Freeing the Dragons of the Lair

The cell’s iron door swung open, heavy and groaning on tired hinges. Adaryn paused in the broad aisle, blood racing, hands slick with sweat. The reek of foul hung thick in the heat, burning his nose. At the aisle’s end, chains clanked as the winch turned. Massive stable doors rumbled open, welcoming the remaining rays of day and hot breath of summer wind. The hooded dragon swung its tufted head toward the sunlight spearing the stale air. It pulled against battered shackles, swaying with the low thrum and hum of the song that echoed in Adaryn’s chest.

Across the aisle, Hedd and his grandson, Cadan, skyriders of the old Way, stood with eyes gazing inward, calling the dragon down in Belonging. They opened their souls, beckoning the creature into their blood, bones, and heart, their breath filling the dragon’s spaces.

This was Adaryn’s dragon; at least, in his mind it was. It towered over him, lustrous scales the emerald of dragonflies, onyx wings black as midnight. This dragon once brushed the sky with beauty and flew into myth, a copper ring clutched in its talons. A creature of the unfurling world, it arced with a swallow’s grace and hovered with falcons over wildflower meadows. As a rider of the lair, he had flown on this dragon’s back, harnessed its power, and mastered its will. And he would be the rider to finally set it free.

His opportunity arrived. Adaryn wiped the sweat from his forehead with a sleeve, and drawing a breath, released the tension gripping his chest. He took an irresistible, however unwise, risk and entered the cell.

Reaching up, he unclipped all but one of the braided tethers that strapped the hood to the dragon’s head, letting them slip to the stinking foul on the floor. Smooth scale shimmered before his eyes. Sinew flexed, muscle rippling with every sway, breath steaming above his head. The desire to touch it undeniable, his hand rose to the neck’s soft scale. Cautious fingers slid down to the base of the throat where a steel spine had carved its flesh, drawing blood and scarring, not so long ago.

At his touch, the dragon’s song silenced. Muscles tensed beneath his fingertips. Talons extended and curled, scraping the stone floor. Its long tail flicked, rattling the iron bars. The skyriders shifted, and Hedd’s eyes captured his in warning. Adaryn let his hand fall and knelt by the forelegs, unchaining one, then the other. Slowly and with care, he removed pins and slid the bolts free that held the manacles tightly bound.

His body pressed to the black bars, he sidled toward the rear of the cell. He yearned to slide his fingers along the webbed wing, touch the hollow bones, the sleekness of the skin that caught the air. Yet he resisted the impulse. With one rear leg unchained, he stepped carefully over the slender tail to release the second. He slipped back toward the cell’s door and there grasped the one loose tether left hanging from the dragon’s hood. As he stepped into the aisle, he pulled, and the hood fell free.

The dragon’s fiery eyes, splinters of gold, fell on the gaping doors as if the stream of light had harnessed all the sun’s brightness. Adaryn stumbled back against the bars, an arm raised to shield his face as the dragon reared. The giant body turned into the aisle, moving beyond the two skyriders who stood as still as the gray stone.

As the dragon spread its cramped wings, Adaryn felt his own heart swell, his body vibrating. Black webbing unfurled, filling the lair like a moonless night, stretching outward into the world with the dragon’s song. Thunderous wings drummed the air, fanning the heat as the creature rose from the stable floor, casting dust and dirt to the face of the man who embraced the freedom of its flight. The dragon soared through the gaping doors into the failing light.

***

Through a fluke of timing, this poor little trilogy entered the world the same week as The Sorcerer’s Garden and is feeling neglected.  It was time for a little tender loving care. Thanks for reading!

Available on Amazon: Eye of Fire, The Dragon Soul Trilogy, Book One

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Writing Animals into your Story

dog7On occasion, authors may choose to write animals into their stories. Animals can be valuable additions if done well. They can also detract from a story if an author isn’t careful.

I’m not talking about anthropomorphism in this post – the attribution of human characteristics to animals. Animals that bake cakes, sing show tunes, communicate by telepathy, shapeshift, form armies and conquer cities are more open to an author’s creative interpretation, and often human authenticity matters more than the animal traits.

I’m talking about your everyday animals (including imaginary creatures) that our characters share the world with and encounter in their daily lives and adventures.

There are times when writing animals into our stories isn’t an option. For example, many of my fantasy characters ride horses. Knowing something about horses – their abilities, needs, and personality quirks – is a requirement in order to bring a sense of reality to my books.

There are also times when we add animals for what they contribute to a story. I enjoy writing tales with animals and most of my books have at least one that plays a role larger than mere scenic backdrop. The larger the role the animal plays, the more the writer needs to attend to its needs, presence, and activities.

We might choose to add animals for a number of reasons:

  1. Animals add comic relief.
  2. Animals create tension or fear.
  3. A tough hero’s interaction with an animal can show a softer side.
  4. A villain’s love of an animal can add dimension.
  5. The maltreatment of an animal conveys a flaw.
  6. An animal can reinforce themes in the book.

In the Dragon Soul series, one of my favorite characters is Arful, a black mutt. Arful certainly adds comic relief, as well as moments of tenderness in a callous world.

dog6For a time, Morgen watched the woman and her children, accepted into the familial circle in the sandy lane, invited in by Arful, the dog that ignored all social respectability and did away with any form of restraint.

Aedan ran in circles, chasing or chased by the dog, somewhat difficult to distinguish between the two. 

The Seabourne’s cantankerous first mate shows his “softer” side.

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Tending the captain’s pet now, was all Treasach could think. What could possibly be next?

The dog ran up and down the deck, barking inanely at the men in the rigging as if they were crows nesting on the yards. It pushed its head between Treasach’s knees, nearly knocking him off his feet. If it hadn’t been so comical, and if he hadn’t some fondness for dogs, he would have tossed the beast overboard.

And most importantly, Arful contributes to the arc of the main character, Morgen, a sea captain who avoids responsibility and finds himself saddled with a dog. Responsibility for Arful leads to responsibility for a family, a people, and ultimately to a decision to risk his life for the archipelago in which he lives.

dog2With a frown, he threw a stick for Arful who bounded after it, overshot it, and got his legs tangled in a flailing turn. Morgen had never encountered a more uncoordinated dog. The thought that he collected misfits and lost souls rankled him, and he walked behind the house to sit on the seawall and stew.

Writing animals into a story comes with challenges that a writer has to keep an eye on. A few tips:

1. Know or learn the natural behavior of the animal. Most of us have experience with dogs, but we may have to do some research on wolves, elephants, or goats. You can’t beat hands-on experience.

2. Remember that domesticated animals need to be cared for. Your character can’t just leave without making arrangements. If your characters go on an adventure with an animal, consider how the animal is provided for and how it manages the obstacles along the way. Writing the details isn’t necessary, but knowing them is.

3. Be careful not to let the animal become a distraction that slows down your story. Weigh the benefits against the “intermissions” in your pacing.

4. Remember that the animal, like any secondary character, has to have reasons to be in the story. The more reasons, the better.

5. Avoid stereotypes and cliches – give your important animals authentic personalities and quirks.

Animals in stories can be wonderful additions. When well integrated, they can be amusing, reveal the character of your protagonist or villain, and augment the themes of your story and advance the plot.

Do you write animals into your stories? Have you had to research animal traits and care?

Baby Brains – Why Love Matters

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I usually post about the world of writing and books, though on occasion my old pre-writing vocation pops up in my opinions and commentary. Since my previous post broached the topic of brains, I thought it might be easy fun to share something from my previous life – an article I wrote on Baby Brains, based partly on the wonderful book Why Love Matters by Sue Gerhardt.

Why Love Matters

Happy_babyPart One: The difference between a baby and a squirrel

In recent years, brain researchers have pretty much resolved the nature-nurture debate when it comes to human beings. They’ve concluded that we are influenced by both.

Most of us who are parents understand the contributions of “nature.” Our infants are born with their own little personalities and temperaments. BUT “nurture” plays a gigantic part in who we ultimately become. And that’s because there is a big difference between a baby and a squirrel.

A squirrel is a squirrel. A squirrel in China isn’t so different from a squirrel in England or Oregon. Squirrels can be depended on to do squirrelly things – raid bird feeders, climb trees, store food. They don’t need much training or feedback to be successful squirrels.

A human baby on the other hand has to be highly adaptable. We are the ultimate in social animals, born to particular parents, families, communities, and nations. Layer family expectations and parenting styles on top of economic, religious and cultural differences, and it’s no wonder we are all so unique!

Which brings me to the baby brain.

Our need to adapt at a very young age to different social expectations requires human baby brains to be the least “hard-wired” of all baby brains in the animal kingdom, including squirrels. Interestingly, this means that most of the brain’s cortex develops AFTER birth. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that controls little things like thinking and language! Here we make meaning of our personal experience of the world, enabling us to interact effectively with others.

It makes sense that this interactive part of our brain develops through social contact. Who we are as social and emotional beings progresses through our interaction with the people we encounter in our first 2-3 years of life. Therefore, our earliest experiences as babies have a much greater impact on who we are as adults than many realize. It is as babies that we first learn what do with our feelings and start to absorb our experiences in a way that will affect our later behavior and thinking.

9477327336_3264f050a6_bPart Two: Baby stress management

Early social experiences shape the developing brain and determine how stress will be responded to in the future. Life is full of stress, you might say, and shouldn’t infants and babies get the picture early?

A small amount of stress is normal and unavoidable, but babies aren’t born knowing how to manage stress, so expecting them to figure it out on their own is a little silly—like expecting someone to learn French without hearing the language. How to manage stress is one of those skills that we teach through social interaction with our infants.

Babies learn that they can tolerate a certain amount of stress once they are confident that an attentive adult is available to help them. Once a baby has repeatedly experienced care from a responsive caregiver, stress hormones are less likely to flood the brain when the baby experiences minor frustrations. The baby’s little brain says, “No big deal. I can handle this, because I know I will get help if I need it.”

download (2)Part Three: Why you never forget how to ride a bicycle.

Can you imagine what life would be like if every time you rode a bicycle, made a sandwich, or used your TV remote you had to learn how to do it all over again? We wouldn’t be able to function. The brain handles this by creating templates, an amazing library of billions of bits of information that we access constantly and at a moment’s notice.

Babies’ brains are primed to absorb information at an incredible rate. Their libraries collect important how-to guidelines such as how to pick up a Cheerio with two fingers or empty a bin of toys. The libraries also file away very subtle observations of facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, and the emotional meanings associated with them.

Every experience a baby has is stored in the huge warehouse of the brain and forms the basis for how baby perceives the world – as safe and loving, or as scary and unreliable. The more a baby has a particular experience the stronger the template becomes. That’s awesome when they are good experiences, terrible when they aren’t – because it takes ten times as many good experiences to create a happy template over an old crappy one.

Mother-Child_face_to_facePart Four: Why love matters.

Children need a satisfying experience of dependency before they can become truly independent and self-managing. This ability comes from having relationships with people who respond to their needs and help them handle their feelings.

Oh, Diana, you might say. We’re going to have all these spoiled children running around because their parents are trying to create happy brain templates! Don’t worry. Healthy emotional brain templates lead to healthy emotional and behavioral skills. Stressed emotional templates lead to difficulties handling feelings, which then can lead to difficulties with behavior. It’s all connected.

By 10 months of age, baby brains have the capacity to store lasting templates filled with emotion. These templates form the library for emotional regulation. At this age, baby is already observing how his parent or caregiver handles feelings and is making those strategies his own. He is already absorbing caregiver strategies for calming and self-soothing as well as absorbing negative experiences and expectations that trigger stress. These templates become a guide for behavior later when the caregiver is not available to help the child through the joys and struggles of growing up.

And that’s why love matters ❤

Here’s the Link to Sue Gerhardt’s book Why Love Matters on Amazon.

Image credits:
Sleeping father and baby: pexels.com
Pink baby: commons.wikimedia.org
Twins: flickr.com
Smiling baby boy: flickr.com
Mother and baby laughing: pixabay.com

Sunwielder Moments

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image from en.wikipedia.org

“I don’t think I can die, Estriilde,” Gryff said quietly, his first words since the peak of the bridge.

“You’ve pickled your head in wine, Farmer,” Estriilde replied. They hurried toward her tent, so close to being free of the wind.

“It’s not the wine,” he persisted. “It’s the sunwield. I don’t believe it will let me die.”

“We all die, Farmer.” Her cloak opening wide as wings, she flew ahead. He plodded behind her, entering the dark tent as she fumbled to light the brazier. Sparks flinted to life and the fire began its fight to banish the cold. He sank onto a stool as Estriilde sat back on her heels and studied him. “Every one of us dies in our time.”

Drawing on the leather cord, he lifted the medallion from inside his shirt and let it hang exposed around his neck. She shuffled forward on her knees, close to him, and caught the bronze disk in her hand, silently counting.

“You have seventeen left.” Her gaze rose to his eyes. “That time may pass in moons or years, Farmer. Every one of us side-steps death without a glimmer of awareness. We are a moment early or late before the arrow flies, we decide not to swim, to travel a lesser road. We aren’t hungry the day the food spoils, we leave the house before the roof collapses, we decide to ride the wild stallion the morning the placid gelding breaks a leg.”                   -Sunwielder

***

I wrote Sunwielder three years ago, and since then “sunwielder moments” have become a mainstay of my household vocabulary.

Sunwielder moments aren’t always those instances when a decision prevents unknowable catastrophe. How many times would each of us have died if not for the minute choices that led us down alternative paths? It’s a question without a reply.

Side-stepping unknowable death stirs a sense of destiny. Yet, for my lover and I, sunwielder moments tend to rise from our reflection on the choices that were pivotal in steering our lives. Each road traveled required another passed by. What if he or I had turned the other way?

There are thousands of them, long strings of seemingly inconsequential forks in the road that brought us to where we are now. Alter one, only one, and the dominoes would have cascaded down completely different paths. Even the wrong turns, the miserable things that happened in our pasts contributed to where we are now.

If you think about it, the billions of choices made by your collective ancestors led to YOU. If a prehistoric youngster hadn’t chosen to clean the scratch on his arm, you might not exist.

Sunwielder moments extend beyond our individual lives as our power of choice impacts the lives of others. We may be the catalyst that unwittingly saves a life, transforms a future, or reaps despair. Even if ultimate outcomes rest on thousands of choices and influences, why not choose the path of kindness. You never know where that road will lead.

In Sunwielder, Estriilde focuses on the present — the past unchangeable and future unknowable. Easier said than done. As humans we tend to spend much of our lives peering over our shoulders and inventing the scenery ahead. Randy and I are no exceptions to the rule.

Yet, as we grow, our sunwielder moments reside more frequently in our present. They appear on the cusp of choices, as we attempt to peek into the future and catch glimpses of how each decision may sway the trajectory of our lives and the lives of those we come in contact with. We attempt to live with more awareness of the gift and power of choice. For we, unlike Gryff and his sunwield, can’t journey back in time and travel the path unchosen.

Do you contemplate the sunwielder moments of your past? Do you choose with an eye on the trajectory of your future?

 

Writing in a Small Town

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I live in a small town, always have.

Not that cities don’t have their allure, they just aren’t for me. I require a tour guide and someone to drive me through all the crazy traffic. My daughter became a city girl after 4 years at Boston University. The idea of living in the mountains makes her eyes roll back in her head.

20140718-banks-vernonia-01I moved to the Coastal Range of Oregon about 4 years ago, following the dream of grannyhood that’s since come to fruition. We live up winding roads amidst giant trees and autumn fog. The owls and coyotes sing for our nighttime pleasure. We heat with wood and I attempt to grow vegetables. Thank goodness for satellite despite its painful slowness.

Our community is cohesive despite our many differences. We know each other by sight, if not by name. I’ll get there as the years ramble by; I’m an introvert but rarely shy.

I like the history of the place I live – the pioneers and booming logging days. I love the stories, poetry, and songs that arose from the wilderness and a community close to the land. Many of the people in those stories and songs are still here. At the very least, they’re remembered. We have our local legends; we run into them at the hardware store or post office.

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Me and my helpers at the Saturday Market. I borrowed them from the neighboring tent and compensated them with homemade cookies.

Small towns are great places to be a writer. My books are popular at the library as my neighbors explore what the local author is dishing out. Our librarian called me about hosting an event and will stay open after hours for my November signing. I find space in the local newspaper and on the shelves of shops that don’t even sell books. I did a signing at the Saturday Farmer’s Market and had my best day of sales as the community stopped by with their enthusiasm and friendly support.

I may have to drive 40 minutes to the pharmacy or to purchase paper for my printer. The movie theater is an hour’s trip, the same haul for a host of other conveniences. But I love my small town. It’s a great place to write.

 

 

 

36 Plots and Mad Max

My husband and I watch a lot of action and superhero movies. Did I mention that he’s 10? A suggestion that we watch something with an actual plot earns the “Really? Do I have to?” face.

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Well, I’m a good sport, so last night we watched the latest Mad Max Fury Something or Another. I shouldn’t say it doesn’t have a plot, because of course it does (spoiler alert):

Car chase
Loner Hero Captured
Car chase
Loner Hero Escapes
Loner Hero Helps Beautiful Woman Save Beautiful Women
Car Chase
Car Chase 
Car Chase
Bad Guys Killed

I know, you’re shocked! Who would have thought?

In the early 19th century, Georges Polti compiled a list of 36 dramatic situations after studying Greek and French literature. Shorter lists also exist, but Polti’s outline has endured to this day. I have difficulty thinking of a story that isn’t a spin on one of his basic formulas.

The idea for this post rose from my “comment chat” with Carrie from The Write Transition on one of my posts Gardeners and Architects. She astutely noted that one key to breaking free of formula-writing is great characters. And she’s right – compelling characters can save a been-there-done-that plot.

I added unique setting as another factor (I’m a fantasy writer after all), but ANY opportunity to diverge from our readers’ expectations is worth serious consideration. Otherwise, were just churning out The Same Old Stories, right? Think of Pocahontas and Avatar…same plot, fresh take!

As I typed out the list below, I reminisced about the books I’ve loved. Each one contains an overarching plot complemented by a combination of subplots that wove a more complex tapestry for the reader. To think that millions of unique stories originated from such a small collections of human scenarios is pretty mind-boggling.

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Here are those 36 dramatic situations compliments of Wikipedia with my simple examples:

  1. Petition/Supplication 
    • A village is subject to a ruthless lord. The people ask the king to remove him. The king makes a judgment.
  2. Deliverance 
    • The townsfolk are threatened by the undead and the protagonists must rescue them.
  3. Revenge
    • A protagonist seeks revenge for a wrong, is the object of revenge, or is caught up in someone else’s plot for revenge.
  4. Vengeance by Family upon Family 
    • Feuding families. Romeo and JulietWest Side Story.
  5. Pursuit 
    • The Fugitive,  Mad Max.
  6. Disaster 
    • Towering Inferno. Titanic. San Andreas. 
  7. Victim of Cruelty or Misfortune
    • A common theme for Greek tragedy with Fate or Destiny being a source for somebody’s woes.
  8. Revolt 
    • Star Wars, Dune, Julius Caesar. Any historical revolution.
  9. Daring Enterprise 
    • Protagonists go on a quest to an enchanted island to defeat monsters and/or find a treasure.
  10. Abduction 
    • Save the princess, prince, or ransom victim.
  11. Enigma 
    • Most mysteries. Also the wise mentor who poses a riddle that the protagonist must solve.
  12. Obtaining 
    • Raiders of the Lost Ark. Romancing the Stone. A protagonist’s party is continually competing against a rival group for the coveted object.
  13. Familial Hatred 
    • The conspiracy and consequences of such hatred.
  14. Familial Rivalry 
    • The daughters of King Lear fighting over who should inherit the land. Two brothers battling over a woman.
  15. Murderous Adultery 
    • One or both adulterers plot to kill a betrayed spouse who stands in the way.
  16. Madness 
    • A common plot in horror and thrillers where the protagonist must escape the madman.
  17. Fatal Imprudence 
    • The general’s ignorance or arrogance leads to the destruction of his forces.
  18. Involuntary Crimes of Love 
    • The boyfriend kills his partner’s father and is seen in the act by a blackmailer.
  19. Slaying of kin unrecognized 
    • Stephen kills Amanda, failing to recognize they’re siblings. Generally identities are hidden.
  20. Self-sacrifice for an ideal 
    • The wizard sacrifices his life or his magic to rid the world of evil and bring lasting peace.
  21. Self-sacrifice for kin 
    • A ballet dancer gives up her dreams of the stage to provide for an ill sibling.
  22. All sacrificed for passion 
    • A prince gives up his royal inheritance to marry a commoner.
  23. Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
    • Sophie’s Choice. Sophie must sacrifice one child or she will lose both.
  24. Rivalry of superior vs. inferior
    • An underdog faces a more powerful rival.
  25. Adultery 
    • Will and Angela conspire against Connie, the deceived spouse.
  26. Crimes of love 
    • A mob boss ruthlessly destroys a whole family and the boss’s disillusioned wife decides to leave him.
  27. Discovery of the dishonor of a loved one 
    • A boy learns his best friend has stolen a bicycle. A king learns his sister dabbles in dark magic which will destroy the royal family.
  28. Obstacles to love 
    • Two lovers, driven apart by obstacles, overcome those obstacles to come together or remain together.
  29. An enemy loved 
    • Romeo & Juliet. Enemy Mine. An enemy soldier is beloved by one of two allies and hated by the other.
  30. Ambition 
    • A girl overcomes shyness to win a singing contest. The dragon riders desire to take over the kingdom and are opposed by the king’s guard.
  31. Conflict with a god 
    • Hercules, Clash of the Titans, Immortals
  32. Mistaken jealousy 
    • Othello is purposefully led to believe that his innocent wife is cheating on him and he strangles her.
  33. Erroneous judgment 
    • Sandra’s necklace is stolen. Alexandra has always admired the necklace so Sandra assumes she stole it. It is ultimately revealed that Sandra’s husband took the necklace to have matching earrings made.
  34. Remorse
    • The Shawshank Redemption. It’s a Wonderful Life, Ebenezer Scrooge in The Christmas Story.
  35. Recovery of a lost one 
    • Rescuers search for lost skiers in the mountains. Protagonists seeks the sacred amulet that will restore the kingdom.
  36. Loss of Loved Ones 
    • The killing of a teenager by a gang member is witnessed by the victim’s sister.

What do you think? Can you think of a story that doesn’t fit the mold?

 

Images compliments of Flickr.com