Monday, August 31, 2020

Upstream Updates 2020: August

Life Stuff

Whew! This has got to be the craziest year on record... and I lived through the Y2K scare, and the 2012 Faux-pocalypse--at least all of those times, the world went crazy for about two months, maybe three, tops--and quieted down pretty quickly.
But this? It's my seventh year as a public school paraeducator and I was never this uneasy, even as a substitute! At least I knew that once the school year started, I was definitely going to have jobs to pick up! This is something else. Extra training due to racial and social unrest, extra training due to new regulations for physical contact and sanitation... And absolutely zero preparation for what a wholesale overhaul on the entire system means for someone in my position. People keep asking me what I'm going to be doing when school starts next week, and I have no clue. Based on what went on when they closed schools three months early? Let's just say "Outlook not promising." In a normal school year, I'd be looking forward to spending an entire day before school starts finding out where my position is, what my schedule could look like, and familiarizing myself with the duties involved. At this point, I'm not even sure there is a position for me in this new model. The academic requirements still being held in place are just not feasible--teachers who have spent years perfecting their craft aren't even sure how to plan for even a month of this folderol!

The one thing that I count on to save my sanity is my ability to still write--and write a lot!

Monthly Stats:
Words written: 30K+
Books Read: 3/4


Princess of Undersea: The Cover Reveal!

Augh! I've been talking about this for a few months now, and it's finally here! Stay tuned... this new cover is going to show up everywhere! (At least, everywhere I've digitally inserted the original cover... unfortunately, I can't do much about the pictures of the "first edition"!) Friday, I started off the weekend by revealing the cover for the "second edition" of Princess of Undersea, and posted the "highlights version" from the two-hour takeover on the blog here. << Follow that hyperlinked text for the post, if you missed it! I had a whole lot of fun!

I've also got info on that post about the rest of the series that's happening--there are going to be four books, which more or less connect, and potentially involve some of the same characters. Since it's not really a linear plot--like there's no over-arching big event happening, it's basically encapsulated between the events of this first book, and the last one (which comes, timeline-wise, only a few years later)--it's not going to feel like you're just following the same group of characters along the plot... but still hopefully it's going to be a lot of fun for readers!

"Priscilla Sum"

It only took a couple weeks of really pushing myself to get on top of it, but we're finally on the way to the end!

The hardest part was building up the surrounding characters who were supposed to be the antagonists... so you wouldn't exactly know who they were at first. But also doing it without a whole lot of "story delay" time, because hello I have been working on this for like almost an entire year and I'm kind of done with it. (But also I hope that this kind of attitude does not leach through in my writing!) The five friends got away from the camp successfully, and they're on their way across the island to the hidden "inner temple" on the other side... I think I've sprinkled allusions to the climactic battle to come in enough. The tricky part is getting them through the obstacles of the inner temple without stalling out the story, making them detailed and interesting enough without derailing the plot entirely.
The most important thing you all should know is that I'm only going to post it on Saturdays till I have enough of the "Clan of Outcasts" series to start posting that regularly on Saturday. Once "Clan of Outcasts" starts, "Priscilla Sum" is moving to Fridays until it ends.

Coming Soon: "The Clan of Outcasts, Season 3"!

Speaking of "Clan of Outcasts", I've been madly working on a second (third-ish?) iteration of the installment outlines! The early seasons were easy to plot, because each installment that moved the story forward in the present always started with a flashback introducing a new character who would then have that part of the story told from their point of view. This one is a bit more tricky because yes, I have some new characters, but it's harder to work in where exactly their introductions are going to go, because they're not involved in the story all at once--I had gotten pretty far along in my first outline, but in the process of whipping through the exciting bits, I came to realize that it was a bit disorderly and a few important points got left off the beginning, so I decided to start over again and reorganize... Now I've got a couple plot lines going that I need to really work hard to advance and resolve them adequately... and all of this has got me thinking, "Jeez! How did it happen so perfectly the first time around???" Ah, the struggle of sequels!

The Last Inkweaver

Ever had that feeling that you start walking to go and get something... and then halfway there, you just forget what you were doing, but you can't stop, so you just keep walking around and around... until you remember your original destination, but now it's a ways behind you, so you have to walk all the way back to get there?
That's kind of how some of these scenes are turning out nowadays. I'm so excited to write it in a new way, with other motivations and additional details I missed the last time... and then as I'm writing and developing the characters, I think that I've hit a bunch of "checkpoints" in my outline... only to find out that I haven't, and I'm about a thousand words deep and getting deeper and I need to figure out how to stop this runaway train of words and get back to, you know, the plot, but now I'm worried that the scene has gone on too long and my readers are going to get tired halfway through, but it's so good that I don't want to fix it just yet...
Yeah, that's mainly the reason this is taking so long. Combining Tark and Ronni was definitely the right idea and it's working splendidly--but maybe that is to say it's working too well--I'm having so much fun honing in on this one aspect of the whole sequence that maybe I've extended the timeliness of the story (as in, stretched the minutes and hours it would usually take to fit this much talking in) too far, and I'll end up having to go back and re-do it yet again. Who knows??
At any rate, there's going to be a key moment at the end of this scene that will serve as a marvelous segue into the next scene, and at that point we're pretty close to the end, so yay!!


Adding to my stories on here has been going pretty slowly. I thought with all this "extra writing time" I'd be able to get around to the unfinished fanfictions I started posting... maybe even start a new one! But no dice. As the White Rabbit in Alice of Wonderland says, "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get." Since finishing Once Upon Love (A Modern Cyrano de Bergerac) and The "Return" of MacPherson (Warehouse 13 Fanfiction), I've been posting Red, The Wolf on there, and also I just started posting Poor Unfortunate Soul, the Once Upon A Time fanfiction that was basically the "sloppy copy" (as we call it in the educational field) destined to become the first draft of Princess of Undersea! You'll see a lot of similarities--I changed a little (kind of like the show writers were doing, at the beginning!), but the origins are definitely there!
The "Wattys" annual story-judging contest is still going on, and pretty much the only eligible story I had (requirements were "over 50,000 words" and "complete") was The Clan of Outcasts, so I submitted that... There's no telling whether it will be accepted, though. I haven't had a whole lot of feedback on it! Whereas fanfictions like PotterLock Down and Since We Found Serenity are still getting added to reading lists and votes and running commentary (my favorite!!), and even The Dragon's Mark is still getting votes! I'm not mad about that, at all!


I think I didn't really read a whole lot of books this month because I was so behind on my writing so frequently.
I only got through one ebook this month, and that was Broken Empire: Aftermath by E. A. Copen. I already knew I liked her urban fantasy, so it was fascinating to see her breaking out into the more "space-opera" vibes. The first part of the book is a whole lot of classic political machinations and intrigue and peril--very Isaac Asimov feel to it. Then the twist came, with the addition of a subplot involving some supernatural entities, and there was her signature style in grand form. She has an incredible knack for keeping her characters central to the story, so it's not like they have these grandiose settings and cataclysmic events happening all around them, and the people are just incidental or collateral--she writes in such a way that the reader is drawn into the lives of these characters--the good, the bad, and the morally grey--and you end up staunchly rooting for one or a few characters who might not be the "main character" but they support the protagonist in a lot of ways and you feel like they're just "good people."
In the realm of library checkouts, I've finished two of them: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness and Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter.
As far as Knife is concerned... "Heck, Heck, HECK!!" is what I say to Patrick Ness and his emotionally-charged writing. He puts you right into the narrator's head, like Jonathan Safran Froer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and the whole novel is just one big stream of consciousness after the other, blending all together, the over-scribbled "Noise" contrasting with the typical text, the constant use of misspellings (due to the character's lack of regulatory education) like "stayshun" and "destruckshun." I had to pretty much turn off my "English Major Brain" to read that, but I did because I was so hooked on the story that I couldn't bear to stop reading!
Echoes was a really fun and fascinating trip back into the world of Jackaby and his Victorian-era monster hunting. Beautiful and piercing, this one focuses on the bygone life of Jenny Cavanaugh, Abigail's getting to know her, and in the process, learning ever so slightly more about her employer, Jackaby himself. A prime mystery, a stellar resolution, and I'm trying to figure out what I want to read next: more "period urban fantasy" in the form of Throne of Jade, the second Temeraire novel by Naomi Novik, or contemporary urban fantasy with Blood Rites, the next Dresden Files book by Jim Butcher. Maybe I'll just have to do that thing I used to do all the time, where I read the first few chapters of a few different books, and then see which one I feel more compelled to read.
Meanwhile, I'm still plugging away at Hercule Poirot's Casebook by Agatha Christie. It helps, I think, that I'm also watching through the Poirot TV series (again? I don't remember how far I watched the first time around, and only every other episode is looking familiar to me) and a lot of those stories were made into episodes, so I can skip the ones I've seen.
The last book I'm going to talk about (that I haven't really "finished" because I'm still mining for information from it) is The INFJ Writer by Lauren Sapala. Between that one and The Anatomy of The Soul by Curt Thompson, I've been learning a ton about how the brain works, how different brains process information, and especially in the former, how specific personality traits (as defined in the Meyers-Briggs Types) affect the perspective and where a person gets their creative energy from, and the optimal environment for creative expression. Golly-gee! There's just something that feels really good when an "experienced person" (not necessarily an expert, but definitely more knowledgeable than average!) lays out these trends and traits they see in common with a certain group of people, and the realization kicks in: I'm NOT abnormal! There are other people who think like me! Somebody's actually gone and figured out how to fit someone like me into the "narrative" of life, and how they can be most effective for the world around them! The whole idea of "finding one's niche" has always been a deep-seated desire of mine, and so to finally know how to use my own psyche within those spaces is particularly liberating for me!

So that's where I'm at by the end of August! What a year this has been... I never anticipated it would turn out like this, that's certain! Now there's only four more months and we're out of 2020... Who knows where I'll be by then? But in the meantime--

Catch You Further Upstream!

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Part 27

Part 27

Once Tony was out of sight, Jordyn resumed studying the wide gully. "It doesn't look all that dangerous," she mused. "And it's at least shallow enough that we can see the bottom." She looked back at Kayce. "Could you at least rappel down if you had some rope?"

Kayce rubbed the back of his neck. "I mean, I could... probably..."

Jordyn's eyes glinted as her eyes wandered from one side to the other. "And then the other side... do you think you could get back up again?"

Kayce squatted at the edge of the crack and studied the opposite face. "Not too easily. It doesn't look like there are a whole lot of footholds, and I'd need some way to support the rope on the other side, the way one of you could do on this side, for my way down." His gaze stopped and he smiled. "But I've got a better idea." He rubbed his hands together. "Who's got a rope?"

"I do," said the frizzy-haired geology student.

Derrick watched Jordyn go for her pack. "You're telling me you have a rope still?"

I watched her pull a full cord of nylon braided rope out of her pack. "I grabbed one of these for each of us, and we didn't use all of them for the tent that got smashed by the tree," she said.

Kayce held a length between his hands and tested its strength. "Oh yeah, this'll do," he said.

Kayce tied the rope around his waist and thighs, harness-style, yanking on the knots to ensure that they would hold his weight. Jordyn stood at the edge of the cliff as his spotter, while Derrick and I positioned ourselves back further, as his anchor.

Kayce stood at the very edge of the cliff, with his back to the precipitous drop.

"Ready?" Derrick asked.

Kayce nodded. "Ready." He took his first step over the edge.

Derrick and I braced ourselves however we could, taking most of Kayce's weight on the rope. All he had to do was keep his footing to brace himself against the rock wall. Bugs flew against our faces, and I had to force myself to be content to just whip my head back and forth to keep them off.

Even then, the movement would cause the rope to sway, and Derrick would remind me through clenched teeth, "Pris! Don't move!"

Sweat dripped down my face and neck from my scalp. How long would it take Kayce to scale fifteen feet?

"He's halfway!" Jordyn announced.

Halfway; brilliant. I fought the urge to thrash my head again, as the rope slipped slowly through my fingers. In that moment, I felt a line of pressure points brush along my face--but no shape caught my eye. It wasn't droplets, but the sensation of fingers I felt, combing my matted, frizzy hair back from my face. A moment later, a chilly breeze swept across the cliff, passing right between me and Derrick, blowing my hair back from my face and cooling me fast enough to produce goosebumps along my arms. Instead of confusing me, it made me smile. The sprites are still at it! I thought. I felt my muscles ease somewhat, as the tension on the rope no longer strained them. It seemed about half the time later that the rope went very slack, and Jordyn cried. "He made it! He's at the bottom!"

The radio warbled, and Tony's voice crackled over the speaker. "Hey guys, I'm not seeing much over here. A lot of it is blocked by trees. I've made it across, but you guys would probably have a rough go of it."

I let Derrick deal with the rope, now that we weren't holding Kayce up, and grabbed the other radio to respond, "No big deal, Tony. Kayce is making a way across for us. Just find your way back to our position as best you can, and we'll wait for you on the other side."

"Copy that."

After Tony's response came Kayce's update.

"All right, people," he called up to us. "Here's how it's going to work: Keep that end of your rope anchored on that side. This rope is going to be our bridge across."

Derrick grabbed the radio from me. "Kayce, how is this going to work, exactly?"

"Just watch me, bro!"

We watched, as Kayce fiddled with his end of the rope. A few minutes later, he chucked it up in the air. The rope had a rock tied to the end of it. The rock sailed about ten feet up, and then came back down again. Kayce chased after it, and tossed it again. It took him three more tries, and on the fourth, it sailed beautifully upwards, caught a low-hanging branch from a tree near the edge of the opposite cliff, and dropped back down again. Kayce tied a second rock to the rope, creating even more of an anchor, and shimmied his way up to the tree branch. Once he arrived, he balanced on the tree, swung himself over to the cliff, and then pulled the rope free. Now we had a single rope spanning the wide crevasse.

"All right!" Kayce called to us over the radio. "Now you guys can use the straps of your backpacks to shimmy across with your hands and knees. Derrick, make sure the other end of the rope is secure enough that it's going to last long enough for you to come across last, in case any emergencies happen while the girls are crossing, but make sure it's a tree branch, so we can haul it off and still take the rope with us."

Derrick examined the trees nearby till he found one that fit the bill. "Got it!" He responded on the radio.

Jordyn gripped my arm hard enough to hurt. She gawked at the narrow rope between us and certain injury. "Are you kidding me?" She shrieked. "We're seriously going across on that thing?"

I couldn't take my eyes off it either, although I probably wasn't having palpitations as bad as hers. "Yep," I responded. "It already held Kayce, so we know its strong enough."

Jordyn shook her head quickly. "I don't do well with heights!" She whined.

Derrick beckoned to her, holding the end of the rope. "Okay, Jordyn, here's how it's going to go. We're going to sling our backpacks onto the rope, in order: you first, then Priscilla, then me." He helped us work the rope through the straps on our backpacks before tying the end of the rope to a branch. Then he led Jordyn to the edge of the cliff. "Okay, so now what you're going to do is grab onto the rope behind the backpack, like so, and then hook your legs over the rope in front of it, like a sloth."

She shook her head quickly. "I don't know if I can do this!"

"Jordyn," I stepped up to her and put a hand on her shoulder. "It's all right. Derrick and I are on this side, and Kayce is on the other. We'll make sure nothing happens to the rope."

"And the weight of your backpack right over you will act as an extra bit of security," Derrick added. "If you feel yourself slipping, just use the straps to adjust your grip."

"You've got this, Jordyn," I added, knowing full well I would not believe the same words coming from Derrick when my turn came around.

It took Jordyn several tries to get the movement right, but once she fell into a rhythm, her progress across inched along rather well. When she finally reached the other side and Kayce helped her peel her aching limbs off the rope, both Derrick and I released a breath we never realized we'd been holding.

Then it was my turn. It felt like a very bad idea to trust my entire weight to just a narrow rope no thicker than my thumb, but I had to admit, Derrick's description of the backpack functioning as a ballast really made a lot of sense. I was about halfway across (maybe... I wasn't looking!) when my hands started getting very sweaty, and I had to hook my arms through my backpack straps to anchor them to the rope, but soon, I saw the tree line of the opposite side coming into view, and then Kayce's hands supporting my back and Jordyn's voice cheering, "You did it! You made it across!"

Derrick came last, shimmying faster than either of us girls. Once we were all gathered on the far side of the ravine, Jordyn asked, "So how are we going to get the rope off?"

Kayce grinned. "We're going to pull it, tug-of-war style."

The four of us lined up along the rope's end, anchored our stances, and then on Kayce's signal, we pulled for all we were worth. Four of us at once hauling on that rope was hard, after all that climbing, but at last we all heard the rewarding SNAP of the branch, and the sudden slack sent us all staggering backward--but the rope was free. We hauled it up, Derrick untied his intricate system of knots, and Jordyn coiled it to return it to her pack.

I sighed. "Now all that's left to do is wait for Tony to get here with the GPS unit so we can figure out which way we should go next."

I expected nods of assent all around, but Kayce suddenly whipped his head to the side, like a dog that has spotted something interesting. He took a few strides off the path and over to a rocky mound buried in the dirt next to us. A few swipes of the dirt, and suddenly we could all see the thing that had caught his eye: a swirling symbol etched into the face of the rock: the mark of Auraea, and the first time we'd seen it since finding all the Trikymios symbols in the dig site. Below it was a series of three dots arranged in a triangle, pointing to the northwest.

"Or," he said, "we can simply follow the directions that are already laid out for us!"

Jordyn surged forward. "Oh cool!" she gasped. "Which god is that one, again? Oh wait!" she turned around with her eyes alight. "I remember seeing this before, at school--somebody had a pendant or something."

I tensed, and my self-consciousness manifested in a hyper-awareness of the locket burning against the skin just below my collarbone.

Kayce blinked twice at the suggestion. "Oh yeah, I saw it too, this one chick would wear it all the time..." He hopped back down to the path with the rest of us.

To this day I'll never know what gave it away--a stray glow, a glint from an errant sunbeam that probably would have never hit at just the right angle if it hadn't been for a cheeky gust of wind blowing over me--but just at that moment, Derrick raised a hand and pointed to me. "Hey! That chick was you, wasn't it, Pris? What's that necklace you're wearing right now?"

My hand automatically jerked halfway to the locket. My throat got tight and I felt my heart thudding at triple speed. What wouldn't I give for Tony to show up right now and get the attention off of me!

"I don't know... It wasn't anything special..."

They crowded closer around me.

"Prove it!" Jordyn chided me. "Show us!"

I pulled the locket out, and there it was before them: the pendant slowly turning, marked with Auraea's symbol on one side, and Trikymios on the other.


Some time earlier...

"I'll let you know if I find anything," Tony murmured, ambling down the winding trail that ran parallel to the long ravine.

He locked his eyes on the display screen of the GPS unit, following the blinking arrow symbol along the winding path. He almost didn't notice how long his eyes remained open without blinking, the burning itch around his eyelids... Tony's consciousness slipped into a trance, and another influence took over, bringing his body to a halt far out of sight or sound of the rest of his group.

His irises glowed a bright golden as he held the GPS device with both hands. The screen blinked, warped, and fritzed in a burst of pixels, and a series of golden tendrils seemed to seep out of his skin--out of the amulet on his wrist--and into the device. The radio at his side hummed to life, and at once, a voice called out from it: "Greetings, Mighty One."

Tony opened his mouth to respond, but the voice was not his.

"That's All-mighty to you, George. I need a status report."

"You are good to us, Almighty One," the man on the other end gushed. "These storms that have stirred up by your hand have borne much fruit, as people are driven toward our cause. The outreach has drawn many toward you, and the disaster relief has compelled attention from some very powerful members of communities all over the nation. Convincing them that you are a god who must be obeyed has never been easier!"

Tony's lips smiled wide. "It is good. My servants bend to my will, and even if I am not yet a god, having control over gods is the next best thing!"

"My lord," George expressed his question with hesitation in his voice. "How does your purpose fare there upon the island? Have the accommodations been to your liking? Do they serve you well upon the foundations laid by your enemies?"

The smile on Tony's face dimmed, and a slight sneer curved one corner of his mouth. "As well as could be expected, with these young humans to deal with. I nearly have them all dispersed and isolated--when I do, the Heir will have no choice but to do as I say--and then the divine essence will be MINE!"

"Hasten the day!" George cheered. "That is good news, I will surely tell the brethren. The vessel is serving you well, then, my lord? The heir does not suspect that she is playing into your hands?"

Even more scorn crept into the voice issuing from Tony's throat. "Of course not! She is too much devoted to this puny soul to realize the depths of my deception. No, she will be easy to control--if I can't get to her through her own thirst to confirm her identity, then at least I can use her misguided affections against her!" His eyes narrowed, mere thin golden slits upon his face. "Do you doubt my ability, George?"

"I mean no disrespect, sire, it's just thatshhhhhhhh--" A burst of static cut off his words, and Tony's head slowly bent forward. His eyelids briefly shut, and when he looked up again, his eyes were once again clear of the strange glow.

Tony blinked, almost forgetting where he was or why he was standing alone, with the radio in one hand and the GPS unit in the other. He looked ahead of himself. A huge tree had fallen across the crevasse, giving him a likely traverse--but how easy would it be to get four people across? Securing the devices in his backpack, Tony gripped the nearest exposed tree root and hauled his body upward. Reaching the top of the trunk, he had to pause and catch his breath. It amazed him, the rate of his recovery now that his own blood wasn't poisoning his organs anymore. Someone athletic like Kayce could probably make the climb, but he didn't see Priscilla or Jordyn--nervous, slender girls--having the upper-body strength to make it across. He found his footing on the thick log, testing each step as the bark snapped and popped under his feet. Midway, the wood seemed a little more firm--at least he had a flat spot where he could stand reasonably well, and pull out the radio for a quick call to his friends.

"Derrick?" he called. "Are you there?"

The device sat silent in his hands.

He tried again. "Kayce? Priscilla? Jordyn?"

Tony looked down at the knobs at the top of his radio. The channel knob had somehow switched over to a point between channels ten and eleven. No wonder he wasn't getting a signal from them! How had it flipped so far from where it was supposed to be.

Tony flipped back to channel four and sent a brief call signal to the other radio.

"Hey guys," he said, "I'm not seeing much over here. A lot of it is blocked by trees. I've made it across, but you guys would probably have a rough go of it."

Within thirty seconds, he heard Priscilla's voice respond, "No big deal, Tony. Kayce is making a way across for us. Just find your way back to our position as best you can, and we'll wait for you on the other side."

Tony nodded and replied, "Copy that." He slipped the radio back onto his belt and began working his way back toward the path.


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Friday, August 28, 2020

Cover Reveal: "Princess of Undersea", Second Edition!

At last! At long last!!

How long have I been talking about this? Four months? Five?? Definitely since April... and only just now have we arrived at the point when I can actually show you what it's going to look like. At least on the outside!

Ready to dive in? Let's go!!

What's Changed?

1. Added: The Epilogue, and "Tales From Undersea"

I've mentioned before that, while I endeavored to avoid the "happily ever after" kind of ending... the ending I had when it came down to the publishing deadline was not entirely what I wanted it to be. (I've also heard from more than one reviewer that it might have been a little too open!) A month after publishing it, the discomfort irked me to the point where I finally came around to sitting down and writing out an epilogue scene that basically carried everything I wanted it to. The only problem was... now that the book was out, how was I going to get it to readers?? There really wasn't an easy way to accomplish this. 
I shrugged it off and moved on. In 2017, the year after I published Princess of Undersea, I took the "A to Z Blog Challenge", using my Suggestion Box serials as a launching point, and adding in other stories I'd written, finished or unfinished. Among those were characters I selected from Princess of Undersea--namely, the characters Gondu and Yssandra, as well as the place name of Undersea. The following year, I came out with a couple short stories I put together as "reviewer tributes", since I'd promised the first 10 people to review would become characters in these short stories.

Now, in this edition, you can read that epilogue, and I chose three of the short stories as well, calling them "Tales from Undersea": There's "Gondu's Shame", "Give Me What I Need", and "The Castaway and The Carnival"--which ended up serving as a nice segue into the sequel! (More about that below!)

2. Small Tweaks Throughout The Story

Of course, if the story of "The Castaway and The Carnival" was going to be the thing that led into a sequel, instead of a "non-canon fanfiction" kind of story... that would mean there was a character in it whom I had previously stated had died, who would now need to be not-dead. I therefore went into the book thinking that I was just going to have to fix every instance in which I mentioned the "formerly dead" character (which wasn't a whole lot), but in the process, I encountered other places in the novella that I remembered having a difficult time with. Certain lines in a conversation, or segues into certain topics that didn't quite end up the way I wanted them to--but at the time of publication, it really was the best I could come up with. To my surprise, looking at it four years later, with all the writing I'd done and the books I'd read, I found I actually had ideas for how it could have been done differently. Ergo, I started marking those places I was interested in tweaking, and ended up making small changes in just about every chapter. Changes like:

-The "Becoming Human For Love" trope is out. I hadn't realized how exactly to eradicate it entirely, but at least I lessened the impact by keeping Ylaine's focus on "seeing what the humans are actually like." It's her godmother who keeps harping on the "you have to find a human who can love you" theme--but Ylaine really didn't intend to fall in love at first. She just wanted to ensure that the two kingdoms wouldn't be going to war.
-I made King Theodore more interactive in the "Dinner with the King" scene, and changed the conversation between him and Prince Nathan. It was one of those scenes where mid-twenties me thought I was being "so clever"... but really I was making things more awkward than they needed to be. Needless to say, that's fixed!
-The discussion between Ylaine and Nathan that leads to his epiphany: I actually made this make sense with foreshadowing! A line that her godmother says in regards to the way her father rules his kingdom ends up sticking in Ylaine's mind, and she brings it up to Nathan, and that's what gets his attention... not the smarmy "I'm gonna just say this one thing and it's going to shift your entire paradigm because you're in love with me" exchange I had before!
-Best of all, I managed to include yet another callback to the original fairy tale--namely, the part where a mermaid's body dissolves into sea foam. It's not Ylaine, obviously... but it does do away with the villain in a manner I thought was much more definitive than just fading away screaming "never to be seen or heard from again." LAME! The new way is much better!

3. New Blurb, New Cover!

I'm so happy with this new cover, you have no idea! Four years ago, if you had told me there was an artist out there who could paint exactly the character concept I had pictured for Ylaine (and merfolk in general), I would have scoffed in your face. It wasn't even till 2018 (four years after I first drafted the concept, and a good two years after I published the book) that I ever saw anything even closely resembling my idea--much less artwork to that effect! Discussions with my publisher had led to me leaning toward the "minimalist" style more than anything, and the blurb I came up with tried to reinforce the theme of "two realms becoming one"--but even that ended up with a lot more romantic overtones than I intended. 
Then I made the acquaintance of an indie author who was not only local to me (and yet we still haven't met) but he also happened to be a fantastic digital artist, as evidenced by the paintings he would share from time to time. I first became acquainted after reviewing one of his books here on the blog, and the moment I saw his picture of a merman warrior, I knew I had to commission a picture of my main character, Ylaine. 
The picture was everything I had hoped it would be. 
With the help of a formatter and graphic designer, I could finally have a cover featuring my main character--and the tweaking and rewriting I had done motivated me to come up with a new blurb to go with it!

Mermaid princess Ylaine has only ever wanted one thing: her father’s recognition and approval. King Davor of Undersea, however, is obsessed with launching a war against the ignorant, pact-breaking humans. Ylaine believes that if she can convince her father that not all humans are evil, he might listen to her, and call off his plans for war. Such a desire seems impossible, till the day she willingly trades a most precious gift to have the thing that she hopes will help broker peace between the realms: magic that transforms her into a human.

Safe in the palace of Overcliff, Prince Nathan seeks his own comfort, and dreads the day when the people of his failing kingdom will depend on him for their well-being. His father remains distant and forgetful, while the Royal Council runs things—and as far as the Prince is concerned, he is free to continue doing as he likes. When a mysterious stranger arrives on the island, he begins to realize that all is not as it seems—and threats can come just as easily from across the sea as under it.

What's Next?

Well, for one thing: It's definitely going to be a series! I'm calling it "The Undersea Saga", and there are going to be four books in all! A few months ago I sat down and hashed out potential blurbs for each of them. I had already come up with the idea of using "Pinocchio" as the basis for the second book (because the protagonist is male and there aren't a whole lot of fairy tales with male protagonists, if we're being honest here!), but as for the rest... I'd already wanted to try my hand at crafting a steampunk version of "Aladdin"... after doing "Cinderella with Dragons" and "Red Riding Hood's A Lycanthrope", I found that I really enjoyed twisting fairy tales! Now, there was nothing in this fantasy world that would qualify as "steampunk" per se, but the tie-in to Book 2 brought up the region of "Outwest"... which would still qualify as "steampunk"--the Wild West in America and the Victorian Era in Europe were about the same time--and thus I had my third "re-telling"... the fourth came shortly after, a version of "Snow White" with even more mermaids than Princess of Undersea had!

Check out these blurbs!

Book 2: Fugitive of Crossway (Inspired by the tale of Pinocchio)

Simon Langton should have died. Washing ashore on a mainland beach was a miracle itself, but Simon’s good fortune ends when the group who “rescues” him turns out to be a traveling carnival troupe led by a ruthless, greedy Ringmaster. Simon and two members of the troupe escape the Ringmaster’s clutches and set off across the kingdom of Crossway. His family might believe him dead, but Simon is willing to do whatever it takes to see his home again.
Life is relatively simple for someone like Melissande, the Roving Librarian. Famous for the stories she tells as much as for the books she carries and trades between towns, Melissande knows just one tale that never seems to leave her alone, the one that her imaginary “Muse” tells her in her head, through vivid scenes Melissande can picture as clearly as if seeing it all through someone else’s eyes.
One stormy night, the impossible happens, and two stories converge as two worlds collide. A boy on the run meets a strange young woman who might know him better than he knows himself, and an inspired young writer finds herself face-to-face with the Muse who inspired all her stories. Together, they must unravel the mystery of their connection and evade the relentless pursuit of the Ringmaster, or what should have been only a story will have very real consequences!

Book 3: Fury of Outwest (Inspired by the tale of Aladdin)

Life in the arid desert of Outwest is harsh and desperate. The ones that survive are prepared to do so by any means necessary. Delaina is no exception. She lives as an outlaw, shaking down the carriages of the rich and raiding abandoned houses for food and valuables that can be sold for money.
One such raid nets her an incredible device that promises to be the answer to living in comfort for the rest of her life—but when word gets out about this miraculous object, Delaina finds herself the target of a massive underground manhunt, and leading the charge is Outwest’s most formidable sharpshooter: Calamity Jacques, the girl who always hits her mark, and never gives up on a challenge. Delaina can only run for so long, and when Calamity Jacques catches her, all the magic talismans in the world won’t save her.

Book 4: Queen of Overcliff (Inspired by the tale of Snow White)

King Nathan has ruled the small island kingdom of Overcliff and brought it back from the brink of total ruin, to a thriving, well-ordered community—thanks in part to his wife, Queen Ylaine, the former Mermaid Princess.
For three years, they have built back the strength of the kingdom, and restored peace between Merfolk and humans—but that peace is tested when the young Queen disappears, and all evidence points to foul play on the part of the Merfolk. An old enemy returns, and Nathan must once again make the choice of how far he will go to rescue the woman he loves—even if it means risking everything he has, and the chance that saving her life might mean losing her forever.

Furthermore, each book is going to have at least 3 short stories to tie into it, as "Tales from" the region established in the title: "Tales from Crossway", "Tales from Outwest", and "Tales from Overcliff." I am so super stoked to produce this series, it's going to be tons of fun!

Stay tuned for Princess of Undersea and the rest of the Undersea Saga!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Serial Saturday: "Priscilla Sum" Part 26

Part 26

The sun dipped closer to the horizon, but we didn't seem any closer to our goal. The trail seemed to go on and on, with no definite endpoint or deviation--the latter unless Derrick looked up from studying the GPS device and told us to turn this way and that. For a while, it would seem that we were headed toward the middle of the island, but then Derrick would sing out, "Okay, now this way!" and he'd take off toward the edge of the island.

Kayce unfolded the map, which I saw was marked with pencil notes in the margins. He frowned and scanned these, looking for something in particular.

His puzzled eyes caught me watching, and he sighed. "I tried to put in as much as I could remember of the different accounts and references. By all rights, at this point," he pointed to a long note with a string of Greek words, "we should be seeing some sort of..." he broke off without finishing his thought as he crouched down to run his fingers over something in the dirt.

Tony leaned over his shoulder, peering at whatever had caught Kayce's attention. "What is it?"

"I thought I saw something..." Kayce scraped away the dirt with his fingers, all around a certain point. The more he dug around its angular sides, the more we realized that it was definitely a shard of something. He pushed away the hard clay dirt, until he could finally dislodge the thing. "Ah-ha!" He crowed, holding it up so we could see. "A piece of something! It's definitely man-made--look at the design." 

I stared at the bright-red baked shard in my hand. Now this was archaeology! "Judging by these marks here," I pointed to the scrapes along the edge, "this was probably some kind of sacrificial crock."

Jordyn came up to see. "What about a sacrifice?"

Around the next bend, we could still hear Derrick yell, "Hey! Where did everybody go?"

I spread my arms. "Okay, everybody start looking for more shards. We've got one piece of evidence that we're headed in the right direction, but I think it would be better if we found more pieces of the pot."

"Got one!" Tony sang out, pulling a red shard out from deep in a tangle of tree roots.

"Here's another!" Jordyn's excited squeal came from the other side of the trail.

Altogether, we found five pot shards, relatively close together.

I smiled as Jordyn held a small bag from among our supplies to put them in. It felt good to know that we'd presumed correctly, to imagine the line of worshippers trekking out to the altar site, one of them carrying a red clay pot. Maybe he stumbled, maybe there was an attack of some sort--but smash went the pot, and there it lay for how many centuries before we managed to pick up these last few pieces.

Derrick was waiting on a rock, scratching its surface with something in his hand, when we finally caught up to him.

He stood as we approached.

"Finally, you guys got here!" he chided. "I was waiting a long time, wondering if you'd all just given up, or I was being pranked or something." He stopped and noticed that we were all grinning. "What did I miss?"

I rolled my eyes and waved my hand. "Oh, not much... just the archaeological find of the century!"

Derrick's reaction was instantaneous. "WHAT?" he gaped.

Jordyn burst out laughing. "Way to over-sell," she teased me. "We just found a bunch of pot-shards, is all."

"Aw, man, really?" Derrick scuffed his toe in the dirt. "You all find some ancient artifacts and all I found was this lousy bead stuck in a crack on the rock." He opened his hand and showed us the rounded, scuffed surface.

"Hey!" I gasped, "That's exactly like the komboloi that the worshippers would wear!"

"Worshippers of what?" Derrick asked, while Jordyn absently hummed a few bars of "Kum-bah-yah."

"They're like prayer beads, or the Catholic rosary," Tony supplied, flopping down on a rock and taking a huge swig of his water bottle. "Anyway, I think that counts as evidence that people came all this way so many centuries ago."

Jordyn rubbed her ankles and winced. "How much further do we have to go till we get to that epicenter?"

Derrick checked his GPS. "Well, we've been about ten miles already... and we have about thirty more to go."

The whole group let out a collective groan.

Kayce squinted up at the sky. "It's going to be dark soon. We probably won't make it very far before the sun sets. I vote we spend the rest of the daylight finding somewhere to set up camp for the night." He looked around at us. "All in favor?"

Tony nodded and Jordyn and I chorused, "Aye!"

The dark-haired girl seemed to recover her energy somewhat, and she made her way up the narrow path we were on, looking this way and that through the trees.

"It's gotta be some place with enough clear ground to accommodate us," she said. "And look out for animal signs."

Derrick snorted. "It's not like there are many animals here, since it's an island, anything that can't fly or swim would have a hard time getting here!"

Jordyn wasn't paying attention to him. "Got it!" she called, taking off into the trees.

The place she found was a short hollow, hemmed in by trees, and relatively dry. I nearly freaked out when I heard a high-pitched whine like some gigantic beetle--but by the time I looked, the sound had already started to fade. I never did find out what it was.

Kayce and Tony set up a large tarp tent, and we all spread our sleeping bags beneath it. Night came sweeping in on a chilly breeze, but we all huddled together and shared warmth between us. I closed my eyes and tried not to think of what hazards might be in store for us as we got closer to the epicenter--if indeed we found the Inner Temple there.

The image of my mother's face appeared in my mind's eye, as she smiled and said something like, "Have faith."

I popped awake to the sensation of tears on my face. I wiped them away, and held my locket again, whispering a prayer to my parents.


We woke up to the sound of multiple birds calling to one another, screaming at the intrusion of humans into their previously-untouched spaces, and the ominous whine of buzzing insects.

I choked back a laugh when Jordyn sat up, her head a mass of frizzy, dark hair. She moaned and thrust her hand through the tangle to rub her face, and wiped the locks aside.

"Gosh darn this humidity!" she growled.

Me and my straight hair couldn't always identify with her struggle, but even I could feel the grungy stiffness in every tiny hair that stood out from my sweaty scalp. Frizz city, indeed!

Kayce was already on his feet and stretching out the kinks in his back. Tony reached over to give Derrick a shove.

"Mmmph, five more minutes..." our intrepid guide groaned.

I heard the creaking groan in the trees just before the tremors started. Instinct kicked in, and I scrambled to my feet and staggered toward the rest of the group. The shaking increased, sending the branches and trunks around us swinging wildly.

"Not again!" Jordyn groaned, crawling over to us on all fours as we huddled together.

Derrick rocketed out of his bag, grabbing for his backpack. "Everybody grab your bags!" He hollered. "Get to a secure place. This is just like an earthquake drill at school!"

For myself, I was wondering how we would be able to get clear of all these trees, should one decide to fall over.

As if in answer to my worried thoughts, our heads jerked up at the ominous crack, and the top of a tree came swinging down toward us.

"Split up!" Kayce hollered, and we scattered in all directions as the massive crown smashed down over our little camp.

"Not the tent!" I wailed. A small orange corner still protruded from underneath the trunk that was about as thick as Jordyn was tall. There was no way of salvaging that.

Tony clapped a hand over my shoulder and hugged me close. "Well, I guess we're finding that temple today," he murmured. "Since we won't have any protection for another night."

"Everybody okay?" Kayce hollered from somewhere on the other side of the massive pile of branches. We made our way around the edge, careful to keep our footing as the path took us right to the edge of the rocky slope we'd been climbing across.

Jordyn sat on a rock, wincing as Derrick covered a small cut on her ankle with a bandage. Kayce had a compass in his hand and he twisted different directions, gauging our bearings.

"Whew! Good thing the tree didn't end up blocking us," He said as Tony and I approached. "Looks like we can keep heading in the same direction, that path is clear, at least."

"I think I'd be more concerned if it ended up crushing any of us, or the equipment we brought along!" Jordyn said, standing up and wincing a little as the bandage rubbed against her skin. "That was a close one, and it felt a lot stronger up here than it did down in the camp."

Derrick patted his pockets and rummaged around a little before retrieving the small yellow device. "Let's just hope it came from the same epicenter where we're headed," he said as he frowned at something on the display. I watched him slap the GPS device against his palm a couple times. "Come on, you stupid thing..." he muttered. "That's not what I wanted. Just--"

My heart jumped into my throat as one of my worst fears--getting lost in some wilderness with no way to contact anyone who would know better--materialized right in front of me. I forced myself to stay rational as I asked calmly, "What's going on over there?"

His dark head swung around to look at me. "Oh, well, ah--the GPS must have gotten a little banged up during the earthquake..."

"You're doing some banging, yourself," Jordyn noted wryly.

Derrick squinted at her. "It's called blunt-force recalibration, thank you very much!" he retorted. "And I think I just need to--" he never told us what it was, but after flipping a few switches and pressing some buttons (and a couple more whacks), his face cleared and he raised it in victory. "Ah-ha! And we're back!"

Kayce came up behind us, shifting his backpack straps over his shoulders. "So, we move forward?"

Derrick pointed decisively toward the path winding in front of us. "Forward!" he declared.

Three hours later, we'd traveled across the ridge down the center of the island, but the path showed no sign of dropping down lower, as Tony had mentioned.

"Um, Derrick?" I pointed out, as we stopped to take out some food for lunch and drink some water. The bugs attacked my face something fierce, but at least there were enough clouds in the sky to shade us every so often. "I thought we were headed toward the epicenter of the earthquake, and that it was located somewhere down low."

He bit off a piece of jerky and chewed it with a stiff edge to his jaw. "Listen, Pris--I know where I'm going. I've got the device, remember?" he held up the GPS unit. "And its telling me that we should be going--" he looked at the display and his mask of confidence slipped, revealing a brief glimpse of the panic underneath. "Oh heck!"

He stood quickly, brushing granola bar crumbs off his jeans.

Jordyn shot me a look before asking, "What is it?"

"What did you do now?" Kayce groaned.

"I didn't do anything!" Derrick snapped. "The coordinates must have gotten messed up. We missed one lousy turn-off, that's all!"

I rolled my eyes and started mentally preparing myself for another leg of the hike. "And just how far off-track are we?"

Derrick squinted at the GPS display and started turning this way and that on the path. He retraced our steps a short ways, and even tried lifting the device high over his head, as one does to supposedly improve one's cell reception. Finally he lowered it to study the map closer. "Okay! It just lost the signal a little bit, but it's back, and it says that we have to head back this way for, like, a mile."

"A whole mile!" Jordyn protested.

Tony snorted. "Relax! It's not like we can't cover that distance in a short amount of time."

"Yeah, well," Kayce inserted, "if Derrick hadn't screwed up the reading the first time, we wouldn't have to backtrack at all."

"Hey!" Cried the self-appointed guide. "I'm trying as hard as I can, here, okay? It's not an exact science!"

Kayce chuckled. "Except, you're using GPS coordinates, so... yeah, it kind of is."

"Shut up!"

We followed Derrick all the way back to the point he said, "And now we have to go this way!"

The new path turned out to be a small trail leading down off the ridge, back into the thick trees. We saw more devastation from the earthquake: downed trees, rock slides, and even a few fresh gaps in the earth. In spite of this, our current trajectory gave me more hope, as it felt like heading in the right direction, still. Occasionally, Derrick would stop and have to fiddle with the GPS more than he did before, but we kept on, anyway.

After another hour of hiking, climbing, and wearing out our muscles, we got another short break when the path we headed on ended at a wide crevasse that had opened up in the stone roots of the mountain.

Derrick scowled at the GPS unit. "This can't be right!" he snapped.

"Doesn't that thing have a re-routing feature, like avoiding the places where the trail just ends?" Kayce scoffed.

Jordyn was examining the edge of the fifteen-foot cliff. "This looks newly-sheared," she said, running her fingers along it. "You can see some of the same flora on the other side," she pointed across the span, which looked about ten yards wide. She stood and pivoted back to us. "It must have split during the earthquake."

Kayce cocked an eyebrow at her. "Meaning?"

I sighed. "Meaning that Derrick is right, we are supposed to keep going this way, and we're not going to find another way across. It's not his fault the map on there didn't update to reflect the topographical changes of this morning's quake."

Tony walked up to the edge, juggling a stone in one hand. Pensively, he chucked the rock over the edge. "Great!" he mused sarcastically. "Anybody have any ideas as to how we can get across, with only the simple tools and the limited knowledge we have?"

Derrick sat on a nearby raised tree root and asked, "Anybody have a rock-climbing harness or some kind of rappelling know-how?"

Kayce raised his hand. "I've done a little rappelling." He leaned over and surveyed the cliff. "But that's not going to get us all across that, for sure!"

Tony reached into Derrick's pack and pulled out a radio. "Perfect, well, why don't I take one of these, and the GPS unit, and go scout out the extent of this crack, see if there really isn't another way across somewhere else?" He held out his hand toward Derrick.

The engineering student rolled his eyes and handed the yellow device over. "Good luck with that," he muttered. "It's really on the fritz!"

Tony switched on the radio, made sure to set it to channel 4, and clipped it onto his belt. "I'll let you all know if I find anything," he said as he walked away.


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