Wednesday, November 7, 2018

NaNoWriMo Update: WIP Wednesday #1

It's been a hard-fought week, for some reason... I'm currently behind on my word count--but I'm hoping to find my stride soon! Enjoy a couple excerpts that I've written so far!


The Pit was exactly that, a wide hole in the ground about as wide across as one of the Academy lecture halls. Worry, confusion, and my mind's absolute refusal to acknowledge our current predicament drove me into a frenzy. I paced back and forth across the small patch of open ground we occupied. When I collided with a wall, I would reach as high as I could, digging my fingers into the hardened clay and kicking the toes of my boots against it for a foothold.
"Callista," Matthias cautioned, "calm down!"
"I can't calm down!" I snarled at him, pacing to the far wall and trying again. I could see a sort of walkway dug into the side, barely wide enough to walk on and definitely leading at least halfway up to the top... but how could I reach it? I kept rambling as I wandered around, probably searching for an access point to the walkway. "It's a Pit, Matthias! We are in a Pit, and the only way out is farther than any of us can reach!" I stopped clambering and turned to jab a finger at him. "All because you can't help yourself when it comes to damsels in distress!"
I heard whispering, murmuring voices. From somewhere in the shadows on the other side of the pit, people seemed to emerge out of the walls. Most of them were old and frail, and none of them looked very well nourished or clean.
Matthias caught my shoulder as if he was afraid I would take off again. "My fault?" He demanded. "You're the one who's been acting strangely this whole time! I've felt like there was something you've been hiding from me ever since we left the forest where you found me?"
"And if I hadn't," I retorted, yanking my arm out of his grasp, "You'd be dead, strangled and smothered by blackrope by now! But are you grateful?" I let out a bitter chuckle. "Not even a little! You're right, you don't know everything about this journey, but that hasn't stopped you from trying to take charge, now has it? First the sword, then Morgianna, now Ronni--you just don't know when to stop, do you?"
"Callista..." whispered a gentle voice beside me. I looked over at Rowinna, and she handed a bundle of dirty cloth to me: the satchel that Ronni had called useless and empty. I heard the hissing whisper of a few words issuing form the Tapestry's Tale--but what good would they do for us now? We weren't free to go anywhere of our own volition.

The other prisoners of the Pit drew closer around us. I could hear them asking questions like "Is she all right?" and "What is the problem?" and I saw the pity in their glassy eyes as they stared right at me. The heavy weight in my chest returned, making it difficult to draw a breath. Amazingly, my body seemed to find moisture yet through which to vent my raging emotions, and the tears resurfaced, clouding my vision. I sagged heavily against the wall of the pit, holding the satchel in both arms.
"We're dead... This is it," I whimpered, "we're all done for."


In the list of everything I ever wanted to do in my life, even just the once, for the sake of "experiential writing research", walk through a desert in the blazing sun alone dressed in nothing but a synthetic jumpsuit did not even show up anywhere at all. And yet, thanks to a quirky typewriter, an impossible challenge, and goodness knows what other substance I may or may not have ingested to bring me here--this is exactly where I found myself in this moment.
The thing that irritated me most was the fact that there didn't seem to be any trees or means of actual shade under the clear blue sky and the blazing sun. My only relief came from the fact that the futuristic jumpsuit from the Phantessan space ship possessed some kind of super-wicking ability, evaporating any moisture on contact, so that even my sweat didn't cause any problems. Of course, I still lost those copious amounts of moisture, so I felt the dehydration settle over me at a much faster rate. The bright sunlight reflecting off the pale sand didn't help the dizzy factor, either. I kept my eyes down, watching my shadow as I shambled over the ground. Gradually, I came to more or less of a flat, packed surface, instead of loose gravel and soil, and the track seemed to follow more of a direction, like a road rather than just open scrubland.
I walked until my legs began to feel heavy, and still, I was the only thing in the desert that moved. To avoid getting caught up in my own misery, I did the unthinkable: I let my mind wander as I walked in this foreign location.

The last two adventures I'd experienced had been places I distinctly remembered starting to write about, and abandoning not long after. What, then, could this be? I didn't recall ever writing about a barren desert. I hated this feeling of overheating, of alone-ness. Certainly I would never inflict it upon my characters. Whenever I wrote a story, I would always start it with the people who lived there--so what was the point of having so much empty space in this place?
"It just doesn't make sense!" I said aloud. What did anyone care? I didn't, and besides, thinking my thoughts while dehydrated caused them to stop in the middle or twist in strange and obscure directions while I was still trying to think them. Speaking the words out loud helped me keep them in order.
"I've been walking far enough," I said through cracked lips, my voice croaking out of a dry throat. I looked back over my shoulder. "I can't even see the Phantessan ship anymore. This world is just too big!" My wandering eyes caught something, a slight change in the road I followed: long, deep, cracked furrows running parallel to each other, spanning just wider than the reach of my arms.
"Wagon ruts!" I identified them out loud. "Now there's something that fits! Where there are wagon ruts, there are wagons, and where there are wagons, there are people, and where there are people, there's a town!" I shuffled down the road with renewed (if still very much depleted) energy.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Reader's Review: "Oblivion's Forge" by Simon Williams

Synopsis from Amazon:

Close to death, a loner who lives a life of slavery to geomantic forces tries to forget the horror he glimpsed and the god-like beings that threaten the very existence of the world.

A young woman cursed by a witch seeks shelter in a castle as winter closes in- only to find herself propelled into a nightmare.

A healer who has reached the limit of her abilities and endurance when she struggles with a mysterious, incurable disease, seeks help from her mentor but is swept up in events beyond her control.

In each of these people and many others, ancient forces stir in response to the existential threat facing the world of Aona. A suffocating darkness to stand against the destroying light; a raging torrent of power bestowed through a thousand years of blood.

Oblivion's Forge is the first book in the Aona series, which tells of a monumental struggle between two great powers, an unparalleled existential war.

"What if all of this- our powers, our world- is that last light hanging in the void?"

My Review:

One thing I will say about this book: there is no shortage of intriguing concepts and fascinating ideas here! Early on in reading this book, I began to get the vibe that it was a lot like Stephen King's Dark Tower, which I had recently read--and also kind of like Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, in its scope, the multiple viewpoints and how it all converges and builds up to this one scene at the end. That was very well done and I got some satisfaction along with the chills and the sense of foreboding I got when what all these characters were hoping for, and the conclusion I was expecting, were all thwarted in a most spectacular way.

The problem, I feel, was how much meandering and wandering and "head-hopping" I had to do to get there. Also the fact that, unlike Mistborn, there weren't really any stand-out characters I could track with and follow through the dark, despondent mire of supernatural machinations and inexorable destinies--Amethyst, perhaps, and the power she cannot understand that draws her in a specific direction, for reasons she cannot know, so she attributes her own reasons for this destiny placed upon her by another; also Iyoth, who kind of shows up randomly halfway through the book, but turns out to be more deeply connected to several other characters than anyone would have guessed. There's Vornen, who is kind of like the "Roland" of this series--a mysterious, roving "Ranger with a mission", disliked by many, who knows only slightly more about the truth of the situation than the people around him, yet cannot let go of his painful past...

And since this is most definitely the first book in a series, the end reaches far beyond the last page of this book, and so I am left with a conundrum: do I keep going to see where the author plans to take this world next, now that the big cataclysmic moment has occurred, launching a new set of problems and perils to challenge the characters... or do I leave it as it is, to avoid the pitfalls of getting sucked in deeper to wanton pain and destruction that is sure to follow this dramatic beginning? I suppose I can move on for now, whittle down my TBR list by a few dozen more books, and hold off on revisiting until I am good and ready. One thing I am sure of: Aona is a world worth revisiting in the future!

All that said, I would give OBLIVION'S FORGE a solid ****3.5 STARS**** for all the things it did do right: the history, the lore, the prophecies, the "otherworldliness" of it, plenty of food for abstract thought and fascinating concepts! If you are someone who enjoys getting drawn into books, enjoys heavy high fantasy with a liberal overlay of dark supernatural elements, and you're one who would have the time to stay committed to a series for the long haul, and doesn't get disappointed by much--then by all means, this is definitely a series worth picking up!

Further Reading: (Sci-Fi/Other Worlds/Deep Lore/Supernatural Peril)

The Untamed Series--Madeline Dyer
The Cadeau Series--Connie Olvera
       -Who Can You Trust? 
Alexi Sokolsky: Hound of Eden--James Osiris Baldwin
        -Burn Artist 
        -Blood Hound

Friday, November 2, 2018

Flash Fiction Friday: "Flashes of Inspiration" No. 21

Art credit: Adam Schumpert
#21 "The Ghost In The Crypt"

The air hung thickly around me. It was getting hard to breathe.
That didn't stop me from lighting one up and taking a long drag, relishing the cool detachment it brought me.
I stared at the thing in front of me. Of effing course it would be.
"Geez, Mirabelle," I muttered under my breath. "You couldn't pick something a little more subtle, could you?"

I stood at the foot of a gigantic stone door, carved and painted in ornate patterns and occult symbols. Every kind of warning sign and portent to danger, in every language since the dawn of sentience screamed at me there... and right there in the middle of my sight line, a gem as big as my face, like the world's most expensive PUSH ME button.

So I did. Taking a deep breath and saying the words Mirabelle had all but literally seared into my brain with a hot brand, I called up the ancient power and placed my hand over the jewel.
It felt like planting my hand over a dutch oven fresh from the fire. I spat my cigarette a good twenty feet as I screamed bloody murder and scared the bejeezus out of half the jungle. If Degarras and his men didn't know where I was--they sure as shooting did now. By the time it was over, I couldn't tell if I'd lost all the feeling in my hand, or just the hand itself.

Opening my eyes, I discovered that the gem was no longer glowing, and the absence of heat had created that sensation of numbness. My hand was still there, at least. I took it down.
With a great, rumbling groan, like a freshly-tranquilized elephant, the door gave an earth-shaking rumble as it slid and scraped its way upward. I couldn't imagine the mechanics required to lift something that huge, but once the opening was wide enough for me to fit, I decided I didn't need to worry about mechanics. I had a crypt to loot.

The further I got from the entrance, the less light I had. It got so dark, I half expected to see Mirabelle's faint outline in front of me, but no dice. The juju on this place was still too strong. I stopped when progressing forward felt pointless, when every step just might be a bottomless pit.
"Gee," I coughed in the stillness and silence, "some light would be nice."

I flinched and reached for the holster on my hip as something exploded right next to me. I stared right at it and nearly blinded myself.

A torch! As if commanded by my voice, lanterns burst to life all the way down the hallway. In the dim, quivering light, I saw no pits on the floor, just a hallway so long that the focal point extended to a tiny gap at the edge of my view horizon. I stepped forward, grabbing one of the torches out of its brackets, just in case I lost the light of the others. I counted twenty paces, then fifty, then one hundred. Had I gone a mile already? How long was this crypt, anyway?

I kept walking and counting, acutely aware of more and more things as I did. At five repetitions, my badge clip on my belt started chafing. (why the heck didn't I leave that back at the hotel?) By twelve repetitions, I was wondering what on earth about this mission warranted a two-piece suit and tie? I pulled at the knot and loosened my collar just a little. At probably the fourteenth repetition of one hundred (or somewhere thereabouts... I got bored of counting a couple times and arbitrarily started spewing numbers) I finally reached the doorway at the end of the hall, and I could see as I approached with the torch that the shadows contained therein weren't ordinary shadows. It was weird, seeing that thick black line that the light from my torch wouldn't cross. It gave the impression that the blackness filling the space in front of me had mass and volume. I could stick my hand in it and swirl it around, but according to my eyes, it was a solid mass that I shouldn't be able to just step into.
Which is why I proceeded to do exactly that.

The torch in my hand gave a little whuff-ing sound, and the light from it seemed to retreat around the flaming bulb part at the end--only to disappear completely and blaze brighter than ever when I took another step forward. I looked away and rubbed the dancing stars out of my eyes. I did notice that the thick shadows weren't thick any more. I could distinguish everything within a thirty-foot radius--

Including the gigantic stone coffin with a slab depicting the demigod war chieftain Brophistocles.
"Bazinga!" I cried, just because I had developed the trend of talking to myself... Except this time, my voice took on a thundering echo that rang for several repetitions. I clapped a hand over my mouth, but it was too late. A long, hissing groan issued from the shadows beyond my little circle. I drew the knife hanging from my belt.

"Sorry," I told to whatever spirits had no doubt become aware of my presence. "This dude has an amulet I need to free my girlfriend from the netherworld." I watched for more movement, but I only heard the sustained hissing. "Now, if you don't mind, I'll just be about my business and get out of your hair." If the Whatever-It-Was even had hair. Who cares? It's a metaphor. I shrugged and turned back to the sarcophagus.

Big mistake.

The first tentacle wrapped around my right leg and jerked it out from under me, slamming me flat on the stone floor before I could catch myself on my hands. It was sheer dumb luck that I managed to tuck my chin and take the brunt of the hit on my thick skull and not break my nose. It still hurt like heck. I hauled myself up on one elbow and twisted to see over my shoulder just in time to come face to face with another tentacle headed for my neck. I slashed at that with my knife, gritting my teeth against the horrible pain of the living tourniquet wrapped around my calf and squeezing tighter.

"Dagnabbit, let go!" I grunted at the alien Guardian. I should have remembered that ancient legends spoke of these creatures who thrived in the shadows of enormous tombs, determined and willing to set upon any living creature who dared trespass to disturb the slumber of such a auspicious figure. More than a dozen tentacles of varying sizes thrashed and wriggled as the creature sought to trap me. I dodged many of them, but occasionally the Guardian scored a hit. One particularly thick limb slapped me across the middle, sending me flying back against the rock wall. I landed hard, and the next thing that registered was another tentacle wrapped around the shaft of a spear! Too late, I moved to slice at it, and the Guardian hissed as it stabbed me in the side. I could feel the rush of alarm at the injury, but I still needed that amulet. I fought my way through the tangled, ever-changing forest of tentacles, slicing at any that got in my way, twisting and ducking to avoid others. At last, I threw myself on top of the coffin.

The Guardian let out a piercing shriek and the frenzy of the tentacles increased. I clenched my fist against my side to keep from bleeding out altogether. I knew I had to defeat the Guardian in order to gain access to the tomb--but how?


The voice that spoke I had only ever heard in my dreams. The heat trapped in the cave seemed to vaporize in seconds, and I felt the chill wind blow over me. When it faded, I saw her. Barely visible, made of dancing lines of blue light, but Mirabelle was there. She hovered between us, her hand resting protectively on my chest while the other arrested the movement of the Guardian. It hissed angrily at her, but she didn't move. Her ethereal blue skirts swirled around her, caught in an un-felt wind.

I grimaced as a shooting pain radiated from my stab wound.
"Mirabelle..." I grunted, "You're here..."
She didn't take her eyes off the creature. "I'm not sure how it happened. I swear, Damian, if I could manage to come in here by myself, I would have done that ages ago. Perhaps it just needed the touch of someone--"
"Alive?" I quipped.
She chuckled. "Thanks for putting it delicately, Detective."

Above us, the monster bellowed, as if it felt the need to remind us that it could still squash our puny little lives (well, existences, really...) if it cared to, at any moment.
"Now then," my ghostly girlfriend murmured, "we've got a threat to mitigate if you want to have a snowball's chance at getting that amulet."
I grinned. "Right behind you all the way," I replied.

Did you enjoy this tale? Head over to FLASH FICTIONS for more "Flashes of Inspiration"!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Serial Saturday: "The Dragon's Mark" Part 11

Part 11
"Chasing The Dragon"

Stella ran, dragon-like, through the endless inferno. All around her was flame, but she didn’t feel it. Henrik ran next to her, and she could see his body covered in the dark, shifting scales. Would they find his father before they, too, became dragons?
At last, Henrik cried out, “I see them!”

Stella followed his gesture and saw two dark blots among the flames—Sigmund the Dragon and his prisoner. Agatha crouched in a patch of blackened soot, her face curled into her lap. Stella noticed that the dress didn’t seem damaged at all; was it some sort of special material Nadia had discovered, resistant to flame? The young woman did not make a sound—probably she had worn herself out screaming as the dragon carried her away. Sigmund waited defensively by, watching the two of them approach, spewing fire wherever his protective circle broke away.

Henrik approached just ahead. “Father!” He cried. “It’s me—Henrik! See, I’ve brought the girl, Nadia’s descendant!”

Sigmund swung his head around and regarded the two of them. Angrily, he sent a blast of fire over their heads, but Henrik and Stella stood their ground.

Stella stepped forward. “My name is Stella; I am the Bride you seek,” she said. “Let me have the Ring, and I can lift this terrible curse.”

Standing there in the heat, Stella could feel all her exposed skin thickening and hardening. It was hard enough to breathe, harder still to see in the blinding light. The dragon snarled at them as it angrily stalked the perimeter of the clearing. Stella wondered if Sigmund was too far gone, if he understood human speech at all by this point. Abruptly, at the far side of the circle, the dragon’s head jerked up, and he took off into the sky with a screech, lost amid the smoke.

Henrik stared helplessly after his father. “Where has he gone? What are we going to do?”

Stella, on the other hand, focused on the terrified figure huddled on the ground. “Agatha!” she called, running toward her.

The tousled dark head came up, revealing the tear-stained, scratched, terrified face underneath. After the fear came anger, and Agatha glared at the scarred young woman before her. “You!” she grunted. “This is all your fault! If you hadn’t gone to the stupid party, Mother wouldn’t have known you had the Ring, and I wouldn’t have had to stand in the Governor’s Court wearing borrowed clothes!” She thrust an arm out, gesturing toward the flames surrounding them. “And now look where we are! I’m going to die out here, and it’s all your fault!

Stella ignored Agatha’s complaining, as she had so many times before. “Agatha, listen to me! I think I have a way to put an end to this, but I’ll need the Ring—“

Agatha wasn’t listening. She stared over Stella’s shoulder and gasped. “Is that… Henrik?” She clapped grubby hands to her cheeks. “Ugh! What have you done to him? He looks… He’s like you! How awful!” Her mouth curled in a horrified grimace.

The former serving girl saw the red gem still on her finger. “Agatha!” She begged. “Give me the Ring! It was meant for me!”
Meant for you?” Agatha shrieked over the roar of the fire. “You think just because everything was wonderful when you wore it, but when I put it on everything went terribly wrong, that it means you somehow deserve it, that I’d just hand the ring back to you? Why should I believe you are anything more than a servant?” She plucked the Ring off her finger and held it up between them. “You want this cursed thing?” With a flick of her wrist, Agatha sent it flying into the ring of fire. “Go and get it then, Toad-face!”

Desperately, Stella leaped after the Ring, searching frantically for where it might have landed. The flames nibbled at her eyes and her hair as she dug her fingers into the ashen earth until she felt its familiar shape.

Behind her, Agatha screamed—and so did the dragon. Stella whirled around.
Sigmund had returned, and was tracing trails of fire dangerously close to Agatha. She crawled backward to get away from the flames, but in the process, she moved closer to the ring of fire surrounding her. Henrik fought to stand between the girl and the flames, but his father merely dodged around him, bombarding his victim from the air.

With trembling hands, Stella fumbled the Ring until she could slip it onto her finger. Unlike before, her skin didn’t change this time, but she held up her hand in the air anyway and called out, “Dragon! The Bride of Drakistos summons thee!”

A powerful gust of wind rolled over the fire, and much of the flame extinguished, plunging them all into star-studded darkness. The sudden shadows danced before their eyes, making it hard for anyone to distinguish their surroundings. In her blindness, Stella felt a hard, knobby hand slip over hers and hold it tight.

“I’m here,” Henrik croaked, his throat parched and likely scaled over.

A massive claw almost as big as Stella’s whole body landed in the dirt right in front of them.

“You have summoned me?” rumbled a deep, rolling voice overhead.

Stella blinked until her eyes adjusted, and she could see the Dragon standing before her, its scales dark as the midnight sky, and sparkling like stars in the small firelight that remained. Its terrible size dwarfed Sigmund, who crouched defensively before it. She saw that its tail reached around the entire clearing. She stepped forward, tilting her head back to look into the Dragon’s face.

“I have come, bearing the Ring of Drakistos,” she held it up for the Dragon to see, “to ask you to lift the curse upon this family.”

The Dragon crouched lower, bringing his enormous head nearer to the pair standing in front of him.
“Only a descendant of Despina, wife of General Drakistos—the first woman to summon me through the portal—can bear the Ring and reopen the portal to send me back to my own realm. Only a descendant of Nadia Drakistos, the Bride and last true heir of the Drakistos lineage, would receive the curse of the Dragon’s Mark I placed upon her and upon the son of the Barbarian Chieftain who threatened both of us—Sigmund Gabbaldursson.” He paused as Henrik ventured a glance at the small dragon burying its head in shame behind them.

Stella nodded. “I am Stella Drakistos, descendant of Nadia Drakistos.”

A rumble resounded in the Dragon’s chest. “In fact, you are her daughter, and the true heir of the Drakistos holdings. Which means,” he swung his head to look upon Henrik, “that this must be the son and heir of Sigmund, since he has suffered a similar fate.”

Henrik stood firm and nodded. “I am,” he announced in a rasping voice.

The Dragon lifted its head. “And these two!” Its tail shifted, knocking the smaller dragon and the petrified young woman closer to him. “Sigmund Gabbaldursson, it would appear that you did not seek out the Bride yourself, or you would not have been fooled by this impersonator who laid false claim upon the title of Bride, and suffer a greater transformation from the Mark I laid upon you!”

Sigmund bellowed loudly, accompanied by the sound of Agatha’s pitiful whimpering.

“Dragon!” Stella called his attention back to her. “I believe we have suffered enough the consequences of our own choices. If you would lift this curse upon us all, I will consent to open the portal and send you back to your own realm.”

The Dragon blinked once, very slowly. “Indeed,” it said. “It is time for me to return, and all things are in order. The Ring carries the power because of your lineage, Stella Drakistos. Release it into the ground.”

Henrik took a step back as Stella crouched down and pressed her hand into the ground, just as the mysterious Greek woman from her dream had done. Tiny tendrils of light slithered along the soil, gathering up in the center of the clearing until a sharp spike like a brilliant firework raced up into the sky. Where it exploded, a hole seemed to open in the clouds, but instead of the clear night sky, a different sky showed. The wind raced around them like a whirlwind, extinguishing what little fire there was left. The Dragon lifted off with a roar, headed through the portal in the sky. When he passed through the barrier, it slammed shut behind him with a clap of thunder.

Everything lay still. Stella shivered as the cold of the night reached her, and she gripped her arms to conserve body heat. Her hands met smooth skin. Surprised, she looked down at herself. The Ring had disappeared, but she no longer had scales over her body! Stella rubbed her palms against each other, marveling at the way it felt.

“Stella!” Henrik’s voice recalled her to the present. She looked up to see him at the far side of the clearing, cradling the body of a very, very old man.

Henrik’s voice sounded hoarse as he hugged the man. “Father…” he whispered.

Sigmund—all the centuries he had lived finally catching up to him—reached a trembling, bone-thin hand to grasp his son’s wrist. “Henrik,” he croaked hoarsely. “I’m sorry.”

Tears slid down Henrik’s face. “Sorry for what?” he asked.

Sigmund’s breathing came thick and rattling. “Sorry… that I let… my pride… and vanity… keep me from telling you… the truth. I could have told you… about Nadia… about the Ring… about… the true Heir of Drakistos… but I… chose to hide… rather than tell you… what a drunk fool… I was… and how my own father… Gabbaldur… almost killed… an innocent woman… doomed our family…”

Henrik held his father close, nodding fiercely. “It’s all right, father,” he said. “I forgive you!”
Stella herself tried to keep silent as tears streamed down her face. Sigmund raised his gaze and reached a gnarled hand toward her.

“Stella…” he rasped. “To you I… owe… the greatest debt… Everything… I have… should have been yours… I should have found you… sooner… Should have taken… you in… I am… sorry… so sorry… that I did not… find you…”

Stella smiled and cradled his hand in hers. “You didn’t find me,” she whispered, “But Henrik did.” The young man looked up at her, and they smiled.

The rattling in Sigmund’s breath increased. Henrik gently crossed his father’s arms in front of Sigmund’s chest.
“Go in peace, Father,” whispered the son.

Silence reigned, as Sigmund at last slipped away into death.

The next morning, the whole village of Kadros turned out in the Grand Piazza for the second day of festival celebrations—but instead, they bore witness as Henrik Sigmundson stood atop the wall around the Drakistos estate, on a platform, and announced that his father had passed away in the night, and that he had found a suitable bride in none other than Stella Drakistos—the last true heir of that name. The festival turned into a celebration of their betrothal, and nearly everyone wished the happy couple a long and prosperous life.

Meanwhile, back at the Villa di Farfalle

Jacintha sat rigid in her armchair as she listened to the cheers and happy music from the Piazza. She had stood there long enough to see the radiant woman presented as the true heir of Drakistos and the impending bride of Henrik, and she had left as soon as social etiquette dictated she could. Minutes later, Agatha returned to her alone, covered in soot, dirt, and streaked with blood from wounds on her cheeks. In her hands, she bore a letter with the Drakistos seal. Jacintha had sent her to bathe immediately, and now waited for her daughter to return, freshly beautified.

While she waited, Jacintha opened the letter and read—

Dear Jacintha Farfalle—
I am writing to inform you that you are no longer connected in any way to the House of Drakistos. As such, you may not use the name as credit, you may not avail yourself of the House coffers, and you are hereby stripped of your title.
In recognition of the fact that you did provide the last surviving member of the Drakistos family with a place to live, I will allow you and your daughter to remain in the villa and remain in possession of everything that you currently own, but the maintenance of the house and grounds, the food that you eat, and the clothes that you wear must be provided from your own pocket. I hope that as you learn to survive on your own, you will cultivate a more generous heart toward those less fortunate than you—because you never know when you might become one of them.
That being said, if you ever have need of anything, you may ask for it at the Drakistos Gate. Lady Drakistos gives freely to all.

Lady Stella Drakistos

Jacintha read the name at the end, and all the blood seemed to drain from her face. A wave of dizziness spread over her as she looked around at the enormous house and the half-scrubbed floor that was hers to finish and maintain, without any dependence on others. To the woman who had enjoyed such luxury for most of her life, the mere thought of lifting a finger seemed a cruel punishment, as just as it may have been.

“Mother…” Agatha’s voice trembled as she entered the room.

Jacintha looked over at her daughter, the last bit of her normal life she could cling to… but—

“Good heavens!” She wailed as Agatha turned to face her. “What is that?”

Over half of Agatha’s cheek, the scars of Sigmund’s dragon claws stood out: shallow, pale furrows forever marring her skin.

Agatha burst into tears. “I tried to cover it! I used every kind of plaster and makeup there is, but nothing worked!” She cast herself petulantly upon the couch. “I’m ruined! I’ll be ugly for the rest of my life!”

Ugly… Jacintha thought about Stella’s old scars, the fact that she looked like an entirely new person, while her own Agatha had taken on the ghastly appearance. Justice indeed! Jacintha could only pat her daughter’s head in consolation, as they resigned themselves to their new lives as average citizens.

Henrik and Stella lived generously and governed Kadros fairly, and passed these habits and practices down to their children, and on down through the generations of the Drakistos family. The Drakistos Curse became the Drakistos Blessing, and the Dragon’s Mark continued to impact the city long into the hereafter.


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For more exciting serials, visit the Serial Saturdays page! For other twisted fairy tales, see the Flash Fictions page!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Upstream Updates: October Edition!

Yes, I realize this is later in the month, too... But oh well! Never mind that... I suppose it was too much to plan on having the update ready by the same time every month, never mind the beginning of said month. Moving right along!


The Amazon Triangle

Huzzah! I have finished the first draft of The Amazon Triangle! And I can confirm, it does take me about two years to write the first draft of a novel--the first one was "The Last Inkweaver", but at roughly 85,000 words, it's significantly shorter than "The Amazon Triangle", which clocks in at a hefty 102,600 words--my longest original work to date!
Though I have to say, if I had been focusing on just the one project, I might have finished it sooner--it was the last Big Climactic Fight Scene that stymied me for so long! But it came together with some careful finagling and basically breaking down the scene move-by-move, deciding who went where, who said what, how it ended up and what would happen next... and once that was over with, the rest came together quite nicely! If you're interested in beta-reading, you're in luck! The entire thing is on Wattpad. Feel free to read it >HERE< and let me know what you think!

The Last Inkweaver 

In the last month, I've finished Chapter 20--and Callista & Company has only just landed in the clutches of Ronni the bounty hunter. Yes, it's another one that ended up with more detail than I originally anticipated--but it was fun! 
So in my new conception, Ronni is a bounty hunter who specifically targets Wordspinners and those who believe in their skill and abilities, because she perceives them as weak and also they are rejected by the Crown so she sees a way she can conduct her business of rounding up, imprisoning, and selling people, while the authorities look the other way. Then, too, it comes out that she knows the Wordspinner folk because she can hear the Tale of a Told item. (If you're paying attention, you can figure out exactly how that is so... But it isn't explicitly stated in the text!) The difference between Ronni and the other person who can hear all Tales is that she is using the Tales as a weapon against her targets. Additionally, she has ensured that anyone working for her will not succumb to a Tale by having their ears chopped off. Not a nice person, that--but very necessary for Callista to learn an important lesson. Things are really going to start changing for her from here on out... On a lighter note, I had this really clear idea of a big mansion in the middle of a forest--but the middle had caved in, so Ronni would capitalize on that and just dig (or have her men do it) a really deep pit straight down the middle, down past the cellar and everything, and use that to keep her prisoners in. They would rig an elevator sort of platform off of the old dumbwaiter pulley system, as a means of getting the prisoners down without providing an easy way out, and there they would wait until Ronni got word of a wagon some traffickers promised to send her years ago, when she started rounding up people because she'd run out of Wordspinners.

A Writer's Tale 

I am so excited to be on my way with planning Book 3! It's called "The Sheriff's Showdown" (conventional, yes... I may change it later on, but it works for now!) Laura steps out of a futuristic cyberpunk space cruiser after a battle against an alien horde, and into the high desert, and a random Wild Western town! The good-hearted sheriff is hard-pressed to protect his town from the dirty misdeeds of Big Tom and his rowdy gang of bandits--they've run every other sheriff out of town, and the only laws they heed are their own. As far as they are concerned, Phantom Gulch all but belongs to them. Then again, the other sheriffs didn't have a girl like Laura randomly showing up in town. What can a young woman with no remarkable skill in self defense do against outlaws with guns? Not much, when the revelation that Big Tom's latest raid might have been an inside job--and all eyes and fingers point to her! Laura will need all of her wits about her to clear her name, find the mole, stop a major coup, and save Phantom Gulch--and that might lead to some surprising discoveries for her, as well!

I figure it's late enough in the month that I might as well announce the upcoming shenanigans I have planned for November! I will be participating in my seventh straight year of the National Novel Writing Month challenge--for those who don't know, the goal is to write 50 thousand words in 30 days. That's all it is, just a goal. It's not a competition nor a pledge, there's no cash prizes or medals or anything... just good, old-fashioned, well-meaning, write-like-your-life-depends-on-it-then-obsess-over-what-you've-written-till-your-eyes-glaze-over kind of writerly fun!
I've opted to use this year's challenge to finally finish The Last Inkweaver... for the second time, but this one is so much better than the first! And then, if it turns out (which I'm fairly certain it will... or else we've got bigger problems on our hands) that there isn't a whole 50-thou left for me to write that, I've also got The Sheriff's Showdown as a backup filler.
What does this mean for the blog? Likely there will be no more "Flashes of Inspiration" on Fridays... but I think updates on Wednesdays and Saturdays, to let you all know how I'm doing, would not go amiss, would it? Stay tuned for NaNo2018 Updates!

My BOOkish Blog Hop!

Introductory Post
Another blog hop is nearing its close! I know I've been very lax in keeping up with adding the links every day--but as of tomorrow they will all be added, so there you go! In spite of that, it's been really fun to answer the questions, getting to see and explore new blogs, and I hope you will consider perhaps leaving a comment and joining the various conversations before the month is over!


It's been slow going on the reading front! I find myself not so much in the mood for reading in the evenings, as I might have, and my recent weekend off was more spent writing and hanging out with friends than actually having the mental space to read!
That being said, I did manage to finish A Sliver of Stardust by Marissa Burt. I first discovered her duology Storybound and Story's End while browsing the shelves, and for the longest time, those were the only books of hers that I knew of--I never realized she'd started another series since then! But she has, and it's every bit as lovely as Genevieve Cogman's Invisible Library! Burt breathes life into simple nursery rhymes, giving them a special sort of magic to be able to bend reality when combined with the tracing of stardust--a singular system of magic that is at once thrilling and chilling by turns!
At any rate, from there it's on to T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton--Book 20 in the series! I'm almost done! After that it's only U, V, W, X, and Y... unfortunately Ms. Grafton passed away before she could write the final novel in her delectable series. Rather poetic in a sense--but still heartfelt and tragic all the same.
As far as ebooks are concerned... Honestly, I've been on quite the buying binge. So many books came on a discount in the same weekend I happened to have a gift card to spend--and some of them I was expecting to pay for, but ended up free! At last count, I have roughly 60+ ebooks purchased and downloaded that I haven't a prayer of getting around to reading if I don't make a conscious, intentional effort to do so!
Currently, I'm almost finished with Oblivion's Forge. I have to say, I am glad I gave it a second shot. The first time I came to it, I'd just read Herald of Autumn which was a kind of twisty, bizarre urban fantasy adventure... so to follow that with yet another twisty, bizarre high fantasy was a bit too much to handle. I switched it out with another novel, and as it happens, that's just what it needed! I'm following the story better, getting to know the characters--still very much on a grand, mysterious "Dark Tower" scale. I'm really getting that vibe from all this! And if that was worth it, then here's hoping this one will be, too.

That about sums it up! What are you up to these days? Feel free to comment with an update--I'd love to hear from YOU!

Catch You Further Upstream!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

My BOOkish Blog Hop: "Do You Have Any Signed Books?"

A picture may be worth a thousand words... but an autograph from the author is priceless. A personal note? Exponentially more so. At least, to an avid reader. Authors are our pop culture celebrities, our icons, the VIPs of the literary industry. To get a signed copy of a book, one does not merely waltz into the local bookshop and pick up any copy of the requisite book. Signed copies are usually priced higher, and stores carry fewer, which means that if one most definitely wants to be sure of a signed copy, one must either muster the courage to contact the author directly, or make every effort to attend the elusive Book Signing Event--whether or not it's local.

So... Would you like to know how many of us have "taken the plunge," so to speak?

Leslie Conzatti (Me!)

I have! I am proud to say that every book in this picture is a signed copy, acquired directly from the author, or brought to an event for them to sign! It’s a wonderful thing to have a personalized message from the author inside a book, or the look on their face when you proudly place their book on the table and say, “I bought this and I would love for you to sign it!” It’s one of my favorite parts of being a book blogger, even though I normally get the ebooks first because it’s easiest for the author to send them to me--this shelf represents either the authors whom I enjoyed so much, I wanted to have a physical copy of their book so that I could flip to my favorite pages and pore over the story at my leisure, or ones that opted to send their books to me for only the cost of shipping, which I was more than willing to pay! It’s a wonderful thing.
In order (L to R): Books 1-5 of The Chronicles of Lorrek, plus two tie-in anthologies by Kelly Blanchard; You're Never Weird on The Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day (my sole celebrity autograph!); The Starlight Proverbs by Darren E. Barber (alas! The only one in what would have been a series, except that the vanity press he used went bankrupt...); Books 1-4 of The Fair Folk Chronicles by Jeffrey Cook and Katherine Perkins; The Portal Prophecies  (Books 1-3) by C. A. King; Skeins Unfurled by K. M. Vanderbilt (another fantastic series forced to end too soon...); Fire's Song and Spirit's Lullaby by J. E. Mueller; The PSS Chronicles by Ripley Patton; The Girl and The Clockwork Cat by Nikki McCormack; Devotion and Deception by Katika Schneider; Grave Beginnings and Grave Measures by R. R. Virdi; and Sound and Fury: Shakespeare Goes Punk and What We've Unlearned: Classic Literature Goes Punk by the Writerpunk Press Group (signed by Jeffrey Cook)

I only have two signed books but they are so precious! Here in New Zealand, we don’t get that many international bestseller authors come to visit. The first one was my copy of An Echo in the Bone which was signed by Diana Gabaldon at a reading in 2009. I have loved the Outlander series of historical fiction since I was a teenager.

The other one is a copy of Stories of Your Life and Others which Ted Chiang signed earlier this year at a panel discussion on time travel. One of his short stories, The Story of Your Life was made into the movie Arrival. It is a first contact story about a linguist who is sent to communicate with the alien race and, through deciphering their language, discovers something about herself and her family. A technically brilliant short story for any linguistics nerd!

I have three. All of them are treasured. I have signed copies of The Collector and The Liar by Nora Roberts, who I met. (The picture) when I got them signed. What a great day that was. I made a total ass out of myself too. I have NEVER been tongue-tied with a celebrity before, but I couldn’t hardly talk. I also have a signed copy of This is Gonna Hurt by Nikki Sixx. I was not able to met him though. I had just started a new job and I couldn’t take off that day. My best friend (pronounced sister) Liz went and stood in line and got the autograph for me. She was on her way to a Rammstein show after and Nikki talked to her about the band. When he went to sign, she said, “Oh it’s not for me it’s for my sister Brandy.”
Where’s Brandy?” he said.
They wouldn’t let her take off work,” she laughed.
He answered, “Tell her she needs a new job.”

It was one of my favorite Lizzy moments and since she has passed, it  makes that signature MUCH more precious than any other autographs I have. 

Oh boy. You asked for it this time. Because I work with a lot of local and indie author groups I have a ton of signed books.
Traitor’s Hope by Virginia McClain
Tibilet by Crystal Dueck
Plamen Oren by Christina Prince (this was a limited run college project, I don’t even know if it’s still available for sale anywhere)
Rae of Hope, Discreet Betrayal, and Finding Gloria by Marianne Curtis
Planet Song by TK Boomer
Warp World by Joshua Simpson and Kristen Perron (I only have Kristen’s signature on it)
Charleswood Road & Other Stories by M.C. Joudry
The Dragon’s Tooth by Holly Geely
Red Stone and Broken Stone by Gabriel Goldstone
Sempiternal - The 9th Legion by S. Goshea
Asylum by Chantelle JZ Storm
Pewter Angels by Henry Ripplinger
Calliope and the Sea Monster, Wendigo Whispers, and The Call of the White Moose by Alex McGilvery
I still have to get my copy of Scion of the Fox by S. Beiko and Sons of Earth by Geralyn Wichers signed. 

Laura Morningstar

      Years ago I used to have loads of signed books, these had usually been given to me either by the authors, or I’d taken them to be signed. In 2010 I had a house fire and my collection bar two or three books was destroyed. I clung to the remaining books while I mourned the loss of the rest of my collection. At that time it probably neared 30-40 books.         In recent years my pile of signed books has once again started to grow, mainly because I am lucky enough to know some wonderfully amazing authors. My signed book collection covers both nonfiction and fiction and a wide range of subjects. My favourite way to get a book signed though is to go and actually speak to the author at an event. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to tell someone in person how much their words mean to you. 

How about you? Do you invest in signed copies of your favorite books? Tell us BRAG about them in the comments! And don't forget you can head back to the >Introductory Post< for any questions you may have missed!