Escape – #Writephoto

Image copyright Sue Vincent

Alue nudged the prison door open.

Dawn’s light dappled Glenglisun’s slender towers. The jade patina of jungle growth, of humidity, of misty warmth, swathed the city as if it were fashioned of ancient bronze. Spindly minarets blended into the soaring canopy, and its flowering arches belied the peril within its walls.

Naj crept past her. The goblin moved in a crouch, long limbs corded with muscle, his double-bladed glaive clasped by its wooden shaft. Alue’s breath clogged in her chest. Someone had slipped them a key, left the weapon. Someone had freed them, and yet she cringed at the possibility of arrows tracking them from the rooftops.

At the building’s end, Naj ducked to his right and vanished. She darted after him, hooked the corner, and smashed into Danian. The changeling grabbed her arm, steadying her, and she stifled a curse.

“Quiet,” he whispered. “Follow me.”

“I’m not following you anywhere.” She wrenched her arm from his grip. “You’re a liar and a thief.”

Danian closed the gap, his breath in her face, irises black with fury. She mirrored his glare until he swung away. “Your choice,” he growled and set off for the city’s high wall.

Naj paused. His yellow eyes narrowed to slits, and he studied her as if she were a new specimen of plant life. “Do not die for your stubbornness,” he warned and loped after the changeling.

The patronizing arrogance bristled, but so did the truth. Alue’s last choices had cost her more than her freedom. She raked back her froth of red hair, swallowed her indignance, and dashed after them.

Danian avoided the stone streets, escaping instead over a weave of dirt pathways. He halted in the shadow of one of the grass and mud homes. The wall loomed ahead, draped in a camouflage of leafy creepers. Guards idled by the stone columns flanking a filigreed gate, inattentive, but holding spears no less deadly.

“This way.” He made a short retreat and veered toward a cluster of aerial roots that a large banyan had suspended over the wall. Strangler figs twisted around them. A natural ladder. “We go over,” he whispered and scrambled up. Alue climbed without effort, relying on her elven agility, hands and feet finding easy holds. She jumped to the other side and waited for the goblin. Naj landed with a grunt.

Beneath the canopy, time stalled, the day cast in perpetual dusk. Birds squawked and howler monkeys roared. Danian ran ahead. Alue leapt between giant teaks but struggled through the lattices of vines that snagged her body and tripped her feet. Hands bloodied by a fall, she tried to rip the barriers aside, tempted to scream with frustration. How long until the changelings hunted them?

Naj drew her back. His glaive swung like a scythe, slicing through the tangled underbrush. It swept over her head in a terrifying arc, and a green snake thudded to her feet, severed in two.

“Do not kill here!” Danian ordered. “This is changeling territory. If you make a mistake—”

The snarl of a big cat silenced him, the sound chilling to the bone. And close. Naj spun, his glaive raised. Alue froze, the animal behind her.

“Don’t harm it,” Danian’s hand edged up toward the goblin’s weapon. He met Alue’s gaze. “And don’t move.”

Alue fought the agonizing urge to run, fear trembling through her limbs. She couldn’t bear the predator’s presence at her back. Slowly, she disobeyed, rotating, peering into the jungle’s green depth. A massive panther, a slick blackness smooth as starlit water, crouched amidst the mottled undergrowth, baring deadly fangs. A guttural growl rumbled from its throat as its muscles bunched.

Danian breathed in her ear, “Trust me.”

**

I’m cheating and sharing a bit of my WIP (still a first draft but edited so that it makes sense). This is in response to Sue Vincent’s Thursday #Writephoto prompt. I couldn’t pass it up.

Procrastination Plus!

Arrgh!

I’ve been procrastinating regarding my writing for the first time in 10 years. Why? Partly because of this dang speculative fiction prompt challenge I started. It’s not the busy-ness that’s holding me up. It’s that the responses are so creative and fun, and I’m all over the blogosphere reading and visiting old and new friends.

In terms of writing, my most productive time of day is first thing in the morning when I can indulge in big chunks of creative time. And here I sit at 5:00 AM writing this post… procrastinating!

I did finish the first draft of Book 2 in my current WIP trilogy, but it took me a month to write the last three chapters – instead of a week – ugh.  It was more fun to play with cover ideas. I can do that for days on end.

I don’t know the titles yet  – these are place-holders – and I’ll probably have covers done professionally, so this very likely is just more procrastination!

(I haven’t purchased these images, (thus the watermark). I certainly will if I decide to use them).

Okay, enough procrastinating, Diana. Time to start on Book 3. Knuckle under and get cracking! Or maybe I’ll quickly check on the blog first… See what I mean? Arrgh! Lol.

How do you procrastinate, and however do you get back on track?

 

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.