Wednesday, August 19, 2015

My profile on Freshly Squeezed

I know it seems like I haven't been blogging as much as usual, but it's only perception. The truth is I have three different blogs and this one has been a little lacking in attention lately. That's because I actually just self-published a book (under my real name) and I've been buried in that and the blog that goes with it. I have learned a lot through my self-publishing journey and I'll be sharing that wisdom gained here as well - writing is writing and publishing is publishing.

But in the meantime, I don't think I ever mentioned the contest that I won for the first chapter of Synthesis. I wasn't the only winner - they had several categories. The contest had both industry professional judges and real-life teen readers (it was for YA and MG books), and I garnered one of the Professional Choice Awards. The full list of winners is at Freshly Squeezed.

The award is nice, and it's really good to hear from pros that you're doing something right. Another thing that I really like about Freshly Squeezed is that it provides a lot of feedback and even gives you a chance to incorporate it. It helped with my first page and it definitely helped with my first chapter. It was really nice to get feedback from actual young adult readers - so much of the writers network is made up of writers, which is great, but it's also not the same as the marketplace.

In addition to the contests, Freshly Squeezed does a really nice job of profiling a lot of the winners, their projects and their backgrounds. They did a nice little piece on me and if you want to learn a little more about who I am, here's the link to check it out:

Blair B Burke Profile

So I promise to be back shortly, with information on how to self-edit, tricks I learned from cover design, and the many ways that uploaded an ebook can suck up your time and sanity. See you soon,

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The importance of word choice

"Out of the way, lard-ass."

What do you think of that line? Completely out of context, who do you think would say something like that? Who would it be directed at? What does it tell you about the world and place where it was uttered?

That's a line from the opening scene of a new project I've started working on. The line itself is not an important one - it's definitely not the opener. It comes a couple pages in and has nothing to do with the plot. The speaker is a faceless person passing through, never named and totally irrelevant. But to a writer, every little word can seem like a pivotal moment that will make or break your story. We obsess over our choices, try a million different options and combinations, and can justify exactly why we ended up with the phrasing we did while the reader skims past it to get to the good stuff.

I thought I would break down how and why I ended up with that particular line and that particular insult. Writing this out forced me to really examine the process and I found it fascinating. Hopefully you will too.

I wrote the line the way most good lines come - it was in the moment and I didn't think twice about it. But afterwards I went back to consider it in more detail. I lengthened it, I changed the wording, I tried different insults. But in the end I stuck with what felt right. Those are the words that would come out of the character's mouth (even if that character is completely unknown to me). Here's why:

First, the setting. The story takes place in modern-day Northern California. Now, I know when most people think 'California' they think of Southern California. Warm weather, sunny beaches, people everywhere and everything popular and trendy. but Northern California is an entirely different beast. It's wet and cool. It's rural. It has much more in common with the Oregon coast and the people are quite similar to those I grew up with in a small midwestern farm town. I wanted to help draw that distinction right up front.

The scene is at a high school - one kid talking to another. He's trying to get to class on time and someone's in his way. It's a public place where teachers might possibly overhear, so the insult is going to be a mild one. Something that might get the speaker a reprimand but no real punishment. My main character is on the receiving end of the insult and she's a bit of an outsider. She doesn't fit in to any particular clique and is recovering from a traumatic accident that's left her a little shell-shocked. She sees everyone else continuing on with their lives while she's stuck in time. So 'out of the way' works on many levels.

The boy who casually throws the insult her way is part of the majority at the school. A white kid with a bunch of white friends who thinks sports are the only important part of school and life is about drinking beer and having fun with your friends. While my character is half Hispanic she's third generation American and passes for white, as opposed to the small but noticeable transitory immigrant farmer population that comes and goes in the school. She's lived there all her life and the locals view her as one of their own, if not necessarily a friend. The insult wouldn't have any racial overtones.

But she is a large girl. Normally strong and stocky, the accident has left her out of shape and she feels even more homely and awkward as a result. At the same time, she's been picked on for her looks for her whole life and one more insult goes completely without notice. She doesn't pay any attention to the words or the speaker since he isn't at all important. But I wanted to work in the type of thing she faces on a daily basis.

'Lard-ass' seems appropriately insulting and insensitive and does help create a proper picture of the character before much description has been given. It's also a rather lame insult. It doesn't scream cool teens - which these kids definitely are not.

Again, this isn't an important line. It quickly flies past the main character and she doesn't even consider who said it. I expect the reader will do the same. But it is the sum of all these little words, the ones that don't seem to matter, that make a story that's compelling and draws the reader into a world. It's easy to tell someone what happened. It takes a lot more to immerse them and let them feel it. As writers we strive for the latter. Sometimes it flows out effortlessly, sometimes we spend hours to get it right. The important thing is that we care. If we don't, no one else will.

"Out of the way, lard-ass."

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Constructive Procranstination

Procrastinating is inevitable. Not just among writers, but we seem to have elevated it to a higher level, even giving it a formidable name: Writer's Block. the fact that it seems to affect almost everyone and is such a staple in the artistic process makes me think it's more than the common 'I can't find the motivation to do this' which plagues everyone in the mundane details of life. I think it's actually an integral part of the creative process.

To create, our minds work on more than the conscious level. You can force yourself to sit in the chair and type, but that doesn't necessarily lead to creativity. We need to pull from our vast subconscious; we need to have a well of inspiration from which to draw.

But this is NOT an attempt to justify laziness or give anyone (especially me) an excuse to get out of working. If you want to succeed at anything, you need to be productive. Sometimes that means sitting your butt in a chair and starting to write even when you have nothing to give. It's surprising how often putting words on paper allows the mind to wander, to relax and find the hidden reserves waiting there to fill your quill. There's a reason that successful writers so frequently talk about writing every day, whether you feel like it or not.

Sometimes that works for me; sometimes not. However, as an aspiring author there is a lot more to success than mere writing, and that's where I've found the secret to constructive procrastination. When I lack the inspiration to create stories and characters, I turn to other endeavors. I edit past writing. I read - not just for pleasure but to learn from others about the craft of writing. I update my website. I research agents. I design book covers or review financials. There are so many aspects to being a writer these days that it's hard for me to imagine you can't summon the requisite energy to perform at least one of the tasks.

We all have so little time to get so much done. As a planner, I can come up a schedule and know how much time each little thing should take and the proper order to do them all in. I can block out time in my mornings and clear my calendar for a weekend. I can even set deadlines. But even my regimented mind rebels against such boundaries. If I give myself enough flexibility to let myself work on what inspires me in that moment I work much more productively, meaning I accomplish more over a given time span. Sometimes I blow past the artificial deadlines I set. Sometimes I feel like I have an unending list of next projects that grows faster than I complete them. But by using my procrastination time wisely I make the best use of my limited resources and prepare myself to do my best writing when the time comes.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Is realism a good ting?

from headdudebob on Flickr
My book Synthesis is a work of fiction. More particularly, it's science fiction. Not only is the story made up, but it has aliens, technology, and false history - things that don't exist and never did. But in every aspect of the story I tried to make it as realistic as possible. More importantly, I tried to make the characters real people. Not in the sense that they are modeled after actual, living people. But that they act and behave the way people really do. Therein lies my question: is realism a good thing?

Personally, I prefer realism in my science fiction. I know warp drives aren't possible yet, but they could be developed. Aliens might have visited our planet, and our government probably would want to cover that up and use any advanced technology they acquired for nefarious purposes. I want the basis for the story to be believable even if a little fantastical. When the science or plot get too far disconnected from reality (why do governments always use their best technology to turn teenagers into super-agent killing machines?) then it's harder for me to lose myself in that alternate world.

The same goes for people, but here's where I've run into difficulty. People are imperfect. They tend to be wrapped up in their own world and problems and don't see the big picture. They whine and complain, teenagers more than anyone. (at least, I know I whined a lot, complaining about all the things in life I didn't have control over). When people are taken out of their normal routine they generally flail for a bit before they can adjust, and they don't like it.

You see, my main character Emily whines a bit. She doesn't start out completely happy and satisfied with her life. When bad things happen she doesn't like it and lets the world know. She's passive. When things beyond her understanding start happening, she's lost and confused and relies upon others to take care of her. To use the parlance, she lacks agency. That's how I think most people are and what they would do.

At the same time, she does what's necessary to survive and tries to help others when she can (though she whines a bit while doing it). As the story progresses, so does Emily. She starts to figure things out. She tries to take control and make decisions for herself. She even risks her own life when she's given the chance to sit it out and let others do the work. Truth be told, she still complains a bit that life's unfair. But in the end, I find that willingness to be heroic while not feeling like a hero the essence of what her character arc is all about. If she got there sooner it wouldn't be as worthwhile a journey.

But I get feedback, especially from those who just read the first chapter, that Emily doesn't kick ass enough. She's not a Strong Female Character. They hate it when teenagers are depicted as whiny. How come the little teenage girl has to depend upon the strong men around her to do all the heavy lifting? Reality, that's why.

I know there's always a balance and everyone will have their own viewpoint and interpretation. But for me realism is good. Maybe it will be harder to sell a story that has a character who isn't perfect, who doesn't get things right at the start and isn't happy to be on her adventure. Maybe readers do want superhero characters who take charge right away and control their own fate. But that's not my story; it's not what I want to write. I've decided I'm happy with the reality I've created, the one that mirrors the world I see. That's what's most important to me.

Friday, May 22, 2015

I've got good muse and bad muse...

The theme for this month's Absolute Write blog chain is Who is your Muse? Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of muses since no one else signed up for the chain. I guess that makes it simply a single link, or circle. But it's a good excuse to talk a bit about where I get my inspiration.

I actually spoke a little about this recently, discussing inspiration from dreams. But muse is a little broader concept, it's the source of knowledge, the container of the story who not only inspires an artist to create but fills their well with the ink. In that light, my muse, everyone's muse, is really the life you've chosen to live.

As a writer, my stories come from my experiences, which often include the many stories I've read, heard, or seen. All those books and movies get jumbled up in my head, then filtered through my own thoughts and actions, and come out in a form that's somewhat universal but still wholly original.

While some might say the inspiration comes from the outside, I think it's the other way around. The inspiration, the urge to create a story and populate it with people you wish existed, comes from within. It's a basic human need to want to control our world.

What comes from the outside are the pieces - the tropes and symbols that we use to build our make-believe world in a way that others can relate to. These legos of life-bits come in all shapes and sizes, and quite often we get excited when we find exactly what we need, or a strange and unique piece sets our mind on a new path towards discovery. But the inspiration? The desire to play in the first place? That's an essential part of our character.

I don't think it's arrogant to say that I'm my own muse. I write for myself first. I've been making up stories since before I can remember. I find plenty of beauty and strangeness and darkness in the world to build with, but I'm inspired to write by the joy it gives me.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Editing: from self-help to professional grade

If you want to be a writer, you've gotta edit. In fact, I'd say editing is what makes or breaks a writer most of the time - what separates the many people who put words down on the page from those who do so as a craft and work of art. It's through editing that our stories become consistent and compelling, our words beautiful and moving (or simply legible). It's necessary. So how do you do it?

There's lots of ways to edit and it's really a continuum, from the editing we do in our head as we type, to a quick read-through we ask of our spouse, to days and months of painstaking labor, pouring over every single word and phrase to find the perfect pairings. (I talked a little about my own process here). And there are different levels of editing, from big picture developmental editing to proofreading for typos and grammar. Knowing where and when to use your resources is essential. I'm going to break it down into three general categories: self-editing, editing from friends, and professional editing. Each has its place, and the more the merrier.


Maybe some folks can write down a story and have it come out exactly as they want it, but not your average writer. Most of us start with a rough draft, a bunch of words that contain the ideas we want to express, but lacking in clarity, continuity, and completeness. It takes a second pass, then a third or fourth, possibly many more, to polish up that rough gem and bring out the true beauty that lies within. But how?

There are actually a lot of ways to self-edit, and different things work for different people, but it's best to understand up front the limitations to the practice. You can never be the perfect editor for your own work because you are too close to it. You know the idea beneath it, your brain fills in any blanks on the page and gaps in the logic. You don't even need to read the text to follow what's happening. Try as you might, you will never see your work through the eyes of a stranger which is ultimately the whole point of editing - to make everything suitable for the reader who comes upon your words for the first time.

One of the things we tend to be the worst at is the big picture. When you read your own work for a second time, you already know the ending - and the middle and the backstory that isn't even on the page. It can be really hard to get a sense of how things fit together for the reader and whether it actually makes sense. What has worked well for me is to write a one-sentence summary of each chapter and see if that lays out a complete story. But to test the basic logic of your story, it's going to take someone else - especially if you write science fiction and fantasy. All those new terms, magic systems, governmental structures, and strange names have to make sense to the uninitiated and the author is just too buried in the world to see it from the outside.

So your self-editing endeavors are often best focused on the writing itself. To start, the more you know about editing (and writing) the better you'll be at it. So study up. Read some books from editors on editing, read some blog posts, follow editors on twitter. Listen when they talk about what they do and how they do it. One thing you'll find quickly is that despite their differences you'll hear a lot of the same things: use active voice when possible, show don't tell, eliminate redundancies, filler words, and cliches. In other words, follow the basic conventions of good writing. If you want to be a writer, you damn sure better know what those are.

So you know the rules, how do you apply that to your own work? A good way is to do it one piece at a time. Take a rule and edit your whole work focusing on that single thing. Maybe start with eliminating filler words (that, very), follow that with cutting filter words (looked, heard, felt), then maybe watch for sentence constructions to make sure you vary things up. If you try to do too many things at once they will all suffer, so spend the time necessary for each aspect. You'll not only pick up more mistakes, you'll learn to spot these as you write and likely will make fewer of them in the future.

Another way to switch your brain from story creator to grammar editor is to read the work backward. Going word by word will help pick out typos, but it misses a lot of grammar issues. I prefer to go sentence by sentence or sometimes paragraph by paragraph. It helps you avoid the automatic tendency to adjust the image of the words into the ideas (f*r 1nstanee, y0u c@n prbably reed th1s sent3nce juzt fime euen thouph its filld wilh mist*kes). In the editing process, you end up reading the same words dozens of times, so switching things up is essential.

Reading words aloud is another option. It's a different process for our brain to concentrate on pronunciation versus meaning, so we often catch more typos and missing/extra words. It also helps us hear what a reader hears in their brain coming upon new words, which can help find awkward constructions or poor word choices. It works to read it to yourself, but I prefer to find a willing audience - not only do I catch things as I say them, but I can also gauge their reactions (or comments) to get even more feedback. Which brings me to the next editing method:

Editing from friends

Even professional editors will generally have someone else check over their work. Like I said, no matter what tricks you use you'll never be able to completely separate yourself from your own writing. So what kind of friends can you get to help you with your editing? Almost anyone can be a useful editor as long as you know their strengths and don't expect too much.

Before we talk about different types of 'friends', let's distinguish between having someone help you out as opposed to paying a professional editor in your field. We'll get to the pros in a bit, but it's important to realize that if you're not paying someone to edit for you, you're not likely to get the same effort and results. Even if your friend is another writer, even if they have a degree in English Literature, what you get is feedback from a friend and not professional level editing. (Even if they are a professional editor it's unlikely they'll commit the same time and energy to helping someone for free that they would devote to a paying customer.)

Most often writers will turn to other writers for help. I've exchanged work with a number of different writers and gotten some very useful feedback. (A series of posts on critiquing starts here). Writers (at least the decent ones) should know the basics of writing and be able to apply them to your work with a more detached perspective than your own. Some of it will be personal preferences and stylistic choices, but writers tend to be good at catching regular patterns - do you overuse dialog tags? use the word 'just' too often? ask too many rhetorical questions?

With any editing, it's important to know how much to weight the feedback you receive, and exchanging works can help you judge another writer's strengths. Do they have elegant prose? If yes, then listen to their wording suggestions. But if you don't like something about their style (and we're all hypercritical and judgmental, so it's likely to happen), then take what they say with a grain of salt. You need to write with your own voice and be true to yourself.

The best way to get the feedback you want is to specifically ask for it. I know some writers who do great action scenes, so I'll ask them for feedback on mine. Some are really solid on grammar, so I'll ask for more proofreading from them. Others read a lot in my genre, so their take on themes and tropes is really important. As was true with self-editing, if you ask for everything from everyone, you're likely to get a shallow review of many things without the depth and detail that your writing deserves.

That goes for other friends you ask to read your work. I often use friends on family, but even there I ask for specifics. Some are avid readers, some have English degrees, some just have a good critical eye for typos. Genre readers are often great at developmental feedback though they might not know the terms or reasons. They just know it felt slow, or didn't make sense, or had too many vampires. It's up to you to take their vague responses and understand it means the pacing was slowed by too much backstory, the magic system has too many made up words in it, and your characterization is weak because of a lack of variety in voice.

If you do get some help from those who have some sort of training in writing or editing, most likely it's a different style. People who edit academic, business, or legal documents have a whole different way of looking at things. They are often good at catching problem areas, but there's a good chance their suggested fixes aren't what you want in a work of fiction.

The more feedback the better, with the caveat that you can't let it overwhelm you. Limit what you want from each person and take only what you need when they give it, and you'll be able to use it to improve your writing. Follow every piece of advice that comes your way and you'll end up with a hot mess. Accept your friends' help for what it is and use your own knowledge and skills to apply it and you'll be well on your way to a polished manuscript.

Professional Editing

Serious writers always get annoyed when random folk think they can write a book. Sure, anyone can write a book, but to write a good book, to weave a story and fill it with interesting and realistic characters, to keep the pace moving along, to create believable dialog, and do the million little things that make up a truly good book takes years of learning, practicing, and hard work to master. It's blithely insulting to assume that anyone can do it just as well as those who've dedicated themselves to the art. Same goes for editing.

While it's true that good writing is at the core of good editing, they are different skills and require different strengths and experiences. Not all great writers have what it takes to be a great editor - and vice versa. So if you want great editing, you're going to have to pay for it.

But keep in mind that giving someone money does not automatically guarantee a great result. Choose your editor carefully. A high school English teacher might edit a lot of work for their job, but that isn't the same as a fiction editor who works on books in the same genre as yours. Steampunk is very different from memoir, literary technique different from fantasy. All editing (and all editors) are not the same.

The best way to judge an editor is to judge their work. Find out what books they've edited. Read them. Do understand that a book is still the product of an author, so even the best editor can't turn crap into gold, but they should be able to smooth it out quite a bit and take the edge off the stink. So read several books and make sure that their style is something you want for your own, that their standards seem to be at the level you want.

Another good way to get a feel for their editing is to have them edit a sample of your work. Some will do this for free, but even if you have to pay it can be best to pay for a smaller chunk to start with before committing to the whole thing. It can save everyone time and you some money.

And money is an important consideration. I do believe that professional editing is the best, but it's not always worth it. If you're submitting a book to an agent or publisher, you shouldn't have to pay for editing - that's something that comes later. If you're self-publishing, there's a cost-benefit analysis that needs to be done. It's not worth paying a couple thousand dollars to edit a book that realistically is only going to sell a few hundred copies (which is all most books do sell). Paying for editing is an investment with risk, so make sure you can afford to lose that money and take that risk before plopping down your hard-earned bills.


I do want to add that editing is not just an investment in that single book. All editing, especially the professional kind, is an investment in your writing. If you really study the feedback you're given and take the time to not only make corrections but understand the cause of your mistake, you will improve your writing. And to me, that's what makes a writer - someone who not only keeps writing but works to improve and become a better writer. Editing is essential to that process, in any and all forms. Find the path that works for you and your story, and never stop moving forward.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Good & the Bad: Classic Literature

Another in my series of posts where I talk about the things I like and the things I don't. This time, I'm looking at some of my favorites of classic literature - those books they make you read in school. I read a fair number of 'adult' books when I was a kid, but I mostly read science fiction and fantasy adventures. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is what really got me started as a reader (I've already discussed that here, so I won't bother including it on this list), and I definitely gravitated towards stories that held action and quicker pacing. When I read slower, more thoughtful works, I found them to be rather boring. Sure, I got their point, but often it seemed like they took far too long to say far too little. So here are some specific titles that worked for me, and some that didn't.

The Good

My favorite classic, and perhaps my favorite all-time book, is Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. I didn't want to read it. It was part of my AP English class, one of the books on the list for my independent project analyzing representations of greed in literature. I hadn't read any of the great Russian authors, and when I started Crime and Punishment I hated it. It was all in some guys head, talking and thinking about doing things with nothing really happening. It took real determination to keep reading, but at some point, perhaps a hundred pages in, it clicked for me. I got into Raskolnikov's character. I understood him. The writing burst to life and I finished the next seven hundred pages in two days.

That book led me to other great works by Dostoyevsky: The Double, Notes from Underground, The Prince. It also led me to other great Russian writers: Pushkin, Tolstoy, Turgenev. I loved their introspection, how they burrowed into the human psyche and revealed so many profound yet simple truths. I learned to appreciate action isn't always physical, and you can learn from characters that you would never want to emulate.

I do love Shakespeare though not all of his works equally. Hamlet is probably the greatest play, Much Ado About Nothing makes a better read, but most everything is enjoyable if only for the music in the words. For similar reasons, Nietzsche's works all number among my favorites though Thus Spoke Zarathustra is a work of philosophy/poetry/story-telling that is unequaled as far as I'm concerned.

Mostly I like good tales, interesting stories that transport me to a time and place, such as Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Cervantes' Don Quixote. A little more modern fave's with a speculative twist are Neil Gaiman's American Gods, Tad Williams Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, and Douglass Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And a special shout out to Iain M. Banks, whose prose inspires me more than any other.

The Bad

I have to start this list with Moby Dick. There are lots of classics that I've read and been unimpressed with, but I can still see the quality of the writing and understand why others think highly of it. Moby Dick isn't one of those. It bored the hell out of me. Sure, the story had potential, and Ahab is an interesting character, but the entire thing was weighted down with useless diversions into mundane details of whaling. The writing was overblown and the pace far from riveting. Ahab and his obsession felt wedged into an academic tome, and I never really cared much about him or any of the characters. Melville's writing didn't do anything for me so it was a good idea with bad execution.

Pride and Prejudice is another one that never connected with me. Perhaps it's because I read it at the same time as Crime & Punishment, but the writing felt weak and the characters shallow in comparison. The truths it explored, the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy, held no interest for me. If these were real people I would leave their company and have nothing to learn from them.

And in spite of my love for the Russians, they also disappoint me on occasion. The Brother's Karamozov is a perfect example: I went in expecting to find another Dostoyevsky masterpiece but had no interest in the themes at play. And while I loved War and Peace, Anna Karenina was rather meh.

A few other 'classics' that left me uninspired: The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye (though I do love the title), The Scarlet Letter, The Grapes of Wrath, and most of Dicken's works. Atlas Shrugged impressed me in high school, but up re-reading it as an adult I found it's message and delivery rather unsophisticated. And Victor Hugo deserves a mention as someone who's held in a reverence I just don't understand.

So how about you all? Do you agree with my choices? Want to show me the error of my ways? I'd love to hear what resonates with others and why.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sunrise - Absolute Write Blog Chain

Another month, another Absolute Write Blog Chain. This month's prompt was pretty loose - pick three words from a list. I tried to fit them into the feeling I have for April weather at the moment: optimism in bleak times. Enjoy the Spring and make sure to check out the other posts, linked below.


The old man emerged from the cave, greeted by a pale sky softly illuminating the rocks that formed his abode. The morning chill seeped through his raggedy furs and settled deep into his bones. He took no notice. Life was a constant ache, one pain followed another, and none of them deserved his attention. With a hunchbacked shuffle he weaved through the boulders until he found a patch of grass, shimmering in the soft light.

He knelt there, a slow process that brought the pain to the forefront, but he focused on his goal. He picked up the rock he had dropped the day before, the one with a shallow depression in the middle. Slowly. Carefully. Lovingly, he shook the individual blades of grass over the rock to collect the evening's dew. One drop fell, moistening the stone. Another fell, and beaded at the bottom.

It had been too long since the rain had come, fitful showers soon chased away by the ever-growing sun. The heat melted away the rest of humanity, and soon it would be too much for him as well, even up in his mountaintop palace. But he went from one blade of grass to the next until the makeshift cup in his hand held all it could.

Rising to his feet took more effort than kneeling and threatened to spill his precious cargo. When he stood, still bent with age, he gathered himself and faced up the slope. It was not an easy climb, but he knew every foothold, every nub of stone he could grab, every place he could sit and rest. Time held no meaning for him anymore. Eventually he reached the summit where his prize awaited him.

The flower drooped more than it had yesterday, but to his eyes it perked up at his approach, and he greeted it with a toothless smile. His hand shook as he poured his precious cargo onto the white petals radiating from a golden center, a gentle sun to contrast the angry one soon to crest the neighboring peaks. He saved half the water; the little plant couldn't take it all at once. He set the stone on the barren earth and sat on his usual slab.

The sky was red now. Not a welcome tone, but a fierce one, a harbinger the fools below would not heed. The old man waited on his seat; waited for the end to come. Soon enough. But at least was not alone.


And the rest of the links:
Angyl78 (link to post)
MJRevell (link to post)
Interfaced (link to post)
BBBurke (link to post)
Syrup (link to post)
Springs2 (link to post)
Forbidden Snowflake (link to post)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Guest Post at This One Time... At Writers' Group

My friend Erika invited me to take part in the blog her writers' group put together: This One Time... At Writers' Group. The theme for the guest posts has been music - we were each given five songs and asked to listen to them all and take inspiration from one and create a story. The results have been some great pieces and I feel lucky to be a part of the fun. Please click over and check it out:

This One Time... At Writers' Group

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Story Notes: Research - Group vs. Individual

As a new writer, one of the hardest things to understand is how to interpret all the absolute statements that are spoken of as rules, especially when they contradict each other. Sometimes it takes a little more in depth analysis and explaining to know how to apply the good advice.

Take for example the age-old mantra: write what you know (or, as I've seen it twisted around and presented more accurately: know what you write). It sounds simple and is good advice - as far as it goes. But combine it with another directive that I believe in - diversity is good - and there's some obvious conflict. Can you ever really know someone who is very different from yourself? Many would say no - in fact, many of those who champion diversity often point out that the privileged can never really understand what it's like to be in the minority. So if you can't know what it's like to be in a disadvantaged group unless you're part of it, how are you supposed to write about it?

It's a specific question with more general undertones. When we write, our stories have to include more than just ourselves, whoever we are. We write about people with different jobs, different genders, different ages, different worlds. We can't know everything about everything, so we have to simplify the task and know what we need to know.

One thing that means to me is that it's not necessary to know the entire group. Because any group is made up of individuals, and those individuals all have different experiences. There isn't a single answer to the question of what is it like to be a person of color in America. Is that urban city America? Rural Midwest America? Middle class America? Future post-apocalypse America? There are so many other variables in any story that any character you create should be a different person from anyone who actually exists, therefore the character's truth is different from any real truth.

This does't absolve you from research. If you are writing about someone/something different, you need to research the subject and get some understanding going. But it does mean that you don't have to because an expert in every aspect and you can extrapolate. You can take one person's account and build off it. I've found that to be important because I can usually find a few good information sources, whether it's from specific individuals or reading personal accounts, that relate to my story/character. A small number of personal stories cannot represent a whole people, but it's okay, it doesn't have to. Anyone who says otherwise has an agenda besides creating good stories.

When doing that research, listen to what individuals have to say, try to understand where that one person in coming from and what their truth is. You don't have to mirror your character on them, but connect to that truth, whether it's a feeling of isolation, a joy in finding others of similar substance, or a different way of seeing the world. It's the personal accounts that help us develop characters who are real, even if their reality is a hodgepodge of realities. Focus on the people and not the type of person. You can't represent an entire group with one character, or even one book, even if you belong to that group yourself. It isn't practical and it isn't good writing. But you can be faithful to a people if you're honest to the individuals who make it up.

The amount of research, the breadth and depth of your knowledge, should also be dictated by the needs of the story. If you're a white male living in suburbia and you want your main character to be a Hispanic transgender farm worker, then you're doing to need to do a hell of a lot of research, both into the groups of people your story will have to include, and also deep into the psyche of such a person who your readers will get to know real well. But if you're a twenty-something lesbian writing about a college kid who has a brief run in with the law before straightening out her life and falling in love, you probably don't need to delve quite so deep into the realities of being a police officer - but you should do enough to make sure that minor character acts in a believable way.

For me, I know I have limited experience. But I have crossed paths with quite a few people over the years. I also try to read a lot - biographies are a great way to learn about a person. I look at everyone I meet, and every character I create, as an individual with a story that's very important and meaningful to them. The more I understand that one person in front of me (even if it's only electronically), the more I can translate that into a real person on my page. I'm sure I will never know what it's like to be a transgender farm worker, but I can know what it's like to be an outcast, or to hide a secret, or to be confident about my differences, or to find someone who loves me just as I am. And I can try my best to learn what those things are like for someone else. Putting it all together, I write what I know and try to create a diverse and realistic world, full of individuals with their own truths. One character at a time.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Story Notes: Dream Inspiration

One of the greatest joys in being a writer, and one of the most valuable skills to have, is the ability to take inspiration from almost any situation, whether you're the one experiencing it or not. It doesn't have to be in the moment, and it doesn't have to be a postive thing, but writers should cultivate the art of absorbing the richness of life to later be regurgitated out - quite likely in a very different form - onto the page. It makes living a little bit more fun and interesting.

One of my favorite ways to get inspired is to dream. It's not something I plan, or something I control, and it often comes out in odd ways, but I've found it to be quite fruitful. In many respects, my dreams share similarities with my writing: some are in first person, some in third; some are about me, some are not; some are about feeling, some all action. While I don't try to write what I dream, there are elements of story that come to me in my sleep and I try to recapture it with words on the paper. It can be a productive exercise.

Recently I had a dream that covered many bases. It began with me on a spaceship, stowing away in the rear of vehicle that resembled a giant train while a group of people searched for me. I pulled a couple of ideas out of this that could work in a story. First, a train in space makes me think of a futuristic Murder on the Orient Express. That could be cool. The other aspect was the first person claustrophobic feeling I had in the dream, of being trapped in a place with no escape and trying to find someplace even smaller in which to hide. I try to hold onto that feeling and use it when writing a scene that connects, even if it's just someone trapped in a situation. Those gut-level responses, the kind you feel when you wake from a dream, are great insights into a situation you might have never experienced while awake.

Then the ship crashed - or at least it seemed to. In the dream-fuzziness, I found a hiding spot and the next thing I knew the ship was on the ground and no one was moving. I quickly took the opportunity to sneak outside where the steel hull of the craft lay in a garden, neatly built around it. That image stays with me - a futuristic relic settled into the landscape, no longer used for its original purpose but made to serve other needs. Lots of story potential there.

But then the dream shifted, no longer about me but about some character newly arrived on an alien world. I became the watcher, a detached third party seeing the action play out. The person walked away from the garden and across a strange landscape, only to run into a pair of humans who wore funny clothes and spoke an alien language. My main character tried to communicate, to ask for help, but was greeted with anger and violence. A struggle ensued and my hero fought them off, killing the strangers in the process. It made me wonder why they had been so violent. It made me think about what it must feel like to have to kill to defend yourself, especially when you don't know why. No answers, but plenty of good questions.

Finally, as the two bodies lay on the ground and my protagonist stood in a daze, the real aliens showed up. Ten feet tall with legs like a preying mantis and all in crimson uniforms. I awoke after that, but what a great visual. It reminded me of classic science fiction covers and something that could be developed into an homage to the genre.

The dream itself was interesting, but it didn't actually make a good story. It's the elements within, the creative endeavors of a sleeping mind, that offer real gems we can use upon waking. Writing is about creating something new and different, about adapting our experiences and folding them into something that others can relate to. Stories are built from the stuff of dreams, sometimes quite literally.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Writing Priorities

It's actually pretty easy to be a writer - you just write. To be an author, to have your books published, whether by yourself or a third party publisher, that takes a lot more, and it can be hard to figure out how to use your limited time wisely. The classic advice is that you should write every day. Write what you know and keep writing, that's what makes you a better writer. It's true, and writing is the most important thing in becoming an author, but you have to fit a lot of other things in there as well.

First, you have to edit. Some people count that as writing, but it's really different. It's fun to create something new, to turn a blank page into a story and to watch the magic that happens, never quite knowing where your characters will lead you, even if you are a planner. But if you want to improve you need to go back and fix all the mistakes that you made the first time through. You need to re-examine your grammar, your story structure, your pacing, your choice of voice and setting, your side stories, your conclusion, everything.

Once you've made a story the best you can, you then get feedback, take a little time off, and come up with ways to make it even better. A lot of this work should also benefit you when you start the next shiny new project, making your first drafts better and your final drafts better still. It takes a lot of time to edit, even more to edit and improve, but that's what's necessary to become an author - you need to make the writing the best it can be.

But your manuscript is only one part of publishing these days. If you want a big publishing contract (or even a smallish one), you'll need an agent. That takes time: researching agents, researching agencies, following agents on twitter, studying the market, writing a query, revising the query, entering pitch contests, submitting queries, waiting for replies, doing revisions and resubmitting. All these things take time and effort, but aren't nearly as fun or freeing as writing.

These days you also need to build a platform. Okay, maybe you don't have to. You can still get an agent and get published without a website or social media campaign, but it seems like it's getting harder. Agents and publishers definitely check out your presence before making offers. And if your goal is to sell books, at some point you're going to need that platform. That means either time or money - probably both. Building a website, interacting on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram, writing a blog or a Tumblr, reviewing books on Goodreads (which brings up another time-suck: you have to be reading voraciously to know your market and observe the trends).

So what's most important? Where do you spend your time? Writing, editing, reading, marketing, researching, or even just building up life experiences to draw from? I've been struggling with this lately as I've been very busy with a full time job, a new house, a new marriage, a plan for the future, and trying to be a good friend and enjoy my life a little bit. Writing comes first for me, but I always have new ideas that are waiting to be written. I have to discipline myself to follow a project through to completion.

For me, editing takes longer than the first draft. I budget more time for it than anything else, and I think it's where my writing improves the most, not only for the current project but for all future ones. I'm in this for the long haul so the future is where I aim my efforts. I do blog, but not as much as I once did. I blog when I have something to say and it helps me get words out and focus my mind on my actions (like this post is doing right now). I take the agenting process slowly. While I'd love to find an agent, I don't have the time to devote myself to it and it feels like an amorphous goal so I do it piecemeal and trust that over time it will work out.

I've cut back on the social side of platform building, but I haven't abandoned it. I keep my toes wet, keep my website live and stop in to twitter or some forums on occasion. I'd like to spend more time and I know it could pay off, but it can also eat up all your social time. I like to save a big chunk of that for real life people, for doing things in the physical world. I know I need that to be healthy and happy, and that's as important to me as becoming a successful author.

I don't write everyday, but most days I do some work towards my goal. What that is depends on where I am in a project, so I let my time and intensity vary with the other demands of life. The more my time is crunched, the more I try to keep editing, since it's the most valuable to me, and the less I spend on social media and agent hunting. When I feel overwhelmed or unmotivated, that's when I turn back to writing something new, even if it's just a flash story, to inspire me.

I will never stop writing, and I do put in a lot of time towards the publishing goal in addition to the fun tasks. But I am more than a writer and I always want to be so. Maybe my lack of single-minded determination, my unwillingness to make myself miserable and sacrifice the other aspects of my life will slow down (or stop) my goal of being an author. But I'm making that choice deliberately and I'm happy with it. I'm still a writer and always will be.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Book vs. Movie: The Lord of the Rings

When I was a small child I lived to play. Outside in the summer, normally hanging out at the local pool, or inside during the cold winters, down in the basement. Much of the play involved physical activities - I was a bundle of energy and couldn't sit still for anything - but even that involved stories. We didn't just play cops and robbers, we played international jewel thiefs who had smuggled the crown jewels out of the tower of London and were being chased by Scotland Yard's best detectives, Reginald and Percy. When I wasn't creating stories, I was watching them, glued in front of the TV or watching Star Wars a dozen times in the theatre. I loved the world of make believe and the more fantastic the better. But I had no patience for books.

My older brother, on the other hand, was an avid reader, with a bookshelf full of science fiction and fantasy classics. I can't remember exactly what it was that made me first raid his stash, maybe I was sick and stuck inside on a nice sunny day, but somehow I ended up with the Lord of the Rings trilogy in my hands when I was about twelve. Those books transformed me, and within a year I had gone through everything on my brother's shelves and burned for more (and shortly after that needed glasses, fwiw).

So I have very fond memories of the Tolkien books, and I did return to read them again a few times over the years. I even watched the animated version and loved it, though I was at an in-between age where cartoons seemed childish and I hadn't realized how adult they could be. When I first heard the Peter Jackson movies were being made it had been some years since I had given the books much thought and I planned to open them up once again before the movies came out. Nice plan, but it never happened, time already racing past too quickly.

I hit the theater on opening day and The Fellowship of the Ring was everything I wanted in a movie - it's still my favorite of the trilogy. Not re-reading the books worked out better since I knew the story and characters just fine but wasn't focused on where the movie version diverged from the written word and simply enjoyed the book come to life as I watched it. I held on to that pleasure and waited patiently for each installment, re-watching the previous film(s) before each new premiere, but never venturing back into the books. I knew there were some differences, and I definitely missed the scene of the hobbits returning to Hobbiton and facing down Sarumen that felt like a perfect ending in the books (but I can see how it wouldn't have worked in the movie).

Seems perfect, right? Fond memories of the books that hooked me on reading, fine enjoyment of the movie adaptation. No need to spoil either medium. But as a writer I couldn't let it lie. My writing has greatly changed how I read, and it's taken me years of reading for study to learn how to get back to reading for pleasure. I wanted to return to my first love and see how it held up. What would I think of the books now, both as a much older person and a much, much more critical reader?

I recently finished off both the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, powering my way through the hundreds of pages knowing I had no time to spare for such an indulgence when there was so much writing to do and new books to be read. But I greatly enjoyed my own history lesson and I learned a fair bit in the process.

I did enjoy the books. I was able to marvel at the characters and the incredibly rich world that Tolkien created, and even though I knew the twists and turns and eventual outcome, I got caught up in the magnificent story as it rollicked along. But I also noted his style, very dated by modern standards. I skimmed over all the songs and felt that some sections dragged with long lists of names. And couldn't help but notice how many times the Fellowship stopped for several days to rest and recoup. I realized that I liked the movie versions more overall.

I'm not saying that the movies are better, but I think they fit my style a little bit more. Worldbuilding is great, but I don't need so much of the place's history and all the tiny details worked out. I prefer a focus on what's relevant to the here and now and the lives of the characters I'm following. I prefer a faster pace, a little more drama, and even some romance thrown in. It's a different sensibility and the movie mode is what I enjoy - that's how my own writing comes out (I see stories in pictures and translate that to the page).

I know lots of folks out there, writers especially, will call me a heathen for preferring a movie adaptation over a classic of literature. I can understand why and I won't argue - I generally prefer books over movies most of the time. But I'm glad that I have The Lord of the Rings in it's different forms and meanings: the books inspired me at a time when I needed it, and that will never change; I learned how to read from those pages, something still with me to this very day; and I enjoyed the movies as pure pleasure and can do so again and again. In the end, it's not a book versus a movie, but a book and a movie, each adding to the world of stories and the experience of life.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A nip of the ol' Irish - Absolute Write Blog Chain

It's back and it keeps growing - but in a good way. The Absolute Write Blog Chain for March is not surprisingly focused on Ireland. Not much more to say, other than please check out the rest of the links once they go live. Should be some fun stuff this time around.

Irish Eyes

“Come on. Say it.” The stocky man staggered a little in his excitement and the woman behind him stepped clear with a disapproving look. He lifted his mug, his cheeks glowing in the dim light of the pub, and bellowed, “You can never take…our freeeeeedooooom!”

His diminutive companion scowled under his tweed cap, grabbing his own pint to secure it on the round table top when the other mug banged back down. Well, this evening’s gone arseways, Connor thought to himself. “I told ya,” he said. “I’m Irish, not Scottish.”

“What’s the difference?” asked the loud-mouthed fella with a stupid smile on his face.

“Two different countries, ya bloomin’ idiot.” Connor looked for an escape. He’d been looking for half an hour, ever since the large man decided to become his new best friend. “I’m headed for the jacks.” He took one last swig, knowing he was abandoning his pint, and nodded towards the rear of the establishment.

“But y’all sound the same. Y’all celebrate St. Paddy’s Day, right?” He seemed very pleased at himself for not calling it St. Patrick’s Day.

Connor simply walked away, too wrecked to continue arguing.

“Hey, you’ll come back, right? I’ll order us some of that Irish Scotch whiskey.”

“I will yea,” Connor shouted over his shoulder and ducked into the men’s room.

He emptied his bladder and eyed the only window, too small and too high for a dignified exit. Maybe if he was quick he could sneak out while the man ordered. He had no desire for spirits tonight, his one pint enough after several minerals. He hadn’t come to drink but to get lost among those who had.

When he opened the door he saw their table had been taken over by a couple of punks in leather and green hair. These people were all so different and strange. His should have known a tawdry Irish pub would make him miss home more than remind him of it.

He worked his way around the outside, conveniently hidden below even those sitting down. The large bouncer protecting the door didn’t even notice his passing. The night air hit him like a steamy bathroom, another reminder he was far from the emerald isle. He turned the first corner to make his escape complete.

“Hey, you forgot your whiskey.”

Connor stopped dead, the annoying man standing in front of him with two glasses filled with amber goodness. How had he beaten Connor out here? And why?

“That’s all right. I’ma call it a night.”

The man held out one glass and stumbled forward, spilling some of the liquid. “But it’s Jameson’s. Bartender said it’s the best Irish whiskey there is.”

Connor hardly agreed, but at least it was from the mother country and tasted like it did of old. He took the offering and the man wrapped a meaty arm around his shoulder and held his own glass out to the stars as a salute.


The correct accent caught Connor by surprise as they both downed their shots. He looked at the man a little harder. The smile was gone and his eyes seemed clear and sharp, glinting dangerously in the darkness. Footsteps echoed on the pavement behind and Connor craned his neck to see two large men walking purposely towards them.

The arm tightened around his shoulder. “Now, me little friend.” The words rolled out with an accent as pure as County Cork. “Let’s talk about the real Eire and the gold you be hidin’ somewhere around here.”


And the rest of the links:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Writing is hard. By that, I don't mean writing in the sense of putting down words on paper (or monitor). Creating interesting worlds and populating them with believable characters, devising a plot with twists and turns and logical conclusions, dotting your eyes and matching your conjugations - sure that requires a lot of skill, but that's not the hard I'm talking about. I'm talking about writing as an industry.

Right now I feel quite blessed in life. I have a new job where people appreciate me, a new car that's all shiny and reliable, good relationships with the people I care about, and a plan for the future that is exciting and wonderful. But I'm working harder than I ever have in my life. I'm exhausted on a daily basis and have no down time to ever recover. All because I write.

And it's not even the fun stuff of making up stories. I'm editing. I'm querying agents. I'm researching fonts and trim sizes, studying marketing and building my platform. I'm doing all the things necessary to be a successful author, knowing that even such a title means still having to work another job. All of that on top of the normal things that everyone else in life has to do. It's hard.

I'm not saying to this to ask for any pity. I'm lucky to have such hardships compared to the real difficulties that many people face in life. I'm privileged and I know it. But my life would be much easier if I gave up on the writing. I've been rejected many times in many ways, the world seeming to suggest I should give up the writing. I could just stop and no one would blame me - or even notice.

But I won't. I'll keep writing. Because I've come to realize how much perseverance is the main trait to separate the successful from the could-have-been. I have so much respect and admiration for those who keep at it, whether they've found that success or not, and not a little pride in the fact I'm one of them. I could live an easy life, but what would happen to my stories? Who would tell them? Who would hear them?

I'm a writer, and writing is hard. For all of us. But it's worth it, so write on!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What Makes a Soldier a Hero?

American Sniper is turning into a box office phenomenon right now, but not without some controversy. Many call it the story of an American hero, but some question whether a sniper is the best example of heroic behavior. I haven't seen the film (or read the book), so I'm not casting judgment on it specifically, but the question of what makes a hero is something I think about a lot as regards to my writing (which often features heroes of some form or another). I'm not really all that interested in American Sniper because everything I've heard about it suggests that it starts with the assumption that Chris Kyle was a hero and goes from there (maybe I'm wrong, but that's the impression it gives and its fan's support). I want to step back and avoid that assumption and talk about the connection between soldier and hero.

Does the simple fact that someone chose to be a soldier make them a hero? On both sides of any war? Does their individual conduct matter? Their motivations or role in the fighting? How about the reason for the fighting in the first place. Does a just cause create heroes? And who decides what's just?

Michael Moore offended a lot of people when he tweeted that his grandfather was killed by a German sniper in WWII and he was taught that snipers are cowards who shoot people in the back. But is he wrong? Was that Gernam soldier a hero like Chris Kyle? And if not, why not? Both were hiding in the shadows, killing people from long distance while other soldiers braved the ground to advance. One shot soldiers, one shot women and children, both to protect their heavily armed companions. Both were part of an invading force there to topple the country's existing government.

In hindsight we can agree that the Nazi's were evil and wrong, but are we now sure that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was right and honorable? Do the relatives of the innocent civilians who were killed as collateral damage believe that? Does it even matter when assessing the actions of a lone soldier in the middle of that chaos?

I recently read an account of a medal of honor winner who literally threw himself on a grenade to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. That kind of sacrifice seems pretty heroic to me. I think I'd respect a Nazi soldier who did the same, but I'd still hesitate to call them a hero because the term takes in a lot more than a single act. That one moment, even if spurred by a pure motivation like saving others' lives, can't erase a campaign of horror focused on conquering others and wiping an entire group of people off the face of the earth.

At the extremes it's always easier to make judgments, but we have plenty of our own history full of murky motivations and dubious justifications. American soldiers have slaughtered innocents and perpetrated atrocities on the world, so we can't claim any pure moral high ground. We've attempted to wipe out the Native Americans in the name of establishing a democracy based on liberty (but only for those of the right skin color). We've invaded countries to overthrow properly elected governments and gone to war based on justifications that were deliberately fabricated. It's hard to say that being an American insures you are fighting on the right side of history.

To paraphrase an old saying, it's the victors who decide right and wrong, but is that good enough for us? Are we okay with always justifying our actions and those who served to execute what may have been a wrong choice? Shouldn't we be capable of a little more insight than that, and can't we judge individuals based on both their own actions and the motivations that led them to the situation?

There are a lot of grey areas in war, and it makes a very interesting line of questions to pursue that delve deep into human nature and the values of society. Soldiers are necessary to protect the freedom of the innocent. Defending oneself and a fair and democratic society might involve hurting (and killing) people, some with evil intentions but some with the noblest of intentions. I can accept that. But I'm not sure when necessary evil rises to become heroic.

It makes an interesting discussion and that makes it a good topic to explore in fiction. I've written several soldier characters, most in fantastical settings, but to some extent a soldier is a soldier, whether they use an M-16 or a scimitar or laser rifle. The ones who do not want the job, who are forced into acting and hate what they have to do are the ones I find the most heroic. One my characters was actually bred to be a soldier and during his immortal life has fought in countless wars. Despite the personal joy he takes in excelling at the fight, even he hopes the world will outgrow the need for him and his skills. A hero doesn't just do the right thing, there needs to be some awareness of what is right and wrong and making a choice.

One of the traits that helps to separate the hero from the anti-hero for me is their personal viewpoint towards the violence that they commit. Those that enjoy the violence, that actively seek it out for whatever reason, always come across as less heroic. It doesn't matter if they're fighting for the right side - people who take any pleasure in killing others, even the bad guy, lack the compassion that I feel is necessary for any true hero. On the other hand, those who feel remorse, even when their actions are fully justified, have a humanity that makes them much more sympathetic and someone who I would look up to.

I'm sure there are a lot of heroes among today's soldiers, on any side of any fight, for reasons both large and small. But I find it hard to believe that in any group of so many people, any profession dedicated to violence, everyone is noble and pure. Like the rest of the population, soldiers include the petty, the bored, the casually cruel and downright evil. Hero is a big thing, an important concept. I'm afraid if we don't think about and discuss it, if we just hand out the title of hero as a blanket statement, we're on a path to devalue the word and disparage those who truly deserve it.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

V-Day - Absolute Write Blog Chain

It's been a while since the Absolute Write Blog Chain has happened. But it's back, and I'm happy to be participating again. I wrote up a little story to match the month's theme. Check out the links at the end to find and follow the other links in the chain.

Setting History Straight

"No, no, no. That's not it at all."

Emanual gesticulated wildly from his perch on the divan, wine splashing in drops to stain his silk chemise and splatter the white marble tile. He kicked his feet in tiny spasms as if they could fan away the papers in front of his companion on the floor. "You have no sense of romantic love. Only ridicule resides in your heart."

The accused raised his quill from the parchment, his face white with too much powder and his shabby wig askew. "In oure humour we touche uppan the truth. My love is endeleas, and if mine words aheald hit is only to ahydan my fragyl herte." 

Emanual guffawed, spewing a burgundy mist that settled on the unfinished scroll. "Geoffrey, my dear, there is not a soft part of you other than your delightful arse. You can pout all you want, but I know your soul is as hard as this flooring and your wit sharper than your wisdom."

Geoffrey pursed his lips further, but he couldn't prevent them from twisting into a smirch. "But thyn love is min, is hit ne?"

Setting the now empty glass on the floor, Emanual leaned forward and stroked Geoffrey's cheek. "Truly it is, but if you wish to show your delicate feelings to the world, I would take it askance if you did so in your customarily biting manner. Perhaps you can slip in a sentiment of meaning that would inspire instead of infuriate."

"Biddan, what would hastow awritan?"

Footsteps echoed in the chamber, the heavy clod  of Geoffrey's manservant who appeared from some unknown vantage point. His knack of replenishing supplies of liquor just when needed endeared him to Emanual, if his surly countenance did not. He placed the freshly uncorked offering on the writing desk, too crowded with half empty vessels and remains of a feast to be used for it's designed purpose, and stopped to retrieve the empty bottle that had rolled to a rest beside the mantle. He left without a word, or even a glance at his master.

"Thank yow for thyn service, oh most dutyfil troglidyt," Geoffrey called after him, his courage always greater with no face before him.

Emanual bent down to tap the paper in front of Geoffrey. "Fragile is your ego, if not your heart. But stay upon your purpose."

Geoffrey turned his attention back to his present company, reaching for Emanual's hand, but too slow. "Again, what werds maest soote and satisfying would yow stelan fro me?"

"If I dictate, then what honor lies in that? Your tongue is the one of talent - many talents if sooth be told - and upon it lays the burden of devising lines of lasting merit. Perhaps an ode to a memory of past, a symbol to inspire those simple sods who follow your tales knowing not your meaning."

Both men paused in thought, though perhaps not matching in subject or spirit. After some time, Geoffrey asked, "What symbel would hold sich power ofer the gat-tothed swearm?"

Emanual held in his smile, knowing a serious question meant his plan had fruited. "Do you know the story of Saint Valentine?"


Some time later, deep into the night, Emanual emerged from the servant's entrance at the back of the estate. A sliver of a moon hung low on the horizon and a few steps - stumbling, inebriated steps in case anyone observed - carried him into the darkness of the trees where his sudden dematerialization went unobserved.

He reappeared in bright sunlight, on a field of impossibly green grass beneath a temple of indescribable beauty. His garb changed from silken pantaloons and a flowery blouse to a one-shouldered robe tied loosely by a braid of gold. Walking straight and true, he made his way towards a pool of clear water where nymphs splashed gaily under the watchful eyes of dryads, all serenaded by a cloven-hooved piper. Every being turned at his approach and a small human with a feathered hat rushed to his side.

"Were you successful, my lord?"

The man who had gone by the name of Emanual smiled, a pure smile that filled all it touched with love and desire. "Of course. The seeds have been sown and in time this day shall become mine, with uncountable numbers worshipping at my altar whether they know it or not. The rest of my brethren will continue to fade, but Cupid will be remembered as long as the race of man survives."


Hope you liked it. In case it wasn't clear, the theme for this month was Valentine's Day. And if you don't know, many believe the holiday owes it modern incarnation of celebrating lovers to none other than Geoffrey Chaucer, who included a few references to Valentine's Day in a number of works. Made me wonder why he did that.

Here are the rest of the links - check them out as the links go live over the course of the month.


Angyl78 (link to post)
Forbidden Snowflake (link to post)
LeighAnderson (link to post)
Layla Lawlor (link to post)
Aheïla (link to post)
Kohuether (link to post)