Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Refresh Button (Aug 2012)

It's getting cold.  I like it better warm.  I'm posting this now because I was too lazy to do it then to remind me (and you, if you'd like) of warm weather.

In August I hit the ole' refresh button as I like to say.  This involved taking Jax and some supplies and heading into deep woods.  I have a map of where we went but it's unfinished... Maybe I'll add it in a later edit.

 On the way to the forest, I saw a turtle on the road.  I usually stop and help them out unless road conditions, time and/or traffic don't allow it.
 Jax was pretty interested in the turtle but I asked him to leave the turtle be.  I can't say the turtle wasn't traumatized by Jax (he has a pretty loud bark) but better traumatized than flattened on the pavement.
 I've never been entirely sure whether these are muscadines or scuppernongs... And I really don't care.  They are a welcome treat while deep in the woods.  Just make sure you spit out the seeds or a plant will grow in your stomach.  This has not been scientifically validated.
Can't keep Jax out of the water.
 These, unlike the muscadines, are not edible.  This is unfotunate because there were a million of these berries.  I think the fact that they're inedible may play a part in their enormous quantity.  Meaning if they were good to eat, something would have eaten them already...  The bushes don't have thorns like blackberry plants.
All day the sun was fighting to show his face.  This made little difference to me.  The shade is cooler and my possessions and I were about 90% rain proof.
When you take off through woods at random, you never know when you might run into a deer stand.  It wasn't deer season when I was here (and this stand is in a state of disrepair) so I wasn't too concerned for my (or Jax's) safety.  Best to know before you head out what's in season.
This beetle seemed to be sapping the moisture out of this tree.  I couldn't help but wonder how many beetles it would take to drain the entire tree.
 I can't tell you how close I came to stepping on this snake.  It isn't venomous, but they don't exactly brush their teeth.  I didn't linger here long.  Jax has a tendency to ... investigate smaller animals.  In a sometimes brutal manner.  For his safety and the snake's, we moved on.
 Something about this scene stood out to me.  It was the closest thing to a path I had yet run across.
 I apologize for this pic.  I just found it funny.  Bottom left is where Jax peed to claim this as his own.  What was he claiming?  Look in the top right.  Those aren't raisinets. 
 It was in this moment that I realized Jax is sort of my muse.  I've been in this area before and have never seen that chimney.  This day, I just happened to be following Jax where he might lead.  There's a story behind a stone chimney in the middle of the woods.  And if there isn't, there will be.
 I'd run across this cabin before.  It seems long forgotten... But I took the spiderweb as a sign to bypass further exploration.
 Not far from the cabin was a dirt road.  Needless to say, there was no traffic here but me and Jax.
 The road branched and Jax took the path less traveled.  He's learned well.
 The second muscadine vine I found.  These normally grow far higher in the trees and when they do grow within reach, either deer have eaten the good ones already or they aren't yet ripe. 
 That said, finding this many was a rarity.
 At last, the river.
 This is the Broad River... Considering that I'm standing in the middle of it for this picture, you can tell it is not the Deep River.
 Here's my try at Les Stroud photography (set the camera on a rock and wander off artfully).  Overrated if you ask me.  I like how my pockets have collected river water.
 These guys were all over the place on the river.  Especially as the sun came out.  I could picture me cooking these fellers and eating them in a squeeze.  Or fishing with them.  *Or placing them back carefully into the water for all you PETA enthusiasts*
 I couldn't help but join Jax, swimming in the water.  And those aren't all my clothes abandoned on that rock.
 A couple of freshwater molluscs.  Molluscs... that's a weird word.
 Jax fishes.  I kid you not.  It isn't very often that he actually catches something...  But practice makes perfect.
 He was going for an epic pose... Got distracted.
I can think of no clever caption here... I realize I take lots of pics of Jax.  Ignore at your leisure.
 Would like to have gone under the bridge then up through the woods.  But I saw a couple and their dogs out on the rocks below the bridge.  I don't have Jax's leash (not that I would ever put it on him out in the wild) so we detoured to the right, up the rocks.  He's a nice dog but he has the tendency to intimidate others dogs... and their owners.  It's the pitbull in him.
 Road crossing is tricky with a dog with no leash.  It's all about the virtual leash (dog treats).  Luckily Jax learned at a young age to listen to me.
Ran across another path / road.  And it led to...
... Someone's office.  It baffles me what kind of stuff you run across in the depths of the woods.
 This reminded me of an excerpt from "Darke and the Parandrus".  Maybe the excerpt was inspired by this or something similar.

pg 115 "Darke cried out.  The castoroccs below him had stood to their hind feet and were heaving against his tree with frighteningly efficient rhythm.  The entire tree swayed like wheat in a breeze.  Aedron looked to Tahkaan.  Maybe he'll put that bow to use!  Tahkaan, however, dangled by his arms as his tree was rocked about by the creatures.  Growls and yells had succumbed to leaves rustling and branches cracking as the castoroccs focused all their energy on toppling the trees.  The earth bulged beneath Darke’s tree as roots loosened and snapped free.  There was no longer any mystery as to what had felled the other trees in the forest."

 This, too, reminds me of an excerpt from "Darke and the Parandrus"... And this exact forest is what inspired the pine forest in the book.

pg 187 "Brandal and Aedron made slow progress.  Their surroundings changed gradually and they found themselves in a dense forest of pines.  The floor was covered in a thick bed of straw.  Here and there, patches of fern lay about like green blankets.  Thin, grabby fingers of pine trees and dried out bushes caught their cloaks as they walked.  Though Brandal did his best to cut a trail through the dense areas with his axe, he and Aedron were constantly nicked and scratched.  Occasionally their path was blocked by great thickets of briars with dark purple leaves, and they had to backtrack to maneuver around.  No sound of bird or critter existed.  The bare pine trunks seemed to hold secrets and spy on them as they passed.  Neither had spoken for a while when a shuffling of dried straw sounded nearby.  Brandal stopped dead, motioning for Aedron to do the same.  The sound ceased.  Nothing moved except shadows as thin rays of afternoon sun pierced the gently swaying canopy.  The air was still and heavy.

            “I don’t like this, Brandal,” Aedron whispered."

Through the pine forest and on top of a hill, looking back toward the river. 
I found one more muscadine vine before leaving the woods.  This one had the greatest score of all.  I brought some home to my wife.  She was not enthused.  (Reminiscent of the scene in The Two Towers when Gollum runs to Frodo with dead rabbits in his mouth and Frodo is disgusted)

Hopefully you can see why I'm inspired by the woods.  I strongly recommend anyone seeking an imaginative boost to simply leave what you're used to and get out somewhere.  I do it as often as possible (which isn't as often as I'd like).

I'll follow trails if I have to but I would much rather forge my own path.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Write Club 2012!

 First of all, congratulations to Mark Hough for winning this contest!

DL Hammons' WRiTE Club 2012 was the first writing contest I've ever entered.  Since this contest was judged by fellow bloggers and otherwise total strangers, this was the first time my writing was set before people with nothing to lose for being brutally honest.  I didn't exactly have highest hopes but I did like my story and it ended up surviving for a few rounds at least.
My name in the contest was Sedney of the Castonod (the name of a sailor and his ship, from an excerpt that did not make the final cut of Darke and the Parandrus).  The story came from an idea of cemeteries, and their unique fascination.  I wanted to create a cemetery that "houses the dead, but not the fondly remembered."

As my story won a couple of rounds, I realized there may be the need for an additional short story.  So I wrote this one.  It started as an idea of abandoned warehouses... I'm not really sure why.  This story has never seen the light of day.  If it had - and depending on how far it had gone - I planned to give it life.  Since it did not, it has been shoved to a dark corner of the warehouse that is my mind.  Maybe someday it will have life. Otherwise it will stagnate, like a mannequin buried beneath the dust of decades, grouped tightly with its fellows behind a broken display shelf in a clothing store time forgot.
(I'm listening to Apocalyptica, thus the gloomy tone)

[This story has been removed to remain anonymous.  You MIGHT find it (posted anonymously of course) at Write Club 2013!]

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A wee excerpt

Some time ago I said something about posting an excerpt.  Well I was just reading through my manuscript and I found a piece that isn't too long or short, not too revealing or too disturbing... I don't think. Ok, maybe a little.

In a letter to his father, Recher chronicles the first time he takes a life.

(Title undetermined - Chapter 4, Swords and Nasties)

    It looks like you were wrong, Father. I can now say in all honesty that I’ve raised my sword against a live foe and come out the victor.
    The goblin hole told of by the man at the bar was exactly where he said it would be; leave the crumbling bridge on Fade Road and head north to the cleft in the west face of the Aciazi Mountains.
    The first sign goblins were near was the stench. And not just the rotting aroma of their foul eating habits. The coal burned in their subterranean forges makes the most noxious fumes. Just inside the cave’s landing were two bony little Vedorant goblins, lounging and picking their teeth. Horrible little creatures, Vedorants. Skin like a lizard’s, baggy and grey and stretched over pug bellies and sharp elbows and knees. They stink like an open carcass and would sooner cut your throat than smile at you. It could be worse. They could have been Redcaps. They rose as we approached and stared suspiciously as if we were the oddities.
     “Humans. You must be lost.” The machetes in their hands were of notched, black steel, handles wrapped in dirty rags. I must give you credit, Father. In learning to discourage your fist, I’ve developed quite the liar’s wit.
     “Actually no,” I said. “Your forges are rumored of in nearby villages and said to be the finest. I am looking to get an heirloom treated and polished. I have gold.”
     The goblins made no move to relax but neither did they attack outright. I held their attention. I took the handle of my sword carefully.
     “May I?”
     Still they made no move. I drew my sword and approached the one on the right, holding my sword on my open palms.  Talwyr stood behind to my left. He was so tense I felt it in my lungs. The goblin must have felt it too. He coiled slightly as I drew near. I stopped, as if surprised.
     “Please, if your colony doesn’t need my coin, stop me now! I’d rather not waste our time. I had heard goblins love the clink of gold. Have you heard it?”
     To fish several coins from my bag I had to move my left hand from the blade and tighten my other around the pommel. But when I did, the coins slipped from my fingers. They fell and bounced off the stones of the goblins’ doorstep, ringing out seductively. The goblins’ eyes lit up, as I knew they would. For a split second the dancing coins held their gaze. I needed no longer than that. My sword flashed as it only had in practice until that point. I admit I may have been a little too eager, Father. I opened his belly from one side to the other. Iron plates hanging on ratty leather thongs do little good against an angry sword, it would seem. This was Talwyr’s cue to engage but he stood still. He may have even blurted my name. It seems he lacks the stones to kill, Father.  The greatest intrigue to me was that the second goblin - even as his companion’s insides leapt out upon the stones - hesitated between avenging him and lusting at the coins! I ran my sword through his gut all the way to the hilt. Can I admit, Father, that I pictured your head on his shoulders? Writing that brings a smile to my face.
     The goblins choked and spat for a while on the ground and Talwyr grabbed my arm.
     “What have you done?” he demanded, face pale.
    “What? You heard yourself, they hijacked a caravan. Are we to simply weather such behavior? This close to Andyr? I think not!”
    “That is according to a drunken stranger!" Talwyr said.  "If he had said I robbed caravans would you have stuck me through so quickly?”  He was distraught. I guess seeing death up close does that to some. Not me, Father. I’d dreamed of this moment. And Talwyr's squawking grated on me.
    “Talwyr, you speak nonsense. They were only Vedorant goblins. Clearly you don’t plunder. And if you did, I’d find it easier to forgive you. Honestly, how did you expect to get the amulet, just ask for it?”
    “I’d hoped the man was as tangled in the head as he seemed and we’d be home by now, empty-handed, having found no goblin hole or goblin!”
    At this I took offense. I wasn't there for some jolly trot in the bushes. I was there because of you, Father, and I’d go home dead before empty-handed.
    “Perhaps it would be best if you leave,” I said.
    “Recher, you don’t need this amulet,” he said, longing in his eyes. “Let’s just go, there’s no telling how many more goblins are in that cave. Stay at my parent’s manor!  You don’t ever have to go back to your father’s house!”
    That’s right. Run away from my father. Give up now… This close.  Never . He must have read my eyes. His chest deflated under my gaze.
    “Talwyr, I go on. Do you?” I said, wiping my blade on the dry skin of the goblin.
    He shook his head and glared and kicked at the sand at his feet. I cleaned the rest of the blood off my sword and sheathed it. Still he stalled. Just before my patience ran dry he looked up at me. “Just promise we’ll try to keep quiet,” he said. “And you’ll try not to kill any more of them!”
    At this I laughed. “You’ll have to choose one or the other, Tal! I promise I won’t kill them unless they wrong me.”
    “Those two hadn’t wronged you,” he muttered.
     I looked in his eyes.  “Any who stand between me and the amulet wrong me.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A query and a raft

On my way to work I had an epiphany.  Don't worry, I was driving slowly.

A few years ago I was exploring somewhere I might not should have been. (this is not uncommon for me) I found a large stash of old, ruined lumber.  I did a little research and discovered who owned it and approached him to see if I could have some.  He said ok.

I got some folks together and we loaded down my car and brought it home.

the pile started off significantly bigger than this

First I nailed a bunch onto the treehouse, finally giving it defensible walls.  Then I decided to build a raft.  I don't know why.  Sometimes I just get ideas.

2 of the 6 sections in progress
All six sections, ready to go

Guinea pig, Jason, trying out 2 of the 6 sections

The only purchase I needed to make was several 4x4s and some wood screws.  Everything else (steel rings and dowels to connect, styrofoam to stuff it with, rope) was either found or donated.

So after a couple of weekends of work, the raft was completed and proven water-worthy.  I decided to take it for an adventure.  I plotted a course.

I've obscured some location details here... I don't know why, it seemed like the thing to do.  But if you're intent on finding this location, it actually shouldn't be hard.

Finally the day came to take the trip!  I had someone drop off my truck at the halfway point.  We planned to stop there... Going all 20 miles on the raft's maiden voyage seemed excessive.

I'm not going to go into detail here about who went or what happened.  A lot of those people may still be trying to forget the entire ordeal.  I will tell you this: 
We brought way too many people.  
We started way too late in the day.
It took 9 hours  to get from Start to Halfway; 4 hours in the daylight, 5 after the sun had set.
I had to convince every person, one at a time, why taking off through the woods is search of salvation was a horrendous idea.  
It was 2 am by the time we arrived at the Halfway point.  
Law enforcement from three surrounding counties had assembled on the bridge to wait for us (assuming we had gone missing) and I was told that in half an hour, they were going to send out helicopters looking for us.

I've apologized to the concerned parties.  It was reckless. But I wouldn't trade that experience for anything.  At times it was scary as crap.  At times it was cold.  But even in those times it was fun and exciting.

The raft has since been used several times on a lake (but it's a monstrosity to try to paddle around on it).  Now it has been disassembled and I used the pieces to build a pen in the backyard for my dog.


The point is, I put a lot of effort into something random and unheard of.  It's not the first time.  And I hope I'm still leaping at crazy ideas when I'm old and decrepit.  Like writing a book.  Very few people make a living as authors.  It's kind of a leap of faith for anyone to devote time and effort toward it!

That said, I have about ten queries floating around in cyberspace right now.  That number should double by the end of the month.  I've gotten two rejections so far.  Luckily, I'm used to things not always going as planned.  For that reason, this is not nearly as nerve wracking for me as I expected it to be.

All I can do is hope for the best and plan for the worst.

Afterall, the worst thing that can happen is they all say "not interested".  It's not like I might get bitten by a venomous snake while lost on the river in the middle of the woods at midnight.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On Editing: Now and Then

Open your document.

Find the first instance of the word "now". (ctrl + f then type "now" for you MS Word users)

Read the entire sentence aloud.

At times, the word is necessary.  For instance, when used comparatively (then and now, years ago and now).  But sometimes (particularly when used as an indicator of sequence) it's baggage.

To be sure which it is, remove "now" and read it again.

Here's an example from my latest revisions.
1. Those who stood around ceased to laugh and now gathered to her, fear in their eyes.

2. Those who stood around ceased to laugh and gathered to her, fear in their eyes.

Here #1 sounds sequential.  Like you’re reading instructions.  I could see it working for third omniscient in some cases.  But I’m going for third over the shoulder of Brandal, who sits watching them.
#2. Makes it feel like, though written in past tense, it’s going on right now.  As far as Brandal is concerned, it is.

1. “Oh, simple boy.” She smiled. “He can’t hear you.  He was lured by the call of a duende and now awaits judgment in its grasp.”

2. “Oh, simple boy.” She smiled. “He can’t hear you.  He was lured by the call of a duende and awaits judgment in its grasp.

This one seems obvious to me now that I’ve singled it out.  She’s telling about events that happened in that order (lured by the call, awaits judgment). But the fact that she says it in that order, shows that the events happened in that order.  When she uses the word "now" she tells that everything else happened before... 
Well clearly it happened before!  It’s almost as if she knows she’s a character in a book!

1. Zuushe appeared exactly the same years earlier as he did now.  

I put this as an example of when the word is acceptable.  It is comparing two times, "years ago" and "now".

"Then" is another potentially problematic word.  Especially in action sequences.

1. Darke approached the wrought iron gate and reached to unlatch it but then stopped.  

2. Darke approached the wrought iron gate and reached to unlatch it but stopped.

I think something that new writers don't realize is that we, as readers, are distinctly aware that (unless indicated otherwise) events happen in the order they're told.  
In #1 "then" serves to slow things down.  It steals a bit of momentum from the abruptness of whatever made Darke stop.  Both #1 and #2 pose the question to the reader: Why did he stop?  But #2 does so with a stronger sense of abruptness.  You don't see it coming.  It shows that Darke didn't plan to stop.
IN FACT, #3 may even be more effective at this!

3.  Darke approached the wrought iron gate and reached to unlatch it.  He stopped. 


Notice that delivery of the line becomes more effective the less words are used!  

New writers, I can't stress enough how important this is!  We have a tendency to slather words over an idea, scene or emotion like we're slopping bbq sauce on a grilled rack of ribs, not realizing that excess words are the fat and bone, not the flavor!

4.  Darke approached the wrought iron gate and reached to unlatch it but then stopped abruptly in his tracks.

NO!!!  Exterminate the cliche "in his tracks" (whatever that even means) and the rotten adverb!


Acceptable use of "then" :

1. Over the next hour they finished cutting the logs and then retired to the house where Rose sat in a rocking chair in the bedroom, mending a shirt with a needle and thread. 

Let's keep "then".  I think it could be comparable to "over the next hour."
BUT, get rid of that pesky "and."  It's baggage.

2. Over the next hour they finished cutting the logs then retired to the house where Rose sat in a rocking chair in the bedroom, mending a shirt with a needle and thread. 

I hope you find some of this useful and I'd really appreciate your feedback!  
This blog is the result of a personal editing epiphany.  I did a "Now run" through my manuscript and deleted about 70 "now"s.

As always, I'm willing to consider your opinion if it contradicts mine... After all, why else would I post this online?