Sanctuary #Writephoto

I shook off the transportal’s disorientation and trembled with the cold. Authentic cold. Maybe not what I’d expected, but a clear signal that I’d arrived. I’d grown sick of my shipbound existence, the sensory constancy, the monotony of routine, the same faces, same pastimes, same food. The same, same, same. After six cycles, the head of Assimilation approved my placement. And here I stood.

Time to face my new world, my chosen sanctuary, I squared my shoulders, hauled in a breath, and marched through the gray arch into a landscape felted in white. I halted. Warning bells clanged in my head and reality punched me in the chest. Something had gone wrong.

In a panic, I checked my chrono. I had minutes before the ship barreled out of range. Hands fumbling, I opened my comdeck, desperate for a connection.

“Connection established. Audra receiving. You have one chron before communication terminates.”

“Audra, this is Cloe. There’s been a mistake. You need trans me back to the ship.”

“Cloe? Give me a second.”

“Hurry!” I pleaded. A gray-haired alien in a charcoal coat strolled between the white trees, and I turned my back, hiding my dread.

“Your entry was a success.” Audra’s voice crackled with interference. “…didn’t show one irregularity. What’s the matter?”

“This planet,” I whispered, “it’s not the one I approved.” Tears blurred my vision, and I couldn’t stop shivering. “The locators guaranteed an 89% match to my parameters. I saw the images. They sent me to the wrong place!”

“I’m sorry, honey. You certified your choice. The portal’s closing.”

“Audra, you have to help me. Don’t leave me here!”

“All right, I’ll try. Tell me what’s wrong with it? I’ll issue a…” The comdeck fizzled and died.

I throttled the useless thing and smashed it on the stone steps. Face raised to the milky sky, I shouted, “I wanted colors! You sent me to a black and white world.”

The gray-headed alien in his charcoal coat glanced up from where he threw black seeds on the white ground. Gray-feathered birds pecked around his black shoes.  “That’s what you get for arriving in winter.”

I frowned at him. “Winter?”

He angled his head toward the gray buildings in the distance. “They didn’t tell me either. Let’s get a cup of coffee, and I’ll fill you in on something called spring.”


Another gorgeous photo and fun Thursday prompt from Sue Vincent. Join the fun. 🙂

At The Mirror: Culloden

pixabay image

A powerful piece of writing I’m honored to share. This was Iain Kelly’s response to a Sue Vincent prompt: Crow.

Photo Copyright: Sue Vincent

Per the author: “The Battle of Culloden in 1745 was the last pitched battle to be fought on British soil. The defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Army by government forces was followed by the Highland Clearances and a brutal clamping down on Scots culture and way of life, an attempt to ensure no uprising could happen again.”


By Iain Kelly

Through hard-falling rain a bird, black from beak to tail-tip, swoops and glides, buffeted by wind that swirls around the surrounding mountains.

From the elevated height, black beady eyes see across the flat, windswept moor of the valley. In amongst the heather and wild grass the eyes see something unfamiliar.

Wings angled to ride on the air current, the bird drops through the misty clouds to join the other black-feathered dots already gathered.

Similar black, beady eyes, belonging to the Duke of Cumberland survey the battlefield. Over in less than an hour. A fine mornings work. The rain batters against his cape, large drops drip from his sodden hat.

Over the noise of pattering rain the cries of the wounded hauntingly fleet across the moor. Gratifyingly, they are the cries of the Jacobite rebels, only a handful of his army have fallen.

He shouts an order to those that can hear him: ‘This is not the time to gloat and crow in victory. This is only the beginning. You have your orders.’

Cumberland turns his mount and leaves the field, banners raised high in glory. The Kingdom and the House of Hanover saved, the Stuarts and the Catholics crushed. Faintly, he thinks he can hear the cry amongst the charge: ‘No quarter to be given.’

Cumberland allows himself a smile of satisfaction. This is the beginning of the end…


(Continue Reading: CULLODEN)

Writing Tip: Names versus Pronouns

My guess is I don’t need to tell you what doesn’t work about this passage:

Mary rifled through the suitcase that John dropped on the bed. “John, have you seen my camera?” Mary’s hands flew to her hips and she scowled.

“I’m certain you packed it, Mary.” John scratched his head. It wouldn’t be the first time Mary had forgotten to pack something important. “I’ll check our carry-on. Mary, where did you leave it?”

“Other room, on the table, John.” Mary huffed and began stuffing shirts back into the bag.

John retreated to the sitting area of the luxury suite. The place had cost John a fortune, but Mary had insisted on a room with a sunset view, specifically for taking photos. John emptied the carry-on and sighed, certain Mary would have a fit and accuse the airline of stealing. “I checked and it’s not here, Mary.”

“Oh, crap, John!” Mary stomped into the room. “The airline must have stolen it.”

Did you notice all the Mary’s and John’s?

If you didn’t, trust me that after a few pages you’d be pretty tired of Mary and John. When I’d started writing, my publisher made me go through my manuscript and edit out first names whenever they weren’t needed. Here’s why…

1. Pronouns create a tighter POV.

Generally, we want a tight POV because it draws the reader deeper into a character’s experience.

Whether we’re writing in 1st or 3rd person (except omniscient), we’re sitting inside the POV character’s head, looking through her eyes, hearing what she hears, feeling her emotions, living out a scene from his/her perspective. Authors work hard to achieve the immediacy of a tight POV.  When clarity isn’t at stake, POV character’s will always refer to themselves with pronouns.

This is easiest to see in 1st person books where the POV character always refers to him/herself as “I.” Another way to think of this is in your daily life. When you’re hanging around the house you don’t refer to yourself by your name. I don’t say to my husband, “Diana’s going to make tea; do you want some?” That would be weird. I use a pronoun. “I’m going to make tea…”

3rd Person is subtler, but the same reasoning applies. We’re still sitting inside a character’s head, viewing the world through their perspective. Though the pronoun in this convention is a “he” or “she,” it’s still a pronoun. POV characters wouldn’t naturally refer to themselves by their names.

2. We don’t talk that way.

Next time you’re in for the evening with one other person, pay attention to the conversation or record yourselves for a short time. If names are used at all, it’s with purpose – primarily to get someone’s attention (“Hey, Randy, have you seen my keys?”) or for emphasis (“Listen, Randy. You lost them, you better find them!”). Do the same with a group of people and you’ll notice more first names, but still surprisingly few.

When are names necessary?

The answer is pretty obvious – to avoid confusion. And it’s easy to identify those situations:

  • When starting a new scene
  • When there are more than two characters in a scene and the dialog and action is jumping around
  • When two characters are talking about another character(s).
  • When two characters are the same gender.

Now, like anything in writing, this “rule” is meant to be broken, and broken for all kinds of reasons: reminders to the reader, to get a break from all those pronouns, sentence pacing, etc. This is simply something to be aware of when crafting your prose.

Here’s that paragraph all cleaned up.

Mary rifled through the suitcase that John dropped on the bed. “Have you seen my camera?” Her hands flew to her hips and she scowled.

“I’m certain you packed it.” He scratched his head. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d forgotten to pack something important. “I’ll check our carry-on. Where did you leave it?”

“Other room, on the table.” She huffed and began stuffing shirts back into the bag.

He retreated to the sitting area of the luxury suite. The place had cost him a fortune, but she’d insisted on a room with a sunset view, specifically for taking photos. He emptied the carry-on and sighed, certain she would have a fit and accuse the airline of stealing. “I checked and it’s not here.”

“Oh, crap!” She stomped into the room. “The airline must have stolen it.”

Why writing a book is like planning a dinner party

I’m hanging out with Esme at The Recipe Hunter today. Stop by for a little excursion into the joys of “research.”

*** ❤ ***

It’s a delight to be over here on Esme’s blog, and I’m going with the cooking theme. But since I can’t cook, this will be a half-baked analogy.

If you’re having a group of important people (like potential readers) over for dinner, it’s a good idea to have a handle on what you’re cooking up. Reading recipes and browsing images on the internet is a great first step, but it probably makes sense to check out the recipe yourself before you serve it to others.

Well, writing is the same way. Authors can collect amazing information online, and to be honest, there’s often no way around it, but trying things out ourselves provides invaluable inside knowledge that we can’t always get in other ways. I’d argue that the dish of details from first-hand experience is what deepens and enlivens our writing, and it’s the tasty meal that we want to serve up to our readers.

Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way, calls these experience-collecting excursions “Artist’s Dates.” Basically, you make a weekly date with yourself to expand your horizons, culinary or otherwise. I’ve taken the advice to heart on several occasions:

Three books of the Dragon Soul Saga take place on old sailing ships, and sailing around the lake on a sunfish as a kid didn’t cut it. So, I packed up my husband and dragged him off for a tall ship sailing adventure. While the rest of the passengers were drinking rum and listening to pirate stories,…

(Continue Reading… The Recipe Hunter)

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.

pixabay images

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

pixabay image

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.

pixabay image

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.


“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