Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Tidbits

I Don't Care Much for Him . . . But I Really Love Them!

Readers don't care about individual characters even half as much as they care about individual relationships.

I've known writers who spend all their focus and energy developing their protagonists. They'll pour their heart and soul into that one central character until that person shines off the page, full of distinct personality and desires and will . . .

And then they wonder why their books still fall flat.

The thing is, as interesting as a developed character might be, a character is never as interesting as a relationship. And I don't mean a romantic relationship. Or not solely a romantic relationship, anyway. By relationship, I mean the chemistry of any two characters played against each other.

But in order for this chemistry to work, all of your characters are going to need a certain amount of fleshing out. Your warrior-maiden heroine's sissy best friend? The relationship between her and the heroine needs to be full of unexpected twists! Maybe the sissy best friend demonstrates a moment of courage that shames the warrior-maiden heroine? What does that do to their relationship (and, subsequently, the drama of the story?) Your scampy hero's serious mentor? What if he secretly despises the scampy hero in his charge? What does that do to the drama of their relationship?

It's all about the play of characters against each other. Never focus all of your attention on any one character, no matter how much you love him/her.

So which relationships are working best in your story to drive the action and drama? Which relationships are a little stale? How can you liven up the tension between those two characters? Do tell . . . I'm always interested!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

K is for Kings

There are a number of kings featured in Moonblood, and since I couldn't think of a better "K" for this post, I'm going to take the opportunity to do a brief write-up on each of them! The first one meet is, of course . . .

King Vahe: The despicable villain of this tale! Perfectly beautiful by virtue of powerful enchantments, but this beauty cannot hide the evil within. He really is one the most over-the-top eeeeevil characters I've ever created. Oddly enough though, I kind of like him! He's fun to write. He also featured in an as-yet-unpublished Goldstone Wood novel I wrote a few years back (a prequel to this novel), and I liked him there too. I was a little sad for him to meet his fate in this story!
King Hawkeye: Otherwise known as The Eldest, of course. By the time we meet him in this novel, he is aged far beyond his time due to the large amount of dragon smoke he breathed during the Occupation. I think there's more to it than that, though. Others breathed the same poisonous fumes and didn't wither so drastically. I think much of his frailty stems from heartbreak . . . heartbreak over what he has seen happen to his kingdom, to his family, to his son. And the Dragon's poison, working with that heartbreak, is slowly breaking him down. A good man brought low is Eldest Hawkeye.
King Fidel: We find Una and Felix's father in the midst of rebuilding in the wake of the Dragon's visit to Parumvir. He obviously breathed far less poison than did Hawkeye. He is optimistic, if struggling in his relationship with his son, Prince Felix . . . who is acting more and more dragon-like himself these days.
King Iubdan: At last we meet the source of the exclamation "Iubdan's beard!" King Iubdan of Rudiobus is an ancient king with an enormous good humor and a lovely wife. He is also a brave warrior, leading his troops into battle against the goblins and (possibly) dragons. A figure of mythology and legend come to life before the very eyes of my characters!
Which of these kings was your favorite? Any thoughts you'd like to share? Were you glad to see Fidel again, or to finally meet King Iubdan?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fan Fiction Contest

Note from the Judges: "I really enjoyed the symbolism in this story! . . . Much here to ponder."


By: Paul Hein

Clank!  Bonk!  Clank!  Bonk! 

The hammer rose and fell, beating on the piece of glowing metal. 

Clank!  Bonk!  Clank!  Bonk!

The smith, hard at work in the high heat of the forge, took a short break.  He raised a hand to his head, a dirty rag clutched in his grip.  He wiped his sweat drenched brow, and tossed the rag to the side.  The old smith returned his gaze to his work, admiring the burning hot lump of metal.  To some, the ore would appear useless, but not to him.  He could see the beautiful piece of craftsmanship that lay within.

He reached out, once more gripping his faithful hammer.  He briefly reflected on the tool, held securely in his strong, beefy hand.  Normally, he would use spells or some other arcane means to forge his wares.  Today, he would not risk such potentially unpredictable methods.  Today, he forged something special.

The smith tightened his grip on the hammer, and once again, he beat on the glowing metallic blob.  The constant pounding at the hands of the skilled smith was slowly forcing a shape to emerge from the metal, where previously, there had been none.  He smiled as his work took shape, rewarding him for the hours, nay, days of work he had already put into this project.  It would all be worth it, in the end.

Though he tried to keep his thoughts on his work, the smith could not help but think of the day that he had first been given the job.  It had been a strange request, but still, strange things had a tendency to happen when you lived in the far world.  A strange and shadowy buyer had asked all the smiths of the far world for the same tool; a sheath for a sword.  Not a sword and a sheath, but merely a sheath. 

The smith had thought little of it at first, thinking that the buyer had merely lost, or broken his own sheath, and was looking for a replacement.  Though as the cloaked figure had turned to leave, the smith had reached out and stopped him.


“Sir!  I do believe that yer forgettin’ somethin’.”

The hooded man turned around, his face almost entirely concealed in the shadows.

“What would that be, Mr. Starflare?”

The smith, long known by the name Ferago Starflare, stared curiously at his potential buyer. 

“Well sir, if I’m ta make a sheath fer ye,” Ferago scratched the back of his neck, “I need ta know how big the sword is.”

The hooded man smiled, his mouth barely visible in the depths of the cloak. 

“Make it however big you want it, Mr. Starflare.  So long as it is finely crafted, it will work for me.”

Then, the shadowy figure turned away, and disappeared.  Behind him, the bewildered Ferago still stood, wondering about the strange request. 


The smith laughed as he worked, remembering that odd day.  Things had gotten odder still, as Ferago learned that some of his long time friends, and competition, had gotten similar, and equally shadowy requests.  As he had worked on the sheath, it had occurred to him more than once that he might be a part of some bizarre contest.  Then, the mysterious hooded figure had returned.

His visit was very short, he merely collected the sheath from Ferago, gave him his payment, and left without another word.  The smith didn’t hear from him again, and as far as he knew, that was the end of the ordeal.

The smith chuckled, dousing the now long and narrow hunk of metal into a trough of water, creating a huge burst of steam.  How wrong he had been!  Carefully, he lifted the steaming piece of metal out of the water, and moved it back to his anvil.  He began to hammer it again, though these strokes were gentler, and more controlled.

Cling!  Clang!  Cling!  Clang!

The rhythmic beating of the hammer on metal calmed Ferago, and slowly, he began to hum a tune.  His thoughts drifted towards the day the man had returned, though he no longer wore a cloak.


“My Lord!”  Ferago exclaimed, immediately setting down the knife he was working.  He hastily rose to his feet, kicking over his chair in the process.  He bowed to the elegantly clad figure that had appeared in his doorway.

The prince merely smiled, and opened his mouth to speak.  “Ferago Starflare, it is a pleasure to see you again.”

“It has been a long time, my prince, to long fer me ta like.”

The prince’s smile grew, and took a step closer to the smith.  “Really?  Well, I’d say you’ve grown impatient then.  I do believe that It was only two weeks ago when I last came to your shop.”

“Two weeks?”  Ferago exclaimed, knitting his brow in concern, “I dare say that I must ‘ave missed ye then.  ‘Erhaps you spoke ta one of my apprentices.”

The prince shook his head.  “No, it was you all right.  Perhaps I can spark your memory.  I came here to pick up a sheath that I’d ordered.”

“That was ye!?” Ferago’s eyes widened in amazement, and then he burst out laughing.

“Why, ye were dressed up like some wee little pirate rogue from the Dashian seas!”

The prince laughed as well.

“Yes, I suppose I was, wasn’t I?”

Ferago nodded.

“Ye certainly fooled me, my prince!”

The prince shook his head, a smile on his face.  Slowly though, his smile shrank.

“I’m afraid I have come to talk about more than just costumes though.”

He produced the sheath that Ferago had crafted from behind his back.  His face was serious now, as he held the casing for a deadly weapon in his hands.

“This is a fine sheath, Ferago, I have never seen its equal.” He paused for a moment, allowing the words to sink in. “But as fine as it is, a sheath is useless without a sword.”


Thus, Ferago the smith had been commissioned on his current project.  He carefully put in the final hammer strokes, and these were the gentlest of all.

Clink!  Clack!  Clink!  Clack!

He set the hammer aside, and took a step back from his creation.  He ran his eyes across the glistening metal, admiring the fine blade.  Careful not to cut himself, he scooped up the blade, cradling it like you would a new born child.  He walked it over to his work bench, where he would complete the more detailed work. 

Ferago slowly picked up the hilt, which he had already assembled for the blade, and prepared to join the two.  Carefully, he continued his work, taking great pains not to damage to sword in these final steps, after he had come so far.  The finishing took hours of painstaking work, but it would be done by tonight.    

It was a rare honor that had been bestowed upon him, and yet, he felt the need to finish it hastily.  Ferago felt as though the blade might simply vanish if he were to stop working on it.  After he had been given the order for this sword, he had slowly realized that none of the other smiths had been asked to make weapons for their own sheaths.  They had never seen the hooded man again.  A bizarre contest indeed.

Ferago worked quickly now, though he was still as careful as ever.  He had put so much thought into this, and even more work.  It was hard to believe, as Ferago carefully put the last symbol on the blade, that… he swept it up in the air, gripping the sword with both hands, a smile plastered across his face.

“Tis done!”

He swung the sword, experimenting, listening as it zipped through the air.  He felt the balance of the shining blade, admiring its light weight, and knowing that it possessed strength above all other weapons.  Satisfied with his creation, he lowered it back to the work bench, sliding it into its sheath. 

He carefully lifted the sheath, and sword within, carrying them over to his vault, and sealing them inside.  No one would lay a hand on that sword, not without Ferago’s permission.  Then he walked back to his bench, grabbing a quill and parchment along the way. 

Ferago heaved himself down, suddenly realizing how tired he was.  Still, he had one last thing to accomplish tonight.  He unrolled the parchment, and carefully began to write:

Dear Prince Aethelbald…


Ferago smiled, the sword and sheath gripped in his hands.  He had wrapped them in a long and narrow cloth, hoping to surprise the prince with the quality of his work.  His forge lay silent behind him, there would be no work today.  This was far more important. 

Ferago’s eyes shifted to a figure that seemed to materialize in the distance.  It walked down the main street towards his shop, moving at a quick pace.  The sun had just peaked over the horizon, and the first of the population were just beginning to emerge from their houses.  Ferago’s shop was at the edge of the city, near the forest.  The figure drew closer, until he was clearly recognizable as his prince.

As Prince Aethelbald walked up to Ferago, the smith bowed. 

“It was my honor ta make this fer ye, my lord.”

Aethelbald smiled.

“I am glad that you enjoyed the task, Ferago.”

He took a step closer to the smith, and held out his hands. 

“May I please see it?”

Ferago beamed at his prince, and then carefully unwound the cloth from the sheath, working his way up, until the entire thing gleamed in the early morning sunlight. 

“Aye, tis for ye, ‘course ye can.”

Ferago gently set the sword in Aethelbald’s hands.  Aethelbald’s hand tightened around the hilt of the sword, and he whipped it out of the sheath, holding it up in the air.  The metal seemed alive in the Prince’s grip, made whole, now that it was united with its master.  Aethelbald smiled, his face reflecting the joy in his heart. 

“Thank you Ferago, though I’m never sure that I could repay you for such a magnificent weapon.”

As Ferago watched the prince with his new sword, he knew he would never need to be paid.  His prince had already done far more for him than he could ever hope to give back.  He was simply glad to have provided his master with a suitable weapon.

A weapon that would never fail, even when it might seem useless.  A weapon that would never break, even against the strongest of foes.  A weapon that would be used to save nations, and all who lived in them.  A weapon that would kill dragons.

The mighty Fireword.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

J is for Jester

Quick Note: I do apologize to my faithful readers for the infrequency of these A-Z posts. I have been tremendously busy with my most recent manuscript, plus various other writing-related jobs, and the blog has suffered! I will try to continue the series to the end, but expect the posts themselves to be significantly shorter than before. Feel free to comment and get a discussion going if you like, though. I will always do my best to respond.
Come Moonblood, there isn't a whole lot left of the jester we knew and loved in Heartless and Veiled Rose. He--that fun-loving, animated, adventurous side of Prince Lionheart known as Leonard the Lightning Tongue--has disappeared, smothered under the cares and guilt of the struggling prince.
"You have killed him," Princess Una says. And when Lionheart asks who she means, she replies, "My jester."
Indeed, when we pick up the tale of Moonblood, we find Prince Lionheart a pale shade of the boy we knew. He has made so many mistakes, and he is so desperate to justify himself. And the Lady of Dreams is ever in his mind, whispering to him, suppressing his conscience with her lies. You did what you had to do, she tells him again and again. And he, like a fool, believes her.
We do catch a few glimpses of the former jester throughout the course of the story, however. For instance, when Ragniprava the Tiger chases both Lionheart and Eanrin up a tree, it is Lionheart's jesterly jibing that saves the two of them. And when he finally makes his way through the boundaries of Arpiar and into the court of King Vahe, it is under the guise of a jester.
"My . . . my name," he stammered, attempting a winning smile, "is Leonard the Lightning Tongue. I am a humble jester."
Someone snorted. Someone else laughed. "A jester indeed," the goblins muttered and mocked. This little beast wearing only his nightshirt--they'd taken the fine green jacket--and a grubby pair of trousers? This somber-eyed mortal who looked as though he hadn't smiled in a century or more? "Sing us a funny song, then!" someone shouted from the crowd, and the heckling broiled up until it filled the assembly room and even the marble statues writhed in mockery on their pedestals. (p. 297)
And sing Lionheart does . . . but this time, not a "funny song" as requested. When he opens his mouth, he sings the Hymn of Hymlumé. And as the Song of the Moon fills the chamber, the unicorn, listening near to hand, is reminded for the first time in centuries what it was, what it lost, what it rejected . . .
I think all this implies that Lionheart's best and truest self is the jester. The self that befriended Rose Red, the self that loved Princess Una, the self that is most noble is not the prince he has so striven to become. No, it's the jester, the part of himself he's tried so hard to squash into nothing.
And I wonder, following the adventures of Moonblood, if we might someday find Leonard the Lightning Tongue alive and thriving once more?
So tell me your thoughts on Lionheart. Did you like him in this story, or were you too distracted by your desire to throttle him? Did you relate to his struggles or despise him?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fan Fiction Contest

Note from the Judges: "You’ve started your own original Tale of Goldstone Wood here, and it is quite intriguing! Excellent symbolism . . . I really enjoyed this story."

Dragon Knight
by: Bruce Jakeway
Dar!at huffed as he climbed.  This was higher than he had every climbed before, and he wanted to go yet higher before noonday.  Suddenly he was on the ground and felt a sharp pain in his lower leg.  He could see blood slowly dripping out of the wound and coagulating. “Dragon’s teeth,” he murmured.  He quickly scolded himself for the curse and looked around to assure himself that he hadn’t been heard.  It was becoming harder to explain away his injuries, especially since no one was allowed to climb the mountains.  Ignoring the pain, he got up he pressed upward.
He saw a ledge just above him and scrambled up, then sat down, partially obscured, to catch his breath.  It had been just over two months ago that his family had moved to this valley.  There was only one road in and it was tightly controlled.  Right from the first day, Dar!at felt very oppressed.  He couldn’t figure it out.  At first his family was excited to be here, his father especially, but little by little things had changed, they changed, and he wanted no part.  Little things.  An unkind word here, a rude gesture there.  After a while there were lots of changes, and he did not like them.  And the air was so heavy.  He’d never been anywhere like it.
About nine months ago a stranger had walked into town.  He was a surly, wizened man, not someone you’d go out of your way to befriend.  He minded his own business, just staying in the central square, not even going inside for the night.  As people walked through the square, they began to turn their heads to look at him.  Soon the whole town was whispering about him.  No one could figure out where he was from.  But no one had the courage to approach him and talk with him.
Ten days later he abruptly started speaking, calling people to come and listen to what he had to say.  Almost everyone within earshot spun around to look at the stranger.  A few people started to gather around him and soon he had quite a crowd.  Dar!at’s father wasn’t near the square that day, but came as soon as he heard the stranger wanted to talk, he quickly gathered his things and joined the throng.
“For the past ten days,” he started, “I have observed you in this town.  You go about your daily business, yet you seem empty.  I have come to tell you that there is a life to be had outside of drab existence.”
A few people started to complain about his disparagement of their town:  “How dare you insult our town.  We’ve been here for hundreds of year, and we will remain for hundreds more.”  Some even walked away.
Others were more agreeable:  “He’s right.  Nothing happens here.  I’m still doing the same job as my father was, and his father before.  There’s a big world out there, and I’m not just talking about Southland or even Beauclair.”  Dar!at’s father chimed in, “Here him out.  He’s a stranger.  The least we can do is to be hospitable to him.”
“Have you considered becoming a dragon knight?” the stranger continued.
Upon hearing the word “dragon”, at least half the assembly started grumbling and even more left.  “Dragons are evil creatures,” they shouted.  “My father was killed by one.”  “My house was razed by a dragon when I was a child.  I don’t want to hear any more.”
Dar!at’s father lingered as the stranger continued:  “Yes, dragons are very powerful, but they can be controlled, and used for good.  Dragon knights learn all these secrets and more.”  At that, a dragon swooped down out of the sky and everyone ran for cover.  The stranger walked over to the dragon, stepped on to his back as the dragon stood up and flew off.  Those that had watched from a safe distance remarked that there was no fire from the dragon, nor had the tail or talons wreaked any destruction.  Maybe the stranger was right after all.  Maybe you could control a dragon.
The stranger was the talk of town in the weeks that followed.  Some of the townsfolk were wary:  dragons cannot be trusted regardless of what the stranger said.  Others pointed out that they had never seen a dragon so docile.  Perhaps there is truth in what the stranger had said.  Dar!at’s mother was ambivalent towards the stranger.  “I’m not too sure what to make of the stranger.  I was born here and I want to die here.”
Dar!at himself had not seen the stranger, but he was not immune to the talk of the town, eagerly sitting down each evening to hear stories of the stranger.  His father loved to recount the events and his account slowly grew more fanciful until one evening there came a knock on the door.  Dar!at father opened it.  The stranger was back.
Dar!at’s father and the stranger talked long into the evening, well after Dar!at was in bed.  Dar!at was excited to see this stranger his father had talked about, so in the morning he ran to his father.  “What did he say, Dad?”
“He said that I had the makings of a dragon knight!  We have five days to be at the port where we will set sail to the other side of the world!  I must hurry to wind up my affairs.”
“Where did you put the stranger to bed?” Dar!at’s mother asked.
“He left once we were through,” Dar!at’s father replied.  “I tried to convince him to stay, but he insisted he had to leave.  I’ll see if others in town know his whereabouts.”
Dar!at’s father left, not returning until supper.  “No one else saw him and it’s odd that there is no trace of his visit anywhere.  Still, there are three other families who will be joining us on our voyage to dragon knight training.  We have to hurry.”  Dar!at and his siblings danced with glee.  Dar!at’s mother, outnumbered, put up a weak argument, but knew better than to oppose the rest of the family.  Begrudgingly, she started to pack up their belongings.
Three days later, the four families found an ox cart to take them on a two-day journey to the port.  The fathers all talked excitedly about being dragon knights, how they would tame dragons, and how their countrymen would look upon them as heroes.  They couldn’t wait to prove the naysayers wrong.  Dar!at’s mother kept to herself, as did one of the other mothers.  Dar!at could sense his mother’s apprehension, but didn’t share it.  The other two mothers chatted excitedly about the upcoming ventures and their brave husbands.  At first Dar!at enjoyed having the other families around, and especially the other children.  They would sit together and play games, even hopping off the cart from time to time, much to the consternation of their parents.  But in general the air amongst the children was light, looking forward to new adventure.  However, as the trip progressed he found the other children’s enthusiasm surprising.  With all the fearful dragon stories he heard growing up, why this sudden optimism?  His siblings dismissed his misgivings, so he withdrew more to himself, looking back to the horizon, reminiscing about his friends who he would not see for a long time.
They arrived early at the port, so had a few hours to spend looking around.  Most had not been to the port before, including all of Dar!at’s family.  Dar!at himself was in awe at the large boats, masts, and rigging.  The hubbub and bustle of the port mesmerized him.  All too soon it was time to board.  The ship was ready, just as the stranger promised.  They were shown on board.  It was not a large ship, but there was enough room for all and the stores they would need for such a long journey. Dar!at soon found other families traveling whose fathers followed the lure of dragon knight fame.  There were even single men seeking the same fame and fortune.  He found himself second-guessing his misgivings with all the optimism on board.  Nights were filled with stories of what life as a dragon knight would be.  Although the cabins were damp and cramped, but everyone was allowed to go on deck so long as they didn’t get in the way of the crew.  This provided plenty of room for all.  All the men took their turn fishing and the wives prepared the food.  There was ample to go around.  Dar!at rarely had fish at home, and some of the species were foreign to him.  By the end of the voyage he had started to enjoy fish.
They made landfall in good time.  A caravan of ox carts was awaiting the voyagers on the other side, so Dar!at had little time to explore this strange new port.  Even the language was unintelligible to him, and he was glad to be safe in the entourage of knights-to-be.  The voyage to the knight training school was longer than the first ox-cart ride to the port.  Camp was set each night and stories of future bravery continued on from the boat, with each person trying to outdo the other.  Dar!at listened intently, but soon realized this was all prideful boasting:  he was sure they did not know what they were getting into.
Eventually the road entered into mountains.  The route became increasingly perilous, with hairpin turns and sharp precipices leading to creek beds far below.  Dar!at generally kept to himself, remarking how difficult it might be to retrace their steps should he decide to leave.  Everyone cowered when they saw their first dragon overhead.  However, as the journey continued, dragon sighting were more frequent.  With no fire raining down on them, the travelers became less timid.  The old stories of dragons burning villages were soon scorned.  Dar!at was not so sure, but like his mother, he did not say anything.  Eventually, the road entered a valley and they were through the gates of the camp.
The first night there was much frivolity, feasting, and boasting.  Other than the newcomers, Dar!at was surprised that there were mostly women and children looking after the camp.  He looked out of the window across the field and saw a pit of dragons.  Fear crept back in.  What was his family doing?
Knight training commenced in earnest the following day.  The men were introduced to the dragons.  There were lessons in aerial acrobatics, dragon care, dragon bonding, dragon knight history, and a strange course on dragon knight future.  The children were left to the care of their mothers.  Given Dar!at’s reserved nature on the trip to the training camp, the other children left him alone, which suited Dar!at just fine.  No one was allowed to go up the mountains, but Dar!at found inexorably drawn to them.  It was only in the mountains he found solitude and space to think.
The sun started to set and Dar!at scrambled down.  He did not want anyone to know how high he had climbed.  Dinner would be ready soon and he did not want to be missed, even though it was in the oppressed valley.  He made it down the mountain in time for dinner, but caught a few glances of people looking at the new injury to his leg.  He sat beside his mother and quickly ate up his food.
The next day he clambered back up to this ledge.  From high above the valley he could see the writhing dragon pit.  Today the knights were to get their first ride on a dragon.  They were all very excited.  Dar!at squinted to try to pick out his father.  He saw his father get on a dragon.  “How could you control such a beast?” he thought.  “It would likely control you.”  Dar!at explored the ledge.  Behind the ledge was a shallow cave with a solid rock wall.  It was just the place to retreat from the sun and to hide from those that might be searching for him.
Day after day Dar!at returned to the ledge.  Day after day the knights mounted the dragons to learn the finer points of aerial acrobatics.  Night after night, the boasting around the dinner table grew.  Dar!at grew increasingly unimpressed with the rudeness, boasting, and lack of courtesy.  The trainees were even becoming somewhat hostile to each other.
Given these circumstances, Dar!at preferred his mountain perch.  But every time he returned with a new injury, the stares got worse.  Even his family started to berate him for his carelessness.  Then one evening as he looked over at his father, he did a double take.  It almost looked like he was growing claws and scales.  Soon thereafter, his father announced that in the interest of increased bonding with the dragons, he would be sleeping in the dragon pit.  Dar!at looked at his mother and a chill went up his spine.  “Dragons don’t control you,” he remarked to himself.  “You become a dragon.”
Dar!at had a restless sleep that night.  He was seeing his whole family change, and he didn’t like it.  The next morning after breakfast he hurried out the door.  His father met him as he left. “I came here to become a dragon knight and that is what I have become.  Have you seen me riding the dragons?” he boasted.  Dar!at nodded, slowly.
 “Where did you get all those scrapes?” his father demanded as he looked at his legs.  He could see seething anger behind his eyes.  “None of the other kids get hurt like you.  Have you been going into the mountain like you were told not to?” his father sneered.
Dar!at did not answer and looked away.  He could not bear his father’s gaze.  He ran outside to get away from his father, who did not follow.  The air around the camp was stale and foreboding.  His mind began to cloud with anger towards his father.  He longed to get up the mountain and out of the haze in the valley but it would be more difficult with his father watching him.  He crept beside the camp buildings doing his best to stay in the shadows.  In the distance the other children left the dining hall to play.  Some even went over to the dragon pit to watch the day’s lessons.  He slunk back into the shadows and continued on his cautious retreat to the mountains.  Having reached the mountains, he slowly picked his way up, avoiding additional scrapes yet all the while remaining hidden.  He was grateful to be out of valley fog.  He finally pulled himself on to the ledge only to see his father, in the form of a dragon, waiting for him.
“What are you doing?” his father bellowed.  Wisps of smoke rose from his nostrils.  Dar!at stumbled backward into the cave as his father approached him.  He could hear the distant taunts of the other dragons in the valley below him.  “I brought you here to start a new life and you bring shame on me.  Can’t you just play with the other kids?”
“Father, don’t you see what is happening to you?” Dar!at replied.  “You’re not my father any more.  You’ve changed.  You’re not a dragon knight.  You’ve become a dragon!  You’re full of anger and hate.  You don’t care about me, or our family.  You’re just following your ruinous dream into self-destruction.”
At this his father became incensed and took flight.  He did a big loop in the sky and quickly flew towards him, spewing fire.  Dar!at, sure that he was going to die, inched backward with his hands behind him to feel the cave back, and closed his eyes.  He kept creeping backward, and backward, and backward, but the intense heat never came.  Puzzled and frightened, he cautiously opened his eyes.  Instead of fire from the mouth of a dragon, there was a rock wall in front of him.  He turned around slowly and blinked several times to get his bearings.  There was a path to his left and right, and a rock wall behind him.
Suddenly a goat bounded up to him and said, “Quick.  Follow me!  We don’t have a moment to lose.”
“Where am I?  Where are we going?  What’s the rush?” answered Dar!at.  Suddenly it hit him and he blurted out, “I’m talking to a goat.”
The goat answered, “You are on a Path in the Faerie realms.  Yes, they do exist,” he replied to an incredulous look.  “We’re off to meet the Prince of Farthestshore, so hurry.  We can’t be late.  And yes, of course, you are talking with a goat.”
Dar!at followed the goat who was once again bounding along.  “But didn’t I get burnt up in the fire?  And the cave, it wasn’t a cave?”  Dar!at was still trying to process all that had gone on in the last few minutes.
“Look at you.  Do you look burnt?  There is an entrance to the Paths at the back of the cave.  But hurry, the dragons may yet find the entrance, too.  They’ll see you aren’t there and look for you.  They know of the Paths, but I don’t think they know of this one.  Your sudden disappearance may lead them to conclude there is a Path there.  But the Prince has other plans for you.”
Dar!at had heard legends of the Prince of Farthestshore, but in all the stories he seemed distant and uninterested in people.  So the Prince’s sudden interest in Dar!at confounded him.  Still, accounts of the Prince had always fascinated him, so he followed the goat.  The Path curved sharply, and went down somewhat steeply.  The goat was nimble on his hooves, but Dar!at had a harder time following, stumbling a few times.  Soon however, the Path spilled out into a clearing.
“Good,” announced the goat.  “We’re here just in time.”
With that Dar!at saw what he took to be the Prince riding up on a white stallion.  He stopped right in front of Dar!at.  The goat bowed and Dar!at followed suit.
“Dar!at, I’ve seen all that has happened to you these past few months.  Your family has changed.  Your father is a dragon and the rest of your family is under the spell of dragons.  And your brother may yet become a dragon.  However, if you follow me, you can learn to fight the dragons, and perhaps even become a knight.”
“But my father…  I can’t fight him.”
“You may not have to.  There is still hope for him.  But it’s more important that you train and follow me.  What say you?”
“I will,” replied Dar!at.  “I will,” he replied more confidently.  “I will.”

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Tidbits

Everything Matters

I was reading a writer-friend's story once (a year or two ago now, I would say), and came upon an interesting little scene. The heroine of this moody Victorian drama was waiting for her escort to pick her up at a certain train station when an unassuming older woman sidled beside her and won her confidence with sympathetic charm.

The heroine, lured into a feeling of trust, walked away with this woman and was very nearly kidnapped into a life of slavery in the slums of London.

What an exciting scene! And I complimented the writer on it  the next chance I got. But then, as we discussed the project further, I learned something rather disappointing . . .

That frightening would-be kidnapper wasn't figuring back into the story. Indeed, the whole event was nothing but a random episode of intrigue in an otherwise unrelated story.

So we come upon this week's Friday Tidbit. When you are crafting your novel, whether you are forming a compelling outline or writing seat-of-the-pants, you need to be certain the events taking place in your book matter!

If something as dramatic as a near-kidnapping takes place, that event will need to figure back into the story at some point. If you introduce a menacing character (or any character, really), that character needs to come around and feature in the story again.

Even in the case mentioned above, if the sinister woman wasn't going to return in the tale, the event of near-kidnapping would need to be followed up. It would need to have some profound effect on the heroine that would motivate her later decisions and actions. Much better still, of course, if the writer can bring that frightening woman and the danger she represents back directly!

Everything matters.

So tell me your thoughts? What's a storyline or character you might have introduced but then dropped? Any good ideas of how you might bring it back around to play an important role later on in your story? Or does it need to be cut entirely?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fan Fiction Contest

Note from the Judges: "Well done!  The reader is kept on the edge of their seat until the very end . . . Good job!" 

Doran in Goldstone Wood

By: Caitie Marie

Doran did not have to dream to get there.

Or perhaps he was dreaming. It was hard to tell, the way the woods shifted around him, closing in and then drawing back as if tentatively sniffing. They knew he did not belong there.

He had barely felt the shift, barely noticed when he had stepped from the woods near his house to these woods. One minute he was walking through the woods he knew, woods with little undergrowth and trees small enough that he could wrap his arms around them, and the next he was standing on the middle of an ancient forest, thick with plants that clogged the area between the trees. It made no sense. He was not asleep, or he would have been semi-transparent as soon as he stepped into this world. He had not stepped through an open passage, or he would have vomited. Making passage the traditional way always made him sick.

A gorge lay off to his right, a deep scar in the earth that ran as far as he could see either way. Spanning the gorge was a white bridge, magnificent and beautiful, with an otherworldly look that made him nervous. He stared at it a moment, then looked across the gorge.

He could see nothing.

A thrill of fear running through him, he stepped toward the edge of the gorge and strained to see what was beyond it. He could see no further than the other side. It was as if there was a veil between him and the rest of the world.

"All right, Doran," he murmured. "You shouldn't be here. Turn around and go home."

He did not move.

He was a fool. No idea where he was, no weapon, no time to waste, and he wanted to go exploring? But he did. So he glanced once behind him to memorize the place he had stepped through, and walked toward the bridge.

Standing at the foot of the bridge, he looked down into the gorge. It would be easier to cross the bridge. Infinitely easier than climbing down the side of the gorge, fighting through the underbrush, and then climbing up the other side. Easier, but more difficult was usually safer.

Doran walked past the forbiddingly lovely bridge until he sighted what looked like an ancient footpath down the wall of the gorge. If there was a footpath, maybe there was something on the other side.

Climbing down was easier for him than it might have been for most boys his age, though the closeness of the woods ensured he worked up a sweat before he reached the bottom. Pulling his damp t-shirt away from his back, he huffed. Definitely more difficult.

He gave himself five minutes to catch his breath before beginning the ascent. Going up was both harder and easier than coming down; on the one hand, he didn't have to worry about over-stepping and falling headfirst to the bottom of the gorge. On the other hand, gravity was working against him now.

He stopped one step short of the rim, half-kneeling. Even here, one foot from the edge, he could see nothing past the curtain of white mist. He could have reached out and touched it. He did, and felt nothing.

Something beyond the mist beckoned to him, calling him to step beyond the veil. Was it his imagination, or could he hear the faint sound of birdsong?

Taking a deep breath, he steeled himself and plunged into the mist.

The world constricted around Doran, spinning around him as it got tighter and tighter, and then snapped wide. Doran emptied his stomach on the ground.

Making passage always made him sick.

When his head cleared, he was kneeling on the rocky ground, a ruined land stretched out before him in every direction. The sun was barely up, and the chill of the morning froze Doran right through to his bones. He breathed in cautiously, shallowly, testing the air of the place he had ended up. An acrid smell tinged the air, like smoke that had refused to be cleared by the wind, though the fire had been gone for years. Like poison. Doran hissed through his teeth and stood unsteadily. This place was neither very welcoming nor very safe. He turned to leave. The veil was gone and he could see clear into the gorge and over to the other side.

Won't you follow me?

It was the bird's song, yet Doran heard the words in it plainly. He knew that voice. Cocking his head toward the sound, he whispered, "My Lord?"

Won't you follow me?

There was no explanation, but Doran needed none. He knew the voice well enough to recognize it no matter the way it sounded, no matter the world he heard it in. And he trusted it.

     He turned back away from the gorge, wrapped his arms around himself, and followed the bird's song. Before long, he could see a city in the distance, and his stomach twisted into a knot.

      The city was ruined. Oh, not totally. It was standing, and carried the memory of it's former glory. But as far as he could see there was nothing green, and the city itself... What kind of invasion could make it seem so dead, even while the faint sound of celebration came from inside? The bird led him around to the back of the large city, where, straining his eyes, he could see a small figure on a bridge over a ditch. The bridge was aflame.

      The person on the bridge was covered in cloth from head to foot, pale rags that reminded Doran of a Halloween costume. He or she struggled to raise something large and dark from the bridge. As Doran drew closer, he realized it was a person.

     Though the veiled person could not have been more than a child, he or she lifted the man as if he weighed nothing. Doran slowed. What was he supposed to do? His mentor had told him to never interfere without permission, but surely helping a man back into the city would not be counted as interfering. Or would it?

     Doran was close enough now that, had either person turned, they would have been able to see his face clearly. The smoke from the flames swirled around him, thick with the poison he had smelled upon first entering this world. His heart began to pound. At last, he recognized the smell. He had smelled it before, in a dark fortress at the far east of another world, in a world empty and dead, and in many other places in many other worlds. He pulled the collar of his shirt up over his mouth and nose, but still it seared his lungs and set his eyes on fire. It brought back memories of shame and regret.

     Do not be afraid. Follow me. You are mine.

     Focusing all of his heart on the silver voice, he lurched forward. The poison still hovered around him, burning his eyes and his lungs, but it was blocked from his heart.

     He finally drew near enough the bridge to hear their voices.

     "Put your arm round my neck," the veiled person was saying, a woman's voice. "That's right. Now this way."

     The woman led the man off the bridge, supporting most of his weight for him. She was focusing all her attention on him, on getting him away from the flames, away from the poison. So Doran saw the crowd before she did.

     There were hundreds of them, clothed in celebratory clothes, their faces etched with hatred and fear. Each person was armed with some sort of makeshift weapon— rods, rakes, pans, seemingly anything they could get their hands on. Doran dropped to his stomach to avoid being seen.

     "Come on, Leo," the woman said. "Let's get you back to—"

     Then she noticed the crowd. There was a second of shocked silence from both groups, and then someone in the mob shouted.


     The cry was immediately echoed by the rest of the mob. Louder and louder they grew, like fans at a football game suddenly gone crazy, hatred clear in their voices and their faces. Before Doran could react, they surged around the woman and Leo and started to pull them apart. The woman shouted something as she tried desperately to hold onto the Leo, but the mob's roar swallowed her voice before it reached Doran. His heart urged him to stand up and help her, but he hesitated. Every one of the people he could see had dark hair and dark skin. While his hair was dark enough to pass, his skin was so pale he would be noticed in an instant. What if that made things worse for them?

     "Lord, what am I supposed to do?" He whispered.

     The mob surged into the city, leaving behind a small group of men that supported the man from the bridge. Doran inched forward on his belly.

     "Are you hurt, Your Highness?" Someone asked. "Did she harm you?"

     The man shook his head as if trying to clear it. "What are they doing?" He looked dazed, the poor man.

     "They'll hang the little beast at last," came the answer. "She's bewitched our land long enough."

     Doran's heart rose in his throat. What was going on here?

     The man stood there dumbly for a few seconds. Suddenly a wordless shout burst from him and he broke from the other men, running toward the city. He ran faster than Doran knew a human could, and Doran finally made up his mind. He shot to his feet and ran after Leo. One of the men left behind shouted something he did not understand, and he glanced over his shoulder to see them chasing him, hatred and panic twisting their faces into hideous expressions.

     Not very friendly to outsiders, it seemed.

     Doran yanked his shirt off his face and looked around for a place to hide. Mingling with the mob would never work; they would spot him in an instant, and he would be literally torn apart.

     One of the benefits of being a sixteen year old boy who has traveled regularly to different worlds was that he was faster than most grown men. One of the disadvantages was that old wounds never really heal. Doran's leg started aching fiercely before he developed a stitch in the side. He had to find a place to hide. He could not run for much longer.

     "Lord?" He gasped out.

     Follow me, sang his Lord.

     The bird's call led him into an alleyway, where a heap of fabric lay on the ground. His pursuers did not follow. Coughing and gasping, he pressed his hands against the nearest wall and leaned over.

     Come on, Doran, he scolded himself again. You're not doing any good suffocating here!

     As soon as his coughs subsided, he scooped up the pile of cloth, threw it around his shoulders and head as a makeshift cloak, and started jogging toward the angry sounds of the mob. He kept his head down, and focused on breathing.

     They were at the front gates of the city, clogging the steps up the wall and coating the top.

      Daring to raise his head enough to scan the wall, he finally found what he sought. The small woman was at the very top, being held by the shoulders. Doran ducked his head again and sprinted for the stairs.

     The mass of people pressed in on him, but he somehow managed to force his way through to where "Your Highness," was flanked by a group of soldiers.

     "She does!" Leo roared for no obvious reason, brandishing a sword before him. "Out of my way, you devils!"

     The crowd moved too slowly, until the bird sang again.

     Make way.

     The mob parted, and Doran pressed as close to the man as he could so he could get through before the way closed. He squirmed through the crowd so he could see what was happening.

     So he saw as they yanked the veil from her face.

     She was far from beautiful, with wide silver eyes set in a pale, deformed face. It was her eyes that struck Doran so hard, thrust him through the heart with the memory of another goblin girl he knew. He took a step back in spite of himself, then stood still. He had seen worse.

     His Highness apparently had not. Doran saw a shudder run through him, and the goblin girl bowed her head.

     But still, Leo said, "Let her go."

     No one moved.

     "Your Highness," the burly man holding her said. "The demon must die. She let a dragon into the city. Everyone knows she's a dragon herself, or a witch. We can't have her betraying our land no more!"

     Someone stepped forward and placed a noose over her head, and she screamed. Doran moved forward, but Leo was faster. He swung the sword and the severed rope fell to the stone walkway.

     His Highness moved forward, placing the tip of his sword against the burly man's neck.

     "Let her go." His voice was shaking in fury. "Am I prince or not?"

     "Your Highness!" The man said. "Your Highness, she's bewitched you! Everyone knows it. Let us hang her and save you—"

     "I'll kill you."

     Doran's gaze had strayed back to the girl, but when the Prince spoke Doran looked at him sharply.

     "I'll kill you, man."

      That did it. The man holding her backed away, and she fell on her face and crawled to the Prince. Leo knelt and touched her back, but did not lower the sword for a second.

     "The people won't stand for it!" Another man shouted. "They won't stand for her to live anymore! You're not thinking clearly for her spells, but it's the truth we're telling you."

     Doran looked at the hideous creature huddled at the Prince's feet and wondered.

     "There will be no hanging," Doran heard the prince say. "Not by you."

     By you? Doran asked silently, without taking his eyes off the girl. She looked so pitiful there, huddled in a ball at the prince's feet, so reliant on him for her life. So trusting. So like...

     "The people won't stand for her to go on working her evil in the land," another shouted. "We've seen one dragon already today. How many more will she bring?"

     "You escaped those five years, prince! You don't know what it's like!"

    As the crowd's mutters increased to a low roar, soldiers moved to surround the prince and the girl.

     Doran stepped back, pressing himself against the balustrade just to feel it hard in the middle of his back. He closed his eyes, trying to shut out their anger long enough for him to think. What was he supposed to do? He did not even know what was going on here! "Lord, why did you lead me here?" He mouthed.

     A voice rose above the others and forced Doran to bring himself back to the present. The Prince was balancing on top of the balustrade, shouting to the people below.

     "There will be no hanging!" he said. "We will bring the accused to the mayor's hall for fair trial and there decide what is to be done with her. In accordance with the law. Your prince has commanded!"

     Doran's stomach twisted. No ruler, no judge, no jury, would ever acquit someone this hated by the masses.

     The prince climbed down and went back to the girl, whom he wordlessly lifted to her feet. Unsure what to do, Doran followed them through the city until they stopped in a courtyard before a wooden dais. Several important-looking people were there before they arrived, but Doran skimmed over them and only focused on one, a man, seated in a wooden chair aboard the dais. He looked ancient and weary, but only a fool could not have known he was in charge.

     The Prince dragged the girl up onto the dais and said sharply, "Kneel."

     She did, hiding her face against the wooden slats. Doran's heart ached.

     "What is this, Lionheart?" The old man asked the prince.

     "The people of Southlands," Prince Lionheart said, breathing fully as hard as Doran had when he was running, "bring accusations against this girl, my servant, and wish to see her tried according to our law."

     The old man nodded wearily. "Have the people a spokesman?"

     "Who among you wishes to bring charges against this girl before your Eldest?" Lionheart demanded of the crowd.

     Doran watched as the crowd chose a spokesman, one of the people who had been on the wall, and the man gave his case. There was little besides what had been said on the wall, but watching the face of the Eldest, Doran's stomach twisted tighter. His head pounded from the poison on the air, and his heart pounded for the hideous girl on the dais. Yet he stood motionless as the trial proceeded.

     When Lionheart asked the girl, Rosie as he called her, if there was anyone who could stand by her, Doran almost stepped forward. Though he knew nothing about this girl, though he knew they would never take the word of a foreigner, he had to do something! He could not let an innocent person suffer. Not again.

     Wait, sang the voice of his Lord.

     Doran's face contorted. "Wait for what?"


     So he waited. He waited, and no one spoke for Rosie, because Prince Lionheart's word did not count. He waited, and the King told his son he had lost the people's trust. He waited, and finally saw what he was waiting for when the Eldest said, "I hereby give to my son, your prince, the duty of passing sentence upon the accused."

     Doran wrapped his fingers tight around empty air. Say it, Prince Lionheart, he urged silently. Live up to your name. Say she is innocent!

     Doran barely heard the crowd's furious mutters. His eyes were fastened on the prince's back and his heart was pounding like a million feet.

     "What is your decision, Lionheart?" The king asked.

     Lionheart pivoted to face the crowd. "I sentence the accused to banishment," he said, loud enough for all to hear.

     He continued speaking, but to Doran, his words were far away and indecipherable. He had condemned her. Every sound faded away as Doran looked at the girl on the dais, watching as she was dragged to her feet and pulled into a cart after Lionheart.

     He had condemned her, condemned this girl he thought was innocent! Yet, looking around at the angry faces around him, Doran did not know what else he could have done. How could he have set her free? The mob would have torn him apart, and if they did not, he certainly would have lost whatever trust they had left.

     Instead, he gained their approval and lost his innocence.

     Doran followed them out of the city, his mind reeling. What should he do? What should the prince have done? True, he had just banished a girl he knew to be innocent, but what else could he have done? Heart and soul screamed that what the prince did was wrong. His mind calmly said it was the only thing left.

     He was surprised when he realized they had come to the same gorge he had climbed through this morning. Lionheart led Rosie to the edge of the gorge, and for a moment they just stood there. Rosie was trembling. She grasped at Leo's arm, and said something Doran did not hear. If the prince replied, Doran did not hear that either. His heart convulsed as Leo shoved the girl to her knees.

     "Go!" The Prince shouted. "Never return to Southlands."

     The pale eyes stared up at him, and Doran saw them die. Then the girl stood, trembling, and started quickly down the same path Doran had come up.

     Doran shifted his gaze from the girl to the forest she was heading toward. Was it his imagination, or was it moving, reaching, coming up to meet Rosie? Forgetting for a moment that he was not supposed to, he let down the barriers between himself and the unseen.

     Doran's heart stopped. The Cowardly Lion had condemned Rosie to something worse than banishment. The forest, every tree, reeked of otherworldliness. Somewhere out there, something powerful was searching.


     The voice, so loud and desperate it nearly knocked Doran to his knees, came from somewhere behind the crowd. Everyone looked. And Doran saw his chance.

     He was not bound by the people's expectations. He had no excuses this time.

     Doran took a breath and plunged in after Rosie.

     Immediately he felt the world contort around him.

     No! Not now!

     His protests did no good. He managed to catch one last glimpse of Lionheart's face, and for the briefest moment he saw himself.

     Excuses and all.

     Then he was on his knees in his own woods.