
He sat up, yawning and squinting at the boards.  Savina was right!  The readings were incredible. Breathable atmosphere, minerals, and even some tech, which meant aliens!  Not many people had found aliens.   He hurried to get breakfast.  By the time he was done cleaning up and eating, they were settling down on the world.  Gravity generators turned off, and local gravity kicked in, which meant it must be comfortable.  Savina hated high-grav worlds.
He pulled out his pocketcomp and did some readings as they came out of the ship.  Damned good readings for gravity, atmosphere -- and people.  Actual people.
"Lost colony?" Joson asked, watching the group of five headed their way.  More were starting to gather down the hillside from them,  and he could hear their voices rising in surprise.  Savina strolled out in front of him, her head held high, her moment of triumph. 
Well, as long as they shared the treasure, he didn't care.
She greeted them in basic with an effusive speech about reuniting them, and their treasures, with their lost brethren.  One of the men mumbled words, none of which made sense.  They must have been parted for a long time if they didn't even have basic!  He began doing a quick comp check for some of the earliest lost ships.
The computer gave a little ding.  He'd forgotten that he'd started it working on an analysis of the world, just to make certain there wasn't anything dangerous hiding in the air or water.  It looked remarkably good, in fact. 
And then he scrolled down to the next page.
Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic.
Savina still stood with the first group who had rushed to meet her.  She continued in her epic speech which had wandered off into the world of finance and shared wealth.  When she paused to take a deep breath -- and clearly didn't notice how the locals didn't even understand her -- he stepped forward.
"Savina, we need to talk," Joson said with a tug on her arm. 
"In a moment.  I can't believe we found a lost colony!  And look at all the inhabitants coming our way!   We'll be famous!"
"Savina!"  He grabbed her arm and yanked her away from the others, though he gave them a nervous smile.  Before she could complain, he shoved a pocketcomp into her hands.  "I matched the world up. Gravity, atmosphere, star, and even inhabitants."
She looked at the screen with a scowl.  "Someone else found our wonderful lost colony?  I suppose they have a claim!"
"Not exactly.  Scroll down.  The world has a name."
She frowned and tapped the screen.  The name scrolled up.
She stared, her mouth opening a couple of times.  Joson said nothing.
Earth, the legendary home world, from whence they had all gone to the stars.  Not a lost colony.  The place where humanity had started --
"Oh," she said softly.  She looked back at the people making their way up the hill.  They were waving things.  Some were pointing them.  "Oh."
They had both taken the piloting course with the mandatory viewing of the iconic vid, The Day the Earth Stood Still.  They knew what to expect.  Earthers were crazy, which was why the sane ones had left.  There was a reason everyone 'forgot' where the world was located.
She began to back away, very slowly.  Jonson moved rather more quickly, darting to the ship, keying open the door.  By then the Earthers were yelling, and a mass of them had begun charging up the hillside.  Savina yelped, spun and raced to the airlock, somehow getting in before Jonson.
Something pinged against the ship.  Then something stung against the side of his arm, but he got inside before anything worse happened.  Savina headed straight to the pilot's chair, though she did take a moment to bandage his bleeding arm.  Then she fired up the engines.  They could see humans rushing forward, and then surging back again.  Good.
The ship lifted into a beautiful blue sky with fleecy white clouds.  Savina plotted a course back the way they had arrived.  Then she picked up the scanner and began to bang it against the wall.  Very hard.
"Savina, you're going to --"
The scanner shattered, all of the bits raining down around then. "There. That's better," Savina said as she turned back to the controls. 
Joson agreed.  "Where do we go now?"
"To a galaxy far, far away."
Word Count: 999

Monday, July 25, 2016

Time and Edits

Hello again!  I had intended to write a post (usually writing-related) every Monday, but I've already missed the second one.  This is not a terrible surprise because I really do have a horrible sense of time, made even worse since I no longer do a weekly newsletter.  Time passes.  Today I thought, "Oh, it's Monday.  Time to do that second blog!"  And when I looked, I realized that it was two weeks ago that I had done the first one.
Part of the reason time passes without notice is because I am working on editing and rewriting.  Living in Caine's Hold is the type of book that takes all your attention, especially when you add and change things and need to go through everything to make certain all the events line up again.
Still, getting the work done is nice.  I have a cover for the book.  At least I think I do.  I might end up changing that one, too.
So here I am facing an editing problem many writers have to deal with when they get to this point.
When do you stop editing?
And that couples with the insane idea that you can somehow make the novel perfect.
Let's address the last one first.  It's important to go through the story and make certain not only of the grammar and punctuation but also of the storyline.  If you write out of order or tend to move events and chapters around, it is important that you sit down with the story and make certain everything is in an order that makes sense.  You might even create a timeline as you go through the chapters and write down not only what happens but also where all your important characters are at that moment.  How long would it take for any of these people who are not involved in the incident to find out about it?  You would be surprised how many unseen plot problems can pop up this way, and which are easy to fix with a slight adjustment of the passage of time.  It is the little things like that which a reader can catch.  For some readers, it is a game.  Don't make it easy for them.
The problem of over-editing is real, too.  You need to stop editing when you start changing things just to change them.  The edits no longer improve the story but at this point, they simply exchange a word with another, without developing the scene.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't change blue to sapphire or rough for abrasive when those are better words.  Be certain that the words you choose, especially in the speech and thoughts of the characters, are equal to their status.  A peasant is going to say rough, but a prince will use abrasive.  The problem is that some people keep editing such things and not making them better.  Change is not always good.
And what about that perfection?
There is none.  Oh, we can pretend that the author and an editor (or two) have found every possible mistake in the book, but it simply doesn't work that way.  Something will slip through.  Sometimes it will be something so annoying that you'll want to pull your hair out.  How could we have all missed that misused word?  How did no one catch that missing word?  Typos, missing commas, a period that should have been a question mark -- they're going to happen.  That doesn't mean you can shrug your shoulders and not try to correct everything.  The closer you come to perfection, the better. 
I should mention that I love editing which can create another problem.  If you like doing this work, you will tend to keep editing and tweaking (and changing things just to change them sometimes).  This can be related to the 'I fear to let it go' syndrome, too.  As long as you are editing, you don't have to worry about rejection.  At some point, though, you simply have to say this is as good the story can be and let it go, either to an agent or publisher or to as an indie publication.
I am very nearly to that point of letting go, and I know to keep an eye on that editing-just-to-edit problem.  I will release the book in early August.  I had hoped for July, but I decided on one other editing-related problem:  I am not going to rush this simply to get it out in the next few days.  I have about 50 pages left to edit plus formatting.  There will be ebook and print versions, though the print one will not be ready until after I get the proof copy and can look it over.  The cover may be too dark. There may be problems with the layout, though those are less likely to happen these days.  You never know what problems you might find.
But I am getting closer, and it is time to get back to work!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Flash Fiction #208 -- Cortland

Cortland didn't remember a time before life in the cool temple halls, whispering the prayers of the gods, reading the chants, and working in the archives.  At dawn, they lifted hands and the golden light of peace came to their fingers and glowed like the rising sun.  He rarely thought about the world beyond the single building.   He had only heard the tales about cities, famines, and lately of wars.  The Holy Ten provided for them.
Until the day the southern soldiers attacked, killed almost everyone, destroyed what they could find, and made slaves of the remaining men and women.
So Cortland, at the age of sixteen, went out into the world.
Shock and loss left him mute.  In the city, he was sold cheap as kitchen labor -- able to follow orders, but not much else.  All the time, the prayers of the Holy Ten repeated in his head, the voices of dead friends whispering to him.  He held to that sound as long as he could, even though he knew they whispered lies; the gods had not saved them.
Cortland, called Kaybe -- Kitchen Boy -- became a favorite at Master Julin's estate. He did his work, helped others when he could, and still said nothing at all.  The prayers of the Holy Ten disappeared from his thoughts.  He slept better then.
"How can I read this?" Risthur, the estate overseer said, with a shake of his head.  Antona, the cook, stood her ground.  "This makes no sense!"
"It makes sense," she insisted.  "All the herbs are written here, see?  Just like you say."
Rithur stared at her in dismay.  "These are not real words.  A letter now and then, but --"
"But never bothered to learn them words," she said with a glare.
Cortland happened to look down at the wax tablet as Rithur sat it and the stylus on the table.  He could barely make out the words as well, so he took the stylus, rubbed out the first word, and wrote it in more clearly.  Rithur and Antona still argued -- and then went suddenly silent.
He looked up.  Rithur stared in shock at the tablet.  He looked up at Cortland.  "You can write.  You can write very well."
He nodded.
Rithur took the tablet and left.  Cortland went back to cutting up vegetables.
Soon Rithur returned with Master Julin.  Everyone stopped work and stood at attention.  Julin rarely came into the work areas, and his fine clothing looked out of place next to the scared worktable covered in peals, flour, and spots of animal blood.
"That one, sir," Rithur said and pointed to Cortland.
"You can write?  And read?" Master Julin said, an elegant grey eyebrow raised. Kaybe bowed his head in agreement.  "Yes, and from the looks of this wax tablet, you write very well.  Educated.  The kitchen is no place for you."
Antona sighed and gave him a little hug before he went off with Rithur.  For the next year or more, he helped the man with the estate records.  Eventually, he began working more with Master Julin and his daughter, Ava.  Julin had asked him how he learned to write.  He'd picked up the stylus and thought about the temple, the other life, his world before he became a slave.  He put the stylus down again and shook his head.  Julin never asked again.
A pleasant place, he realized.  Master Julin let him sit in the arbor and write out the reports.  Open and airy on these hot summer days.  He began to even forget the walls of the temple.
Ten years passed from the time he left the temple until war found him again.  The enemy came down from the north, along the same roads where he had been taken as a slave.  They destroyed, killed ... and enslaved.  There was no where to escape. The city already lay in ruins and the army moved now through the countryside, destroying the fields and killing everyone.  At dawn they rode towards the estate and when Kaybe saw the soldiers riding under a flag with ten circles -- the symbol of the Holy Ten -- indignation that he hadn't known he could feel rose up.  He pushed past the others, threw open the side gate, and went out towards the men with weapons who were only yards away now.
"Let him go," Master Julin said.  "They are his people.  It's only right."
But he stopped and looked back.  "Not mine," he whispered.  "None who kill are my people."
They all stared, standing there by the walls, ready to defend their little piece of world, both master, workers and slaves -- because they had all been treated well here.  They stared, shocked that he had spoken, as he himself was shocked.
Kaybe -- Cortland -- had survived.  And now he had a reason.  He turned to the soldiers and lifted his hands as he whispered a morning prayer he hadn't thought he still remembered.  The light came to his fingers, brighter than the rising sun.
The soldiers knelt and whispered.
"We did not know -- the priests were dead," one of the men said.  He was older, his face scared.  "We can take you back --"
"Put away that flag," Cortland ordered.  "It is not a flag of killing.  If you truly love the Holy Ten, put away your swords.  Go home and serve the Gods in love and peace.  Leave this place."
And they did.  Later, people called it a miracle.  Others followed them and before long the army retreated, though no one could say why.
Cortland stayed.  Master Julin's estate became a new temple.  He taught those who came, and some stayed to serve.  They didn't hide away behind walls and ignore the world.  They would not let war come upon them, unprepared to face it.  And if there was any real miracle, it was that others listened to them and for two hundred years or more, there was peace again in the land.
998 Words

Monday, July 18, 2016

Blogging again!

I stopped blogging quite a while back, except for my weekly flash fiction stories on Friday.   I had no really good reason for stopping, but a number of factors simply made blogging about writing (which will always be my primary subject here) difficult.
So let me ramble for a little while.
I went through quite a long stretch of self-doubt, even though I didn't truly recognize it for a while.  I didn't stop writing.  I didn't stop editing. 
I did stop publishing.
Part of this was due to several emails telling me, among things, that apparently I didn't care about my work, or else I wouldn't publish so often.  The emails were not about the books themselves, and it is likely these few people had not even read any of my work.  My Two Year Novel Course classes were popular at Forward Motion and the books continue to sell well.  Every year at least one or two people tell me how much help they've been.  You can't ask for better than that from classes that I know won't help everyone.  We are too diverse in the ways we work.  Sometimes, though, what I've said nudges someone in the right way, and they adapt it to what works for them.
That did not, however, help when talking about my fiction writing.  People often complained about what I did with my writing, and this is not the same as critiquing.  The ones who complain about how I work never mentioned the books themselves.
I am prolific.  I write several new novels a year and rewrite several more.  I get ideas from everything, and the hardest part is not to go rushing off to write something before I fully see what I have in hand.  When I'm lucky, multiple ideas meld together into one story.  When I'm not so lucky, I end up with little notes all piling up and have to decide which one next to expand.  I do background work.  I do outlines.  I get everything lined up, and then I write a fast first draft, just letting the story flow.
And when I finish the first draft, the manuscript is set aside for weeks or months -- sometimes more than a year -- before I go back and start editing.  This process works very well for me because it allows me to work on other things and get the first story out of my brain.  Then, when I do edit, I see it for what is there and not for what I expect to find.  One edit, two edits -- maybe more.  I do not rush the work.
I am also aware that I am not a perfect writer.  I haven't given up hope of getting better, though.  I am still willing to learn and try new things.
So, all of that continued over the last year and a half.  What I didn't do was take my work to the last step and publish.  It took me a long time to realize that I wasn't pushing that next step, and then longer to come to terms with why.
I was simply tired of dealing with those people.
I'm over that little snit with myself and have long since deleted the messages.  I've started publishing again. I started with print versions of five books that had already been in ebook versions, but the first really new book I put out was the sequel to Mirrors.  Mirrors 2: Reflections has Skye (my half-human, half-fae genderless main character) dealing with problems within the family.  I am working on a science fiction novel that is decades old and is really coming together well after three massive rewrites.  I am going to line up some more work for the rewrite-to-publish work, and I am not going to let what others say stop me this time.  Go ahead and do reviews on how poorly told the novel is (but you better say enough to show you've actually read it for me to take the review seriously), but attacking how I work is simply going to be ignored.
I'm going to start blogging about writing again.  I will likely pull up some old articles and edit them to fit newer times and put some of those here, too.  I will talk about my stories again and enjoy sharing the fun part of writing.
I am a prolific writer.  I'm not going to try and hide the fact by not publishing work.  You can enjoy the stories or not, but how they got from my head to your hands is nothing you need to concern yourself over as a reader.  Either you like my novels and shorter works or you do not.  I hope you do enjoy the stories, of course -- and if you do, at least you know you won't have to wait too long for something new!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Flash Fiction #207 -- Finding Wisdom

After a long journey following the torn and wrinkled map, the ancient castle finally stood before us, shrouded in mist and legend.
Actually, it was shrouded in a fog just short of another annoying rain and a scent that was legend in a whole new way.
"Someone needs to clean that moat out," I said with a shake of my head.
"Ugh," Swiden said.
Swiden wasn't much on conversation, but he hefted a mean ax and cooked an excellent venison with mushroom dinner.  The rest of the questing group had gone back home. Adventurers just aren't made of the same stuff as they were in my dad's day.  I'd grown up on tales of daring groups....
It wasn't easy being the only child of Sir Krinton the Bold, and worse being a daughter.  He told tales of adventure and then would sigh, wandering off mumbling about a long family tradition brought to an end.  I decided to prove  I could be more adventurous than the rest. I was going to take on Bowen the Good and win the famous Sword of Wisdom.
Now I feared time might have taken care of the knight. 
"Egh," Swiden said.  That might have been because of the stench.
I dismounted from Horse (I'm not big on names) and handed the reigns to Swiden.  Horse had a healthy respect of Swiden, having heard several muttered recipes for various 'Horse and' meals.
"The door is cleared of vines and debris.  I guess someone is here after all," I said.  "Well, this is the moment of truth, right?"
I shoved the door open.  It creaked of course.
Movement came from the hall to the right where a huge shadow appeared against the dim light from an open window.  My hand went to my sword.  I wasn't ready for this -- not yet!  I didn't expect him to appear --
"Bother," the shadow said.  "I suppose you've come searching for Wisdom, too."
"I don't need --" I began.  Then stopped.  "Oh, you mean the sword."
"Well, smarter than some of the fools who come here," he said and moved forward, though I still couldn't see him.  "Most answer that they don't need wisdom.  That disqualifies them from even searching for the sword and I send them on their way.  You're going to be a troublesome one, aren't you?  Female, too. That's a first. Well, come along.  We've things to discuss."
He came out into the light.  Younger than my father, older than me -- not bad looking in a scruffy sort of way. 
"My horse --"
"Oh, leave her there.  It'll be fine.  You won't be here long."
I didn't like that attitude. Swiden grunted and stayed with the horse.  I went with Bowen the Good.
When I got close enough, I noticed two things.  First, he wore the sword.  There was no doubt about it because it glowed slightly.  He also wore it in a harness on his back so that the pommel rested close to his head.  And the sword whispered.
"Are you saying what the sword tells you to say?" I asked
He had stopped at the entrance to a room.  It was neat and smelled of herbs and spices.  Something cooked on the hearth and a loom stood to the side with a mostly finished rug still hanging there.  I saw no sign of anyone else.
"Come in.  Sit down."  I sat as he removed the harness and hooked it over a chair by the bed.  He came back and sat by me.  "I'll tell you a quick story about Bowen the Good. His name in the village was actually Bowen the Good for Nothing.  Whatever his father put him too, he messed up.  Not intentionally, he just tended to daydream at the wrong time. When the roof collapsed and his father broke his leg, Bowen decided it was time to leave before he did worse.  He headed into the forest.  A day later, he met a man who asked if he was looking for wisdom.  Bowen said yes.  The man gave a laugh of delight and handed over the sword.  I've been stuck with it every since.  We went on a few quests -- Wisdom is good at that sort of thing -- and I sent the coin and jewels to my father.  Then we retired and just deal with people who show up here."
This was not what I had expected.  "I suppose we have something in common.  My father never thought I was good for much, being a daughter.  He's Sir Krinton the Bold."
"We did a quest together.  He always wanted the sword, but he was a nice guy.  I couldn't do that to him."
Bowen was a nice guy, too.  That made the whole idea of fighting to the death for the sword kind of distasteful, but at the same time, I didn't want to go home empty handed.
So that night, as I rested in a guest room -- nice rugs -- I thought up a plan.  Just before dawn I slipped into his room.  As I hoped, the harness was still hooked over the chair.  Bowen slept soundly.  I slid quietly across the floor, grabbed the sword and harness, and ran.
"Hey!" Bowen shouted.  He tangled in his blankets while I darted out the door.
"Oh, good girl.  Wise girl," the sword said.  "Smarter than that fool.  Yes, let's go.  Straight out, yes.  You need the horse.  Stop for the horse.  We can't run all the way. That wouldn't be wise.  We can't -- what are you doing!"
I swung the harness over the bridge and dropped it and the sword into the muck below.
Bowen reached me just as it hit the water.  He looked down.  He looked at me.
"Well done.  He had too much control of me, and I couldn't get his far.  But now what do we do?"
"We go on a quest," I said.  "And we leave the sword for some other fool to find."
 994 Words