Thursday, May 30, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday: The Choker

This week, Chuck gave us a random choice of twenty psychic powers.  The roll of the dice gave me psychometry, the ability to tell an object's past from touching it.  I'm not much on this kind of thing, and the story turned dark on me right from the beginning.  It's not really suited for the young.

The Choker

I was with Brian when it began.  I knew something had happened, and I tried to get him to talk about it then, but experience he would not and I let it slide.  That was my first and biggest mistake, but we who have these powers are slow to speak of them, and with reason.

Brian had taken me shopping with him to look for a birthday present for his wife.  She liked old jewelry—not necessarily antiques, but old.  Brian had seen a shop he thought looked promising.  You know the kind: half junk store, half antique shop.  A few good bits mixed in with a ton of trash.  It just takes patience, to keep looking until you find treasure.

Brian spotted it first, and pointed it out to me, half-buried on a tray with stamped-tin costume stuff: a silver choker, made from four strands of fine chain.

To tell the truth, I didn’t like it.  It reminded me of a choke-collar for a dog, somehow.  But Brian was drawn to it, and I figured he knew his wife better than I did.  The choker was in a display case, and Brian had the proprietor take it out for him.  When he handed it over, Brian froze for a moment, and swayed.  I thought he was going to pass out, and he dropped the choker.  Only a couple of seconds, and then he apologized, pulling himself together.  He bent and studied the chain where he’d dropped it on the counter, but he didn’t touch it again, not then.  He’s quick, I’ll say that.  Or maybe it wasn’t as new a sensation as I thought.  To my surprise, he said he’d take the thing, and asked the man to wrap it for him.

I managed just to brush it with a finger as the proprietor took it up, and the sense of pain and despair was breathtaking.  No wonder Brian had nearly fainted, meeting that for the first time.  I gave him a sharp look.  He’d shown no signs of psychometry before, as far as I knew, but something had definitely happened.

It’s a tricky thing, talking about stuff like that.  I asked a few leading questions as we went back to the office, but he didn’t answer.  I worried about his wife, , but Brian didn’t give her the necklace.  He kept it in his office.  I caught him, twice, with it laid out on the desk, his hand held just above, not touching it.

I tried.  I let him know that I’d seen.  “You’ve got to get rid of that thing,” I said.  “It’s getting a hold on you.”  I tried to say it in a way that would let him know I understood, without coming right out and saying it.  Just in case.

“I can’t let it go,” he said.  “I need to know—” and he broke off without finishing the thought.  I admit I lost courage.  I should have done something.  Taken the thing and found out what it was.  Instead, like Brian, I guarded my secret against my fear.

The day came when I went into his office and he didn’t turn at the sound when I closed the door.  He sat, rigid, and my heart sank.  I stepped closer, and my fears were confirmed.  Both hands lay face up on the desk, the choker draped across them.  I called his name, and he didn’t answer.  I clutched at his shoulder, and his head moved a bit, and I looked into eyes that reflected a soul gone—somewhere.  He breathed, but that was all.

I snatched the choker from his hands, and nearly screamed.  It clattered to the floor where I flung it from me, and my moans mingled with Brian’s.  His moans said he knew something had happened, but a look at his eyes told me it wasn’t enough.

I knew what I had to do.  If I followed him where the thing had taken him, I might find him, and I might be able to bring him back.  If it didn’t kill me.  Psychometry is all very well when it uses happy objects from an innocent past.  But I had already seen enough to know that this choker was no beloved bauble of contented women.  It was a choker.  A slave-collar.  Steeped in eons of death and despair and hatred.  No wonder Brian, not believing, not knowing anything, had gotten lost.  And it was my fault, for not warning him.  My fault, and my job to set it right if possible.

Careful not to touch the thing, I seated myself in the lotus position on the floor by his feet.  I took up the cloth lying on the desk, and even that held an echo of the choker.  I picked the thing up with the cloth, closing myself to the emanations that leaked through the fabric.  A few deep breaths took me into a light trance.

Then I unwrapped the thing and let it fall on my left hand.

I have no idea how long I was frozen there, one agonized life after another passing before me.  Even the most recent, long after slavery ended, were marked by grief, no doubt due to the necklace itself.  You didn’t have to be able to see it’s past for such an object to hurt you.  I tried to control what I saw, to let the images and feelings flash by without absorbing them, and even so tears ran down my face and only my fist stuffed in my mouth kept me from screaming as I moved with the choker back through the ages, through each woman’s pain and wretchedness and hatred.  Oh, lots of hatred.

I nearly lost myself.  I clung fiercely to my sanity, and kept going, and at the end of it I found Brian.

I found him, but I could not bring him back.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Half a Centurty of--Half a WHAT???!!

Just multiply the candles by a number larger than pi. . .

Putting the books on hold today to reflect a bit about. . . a half-century of living.  HOLY BOVINES, DID I SAY A HALF CENTURY??  Fifty years seems to require some response.  Something besides the "label me brain-dead and ship me to Texas" moment I had this morning. . . when I showed up at the gym for my swim, only to realize (well into the changing process) that the pack containing my swim stuff (like a suit, you know) was still at home.  On the floor of the garage where I set it down to put on my jacket and lift down the bike.  Since they don't let you swim nude in our pool, I had a nice ride and a weight workout.  The pool will still be there tomorrow.  Maybe the suit, too.

In a way, it's odd to be reflecting on my life using a wireless keyboard and an iPad.  I grew up in an era of black-and-white TVs and manual typewriters.  I don't think the changes of the last 50 years compare with the changes my grandparents lived through--my maternal grandmother crossed Washington State in a covered wagon and lived to see the beginning of the internet era (I'm not sure she was very aware of that, but certainly the computer era was well under way before she died in 1991).  But I do love my computer, and the internet is a wondrous thing.

I've read a number of books lately on being or becoming a writer, and seen mention more than once of reasons people find for not starting.  One of those (as the writers of the writing books speculate) is "I'm too old.  I'm already 50."  I'm here to say that 50 isn't old.  I published my first book last year, when I was still 48.  But I'm just getting started on this career, and I am happy to say that it doesn't feel like I'm too old.

So if you are thinking about it. . . don't count your years.  Count the hours you can find to write instead.  And then sit down and have a heckuva fun time doing it. 

I am.

(I will return soon to my regularly scheduled programming. . . don't touch that dial!) 

P.S.  A is for Alpine is now up as a paperback on Amazon.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Mystery Monday: I Am Half Sick of Shadows

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows: A Flavia de Luce Novel 

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows: A Flavia du Luce Novel, by Alan Bradley

Audio version, read by Jayne Entwistle.

This is book 4 of the Flavia du Luce series, all of which I have "read" as audio books, which is undeniably a different experience from reading for oneself.  Ms. Entwistle does an excellent job with the reading, and the books come to life in my mind as I listen.

Alan Bradley's Flavia du Luce books are a fairly atypical series, in that they are definitely adult murder mysteries, narrated by an 11-year-old girl.  Don't let the narrator's age fool you.  These are not children's books (though clean enough, they are sophisticated and occasionally violent).  Flavia lives at Buckshaw, a decaying English country house, in the 1950s, with her father and two older sisters who I hope are even nastier to her than real girls would be to a sister several years younger than they, a sort of general man-servant named Dogger, and Mrs. Mullet, the cook.  Flavia's mother is dead, which is sort of a necessary aspect of stories of very precocious children who do un-childlike things, but Bradley keeps that, too, a bit unconventional by having her be dead of a mountaineering accident.

Flavia is an accomplished chemist who uses her knowledge in interesting ways (a trap for St. Nick, anyone?), as well as in incorrigible nosy-Parker who puts herself in the way of danger by being unable to stop investigating things--including a murder.  For while the entire village of Bishop's Lacey is snowed in at Buckshaw, along with a film company making a movie (because, of course, the du Luce family is out of money and is making a bit extra by renting the house the the film crew), someone turns up dead.

The mystery itself is decently constructed, and I enjoy watching Flavia unravel it (and the Inspector explain how he got to the same point by more conventional means).  But the real pleasure of the series is in the relation of people in and around Buckshaw, Flavia's chemistry experiments, and the author's use of the language.  Listening to a book makes me both more and less aware of language, and I don't usually come away with phrases to remember.  But I laughed aloud when Flavia, contemplating Mrs. Mullet's cooking, says that "my uvula was cowering behind my tonsils" (apologies if this isn't exact--that's the trouble with audio!).

If you are a fan of the English cozy mystery, I recommend this series.  This book is a decent addition to the sequence, though the closed setting is a little less fun than when we have Flavia rambling about the village and the countryside on her bicycle, Gladys.  I am also beginning to itch for more development of the issues hinted at in all the books: why do the sisters seem to have a special reason to hate Flavia?  What really happened to her mother?  Will Flavia ever turn 12?  Will Ophelia pick a suitor?  I am finding the books blending together in my head, and I think it's not that the mysteries are unoriginal, but that the characters are feeling a bit static.

3.5 stars.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Hey, look at this!

I got this yesterday:

Opened it up and I got this!
 Pretty, huh?

Looks nice inside, too!

Yup, the paperback is ready.  If you have little kids and like to hike, try a copy of my fun alphabet book for backpacking and camping families.

Ebook is 99 cents at Smashwords or Amazon.

Paperback is currently available here, and soon to be available on Amazon for only $6.99.

I'm pretty excited--it's colorful, it's fun, and it's a reminder that you don't have to wait for the kids to grow up before you can get into the mountains and have a great time!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Flash Fiction Friday: The Sword of Erken

This week Chuck gave us all a random-phrase generator that set up a character and a fantasy quest.  I got "A brave poet is searching for a legendary weapon."  As so often happens, I ended up in some unexpected places, having fun with a tone and style I don't normally use.  I didn't manage to keep to the 1000-word limit, though (it's 1301 words).

The Sword of Erken the Bloody

They say poets are good for little but long winter nights by the fire.  That they may sing for hours of the exploits of the brave, but themselves have not the courage to learn a weapon.

Allow me to tell you of Aelfra, that you might know that a poet may have more courage than any number of warriors, and that the words of a bard may be more powerful than the most legendary sword ever forged.

Aelfra was a barda poet by any other namein a land you know well, long ago.  Winters were long and the warriors coarse and harsh.  Grown weary of the contempt of the soldiers at the winter fires, who huddled close for her songs but dismissed her abilities, she rashly vowed one night that she would find the legendary sword of the ancient hero Erken the Bloody, lost to human memory in the centuries following the collapse of the realm under his successor King Unraed.  She swore she could find and win the sword, armed only with her wit and her words.

The warriors laughed rudely, and when she departed in the spring, men placed bets on her chances of returning.  No one believed she would return with the sword.  Aelfra knew that most believed that if she returned at all, it would because she had given up before even leaving their land.  That she vowed would not happen.

But it was a pleasure to be out of the mead hall, and free for the time of demands for yet another song, poem, or story.  Indeed, to walk the roads of the land in spring was joy enough, and she sang of spring and love as she walked.  Despite the contempt of warriors, none in that land would trouble a bard; her lute was her safe-passage.  When night fell, she found a castle, cottage, or hovel, and traded a few songs and a tale for a meal and a warm corner.  Thus she made her way north, out of the known lands and into the mythic land once ruled by the Hero.

There things changed.  That land had lain long in chaos and disorder, no leader stepping forth who could draw the people into peace and order since Unraed had died by his own hand.  The old laws were broken and lost.  Now Aelfra used her ready wits and her clever tongue to talk herself into and out of trouble, not merely to buy a nights lodging.

At last she felt she drew near the hiding place of the Sword of Erken the Bloody.  It lay in the heart of this cold land, but she knew not in what spot.  Now it seemed she must speak of her quest or learn nothing, yet to speak was to betray herself to those who would stop at nothing to hide the legendary weapon.

This enigma occupied Aelfra not a little, as she wandered from dwelling to dwelling.  For the first time in her travels, she found doors closed to her, and people unwilling to share what they had.  She invented ever more elaborate lies to explain her wanderings, here in a dead land where only the mador the desperatewould go of choice.  She began to wonder if she were desperate or mador driven, which might well be the same thing.

The story she built was that of a woman given long ago to passing merchants, by a family unable to feed another girl.  The merchants had given her to the Players, and now she returned to seek her lost family.  No, she did not hold a grudge; times were hard and they had done what they must that she might not starve.  Her mother had wept sorely at their parting and. . . and Aelfra stopped, as her audience seemed to grow restless at this show of sentiment.

At the next place, she spoke rather of her anger and a desire to show her family that she had done well despite them.  This tale received a more credulous response, but to her dismay, as she repeated it, she felt the anger she pretended grow within her as though it were real, a pulsing hatred for a family that did not even exist.

Then she began to hear of it.  Rumors, only rumors, but of an ill spirit of this land that made people lose their hope and their compassion.  It was the merest whisper, that some there knew the source of the malign power.  It was not long before she discovered some believed the grimness came from the Sword of Erken the Bloody itself.

It was then that she began for the first time to see that a legendary weapon may have power for something other than the salvation of a land.  Up to then, she had thought of the Sword as a relic that would bring fame and fortune to her and her home.  Now she saw it might as easily bring death and destruction, and she wondered if she should turn back.  But the pull of the sword was strong upon her, and she found she could not draw away.

The day came when Aelfra found the Sword.  She knew when she neared the ruined castle that this was the resting place of the Sword of Erken the Bloody, whom she now knew to be no hero, but a vicious conqueror whose merciless spirit lived on in the sword and those whose spirits it corrupted.

No one lived in the ruin.  No one guarded the sword.  Such a weapon, she now understood, guarded itself.

Aelfra picked her way through the rubble, her fingertips itching as she drew near.  Her words, even had there been any to hear them, had gone from her in the inarticulate lust for a power that was not her own.

Rubble covered the sword.  She could sense it down there, calling her, sucking at her memories of a land where fires gave warmth enough for all, and companions meant comfort and safety.  Her hands tore and bled as she pulled away the rubble untila gleam of steel, untarnished by the years.  Overloaded and bursting with magic.

She reached out her hand to take the weapon and the power.

And stopped.  With an effort of will that nearly stopped her heart, she found and used the only weapon she had against that soul-destroying power.  The words ripped at her mouth as she forced them out, and her voice cracked.

I. . . will. . . not. . . yield.  The words gave her strength, and she began to sing, in a thin and choked voice, the ballad of the love of Ganelon and Theira, the most joyous song she knew.

The ground shook.  In all the centuries since Erken conquered the land and the sword conquered his soul, none had defied the sword's will to hate and destroy.  And now.  Now when on the brink of freeing the sword to wield once again its full power, this mortal had refused its seductive enslavement.

Aelfra continued to sing, her voice growing stronger with each word, and the ruins shuddered and swayed around her.  Then she turned and fled, as the ground opened and the rubble, the sword flashing as it tumbled among the stones of walls it had long ago destroyed, slid into the depths of the earth, to a place where it might never again draw mortal souls.

And on the moor once more, Aelfra shook herself, and stood taller, and felt, as though for the first time in weeks, the warmth of the sun on her shoulders as she turned to journey once again to her own land.  She raised her head and began to sing a traveling song, and did not look back.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Talent Seekers--Just Released!

I  want to announce that The Talent Seekers by gifted writer Jemima Pett has just been released!

Humphrey is on the run.  He has no friends, no past, no purpose, and no future.  He’s just a guinea pig trying to find his way west in a world of dark forests, wild hills, strong castles, and assorted vagabonds and other nameless things that might or might not begin with the letter V.
White Horse Castle has a proud past but an uncertain future.  The new king, Benson, is trying to hold his realm together against the avaricious intentions of his neighbour, Lord Colman of Castle Deeping. Fortunately, White Horse Castle has a secret.  It knows that there are special guinea pig people out there… people who need a purpose… people with skills and talents that could be put to good use. The trouble is, how to find them?

In the fifth book in the Princelings series, we find the young outcast from the Lost City of Arbor travelling west as his mother suggested.  He is rounded up amongst other exiles, but escapes, and finds himself among people that could be his friends, something he has never had before.  But they are under threat, and Humphrey’s adventures twist and turn as he is called to his destiny by an unknown force, one that calls to his special hearing skills.  He meets other talented individuals and learns to be a team, to work with others for the common good.

It’s a tale of greed, of fighting, of cruelty and of a darker place than the ones we’ve met so far in the Princelings world.  Heroes and heroines emerge from the unlikeliest of places to find laughter and friendship and a place where they belong.

The Talent Seekers is a fantasy adventure story with paranormal influences and some pitched battles. It is set in the months between the Prologue and the Epilogue of the Princelings and the Lost City, but with otherwise little connection to the previous stories in the series.  It’s suitable for readers aged 10 and upwards.

About the Author:
Once upon a time, Jemima wrote a story, carefully made into a booklet about two inches high by one across, entitled “The Little Stream”.  Many years later she found it in the box in which her mother kept her most precious possessions. Jemima realized she’d always been writing, but had never had a strong plot or set of characters, until her guinea pigs came along.  Fred, George, Victor and Hugo had personalities and stories that needed to be told, and in November 2011 the first of their stories came out.  Now we have five books about the adorable guinea pigs!

Swing on over to Amazon and get your copy of The Talent Seekers today!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

For our schools. . .

This seems like a nice follow-on to our Children's Book Week events.  Our gradeschool (well, not ours anymore in one sense, since my kids foolishly got old and had to move on) is holding an on-line auction to raise money for all the things California no longer funds (books, electricity. . . ).  Dates and times are Pacific Daylight Time.  Check it out, then swing on over to the Auction Site: