Vokhtah: sci-fi world-building with acflory

THE most original sci-fi book I’ve ever read is Vokhtah by Andrea Flory. The depth of her world-building and character-construction is highly creative and intensely alien, right down to the language these insect-like creatures use. I’ve been wanting to interview her and finally got the chance. Welcome Andrea!

1. You decided to create an alien world without humans. Lots of authors do that, but their characters are often “human in disguise” with human-ish thoughts and emotions and cultural variations. Your characters are definitely NOT human. What inspired you to create a completely alien species?

Aaaah Diana! Thank you for inviting me, but…you’ve opened a real Pandora’s box here. What inspired me? I could say it was the original Mr Spock played by Leonard Nimoy, or the character of Dexter, the ‘good’ psychopath, or the aliens of The Left Hand of Darkness by the late Ursula K. Le Guin, but that would only approximate the truth.

To give you a genuine answer I would have to change your question to ‘Why do so many humans create aliens in the first place?’

To that question, my answer is that we’re looking for answers about ourselves. Humans are such a mixed bag. We run the gamut from saints like Mother Teresa to monsters like Ted Bundy. Why are we so different? In creating my aliens, I tried to create a dark mirror to the familiar, a contrast by which we could see ourselves more clearly. And what could be a greater contrast than flying, sociopathic hermaphrodites?

2. For a book to engage readers, characters (particularly the protagonists) need to be relatable. Readers want to feel connected to them, and this is often accomplished through shared “human-ish” experience and emotion. What was your thought process in how to achieve relatability while maintaining a sense that these are very different creatures?

Every society requires some kind of co-operative ‘glue’ to survive. On Vokhtah, my alien society evolved to value strength, courage, justice, honour and the paying of ‘debts’, traits we humans recognize and value too. Those traits provide a bridge between them and us. Plus, I have to admit that some of my aliens are ‘nicer’ than others. The hardest part of writing them was stopping myself from making them too nice.

3. Your world-building is deep and complex.  Did you plan it out in advance of writing? And to what level of detail? Did it evolve as you wrote the first book?

Nanowrimo 2004 triggered the creation of my aliens, but the world took about nine years to evolve, and it required a lot of research, including a crash course in basic astronomy. The relationship between the twin suns has a profound affect on the planet so I had to learn about binary star systems and how they might affect the day/night cycle as well as the seasons. This is my reference ‘calendar’:

And then there’s the con lang [constructed language] spoken by my aliens. Because their lungs are in their wings, sound is produced by pushing air through tiny ‘pipes’ called cilia. As a result, their language evolved as a mix of organ-like sounds together with optional ‘scents’ that add an emotional depth to their words.

Adding to that complexity is the fact that, as hermaphrodites, my aliens are neither ‘he’ nor ‘she’ but ‘it’. Trying to make English reflect these constraints without being too awful to read was a…challenge.

4. I know you enjoy making images as you conceptualize your story.  Tell me more about that process and your reasoning.

Some people can visualise everything perfectly in their heads. Me, I have to see the things I imagine in some kind of physical form, otherwise I miss the ‘obvious’.

One of those obvious things I almost missed had to do with how many arms my aliens have. I wanted them to have ‘clever hands’ and powerful wings that look a bit like bats, but bat wings look like this:

Those wings rely on impossibly long ‘fingers’, leaving no room for functional ‘hands’. The challenge was to find a way for my aliens to have both hands and wings.

It took a while, but as I messed around with various models, I suddenly realised that my aliens needed not one set of arms but two! That ‘ah hah!’ moment combined with a lot of images of black leather eventually led to this:

Still a work in progress, but getting there.

5. What excites you about writing these books?  What are you most proud of?

I love a challenge, and I love doing research, but what I’m most proud of is that I stayed true to the original vision of the story.

I created sociopaths so I could explore what it means to be human. I created hermaphrodites so I could explore gender. But to stay true to both those themes, I had to create a language that was both gender neutral and lacking in names. That resulted in dialogue like this:

Begging,” the Apprentice sent in desperation. “Allowing others in group to join Tellers. Not deserving this.”

There was a short silence before the Runner replied.

Others can re-joining caravan,” it said, “but not Apprentice, Flyer or that Plodder. Life-debt must being cancelled.”

One of my first beta readers strongly advised me to re-write the dialogue in standard English, to make it ‘easier’ for readers. I did agonise over that one because I know that too much ‘dialect’ can make dialogue almost incomprehensible, but there was no way I could change the dialogue without changing everything about the story, starting with the biology. I kept the dialogue.

6. Thank you so much for sharing your creative adventure with us, Andrea. Anything else you’d like to add?

Vokhtah was, and is, my passion. If the book had been picked up by a traditional publisher, I am sure I would have been told to change a great many things, including the dialogue. One of the joys of being an Indie is that I can stay true to the vision that made me write the story in the first place. That freedom is a gift of immeasurable value.

And so is the gift of community. Family and friends are precious, but sometimes their eyes glaze over when I talk about writing. When I come here, it feels like coming home. Thank you, Diana, for always making me feel welcome in this accepting community of writers and readers.

Huge hugs to all,
Meeks [aka acflory]

Diana’s review of Vokhtah:

This is a hard book to describe. “Pure Alien” is a good start, and I’m impressed by the author’s ambition and execution. Vokhtah is an alien planet and the characters are insect-like (my impression) creatures who engage in their own sort of political intrigue, espionage, and social caste system. They’re clever, dastardly, selfless, and selfish – much like humans – but there the similarities end.

The world-building is rather amazing and humans won’t find much that’s familiar here. Even the speech is different. The iVokh and Vokh are genderless “its” and don’t have names, referred to by their role in society, their ranking, and their talents. Social norms are dictated by groups and reinforce variations in dominance and subservience. It takes about a third of the book to get used to.

The story unfolds from multiple points of view, all alien. Flory doesn’t pamper the reader with backstory or explanation, but tosses us right into the strange world – sink or swim. The experience is immersive, but it requires patience to figure out who these aliens are and what the heck they’re doing. I enjoyed the story-telling, the fascinating world, the author’s imagination and writing skills. The pace was excellent and kept my interest.

I did spend a fair amount of the book confused about the characters, though. This is primarily, I think, because they don’t have names and, in many cases, go by multiple designations. For example, there are a number of Sixths and Sevenths. A Blue is also a Messenger who is also a Healer. A Teller is also a Trader, and is sometimes an Apprentice, so sometimes they’re the same character, sometimes not. There are a lot of identically designated characters as each location/eyrie in the story has the same basic social structure, and the book involves travel. I struggled to keep them straight until about 50% through when the plot began to narrow down the action and further define the characters’ personalities and motivations.

But then, I struggled to keep Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon straight. That one I gave up on; this one I didn’t. And it was worth it. By the end, I was ready for the next book in the series. I highly recommend Vokhtah to readers who love pure alien sci-fi, love a reading challenge, and want to engage with the work of a wonderfully creative imagination.

Amazon Global Link

Pondering Time Zones

All images from Pixabay

Andrea (acflory) from Meeka’s Mind and I were emailing about time zones relative to my launch. Our discussion made me think of this old post from the archives. I hope it gives you a smile. 🙂

+++

No stranger to discussions of the fluidity of perception, I’m often pondering the different ways we interpret events, places, and people. I include myself in the mix. Who I am is entirely based on a host of perspectives, mine and others, and it changes minute by minute.

Even the date and time of my birth is subject to interpretation depending where you and I live relative to the International Date Line. Time is real, I suppose, but it’s also invented. When my brother used to fly back from Guam, he would arrive in Seattle an hour before he left Guam. Weird, huh?

When I started blogging, I became more aware of the play of time zones. I’m closer to the time-flip than quite a few readers so while I’m posting over a coffee and buttered bagel, some of you are slipping into your pajamas after a long day. If I post in the afternoon, you’re snoozing or rushing off to work… tomorrow.

WordPress occasionally confuses me. My stats show views on Tuesday while here it’s still Monday. My posts are time-traveling into the future! You’re commenting into the past.

Then it gets more complicated…

According to Kiss Metrics timing is everything and knowing when to post is “mandatory” for any successful blogger.

  • The highest percentage of bloggers read posts in the morning. Therefore, I should post occasionally at night?
  • A higher percentage of men read blogs in the evening and at night. Oh, so perhaps I should post in the morning…
  • The average blog gets the most traffic on Monday.  So, now and then I should post on Sunday which is Monday in half of the world.

To be fair, these recommendations are based on Eastern Standard Time, so it shouldn’t be all that muddling to me. Yet I care about my readers across the oceans and continents, and I think about them and where they are in their “times,” so near and yet thousands of miles away.

To finish off the stats here are the rest (based on EST):

  • The average blog gets the most traffic around 11 AM.
  • The average blog gets the most comments on Saturday.
  • The average blog gets the most clinks on Monday and Thursday.
  • The average blog gets the most clicks at 7 AM.

According to that round up, the best time for me to post is just before 4 AM on Saturday morning. Not gonna happen.

I’d love to hear about your slice of agreed-upon time. What day and time is it for you? When you blog, do you pay attention to time zones?

 

More Indie Book Reviews

It’s time to share a few more reviews. Another eclectic bunch: short stories, a middle-grade gem, and of course, speculative fiction. I have a stack of reading for the holidays. I hope I can add a book or two to yours.

Flights of Fancy

by Sally Cronin

I’ve read several of Cronin’s books of short stories, and this collection of eleven tales is as enjoyable as the others. I inhaled it in a single afternoon, completely immersed. As usual, the author includes a wonderful variety of tales from touching stories of eternal love in The Other Side of Heaven and Curtains, to adorable cuteness in Henry’s Story, and humor in Psychic Parrot. Highly recommended for anyone who loves short stories and well-told tales.

***

Talon

by Gigi Sedlmayer

I had no idea how much I would enjoy this book. It seems appropriate for middle-grade readers with short chapters and a charming story, but will appeal to younger kids as a chapter book, as well as adults.

Matica is the ten-year-old daughter of missionaries in Peru. She has a disability that leaves her tiny for her age and socially isolated from the indigenous community. She befriends a pair of condors and her adventures begin, changing her life in marvelous ways. Matica is delightful, caring, and undaunted by these giant birds.

The setting adds to the book’s interest as well as the details on the condors. Matica interprets the bird’s “language” which adds a bit of magic to the tale. The pace is just right and the plot wraps up nicely with more to come. A wonderful first book in the series. Highly recommended.

***

The Gate

by D. L. Cross

An alien invasion is imminent, and Landon Thorne goes from being a recently fired college professor to a much sought-after expert. His unconventional theories on ancient alien astronauts have caught the attention of top-secret government operatives and a group of mysterious bad guys.

This is classic first-contact sci-fi, and Cross appears to have done her research. Combine fact with a dose of imagination and a bunch of ruthless characters, and this is a story that moves at a fast clip.

And those “ruthless characters” include just about everyone. The main characters are well-rounded, ambitious, competitive, and argumentative. And Cross has no problem letting characters cross the line and/or killing them off.

The Gate, the first book in the Astral Conspiracy series, leaves off with a cliff-hanger, so be prepared to read the next books to reach the conclusion of the tale. Highly recommended for readers of sci-fi thrillers.

***

More to come. Have a lovely holiday season and Happy Reading!

 

November Challenge Round Up

Pixabay image, artist unknown.

Oh, my. What amazing stories this month. Somehow, magically, when I thought up the Challenge, I knew I’d be diving into some wonderful creativity. I loved the mystery of the characters, the slow reveals, and how the “show” hooked me. I enjoyed every single one and was sad to see them end. Thank you to all who participated and to all those who stopped by to read. I hope you were as mesmerized as I was.

Here are the stories from November’s Challenge. I hope you enjoy them.

Ederren – Jagen

Cosistories – They

Trent McDonald – Final Battle

Kevin Parish – Satisfy Me

Stephen Tanham – The Unmelt

JP – Sorrow

Audrey Driscoll – The Network

Robbie Cheadle – The Blob

Jen Goldie – Tidbits for Starters

Teagan Geneviene – Untitled Tesla Punk

Sue Vincent – Questing Beast?

Kerfe – Go Away Now

Jane Dougherty – Shade in the Mist

HRR Gorman – Water Striders

Geoff Le Pard – The Triangulation of Superheroes

Len- Infinity

Diana – Dinner

May Speculative Fiction Round-Up

Pixabay image by Brigitte Werner

Another month of great stories! Thank you to everyone who participated. And to those who stretched their imaginations, congratulations. Below is the round-up of all the May poems, flashes, short stories, and some artwork too! If I missed yours for some reason, please add a link in the comments and I’ll happily reblog. I invite everyone to enjoy some unique stories and meet some wonderful writers.

**

May Round-up

Pensivity – The Awakening

Cosistories – Different

The Dark Netizen – The Future Man

Steve Tanham – A Strong Right Arm

Thea by Me – Being Another You

(Note that Thea has a series of posts continuing the story. You can catch the links from the first one above.)

Trent McDonald – A Whir in my Ears

Robert Goldstein – Trina and the Android at Saks

Balroop Singh – In Love with Myself

Dorinda Duclos – Human Extraction

Robbie Cheadle – Extract from the diary of John Saunders

Sadje – The Tattoo Man

Jomz Ojeda – Reborn

Anita Dawes – Difference

Greg – Heartless Tin Man

Miriam Hurdle – One Hundred Million Dollar Man

C.E. Pereira – What I thought was perfection

Barbara – Frozen

Ritu Bathaul – Mechanical Tart

Len – Body-sculpture

Brad – Cyber Man

Helene Vaillant – Draft Model

Ethan Dale Edgar – Hunger (Part 2)

GM Cleary – Millefeuille

Geoff Le Pard – The Unfortunate Outcome of Gender Neutrality in Algorithm Design

Teagan Geneviene – Hidebound Hum Day: The Guardian

Sally Cronin – The Enhancement Project

Daisy Bala – In the Future

Hugh Roberts – Hot Dates (adult content)

Von Smith – Jules meets Hal (Chapter 1-10)

Jessica Bakkers – Homo Cerebrum

Jen Goldie – Metaman104

Betul Erbasi – The Robot in me

HRR Gorman – The Bone Forge

Sonia – Watch Shield

Deepa Kadavakat – Is This The Future?

Wilnako – A Changeling King

C.E. Pereira – Awake, Bronze Gladiator

Anneberly Andrews – Figment

Amanda Reilly – Empty Promises

Kerfe – are we not what we are

Jane Dougherty – Creation

Joanne – Cyborg Your Future!

Pamela Wight – The Bodyguard

D. Wallace Peach – Defining Human

Entangled Designs – The War Within

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

March Speculative Fiction Round-Up

pixabay image by Natan Vance

Wow! What a month of great stories! Thank you to everyone who participated. And to those who stretched their imaginations, Congratulations. ❤ Below is the round-up of all the March poems, flashes, short stories, and some artwork too! If I missed yours for some reason, please add a link in the comments and I’ll happily reblog. I invite everyone to enjoy some unique stories and meet some wonderful writers. As I posted a week ago, I’m on a mission to move my parents and all that entails. Therefore, I won’t have an April prompt for you. Stay tuned for May!

March Round-up

Solitaire – Darkness

Pensivity – Moon Child

Alexander De – The Zoo Keepers

Frank Prem – take me (to the moon)

Robbie Cheadle – Gaining Freedom’s Gate

Amanda Sayer – Clair de Lune

Charley – Internal Irony (see part 2 below)

Tom – Shadowlands

cosistories – Jo’Am and the Eclipse

Jackie – A Survival Guide

Carol – Trapped in the Moon’s Shadow

Sonia – City of Sand

L.T. Garvin – The Shadow City

Priscilla Bettis – Passover

Len – The Savior

Christina Ward – Vacant

Robert Goldstein – Trina: In the Land of Tall Thin Shadows

Jordy Fasheh – Bones in Time – Part III

Jessica Bakkers – Darkness and Terror

Ethan Eagar – Hunger

Jane Dougherty – Black Moon

Betul Erbasi – The Light

Sheron McCartha – Escape Velocity

Carol Forrester – No Light By This Moon

Sadje – The moon glow

Paula Light – Postcards from Afar

Scherezade Ozwulo – Sacrificial Lambs

Trent McDonald – Release Me

Steve Tanham – Song in the Street

Geoff Le Pard – Sun Block

Ritu Bhathal – The Day the Moon Began to Disappear

Kevin Parish – The Solo Dancer

The Dark Netizen – Hole

Sally Cronin – A moment of Alignment

Mimi – She would give them all the words, feelings, and blood that they needed

Louise Gallagher – He Walks Alone

Willow Willers – Apocalypse

Dorinda Duclos – The Last Eclipse

G. M. Cleary – Crocus

Tessa – Where’s the sunshine?

Antonia Sara Zenkevitch – The Moon Child

Eric – Freed

Anita – Strange Dimensions

Anneberly Andrews – A Young Concord

Balroop Singh – A Rising

Audrey Driscoll – Answering the Call

Adele Marie Parks – The Night has a Thousand Eyes

Louise Brady – Desert Eclipse

Suzanne – Eclipsed

Violet Lentz – The New Nephilim

Greg – An Email from Saint Zillow

Reena Saxena – Challenged

Barbara – Glitch

Jess – Her Dream

Michael Fishman – The Hunter

JP – Noemei

Brad – A Strange New World

HRR Gorman – Rappaccini’s Moon

Ka Malana – Veil Removal time: the hidden reality

Kerfe – Beyond Lines and Measures

Dawn – The Chosen One

Thea – The Solar Eclipse

Chelsea Owens – Crescent Illusions

Karen Dowdall – The Dark Side of the Moon

Venky – Nephthy’s Children

Hugh Roberts – The Porthole

Lynn Kim – Night Runner

Ederren – Walking Along

Pam Wight – His Path

Kelvin Knight – The Shadow Symphony

Virinchi – He is the One – A matrix story

D. Wallace Peach – left me behind

A couple of bloggers wrote more than one story! I didn’t have time to reblog these, but you might take a peek.

Charley – Internal Fires (see part 1 above)

Brad – Once Upon a Blue Moon

And a couple stragglers:

Miriam Hurdle – The Cage

Maje Mallon – The Ride

 

 

 

Pricing Indie Books (& shameless promotion)

Mark Twain looking over a few of my books.

Pricing books is tough, especially for those of us who rely on our own efforts to market.

When I started writing, my overarching aim was to build a readership. I wanted to share my stories with the world, and as a result, every other goal took second place. Unfortunately, my dreams were quickly dashed. I had a publisher who controlled my prices and wasn’t willing to negotiate. The prices were high (in my opinion), and the publisher didn’t support giveaways or discounts. My sales were horrible. My entire royalty for my first year was $8.00. No one was reading my books.

After six titles, I canceled my contracts and indie-published all my books. Immediately, I lowered prices and ran routine giveaways. As I suspected, my readership grew, and though I was lightyears away from making a living as an author, my increased sales made up for the price drop. Slowly, steadily, those old dreams started to gain a little momentum.

But I haven’t raised my prices since, and they’re now priced below market. I hate the idea of raising them, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the time has come. Not only do I need to pay for covers, publishing services, and advertising, but I want to support indie publishing as a legitimate source of books. One way to do this is to recognize that our work has value and price accordingly.

Before prices go up, I’m running a countdown deal today and tomorrow ($.99 per book March 2nd and 3rd) for anyone who might be interested in picking up a book or two or fifteen (Lol). After that, they’ll be priced more in line with the offerings of other indie authors.

Below is a “quick” list of my books (newest first) with blurbs and universal links to Amazon. In order to keep this… erm… short, for my 3 series, I’ve only displayed the cover and blurb for the 1st books.

I hope you’re intrigued.
And I sincerely appreciate every wonderful kindness I’ve received throughout my writing career. ❤

Happy Reading!

 

Soul Swallower 

When swallowed, some souls gift insights, wisdom, a path to understanding. Others unleash power, proficiency with a sword, and indifference to death. One soul assimilates with ease. But swallow a host of the dead and risk a descent into madness.

Estranged from his family over the murder of his wife, young Raze Anvrell wields his fists to vent his rage. Then a chance at a new life beckons, and he retreats to the foothills of the Ravenwood, the haunt of unbound ghosts. He and his mentor build a freehold, a life of physical labor and the satisfaction of realizing a dream. They raise horses and whittle by the fire until the old man dies, and Raze swallows his first soul.

When his brother reaches out, open wounds begin to scar. But the tenuous peace won’t last. While those who rule the Vales yield to the lure of their ambitions, slavers of Ezar roam the countryside, hunting for human chattel. While one man manipulates the law, another heeds the souls of violence howling in his head.

Raze too listens to his soul’s whispers, and as danger intrudes on his quiet life, he has no choice but to return to his father’s world and join the fight.

Book II: Legacy of Souls

***

Catling’s Bane

Catling – She’s a weapon desired by those who reign and those who rebel.

In the tiered cities of Ellegeance, the elite Influencers’ Guild holds the power to manipulate emotions. Love and fear, pleasure and pain mark the extremes of their sway. But it’s the subtle blends that hook their victims’ hearts. They hide behind oaths of loyalty and rule the world.

Until Catling’s eye becomes the shield that disrupts the influencer’s sway.

Born in the grim warrens beneath the city, Catling rues the rose birthmark encircling her eye. Yet, it grants her a unique ability, the means to remake a civilization. To the Guild, she an aberration, a threat, and they order her death. No longer a helpless child, Catling has other plans.

As chaos shakes the foundations of order and rule, will she become the realm’s savior? Or its executioner?

Welcome to a world of three moons, a sentient landscape, rivers of light, and tier cities that rise from the swamps like otherworld flowers. A planet of waterdragons, where humans are the aliens living among three-fingered natives with spotted skin. Where a half-blood converses with the fog and the goddess plans her final reckoning.

Book II: Oathbreakers’ Guild

Book III: Farlanders’ Law

Book IV: Kari’s Reckoning

***

Sorcerer’s Garden

Recently fired and residing with her sweetly overbearing mother, Madlyn needs a job—bad. In a moment of desperation, she accepts a part-time position reading at the bedside of adventurer and amateur writer Cody Lofton. A near-drowning accident left the young man in a vegetative state, and his chances of recovery wane with each passing day.

Cody’s older brother, Dustin, and eccentric grandmother aren’t prepared to give up on the youngest son of Portland, Oregon’s royalty.

Dustin’s a personable guy, bordering on naïve and overwhelmed by familial corporate duties and cutthroat partners. Grandmother Lillian’s a meddler with an eye for the esoteric, dabbling in Dustin’s life and dealing out wisdom like a card shark. One innocent conversation at a time, she sucks Madlyn into the Lofton story, dubbing her the princess and bestowing on her the responsibility of both grandsons’ destinies.

And all Madlyn wanted was a simple reading job.

Uninspired by her self-imposed stack of literary selections, Madlyn opts for Cody’s work-in-progress. Fantasy isn’t her favorite, but with only four chapters completed, reading The Sorcerer’s Garden should be no sweat, right?

Little does she realize, the story will begin writing itself and, by the hand of destiny, become her own.

***

The Bone Wall

Blue light ripples and crackles as the shield walls fracture. The remnants of a doomed civilization stand vigil outside, intent on plunder and slaves, desirous of untainted blood to strengthen their broken lives. With the poisons, came deformities and powers, enhanced senses and the ability to manipulate waves of energy—lightbenders and fire-wielders.

For those who thrived for generations within the walls, the broken world looms, strange and deadly, slowly dying. While the righteous pray for salvation, Rimma prepares for battle, fueled by rage and blinded by vengeance. Her twin, Angel, bound to her by unbreakable magic, seeks light in the darkness, hope in the future, and love in a broken world.

***

Sunwielder

In a land on the brink of war, Gryff Worden finds his family slaughtered in his farmyard. Mortally wounded, he stumbles upon a timekeeper, an old woman of a foreign land who tracks the infinite paths of each life. She offers him a sunwield, a medallion that returns him to the critical choices that altered his life’s journey.

Now his story remakes itself through the sunwield, returning him repeatedly to moments of decision and death, his old life gone, the purpose of the medallion burning his chest forgotten. As he uncovers the power of the sunwield, new choices lead him on an epic journey through war, death, friendship, life, and love.

***

The Melding of Aeris

Generations ago, the realms fell to fire. The Burn–the only means of destroying a lush land so manipulated by man that while its crops sated hunger, they poisoned the flesh. Now the wilderness slowly reseeds, hard lessons learned through starvation, displacement, and poverty. What remains for nature’s tinkerers?

Pathway, the coveted distillation that enables the grafting of skin across species. The Sahls of the Sea Barrows meld spiral horns to their skulls, reptilian scale to their chests. They embed the razor teeth of sea-beasts in the bones of their forearms and replace the flesh on their backs with the pelts of wolves. Women of wealth adorn their bodies with serpent skin as elegant as black lace, tufted tails, and plumed feathers, their own skin cast off, no longer desirable.

Then they bear children…creatures like Aeris, a man who longs to be human.

Too late, he discovers the truth–there is only one source of human skin. Trapped in the flesh of a murdered man, Aeris joins a dogged crew of transfigured renegades. Their goal—to destroy Pathway, no matter the cost.

***

 

Myths of the Mirror

In the distant mountains of the Mirror, exiled skyriders fly dragons in the old Way, merged in flesh, blood, and bone. Twenty years past, they fought for the freedom of the valley’s dragons…and lost.

Imprisoned in the stone lair, the captive dragons beat their webbed wings and thrash serpentine tails. They tear their flesh and batter their bodies against the black bars of their cells, iron grating against iron. The once peaceful creatures howl, their fury matched only by their despair.

Treasa, the daughter of exiles, seeks the secrets of a hidden past and a father she never knew. Gifted with visions, she glimpses pieces of years long lost and a veiled future that only raises more questions. The dragons visit her dreams, laden with contradictions—for one day she sails in unfettered flight, her arms thrown wide, and the next she writhes in tortured darkness, desperate to be free.

The lair’s black-garbed riders sense the dragons’ growing savagery. Yet Conall longs to grasp their power, to subdue them and soar, and he will endure the reek, filth, and terror of the lair to earn his right to fly.

Then, a curved talon rends flesh and dragon scale, rattling against white ribs. Blood falls like rain and the world shifts. Treasa and Conall must decide who they are and what they stand for. Thus the battle for the dragons’ souls begins again. Alliances form, old myths are revealed, and new myths are born.

Book II: Eye of Fire

Book III: Eye of Blind

Book IV: Eye of Sun

January Photo-prompt Round-up

Stefan Keller

Thank you to everyone who participated! I felt warm all over reading your responses despite the image’s wintry chill. Below is the round-up of all the January poems, flashes, short stories, and some artwork too! If I missed yours for some reason, please add a link in the comments and I’ll happily reblog. I invite everyone to enjoy some unique stories and meet some wonderful writers. I’ll post February’s prompt tomorrow!

 January Round-Up

Jerry Packard – Ice Dragon

Dawn – Frozen Giant

Balroop Singh – A Craving

Jomz Odeja – The Sacrifice  

Teagan Geneviene – Ice Dragon

Sue Vincent – Even Mountains Mourn

Geoff Le Pard – Little Helpers

Pensivity – Untitled

Dorinda Duclos – Frozen in Time

Carol Forrester – This Terrible Thing Called Hope

Fandango – The End of the Gods

Robbie Cheadle – Glass Mountain

Trent McDonald – Cold War

Anita Dawes – Ancient Evil

Anneberly Andrews – Kalaallit Nunaah

Kelvin Knight – Iceman

Barbara – No Guts – No Glory

Sheri Kennedy – Winter’s Pilgrims

Nick Rowe – Ice Mission

Cepcarol – Banished

Marje Mallon – The Old Man of Snow and the Snow Snake

Chelsea Owens – Directions from a Druid

Jordan Fasheh – Ice Giant Gnuri, A Creation Myth

Violet Lentz – Dragonlord

Venkyninja – Mission Gandalf

Relax – Playing Along

Colleen Chesebro – The Polar Shift

Helene Vaillant – Illusion

Virinchi – Star Wars, The Kyber Quest

Jane Dougherty – The Third Coming

Michnavs – Hey!

Cosistories – The Cold Alone

Tora Ellis – Gaiana

H.R.R. Gorman – A Missive from Dr. Stokes of Attenhold University

Jan Malique – Shambhala

Jessica Bakkers – Of Stone and Ice

Suzanne – Forgotten Stories, Forgotten Voices

Louise Brady – Fall of the Ice Giant

Greg, Almost Iowa – The Oracle

Himani Kaushik – The Creator

Bob Fairfield – The Titan Muse

Kerfe, Method to Madness – Near

D. Wallace Peach – Dead Planet

 

And a couple of bonus posts by inspired writers:

Pamela Wight – Do We Dare…?

Robert Goldstein – Haiku One: A Blue Grey Day 

And a straggler who missed the deadline but is worth the visit:

Hugh Roberts – The Riddle of Twelfth Night

 

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. 🙂

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