Naked shapeshifters? A writing problem.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An unexpected beta-read result, and a review

Nick Rowe, aka Babbitman (a talented writer who lives in England), beta-read Catling’s Bane for me while it was in the works. It’s the first book in a fantasy/sci-fi series that takes place on another planet. One of my characters, Tiler, is a heart-of-gold bad guy who has a flair for creative swearing.  I made up “fictional” swear words not only as a way to define his character, but also to distinguish this fantasy planet from Earth.

Tiler’s made-up curse words were inspired by the Foul O’Matic. If you aren’t easily offended, give it a try. It’s a hoot.

Well, I thought I had created swear words and phrases that were on the mild side. Then Nick read the manuscript for me, and he nearly spat out his coffee/tea/pint (I forget which). Apparently, some of Tiler’s improvised curses were rather over-the-top in the UK. For a week or so, we emailed back and forth, discussing creative foul language and making up alternatives. He even made a chart! It was pretty hysterical and a totally unexpected result of a beta-read.

Nick was kind enough to read the whole Rose Shield Series and recently reviewed all 4 books on his site (see below). While over there, take a peek at his serial about a couple of shipwrecked sailors who accidentally dine on the Greek gods, starting with Zeus when he appears as a swan. It’s pretty funny. 🙂

Nick’s review of the Rose Shield Series: 

I’ve been meaning to write a comprehensive review of the Rose Shield tetralogy (one more than a trilogy, in case you were wondering) for ages but things kept getting in the way, not least the amount of time it took to read them in the first place; this is a substantial story (over 1200 pages in total) but I promise you that there’s no padding.

I was tempted to frame it in the context of one young girl’s rise from poverty and disfigurement to power and Influence, but it’s much more than that. It’s set in a world on a knife-edge that’s about to undergo a series of changes both internally and externally with questions of succession, invasion, occupation, injustice, and revolution. And it’s into this maelstrom of competing interests that Catling is thrown…

(Continue Reading: Book Review: The Rose Shield Series)

At the Mirror: The Owl Factory

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Lana is a writer and poet with a wonderful voice. I’ll be reading her book Dancing with the Sandman while on vacation in August. Here’s a poem of hers that just tickled my fancy, and I’ve been saving it to share with you. Comments are closed here, so click on through for this wonderfully quirky read.

The Owl Factory

by LT Garvin

I thought I would fit in

at the Owl Factory

assembling the multi-colored

felt owls

matching their personalities

to beady sets of eyes

even the creepy guy

next to me

wasn’t much of a bother

at first…

his smirking critiques

fell off my sallow skin

as if it were waterproof

“Owls aren’t that great, you know

birds of prey

kill small animals

pink flamingos, now that’s where

you want to be…

(continue reading The Owl Factory)

My Bossy Muse

My muse. Image purchased from shutterstock

I’m polishing up the last bits of Soul Swallower and Legacy of Souls when I hear the clomp of my muse’s heavy boots on my writing-room stairs. I haven’t seen her since September 2016 when she gave me an ultimatum about finishing up The Rose Shield series. It was that or she was going to quit.

Well, I finished it in the spring of 2017 and took the summer off to rest. Instead of popping the cork on a bottle of champagne, she hired a mercenary muse, and abruptly my break was over. The guy was a hulking brute with a bad attitude and worse breath. And not only did he expect me to get writing, but he forced me to exercise.

Amazing artwork by Peter Pham

I can’t imagine what this visit is going to bring, and I brace myself. The door opens and the muse walks in as if she owns the place. She’s decked out in her clunky boots, and she’s carrying that magical staff that I still don’t know how to use since she never shares.

“You haven’t written sci-fi in years,” she remarks, having read my mind. I hate it when muses do that.

“I’ll bet you stopped by to congratulate me on the new books,” I say with a smug smile and flash the yummy covers. “They’re just about ready to go.”

“I’m not here to pamper you, Peach. That’s your husband’s job.” She settles onto a metal quasi-throne with rusted pipes that suddenly materializes against the wall.

I grimace at the contraption. “You know, I hope that’s not permanent. I just cleaned the place up after the bats!”

She ignores me and leans forward, elbows on her knees. “I’m here to talk about the next books.”

“What next books?” Oh, oops. Yeeesh. I wince. “Oh, yeah. Um…”

“Exactly.” Her eyes are blue today and they shoot icicles into my skin. “You’re a few weeks away from finishing the latest series, and you haven’t even thought about the next one.”

“I’ve been really busy!” I cross my arms and huff. “And it’s not like there are any real deadlines.”

“Except mine.” She raises an eyebrow. “You know I have other authors to manage. And there are plenty more in line looking for some guidance.”

“Looking for a taskmaster more like it,” I mutter under my breath and give her a fake smile. I know she heard it or heard me think it. “I can’t believe you have other authors. I thought you were all mine.”

She rolls her eyes. I scratch my head and blow out a breath. “Sorry. You’re right. I haven’t even thought about the next one, and I’ve got nothin’, zippo, squat. I don’t even have a starting place. I need your help.”

“That’s more like it.” Her shoulders relax now that I’ve been thoroughly cowed. “I want you to start thinking about shapeshifters. They’ve been on your mind.”

It’s true. “I can think about them.”

She narrows her eyes at me, but gives the wise-guy comment a pass. “And goblins.”

“Shapeshifters and goblins?” I twist my face. “That’s ridiculous. They don’t go together. I need a new muse.” I laugh but she doesn’t. “You can’t be serious. Are you serious?”

“You can make it work. I want betrayals, lies, manipulation. I want you to make things miserable for your characters and then make them worse. I want twists, flaws, nobility, and redemption.”

I don’t know what to say. My muse has totally lost it. What comes out of my mouth is, “Okay.”

“Good. Three books, two years. It’s a gift.”

I calculate the time frame in my head. It’s not bad. But shapeshifters and goblins?

She gets to her feet, tall and powerful. “Congrats on the latest books, by the way.” The metal throne thing disappears, and suddenly she’s changing, her form taking a new shape. A shapeshifter? She winks a feline eye and pads out the door.

The wheels in my head start turning…

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Soul Swallowers: Writing children into adult books

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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.”

The Optometrist and the Dragon #writephoto

photo compliments of Sue Vincent

A man of science, Irvus the optometrist didn’t believe in enchantment. But a dare was a dare, and he wasn’t about to cede his convictions to a bunch of old-timers at the Pickled Sow. It was the 5th century, for Heaven’s Sake. The last known dragon had gone extinct a hundred years ago.

The climb up the scree to the cave was steeper than it appeared from a distance. His borrowed twin-bladed battle-ax weighed a ton, and if the rusted iron weren’t strapped to his back, he would have abandoned it on the dirt track below. Sweat dripped into his eyes and plastered his hair to his scalp. He renewed his determination to begin exercising, again… maybe.

Then he spotted the old skull.

His boot crunched on a human spine twisted like a skeletal snake. Farther up, a rubble of sun-bleached bones littered the loose stones below the cave’s gaping maw.

Irvus paused, tongue idly exploring the gap in his front teeth. A bear or a mountain lion, surely. Had to be since dragons didn’t exist. He wrestled out of the straps crossing his back and hefted the intimidating ax, his pluck rallying with the weapon in hand.

Other than the racket of sliding and tumbling stones, he crept silently up to the cave and peered inside. His breath hitched.

There, bathed in shadow, sat the princess that the wrinkled fellows at the Sow had dared him to rescue. A genuine princess with a perfectly forlorn face, pink lips, and crown of golden curls. She rested on a chunk of stone, her delicate frame draped in azure and emerald silks.

No dragon in sight, he hissed at her. “Psst! Over here.” She jolted up, eyes flashing with surprise. He beckoned with a frantic hand.

She glanced behind her and tiptoed toward him, careful to avoid the sunlight. “Are you a prince?” she whispered.

“No, I’m an optometrist.”

“Oh.”

“I’m here to rescue you; I think.”

“Indeed, you’re very noble. But for me to escape this horrid place, you must first slay the dragon.” She tilted her curly head toward the cave’s interior.

He arched a skeptical eyebrow. “A real dragon?”

She nodded, tears glittering in a pair of startling and beautiful gold-burnished eyes. “I’m trapped by an enchantment, captive here for all eternity or until a brave soul sets me free. Are you truly he?”

Irvus considered her predicament and decided that the whole situation was rather implausible, but there she was, an honest to god princess. She seemed sincere, and so far, he hadn’t seen anything more menacing than a rabbit. Best of all, she’d implied he was “brave.”

He sucked in a breath, stepped into the shadow, and halted. A deep snuffle of warm breath wafted over him from the black of the soot-smeared cave. His eyes adjusted rapidly due to his exceptional vision care, and he gasped. A dragon slept curled in a nest of straw among the jagged rocks.

A magnificent beast, its scales glistened in hues of azure and emerald. A serpentine tail curled around its body and webbed wings folded against its back. Curved claws glinted like shards of ice, and scimitar spikes thrust from its spine. With each restful exhale, puffs of smoke snorted from a horned snout.

The princess threaded her arm through his and gazed up at him with those disconcerting golden eyes, eyelashes fluttering like feathers. In all his years of optometry, he’d never seen eyes so… avian. “Please,” she murmured. “Slay it, free me, and you will win my heart.” She rose onto her toes and pressed her lips to his sweaty cheek.

He swallowed, kissing a pastime sorely absent from his hectic life. He gathered his faltering courage and inched toward the dragon. The slumbering monster shifted and sighed, blasting him with heated air. His hands tightened around the haft of his battle-ax, and he glanced behind him, chewing on a lip. “Maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea.”

The princess winced at the pun and crept up behind him, her eyes alight with a strange glow. She waved him onward and pressed her slender hands to her heart. He faced the beast, raised his ax to his shoulder, risked another step, and kicked a stone. It rolled and clinked against a deadly claw. He froze.

The dragon’s eyelid quivered and rolled up. In a tremendous surge, the colossal beast reared. Wings unfurled and thundered against the cave’s ceiling. Its scaled tail uncoiled and swept the cave’s debris, flinging stones and raising the dust. It bared its fangs and blew a stream of fire over Irvus’s head as it scrambled back against the wall.

Irvus shrieked and turned to run. The princess met his charge and heaved him back toward the dragon. “Kill it,” she screamed. “Slay it now! Kill it.” She blocked his way out, stalked toward him, hands raised to force him into a fight. “Kill it, or I’ll be trapped here forever. You can’t leave me here.”

He thrust the ax at her. “You kill it.”

“I can’t,” she cried, shoving it back. “The enchantment won’t permit it. It must be you. Please.”

He faced the dragon, sweat drenching his body, his hands slick on the ax. The dragon writhed against the back wall, massive chest heaving. Its tail thrashed and slapped the rocks of its nest. Fire flared with each breath, burning the walls. It extended two sets of razor claws, poised for an attack or… Or warding one off?

“Kill it,” the princess urged over Irvus’s shoulder.

Irvus hesitated, mesmerized. The dragon blinked at him with wide doe eyes, the most beautiful nut-brown, liquid eyes he’d ever seen. The beast probably had a family history of healthy eye care, a diet rich in dark leafy greens and fatty cold-water fish. The smoke wasn’t good, but the cave’s shade provided protection from the sun’s damaging rays.

“What’s the matter?” the princess cried. “Kill it! Hurry! Don’t leave me here. Break the spell.”

He hefted the battle-ax. The dragon looked at him with those soft chestnut eyes. The heavy ax head slipped in his sweaty hands. He tightened his grip and raised it over his head to fling at the beast. As much as he cringed at the thought, he couldn’t forsake the princess to a cave-bound eternity.

“Yes,” the princess hissed behind him.

The dragon shuttered its sublime eyes, lowered its scaled head, and stilled as if awaiting the fatal strike.

“No, I can’t.” Irvus’s arms relaxed. Suspended behind his head for the killing blow, the heavy weapon sagged. The weight of its iron blade pulled him backward. His balance teetered, the haft slipping through his fingers. He lurched over the stones, struggling to find his footing, and the weapon slid free. A gasp and thump behind him loosed a shudder that rattled his bones.

He spun around and gaped at the dead princess, the ax blade embedded in her forehead. He slapped his hands over his mouth in a panic.

Then her body began to bloat, clothes splitting at the seams. Irvus stumbled backward as scales erupted on her skin and a spiked tail snaked from her back, elongating across the rubble. The princess’s fingers lengthened, joints swelled, and nails curled into crystalline claws. Her face contorted, nose and jaw jutting into a horned snout. Limbs bulged and crooked, every inch of her transformed except the sightless golden eyes staring at the ceiling.

“Thank you.”

He yelped and pivoted. A brown-eyed woman sat on the black stones of the dragon’s nest, her human nakedness wrapped in a blanket of glittering azure and emerald scales.

“You broke the enchantment,” she said. “You set me free.”

“You’re the princess?”

“A librarian,” she said. “Are you a prince?”

“No, I’m an optometrist.”

She gathered the serpentine skin around her and stood. “And the kindest man I’ve ever met.”

He smiled, puffed up his chest, and offered his hand. “Are you ready to go?”

They walked to the sharp rim of sunlight at the cave’s entrance where he rearranged the dragon’s pelt to shade her face. The gray-beards at the Pickled Sow might accept his tale about accidentally slaying a dragon, but they’d never believe those perfect brown beauties, not until they spied them with their very own eyes.

***

This rather long and silly story was inspired by Sue Vincent’s Thursday #writephoto prompt: Shelter