Naked shapeshifters? A writing problem.

pixabay image compilation

I’m about 21,000 words into my latest WIP after a week of NaNo. Can I keep up the pace? Not a chance! But it feels good that the words are spewing – yeah… spewing. 🙂

But I have a problem… naked shapeshifters. They’re distracting, and I refuse to bog down the story to deal with all the nudity or the logistics of finding clothing. I’m curious as to how you might handle it.

The challenges of keeping your clothes on while shapeshifting

My human characters are shapeshifters. The story is an adventure that takes place over four large territories. Shapeshifting is a convenient way of traveling, spying, stealing, protecting oneself, and escaping some sticky situations. There are extreme drawbacks to shifting, so it’s a choice that has to be carefully weighed.

Anyway, when a human shifts into a bird or leopard or beetle, for example, their clothes don’t fit anymore and, logically, are left behind. (Yes, exceptions abound, but I’m not going there .)

So the animal travels or escapes, and then shifts back into human form somewhere in the mountains or jungle. It would follow that their tidbits are fully exposed to the elements, to the terrain, and to each other. Naked shapeshifters dangling and bouncing, wrapping themselves in handy fern fronds, or keeping a thousand stashes of plastic-wrapped outfits all over the vast territories doesn’t work for me. What to do?

Of course, I googled this problem, and I’m not the only one to face it.

Here are some ideas based on my research:

1. Clothing is a part of the shifter’s physical organism and when he changes, his clothing goes along for the ride. It’s part of his being. Damaged clothing could regenerate just like physical injuries.

2. Shapeshifters transform by rearranging the space that their physical organism and clothing occupy. The matter that makes up clothing transforms with them.

3. Similar to fey glamor, a shifter doesn’t physically reconfigure matter or change form, only appears to. Thus clothing is optional, and only the shifter knows the truth.

4. A shifter’s pattern, or archetype, is not limited to the physical body and appearance, but includes, personality traits, quirks, instincts, and training, as well as a distinctive choice of clothing. Just as the pattern of a wolf or bear includes a specific coloring of skin and fur. When a shifter changes into another archetype, the clothing disappears with his humanness. When he retakes his human form, the human imprint reappears. The shapeshifter simply transforms from one archetype to another, and back.

5. Another take on patterning – Magic is a form of energy. It interacts strongly with matter and can be controlled consciously. A shifter transforms by mentally reforming his self-image into an animal. The mental image provides a pattern for the magic, and they shift to match. Same thing in reverse, with clothing.

6. Shifters perform a ritual using the carcass of the animal they wish to turn into. They wear the skin or furs of that animal, and when they shift, the ritual pulls through the “bonded” matter around the shifting body. When transforming back, the spell returns the shifter’s body and other matter to its former arrangement.

7. Shifter clothing is crafted from animal skins and furs so it can morph with the shapeshifter. Inorganic items cannot shift and are left behind.

8. Clothing is made for a child-shifter using hides, hair, feathers, and other animal materials. During a ritual, the clothing is patterned to the child, who eventually learns to shift with them. Until they learn this skill, they are shifting in the naked human form.

9. A shifter imbibes a substance that permeates the body and gives the shifter control over his physical organism, integrating consciousness with anatomy. The substance reacts based on the conscious commands of the shifter.

10. The clothing is made of psychoactive fibers that meld into a shifter’s body when he transforms, completely hidden from view.

11. Shifters wear some kind of charm that allows them to change or create appropriate clothing.

12. Magic requires no explanation – it just works.

13. Clothing doesn’t exist in this world.

14. Deal with the nakedness.

15. Have everyone wear ponchos.

Is there one or two of the above that appeal to you? Any other ideas?

Happy Writing!

My bossy muse returns

The muse’s latest look (all images from pixabay)

My muse and I have a love/hate relationship. She’s a shapeshifter, and she isn’t known for her sweetness or patience, so I’m not sure what to expect when I open my writing room door.

I know she’s there because of the howler monkey roaring at me from the banister of the outside staircase (and I don’t live near a jungle). “Shoo, shoo,” I order, flapping a hand. I slip past and shut the door before the beast tries to bite or groom me.

A glaive

The muse is sitting on my futon, flipping a knife, a pistol-thing in a holster at her hip. Against the wall rests a double-bladed glaive that looks like it could take my head off, maybe twice. My instincts tell me to take my chances with the monkey.

“How’s the book coming?” She arches an eyebrow. Sarcasm leaches from her pores.

I lean on the door, arms crossed. “I had a hectic summer.”

She puts her boots up on my coffee table. The knife spins above her head, and she grabs it out of the air before it stabs her. “I’ll give you a pass… this time. But I want some progress. You’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo this year – 50,000 words by the end of November.”

I wrinkle my nose into my “stinky-smell” face while panic flutters in my chest like a caged sparrow. “You realize that November is tomorrow. I haven’t prepped. I haven’t even signed up. I barely have an outline. And need I remind you, NaNo is a ton of work!”

“So, get over it.” She practically rolls her eyes. “You’re a writer. Writing is a ton of work.”

“I know, but I’m having trouble even envisioning this story. Your suggestion of goblins and shapeshifters isn’t clicking. It’s not my thing.”

“Trust me.” She gives me a sly grin full of evil, musey intent.

“Can I fire you?” I ask, only half-joking.

She ignores me and sheaths her knife. “I want you to add elves to the mix.”

“Elves?” Now she’s struck a nerve. I pretend to gag. “That’s your solution? Ugh. I don’t even like elves. Their too Tolkien, too… elfish. I love Tolkien, but… ugh. I’d feel like I’m writing a spin-off. Ugh, yuck.”

My muse sighs at my immaturity. “You don’t write spin-offs.”

I still can’t get the elf-taste off my tongue, but since that sounded like a compliment of sorts, I cease gagging and plop down beside her. “Thank you, but elves?”

“What do you have against elves?” She tucks a lock of hair behind her pointed ear, and I groan. “It’s not like I’m insisting on dwarves.”

“Dwarves? As in Thorin and Balin, or gnomes with red hats? Even worse! Thank you for not ruining my life. Elves are bad enough. Yeesh.” I’m starting to feel incredibly cranky under all this pressure. “And what’s with the gun thing? I don’t write guns either.”

“It’s a pulser.” She pulls it from her holster and rests it on the table. “I’ll leave it to you to figure out how it works as well as its limitations. I want you to stretch, Peach. Write something different, something challenging.”

I slouch and put on my grumpy face. “Shapeshifters, goblins, and elves, oh my.”

She smirks and gives my shoulder a hearty shake before rising to her feet and grabbing her glaive. “Once you get started, I’ll help. It’s my job.” She opens the door, and the howler jumps into her arms.

While she clomps down the stairs, I stand at the banister outside my door. Through the dense trees, dawn’s thin light is green and liquid. The monkey barks at me from my muse’s arms, and another annoying thought pops into my head. I have to ask. “And I suppose one of the settings is a jungle? You know I’ve never lived in a jungle.”

“That’s called research,” she yells and glances at me over her shoulder, wicked half-smile curling her lips. “Have fun.”

She fades into the forest. I shut the door, open my laptop, and google NaNoWriMo. Ready or not, time to sign up.

***

My blogging time will be a bit sparse this month. But I’ve got some ideas up my sleeve too. Elves? Really? Happy Writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soul Swallowers: Writing children into adult books

pixabay compilation

I love writing children into my books. They add a bit of light-hearted tenderness and comedy between all the adult intrigue, betrayal, and gore.  They offer a fresh perspective on the adult characters around them and raise the stakes for those battling for peace and kindness.  Children don’t show up in all my stories, but they play a small role in Soul Swallower.

You’ve met, Raze, Johzar and Danzell, and Sajem.

This little snippet introduces Chellai (age 6) and Thanelan (age 4).

***

Raze carted the empty basket along the path while Chellai skipped ahead picking coneflowers and snowy oxeye. Thanelan rode on his shoulders, the blond four-year-old gripping Raze’s forehead.

“I didn’t see the witch, me lord,” Chellai said, her voice comically high.

“Lanya teases you. You mustn’t wander alone, but there’s no witch in the forest. And I am Raze. I’m not a lord.”

“Lanya says we’re to call you lord, me lord.” Chellai still sorted through Lanya’s many rules and pursed her lips at the contrary instructions.

“We don’t have to,” Thanelan said from above. “’Cause we’re free. Raze made me mum and me free before we come to Kestrel. Mum says Lanya is uppity on workin’ for a lord. That’s why she says it.”

Raze adjusted the small hands edging over his eyes. “Lanya can call me a lord if it helps her feel uppity, but you should call me Raze.”

“Mum says Lanya is a meddler,” Thanelan said. “And Lanya says me mum is a gossip.”

“I will keep that in mind.” Raze chuckled. The two women worked in the hearth, and the room was toasty enough without their squabbling.

Chellai stopped to collect another flower, her bouquet almost complete. “Lanya says you will be the king of Kestrel when Lord Rydan dies. And so I should show respect and say ‘me lord’ now.” She twirled and skipped ahead.

“Chellai!”

The girl spun with a wide-eyed pout.

Raze tempered his exasperation, set the basket down, and lowered Thanelan to the path. He beckoned to Chellai with a smile, and when she edged closer, he squatted down between the two. “Now, I will tell you a thing I want you to remember. I am only Raze. I’m not a lord, and I will never be a lord. We live in conquered lands ruled by an Ezari empress, and she doesn’t appreciate talk of kings. I raise horses and make carvings in wood. You help in the hearth and the garden. We all do our part, like kin. I am free and you are free. We are the same.”

“Criminals and cravens says me mum,” Thanelan added. “And the poor. We was the poor.”

“True enough.” Raze dropped a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I am the descendant of robbers and cutthroats, no doubt. But those years are long in the past, and we can decide our destinies today, can’t we?”

“Me mum and da and me could leave whenever we want,” Thanelan said to Chellai, “because we’re free.”

“I don’t want to leave, me lord,” Chellai’s voice squeaked.

Raze sighed. “Then you may stay, of course.” He picked up the basket. “Now, let’s be on our way. Samoth and I need to bring in the horses, and you both have chores to finish. Let’s not keep uppity Lanya waiting.”

Soul Swallowers: Sajem

 

The WIP is getting closer with another chunk of editing checked off.
I’ve introduced the main character, Raze.
Also Danzell and Johzar.
I hope you enjoy getting a peek into Sajem (from Johzar’s perspective).

***

The Black Gull’s door stood ajar, and in contrast to the sea’s fresh scent, the tavern reeked of spilled ale, rancid grease, and sun-ripened sailors. The stink didn’t bother Johzar as much as the sight of Sajem and six slavers deep in their cups. One of the man’s crew, a woman with serpents inking up her arms, spotted him. Heads turned and Sajem laughed, a calloused paw beckoning him in. “Ah, my friend, join us. How went your travels in Tegir?”

Johzar ambled to the table and claimed a seat across from his quarry. Finding Sajem had proved easier than expected, but the conditions didn’t befit murder, a point working equally well to his advantage. “A troublesome time for the empire. I would have thought you knowledgeable of all the sordid details.”

Sajem grunted. “Tegir’s bloated with rules and soldiers. I like the Vales. The law here is like water, fluid and easy to direct.” He growled at a server for another pitcher. “The raiding is healthy for the purse, and the ladies and lords look the other way as long as we don’t get personal. Our Governor Benjmur hasn’t forgiven you for stealing his daughter.”

Johzar shrugged. “He wrote the rules.”

“You got caught.” Sajem cracked his knuckles. “Out-matched by a girl.”

“True.” Johzar let the taunt slide. “Speaking of getting caught, eventually those ladies and lords will tire of you. And when they tire of you, they’ll tire of me.”

“Then we kill them in their sleep.”

“Kill them?”

Sajem’s smile thinned at the slip. “Capture them, sell them.”

“How’s our friend, the governor?” Johzar topped off a tankard. “Are you still his dog?”

The slaver’s red eyes tightened. “If the chits are the right color.”

“So, you’re an assassin now?”

“We’re not assassins,” the woman said.

Johzar arched his eyebrows. “Who benefited from Ezalion’s death? Who gives Sajem his orders?”

“I don’t take orders,” Sajem snarled.

“Unless the chits are the right color.” Johzar chuckled. “Still hearing voices? How many souls is it now?”

Sajem’s lip rose at the corner, baring a filed fang. “Enough to get what I want.”

“Here’s my problem.” Johzar leaned forward. “You’re a slave to the madmen in your head. They may bear the skills you desire, but they’re impulsive and thick as planks. Your rampages through the Vales don’t go unnoticed, even in Tegir. I made a mistake with Benjmur’s girl, but she lied about her identity. You don’t care if your victims are political, and we always stayed out of politics. It was cleaner that way. Follow the laws, keep our knives belted. Remember?”

“Times change,” one of Sajem’s men said.

“You know how many of my crew I’ve lost in the past ten years?” Johzar asked. “One. How about you?”

None of the slavers replied, and Sajem emptied his tankard down his gullet.

“I’ll warn you once.” Johzar addressed all seven of them, “My crew and I don’t appreciate change. We plan to go on living and getting rich. You make that difficult for us; we’ll make it difficult for you.”

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.

Soul Swallower – new series WIP

I think that’s the name of the series. I like the alliteration anyway. Better than Soul Gulper.

Perhaps you remember the character Raze from one of Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompts. Well, he’s back with a series of his own.

I don’t have too much to share yet, but here’s a brief peek at the act of swallowing a soul:

***

When the others retired, Raze sat by the hearth, its flames dwindling to scarlet embers. His grief for Briyon unearthed old ghosts, his mother among them, an ageless portrait suspended in the gallery of his mind. Not so his memories of Mirelle. Those lingered with infinite fluidity, entangled with visions of the past and dreams of a future that would never be.

Six years had shuffled by since her death, five since he’d joined Briyon at the freehold, and no lever had proved long or strong enough to pry her from his heart. Loneliness invaded his body so deeply it punched the breath from his lungs and sapped the strength from his back, and no hoping and wishing could bring those people back. A twenty-one he was master of the freehold, a tired soul, angry at a world he couldn’t control.

He turned the pendant over in his hand, keenly aware of its delicate beauty. The white soulstone had transformed, no longer solid but translucent with pale wisps of color swirling like morning mist. Copper wire the breadth of a strand of hair coiled around it, holding a round sliver of peridot in place with a final twist of two tiny leaves. It glowed with a soft light, indicating the presence of a soul. A soul he loved.

With great care, he unhooked the copper leaves, unwound the wire, and removed the green gem that capped a small hole. Inside, an iridescent sphere resembling a pearl shone with a brilliance that startled him. Were all souls so bright? He didn’t know; this was his first. He rolled it into his hand. Would he swallow it? Did he want what Briyon offered? Was there anything to fear?

The pearl of light glowed in his palm, offering no insight. He placed it back into the pendant. No need to choose; no decision pressed him to act with haste. The round gem refitted, he coiled the wires, paused, and then uncoiled them. In one fluid motion, he uncapped the pendant, tipped the sphere into his mouth, and swallowed.

A rush of heat streamed from his belly, up through his heart into his head and down his limbs to his fingers and toes. His body trembled, the sensation alien, but not frightening, and not long lived, for it subsided as quickly as it had overtaken him. Eyes closed, he accepted Briyon’s soul. In the quiet of night, he exhaled a long breath, crept to bed, and dreamed another man’s dreams.

Muse for Hire

Amazing artwork by Peter Pham

The day is half over and I open the door to my writing room. My coffee sloshes over the rim at my sudden halt. The man’s jaw swivels my way, and I swallow. “Um…Who are you?”

“Your muse,” he growls.

“Oh.” I edge into the room and leave the door cracked for a quick escape. “Where’s my other one? You know, the… usual one?”

He stares at me like I’m a bug. “She hired me.”

“You’re a mercenary muse?” I trap a nervous laugh behind my lips. The guy looks cranky. Dried sweat coats his bulging muscles, and bloody grit etches the gold lions adorning his skimpy outfit.

He points a finger at a wooden chair, my humming laptop on the table beside it. “I’m here to make sure you keep your commitments.”

“What commitments?” I sit, my smile as shaky as my hands.

“Summer off, then a new series, full time, starting September first.” He taps his ragged fingernails on the armrest. “Your muse thinks you’re an oil-tongued shirker who’ll attempt to cut yourself a part-time deal. I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“Oh, that. Well, I’ll have you know, the prep work is coming along nicely.” I lift my chin, every speck of rickety indignation putting on a solid show, and I turn my laptop so he can see. “In fact, I’ve created a map!”

His lips curl in a sneer. “Don’t get cute. She says you love making maps, so that doesn’t count. What about the rest? The bios?”

“Ninety percent done.”  I show him the files – images and profiles for all main characters and most secondaries. “I’m still tweaking, but you know they don’t settle in until the story starts. World building is progressing too. I have sea-cliffs, waterfalls, and cities with layers of arching bridges. And, I’ve got a great magic system.”

I wasn’t expecting applause, but a smidgeon of encouragement wouldn’t have hurt. Instead, his little pellets for eyes are waiting to pelt me. “What about the outline?”

I wince. The story is there, but the goals and obstacles aren’t strong enough. The subplots are solid, but the main plot is nebulous at best. That’s a huge problem. My muse-from-hell leans forward in his throne and does he ever smell ripe. He opens his mouth, revealing a rack of chipped teeth, and spits out two words, “It sucks.”

“Gah! I know!” I wilt in my chair. “I should have started working on it sooner. This is a tough one because –“

“You have one week to finish your outline.”

“But–“

“One week.” He leans back. “Then I want two thousand words a day, six days a week, and I’m being generous.”

I bite my lips and do the math. It’s a stretch, but I can probably manage it. “But what about blogging? I’ve been blogging ten hours a day…”

“You’re going to write in the mornings,” he orders. “It’s your most creative time. Two thousand words, and then you can blog all you want.”

“That’s going to cut my blogging time in half,” I whine. “It’ll already be night in the UK when I just get started.”

“They’ll survive. They’re grown-ups.”

“But I enjoy blogging. I’m going to miss posts.” I know he’s right, but I’m already undergoing blog-withdrawal.

He scowls at me. “She said you’d snivel, but I didn’t think you’d be this pathetic.”

“You don’t need to be so mean about it.” I push out my lower lip. Yeesh, what a hard ass. “Fine. I’ll write in the morning, blog after I reach my quota.”

His grin turns my stomach. “One other thing.”

“Now, what?”

“You need to exercise.”

“You’re kidding me. My muse told you that?”

“She didn’t need to. I can see it myself. One hour a day. Cardio and strengthening.”

“Oh, this is just great. A muse who doubles as a personal trainer.” I hate his smug smirk. “Where do I find the time to do that?”

“Figure it out.” On his feet, the guy hulks over me like a troll, and I lean so far back I’m close to toppling my chair.  He taps my chin with his meaty fist. “I’ll be checking in; don’t disappoint me.”

I roll my eyes and rub my forehead, a muse-induced headache forming behind my eyes. Through the window, I watch him clomp down the steps from my writing room and join my other muse, The Traitor, in the driveway. They share a good laugh. Damn muses. I wish they weren’t right.

Guess I better get to work.

***

Needless to say, I’ll be switching around my blogging schedule. Though I’ll miss a few posts here and there, I’ll be visiting as much as I’m able. Enjoy the last of August, and Happy Blogging.