THE VIPER

THE VIPER (first draft of scene)

Maugham walked back over to Steinthal.

Steinthal asked him, “Who is that?”

Maugham was uncharacteristically blunt, and voluble.

“That is the toughest son of a bitch I’ve ever met in my life,” he told him.

Steinthal almost flinched. He had never met anyone tougher than Maugham and wasn’t much sure he liked the idea.

“Also,” Maugham went on almost to the point of being prolix (for him anyway), “he is meaner than hell and he may even be your equal in cunning and craft.”

Steinthal whistled appreciatively, just barely above the whisp of a dog-whistle. He looked hard at the man Maugham had just been conversing with when suddenly the guy looked over at him. Had he heard Steinthal’s whistle? Steinthal wondered if that was even possible.

The guy rose up from his table and just stood there, unmoving. Was he waiting, just watching, or coiling? He was short, shorter than Steinthal, and wiry, with cords of muscles that stood out up and down his neck. He had a couple of facial scars, one a long straight slice and the other maybe a burn, and sported a multiply broken nose and the look of a man who had been stabbed a few times to the point of aggravation.

He was dressed so that you couldn’t tell if he was a day laborer or an informant. Or both. His clothes looked washed out, as if they could fade smoothly into the backgorund, and like they didn’t quite fit. Or he did. Or both. He carried himself as if he could have been concealing no weapons, or any number of them.

He looked directly at Steinthal and he smiled, only it wasn’t really a smile. It was more like when a snake’s jaw unhinges and its flat lips curl back to swallow something. Steinthal wasn’t really sure if that was for his benefit alone, or just directed at the world in general, but whatever the intent it was threatening, and patiently sibilant – all at once. And about as creepy and surreal a disposition to strike as possible for anything shaped like a man.

Steinthal looked at Maugham and Maugham looked at him.

“Do you know this guy?” Steitnhal asked.

“Yeah,” Maugham said, in his typically taciturn manner.

“Know him well?” Steinthal asked again.

“Well enough,” Maugham replied.

“How?” Steinthal said seriously, more in the way of an interrogation than a friendly question.

Maugham shook his head like a bull being called in from the field. Steinthal knew that that meant and just nodded.

“Anything else?”

“Yeah,” said Maugham. “When we first met I thought you might be related.”

Steinthal furrowed his brow. Steinthal raised his hand horizontally so that his forefinger pointed at Maugham and his thumb pointed back at himself.

“You thought we might be related?”

“No,” Maugham said flatly. “I thought that you two might be related. Why I didn’t kill you immediately.”

“You didn’t kill me because you happen to like this guy?” Steinthal asked, fishing for the reason.

“No,” Maugham said shaking his head as if the question were silly and somehow self-negating. “I didn’t kill you because if you two were related then I wasn’t absolutely sure I could.”

Steinthal nodded, accepting the comment, but was doubtful that was the whole story. It was Maugham though, so what could ya really do?

Then Steinthal looked back over at the stranger. For all he knew the guy was still breathing, but if he was then he showed no signs.
Inside his own mind Steinthal shook his head while watching the guy, but as far as anyone else knew he just stared silently at the stranger.

“Why’d you set this up Maugham?” Steinthal asked. “Couldn’t have been easy to get him to play along.”

“He’s not playing,” Maugham replied. “And no, it wasn’t. But I thought that maybe, just this once, we could use him.”

Inside his own mind Steinthal nodded, but to Maugham he shook his head so that no one else would notice.

“So,” Steinthal asked. “What do I call it?”

“You don’t,” Maugham answered. And it didn’t seem contrived at all.

“Well then, should I approach it, or let it approach me?”

“Yes,” Maugham said. “That should work.”

Steinthal nodded still intently studying the other man.

“Well then,” Steinthal finally said. “Best clear the room. If we’re gonna see what happens.”

But when Maugham made no reply, and Steinthal glanced over to check on him, Maugham was already gone. And when he turned back to look for the other guy the other guy was already in his face.

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ANYBODY

ANYBODY

“Anybody can be ambushed,” Steinthal told her. “By some evil-souled, sneaky, cowardly little sonuvabitch. That is never the victim’s fault. However being naive enough to think that you will never be ambushed, or reckless enough to never prepare for the possibility, that is the victim’s fault. By victim I mean you,” he said pointing directly at her.

“You just got lucky tonight my dear. And that’s good, but that’s all. Cause luck ain’t a plan and there ain’t much of a future in habitual bad habit. So learn from this mess. And next time you be ready to do the killing. Understand?”

She nodded slowly and then looked up at him.

“I understand,” she said.

“Good,” he said. “Because that was the point.”

from The Detective Steinthal

NOT THE REASON I SHOULD CARE

NOT THE REASON I SHOULD CARE

Steinthal looked at the picture. Then he handed it back to Williams.

“What do you want me to do?” Steinthal asked.

“Shadow him,” Williams replied. Steinthal almost laughed at the term then caught himself. Curiosity got the better of humor.

“Maybe I can do it, but who is he, and why would I track him?” Steinthal said.

Williams blinked.

“You don’t recognize him?” Williams seemed truly dumbfounded.

“Why would I recognize him?” Steinthal said flatly. “I’ve never met him or seen him before.”

“But that’s Dale J. Soggs,” Williams responded.

Williams waited to see if the name would have an effect but when it didn’t he tried again.

“He’s the football player! First draft two years ago. Very first first draft,” Williams said.

Steinthal looked at Maugham and Maugham looked at Steinthal and then Maugham casually shrugged his shoulders.

Steinthal looked back at Williams and then, unable to contain HIMSELF anymore, laughed out loud. When he stopped laughing he scratched his neck and shook his head.

“Williams, what do I give a shit if he plays football?” Steinthal replied. “Is that supposed to be your pitch to me? You think I have nothing better to do with my time than watch fucking football? I’m a grown man Williams, not a little school girl. Look at Maugham Williams. You think he’s got nothing more important to do with his time than watch fucking football? You think he’s never done anything more dangerous than fucking football?”

Williams looked up at Maugham. He towered over them both.

“You don’t watch football either?” he asked Maugham. “Guy like you? Big as you are?”

Maugham looked down at Williams, smiled thinly, and shook his head dismissively. Then he went back to chewing his gum.

Williams looked back at Steinthal who was still waiting for a reply to his question. Williams still seemed confused so Steinthal backtracked.

“I didn’t ask you what he did Williams, if you can call that doing something. I asked you who he was and why you want him surveilled. Now who is he that you need him watched? And don’t give me any bullshit about him being a football player because I don’t give a shit. In case you missed it I don’t watch fucking football. And if this is about football then you’re killing your time and my interest. Now who is the man that you want him followed, and why?”

Williams looked stunned, then shook his head and exhaled loudly. He seemed to deflate as he did so.

“They said you’d be just like this,” he finally said.

“Like what?” Steinthal asked almost disinterestedly.

“Straight to the point,” Williams answered.

Steinthal ran his hand through his beard.

“Look, you want a play-runner or a ballet dancer then get another football player to chaperone him around. They can take notes on him, carry his little athletic bag, scrub his cleats, and type up his itinerary. Maybe take him to his pedicure or his oil bath where he can meet his side-chick. Assuming that’s what you’re after. But if I’m going to follow the man then I’m going to know exactly who and what he is and why he actually needs to be followed. Get me?” Steinthal said.

Williams blinked, then nodded. It was completely silent for a moment, except for someone vacuuming up at the far end of the hall.

“Now Williams, now,” Steinthal said. “I’m not here for the psychoanalysis and the ambiance.”

Williams blinked again and cleared his throat.

“We think he,” the team rep began. “Well, we’re not sure, you see, but we think he could be, maybe, a foreign agent,” Williams finally admitted.

This time Steinthal blinked.

“A football player?” Steinthal asked incredulously.

“Well, it’s just that, you see…” Williams answered, but Steinthal set his jaw and shook his head for silence. Then he ran his hand through his beard again, scratched his chin, nodded, and motioned to Maugham. Both men turned and walked towards the door.

Surprised Williams watched them reach the door before he thought to respond.

“Wait a second?” he blurted out. “Are you gonna do it? Will you follow him for us?”
Steinthal stopped at the door and turned to Williams.

“We will,” Steinthal replied.

“Well,” Williams continued confused. “Don’t you want any details on the man? Like where he lives, what he drives, that kind of thing…”

“No, I don’t,” Steinthal replied. “I’ll gather my own intel, and details. Call you in three days.” Then he and Maugham left, walked to the end of the hall, and punched the button for an elevator.

When they were inside and descending Maugham looked at Steinthal.

“Think this is what it appears to be?” he asked his friend.

“Hell no!” replied Steinthal. “No one would.” Maugham smiled.

“Think this Soggs guy might actually be dangerous then?” Maugham asked.

“If he is,” replied Steinthal, “we’ll find out soon enough. But in any case it won’t be because he’s a football player.”

And Maugham nodded and they both laughed.

from The Detective Steinthal

#football #case #foreignagent #writing
_______________________________________________________

I was working on a sci-fi story last night called, The Seas the Skies, when this scene popped into my head about a new case for Steinthal and Maugham. Something I’ve been thinking of doing anyway given all of the crap hysteria about foreign agents and all of the crap about professional football in our modern society. So I wrote this scene instead. First draft. If you’ll excuse the pun.

I’ll punch out the sci-fi story today after my hike with Sam.

Have a good day folks.

THE ESSAYS ON GAME (and WORLD) DESIGN

ESSAYS ON GAME AND WORLD DESIGN

I had originally intended to write and post all of these essays in the order listed below. But life, hurricanes, a heath problem with my child, work, seminars, my novels, start-up ventures, college (my children going to and entering college), and attempting to get my work published interfered with that intention.

Nevertheless, on the weekends, I have been working on these essays, poco-a-poco, and most are already finished though not yet posted or published. I’m working on that though.

Most of these essays deal with fantasy gaming, role playing in general, and even specifically with Dungeons and Dragons and those types of games.

My overall ambition in writing these essays is to give the game designer, the game master (or DM/GM), and even the player a basic (and hopefully very beneficial) philosophical and design basis for the construction of their own backgrounds, characters, milieus, worlds, and works (from a gaming and design point of view, of course).

However I believe that many of these principles can also be easily and readily applied to the creation of fictional worlds and systems for genre writers of fantasy, science-fiction, horror, and pulp type works. Therefore these essays can also be looked upon as providing the philosophical and structural basis for fictional world design as well.

At present my total number of Essays on Game Design stands at seventeen (17), with most of these having already been written and the rest already sketched out. However this number may very well increase over time. Actually I expect it to, and eventually I expect to collect and publish all of these essays in a book on Game and World Design.

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

INDEX:

Essay One: Crawling into Oblivion

Essay Two: To Hell With Balance

Essay Three: Where Has All the Magic Gone?

Essay Four: The Heroic Impulse – Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

Essay Five: The Tomb of Myth

Essay Six: Why the World Exists

Essay Seven: Why the Game Exists

Essay Eight: What is Modern Fantasy Anyway?

Essay Nine: Where Has All the History Gone? On Heirlooms, Legacies, and Inheritances

Essay Ten: U Plus (U+)

Essay Eleven: Luck Be Not Lazy

Essay Twelve: The Blood of Uncanny Monsters: Parts One and Two

Essay Thirteen: Scientifica Magica

Essay Fourteen: The Ability Hoard

Essay Fifteen: The Interactive Essay

Essay Sixteen: Where Have All the High Homes Gone: The Heröon, the Hometown, and the Mansion or Fortified Keep?

Essay Seventeen: Where Have All the Liturgists Gone?

BETWEEN MANKIND AND MANHOOD

BETWEEN MANKIND AND MANHOOD

The old man is wary
The old man is rough
The old man ain’t waiting
He’s had enough,
The old man is weary, but
The old man is tough
The old man is certain
He’s had enough,
The young man is angry
The old man is strong
The young man’s impatient
The old man holds long,
The young man is fearful
The old man don’t care
The young man stirs others, but
The old man will dare;

The young man is hell-wrought
The old man thanks God
The young man runs riot
The old man hits hard,
The young man talks always
The old man’s ashore
The young man still cowers
The old man’s at war,
You think age a warrant
I’m not talking time
I speak of man’s Nature
His soul, flesh, and mind;

There’s a young man in many, yet
An old man in few
Why the world is so troubled, and
Men do as they do, for
Theory’s your wisdom
Cunning your thoughts, yet
Between them together
Always you’re lost, so
Your cities are rotten
Your races are run
Your collectivist shitholes
The old man will shun, and
Your classes are broken
Your reason corrupt
Down do you stumble, and
Cannot stand up
For no man is master
Who won’t stand alone, for
You moderns are plastic, but
The old man is stone;

Thus the young men are cattle
But the old man’s a wolf
For the masses are cowards
Who cringe at the gulf,
‘Tween mankind and manhood
In their broods and their tribes
Yet he’s better than you are
For He is Alive…

THE ECLIPSE OF THE LIGHTLESS MEN

THE ECLIPSE OF THE LIGHTLESS MEN

From the face of the moon do the gods watch the sins
Of the dim absent dreaming in the darkest of men
Do the stars in their orbits, falling to flare
Alight in the cities, or ignite in the air
To illumine the blindness, unruly console
When the blackness eclipses the depths of their souls?

The mirror is silver, the heavens are deep
The eyes of the lightless like death do they sleep
Their tribes all afire, rimmed by the blaze
Yet their hearts are all stone, and their minds all a maze
Where the light cannot shelter, nor sun still abide
No thread to remember, no savior arrives,
For the men who are lightless grow great in their herds
Yet of hope or of Wisdom nothing is heard
An Eclipse of the Silence, the cold and the still
The Furies unfrozen, a debt to fulfill
For the Plague that was promised is spoken again
The Cure long abandoned, a whispering wind,
The masses are metered, each measured alike
For man is as nothing when compassed by night
The Earth is ill-favored, the moon eats her share
The darkness within us escapes to the air –
Though who bothers to repent, or lust for the light
When the lure of the eclipse burns yet so bright?
Encased in our Eclipse who yet occupies
That nature eternal that never can die
Or wonders to wander where darkness is rare
Where men yet make marvels, not terrors declare?
I would I could tell you, I would that I knew
For the lies of the lightless have eclipsed me and you…

______________________________

My poem commemorating the Solar Eclipse in the year of our Lord, 2017, and the current (and constant) nature of man…

I began it around midnight yesterday and concluded it about 0200 hours today (8/21/17).

#writing  #poetry   #eclipse

 

WE’LL WORK ON THAT

WE’LL WORK ON THAT

The place was dark. Very dark, all things considered. The whole house seemed closed off into small compartments. However there was still light streaming in from a full moon by a window to the right of the room.

Precisely why Steinthal had chosen this night. He knew that because of the full moon his night vision equipment could make good use of the available ambient and residual light and he could operate “in the dark” without giving himself away.

Time to put on my googles he thought.

He heard a small creak.

Instinctively he ducked low but something still hit him from behind and from his left. It had struck the top of his shoulder, the backside of his neck and the base of his skull. It was wide whatever it was. And it had only been a glancing blow but Steinthal saw a flash from the impact, heard a ring in his ear, and stumbled forward a few feet. Then as he caught his balance he ran forward another five or six feet and swirled as fast as he could recover.

Someone stood there. A big someone. Big and dark. If it had growled Steinthal might have taken it for a bear. As it was Steinthal thought it might be even more dangerous.

The thing seemed to just pause there as if considering what to do next. Steinthal’s head cleared completely and he started to make for his gun when the shape charged. It came in close almost instantly and surprised Steinthal, not with a jab or a horizontal swing, but with a ferocious right uppercut. Steinthal barely had time to react but twisted some and got his left arm stiffened and intercepted the shot down low. That took most of the punch out but the guy was still so strong that he lifted Steinthal onto the balls of his feet just from the sheer momentum.

Steinthal counterpunched furiously with his right. Hit the guy solidly on the left side of the front of his neck. It should have rocked the guy on his heels, caused him to splutter and choke. He hadn’t hit the trachea but it still would have stunned most men.

As it was the only two things that seemed to happen as far as Steinthal could tell was that it made a sound like the guy had been hit with a wet fish, and the man stepped back one step. He hadn’t even bent over.

Realizing fully what he was now facing, Steinthal swiftly backtracked three or four feet and grabbed his revolver with his right and his combat knife with his left. He had only glanced down for an instance to retrieve his weapons but when he looked up the guy already had a semiautomatic in one hand and a shiny machete in the other. Where the machete had come from Steinthal had no idea but it did impress him.

The guy was now closer to the moonlight. You could partially make him out. Steinthal decided he wasn’t big after all. He was monstrous. But he didn’t look stupid. No, there was a kind of set to his face and a sort of light in his eyes that Steinthal took for real and raw intelligence. Even more dangerous.

There were several moments of tense silence while they pointed their weapons at each other.

“That kind of hurt for such a little fella,” the big guy suddenly said and spit. There might have been some blood mixed in but it was too dark to tell. “What’s your name?”

“Huh?” Steinthal said.

“I said, ‘what’s your name.’ I don’t like having to repeat myself.”

Steinthal cleared his throat.

“John,” he replied. “But most everyone calls me Steinthal.”

The guy seemed to mull over the answer.

“Yeah, you’re the one,” he said as if mentally verifying a fact-sheet.

“What one?” Steinthal asked.

“The one I’m meant to kill tonight,” the big guy said.

“Well then,” Steinthal said. “You’re one up on me. I usually know nothing about most of the people I kill until it is all over.
“Why is that?” the big guy asked.

“Because they tend to ambush me,” replied Steinthal.

The big guy chuckled quietly.

“Well then, are you going to shoot me?” he asked.

“I’d rather not,” Steinthal said warily. “But at this point anything seems possible.”

Seemingly to spite himself the big guy chuckled again.

“I like you.” The big guy said. “You’re funny.”

“Trust me,” Steinthal said. “I’m not trying to be, but if helps any then let’s just go with that.”

The big guy seemed blithe. “Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to snap your neck, but now I sort of like you.”

Steinthal noticed that despite the relaxed and easy going tone of the man’s voice his aim had remained absolutely fixed and his breathing so steady that he seemed motionless. Even while he spoke.

“Yeah, well,” said Steinthal “We all do what we can.”

The guy laughed again. If not for the circumstances then to Steinthal this would have seemed ridiculous.

When the guy finished laughing he said, “Seems kind of a shame now though.”

“Don’t it,” said Steinthal. “But, you know, the guns and all…”

The big guy looked at Steinthal’s revolver.

“I’ve been shot before you know,” he said. “By a lot bigger and more powerful weapons than that. Never killed me.”

“I’ll bet,” said Steinthal. “But there’s always that first time. And I’m pretty damned determined.”

“Also I’m armored,” said the big guy, as if he hadn’t noticed Steinthal’s reply.

“Thanks for the heads up,” said Steinthal. “Now I know where not to aim.”

There was silence again. But no movement.

“Say,” Steinthal finally said. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the distinct feeling you’re not just playing for time here. Do you get the idea that there might be something else going on with this whole affair that neither of us are quite square on? And that maybe we should skip the strangulations and compare notes about in private?”

More silence. But then the big guy shrugged nonchalantly and holstered his gun. It kind of disappeared entirely into the huge black mound that was his chest. But the machete remained. And the guy had never even shifted his gaze.

“Maybe… Probably… Yes. I’ve had that idea for some time now,” he said. “But I didn’t want to make any snap judgements.”

“Yeah,” Steinthal said. “It’s one of the things I appreciate most about you.”

“People think I’m stupid, you know. Because I’m so big,” the big guy said. With a kind of sad resignation that seemed almost fatalistic.

“Well fella,” said Steinthal. “I’m not most people. And whereas you are stupefyingly big, you are most definitely not stupid.”

The guy chuckled again. Then sighed softly.

“You going to lower your gun now?” the big guy asked.

“I’m thinking about it, but, you know, I’m not exactly stupid either.”

The machete clattered to the floor.

“Very nice. Now can you do that with your hands, arms, and most of the rest of you as well?”

The guy smiled in the dark. And it seemed completely friendly.

“Probably not. I come this way,” he said.

“Alright then. I’ll just take your word for it.” And Steinthal holstered his gun and knife.

“Say,” Steinthal said relaxing a little. “Since you know so much about me what say you tell me your name?”

“You’ll laugh,” the big guy replied.

“Well, if I do, then don’t take it personally. I have an excellent sense of humor.”

“Okay then. It’s Maugham,” said the big guy. “William Somerset Maugham. But my friends call me Angus.”

Steinthal whistled. “Well I’ll be damned. I’ve read all your books!

“Yeah,” the big guy looked sheepishly at the ground. “My mother was real big on literature.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” Steinthal said. “But say, you’re a lot bigger in person than you look in the papers. Or the history books.”

“Yeah, I hear that a lot. Well, not a lot. Not recently anyway. Most people don’t read anymore.”

“Yeah, that’s a real shame, ain’t it? But that being what it is I’m not calling you Angus or Bill either,” Steinthal said.

“Well then, what are you going to call me?”

“I’m gonna call you Maugham,” said Steinthal. “Because you remind me of W. Somerset Maugham. If, you know, he had been as big as a damned Angus.”

Maugham nodded.

“What say though we get outta here now Maugham?” Steinthal asked. “Before they send in a troll?”

Maugham shrugged. “Okay. I’m game if you are.”

As they were sneaking out Steinthal said, “Say, what you said back there. Is that true?”

“Is what true?” asked Maugham.

“Do you really have friends?”

Maugham stopped in his tracks and seemed to mull over the question quietly in his mind before replying.

“You know, I’m not really sure.”

“Well,” said Steinthal. “The night is still young. We’ll work at it awhile. Then see what we can come up with. One thing’s for sure though.”

“What’s that?” asked Maugham.

“After tonight I owe you one. If you’ll take friendship as payment then I’ll sure call it square.”

(This is the first meeting between Steinthal and Maugham.)

From The Detective Steinthal.

THE PIXILATED MAN

THE PIXILATED MAN

There are at least two consistent themes running through many (if not most) of my science fiction stories. One is of turning technology (such as data, information, Intel, electrons, etc.) into “solid or substantial things.”

And the other is of people finding multiple uses for a single piece of technology (a design idea I always try to practice when inventing) and of people accidentally discovering hidden or secret functions or uses for common pieces of technology (radios, TVs, satellites, etc).

Well tonight I was studying the etymology of some rare Anglo-Saxon and English words when I ran across this word: Pixilated.

Now pixilated has not the same meaning as our word pixelated but upon reading the definition I immediately saw the parallels. Forward (taking pixelated to its logical conclusion), and backwards (by becoming unpixelated a man becomes, so to speak, also unpixilated).

Pixilated, a very old word, means to be bewitched as if by pixies, or, to be bewildered, confused, charmed, or intoxicated, as if by pixies.

Which made me think immediately of a computer screen and the internet.

I am already writing a story in which a computer and screen basically and accidentally serves as a (Tolkienesque) Palantir-like artefcat. Though it has a second meaning: Palantir the company.

But after reading about being “pixilated” I have also decided to write a parallel story about a pixilated man. Though the way in which he becomes pixilated is by first becoming enpixelated.

Which I think will also serve as a sort of related piece to my Eye in a Distant Sky story.

NOT TO BE OUTMARTYRED

NOT TO BE OUTMARTYRED

“And what of the monk Baelwich?” the boy asked.

Alternaeus smiled gently as he moved objects about the table to his satisfaction. To his apprentice he seemed harried in his manner, but also utterly engrossed and happy at his task.

“Baelwich it is hard not to love. He is fearless, and smart, and cunning, and even wise. He is one of the old monks, the ancient kind of monk,” the Wizard replied. “No matter what the high nobles and the rudely ambitious think of him I count him as one of my most trusted friends. Perhaps even, a kind of brother.”

“But he is still considered a young man, is he not? Surely he may even be younger than you. How is it then that you call him ancient?” The boy seemed genuinely confused by the Wizard’s response, or openly curious as to his true meaning. Or both.

Alternaeus halted at this labors for a moment, raised his eyebrows at the question, and looked directly at his apprentice.

“You mistake my meaning boy. He is an ‘ancient kind of monk,’ not in his mortal years but in his immortal nature. He is very much like the Apostles of old in that he fears no power on or in the Earth. His only concern is God and what is Just and Right. Such men are easy for me to befriend, and once befriended, easy to maintain in my heart. Ignorant men may call my efforts fernal-craft and sorcery, but they understand me not at all. For when it comes to what is truly essential in this world, indeed in any world, of all men there is in me no sorcery at all. Only an enchantment with the Truth.”

The boy considered the remark with some seriousness. Alternaeus returned to his labors and worked until his personal expectations were met and his meticulous arrangements fully completed. When the boy saw that the labor of the Wizard seemed finally finished he risked another inquiry.

“What then of the priest Plontius? Is he also your friend?”

Alternaeus looked at the boy somewhat skeptically and scoffed.

“As long as monks and priests are willing to martyr themselves for God, for the Right, and for the innocent then they are the most courageous and admirable of all men, and have my utmost admiration and respect. Such is Baelwich.

Yet monks and priests who watch other men struggle with wrong and will neither physically fight that injustice, nor risk the martyring of themselves to prevent such evils have neither my Earthly esteem nor the friendship of my soul.”

The boy nodded twice thoughtfully at the reply but continued to stare at the Wizard as if he still wished a more direct answer to his questions.

Seeing this Alternaeus said, “To be blunt boy, and to be brutal to your brutishness, I think little and less of the small priest Plontius. He is no friend of mine, and often I wonder if he is even a man at all.”

From the tales of Alternaeus the Wizard

GOODLY EVILS, AND THE EVILS OF “THE GOOD” – TUESDAY’S TALE

Continuing my tales of the Wizard Alternaeus and his apprentice.

GOODLY EVILS, AND THE EVILS OF “THE GOOD”

“I have no satisfactory answer for you lad. Because to this very day, my boy, I am still amazed at those quantities and diversities of important things that evil men will fearlessly attempt over the paltry count of those same things that good men will attempt. Not because evil men are so much more numerous than good men, they are certainly not, if anything they are the distinct minority of all men. Nor because evil men are so much greater than good men, because by both inner nature and by outward behavior, they are not.

No, it has been my perpetual and sad observation that evil triumphs so often in this world not because evil is so irresistibly inconquerable in number, or because evil is so inherently imposing in nature, but merely because men who profess themselves to be good are so very often so very, very afraid.

Now that might very well seem to you like a bleak prophecy about the nature of men in general and the rather uncommon occurrence of real manhood in this world. And to be honest it truly is. But as far as foretelling what you must become, or any man must necessarily be, it says nothing about either of those things by any means.

So, if you have heard and understood all that I have said then this is the only answer I have for you. For all of that, still, be a good boy, and an even better man. For those two ends are very worthy ambitions.

Just remember this though as you mature; be yet far more courageous than most self-described good men.

For to be good without courage is no real ambition at all. And as a matter of fact it is the timid good man who is the certain mid-wife and the sure wet-nurse of most of the goodly evils that men do.”

Alternaeus the Wizard to his young apprentice.

SUBJECT MATTERS FOR THE CHRISTIAN LAYMAN

A LIST OF SOME OF THE SUBJECTS AND SUBJECT MATTERS I PLAN TO ADDRESS IN MY BOOKS THE CHRISTIAN HERO, THE CHRISTIAN WIZARD, AND THE CHRISTIAN SAINT

These are more general subjects and not specifically geared towards the peculiarities of any of them. I had planned on further developing these today but my wife needs me to take her to the airport today. These are only recent Subject-Matter additions to the books as they are further developed.

And although these books are addressed to the Christian Layman I think that I shall develop a different term for him/her that shall encompass all of the aspects I mean by Layman, such as: worker, disciple, hero, wizard, (lay or common man’s) saint, and skilled spiritual and psychological craftsman.

I shall have to think on the term first of course, and all that it should imply.

SELF-EDUCATION/AUTO-EDUCATION

DISEASE

INJURY

REST AND RECOVERY

VACATIONS

AVOCATIONS

VOCATIONS

SOCIAL ACTIVITIES

TRAINING

WORK – beneficial, good, profitable, productive, clean

THEURGICAL PRACTICE

THEURGICAL WORK

FORMS OF BENEFICIAL ENTERTAINMENT, RECREATION, AND

HEALTH AND HEALING

RESEARCH AND STUDIES

VIRTUES

NAMES

STEWARDSHIP

RELATIONSHIP TO NATURE

THEORIES

GEAR AND EQUIPMENT

CREATING YOUR OWN OBJECTS AND POSSESSIONS

SUB-CREATION

PURSUITS – ARTISTIC, BUSINESS, FINANCIAL, INVESTED, MENTAL, PHYSICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL, RELIGIOUS, SCIENTIFIC, SPIRITUAL

TREASURES AND TREASURE HOARDS

HEIRLOOMS

ARTEFACTS AND RELICS

ANIMAL COMPANIONS

PARCHMENTS, SCROLLS, AND WRITINGS

NOTEBOOKS

ANCESTORS AND ANTECEDENTS

CHILDREN AND DESCENDANTS

WHO SHOULD TRAIN TO BE A WIZARD, THEURGIST, OR PSIKONIST

EXPLORATION AND VADDING

GRACES, GIFTS, AND TALENTS

ABILITIES, CAPACITIES, CAPABILITIES, AND SKILLS

ATHLETICS, EXERCISE, PHYSICAL CONDITIONING, AND SPORTS

SACRED SPACES

THEURGICAL SPHERES? AND RITUAL ARENAS

AREAS OF BEAUTY AND LIFE

SIN AND SINCERE REPENTANCE

TYPES OF SIN: INTENTIONAL AND UNINTENTIONAL

THE SEVEN STAGES OF REPENTANCE: RECOGNITION, REMORSE, RECOMPENSE and RESTITUTION, RECTIFICATION, RESOLUTION, REPENTANCE, REFORM

CHRISTIAN LOVE (PHILOS AND AGAPE)

FORGIVENESS: GOD’S FORGIVENESS AND MAN’S FORGIVENESS

WHAT CAN THE CHRISTIAN OR CHRISTIAN LAYMAN TRULY DO ABOUT REAL EVIL?

THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN ON EARTH

THE CHRISTIAN LAYMAN AS MISSIONARY

THE CHRISTIAN LAYMAN AS INFILTRATOR

THE CHRISTIAN LAYMAN AS AMBASSADOR OF CHRIST

THE OPEN WORK AND THE SECRET WORK

REVERSING WRONG

POSSIBLE SPECIALISTS (SUB-CLASSES OR SUB-TYPES)? CRUSADER, EXPLORER, ADVENTURER / SAGE, PROTO-SCIENTIST or NATURAL SCIENTIST, PSYCOPHYSICIAN / SEER, COUNSELOR,

HOW THE CHRISTIAN LAYMAN’S HOLY VOCATIONS SHOULD RELATE TO HIS PROFESSIONAL AND MUNDANE OCCUPATIONS AND VOCATIONS

APPRENTICES, APPRENTICESHIPS, AND DISCIPLESHIP

THE LORD AS THE GREAT MASTER

PROMOTING THE GOSPEL

CONVERSION AND THE LAYMAN’S PATHS

THE LAYMAN’S WEAL

THE WORLD’S WELFARE

THE PROVIDENCE AND PROVENANCE OF GOD

BEING “LED”

YOUR PERSONAL CALLING

OCCULT KNOWLEDGE AND GNOSTICISM VERSUS RARE KNOWLEDGE AND RARELY PRACTICED NOESIS

MYSTICISM AND THE MYSTERIES OF GOD

THE SUPERNATURAL AND HOW IT MAY BE DEFINED

ACTION AND ENTERPRISE

MORTALITY AND IMMORTALITY

YOUR LIFE’S WORK (OPAE VITAE)

SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF GOD

DISCIPLES AND FRIENDS OF CHRIST

HOST AND HOME OF THE HOLY GHOST

IT’S ONE OR THE OTHER

IT’S ONE OR THE OTHER

“Yeah, well now, time might not heal all wounds but it will either significantly assure that you will succeed on time, or dramatically increase the odds that you won’t. Now how that works out precisely is pretty much up to you, but if I were you I’d spend less time bitching about your wounds and more time getting your ass up off the ground so we can succeed in getting the hell outta here.”

The Detective Steinthal

IN FURY AND FRUSTRATION

IN FURY AND FRUSTRATION

The boy stared searchingly at Alternaeus.

“But she will die,” he said urgently.

Alternaeus looked down at the girl and then over to the boy. Then he sighed deeply, but answered stoically.

“It seems very likely to me that you speak the truth,” he told the boy.

“But, but…” the boy stammered in near desperation. “You cannot let that happen, you must not let that happen.”

Alternaeus placed his hand lightly on the boy’s shoulder and shook his head.

“You are now my apprentice. You must learn this lesson sooner, or later, yet I would have preferred you had learned this one thing, at least, by another and more hopeful method.

I am only a Wizard boy. I am not God, or a god. Some things lie far beyond my power. Death is one of those things. True, Death and I are old friends, and on occasion I can persuade him. But sometimes Death listens to no man. No matter who he may be. Or who he might think he is. I have earnestly tried in this case to persuade Death favorably for the sake of the girl. With little effect it seems to me.”

There was a long moment of silence while the boy looked at the girl and made no reply. The owl was preening itself on his wooden stand. It was the only sound that could be heard clearly in the room. Otherwise the entire tower seemed little more than a tomb to Alternaeus.

The boy shook his head in disbelief, but slowly seemed to sense the atmosphere.

“But you are a Wizard…” the boy said, yet his manner seemed more subdued, or possibly even resigned, and his voice was lower and less demanding.

Alternaeus gently squeezed the boy’s shoulder and lowering himself to his knee brought himself down to the boy’s sitting height.

“A Wizard is only a Wizard my son. Sometimes that is the greatest thing in the world – the most grand, and magnificent, and possibly even the best thing in this world. But it is only one thing of a very many possible things in this world. And because of that, knowing what I know, seeing what you see, being aware of what we are aware, and still on occasion understanding that we are powerless to stop what is truly wrong in this world makes being a Wizard a wondrously lonely and a miraculously terrible thing as well.” The Wizard paused and looked hard at the boy to gauge his reaction. But the boy looked only at the girl.

“Do you understand?” Alternaeus asked him at last.

Finally the boy turned and looked at the Wizard, tears welling in his eyes. In a choked and thick voice the boy replied.

“Yes sir… but, no, sir,” he said with a struggle. “Does it even matter? For what good then will it do me to become such a Wizard? What good then has it done for you to become such a Wizard?”

Alternaeus reached over and took the girl’s soft but cold hand and placed it into the boy’s rough but warm hand. Then he answered truthfully.

“I have no answer to give you boy. Indeed, I have no real answer to give myself. Other than the hope that one day, possibly, we both shall know.”

Then Alternaeus rose and walked quietly from the room. He shut the door silently behind him and left the boy and girl to whatever awaited them. It was well beyond his ability to influence now, no matter what he may wish, or what he might do. There was no need to linger, and no point to watch.

Then Alternaeus descended the steps until he came to the floor of the tower where he crossed the gritty stone, opened the heavy oak door and walked out into the bright sunshine. He continued walking and did not stop for several miles until he came to the marshes at the bend of the river where he saw a young songbird flitting about the reeds, tweeting loudly, playing energetically, watching the water for a meal, and perhaps even looking for a mate. It was, after all, early springtime.

Then Alternaeus sat himself down upon a large rock beside the river and clenching both fists in fury and frustration wept like a small child.

from The Tales of Alternaeus the Wizard

RUNNING THE TABLE

RUNNING THE TABLE

“A modern investigation is simply another way of saying that nothing of any real importance will ever be truly resolved, nor anyone of any real consequence ever tried or convicted.

Therefore fuck their investigation. I’m after Justice, and if possible the prevention of future evil. Let them investigate. If they wish to do so. That will keep them out of my way effectively enough.

As for me I have an entirely different goal. And the intent to go with it.

We’ll see in the end who has the most success. But if I were a betting man Maugham I’d run the table.

Because God-damnit, and you know I mean this, I’m gonna run the fucking table.”

And as he listened to his friend a sort of weird and horrific chill ran up Maugham’s spine.

from The Detective Steinthal

THE CRAFT OF FOREIGN FEATHERSTONES

THE CRAFT OF FOREIGN FEATHERSTONES

I thought that I had injured
That with which I thought
Only then to understand
The fault that I had wrought,

My imagination
Turning as it slept
Found itself abandoned
While to other lands I crept,

The hills of high philosophy
The mountains of the moon
The blood of war, the boatman’s fee
(That endless shore, an anchored leevariant line)
Upon these I was hewn,

The craft of foreign featherstones
A science, or an art?
What matter to that one dethroned
Whose will will soon depart?

Clever in the market stalls
Cunning in the wares
What happens when intent appalled
Is taken unawares?

Creation is a fakir’s cheat
The muses whores of fate
Yet man is just an instrument
Come often, or come late,

If he would be a better thing
He must to something else
Bend himself in constant chase
And sometimes so with stealth,

For he commands that lofty globe
Granted him by God,
Yet even so, he must still show
He knows of the façade,

For art is nothing but the world
Dressed up as if were true,
Therefore man has no real art
Without what he first grew,

Within his mind, upon his heart
He wrote, he sketched, he drew
Then he found that thing profound
When nothing yet is due

Thus (and therefore),

Art can nothing to this world
It did not first possess,
Yet turning so with twisted charms
Man does acquiesce

That in himself creation roams
Seeking whom (and what) to eat, but
First that man must eat this world
For him to be complete…

__________________________________________

Usually I post my verse on Mondays. For First Verse.

But I have been very busy lately and have had scant time for composition. Today though a friend of mine mentioned something about “creation” and since he is an artist I went ahead and wrote a poem I’ve been meaning to write awhile on the subject of art and creation anyway.

I have my own definition for the term “featherstone” in relation to creation and art. Or indeed in relation to anything at all.

I use it in this way: it refers to a magical or mythological Xoanon (that falls from the heavens and is taken as a god or carven into an idol and worshiped), to a thing that cannot in reality exist (because it is entirely self-contradictory), to polish away all of the weight of a thing and leave behind only the most opposite (and usually useless) thing, and even to Potmos, and the Residuum.

By foreign featherstone I mean that featherstone not native to one’s self, or that featherstone one must seek out elsewhere or that lures one elsewhere.

THE NECESSARY MAN

THE NECESSARY MAN

Vlachus laughed at his commander and freely drank of the dark wine.

“Spoken as a true soldier. But let me speak as a former farmer and a monk of God. There is much pleasure, my friend, in the creation of new life. That is indeed true. Yet there is an even greater joy in the fostering of it.

Any man may plow the field, and enjoy the swift and sweet sweat of that labor. Yet only the True Husbandman labors long at the profit and the produce of the fruit. Sow where you can commander, but gather where you may. And if you see another field untended and the crops therein languishing to fail then are you not lawfully allowed to step into it that field and harvest what was already planted so that they are wasted not? Indeed, are you not obligated to do so?”

Marsippius looked at Vlachus in consideration of his speech, but then opened his hands as if in supplication or supposition to the priest.

“And what of you?” Marsippius asked. “Are you unfit to reap what others have sown? Are you not also obligated?”

Vlachus handed Marsippius the wineskin. Marsippius immediately noticed how much emptier it seemed. Then Vlachus wiped his mouth upon his long decorated sleeve, rubbed his hands briskly together, placed them closer to the fire and glanced admiringly upwards at the bright alien stars. Finally he looked back across the flames and drifting smoke at his friend.

“Oh, I am certainly fit to reap and even still to sow,” Vlachus said, his long untended beard casting weird shadows in the firelight and making his face seem momentarily made more of ethereal questions than earthly answers. “Nevertheless I am a monk. I would make a far better grandfather I think than a sire. This child though needs a father. A real father, truly known and knowing. You are an excellent, if sometimes uneven commander of men, Marsippius Nicea. Furthermore I suspect that you are already a fine father as well. And would be so again if necessary. The question you must ask yourself is this: are you now the necessary man?”

Marsippius sighed and rubbed his scarred sword hand through his now lengthening hair. Vlachus’ gaze seemed to him extraordinarily bright and perceptive in the uneven light of the struggling fire.

“You are also, I have seen, an unfailingly honest man,” Vlachus said. “So, if I have spoken in error of you then correct me now.”

Marsippius studied the monk’s face for a long while, and then his gaze fell back into the fire. He would not say what he saw there, and he did not answer his friend.

Vlachus of Armenia (The Myrelaion Monk) to Marsippius Nicea, Commander of the Basilegate

From the Kithariune

KELBRAE AND THE KITHARIUNE

This (concept, idea) actually occurred to me as a dream this morning right before I woke. It will now go into my various novels about Iÿarlðma (the Kithariune).

To be used as a plot device.

And it will likely go into my various games and role play games (in modified form, of course) to also be used as a plot device.

KELBRAE, KELBRURAE, and KELBRAE-ILAR

Kelbrae is a certain type of secret writing used in Iÿarlðma that is usually inscribed upon parchment in Eldeven ideographic or pictographic symbols (and far more rarely in Elturgical glyphs) though theoretically it can be inscribed on almost anything. It usually consists of raised letters or symbols not unlike a pictographic form of human braille. However by running one’s hand over the Kelbraec script pictures or symbols or ideas are transmitted directly to the mind of the “reader” rather than “reading Kelbrae” being a process of touch interpretation of letter or word symbols, as with braille. Kelbrae is usually written in an open or visible script (rather than in Elturgical glyphs) though it is still Elturgical in nature and therefore only the intended recipient or reader can usually “read” or interpret it. Others who attempt to read it either envision nothing in the chamber of their mind or sometimes they receive false or confused notions of the real message contained in the script.

If the message is important enough the Kelbraec script can be written in Elturgical glyphs which are rendered invisible or camouflaged from anyone other than the intended recipient of the true message. Kelbrae constructed in this way can be usually be placed onto almost any object or item and can even be written in such a way as to fade away entirely or even to destroy or dissolve the object onto which it has been placed once it is successfully deciphered or the message successfully transmitted to the proper recipient. Kelbrae formed in this way are called Kelbrurae.

There is a final known form of Kelbrae called Kelbrae-Ilar. Kelbrae-ilar is typically constructed and written in such a way as to transmit a deception or falsehood even to the intended recipient or reader. It is designed specifically as a trick, a delusion (sometimes as an actual illusion), or as a form of trap. As a trap the Kelbrae-ilar will sometimes not only convey false information but may also confuse or erase the memory of the reader, convince the reader a false message must be true, render the reader temporally paranoid, sicken or disease the reader, curse the reader, or the message or object upon which it is written may even catch fire or explode. Ilar means, variously, to malign, a secret, to blacken, or a thorn.

OLD MAN FUNNY

OLD MAN FUNNY

Maugham laughed at the smartass remark, and then said, “Man, I wish I were as naturally funny as you.”

“Natural, hell,” Steinthal answered shaking his head. “My old man bred it into me. Nothing natural about that.”

Maugham looked at his friend quizzically.

“Seems like to me,” Maugham said almost reprovingly. “That there is everything natural about that.”

Steinthal looked at his friend as if considering what he had said.

“Yeah, you got a point I guess,” Steinthal replied. “But you’d just have to know my old man. He bred funny.”

from The Detective Steinthal

THE SECRET ACCORD

My opinion is this. A man’s true Word-Hoard isn’t just what he knows, for not all coins are of the same weight and measure. Rather his true Word-Hoard is what his treasures will buy and sell, and often and uppermost, in secret…

 

THE SECRET ACCORD

I dug a Word Hoard
Connate and wide
To bury the Wealth
That often abides
When the Weal and the Wisdom
That cannot be spread
By exchange in the markets
Still dwells, it is said,
In the bed of Procrustes
Asleep for awhile
In dreams made of amber
For this mind of exile
Has mastered the tongue
Of the treasures beneath
Subterranean efforts
In caverns replete
The facade of the fashion
A looking-glass hall
Where the hordes
Glom the gilt-work
And the herd is a-stall
There’s an ark, and an archway
A cup dipped in brass
For written upon it
Inscribed is a task
In proesy a notion
An omen you say
That word is prophetic
Indemic, assay
What you will
Of what cannot be termed
For the fire is sire
As the Worm of it turns
Broken and paltry
Forgotten and lost
The Latin beneath us
The Greek at all cost
The Wales of the Harlech
The Angles at Wrox
Gold-banded the cold Danes
With the Norsemen at bay
All did they answer
More did they say
Of the Word-Hoard we carry
When tarry we will
At the heart-spring
Of language
That flows from us still
Neath that Selenic moot
When nothing may be
‘Cept the terms that you loot
When demanding you seek
To be understood
In the things that you know
When the other is clever
Ingenious and bold
Having bled in his efforts
To get a Word-Hoard
He can share with his brothers
With a secret accord.

THE DARK

I’M NOT A LOSER, BUT I DO KNOW THE DARK

You know, it’s funny. I never actually feel like a “loser.” I have absolute confidence in my own capabilities and talents. No worries for me there. Never have been. I don’t face personal doubts about myself. I have limits, I know them well. I have many extraordinary abilities. I know that too and precisely what they are. I also understand that usually my extraordinary abilities far outweigh my limitations.

On the other hand I do often feel like the Batman sitting atop a gargoyle 60 stories up in the pouring rain on a cold, moonless, pitch black night completely unnoticed and scanning the city for some sign of life. Which is exactly the way it is supposed to work when you’re the Batman.

When you’re a writer though… well, the dark is not your friend.

It’s Normal to Feel Like a Loser

by Michelle Griep

So you’re writing a novel, la-de-dah. Typing away like a rock star. Day after day after day.

After day.

And then, out of nowhere, whap! A horrific thought slaps you upside the head, yanking you out of the story and paralyzing you so that your daily word count takes a serious nosedive. Suddenly you wonder if you’re an author, that maybe all the things you write are just slobbery bits of drivel bubbling out of you. Panic sets in. Perhaps you’re not a for-real writer. Maybe you’re an impostor. A poser. An orangutan mimicking kissy noises in front of a mirror. Or worse — maybe the zombie apocalypse really did happen and you’re nothing but a body operating on rote memory because shoot, if you read what you’ve written, those words certainly look like a person with no brain wrote them.

Or maybe you’re just a loser.

Never fear, little writer. I’m here to tell you that you’re not a loser. You’re normal. Every writer hits this point at some time in every single manuscript they write — and sometimes more than once. Hating your writing and feeling like pond scum is par for the course. Why?

Because creation is the process of making something out of nothing, and that something takes blood, sweat, and tears to mold into a beautiful masterpiece.

Think about this . . . Babies don’t pop out of their mothers all smiley faced and swaddled in fluffy rubber ducky blankies. They come out screaming and howling, all mucked up with oobie-goobies and require a good cleaning and lots of love. You don’t think that mom had second doubts during the heat of labor? She’d have packed up and gone home at that point if she could.

That’s how it works for your story, too. Don’t pack it up. Press on through the birth pains. Push out that ugly story so that it can be cleaned off and wrapped up into a beautiful book cover.

The only way out is through, folks, no matter how you feel. Take your hand off your forehead (yes, I see that big “L” you’re making with your forefinger and thumb) and get those fingers on your keyboard instead.

KNAVES AND FOOLS

KNAVES AND FOOLS, BOYS AND WIZARDS

Suddenly Alternaeus looked up to see the boy standing beside him. How long the boy may have stood there patiently waiting for him to finish or may have attempted to summon him from his numinous labors he knew not.

He looked back down at the grael. The roiling and lotic liquid was lentic and smooth again, untroubled and clear. Not a shadow lingered, not a ripple disturbed the surface or the depths. It was as if the grael were one more and without any apparent transition a spotless and terrene lens by which to view our naïve and evident world. Or at least some sort of polished glass to see blemishless to the bottom of the Black Sea. From whose distant waters Alternaeus had filled the grael.

“What is it boy?” Alternaeus asked.


“You are summoned sir.”

“By whom, to where, and for what possible reason?”

“I know not the reason sir, I am but a boy,” he said. “But it is by the lord Drew and by master Iter, and to the main hall and hearth. They wish to converse with you, I think.”

“I see,” Alternaeus answered. He rose stiffly. How long had he sat hunched over the bowl this time he wondered?

The boy stepped back with that certain kind of awe reserved for children in the presence of people they considered dangerous or miraculous in some way.

“Did I disturb you sir?” he asked Alternaeus with unfeigned reverence.

“What?” the Wizard asked. Then realizing the boy’s intent he smiled sympathetically and said, “No more so than usual.”

“What I mean is sir, were you able to finish? I waited as long as I dared to signal you as I feared you might be deep in some vital craft I cannot understand,” the boy said in a hushed tone. “But my masters demanded you come quickly.”

Alternaeus placed his hand lightly upon the boy’s shoulder.

“You did well lad. However you reacted. Though I was merely in my private communions. Nothing more. I will come with you shortly. I need merely drain this grael and wash my face and hands. Wait for me at the door.”

“Yes sir,” the boy said, but he did not move.

Alternaeus noticed his non-compliance and motioned for the boy to speak again.

The boy hesitated but then pointed at the grael.

“Is your cup enchanted? Or is this more a cauldron for mixing poisons and curses?”

Alternaeus almost laughed.

“I mix medicines, not poisons. And that requires a mortar, not a cup. Also I never curse anyone or anything. Well, only once have I ever done so. And that ended very badly. This then is neither a Warlock’s cauldron nor a Wizard’s cup. This is but my grael.”

“The Lord’s Grail!” the boy said too loudly and in shock.

“Lower your voice boy, and no, not the Lord’s Grail,” Alternaeus answered firmly. “Though I would certainly pay all I have or know to but discover and examine it for a short time. No, this is but a far less impressive thing. This is my Grael of Spirits.”

The boy considered the meaning of the answer.

“Do you then call up and speak with the dead sir?” the boy whispered, conscious of his manners this time, but still awed. “That seems very impressive to me.”

“Perhaps to you it might.” Alternaeus said. “But, no, you err again, but only from inexperience. I do not call up and speak with the dead, or with any spirits. I am forbidden to converse with or to seek the counsel of the dead or of any spirit not of this world. I merely watch them, and mark their habits, and from time to time see what I may learn by my observations.”

The boy nodded slightly, then continued with his inquiry.

“My mother, sir, says that those who practice traffick with the dead are damned and should be avoided at all times. For the good of my soul. Should I therefore avoid you?”

“Your mother is wise,” Alternaeus answered. “It is a hard enough thing and a complicated enough thing just to try to understand the living and those who inhabit this world. One should not place too much emphasis on the actions of those in other worlds. Their behaviors and motivations are indeed very hard to read, their worlds are yet alien to us, and we can know little of their true intent.”

The boy was quiet and pensive for a moment.

“You are a very strange Wizard sir,” he said after a while.

Alternaeus laughed.

“You think so? Then help me boy to drain this grael and to return these waters to their proper vessels. Your masters await us and my strange assistance.”

“Yes lord,” the boy said with a slight bow.

“And never call me lord. I am no man’s lord, and have no desire to be,” Alternaeus insisted.

“Yes sir,” the boy replied. “But I am not a man,” he then protested as an afterthought.

“You come much closer than many men I have known for far longer.”

“Yes, lor… yes sir.”

Alternaeus pointed out the vessels for storing the waters and when the boy had fetched them they set about their task. Then, after completing their work the boy walked to the door and Alternaeus ritually cleaned his hands and face in a small pewter basin.

“There,” he said. “Let us now see what lord Drew and master Iter require of me. Then, after that is concluded, you will return to this chamber and explain to me how and why you know such much for a mere serving boy, and how your language has flourished so being as you are so often surrounded by knaves and fools.”

“Yes, sir,” the boy answered doubtfully. “But if I do will you promise not to hex me?”

“Oh, I may do far worse than that,” Alternaeus said craftily.

“Sir?” asked the boy, his eyes widening in surprise.

“I may very well apprentice you…”

from The Wizard and the Wyrdpack

Note to my Readers: Recently I have been moving between my main novel, this novel, my detective novel, and writing short stories. So I’ve been posting here some of my work as I have been creating it. Just been in one of those moods.

Hope you have been enjoying it.

And have a good weekend folks…

IS THERE NOTHING ELSE?

IS THERE NOTHING ELSE?              

“You look very young to be a Wizard I should say,” she replied confidently, and yet quite demurely.

“Yes, well,” Alternaeus said, staring at her searchingly for a moment. “I’ve never been as young as I look my dear. Or as young as I desired to be. But some things are not within our mortal sphere of action, choice, or circumstance. Though once, long ago it now seems, I was almost young enough to wish to remain happy for a while. But, as with most things, Fortune did not favor me.

I suppose, now that you have made me reconsider my unlikely fate, that my lifelong argument with Fortune is perhaps the chief reason I became as I you see me now.”

“Sir?” she asked. “Mayhaps I do not fully comprehend. You seem to me the very most fortunate of all men. Kings consult thee, lords fear thee, wise men seek thy company, men of war avoid vexing you, high and low churchman both look upon you with some measure of real wonder, women seek thy weird but alluring charms, and I have even heard that demons and many other forms of diverse spirits bow before thee and thy power.”

He placed the instrument he held back upon the table very carefully, as if he exaggerated in his own mind some memory of it, and then turned his attention solely to her once more.

“Indeed, my lady. If only men were what was said of them then our reputations would be our lives. And our portion in life. But we do not so easily gainsay Good Fortune, or Evil Fortune, or our unsleeping and jealous God.”

She smoothed the folds of her gown, moved closer to him, touched his hand and looked studiously into his face.

“Are you indeed only a man, sir Wizard?” she asked him questioningly.

He sighed. Deeply.

“I am, in both nature and in deed, only a man, my good lady,” he answered sincerely.

“Is there then nothing else?” she inquired.

“Indeed,” he whispered wistfully. “Is there nothing else?”

Alternaeus the Wizard and the lady Cynewise

from the Wizard and the Wyrdpack

https://www.artmajeur.com/en/art-gallery/amelni/258892/663-jpg/7539862

YOU CAN NEVER GET TOO MUCH PRACTICE

YOU CAN NEVER GET TOO MUCH PRACTICE

“Maugham, do you remember that time a few years back when I drew my revolver on you and shot you in the face with a blank round?”

“Hell yes I do,” said Maugham. “Scared the shit out of me. I thought you were really going to shoot me.”

“I did shoot you, you idiot. Just not with a bullet. But tell me, what lesson did you draw from that?”

Maugham looked at his friend, then squinted.

“Never assume I guess,” he answered.

“Then you drew the wrong lesson. The real lesson was ‘always assume.’ That the other person is dangerous. Cause they are.” Steinthal countered.

Maugham looked thoughtful for a moment.

“What are you saying then?”

“I’m saying that just because she is pretty and sexy, and nice, and smells good, is fine in bed and is maybe even sincere doesn’t mean she won’t shoot you in the face. If she needs or wants to. As a matter of fact maybe she already has and you’ve been too busy or too stupid to notice.”

Maugham looked thoughtful again. That’s twice in one day Steinthal thought. Hat trick coming?

“Yeah, I guess love will do that to you,” Maugham finally conceded.

“Or being pussy-whipped by the wrong woman,” Steinthal said. “Or, even the right one. Take it from a man who knows.”

Maugham nodded as if he agreed, at least in theory. After a moment or two of silence though he turned sinister to look straight at his friend.

“By the way. I never asked you Steinthal. Why did you shoot me in the face with that blank?”

“Because someone else tried it on me.”

“They shot you in the face with a blank,” Maugham asked, kind of surprised.

“Not exactly,” Steinthal said. “They tried to shoot me in the face with a live round. Luckily they missed.”

“Was it a lady?” Maugham asked.

“Hard to say,” Steinthal replied. “You never really know about that kind of thing nowadays, do ya?”

Maugham laughed.

“So then, you were trying to forewarn me?”

Steinthal smiled broadly. Then he clapped his friend on the shoulder.

“Maybe. That, or I just needed the practice. You can never get too much practice shooting someone in the face.”

“Yeah,” said Maugham kind of wistfully. “I’ve had the same thought myself once or twice.”

Steinthal smiled again. But this time he kept it to himself.

from The Detective Steinthal

THE CHRISTIAN WIZARD

THE CHRISTIAN WIZARD

I now have about 75 pages typed of the Christian Wizard with about half that raw text and the other half notes for section and chapter development. But I have much more done on it already.

Just in hand manuscript form.

THE STHENICIST

THE STHENICIST

I’ve been thinking about this for awhile now. I’ve started a new sci-fi story I’ve entitled The Sthencist. It will take place in the future and for about 2/3rds of the way through it will seem like an interesting (but not a spectacular) Mundane Science Fiction story.

Then it will take a really hard turn…

GOOD NIGHT LADIES…

GOOD NIGHT LADIES…

“Oh, I understand you completely madam, but, perhaps not in the way you presume I do. You see the thing that may disturb me the most, it certainly repulses me the most, about you supposedly ‘civilized people‘ is that you are always unfailingly polite, and extremely well-mannered, and pretentiously and profusely diplomatic. Your high ideals are on constant display for all to hear, and although I rarely see them or detect them in actual action, I must say they get a whole lot of airplay on rebroadcast.

On the other hand the pointless wrongs you people encourage, the self-absorbed misdeeds you recklessly commit, and the evils you so callously allow strike me as rather atrocious. Just. Fucking. Atrocious.”

Suddenly her serving man snorted. Or scoffed. It was difficult to say which but otherwise he remained unmoving and at attention. Steinthal carried on as if he had failed to notice.

“So please excuse me if I decline any further excuse to endure your company. I suddenly feel the need to take a hard, dirty shit. And probably a long shower.

Good night my dear. Good night ladies.

Let’s not do this again, real soon.”

Steinthal placed his untouched whiskey glass back upon the silver serving plate, tapped the phone in his trouser pockets, then turned and walked for the door.

Just before reaching it he turned again and bowed graciously.

“My apologies. That was rude and somewhat misleading. I’ve reconsidered. Let’s not do this again – ever.”

Then he left.

The Detective Steinthal

SHE SWEPT THE LAKE: UP WILL COME

The other night a buddy of mine posted this image to my Facebook page wondering if it would interest me. It did. And so I wrote the following poem to accompany it.

Avantgardens. Willow effigy by Olga Ziemska.

SHE SWEPT THE LAKE

(Up Will Come)

She swept the lake
A conjured doom
She rose in haste
From threaded looms
The twisted vines
Across the stones
Did thrash and twine
As if alone
She wailed her torment –

In effigy

Sprang from the Earth
Yet not redeemed

An omen of an ancient kind
A living curse, a knotted sign

Evoked in vengeance
Shaped by awe
Of blood resent
And rootless gnawed

Some witch has woven
Of her spite
A kindred soul
To seek delight

To haunt and drive
With fearsome rage
Another down
Into her age

For up will come
That from our souls
In weaving wrong
Is all foretold

And birthing it will
Monsters mold
Of longing hot
And hatreds cold…

WHY WOULD HE?

WHY WOULD HE?

“I should think the answer would be self-evident, even to you. Why would I wish to have adventures only in my mind when I should have them with my body and soul as well? In his own mind a man is always but an unchallenged and untested king upon an imaginary golden throne of plenty. But to thrive in the world about him he must be something far greater, far more cunning, more dangerous, and far more wise – a Wizard of Many Things.”

Alternaeus the Wizard

(from The Wizard and the Wyrdpack)

YEAH, I EAT THAT AS WELL

YEAH, I EAT THAT AS WELL

“I do not simply ‘let things go as they will’ my friend. That is not my way. That has never been my way. Rather, I gnaw at things until they crack and I can reach the marrow. Then I eat that as well.”

Alternaeus the Wizard

from The Wizard and the Wyrdpack

THE SHERIFF AS CHIEFTAIN, AND THE CHIEFTAIN AS SHERIFF

THE SHERIFF AS CHIEFTAIN, AND THE CHIEFTAIN AS SHERIFF

I was studying folklore and legend and myth and history last night when it suddenly occurred to me that a sheriff is really just the hold over from the local ancient (Anglo-Saxon) Chieftain. Except modern sheriffs tend to be elected (and are therefore popular chieftains again, in most cases) rather than appointed, as in later Medieval times.

Don’t know why it had never occurred to me to think of sheriffs as chieftains before, especially given the etymology of the word, which I knew, shire-reeve, but it didn’t. Not at least in the truly ancient sense of chieftain, not as a king-thane but as independent local Chieftain, who must approve of and support the king for the king to reign. That is, my idea of sheriff was sort of stuck in the Christian era/Medieval concept of sheriff as king-thane (kingsman) and had not truly stretched back to “ancient chieftain,” as both law-keeper and judge, and local ruler, or chief (high man).

Why do I mention this? A few reasons. This made me think of the recent (that’s right, believe it or not this was only a few weeks back in time) dispute between sheriff’s all across the country and the Obama administration. Of how the sheriff’s were moving more and more and once again to the idea of being “local law chieftains” rather than merely king’s men or king’s servants. Except in many big cities, of course, where you are far more likely to have sycophantic court men (king’s men) called police chiefs anyway. (Not independent Chieftains, but king’s chiefs, or king’s-law chiefs.)

Secondly, and far more importantly regarding my own ideas, I have been wondering how to work in to my own fantasy novels a truly powerful underground movement of sheriff’s (not the modern idea of a sheriff, but the far more ancient one) who both oppose the government and take it upon themselves to act as a front line militia and frontier’s force against border invaders and skirmishers – as a prelude to a far more extensive and permanent invasion by enemy forces. These sheriffs (they won’t be called sheriffs, but the idea will be the same) will operate both in defiance of the appointed local, state, and kingdom governments and in a manner of real desperation because they know exactly what is coming but can’t convince the urbanites and city-dwelling governments what truly approaches. Therefore they must operate much as the Rangers did in Tolkien’s work (who if you ask me were a sort of militia sheriff/guerrilla force who operated with the knowledge of and supposed sanction of the government but often against government wishes) to try and lessen or perhaps redirect invasion routes but are desperate for full support which they are mocked for by the urbanites/governments (and real governments are always truly urbanite undertakings as rural areas don’t need governments they only need assemblies, sheriff’s, and citizen militias) that scoff at their concerns.

Third, I have for a very long time been working into my fantasy novels the idea of a Lone or Wandering (Circuit) Sheriff, a guy who takes it upon himself to wander about areas of the frontier to conduct spying missions and ambushes against enemy forces and enemy skirmishers and criminals and to keep the local peace. This guy is entirely self-appointed and a vigilante (not in the modern sense of the term but in the ancient, Roman Vigilant-sense) and is a combination of the ancient sheriff idea described above, a spy, a frontiersman survivalist, a scout, and a peace-keeper. Much as the Regulators here in SC were in the pre-Revolutionary War days.

Many people consider this man a hero, others an outright thug or at least a dangerous nuisance (especially city dwellers and those in government). He will be both one of the heroes and the anti-heroes of my novel(s). But more and more I am now moving away from the idea of him being a wandering “sheriff,” and more and more he is becoming in my mind a sort of intentionally self-appointed and self-exiled frontiers Chieftain and Vigilant. Along the lines of the true Vigilants of my novel (in the Byzantine empire) but on a far more local and personal scale. For these Vigilant Chieftains (and I need to invent a name for them) are entirely self-appointed independent operators who will work with no one else.

They often warn of and pass along what they learn and discover to those in authority or those who can make best use of their Intel but they refuse to submit to any authority or methods but their own. They are in many ways the very most true of all the “Chieftains.” Though they have no clan and no tribe and no one to lead but themselves. They are “all-duty” and “complete loners” on the frontiers.

WRITING FOR A LIVING

Yes, You Can Make a Living Writing Fiction! 10 Tips from Elizabeth S. Craig

 Make a Living Writing Fiction: Follow these Ten Steps

By Elizabeth S. Craig 

I’ve been asked by everyone from writers with day jobs to high school students if it’s possible to make a living as a writer.  The answer is easy—it’s definitely possible.  The next question is trickier to answer—how does one go about making a living as a writer?

Although some writers hit it big with a blockbuster book, the rest of us need to work harder and smarter. We need multiple books with multiple income streams to make it.

Here are my tips and best practices for making a living writing fiction.

I’m doing it, myself (if I weren’t I’d definitely be looking for a day job):

1) Write a popular genre that you enjoy reading and writing.

If you’re looking for commercial success, it’s best to choose a genre that’s popular with readers. There are readers who avidly follow new releases in their favorite genre, reading as many as they can get their hands on. Writing for those readers makes discoverability much easier than writing ‘a book that’s so unique, it’s impossible to categorize’ (something I’ve heard a writer say before).

But the second part of that tip is equally important—it’s vital that you choose a popular genre that you enjoy reading and writing.  If you’re branding yourself to a genre, make sure it’s one you know inside and out. This will be much easier if you like reading those types of books.

2) Know what readers expect from the genre.

There are always specific conventions to follow.

Most genres have a particular pattern to them…readers expect to see the stories constructed a certain way. These conventions are helpful because they give us guidelines to follow.

It’s fine to ‘think outside the box,’ but probably better not to start out that way if we’re looking for success. It’s better to experiment after we have a more loyal readership and even then it can be tricky.

I’ve known well-established writers who flouted cozy mystery conventions and suffered poor reviews and angry readers because of it.

If you’re not sure what the conventions for your chosen genre are, step up your critical reading and note similarities in the books. Read customer reviews of these novels on retail sites to see what’s worked and what hasn’t for readers.

3) Write in series.

Readers enjoy reading series and writing in series definitely makes the process easier for authors. With series, we have a set story world, characters with developed traits, and a structure to work from. It’s a terrific time-saver and a way to quickly create more stories without having to reinvent the wheel each time we start a new book.

4) Write quickly.

If you can release at least one book a year, you’ll soon find yourself in a position to make more income.

Having several published books makes it easier to run promotions. You could lower the price of the first book or even make it free. You can give a book away to readers as an inducement to join your email newsletter list.  Aside from the promotional aspect, having several published books gives us more ‘real estate’ and visibility on retail sites.

You can also write faster and more accurately by keeping a story bible for your series, noting any facts that you’ll need to know for future stories (character eye color, style of dressing, lisp, the street the protagonist lives on).

That way you won’t have to take time to reread your own books to research basic facts about your series.

Another way to make the most of your valuable writing time is by giving yourself a short prompt at the end of each writing session to remind yourself where you left off and what you plan on covering next.

5) Self publish.

I write three series, all of which started out with a trade publisher.  I’m continuing two of them independently.

That’s because I realized that I was making more money by self-publishing than I was by publishing at Penguin-Random House…with fewer self-published books.

6) Publish well-edited, well-designed books.

Happy readers make for repeat readers. Make quality part of your brand.

Self-publishing, it’s said, is a misnomer. It takes a team to create really solid products.

7) Make your published books work harder for you.

  • Have your books available in print as well as digital. Use both CreateSpace and IngramSpark to maximize your international reach.
  • Expand into audiobooks.
  • Make your books available in foreign markets and subscription services through distributors like PublishDrive, StreetLib, Draft2Digital, and Smashwords.
  • Get your books in libraries through OverDrive, Baker and Taylor Axis 360, and Bibliotheca CloudLibrary through the previously mentioned aggregators.
  • Accept paid public speaking gigs to talk about your books and your writing process.

8) Continue learning about changes in the publishing industry, better promotional methods, and emerging markets.

Invest time reading blogs that inform self-published authors, such as:

9) Be responsive to criticism.

Read your reviews, especially the critical ones.  If enough readers comment or complain about a particular aspect of a character or your stories, consider making a change to strengthen your books and make them more appealing to readers.

10) Work smarter instead of harder with marketing to open up more time to write.

Promo can eat up time better spent writing. Make a focused list of promo areas you want to pursue and then mark the time to research, create, and implement on your calendar (Facebook ads, BookBub, etc.)

But also consider working smarter and setting up strategies that will help you in the long run without the continuous investment of time.

  • Tweak keywords and keeping book metadata consistent for better discoverability.
  • Link to your other books in your back matter.
  • Make sure to have your newsletter signup link in a variety of places, including your email tagline, website sidebar, back matter of your books, and Facebook page.
  • Inform your newsletter subscribers whenever you have a new release.

This approach won’t appeal to all writers and isn’t right for all writers. This type of production schedule is intense and multiple releases each year can create pressure for the writer. It can take a while to see significant returns…it’s usually a slow build. But for those of us who’d rather write instead of pursuing a day job—it’s worth it in the end.

***

What other tips have I missed for writers interested in writing fiction for a living? And thanks to Anne for hosting me today.

By Elizabeth S. Craig (@elizabethscraig) February 19, 2017.

Elizabeth writes the Southern Quilting mysteries and Memphis Barbeque mysteries for Penguin Random House and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently.

She blogs at ElizabethSpannCraig.com/blog  and curates links on Twitter as @elizabethscraig that are later shared in the free search engine WritersKB.com. Elizabeth makes her home in Matthews, North Carolina, with her husband and two teenage children.

(Note from Anne: Follow Elizabeth on Twitter! Her “Twitteriffic” links are the best way to keep up with the publishing industry that I know! )

 

BOOK OF THE WEEK

Fall to Pieces: A Southern Quilting Mystery

When a quilting event falls to pieces, Beatrice works to patch things up.

Dappled Hills quilters are eagerly anticipating new events at the Patchwork Cottage quilt shop. The shop’s owner, Posy, has announced ‘Sew and Tell’ socials and a mystery quilt group project.

But one day, instead of emailed quilt instructions, the quilters receive a disturbing message about a fellow quilter. When that quilter mysteriously meets her maker, Beatrice decides to use her sleuthing skills to find the killer before more lives are cut short.

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS

Creative Nonfiction magazine seeks TRUE personal stories or profiles about people starting over after a failure or setback. Up to 4000 words. Paying market. $3  submission fee. Deadline June 19, 2017

C.G. JUNG SOCIETY OF ST. LOUIS ESSAY CONTEST $10 ENTRY FEE. Theme: Memories, Dreams, and Sensualities. They are looking for personal essays that add something unique to the conversation about Jungian ideas. Winners will have the opportunity to read their essays at our conference, Jung in the Heartland: Memories, Dreams Sensualities, October 2017. Winning essays published on the website. 1st Prize: $1,000. 2nd Prize: $500. 3rd Prize: $250. 3,500 words. Deadline: May 1, 2017.

LitMag pays up to $1000 for short stories! $250 for poetry and short-shorts. No reprints. They don’t consider work that’s previously been published either in print or online (including personal blogs.)

Write non-fiction? Impakter Magazine is looking for non-fiction articles and interviews (1000-3000 words max) in 4 verticals: Culture, Society, Style, Philanthropy. Articles about politics are also welcome but need to meet the magazine’s standard of high-quality content.  The magazine publishes daily (except week-end) and each piece attracts 10-40,000 viewers (in majority college-educated millennials). No submission fee.

Publish with the Big 5 without an agent! Forever Yours, Digital-first Romance imprint of Hachette is now taking unagented submissions, from novellas to sagas (12K words t0 100K words.) No advance. 25% royalty. Professional editing, design, publicist. Print books over 50K words.

ROMANCE AUTHORS! Here’s a list of 31 small presses that specialize in romance and do not require an agent for submissions. Also compiled by the Authors Publish Newsletter.

25 PUBLISHERS YOU CAN SUBMIT TO WITHOUT AN AGENT. These are respected, mostly independent publishing houses–vetted by the great people at Authors Publish. Do check out their newsletter

TRUE TO DETAIL BUT OPEN IN SCOPE

I agree, generally speaking. Although the very best historical fiction (and I read a lot of historical fiction, it is one of my favorite genres to consume) is both highly accurate on the specific details (historical dialogue, terminology, true events, etc.) and extremely interesting on those many things and characters beyond the actual historical circumstances.

That is to say that to me the very best historical fiction is highly accurate regarding the actual history but subtly and expansively literate and fictional regarding those events and situations and characters that occur beyond the scope of, or outside the true nature of recorded history.

It is accurate as to real history but speculative as to those things that occur beyond the scope of recorded history.

It is like a microscope to actual history but more like a radio telescope as to those things that exist beyond visual range.

February 20, 2017

ASK THE AGENT: DOES A NOVEL HAVE TO BE HISTORICALLY ACCURATE?

by

Someone wrote to ask, “What is the author’s responsibility to the facts when writing a historical novel?”She noted she was writing about historical events, but wanted to know if she could change them. In a related note, someone else asked, “What is the ethical line between historical fiction and history?”
As I’ve said on previous occasions, I don’t think there is a line connecting fiction and history. Really. A novelist who is creating a story and weaving in actual people and events probably owes some debt to the reader to try and get the basic historical facts correct, I suppose (though even that is a questionable supposition, and many authors have altered facts and dates in order to tell a better story), but a novel isn’t a textbook. It doesn’t have a restriction that “you must have all your facts correct” or “you must accept the commonly held notions about a character’s motivations.” The author is inventing a story to entertain, or to explore themes and motivations, not to teach history.

So, while I wouldn’t create a story in which the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor on July 11, I see nothing wrong with an author creating a story depicting an interesting twist — that Roosevelt knew about the attack ahead of time, or that the attack was a rogue group of Japanese military, or that it was all a mistake done by aliens who were looking for Hawaiian shirts and a great recipe for mai tai’s.

It’s a novel. You can choose to tie events closely to historical facts, or you can choose to recreate history as you see fit in order to entertain readers. Have a look at the Quentin Tarantino movie Inglourious Basterds — in which the patrol sent to kill Nazis take out Adolph Hitler and the entire leadership of the Nazi party in a fire they set in a movie theater. (Um, for those who didn’t pay attention in history class, it didn’t happen exactly that way.) And… so what? It’s a story, for entertainment purposes rather than for education. Tarantino could have had Hitler taken up into a UFO with Elvis and the Loch Ness Monster, for all I care.

I once had an author write a novel is which Sir Thomas More (the Man for All Seasons) was not the heroic man of integrity he’s been made out to be, but instead was depicted as a violent, ultra-Catholic despot who liked to bed teenage girls and seemed to get a kick out of hurting people. (Um… just so you know, there’s historical evidence for all of that. It may not jibe with the most common depiction of him, but it’s certainly there if you care to research it.) Some people, including the editor assigned to the manuscript, were pretty upset with that particular depiction of More. The editor claimed it was defaming a saint, and she couldn’t be part of that. Um… fortunately, the publisher stepped in and reminded her that this is a novel, and if the author wanted to she could turn Sir Thomas More into a bloodsucking vampire from the planet Koldar if she wanted to. You see, fiction writers want to get the basic facts correct, but part of the fun of fiction is that you’re creating a new story world.

So with fiction, it’s the story that counts, not the accuracy of the events. Again, it’s nice to get some of the basic time and date stuff correct, but if we all knew the deeds and motivations of historical events there would be no need to explore them further. A novel allows us to consider alternative interpretations — that Richard III was actually a good guy, or that Robin Hood was a self-absorbed twit, or that Robert E. Lee was not the military genius he’s been made out to be. All of those ideas have been played out in bestselling novels, and they all helped push forward some interesting dialogue while entertaining readers. Sometimes the ideas pitched in the novel are daft (Oliver Stone’s movie JFK was filled with tripe and innuendo), other times the ideas can be reasonable (take a look at Josephine Tey’s fabulous The Daughter of Time). But what your readers care about most is that the story is interesting, emotional, and readable. Not that it’s correct in every detail.

Do you agree? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. 

 

SOME ADVICE

February 13, 2017

ASK THE AGENT: DO I NEED AN AGENT IF I ALREADY HAVE A BOOK OFFER?

by

Someone wrote to say, “I’ve been offered a contract on my novel. Since I don’t have an agent, should I seek one at this point? And if the agent accepts, should he or she still receive 15% of the deal, even if they didn’t market my book or secure the deal for me? Would it be better to have the agent simply review the contract for a fee?”

There’s quite a debate about this issue. I suppose many agents would say, “Sure — call me!” They’d be happy to get 15% for a deal they’ve done no work on. But my advice would be to think long term. Is there an agent you like and trust — someone you want to work with in the long term? If so, call him or her. Talk about the situation. Explain that you’ve already got a deal. The agent may be willing to take less in order to work with you. They may review the contract for a fee. They may have some insight into your situation. But don’t sign with someone just because you think you need an agent and someone is willing to say yes. If, for example, you’ve got a $10,000 advance coming, make sure it’s worth the $1500 to have the agent assist with this contract. Sure, it may be worth it — if you’ve got a complex situation, or a novel that is going to be made into a movie, or a potential bestseller… those probably call for a good agent to get involved.

That said, it doesn’t really seem fair to me to take the full comission for a book I didn’t sell, though not everyone in the industry agrees with me. You can always talk with a contract-review specialist, who will review your contract for a flat fee (usually somewhere in the $500-to-$1000 range). You can also talk with an intellectual property rights attorney, but be careful — they’re generally paid by the six-minute increment, and their goal is often to keep the clock moving. The longer it takes them, the more they are paid, so don’t agree to this without some sort of ceiling on the cost. And make sure you’re talking with a lawyer who knows publishing contracts, not someone who is used to doing real estate contracts or Grandma’s will. (I know of at least one author who paid more to have a top-flight entertainment lawyer review the contract than they were paid in advance dollars.) Generally speaking, your family lawyer won’t have enough experience to really help you with a publishing contract. Again, I’ve noticed a pattern among some agents to claim they can help you if you already have an offer on the table. That may be true, but check them out… you may not need an agent on this deal, but perhaps could use some help on the next one. Still, congratulations on getting the book deal, by the way.

Another writer asked, “Should I worry about a literary agent who turned me down, but suggested I work with his editorial service?”

Absolutely you should worry. Here’s how this commonly works — you send a manuscript to an agent, who says, “I really like this, but it’s not ready. However, we have an editorial service here who can help you. For just $1500, they’ll get this proposal ready for us to represent…” The agent sends you to his editor friend, then pockets half of that “editorial fee,” so he or she is making money off the author. That’s a total violation of ethics for literary agents (and I’d argue the reason we’re seeing some agents do this is because we’ve had a group of people jump into agenting who don’t really know what they’re doing). The Association of Author Representatives has a clear canon of ethics printed on their web page which precludes an agent from doing this very thing. It’s ripe with potential for abuse. It’s why I keep a list of editors I trust close at hand, to recommend to writers who need help, but I don’t have any editors on staff, don’t try and sell authors editorial services, and don’t get any sort of kickback if I do recommend someone. My advice: If an agent tries to cross-sell you some other literary service that charges you a fee, stand up and walk away. You can find a better agent. The same thing goes for an agent who tries to sell you their marketing assistance. There are too many scam agents who are basically trying to sell editorial or marketing services for a fee, rather than trying to help you place your book.

And another author had this situation: “I signed with an agent, but wasn’t happy. I fired that agent, and moved on to another. But now my first agent is claiming that anything I ever talked with her about is her responsibility! She claims that if I ever get a publishing deal for the projects she represented, she is to be paid the agent’s commission. Is that legal?”

This is an issue I just can’t fathom. I understand getting paid if I’ve done the legwork — let’s say that I’ve worked with an author to develop a project, showed it to publishers, and started to get some interest. If the author hears about it, fires me, then approaches the same publishers to try and get the deal and save themselves the 15% commission, I should still get paid. I state in my agency agreement that if I’m working with a publisher on your behalf, I’ll still get paid even if you fire me and do a deal with them within a year.

But I’ve seen this a few times lately — an agent claiming that if you EVER sell the book they represented, they’ll still get paid. To me, that sounds like a scam. I’m not a lawyer, so I cannot give legal advice, but I would think this would be awfully tough to have stand up in court. My advice: read any agreement carefully before you sign it. If the agent has a clause that’s incredibly restrictive like this, ask to have it altered.

Okay, I’m just working through a bunch of the questions people have sent me. What have you always wanted to ask an agent?

THE YARDA-LEL (or SEEMING ROD)

The Yarda-lel is an antique, nearly extinct, left-over artefact from the earlier ages of the Eldeven peoples in my novel series the Kithariune. What the yarda-lel actually is and does is described below. It is based upon the design of a real device I first conceived and invented a long time ago and have attempted on various occasions to build for myself but have never perfected (because of sensing issues). I offer it here in a more perfect and perfected fictional form.

 

THE YARDA-LEL (THE SLEEPING ROD)

Yarda-lel (the “seeming rod,” or sometimes the “sleeping rod”) – an antique rod made of gray and yellow yarda wood which vibrates, heats, and hums when danger approaches. Once a fairly typical item used along the frontier among militia and frontier guardsmen (it was not uncommon for every unit or sufficient size to possess a yarda-lel, or “seeming rod”) which was typically carried by and slept with by the commander of the unit, although sometimes it was also used by the sentry on guard at any particular time. For the yarda-lel was also said to be capable of other functions now lost to time and memory. The ancient Sidhel, for example, were said to employ their yarda-lel not simply as “seeming rods” but also as encoded legates and as artefacts to secretly transmit encrypted messages. It was also not uncommon for wealthy or powerful persons who encamped along the frontier or who settled there for long periods of time to possess their own yarda-lel. Some scouts and infiltrators also carried yarda-lel, especially if they operated for long periods of time along and across the frontiers or behind enemy lines.

It was common to place the yarda-lel either under one’s head or to wrap it across one’s waist or chest or to wrap one’s legs around it as one slept in a dangerous or hostile environment. It is said the hum was transmitted through the bones of he who used the rod rather than being heard by the ear. Some legends persist that the yarda-lel could even interrupt and awaken one from dreams and very deep sleep. Possibly even a drugged slumber.

In time, as the frontier was tamed and fewer and fewer overt threats faced the Eldeven folk the crafting and use of the yarda-lel faded. It is said that few, if any, now remember even how to make such a rod.

However antique examples of yarda-lel, even functional ones, still exist as old heirlooms.

Note on translation: the Eldevens, and the Sidhelic peoples in particular, used the term “seeming” in a way that we no longer do, and in a way not known to men. The precise definition of the yarda-lel is the “rod of yarda wood,” but the underlying connotation is that the rod is both seemly and seeming. Seemly in the sense of being proper and of functioning properly (not to be doubted, but rather to be investigated), and seeming in the sense of both appearing to see through deceptions or to anticipate danger, and seeming as in appearing to be one thing (a simple rod of yarda wood) and actually being many things or many hidden things. A transported or polymorphic sort of seeming. They also meant seeming as in the sense of seeming (for a period of time) to give to another those properties they do not by nature possess.

More rarely yarda-lel could actually be translated as sleeping rod or even dream-seeming rod.

CONTRIVORTIONIST

Contrived is a Four-Letter Word

Few things irritate fiction readers more than a story peopled by characters who act and react without any apparent reason for what they’re doing and saying. No reason, that is, except to illustrate the author’s message. Or prove the author’s point.

Well, you say, don’t we all have a message or point in what we write? Isn’t fiction about letting our characters take the readers on a journey of discovery and even realization? Yes…and no. Writers of powerful fiction keep in mind that the story trumps all. The story, and the characters who people it, should be crafted such that it all presents ideas, challenges understanding, and encourages discourse. It should feel authentic. If a character faces a struggle, we need to understand why he is struggling. If a character experiences joy, we need to know why that even brought her joy. When a fiction writer just has characters do and say what will prove their point or “teach” their message, without showing the why behind it all, without laying a sound foundation for the character to do and say what he is doing and saying, that writer is no longer writing fiction, but delivering a sermon. Or even worse, a story that’s…wait for it…contrived.

Dear ol’ Webster defined contrived as: “having an unnatural or false appearance or quality :  artificial, labored.”

When it comes to fiction, I define contrived as “weak writing.”

Think about it. The last thing you want your readers doing as they read your book is constantly stopping, frowning, and asking, “Why did he do that?” or “Why did she say that?” I’m not talking about the good kind of “why,” where readers want to keep reading to discover the answer to the mystery or the story question. No, this kind of why means the characters aren’t doing their jobs. They’re on the page, acting and speaking…but it doesn’t mean anything because you haven’t given reasons for what the characters are doing.

Suppose you have a hero who is constantly second guessing himself. He goes one way, and then another, and then another entirely. If we don’t understand what’s making said hero do such things, we end up thinking he’s weak, wishy-washy, and even irritating. “Make a choice, idiot, and stick with it!”) But if we know WHY he’s acting that way it changes everything. When we know that our hero was abused as a kid, that every time he took a stand he was punished, that every decision he’s ever made has been ridiculed…then we realize that he’s not operating out of being a twit, but out of a deep-rooted fear. When we understand the why, we are far more willing to go along with what, on the surface, is maddening behavior. Understanding the why gives readers a sense of empathy, and even encourages them to root for the character. (“Come on, dude, you can do it! Grow a spine!”)

Remember, though, the reason, the why, has to be sound. It can’t be just, “I’ll have him say this because it’s what I need him to say now.”

Yes, we novelists have created our characters. And yes, we have reasons for writing the stories we’re writing (and that applies to general market writers as much as Christian writers…we all have a message at the core of what we write), but folks, do your characters–and your readers–a favor and make sure your characters aren’t just puppets on the page. Flesh them out, let who they are and why they are, what drives them and what terrifies them, what delights them and what upsets them, unfold with the story. Let your characters come alive on the page, let them be authentic in what they say and do, and let them have solid reasons for it all.

When you lay a solid, credible foundation of why, story, your characters, and your readers all benefit.

 

THE OUTCAST TALE

Thursday, January 26, 2017

When God Gives You a Story Nobody Wants by Robin Patchen

As an author and freelance editor, I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with a lot of writers, and I’ve discovered most have one at least one thing in common: a sense of urgency to publish.

Since the majority of my writer friends are Christians, I’m not sure if the rush is unique to Christian authors or universal among all, but I do suspect that believers may feel a bit more hurried, what with the need to get the message out there and share the truth with the world.

Would that we were all so eager to witness to our neighbors, but I digress.

Whether you’re published or not, you may feel a sense of urgency about your writing projects. Maybe you worry that somebody else will come along with the same idea and beat you to it. Maybe you worry that by the time your book reaches your audience, the perfect opportunity for your message will have passed. Or maybe the worry is more personal than that. After all, none of us is getting any younger.

With the explosion of indie publishing, impatient writers don’t have to wait any longer. All it takes is a few clicks of the mouse, and you can load that book on retail sites, making it available to your adoring public.

You can indie publish, but should you?

I’m not knocking the process. I’m indie published myself, so I consider this a valid option. The question I want to tackle isn’t whether or not you should take this route. The question is when. Even if the Lord handed you the story, the image for the book cover, and the title, that’s not proof He wants you to rush out and throw it on Amazon. Not sure I’m right? There’s plenty of biblical justification for waiting:

  • Abraham was told he’d have a son and then waited 19 years before little Isaac was born.
  • Biblical scholars estimate David waited 10-15 years after he was anointed king before he finally ascended to the throne.
  • The apostle Paul didn’t begin preaching until more than a decade after his conversion.

I’m sure there were times when Abraham, David, and Paul felt the waiting was unnecessary and wished God would hurry it along. Abraham and Sarah did hurry their promise along. We know how that turned out. David not only waited but, for much of that interim, had to battle just to stay alive. The time wasn’t wasted, though. Lessons are learned in the waiting. Patience, perseverance, and faith, of course. But I suspect some of those lessons were more basic than that. For instance, David learned how to be a leader others were willing to die for. If he’d been crowned sooner, he may not have become the greatest earthly king in Israel’s history.  After all, he began as a shepherd, lowly and obscure.

Maybe you have a book you believe needs to be published. Maybe it’s a book you think the Lord gave you, and maybe it even came with a promise. If so, be patient. The anxiety fluttering in your stomach when you think about this project—that isn’t from God. When you pray and trust, you’ll be filled with peace, not worry. But if you force your way through doors He hasn’t opened, the anxiety will likely grow. And the book will not have the impact it could have if you’d remained in His will.

I’ve seen too many books brought to the light through indie publishing that weren’t mature enough, weren’t seasoned enough, weren’t ready to be there. Instead of jumping ahead, trust that when God wants you to publish your words, He’ll make it clear. He’ll open the right doors and lead you to exactly the right the people who can help make it happen.

In the meantime, move on to other projects. Build your newsletter list, learn new marketing strategies, make connections with other authors. Mostly, keep learning, keep growing, and keep improving your craft.  It may be that if you come back to that project in a year or two, you’ll realize you can make it shine.

I speak from experience. The Lord gave me a book almost four years ago. It’s the only time I’ve ever felt one of my stories came from God, and, still, it was the hardest book I ever wrote. I believe that with the help of a great editor, it can be my best book. But that story has been pitched and pitched, and nobody’s interested. I write and publish other books and help other authors do the same while that book languishes silently on my laptop. When I pray about it, I don’t have a clear direction. I don’t feel free to indie publish it, and no acquisitions editor has shown any interest. So I wait. The last thing I want to do is treat His gift with haste and carelessness. I trust that God has a purpose in the waiting and a plan for the story He gave me.

The Lord may make you a promise, give you a vision, or impart to you a message, and then ask you to wait. He’s been doing it for thousands of years, and He’ll keep doing it today. You could choose to be like Abraham and Sarah and rush ahead, or you could trust God’s timing, which is always perfect.

YOUR BOOKS UNIQUE ANGLE

Identify Your Book’s Unique Angle: One Approach

Mary KeeleyBlogger: Mary Keeley

Last Sunday a church friend and I found ourselves in a conversation about the recent presidential election and potential ramifications thereof. They’re hard to avoid lately unless you’re a mole. The service was about to begin and we needed to get to our seats, but the short interlude of sharing diverse vantage points prompted an idea to share with writers who struggle to identify a unique angle for their books. A fresh approach is a must if you want to grab the attention of agents and editors. Unique angle

Here’s why. A unique angle is one of the first things they look for in a proposal. If it isn’t apparent from the beginning, chances are it won’t get read beyond the first two pages. This is especially true for new writers but also for established authors, because there are no entitlements in publishing. Published authors have to maintain the edge if they hope to get the next contract. So treat the search with a positive attitude because the return will be great.

Your special angle is your friend for these important reasons:

  • It makes your story or your nonfiction book stand out from all those other similar books out there. Think like an editor. Why should he publish your book when there are others already available that say essentially the same thing? Or tell a very similar story?
  • It tells you what to include in your book and what to leave out. Knowing your boundaries makes the writing easier.
  • A fresh new approach makes your book more interesting, which in turn will attract more readers.

But finding that new and different angle can be the hardest challenge in the writing process for many writers.

Here is one approach to help you. Begin by recognizing that the most exclusive part of your book is YOU. You are a unique individual with experiences and perceptions as singular as you are. Dig deep to recall people, personal and worldly events, places, and even objects that made a memorable impression on you over the years. No one else will have an identical response to yours. Use them to your advantage. Ask yourself:

  • Why? Be specific.
  • How? In what ways did it affect your future perspectives, likes and dislikes?
  • When? Was the time and place important to the impression it made on you?

Next, think about how you can use your noted particulars to differentiate your book. Perhaps for assigning a quirk to your protagonist that affects her reactions to events in the plot? Can you also use this to add tension and crises in the story? You might be surprised by ideas that pop up about how to skew your Christian living book’s theme. Even a little bit can be enough to produce a unique angle. Or it might take more thought, but at least you have some tools to work with.

Your personal reactions and impressions are unique to you, but you are not alone in them, so don’t hold back because you think you are a strange exception from the majority. Chances are the reader following you’ve been attracting already feels a connection to your personal impressions in subtle ways.

How did you arrive at a unique angle for your WIP? If you are still working on it, what is holding you up? If you have a different method for pinpointing a fresh angle, please share it.

TWEETABLE:

Your book needs a unique angle to get agent and editor attention. Here is one approach to finding it. Click to Tweet.

Here is one approach to help identify a unique angle for your novel or nonfiction book. Click to Tweet.

GOOD SOLID ROMAN PROGRESS

I have recently made good, solid progress on The Roman Way, The Christian Wizard, and a few other non-fiction books I am currently writing. My set of novels, The Kithariune, proceed apace as well. That being especially true for the Basilegate.

(a superb drawing of a Roman soldier on march by I know not who – follow the link)

So I am very pleased with my progress on these fronts.

In addition, and recently, I have turned out two new children’s books, such as the Kuddle King (picture book level) and a couple of poems which please me and that may be inserted into my novels.

Now I must secure good agents and editors for my work.

Today my wife is off on an assignment for her company, my oldest daughter is back in college, my youngest child is visiting museums in NC, and so I am here alone at the house and may work entirely undisturbed and uninterrupted. So I am going to make good use of my time.

I have been listening to old rock music and opera this morning and that has also put me in a mood to songwrite/songwright. So if I have time and some good ideas strike me I will be doing that as well.

And the weather terrifically good for both working and for training out of doors. So I will have a heavy and productive but relaxed day of both.

Have a good day yourself folks.

A POET HONORS THE UNTOLD HORRORS OF THE FIRST GREAT WINTER STORM IN THE UPSTATE OF 2017

A POET HONORS THE UNTOLD HORRORS OF THE FIRST GREAT WINTER STORM IN THE UPSTATE OF 2017

The southern snows bit long and deep
The drifts and piles rose in a heap
The cold it made me almost shiver
From me, this, please – soon do deliver
Never’less, this raucous storm
Caused my feet to be less warm
Oh please, oh please, the humanity
Save us all from these extremes
The winter in these southern climes
It borders close upon a crime
Dark she sneers upon us all
Enough! Enough! Too much snowfall!
So if we live through this disaster
Let’s prepare more sure foreverafter
Because I for one am hard oppressed
By this our doom – oh what, oh what,
Oh what a forlorn mess!

No, seriously, I for one will be glad for the quick return of the 70 degree winter. This milk-frost crap is entirely laughable.

The Sad and Superficial Countenance of Modern Man

“Desperate to dwell forever upon the perfidies of the past they endlessly recreate the very same within themselves and so never breed a worthwhile future, or an offspring fit for life”

Scene: The Sad and Superficial Countenance of Modern Man, from my play, Modern Man