Saturday, August 31, 2019

Saying No Thanks to A Magic Do Over


Our topic this week on SFF7: Free ReDo: If you could automagically change anything in any of your books, would you?
Short answer: No.

I don’t publish a book until I’m happy with it so….and of course being self published, I don't have to agree with any editorial changes such as a publisher might want and be contractually entitled to demand.

I have mentioned in this space in the past when we had a similar subject, a few things I wish I’d done differently with Warrior of the Nile (published by Carina Press). It was the second book in what is now an eight book series. Here’s the relevant bit:

I do a TON of research, all the time, into various aspects of ancient Egypt, but for this book, I veered off the track in the hero’s backstory in my opinion. I made him the last survivor of a mountain tribe that had its own gods and myths (conveniently created by me to fit my story), although since he was adopted by Pharaoh’s family at a young age, he also subscribed to the Egyptian beliefs. Indeed, the entire book revolves around a demand made by the goddess Nephthys and her personal involvement in the quest.

In fact, however, much of how the book’s plot is resolved ties back to this personal belief system the hero Khenet retains. There’s a key scene in a ruined temple belonging to an ancient goddess predating Egypt, again all from my own inventive brain. There’s another pivotal moment where Khenet receives a bit of help from his tribe’s god, fulfilling a prophecy. And then there are these jewels….
Now if I’d been writing fantasy, nothing wrong with creating and injecting all kinds of cool new mythos and lore and etc.

But I really try to tell these stories from the standpoint that the gods exist and interact in the daily life circa 1550 BCE the way the ancient Egyptians believed they did, and very much wanted them to do. I feel the success of the later books in the series revolves around that key aspect. Not in taking giant departures and left turns from the overall Egyptian culture. (Liberties and conscious anachronisms, yes. Wholesale invention of new stuff – no.)  So to me, book two rings bit false now, like a brass bell in a lineup of silver ones. Not the same tone. I haven’t repeated that ‘mistake’. I find a way to make my plots happen much more concisely within the ancient Egyptian framework. They had such a complex civilization and belief system to match.

Don't get me wrong - I like the book and my hero, I love some of the 'Egyptian' elements in it wildly, like Lady Tuya's visit to the goddess Isis...I just think I moved away from what's at the core of my Gods of Egypt series by injecting a fantasy side story that had no roots in anything the Egyptians believed.
I’m not writing historicals. I am writing paranormal elements but I’ve always felt with Warrior I went too far away from what keeps me (and my readers) grounded in the Land of the Pharaohs as I visualize it.

OK, but when (if) I get the rights back in 2020, will I rewrite this? No. The story is the story and it all hangs together nice and tight. I just took a lesson learned from that experience and have worked hard not to go quite so far afield from actual ancient Egypt in the rest of the series.

By the way, I have a new science fiction romance release to report! REEDE, the tenth book in my Badari Warriors series about genetically engineered soldiers of the far future. The book is numbered as #9 but that’s because TIMTUR is book #2.5. Sorry for the confusion!) Here’s the blurb:

Lt. Fallyn Damara was sent by the Sectors to investigate a strange transmission from an isolated planet and determine whether the residents of a vanished colony had been transported there by alien enemies. Fallyn’s ship crashes and she’s taken prisoner by the Khagrish scientists, to await her fate in the slate of horrifying experiments being conducted.

Reede, the second ranking enforcer in the Badari Warrior pack, volunteers to be recaptured by the Khagrish in an effort to locate and rescue Fallyn inside the deadly lab complex.

While a prisoner Reede discovers Fallyn is the woman destined to become his fated mate but the moment is bittersweet because Fallyn will be leaving their world at the first opportunity, to report back to the Sectors. He refuses to complete the mate bond, believing to do so will lead to nothing but lifelong misery for them both, separated by lightyears and interstellar politics.

For her part, Fallyn wants to shake up the rule-bound enforcer and persuade him to take a chance on love.

But first they have to escape the Khagrish.

Amazon      Apple Books     Kobo     Nook     Google

Friday, August 30, 2019

Patching the Past

I am one lucky writer. Somehow, I managed to make friends with a bunch of scientists and Air Force test pilots. 99% of the time, this is awesome. 1% of the time, it bites me in the butt when they ping me to tell me I got something wrong. Most of the time, all I can do is gnash my teeth and whine. Cause usually, you can't correct a published book. No one is gone redo a print run because you got the hero's eye color wrong on page 387. BUT. At some magical point, it is within an author's power to request reversion of rights. And when that happens, it's a whole new world, baby.

So would I change things? Yes. Have done. Would do it again. IT'S TOTALLY WORTH IT. I say this as someone who has a thing about needing to be right. Maybe it's oldest child syndrome. Dunno. I've spent lots of years trying to get over myself and learning to embrace my mistakes with grace. Even if I'm gritting my teeth whilst doing so. But when I got the rights back for the Enemy series, I hit up my scientist and pilot friends, asking for a list of where I'd gone wrong specifically so I could fix my errors for the rerelease versions of the stories.

I got that list. The worst one was that I'd messed up insect life cycles when I should have known better. I hope to all the gods those are fixed now. There was also a scene in the second book of the series that I wished I'd handled differently.  Ten years of wishing. Now it's about to be published again, so I rewrote the scene. I think I'm finally happy with it.

Maybe it's a rare thing to get to tweak what should be left in the past. My ability to tweak existing books is at an end now because we've moved on books that haven't yet been published anywhere else. So my day in the sunshine of fixing what was broken may well be over. At least until the dev edits for book three land.

You know this wouldn't be a Marcella post without a cat photo, so behold Bug, a tiny, two month old kitten who'd been dumped at the feral colony. She came to me skin and bones and with massive eye infections. She was adopted yesterday to a lovely lady who shows Persians. She's going to show Bug in the household pet division. The great thing is that Bug's new mom has an Instagram account, so I can cute-stalk my former medical foster kitten and watch her grow up from afar.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Automagic Story Fix: Would I, Could I?

On the blog this week we're talking about:

Free ReDo: If you could automagically change anything in any of your books, would you?

~slaps knee~ Oh, dear reader, yes, I would.  I--like many of my peers--would change all the dagnabit typos, misspelled words, MIA punctuation, etc. that snuck through eight passes of edits.

Is there plot or character dev stuff I'd change? Yeeeah. Probably. In LARCOUT there were some scenes I'd cut that I shouldn't have, scenes that revealed clues to the Whodunnit part of the story. I was rightfully called out by reviewers for dorking up the mystery thread, so if I could wave a wand and fix that, I would. Then again, the beauty of being Indie is that I could make those changes and release a "new and improved" edition. Might happen. Maybe. First I have to wrap up my UF series.

~Wanders off to ponder changes~

Saturday, August 24, 2019

SciFi Romance Recent Recommendations

This week's topic is shining a light on 3 authors who we think you should be reading, aka Book Recommendations.

Since I’m primarily a science fiction romance author, I’ll stick to that genre this week and I’m going with some top of my mind authors who were recent reads, plus a few site recommendations.

My first recommendation would be Pauline Baird Jones and her Project Enterprise series, of which Maestra Rising was the latest release. Pauline writes these incredible plots that unfold with every page like the layers of an onion (no crying, I promise) and you think you know where the story is going but she changes it up and by the time you finish the book she’s tied everything together. She’s also very good at creating memorable and unusual aliens, including one spider villain from two books ago that still gives me the creeps and I’m not afraid of spiders. On occasion there’s a bit of time travel involved too.

The Key was the first book in the series and here’s the blurb: She’s a stranded soldier. He’s an alien castaway. Can their love save a galaxy torn apart by war?
Sara Donovan knew her top-secret expedition would be dangerous. But she never imagined she’d end up separated from her crew and stranded on an alien planet. When the smoke from her crash landing clears, she’s surprised to find a marooned resistance fighter ready to lend a hand. In a war-torn galaxy, Sara refuses to give her trust lightly… especially when she risks exposing the strange abilities she’s kept hidden since childhood.

Kiernan Fyn survives day by day on the hopes of exacting revenge on the warlord who murdered his wife. Sara is his ticket off the desolate rock to a new better future…until she’s targeted by hostile forces who thinks she holds the key to a long-lost civilization. In a fight for their lives, sparks fly as Sara and Fyn attempt to decipher their hidden connection with the powerful key before their ruthless enemies distort its power for galactic domination.

My second recommendation is Leslie Chase and her Crashland Colony series. One of the things I enjoyed most about the two books (so far) was the author’s ability to take some standard tropes – alien abduction, being marooned on an alien planet, indomitable alien warriors etc. - and turn them on their heads for enjoyable reading.  I also enjoyed the idea of a holographic cat. The blurb for Auric: Crashed on an unexplored planet, with only an alien warrior and a holographic cat for company… what’s a girl to do?

Tamara expected the trip to Arcadia Colony to be safe and boring. And it is — until an impossibly hot alien warrior crashes into the ship, bringing a warning that only Tamara believes. Helping the rugged alien means mutiny… but the threat he’s warning about is worse.

Auric turned his back on the Silver Band when they abandoned honor in favor of piracy. Drawn by the riches of the colony ship, the Band are on their way — and once they arrive, the humans are doomed. Now that he’s met Tamara, Auric knows he can't let anything happen to her. She's the woman fate has chosen for him, the woman he would give his life to save.

When the humans and their alien attackers are stranded on a forbidden planet, Auric and Tamara are flung together on a journey to find other survivors. Will fate be enough to keep Auric and Tamara together? Or will the dangers of the planet tear them apart?

Third, Regine Abel, who has many books to her credit but her Veredian Chronicles is perhaps her best known series. I love her world building, her feisty heroines and her wide variety of settings. Here’s the blurb for Escaping Fate, the first book in the series I’ve mentioned: Born and raised on a slaver’s ship, Amalia plans to escape before she’s forced to participate in her master’s psi breeding program. She finds refuge on a foreign planet where she meets the cousins Lhor and Khel. Together, they fight against those hunting her down, while attempting to rescue the other victims of her master’s slave ring.
Between her master’s dogged pursuit, deadly rivalries, assassins, and corrupted nobles, can the cousins keep Amalia safe or will their respective feelings for her tear them apart?

And since I’m in a rules breaking mood today, let me add another author, Kate Morris, and her Apokalypsis series. I love dystopian End of the World As We Know It fiction, starting with the day I first read Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. I’m not saying her books are at the Alas, Babylon level! But, I find what I really enjoy a lot is the set of events leading up to the apocalypse, the hints and clues around the characters that disaster is coming, only  people refuse to see it. I wish the TV show ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ had done even more of this before going full zombie. Kate Morris does this really well. 

The first book is a bit Young Adult skewing for me, although I enjoyed it, but I thoroughly enjoyed book 2, which featured a Special Forces type soldier and a New Adult age heroine. Now these books do end on a modified cliffhanger and the author says we’ll see the characters again in book four…I loathe cliffhangers. But I’m definitely along for the ride with this series! The blurb for book 1, although I feel you could safely jump in with the second book:  Life was precious. People used to say things like that all the time, but none of them realized how true that saying would turn out to be. Life was precious, indeed. Each person in the room had lost someone or everyone…

Her life was simply about getting through each awful day of high school without being bullied or picked on. Jane Livingston had a full life, just not one that included friends, boyfriends, school clubs, sports, dating, or anything else the typical teenager experienced. She kept her head down, avoided people, tried to make it out of the war zone (the high school hallways) without any new battle scars.

His life was status, cute girls, cool cars and being the guy everyone else wanted to be at his high school. But there was more to Roman Lockwood than met the eye. He led a miserable existence until he realized the shy, picked-on poor girl he’d known for four years was a lot more than she appeared to be at first glance. There was more to Jane Livingston than met the eye, too. Unfortunately, Roman and Jane’s lives were about to intersect in a way neither would’ve guessed.
Life was delicate, and they’d realize just how much so as their worlds changed from one day being typical high school students to the next when they were merely trying to survive the end of the world together, the end of normalcy, the end of humanity, the end of life itself, when it became: Apokalypsis.

I want to leave you with three resources for broadening your reading list if you so desire, because I’ve found a lot of good recommendations on both:

Queer – I’ve found quite a few M/M paranormal and fantasy romances here, although they do emphasize science fiction…(and I love J Scott Coatsworth's Liminal Sky series...)

WOC In Romance -  covers all genres and here I’ve discovered several new-to-me authors and their backlist.

SFR Station – which has a fun feature where you can search the listings by ‘pairing types’ or subgenres (holiday, space western, weird science etc), in addition to the more standard searches by author name.

Happy reading!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Three Authors Who Deserve More Notice

All right, if we're naming three people who haven't quite gotten, in my mind, their due, I'm going to be DEEPLY biased.  These are all friends, and I'm plugging them.

Amanda Downum
.  Her Necromancer Chronicles do brilliant things with necromancy, moving away from it as a "dark" magical art, and making her heroine, Isyllt, a magic forensic pathologist of sorts.  Part spy, part investigator, all awesome.  Start with The Drowning City.

Stina Leicht.  Her two Fey and the Fallen are lyrical and poetic yet STILL hit like a hammer to the chest.  Fair warning, the third chapter of Of Blood and Honey is rough, but it isn't pulling any punches.  And I'm deeply looking forward to her space opera gender-flipped Magnificent Seven coming out next year, Persephone Station.

Rowenna Miller.  My co-host for Worldbuilding for Masochists has two books out so far in her Unraveled Kingdom series: Torn and Fray, and I highly recommend you get those and delight in them.

That's all from me: I've got miles to cover and words to mine.  See you out there.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Reading recs you need to get all over

You know how when you see a movie or a TV show and you suddenly need all your friends to watch it too so you can talk about it? That's how I am with books. I have forced my husband to read sooo many things. (Don't feel sorry for him; he's done the same with me, and we both have experienced plenty of happy surprises.)

At any rate, I'm gonna do that now to you. Right now. Brace for it.

You need to read:

Sharon Lynn Fisher, writer of science fiction romance and other assorted awesomeness. Once upon a time, she judged a contest that I entered, and when I read her scores--which she kindly signed--I looked her up. I read her books, all the time thinking, Holy wow this is the person who read my crap? Because she has oodles of talent and I want to be just like her when writer-me grows up.

Her next book, The Absinthe Earl (Irish fairies, absinthe, an earl, and "a door sealed for centuries"), comes out in October but is pre-oderable now. I adored both Ghost Planet ("a world where every colonist is tethered to an alien who manifests in the form of a dead loved one") and The Ophelia Prophecy (who knew genetic engineering could be so sexy and so, er, buggy at the same time?), both of which are just sitting there ready to be clicked on.

Of course, the reason I started writing science fiction romance in the first place was Catherine Asaro. She was already a legend when I saw her speak on a convention panel years and years ago, and she was so in-your-face that abso-freakin-lutely her hard-SF books had kissing in them, and none of the shocked and horrified dudes on the panel with her dared say anything about it. Maybe because she's awesome. Maybe because she has more scientific advanced degrees than all of them combined. I dunno. At any rate, the first book of hers that I read was The Phoenix Code (android nookie! scientist heroine!), but her Skolian Empire books are sublime. She started a new spin-off series in that world a few years back, the latest of which was published in 2017. I hope she continues writing those books because whoa.

Shifting gears a little, the book I'm reading right now is adorable and I want others folks to read it too--so we can talk about it, right. Ha! It's called David Mogo, Godhunter, and it's Suyi Davies Okungbowa's first novel. Although the description calls it "Nigerian god-punk," it's kind of urban fantasy with a Nigerian accent and a wrapping of YA. I'm loving it so far and want the writer to keep going, so buy his stuff. I mean, it's only one book. You can afford it.

And than we can talk.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Book Recs: 3 Fantasy Authors You Need To Read

This week's topic is shining a light on authors who we think you should be reading, aka Book Recommendations.

Side Note: This weekend, the big SFF gathering of WORLDCON went down in Dublin, which was capped off with the HUGO Awards Ceremony (aka, peer-nominated Best Of Genre spanning authors, editors, fanzines, illustrators, TV, and movies.) Check out the nominees and winners here.

1. Aliette de Bodard
Nominated for a Best Series HUGO for her Universe of Xuya (think Chinese-influenced Sherlock with a sentient ship in the role of Watson). These are short stories and novellas. While they're great, I'm putting forth her Dominion of the Fallen UF series because a) dragons, b) gothic Paris in a post-apocalyptic setting. There are three novels (so far) and novelettes. Yes, she won the British Science Fiction Award for the first book in the series.

2. Laura Bickle
Once upon a time, Laura was one of us, a regular blogger on what was then known as the Word Whores. Laura writes YA and adult UF, and I'm a huge fan of her Modern Weird West UF series The Wildlands. When the protag is a geologist, the sidekick is a coyote, and the alchemists are running amok, you know you're in for a fabulous ride. Five books in this series so far. Laura has a lot of books under her belt, and all of them worth the read, whether you're interested in tarot, fire salamanders, or even Amish horror.

3. Allison Pang
Another graduate and founding member of this blog, Allison has published traditionally with her Abby Sinclair UF series (featuring Phin, the world's tiniest, horniest, most-bacon-loving unicorn). Since then, she's shifted to writing High Fantasy with her IronHeart Chronicles. It's steampunk with a touch of zombies. Two books in this series so far.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Early Works: Space Dragon and Starfire

This week’s topic: "Share tiny snippet from earliest writing of yours that you can get your hands on. This is kind of a dare, and also I'm nosy."

Assuming the person who asked the question isn’t interested in my fairy tale that I wrote and illustrated at age 7, but is after something a bit more advanced, I’ll talk about the books I wrote in junior high school and high school. What I’m not going to do, much as I hate to disappoint the faithful readers of SFF7, is go digging through all my boxes in storage and locate the handwritten manuscripts. 

I wouldn’t share an excerpt from those early works of mine in any case.

I was practicing and learning my craft, how to tell a story, how much work an entire book is to write, how to do a series, etc. I’m sure they’re full of head hopping and all kinds of other craft issues because at that point I was merely writing down the stories living in my head, not worrying about becoming published. My mind was much more focused on who I was going to the dance with, would we win the Homecoming Game, etc etc.

In junior high school I wrote a series of about eleven books, heavily influenced by the Tom Corbett Space Cadet series written by Carey Rockwell, which I loved. My series, The Space Dragon (which was the ship’s name) followed five men from their days at the Academy to their career flying a ship for the interstellar military and all the adventures that befell them. They were a very tight knit team, with fierce loyalty to each other.

 I also spent some time with their families, especially that of the main character. As I recall, his mother owned an interstellar shipping line and I think his father was a high level politician. One of the crew was an alien prince. I definitely remember I disliked the fact the Tom Corbett series included no romance, so my guys each met and married a professional woman in the course of the books. Looking back, I find it interesting I was so adamant about my female characters being high powered and having careers because at the time I was in junior high and high school, there really were very few role models for this.

Although I think one of the heroines was a princess, the sister of the crew member who was a prince.

There was kissing but nothing further in these novels LOL.

There was also an ancient alien in the series as a kind of benevolent uncle. I don’t remember his origin story any longer but he was in the vein of the mysterious Forerunners Andre Norton wrote about in her science fiction, possibly crossed with her Zacathans. (All of this was way before George Lucas and “Star Wars” so no, I wasn’t influenced by Yoda.) He lived with the hero’s family on Earth and was pretty good at helping to resolve dire situations as needed.

In high school I moved on to writing a new series, set on board a ship named The Starfire and this set of tales was influenced by the ‘Star Trek’ TV show. Lots of adventure and romance over several volumes and a couple of sequels. My Dad even drew a cover for it!

Then I graduated, got married at 19, moved to California, went to college, worked in retail, graduated from college, went to work at NASA/JPL, had children…so it was YEARS before I dove into writing again. Then I became a widow and the writing took a back burner for more years.

I’m happy to say every single book I’ve written post-high school has now been released although the earliest ones have had a ton of editing (multiple rounds of professional editing), revisions and rewriting to reach the state where readers could enjoy them before I sallied forth and self-published. The bones of the original stories are still there but with a lot of craft and care applied. Wreck of the Nebula Dream, Mission to Mahjundar, Trapped on Talonque and Escape from Zulaire.

Mission is actually the oldest story, in terms of when I first started writing it.

There’s about as much point in digging my teenaged writings out of the scrapbook box as there would be to locating my 7 year old self’s fairy tale. None of it is readable now but all of it was necessary for my development as an author.

I have 30+ published books today and have no intention of stopping. I think my early series laid a lot of good groundwork for me, in terms of knowing I had stories to tell and could do the work to get them out of my head and ‘onto the paper’. Confidence building!


Friday, August 16, 2019

Throwback Thursday - Painful Fiction from the Early Years

Early efforts, huh?

Well okay. Just remember that someone (who wasn't me) asked for this. The following stilted and overly dramatic prose is from the first novel I ever managed to complete. It's so old, there are two spaces after every period. This book never met an adverb it didn't like. In fact, you know that meme about the overly attached girlfriend? Yeah. That's this book with adverbs. I love the fact that the characters go from 0 to 60 emotionally. It's a total soap opera and I keep it around because it so tickles me. The scene below is the first meeting of the hero and heroine. We're on maybe page 5 of the manuscript.

            Casey emerged from her shower feeling entirely refreshed.   Wrapped in her towel, she returned to her room  and toweled her hair dry.  She dressed in a leisurely fashion, listening to a song that had been running through her mind all day long.  Running her fingers through her hair to calm the curling copper strands, Casey unlatched her abused guitar case and seated herself on the bed to bend over it.  She plucked out a quiet melody, then altered it when it didn't quite match what she heard in her head.  She realized she wouldn't be able to blithely tuck her love of music out of the way for the convenience of Sonya's brother.  On the other hand, she didn't want to unduly antagonize anyone either.  Casey simply decided she'd have to be careful.  With a smile, she repeated the melodic line she'd just created and ventured to put some words to it.  Shaking her head, she decided her songwriting talent needed considerable polishing. 

            The door to Casey's room slammed open.  Startled, she jumped.  With a discordant twang, a string broke, snapping back to slash her hand.  "Damn it!"  She swore, glaring up at the door.  Her eyes widened.  The most alarmingly handsome man she'd ever seen stood glowering at her from the doorway.  She knew him instantly.  She'd seen Brennen James in concert once herself and owned more than one of his wildly successful albums.

            "Do you always slam into someone else's room without knocking?"  She charged, her voice clipped and short from the pounding of her heart.  "You made me break a string.  Thank you very much."

            "What are you doing here?"  He demanded, eyeing her with a cold, searching gaze.

            "Not that it's any of your business," she returned stung by his imperious tone, "I am here to help Sonya with her wedding.  Oh, damn," she swore again, catching sight of the bloody line along the back of her hand.  She grabbed her wrinkled tee shirt and blotted the blood away. 

            "Let me make something very clear to you, Miss..."

            "Casey Griffin."

            "Let me make something very clear to you Miss Griffin.  I am the only musician in this house.  I will not tolerate your musical pretensions..."  He began.

            Casey bristled, enraged.  Setting her precious guitar carefully aside, she stood and stalked up to meet him.  To her irritation, she found she had to look up to glare at him.  "Listen, you jerk," she shot back.  "You have no idea who I am or what I do.  My musical pretensions are none of your concern.  And until you know what type of musician I am, you'd probably feel less like an ass in the very near future if you kept your mouth shut now."

            She bit her lip, wondering at the wisdom of snapping at her friend's brother.  Besides, it wasn't as if she could hold a musical candle to the man.  With a sigh, Casey decided she should probably have kept her temper under better control.       

            "What amazing green eyes you have.  And that red hair," he observed, his tone amused, but still not terribly friendly.  "I assume that explains your frightful temper.  You look silly in purple," he observed.  "You should wear green."

            Casey stared at him, stupefied.  She wondered if he'd bothered to pay attention to anything she'd said.  It only irritated her all over again. 

"I look like a damn wood elf if I wear green," she groused.  "And no, my hand is fine.  Thank you for your concern.  Get out of my room."

            Brennen James, a man Casey had admired and adored since she'd purchased his first album, stood at her bedroom door and laughed at her.  Casey gritted her teeth and turned her back on him.  She returned to her guitar and carefully set about removing the broken string from its key.

The entire book is like this. So while I managed to write a complete novel, the story never saw the light of day. Editors rightly pointed out that this story has no actual conflict - it's all bickering. The great thing about those rejections was that I got actual REASONS for the rejection. Armed with those, I could learn what internal versus external conflict was. And then I could write a second novel that managed to get it wrong in even more spectacular fashion, but that's another post.

At least I can't offer up my very first attempt at fiction - the 15 year old heroine who was an expert horsewoman, an expert swordswoman, and a great tactician fighting pirates to preserve her father's reign. Oh. And she had a black panther named Scott as a pet. <shrug> Yeah, I dunno. I was twelve and it all sounded like a good idea at the time.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

A Reminder of the Path Here

So, at my ArmadilloCon speech, I brought up my path as being a student in the workshop, and how despite being certain that it was absolute gold at the time, it got torn up into tiny shreds.  And after the stinging cooled, I realized, rightly so.  Because it was, in actuality, not good, and far from ready.

I decided to look through some old files, and it's kind of amazing how obvious it is to me now how messy it is, in terms of storytelling structure and just basic craft.  But I'm also amazed how at the time it felt like it was very solid work that just needed a bit of tweaking. 

This stuff won't see the light of day-- though last year at PhilCon I did a selection of readings from the graveyard that showed my journey from there to here.  But it's good to hold onto, and definitely good to check back in with from time to time.  Especially in moments where you need a reminder of how far you've come.

So, here's a sample from one of those early works, The Fifty Year War, which I wrote as a NaNoWriMo novel back in 2003.  I present it to you not as a standard of quality, but as an example that you can get from there to here.

The walls of New Fencal had not been built with any serious thoughts of defense.  The walls had been made quickly and simply, mostly to keep wild animals out.  To call New Fencal a colony would have been an overstatement.  It was a resort, a discrete compound on one the tropical Napolic Islands where the wealthy and noble of Druthal would come to engage in pleasures both subtle and gross.  The local tribe of Napolics were friendly—or at worst merely uninterested.
The walls were not meant to withstand an assault and neither was Lieutenant Terrent Highgrove.
“Highgrove, old boy,” Baron Trelcourt had said early that morning, “What do you make of those ships, there?”
“Ships?” he said, looking out at the clear sea, where no less than five large ships were on the horizon, moving towards the island, “Well, those weren’t out there last night.  They must have sailed through the dark.  Rather foolish in these waters.”
“Indeed,” said the Baron, “But who are they?”
“Well, they certainly aren’t Druth.  Our sailors would know better than that, no?”
“Certainly, Lieutenant, certainly.”
“Well, I’ll send a few of the boys down to the beach to get a closer look. They’re too big to be pirates. More like cargo. Probably a merchant fleet of some sort.  You there—Weaver!”
“Sir” said Weaver, coming up to Highgrove. “What is it?”
“There’re some ships coming up on the island.  Take two men to get a closer look at them.”
“Yes sir,” said Weaver, giving a crisp salute.  He whistled to two other soldiers and they headed to the beach.
“Good man, that Weaver,” said the Baron.
“He fought in the Kellirac War, you know,” said Highgrove. “He’s served for ten years now.”
“Well!  Good man, indeed.  What say we look to some breakfast then, eh, Highgrove?”
Breakfast was a casual affair in New Fencal.  A main dining hall had been built for visiting nobles—at this point about fifteen of them—and they usually ate together, with Lieutenant Highgrove.  As ranking officer at New Fencal, he was greatly respected.  His twenty soldiers, including Weaver, usually ate at the barracks.  They were a token garrison, to make the nobles feel as if their safety was of great importance.  The nobles’ personal servants served at breakfast.
Sadly, Highgrove had barely had chance to sit when Weaver came running into the hall, out of breath.
“Sir—those ships—” was all he said at first.
“My!” said Lady Mara Breckenrill. “Is it too much to expect some decorum from the soldiers?”
“Indeed,” said her cousin, Julietta, “To come stampeding in like that…”
Highgrove gave an apologetic wave to the Ladies, “Now, I’m sure he had good cause.  Come, Weaver, what’s the news?”
“Those ships, sir, you did see them?”
“Yes, of course.  What are they?”
“What are they?” said Weaver in a voice strained with incredulity.  “Those are Poasian transports, sir!”
A series of gasps went through the dining hall, as well as the clatter of dropped plates and silver.
“Now, now, Weaver,” said Highgrove, stammering, “Are you sure about that?  We don’t want to be upsetting the ladies here.”
“Lieutenant,” said Baron Trelcourt, “Perhaps you and Weaver should step outside.”
“Yes, certainly, Baron,” said Highgrove, “You are very right.  Ladies and Gentlemen, please excuse me.  I’m sure this is simply a misunderstanding.  We’ll get it all cleared up in no time.  Weaver, with me.” Highgrove gave a small nod to the nobles and walked out, with Weaver right behind him.  Outside, he turned to the soldier.
“Are you out of your mind, Weaver?” he asked with a snarl. “You come running in their like a crazed dog, talking about Poasian transports.  It’s ludicrous, and you upset people.  What are you trying to do?”
“Save lives, sir,” said Weaver, stepping closer to him, “We are woefully unprepared for any attack.”
“Attack?” asked Highgrove, stepping away. “You don’t think they would actually attack us?”
“I’m not sure, sir, but it seems likely.”
A young soldier came running in through the gates as quickly as he could, heading straight for Weaver.
“Longboats,” he said, “They are going to make a landing.”
“Landing?” asked Highgrove. “Then they are coming here?”
“How many, Pip?” asked Weaver.
“I’m not sure.  I don’t count too well… but each ship had at least ten boats come off of it, and those boats were full.  A few score in each one.”
“A few… score?” asked Highgrove, “But… but… what do they… why?”  Highgrove sputtered.  Weaver glanced at him, and then turned back to the young soldier.
“All right, Pip, listen here: get to the barracks, get everyone on their feet.  We’re going to need every weapon, shield, arrow; everything we have.  Get them here as quickly as you can.”  Pip looked at the Lieutenant, and seeing no order, nodded to Weaver and ran off.
Weaver turned back to Highgrove, who had dropped to his knees.
“Lieutenant,” said Weaver, grabbing the man by his lapels, “Pull yourself together.  Poasian soldiers are about to swarm through here, and for good or ill, you are the ranking military officer.”
“But… but… Weaver.  What do we do?  There are—how many?”
“Hundreds, sir.  Hundreds.”
“We’re doomed, Weaver!  We’re all going to die!”
Highgrove felt the sharp crack of Weaver’s hand against his face.  He fell to the ground.
“Weaver!  How dare you!”
“Sir,” said Weaver, “We are a short time away from being overrun.  Have you even been in combat before?”
“Well, I’ve studied battles and tactics.  But… no.”
“Fine.  Then let me make myself perfectly clear.  If you want any chance at living through today, do exactly what I say from here on out.”
“Weaver… that’s... that’s an utter violation of protocol.  I’m an Officer.  You’re just a soldier.”
“Maybe so,” said Weaver, “But you’re an officer with only twenty soldiers who is about to face an entire Poasian battalion.” 
“What the blazes?” said a voice behind them, “What kind of nerve do you have, soldier, talking to your superior like this?”  Weaver turned to see Earl Rettinwood standing behind them.
“My Lord,” said Weaver, softening his tone, “We are facing a dire situation.  At this moment, hundreds of Poasians are preparing to land on this island.”
“Poasians?  What?” said the Earl, “What do they want?  Come now, Highgrove, tell us what’s up.”
“I’m not sure, My Lord,” said Highgrove, regaining his composure, “But with the kind of numbers we’re looking at, I would say they intend to take control of the entire island.”
“Whole island?  Bah!” said the Earl, “This island is a Druth Protectorate.  We’ve reached an accord with the local natives.”
“I don’t think the Poasians particularly care about that, My Lord,” said Weaver.
“Why is this soldier speaking to me like this, Lieutenant?”  Highgrove coughed and stepped between Rettinwood and Weaver.
“My apologies for my man, My Lord,” he said, “You must understand, these are excitable times.  Tempers can flare.  Why don’t we go inside so I can brief you and the others on the situation?  Weaver, be a good man and give the boys their orders.  I think you know what they all need to do.”
“Aye, sir,” said Weaver, with a nod.  Highgrove and the Earl went into the dining hall.  By the gate, various soldiers were coming from the armory, bringing out every weapon they could find.  Most of them, thought Weaver, were Pip’s age.  More like boys than men. 
“All right, lads, listen up,” he said, approaching them, “I’m not going to soften this for you.  Right now, the odds favor none of us seeing the sunset.  We’re outnumbered twenty to one, at least.  But let’s not forget one thing.  As far from home as we may be, this island is Druthal.  As much ours as the streets of Maradaine.  So unless we’re ordered otherwise, we hold it to the last.  And I intend to hold it.  I’ve put ten years into this army, so that means I’ve got ten acres coming to me.  I will stand on my land, lads.  When those Ghosts come to me, they will find out what it means to face a Pikeman of the Druth Army.  Do you understand?”
The scared looks had vanished.  Wide eyes had narrowed and steeled with determination.  None spoke, but all nodded at Weaver’s words.