Woodland #Writephoto

My husband and I head out in our hiking boots when the dawning sky slides from lavender to blue. He treks up the hill ahead of me, and we squint when the sun twinkles through the trees.

“Stop!” I shout, too late.

My husband shrieks and bolts behind me. “What?”

“Oh my God, you stepped on it.” I suck a breath through my teeth.

“On what?” Nature boy peers over my shoulder and then checks the soles of his boots for dog turd or deer duds. But poop isn’t the problem.

I creep forward and squat down for a closer look. The thing is squashed, imprinted with his zig-zag tread, opalescent wings mashed into the pine needles. I poke it to see if it’s alive.

“What is it?” he asks from a safe distance.

I look up at him, the horror of our situation congealing in my chest. “We’re in such big trouble. You stepped on a fairy!”

“A what?” He inches forward as if the fairy’s going to leap up, whip out a wand, and shrink him into a toad. “Is that bad?”

“Of course, that’s bad!” A wing flutters, and we share a glance. “It’s not dead. We have to do something.”

“Throw it in the bushes.”

“No! We have to help it.” I gently scoop the fairy onto a fern, and we head downhill. “We need to call someone for advice.”

“Take it to the vet,” Mr. Helpful suggests.

“The vet?” I shake my head. “I’m calling Colleen Chesebro. She knows about fairies.”

“The swamp-fairy whisperer lady?”

“She doesn’t live by a swamp anymore. I think her fairy knowledge has expanded.” We push through the screen door, and my husband fills a shoebox with toilet paper as if he’s adopting a gerbil.

“Really?” I blink at him. “Toilet paper?”

“It’s soft and fluffy,” he explains.

I rest the fern on the soft, fluffy toilet paper and call Colleen. With the phone on speaker, we chit chat our greetings and get to the issue at hand. “Colleen, my husband crushed a fairy and—”

“He what?”

Hubby jumps in, giving me the skunk eye. “I stepped on it by accident.”

“Anyway,” I say, “It’s still alive, but it’s sort of squashed, and we don’t know what to do.”

“First thing,” Colleen says, “leave it in the woods where you… squashed it.”

The hubby and I wince in unison and look down at the shoe box. “Umm…” I say into the phone.

Colleen sighs. “Okay, scrap that. New first thing, bring it back to where you found it and leave it there.”

I grimace at the phone. “That doesn’t seem very compassionate.”

“Fairies are magical,” Colleen explains. “Trust me.””

“What if the raccoons get it?” my husband asks.

“The raccoons won’t bother it?”

“Cougars?” he asks.

I worry he’s going to list off the entire contents of the animal kingdom, and apparently, Colleen does too because she nips that recitation in the bud. “Animals don’t harm fairies. Nature is symbiotic. You probably have a forest fairy, part of the same ecosystem as the ferns, moss, and trees. The Earth will heal it or transform it.”

“Oh,” I say. “Well, I guess that makes sense. Are you sure?”

“If I’m wrong you’ll only be cursed for life.” She chuckles. “Just kidding.”

Great, a comedian, but I have to ask, “How will we know if you’re right?”

“We won’t be cursed,” my brilliant husband replies.

“You’ll know.” Colleen smiles through the phone line. We give her our thanks and hike back up the hill with the shoebox. The sun shoots spears of warmth through the evergreen, and we gently rest the fairy and her fern a little to the side of the path. The least we can do.

The next morning, coffee in hand, we climb the leafy path to check on our charge. The fairy is gone, but the forest is alive with butterflies.

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Thanks to Sue Vincent for her Thursday #Writephoto prompt, and to Colleen for letting me insert her in my story.  I hope you enjoyed my fairy tale.

A Human Story: Guest Post with Andrea Flory

After reading Andrea Flory’s book Miira (Innerscape: book 1) , I asked her if she’d be interested in a guest post. I expected a cerebral exposition of the fascinating science of virtual reality. What I got was so much more, a sharing of the true beauty of her work, a human story. My review is below, but before heading there, here’s Andrea:

***

Andrea Flory

Some people know they want to write from a very young age. It’s all they dream about.

That was never me. I did spend a lot of my childhood daydreaming, but those were private adventures, and I never saw them as potential ‘books’. Books were magical portals created by geniuses with towering imaginations.

How could I ever aspire to write stories?

It was true that I liked words and was good with them, but I was too pragmatic, and much too logical to ever emulate gods like Dostoyevsky and Dumas, LeGuin and Herbert. No, daydreams were for that magical time between waking and sleeping. They were most definitely not suitable for the real world.

And besides, I was busy. I rode motorbikes and  went up in gliders, travelled overseas, learned more languages, taught high school French, fell in love with computers, got married, had a child. You know…life.

But neglected passions don’t always wither away, and one day while I was doing tech support, I realised that many of my clients were asking the exact same questions, over and over again.

Ah hah, thought I. I liked writing, and I’d been a teacher, why not combine the two and type up the tech support instead of re-inventing the wheel each time? And that was the start of my technical writing career, but it would still be another ten years before I was brave enough to give fiction a try.

I guess that lack of courage is something I share with Miira, the protagonist in my latest science fiction story. She’s not a coward, exactly, but she’s not brave either, and it’s not until she’s bed-ridden and almost completely helpless that she finally decides to take the plunge and enter the digital world of Innerscape.

At first, Miira only sees Innerscape as a pain free way to die. Once inside, however, she discovers that her healthy young body and the virtual world it inhabits really are indistinguishable from the real thing. But if she has been given this second chance at life, what on earth is she to do with it?

I think this is a question we all have to answer at some point in our lives. For me, the moment came after a brush with cancer some years ago. Until then, I’d felt no sense of urgency; I was learning to write the kind of fiction I loved to read. What was the rush? Besides, I still wasn’t sure my writing would ever be good enough…

After the cancer scare I realised that writing wasn’t a competition. I might never be as good as my heroes, but my best was good enough. For me. The only question that still remained was whether I had the courage to share my best with others.

In 2013 I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and jumped. Four years later, so did Miira Tahn.

My Review

What a beautifully written book. Innerscape is a science fiction story about a middle-aged woman Miira whose disease-ravaged body is dying. She decides to enter Innercape where her body will be pared down to her essential components and preserved while she lives out her life in a virtual world as a younger, healthy version of herself.

The first book in the series covers two aspects of her immersion in Innerscape – first, the preparation of her new body and the tests to prepare for her transition, and second, the transition into the VR world and her orientation. As a series, the story continues beyond the initial book, and Flory hooks the reader with the introduction of several challenging characters, corporate compromises, questionable ethics, and love.

The science is detailed and utterly entrancing, as well as completely understandable to the layperson. The premise and technology also seem entirely plausible, if not now, then in the not-so-distant future. Flory’s writing is meticulous and detailed, and the world she’s created held my fascination throughout.

And all that wasn’t even the best part! Set against the scientific backdrop, is an engrossing human story. Miira is reserved, sensitive, inquisitive, and vulnerable, a beautifully rendered human being undergoing a process that requires complete trust and a step into the unknown. The story is told primarily in her point of view and the immersion in her experience is complete. The Innerscape staff that supports her are multidimensional and believably flawed characters.

The pace is steady and yet I flew through the book because I could NOT put it down. Exquisite writing, gorgeous descriptions, high tech science, and human pathos that grab the reader. I’m a fan and gladly recommend this book to readers of science fiction and anyone who enjoys an unusual human story.

***

If we’ve enticed you to enter the fascinating world of Innerscape and meet Miira, here’s the global link to her story: Miira, Innerscape: book 1

At the Mirror: The Quill’s Magic

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I only connected with D. Avery a couple months ago. I loved this story and the beautiful fairy tale quality. I think it would make a beautiful children’s book (hint hint). I hope you enjoy.

The Quill’s Magic

by D. Avery

Once upon a time there was a king who had everything necessary and much that was imaginable and who always wanted more. He had a great many servants, among them a girl who tended to the horses in the royal stable.

One day she was surprised to find that the king’s men had captured a large bird, which was kept in a locked stall in the stable. It fell to her to look after this strange creature.

She observed that every day it pulled its own feathers to make a writing quill, and every day drew its own blood to use as ink, that every day it might write its own story.

“Oh, Bird, doesn’t that hurt?”

“Yes, it hurts.”

“Then, why?”

“Because”, the bird squawked, “At this time, in this place, I have no song.”

And the girl could not get the bird to eat or drink and could not get it to stop pulling its own feathers and drawing its own blood. She could not get it to stop writing. And she could not bear the pain of its silence. She stole the king’s key and unlocked the stall door. “Go”, she urged it, “While you still have feathers enough to escape.” The bird thanked her and took flight and as it did, its written words took feathered form, and took flight, and became a great wheeling flock of birds, each one a purposeful song that filled the sky and filled the girl’s heart with joy.

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The great bird circled back and landed in front of the girl. Already, with its words singing in the treetops it looked replenished, its feathers grown back in. “You did a brave thing, for the king will be very angry with you. How can I repay you? Name it.”

“Oh no”, said the girl. “You have brought birdsong back to the kingdom. That is all I need.”

“Take this.” The bird pulled a white feather and handed it to the girl. “With this quill your words will sing and your spirit will soar. And yes”, the bird said as it flew away, “There will be pain.” The girl held the quill like a white flower; she held it like a sword; she held it as the key to her own escape.

The king was angry, very angry with the sorrel-maned girl who had freed the great bird. The king was quite unused to being defied, of having anything taken from him, even things he had no right to.

“Throw her into the bird’s stall”, he commanded. “Melt the key in the forge.”

The thin morning light that slanted through the barred window illuminated her tear as it dropped. Remembering the bird, the brave and stoic bird, she reached for the white quill pinned in her hair. Her tears would be her ink. No sooner had she dipped the nib into her own teardrop than she was transformed. As a small white bird she was able to flit through the window of the stall door. Unsteady with her wings, she perched on a shelf in the stable, uncertain of what to do next.

“The spell will wear off soon. Fly down from the shelf.”

She fluttered to the straw strewn floor and sure enough, as soon as she did, she was herself again, a girl holding a white feather, facing a sorrel horse that spoke to her over the half door of his stall. “Good timing”, he said.

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“But shouldn’t the magic of the quill last forever?”

“The magic does last forever”, replied the horse, “but do you really want to be a bird forever? You’re too young yet. You don’t get out so easily. But I can help you with the next part of your journey.”

As the kingdom was just beginning to rouse and attend each to their roles, the horse carried the girl rapidly away, she clinging to his mane, her own sorrel hair winging behind her. Finally the horse stopped in a wooded glade and they rested. Only now did the girl ask how it was that a horse could speak.

 

Continue Reading: The Quill’s Magic

Soul Swallowers: Danzell and Johzar

As my current WIP sloooowly progresses, I thought I would offer a peek into some of the characters.

You might have met the main character Raze here.

Danzell is a soul-collector, one who swallows multiple souls. In her case, wise ones.
Johzar is a slaver of questionable morals and allegiances.

I hope you enjoy this snippet.

***

The glowing soul rolled in Danzell’s palm, and she tilted her head. If only she could pry into the sphere, truly know the person bound within, their succulent secrets, forbidden dreams, and ripe desires. The wise of the world weren’t without their idiosyncrasies, the blades of madness that cleaved the mundane to unleash visionary brilliance.

Johzar watched her, a pendant on the Temple’s table between them, the one she’d given him as a gift. The soulstone still shone with the light of the soul within, her gift thus far rejected. Was he a fool or a wise man? She remained undecided, wary.

The Temple was her haven for the moment. She and the slaver sat by the window on the eighth level, too high for the common wanderer, and she kept her cowl up, face in shadow to all but him. “Why are you here, Johzar? Why the interest in imperial affairs? Why now? Why accompany me like my guard dog? What do you know? What do you want?”

He mulled over her questions, the gears grinding in his head as if visible to her eyes. Did he invent excuses or parse through her questions for the ones he’d answer?

“Curiosity.”

“And?”

Another pause. “Boredom.”

“Aah.” She chuckled and dropped a hand to her lap, fingers tickling the hilt of her knife. “And profit? Are you for sale?”

“Now and then.”

“Now?”

He shook his head. “I’ll stick with curious.”

“Did you or someone from your crew kill my sister?” She wrapped her hand around the hilt of her dagger.

“Nae.”

“Do you know who did?”

His gaze pointed to her hip as if the table were transparent. “I may not tell you if I did, but my answer is nae.”

“Did you betray my friends to the soldiers?”

“I saved their lives and mine by turning over the girl. She’s Benjmur’s weakness, and he’ll protect her. I’m sure of it.”

Danzell sighed. “I should have killed them all in the catacombs and added their bones to the vaults. They’ve complicated my plans.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“The voices in my head.” She smiled and rolled the soul.

He slid the pendant toward her. “I gift this back to you. I don’t need to listen to a voice inside my head tell me what I already know.”

“Such arrogance from a slaver, Johzar. Do you claim to possess the wisdom of the ancients?”

“Far from it.” He leaned back and crossed his arms. “But I know myself, and I know what I need to do.”

“Hm.” She draped the pendant around her neck, eyes returning again to the pearl of light in her palm. Her hesitation surprised her, the sensation new. Had she reached her limit? Was she edging toward the brink of madness from which she couldn’t return?

She hadn’t suffered conflicting opinions in her head until recent events required choices for which the outcomes were unclear. When it was all passive speculation, the answers were easy, reflecting a hypothetical black and white world without a broad palette of grays. Taking action was much more nuanced.

She popped the sphere into her mouth and swallowed. Johzar leaned forward, studying her. Her eyes closed, she surrendered to the sensation radiating from her stomach. The heat streamed through her veins, tingling her fingers and toes, and rushed into her head in a dizzying wave. She envisioned a room full of chattering, the newcomer mingling, ideas bouncing off others, temperaments clashing and merging. Similarities and differences flailed about with practiced words. She’d thrown another stone in the pond, created a chaos of ripples. She breathed through it, seeking the inevitable peace as the waters stilled.

Writing from the Oral Tradition: Guest Post with Clayton Callahan

There’s something special about seeing another writer hit his stride with a really great book. A couple weeks ago I finished The Spirit of Cahir Mullach by Clayton Callahan.  I loved the “voice” of this book and though I rarely (never) read books aloud, I couldn’t resist the occasional urge to don my improbable Irish accent and enjoy the sound of this tale.

Why did I “hear” this tale in my head…?

Clayton is a natural storyteller from the oral tradition. I’ll let him tell you about the inspiration for his book:

I have always had a deep fascination with history, culture, and people in general. It was that interest that led me to join a peculiar organization called the Society for Creative Anachronism when I was but a lad of seventeen. While other high school guys were perfecting their mullet (it was the 80’s), I was finishing work on my leather and chainmail armor for the upcoming tournament.

The SCA was a medieval extravaganza, complete with dancing, sword fighting, food, brews, music, and storytelling. Truth be told…I wasn’t too good at the dancing or the sword fighting. However, at storytelling, I can boast some talent. I’d pour through the public library for folk tales, mythology, and legends suitable for a fireside performance and worked hard to bring them to life before an audience of inebriated Vikings/college students.

One of the marvelous tales I discovered was The Great Mr. Berry of Cahir Tyrone. The traditional folktale is much the same as the book. However, since it blatantly takes place after the Middle Ages ended, I never was able to use it in the SCA.

Fortunately, a good tale is never forgotten, and now twenty-odd years later, I’ve given it another crack.

The Story:

The story starts in the Irish town of Baile with a fireside recounting of the time Lord Oisin defended the village against Viking raiders who attempted to abscond with his cows. As the legend goes, Oisin’s spirit still dwells within the ruins of his great castle, Cahir Mullach.

It’s now the end of the Revolutionary War in America, and thousands of redcoats return to Ireland in defeat, Michael Snodgrass among them. He marches across Ireland, a trek that takes him through Baile, where Mr. Terry plans to sell his cows, evict his tenants, and raise sheep.

Mr. Terry’s also the billetmaster, and he sends poor Michael to be quartered in the ruins of Cahir Mullach. The king’s law is clear that any subject must make welcome a soldier who holds an official billet in hand… and that includes a subject now eight hundred years dead.

My Review:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for a whole bunch of reasons. Despite being a work of fiction, it’s well-researched and sprinkled with details that bring authenticity to both of the book’s settings – America at the end of the Revolutionary War and the rural Irish village of Baile.

The point of view is shared by a number of wonderfully rounded characters with distinct voices and personalities. Relationships feel genuine and are recognizable to anyone living in a small community where differences are dealt with peaceably and according to custom. The story has a load of warm humor amongst some darker moments. Beyond the tragedy of war, there’s minimal violence, just ordinary villagers going about their day and experiencing extraordinary events.

The main character Michael Snodgrass carries most of the story. It was interesting reading about the Revolutionary War from the point of view of an Irish redcoat who had no stake in the conflict other than to stay alive. Michael has a true heart and guileless nature that’s endearing.

What I loved best about the story, and where Callahan truly shines, is in the authentic voices of the narration and characters. I read many parts of this story aloud just to bask in the lilt of the language.

The souls of his shoes were so worn that every chunk of gravel in the road seemed to take time out of its busy day to introduce itself personally to the feet of one Corporal Snodgrass.

Granny Collins had been laying out gifts of buttered leeks, biscuits, and milk by a hole in the old castle wall for the “good folk” of the hill. And kind as the father was, she’d no intention of abusing his good graces with her less than Catholic ways. But Christian or no, it was always best to be on the good side of fairies, lest children start coming up missing in the town.

The first chapter of the book is a long one and recounts the tale of Cahir Mullach in a more stylized voice. After that, the book transitions to the “modern” 18th century and the pace picks up. The book suffered from poor editing, but that appears to have been corrected by the author.

A delightful read that I recommend to all ages, and particularly to those who love myths, legends, and tales full of personality.

***

A final note: Clayton has written across several genres. Though he writes primarily space opera, he also has a historical spy novel and non-fiction book: Armed Professions: A Writer’s Guide that I’ve referred to many times.

Colleen’s Book Reviews – “Catling’s Bane”

Catling’s Bane is FREE today and tomorrow on Amazon.
If you have a hankering for a little fantasy, it’s a great time to tuck a copy away.

It’s been a wonderful week for this book, and the timing of Colleen Chesebro’s kind review couldn’t have been better. Colleen is the author of The Heart Stone Chronicles, a YA paranormal fantasy series. I encourage readers to browse her site and check out her books.  I send her hugs and smiles through the airways for taking the time to read, review, and share Catling’s Bane on her blog. Doing a happy dance.

Here’s Colleen’s review:

It is the darkest night, and the city of Mur-Vallis is shrouded in fog. Raker, the slant-eyed, three-fingered half-fen, half-human loiters near the dock as if possibly summoned there by the mysterious luminescence that flows through the rivers and streams of the planet. Before this night is done, Raker will save the young child, Catling, whose future will be intertwined with his own in ways neither he nor she ever imagined.

The mystical Farlanders, the original inhabitants of the planet before the Ellegeans, came across to me as the natives, in tune with the natural rhythms of the planet. For me, these beings were reminiscent of the creatures in the movie, Avatar. They lived off the land and followed their nature-based customs believing in the kari, the natural spirits of the planet. However, the Farlanders and their magic posed a threat to the Ellegeans, and when they took power, these folk were tortured and slaughtered as spectacles of entertainment for the people.

The Ellegeans establish an order where the lowliest are born in the bottoms, and where those with the most power abide in the highest levels of the cities. The Influencers’ Guild, a secretive, closed society within Ellegean, holds control over the tiers by flexing their power to manipulate emotions. The Guild’s influence is so subtle that the people have no idea they are controlled from the lowliest to the top, including the King.

Except for Catling, who possesses a rose-colored birthmark encircling her eye which allows her to block the “influence” from affecting the people. This magical ability allows her to see the threads of influence that binds the people. Catling’s ability is a bane to power as well as a boon. The Guild wants her dead, and Catling becomes a pawn in the hands of those wielding power because Catling will never be free of who she is.

Catling’s Bane qualifies as epic fantasy meeting the three qualifications: It is a trilogy or longer, it encompasses many years, and it includes a universe filled with backstory where the saga takes place. This book was my first introduction to D. Wallace Peach’s writing, and I must say I feel like a gushing fan. The writing is superb with descriptions that fly from the page plunking the reader into the midst of this mysterious world. Seldom have I found writing this engaging.

Fantasy and science fiction lovers will applaud the detail in the world of Ellegean. I took my time reading, relishing the characters and the magic that breathed from the author’s written words. I encountered two issues – I couldn’t put the book down, and I dreamed of this far away world every night. I loved the story so much; I’ve already bought the second novel in the series.

If you love epic fantasy/science fiction…

Continue reading: Colleen’s #Book #Reviews – “Catling’s Bane”

Author Q&A: Diana Wallace Peach

I’m so pleased to be over at Michelle’s book blog, Reading Minds, today. She read all 4 books of The Rose Shield series (an author’s dream come true) and had a few questions about the thoughts behind it. Of course, I was delighted to answer.

Comments are closed here. I’ll be visiting over there. If you have a moment, stop on by. ❤

Reading Minds

Catling's Bane from Diana

We all know I adored The Rose Shield Tetralogy (award winning cover of Catling’s Bane pictured to the left). After reviewing these, I was lucky enough for Diana to agree to a Q&A about the series.  See below for the good stuff!

What was your inspiration for The Rose Shield Series?

I believe that humans are, at their core, emotional beings, and that our feelings drive us more than thoughts and reason. When we interact with others, we’re trying to influence them emotionally – make them smile, comply, love, take our side, go away. We are masters at influencing, almost from birth. For the book, I simply took a big leap forward and asked: what if a group of people could influence people’s feelings artificially through a special talent? What power that would give them! And what would they do if there was someone who could stop them?… 

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