Insects and Insight

This is a snippet from my Sword, Sorcery, and Sandal Epic Fantasy. Strategos Amuhan, the narrator, is the “Hannibal” of my pseudo-Punic Wars plotline. Which is fairly close to the beginning of the arc here. Enjoy!
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If I would have been forced to describe the last day’s march on Trystwy in a single word, it would’ve been ‘swarmed.’ Never have I seen so many ways to be attacked by relentless, blood-sucking insects. Leeches waited in the swamps our march skirted. Mosquitoes and black-winged moths both descended on us in fast-moving clouds, as maddening as Shahrak Horse Archers. Even Shayla, whose ebullient mood had proven infectious since joining us, frowned and muttered, “Khepra Himself must have planted His seed in this bog.”

As a third mass of bugs appeared, thick enough to conceal the sun, Tiernan dismounted from his horse snarled, “Erebus take this!”

“Run faster!” Spiros taunted. “Maybe we can use you as bait!”

When Tiernan arrived at the bank, he didn’t dive into it, instead he reached into the mud with both hands and slathered it over his exposed arms and face. Clumps rolled down his short beard and tumbled back into his hands. The Thunderbolts hooted, but Shayla leaned forward on her pony like a cat being teased until its rump raises and wiggles. He returned to the ranks with a wide, lips-sucked-in grin that resembled a matron’s toothless effort. Even I found it impossible not to shake my head at the bard.

He had the last laugh, for as the bugs feasted on us, he rode through them without so much as a flick of the finger. When next we passed a spring with sufficient bank, half the host dove for the mud. I found myself tempted to join them, but as Strategos, my duty was to bear every burden without flinching. No matter how trivial it might seem. So I contented myself with swatting those insects that slipped beneath my hood or up the sleeves. With the low shoulders of Shayla’s gown, I knew that she had to be suffering worse, despite her cloak. So I cleared enough space with a hand for me to talk. Then I asked, in a tone I thought gentle, “I’m assuming Tiernan’s remedy is part of your folklore. So why didn’t you avail yourself to it, Shayla?”

She turned up her nose at me and harrumphed, turning her pony around and disappearing into the ranks behind as I gaped until a moth found its way to my tongue. That cost me much in military decorum. Tiernan covered his mouth and chortled. “The Chief didn’t lie when he said taming that one is like saddling the wind. Be thankful she’s infatuated with you.”

I feigned a blink as we resumed our march. “What convinces you she is?”

“Gods Amuhan!” His chest quivered. “Her eyes never leave you. Even now, she watches your back. Her hand ‘accidentally’ finds yours whenever it can, and brushes your arm or leg when it can’t.”

I tucked my head further into my cloak to hide my blush as another cluster of dried mud fell from the bard’s smirking face. “But you knew this already. Because while most Gods have favored you, Telas did not. You’re no better lying than the child caught with a chunk of bread from the oven.”

Snickering, I looked back at Shayla. Her head turned and dipped, like she was unaware of where I was. But before I returned my gaze to the road, her golden eyes belied the claim of disinterest. “Yes I did know,” I affirmed. “Though hearing you say it encourages me. One never is quite certain if a man’s heart isn’t playing tricks on him when it comes to the affection of a woman. Still, there’s something strange about her family.”

My bannerman’s face narrowed into a line. So I leaned a hand on my knee. “Let me guess: You know because it echoes the story about why you left your mother’s people?”

Tiernan winced. “I’d hoped you hadn’t seen my reaction to your analogy.”

“I did, comrade.”

After glancing over his shoulder to ensure Shayla’s pique hadn’t passed yet, the bard said, “Lord Amuhan, I’ll tell you my story. It’s up to her to tell you how close it is to her own. But I’m certain the same law is involved.”

“What law is this?” I drummed a finger on my thigh. Then flicked at another mosquito.

“Our people have a custom when duels are fought. To prevent retaliation, the victor must take the surviving spouse and any children into their own family.” His eyes flicked to Shayla again.

“That explains why she and Carii are so different in temperament and looks.” I stroked my chin. “So the Chief became her husband to guard the daughter. And she took up her training because Shayla possesses talent as well.”

“Probably,” Tiernan conceded. “I was accepted among the Lexovi because of my Mother’s talent. She had birthed me before becoming Beien Ciall to them. But another challenged and defeated her. All such duels are to the death. If there isn’t a death blow, the victor carves out the loser’s heart. “ He paused and cleared his throat, and I glimpsed a sheen over the big man’s eyes.

“And by law, you had a new mother,” I finished.

He nodded grimly. “Understand, most of the time, such ‘adoptions’ go well enough. However, in my case she didn’t want a ‘half-breed’ for a son. So I became an outsider in truth. And if a boar’s tusks were laced with poison, would any think to look before I died?”

“No, they’d never know,” I replied with a shake of the head. “They’d assume you succumbed to the wounds. So how did you—?”

“I’m not a bard because I have a strong voice and love to collect stories that can be put to song,” he answered dryly. “Mother taught me much of herblore and natural remedies. She also taught me a good deal about ritual magics.”

My eyes rounded. “Why didn’t you say this when Toi was poisoned?”

Tiernan shook his head. “You forget, he walked away. We thought it little more than a scratch. It wasn’t until the Priestess couldn’t heal him that she even thought to look for poison. By then, Toi was already dead. Besides, the chemist seemed to do a thorough enough work in identifying it. And I had never seen it before either.”

I closed my eyes and remembered the yellow ball and black bile extracted from his body. The bones broken from convulsions and contorted expression on his face as the poison killed him. There wasn’t a pit in Erebus deep enough for his murderer. And I wasn’t certain the order to kill me had come from Davos either. “I appreciate you telling me this, Tiernan. It couldn’t have been easy.”

“I’ve gone this far in disclosing the ways of Mother’s people,” the bard said with a deep frown. “You should know, even if Shayla were Carii’s birth daughter, eventually the two would become rivals. And only one could remain in the tribe.”

I hung my head. Rain Dancer sensed my distress, mincing his steps as I looked over first one shoulder, and then the other for the wilder woman. I caught a glimpse of her blond mane near Captain Spiros at the front of the Hundred Hands. A stab of jealousy pricked my side, though if I had been the newcomer, I’d be as curious as Shayla to learn of the new cultures.

“The condor was hers? Or Carii’s?”

“Hers,” Tiernan answered without hesitation. “She’s the curious one. And the birds are already bound to her arms.”

I pivoted and made an interrogative grunt. He shook his head. “Now I am getting perilously close to discussing secrets Mother made me swear I’d never share. If she wishes, Shayla will explain herself.”

With a sigh, I answered, “For an explanation, this isn’t helping me understand her very much.”

Tiernan chuckled. “Lord Amuhan, I may be a bard. And I certainly know the ways to woo women. But I’ve never made claim to understand them.”

I laughed so hard, I nearly swallowed a mosquito.

Something I’ve Discovered

Devoted Editing to two straight books in full rewrite mode saps the enthusiasm. I’m almost to the end of the second now. So there’s no reason to set it aside. But I don’t think I’ll do this again. Write one, rewrite one works better for me. Especially since I usually am editing a project while I write anyway. Though nothing as full-bore as I’ve done the last couple months.

I started compiling notes for Book 4 of the Hellenistic Fantasy. After the full-scale war of the last book, this one will be a bit more maneuver and counter, though with a dark adventure for a second plotline. Yalissa’s not-so-pleasant discoveries continue to accumulate. But at least she gets to ask questions in person this time around. Not sure she’s going to like the answers, though.

I made pilgrimage up to Sporting Park in Kansas City to watch Sporting KC throttle Toronto FC 4-1. It’s always fun to watch a game there. In fact, I’d call it the best venue for any sport in the country. And the team is the defending champs, so no reason to complain there, either.

But my real countdown is to vacation in Hawaii. Three weeks tomorrow. I lived there for three years back before Tarien Cole was a name to use. I’ve missed it often, but hadn’t had a chance to go back yet. It’ll be sad to miss the rainy, stormy, part of the year for sun and the beach. Oh darn. I may even get some writing done on it. If my wife will let me. 😉

So Hercules the Movie Is Out

And it has The Rock, who I think it just about a doggone perfect Herc.

But I will not be seeing this. Why? General principle, it’s a “demythologization.”

Yeah, all those cool things you see in the trailer, they only happen in the narrative during the first 4 minutes of the movie. “Son of Zeus?” Yeah, Herc made that up so his enemies would fear him. We’re going for the “true” story, you know.

Like the “true” story of King Arthur and Troy, this is once again a sad attempt to strip away anything fantastic and leave the audience with a “real” sense of who the character was. For a given value of real where historical elements that could not have existed together are thrown together by Did Not Do Their Research Screenwriters (Llamas in Troy? Oh yeah). With the result that we get a by-the-numbers Hollywood cliche story attempting to be the biopic of a character we can’t know anything about without the myths.

What a load of tripe. You want to go sword-and-sandal non-mystical? There’s LOTS of stories to tell that could do it right. But those wouldn’t have the ‘name’ value. Say “Hannibal” and people think of a cannibal, or a black dude on an elephant (hey, btw, he was Phoenician w/ a Spanish mother, and thus olive-toned, but yeah “History Channel” you know). Never mind the Punic Wars would be an amazing series to bring to the screen. We need to tell people that no one believed that silly mystical stuff back then. Religion only comes from the rubes, you know. Oh wait, you mean Plato had a section about Atlantis? Welllll… don’t look here, because shut up. Instead, we get Hercules trying to play a mercenary general with a heart of gold. Because…”history,” meaning, “We made up the story. But we have to start somewhere, right?”

Whose history? The history the revisionist hucksters want to sell. There’s never been any sense of wonder or adventure in the world. So you can just sit back, dull your minds on Rom-Coms, and forget about dreams, faith, or anything that makes you creative. What a sad, myopic, universe to live in.

UPDATE: Oh, and here’s another beautiful “historical gem” from the Hercules movie. So Hercules, the Founder of the Spartans, the Warrior Elite of the Ancient World, whose classic saying was “With Your Shield or On It.” IOW, come back victorious or come back dead. The people who took a King’s personal guard to Thermopylae and commit mass suicide trying to hold off Xerxes Army (300, anyone?). Yeah, THOSE people learned all this from Hercules. Now this would be a very HISTORIC element of his life, if anything.

So what does the movie do? Hercules gives a mealy-mouthed speech about how it’s more important to ‘survive’ than to win the battle. That’s sooooo historical. So truth-telling to power. Brett Ratner, you are a freaking clown.

Proof I *Can* Be Nice When I Feel Like it.

I spared one of my characters today. I was all set to do the deed, via poison meant for another character, no less. But I decided to spare her. 😛

I feel…strangely ambivalent about the decision. Like an imp who wants to go back and off her anyway now. *evil chuckle*

Yeah, I’m such a softie. That’s why I’m getting ready to slaughter an entire army…

You didn’t think it could LAST, did you?

 

My Very Cool Birthday Continues

Rachel Dudley, a friend of mine on deviantArt made this render of Yalissa Sabet, the female lead from my Epic/Pseudo-Hellenistic Fantasy series.Image

It’s an insanely accurate render. 

 If you like it, the print can be found at: http://rachel-dudley.artistwebsites.com/featured/yalissa-rachel-dudley.html?newartwork=true

 

 

Time to Go Camping

CampNaNoWriMo, to be specific. I’ve done the traditional NaNo the last 3 Novembers. It’s been fun, and honestly, I’ve never felt like 1667 words a day is a ‘speed writing’ threshold. Ok. Let me be clearer on that. It simply isn’t. 2k per day, 5 days a week, is my usual goal in writing. All I’m doing when I NaNo is making one of those ‘days off’ a ‘half-day,’ if you will. Or jacking up my word count on the regular working days a tad. Either way, there’s nothing ‘speed writing’ about it. 

That said, I did get tired of my writing for a bit after November this year. I think that was because I did something I knew I shouldn’t have. I really wanted to get away from the Epic Sword & Sandal Fantasy that’s been consuming my work since July of last year. But I felt like I didn’t have anything else ‘ready’ for NaNo. So I plowed into Book 2, and got tired of the project shortly after NaNo. There were other things too. Work stuff, a double dose of sick. Wifey sick. Serious health problems in the family. And I’ve been writing one project or another almost non-stop for six years. Maybe a ‘sabbatical’ wasn’t the end of the world.

Anyway, I came back to Chosen in War in February, and I decided that although I’m going to trim some stuff when I edit (probably trim a subplot back some, and tweak here and there) that the story is quite goodish. Without getting spoilerish, it *looks* on the surface like a conventional Hero(ines) Quest. But what do you do when the Quest-Giver might not be entirely on the up-and-up? (And without putting my cards on the table, that’s putting it mildly.) It also has a nice war arc for the military-fantasy inclined. One that draws from the Punic Wars. And, if you haven’t been following, this is being told with Carthage as ‘The Good Guys.’ Or at least, the Cathaginian Protagonists are…there’s some right nasty folk in Marqash (my stand in) as well.

So now for Camp NaNo (To come back to the beginning) I am going right into Book 3. But that’s cool. Because this is the story I’ve been chomping at the bit to tell since I began the story. This is where I get to have Hannibal cross the Alps, with Magic! And oh yeah, did I mention that “Macedon” actually decides to HELP in this Punic War, instead of wait for its turn to get crushed by Rome? And oh yeah…a Servile Rebellion in the midst of all this. “Rome” is in trouble. But don’t worry, they’re still a race of ingenious, indefatigable, indomitable Determinators. 😛

So I’m geeked about writing Chosen in Chains, actually. That said, I’m going to do something considerably lighter when I finished Book 3 (of projected 5) off. Probably back to my Urban Fantasy. Just because I’ve missed those characters, and I want to see if I can write a story where Vic becomes a cross between Bruce Wayne and Charles Xavier. Pre-wheelchair. 😉

 

Times Like These Remind Me

That if I wanted to do ANYTHING else, other than be a writer, I should probably do that. The frustration of having to salvage work I had finished. Real life illness and loss, and then work piling on top of that. I guess I can hope that with all the stuff that’s happened this month, there won’t be anything that can get in the way of NaNoWriMo.

I’ll be set up to finish the second Sword & Sandal over the Thirty Day Frenzy this year. And having gotten sick, I was able to do some reading last week. Specifically Under a Graveyard Sky by John Ringo. The first book of a fast-moving zombie story (28 Days Later style Infected-Living Dead). It’s a fun read. Before that, I’d read the second Verity Price novel, which was a good read. But not as fun as the first.

I’m supposed to write a couple short pieces this week. But I’m so far behind I haven’t had a chance to think about them yet. Maybe I will once I get the notes from my Sword & Sandal out of the way this weekend.

Oh, and can I say, the craziness of CONCACAF on Tuesday night was one of the most EPIC sporting events I’ve ever seen. Americans rooting for Panama. Mexicans rooting for the USA. Panama rooting for Costa Rica. And the US, with SUBS, rallying to win a game they had nothing but pride and auditions to play for, earning their best record in the Hex of all time. But when Graham Zusi scored that goal, it was complicated. I never want the US to lose. But Mexico missing the World Cup? oooo, that would be so beautiful. All I can say is GO KIWIS!

Using Scrivener for an Epic Fantasy

You’ve probably heard a great deal about http://www.literatureandlatte.com/. I bought it before attempting NaNoWriMo 2012. Since then, a number of friends have asked how I use Scrivener, and is it really better than Word Processor. Given that it usually is half-price on their website when you have a winner’s coupon, that might have been a minor mistake. But even at the full price of $40 dollars US, it’s been a bargain. Originally a Mac program, it’s Windows counterpart (which I use) is approaching feature parity. I’m not doing this on their solicitation or the encouragement of anyone but the friends I’ve had who’ve been curious how it works.

Since obtaining it in May of last year, I’ve used it for five separate new projects, two of which are multi-volume. And then adapted one previously written novel that I imported to Scrivener for editing. But for this, I’d like to talk about how I set it up for my intended five-volume Epic Fantasy (Sword, Sandal, & Sorcery style).  The basic format is set in the “Novel With Parts” template. Here it is on the ‘Corkboard,’ (with my own custom background).

EpicFormat1

 

The Binder, which functions exactly like a three-ring of our project would if you printed it all out, is set on the left. It’s currently open to the 2nd (in-progress) book of that series. But the corkboard is open to the ‘volumes’ page, furthest back. You can see the “First Draft” over my 1st volume. And I already have volumes 3-5 set up on the corkboard. Here’s the volume I’m working on in detail:

 

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Here again, you can see the ‘index cards’ marked “first draft” and “to do” where I’ve been distracted from working on the novel by my need to blog. 😉 Every chapter has at least 1 index card. In fact, every scene has an index card. Each is organized with the appropriate chapter. What’s cool about this? If I decide I need to reorder my chapters, all I have to do is slide the index card to the new location. NO copy-and-paste like with a word processor. All I have to do is recompile and it’s all in the right place. The only editing concerns I have is to check consistency in the timeline.  I can compile all this all at once, or a few chapters to check scenes.

Also, Scrivener saves whenever I’m idle for 2secs. And it keeps FIVE full backups. So unless I blow up my laptop, it’s protected from corruption. Of course, being OCD, I copy the Open Office version saved to a flash drive. Also, in the binder, I can keep all my documentation on characters, setting, plot sequences, and research web sites. All of them are organized in the Binder. 1 click to open them, and I can hide them when I don’t need them.

It’s not immune to my mistakes. But it’s pretty darn close. Plus, if you make changes you’re not sure you will like, you can use the ‘snapshot’ feature to roll back to the version you preferred. This is especially useful in editing.

I was able to lay out the entire plotline for all five books on the corkboard. I’m sure I’ll add/change/move things around between now and then. But I can use this at a glance to find where I am, and anything I may need, before or subsequent, to maintain consistency and ensure I don’t show too much, too soon. Or leave a plotline underdeveloped.

It’s a great tool for the writer. The larger the project, the more useful it will prove. But even in my single novel projects, it’s a profitable experience.

 

Two Book Endorsements

Not Book reviews mind you. I don’t have the inclination to go through them both in detail and potentially spoil them for the reader.  But I’ll give them wholehearted thumbs up. (Or at least 99%.)

I recently finished reading Fated. The first book in the Alex Varus series by Benedict Jacka. Alex is a ‘probability mage.’ Don’t call him a ‘fortune teller.’ That gets him cranky, apparently. There’s nothing showy in his magic. But when you can see what’s going to happen from every contingent possibility, you don’t need to say Forzare! and make the world tremble.  (Plus he does a Dresden Shout-out, so I have to give it props for sheer audacity.) It has good humor, a great narrator as a primary character. Troubled, with having walked both the light and dark paths (further on the dark side than Harry ‘actually’ has, in fact). But committed to doing what’s right now, when no one else seems to be. Excellent world-building, a great magic system, a crackling narrator, and can there be a better city to write Urban Fantasy in than London? I really need to get the next two books in a hurry. Though Mrs Cole would point at the towers of Babel that constitute my current reading piles and tell me to stop. 😛

I no sooner finished that than turned straight into the 3rd book of Larry Correia’s Grimoire Chronicles: Warbound. If you’ve read the 1st 2 books, I don’t need to say anything more. If you haven’t. Well, do yourself a favor and get them. ALL. NOW. Alternate History meets Dieselpunk meets Superhero Noir (which is how the magic system of the series basically pans out, something X-Men-like, but more believable). Also, this is Larry Correia, so you know there will be guns. LOTS of guns. Many, many firearms of all types. Right uses Might. And Freaking How. There’s wit. There’s romance (gasp!). And there are epic battles by the bucketload. Correia is a master of pacing. And it shows. The editor could’ve done him a few favors in the grammar department. But none of them are disastrous. Some people classify this series as Urban Fantasy. I push back on that by saying that the action is decidedly NOT given to any one city, and the character of any ONE city does not define any character in the story. So it’s not UF. That doesn’t make it less awesome.

Now, as Amazon offloads another truckload at my door, the next book up is from a former conversant on the OLD Bioware Forums boards, back in the days of Neverwinter Nights. The Grim Company, by Luke Skull. I’m looking forward to this read. And I’ll hope he returns the favor when The Iron Conqueror comes calling.

I finished three chapters of the Sword & Sandals this week. And I have most of a fourth in my notes. So it’s time to get cracking on that. 😉