Sunday, August 30, 2009

Series on Series: Part 3

Part 3: Pacing and Flow: Zoom, rawr!

Anyone who writes, whether it be a poem, a short story, a novel, or a series, has to grapple with the concept of pacing and flow. If you think of your creation like a river, you want the reader to be able to navigate it not only safely, but with great enjoyment. So sure, you might threaten to dash them against the rocks sometimes. Gets the blood flowing! But there are also times they need to stop, catch their breath, and brace for the next big thrill. Otherwise, they wind up seasick and puking.

So what, you may ask, is the difference between the pace of the novel/series, and the flow?

Pacing

For my purposes, pacing is the “speed” of events taking place. This has nothing to do with whether there is an action scene or not, but rather how the action and non-action scenes fit together to create a rise or fall in tension.

Pacing also works throughout a series in exactly the same way. It’s easiest to see in a meta-plot type series, where there is a larger story at work, because no matter the size of the plot, they’re mostly constructed with the same materials.

Whether you are trying to create a pace in one book, or five, it works essentially like this. Picture your work as a lopsided mountain. On the front side, you have a gradual build up a steep slope to the pinnacle (the climax of your story), then possibly a drop off the other side to wind up the loose ends. (we’ll talk about a bit further down)

So, decide what type of rise up the mountain you want. Rachel Caine, in both her Weather Warden and Morganville Vampires series, is very good at creating a rip-roaring, pell-mell, headlong rush kind of story. The reader gallops from scene to scene, moment to moment, much like the main character must certainly feel. You reach the end out of breathe like you just ran a marathon.

The converse of this is, of course, a slower, steadier climb. This results in a greater buildup of suspense, fostering the sure feeling of impending DOOM!

Both of these methods are equally good, depending on what you want your reader to feel. It is definitely something that should be planned beforehand, however. Not planning out your pacing ahead of time results in comments like “Well, the first and third books were great, but nothing really happened in the second one.” See, your pacing hit a plateau there instead of climbing ever upward. This is something to avoid. Even slower sections of a book or series should contribute to that vertical momentum.

Flow

So, if that is pacing, what is flow?

For me, flow is the transition between. It’s the transition between scenes, it’s the transition between chapters, it’s the transition between books. And believe me when I say that transitions are some of the hardest things I struggle with on a daily writerly basis.

The way you handle your flow is a way to control your pacing. If your scenes/chapters/books end abruptly, it creates a faster sensation. The reader is yanked out of one moment and shoved into the next without time to think. It can either drag them along with the hero, or it can totally throw them out of the story.

If you manage to end a scene/chapter/book on a smoother note, it makes the transition a place to stop, catch a breath, go smoke a cigarette before you go on to the next. The trick with this one is making it a good pause point, but still a point where the reader just HAS to read on to find out what happens next! (Toldja, this is hard stuff here!)

There is one type of “flow” that even has its own name. You all know it, say it with me. It’s a cliffhanger! This is the transition that cuts off. Just…stops! The damsel is on the railroad tracks, the hero is hanging off a cliff, and we’ll see you guys next week on the same bat-channel!

There are many schools of thought on the cliffhanger. It seems that people either love it or hate it, there’s very little middle ground. I believe that it has its place, but should be used sparingly. A cliffhanger for every. Single. Book. May be a bit much. Then again, if you can make it work for you, it can be your “thing”, the little quirk that defines you (or at least this particular series of yours).

Denouement

Let me pause for a moment to discuss this, the denouement. First off, because it’s fun to say. Day-nooo-mont! Gotta love the French.

The denouement is technically defined as the end, the solution. This can be your climax, if you so desire. Jorge slays Mongo the Luna Moth, sweeps Denise into his arms (knew she’d be back!), leans in for the kiss as the music swells to a crescendo, and…curtain!

My personal preference is to have a denouement after the climax. A moment where we see that the hero has made it out alive, that life goes on, a chance to tie up any other loose ends. (When Jorge goes to put Mongo’s antennae on Urk’s grave, there better not be a dry eye on the house, people! I am watching you!)

The denouement is a good place to set up your transition (your “flow” if you will, see what I did there?) into your next book. It’s a good place to leave portents and premonitions, a promise that there is more out there, something darker looming on the horizon. The world is not done with dear Jorge, not by a long shot.

So how do we learn to do this?

In my not-so-humble-opinion, the best way to learn about different styles of pacing and flow is to read. Read in your own genre (you should be doing this anyway), read outside your genre. Read books of different lengths, series of different lengths.

When you notice that you’ve particularly enjoyed a book, sit back and think about why. Think beyond the character that you loved (yes, you can be the president of your local Jorge fan club). Think past the amazing showdown at the end that had you chewing your nails and sweating bullets. (and pick those up, someone’s gonna trip) Think about how you got to that point.

If it’s a book that felt just a bit “off” to you, figure out why. Was it too fast? Did you not have a chance to process things? Was it too slow? Did it drag? Once you’ve learned to recognize these elements in other writing, you will be able to consciously direct it in your own.

Remember, though, that one person’s speed is another person’s creep. You can’t satisfy everyone, because everyone has a different pace that suits them.

Coming soon: Part 4: Boom vs. Whimper: How do you end it?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Series on Series: Part 2

Part 2: Heroes, Sidekicks & Villains: Who cares what these guys do anyway?

At the heart of every series is a character (sometimes more than one) that keeps people coming back. It’s the hero they root for, the villain they love to hate, or the sidekick whose loyalty and devotion bring tears to the eyes.

Sure, nobody wants the world destroyed (“Egads, I hope not! That’s where I keep all my stuff!”). But if we don’t care about the hero, we’re not going to read long enough to see if and how he saves it. And if the hero is truly unlikeable, we may KEEP reading, just on the off chance that the villain will win the day and shoot the hero in the face hole. Not good.

So, what are some things to consider when crafting the perfect hero, the most diabolical villain, or the stalwart sidekick, and how do you get them to keep bringing people back, book after book after book?

Heroes:

The hero is where you spend most of your time, usually. Whether you get your story idea from a stray thought of a world full of marshmallow furniture, or you see a tall, furry figure in a black duster and spurs in a dream, you will ultimately have to decide on your main character, your protagonist, your hero. You will know him inside and out, down to what kind of underwear he likes, and whether or not he takes his latte with half caf and foam. So what’s the key to a good hero?

First off, your perfect hero should be imperfect. I’ll give you a few moments to wrap your head around that one.

Who wants to read a story about a hero whose hair is always coiffed, his smile is always sparkly, his boots are never muddy, and he calls his mother every night at 6 on the dot? For comic effect, it might be good, but outside of satire/parody, it’s booooring!

We want our heroes to be human! (or, in the case of Jorge, a psychotic zombie marmoset) They make mistakes, just like we do. They have problems talking to the opposite sex, they get parking tickets, and they have a rash they don’t want to tell their doctor about.

Why does this keep us reading? Because there is the hope of change! Whether it’s through one book, or twenty, a hero shouldn’t be a static figure. And if Jorge can learn to love again after what that witch, Denise, did to him, then by golly, there’s hope for all of us! Just turn the page!

Longer series offer more chances for elaborate character development. It gives the author extra chances to beat the hero down and help them back up again. (Trade secret: Authors are almost all, at heart, sadists. True story.) But that doesn’t mean that a hero can’t change in the course of even one book. It just has to be handled quicker.

If, after three or four books, your hero is still making the same mistakes, going on the same bad blind dates, and hasn’t learned to wash his own laundry? Then your readers will be in danger of moving on, and finding someone who can.

And remember, children, if you kill ‘em, they won’t learn nuthin’!

Villains:

Bear with me while I reveal just how big a geek I am. Once upon a time, me and some fellow gamers were playing AD&D. Y’know, the one with the dice. Yes, I was one of those people. (still am, if I could find a good group again)

We were starting off on our first mission with our low-level characters, and we encountered a Very Bad Person in the middle of the road. This Very Bad Person was a lich (an undead thingy) who was intended to be our Big Bad for the run of this campaign. He was just appearing now, so our characters would know who they were up against, down the line.

In our group, we had a little paladin. Paladin tells our GM “I’d like to turn the lich.” Now, at our level, this was going to be impossible. The GM smirks and says “Ok. Roll a natural 20.” Impossible. Unheard of!

Die goes plop. GM goes “Shit!” And our Big Bad villain goes bye-bye. Our gaming session was over that night, because the GM had no idea what else to do with us, now that we’d dismantled his entire plot.

All of this is just to illustrate that your villains are important. Whether you are doing an episodic series with a monster-of-the-week, an epic trilogy to save the world from certain DOOM, or an episodic meta-plot where the weekly monster is being run by Big Evil Global Conspiracy, the villains are important.

First and foremost, they have to be believable. If your monster is a huge mound of sentient salt, you’d better have a damn good reason why a bucket of water wouldn’t just end the whole problem right there. If you have a rampaging warlock in a world with no magic, there better be an explanation.

A subset to this (and possibly even more important) is that they have to have a believable motivation. Jorge’s arch-nemesis, Mongo the Luna Moth, wants to take over the world. Well, ok, why? What IS it about the world that they don’t like or they think they can do differently? Very few good villains are evil for evil’s sake. Some of the best villains completely believe they are doing the right thing. The road to Hell is paved with Nutella…er…good intentions.

The villain has to offer a plausible threat. Threats to turn your hero’s hair blue isn’t really something that’s going to make me turn the page to see what happens next. Threatening to overload a nuclear reactor suspiciously located beneath the daycare your hero’s one and only child is attending? THAT’s a good threat. We fear, not only for the child, but for our hero should something happen to his beloved spawn.

The villain MUST have longevity. In a single book (episodic series), the hero should encounter the villain a few times, even if he (and the reader) doesn’t know it. Scooby-doo endings work (“It’s Mr. Withers who owns the abandoned amusement park!”), because the clues are all there if we care to look. Having the bad guy at the end be some random dude we’ve never seen before is just…lame.

In a meta-plot book, the Big Bad needs to be just that. By the end of the series, we should be absolutely petrified, fearing there is NO way our hero is going to triumph. If he’s conquered everything else up to this point, then whatever’s waiting at the end had better be worth it. Finding out the Big Bad is just an ├╝ber-intelligent cockroach with a talent for ventriloquism (*stomp, squish*) is anti-climactic in the worst possible way. As a writer, you may think it’s clever, but as a reader, I promise you someone will hunt you down and bludgeon you with your own book (or books, if you’ve spent 15 of them building up to that point).

Sidekicks:

Remember, when you think you can’t torture your hero any more, you can always torture his friends/family/lovers/mailman/gardener. They’re your comic relief, your moral compass, and your cannon fodder. They provide motivation for your hero, a living shield for your villain, and they never ask for a word of thanks. They’re your sidekicks.

For my purposes, we’re going to designate all supporting characters as “sidekicks.” Mostly, ‘cause typing sidekicks is easer than “supporting characters”.

I fully admit that there is at least one series that I continue to read, merely for the sidekicks. In other series, while my heart always belongs to the hero, I might cheat on him a little with one of his close friends. We love them, we hurt for them, and when we lose one of them in the requisite ultimate sacrifice, we stand next to the hero at the grave and weep quietly with him.

The sidekick serves many purposes, a few of which I mentioned just above. Often, they serve as a substitute for the reader. I mean, who hasn’t imagined themselves as one of the Doctor’s companions, when watching Doctor Who? They are our way of insinuating ourselves into this new and wondrous world. Sometimes, they are learning about it (from the hero) and this is how we become acquainted with the rules. Sometimes, they are the mentor, the teacher, and we sit next to the hero in his lessons.

They also serve as a measuring stick to view your hero against. They can be the kind heart that your hero wishes he had, the disciplined warrior he wants to be, the unforgiving taskmaster he never wants to turn into. By seeing how he interacts with those around him, we are able to create a three-dimensional view of the hero. Therefore, he has to have three-dimensional people to relate to.

Your sidekicks, the ones that are going to have the greatest impact on your hero’s life, should get at least as much planning as your hero. Who are they? How do they feel about your hero? Were they always friends? What are their dreams, not only for the hero, but for themselves? How do those two things mesh (or collide)? These people do not exist in a vacuum, and unless you’re working on some kind of really interesting sci-fi epic, their universe does NOT revolve around your hero.

By making them as real as possible, it will be easy for the reader to understand why the hero values them so. And their value should be readily apparent.

Jorge has a best friend, Urk the Clam. Jorge and Urk have known each other for years, grown up together. Urk once saved Jorge from a runaway zamboni.

Now, I can kill Urk off on the first page of the book, and if that’s what the story is about, it can provide some good motivation, set the story in motion, get the plot moving. The disadvantage being that the reader won’t know Urk, and will only learn of his value to Jorge in retrospect. He doesn’t mean anything to the reader.

However, if I spend two books showing how the two interact together – Urk picked Jorge up after Denise dumped him, let him sleep on the couch. Jorge stepped up to be best man at Urk’s wedding, when none of Urk’s family would even show (they didn’t like the bride, they were anti-flamingo) . And neither of them talk about that drunk weekend in Vegas. – then when Urk steps in front of that second speeding zamboni and goes to the big ice rink in the sky, we’re gonna feel that hurt right alongside Jorge.

(If you can’t tell, the sidekicks are some of my favorite non-existent people)

And this means what, exactly?

This means you should never dismiss the emotional impact a hero, a sidekick, or a villain can have on a reader. Two of the most gut-wrenching moments for me, in recent Dresden Files novels, came when I feared that Butcher had killed off a couple of the “sidekicks” that I dearly love. I not only grieved for their potential loss, but I was bracing myself for the impact that loss would have on the hero, Harry. Would this be the thing that finally broke him? I had to keep reading to find out!

Your characters are your tools, make sure they’re sharp and shiny. People like shiny things.

Coming soon: Part 3: Pacing and Flow: Zoom, rawr!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Series on Series: Part 1

Part 1: What kind of series do you have?

So, you’ve got this character, see? He’s Jorge, the psychotic zombie marmoset, and he’s the coolest freakin’ thing that has ever crawled out of your head. (except that thing from summer camp, but the anti-parasitic cleared that right up) You have his personality down, his strengths and weaknesses, his love interests, and the fact that secretly, he just wants to be pretty. You have a world for him, peopled with vampires that only wear purple faux fur, a sexually transmitted computer virus, and a cross-dressing werewolf named Frank.

Now, what do you do with him? He has a story to tell. No, two stories. No, half a dozen! Well hold onto your mukluks, folks, I think you have a series. “A series?” you say. “Is it contagious?” No no no, little one. Read on and learn.

For our purposes, a series is most loosely defined as more than one book following the same characters in the same world. There are of course, notable exceptions to everything I just said. Unlike basic math, writing is not an exact science. You can take 2 + 3 and you will always get 5. But if you take romance + robots, sometimes you get sci-fi, and sometimes you get chick lit, and sometimes you don’t know what you have, but someone, somewhere must surely want to read it.

The First Thing You Need To Know Before You Get Started is: What kind of series do you have? What kind of series you are writing will govern the flow and pace of not only each individual book, but also of any over-arcing metaplot action you may have going on.

There are three things to consider when contemplating a series: length, style and genre. You would think that the three things could be considered separately, but in some cases, they are intrinsically intertwined. So, we’ll start with length.

Length:

Series can be anything from two books, to these never-ending sagas that only cease when the author goes to that big library in the sky. (and sometimes, not even then) I have seen a duology done successfully (Anne Bishop’s Sebastian and Belladonna, most notably). Trilogies are very common. Other authors have done four, five or six-book sets (Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series will cap at six). Jim Butcher’s other series, The Dresden Files, has long been planned for 20-ish novels, to eventually end in a big apocalyptic trilogy. Still other authors just. Keep. Writing!

Really, a series only needs to be as long as it takes to tell the stories you want to tell. Cutting it short is better (in my humble opinion) than stretching it so thin that you can see your neighbor’s big screen TV through the holes.

The length you choose will, in some way, affect the style. And the style will affect the length.

Style:

I’m probably over-simplifying this, but let’s break series down into two types: episodic, and what I’m going to call “meta-plot”.

Episodic is just what it sounds like. Each book stands alone as its own self-contained episode. You have a beginning, a middle and an end, with few (if any) loose ends. I have often seen mystery series done this way. Ian Fleming’s James Bond series comes to mind, as does Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.

The two great things about episodic series are 1) that they can, conceivably, go on forever so long as the author’s estate can still find someone they like to keep the characters going, and 2) they can be read in any order with little to no confusion.

Meta-plot series, on the other hand, have a large looming story arc hanging over the entire run of the series. So not only does the author have to juggle the plot of each individual book, but they have to plan out many, many books into the future, exactly where to lay the clues and reveals for a much larger plot. A good example of this is Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. The Harry Potter series also does a good job of dropping clues in early books that are important in later books.

It’s very hard to run a meta-plot series indefinitely, because at some point, the big meta-plot HAS to end (like any good plot) or the readers are going to get pissy. It is also one that almost has to be planned out before hand, because once books 1, 2 and 3 are on shelves, you can’t hit book 4 and say “Oh crap, I needed to mention Jorge’s magical sword back in book 1 for this to make any sense!”. Sure, you can try fly by the seat of your pants, but you risk landing on your ass.

There is also the very real danger (as illustrated by the late Robert Jordan) that the author will not live to see his work done. And that opens up a whole new can of worms.

Trilogies work very well for meta-plot series, simply because they’re short (comparatively) and easy to plan out far in advance.

And then, of course, just to make your head spin and add a third thing to a two-item list, we also have the episodic meta-plot. These are very common in the urban fantasy world, and I’m going to cite The Dresden Files a lot, simply because I love the books, and I’m most familiar with them.

Each book of The Dresden Files is its own story. Often, these type of stories are referred to as “monster-of-the-week stories”. Each one presents a new bad guy, a new mystery to solve, a new challenge to overcome. However, behind all of this, we also have the workings of a much larger plot. We have a conspiracy, or a looming cataclysm, or an ominous prophecy. Whatever it is, it shapes our hero’s thoughts and actions, even as he’s trying to go about his daily not-dying.

It IS something that is going to require a resolution, eventually. The fun is in getting there.

Genre:

You’re saying “I already know I’m writing a sci-fi/rom-com/post-apocalyptic/self-help book! What does that have to do with my series?”

Well, in writing a genre, no matter what it is, you should also know your genre. Each genre has conventions. (No, not the kind of convention where you all go to a strange hotel and wear fezzes) Conventions are things that are considered “normal” in any given genre. You don’t necessarily have to follow said conventions, but knowing them helps you shed them with style and grace.

There are some genres that have, traditionally, fallen easily into several series styles. Mystery, for example, lends itself well to the never-ending episodic adventures of your intrepid detective marmoset Jorge. Adventure novels (think Clive Cussler) and spy novels also seem to do well in this format.

Epic fantasy goes well in meta-plot trilogies. It allows for more exploration of a brave new world, strange and fantastic creatures, and the defeat of the Big Bad, wherever it may lurk. It is, essentially, one VERY large book divided into three parts.

Urban fantasy is prone to mixing the pot. There are series that are more episodic, some that are more meta-plot, and quite a few that are definitely offspring of both. Cute little buggers, aren’t they? Don’t stick your fingers in the cage, they bite.

No one says you can’t step outside the box in your particular genre, but it helps to at least know where the box is before you start trying.

And all you other people out there, not sitting on cushions:

What about those series that don’t fit neatly into any of these categories? Well, they’re everywhere. A rampant infestation that must be squashed at all costs- Er, hmm? What was I saying? Oh yes.

What about a series set in the same world but following different (but connected) characters throughout? (look into Christine Feehan’s Carpathian series for a good example) Is that still a series?

Honestly, that’s between you and your publisher. More precisely, that’s between you and the marketing department. Most precisely, that’s totally at the discretion of the marketing department.

Books marketed as a “series” are done so because it allows the reader to know what to expect when they pick it up. Anyone who has read one Dresden Files novel can pick up the next one and have a good idea of what kind of read they’re going to find. However, if you read one mystery, and the next one you picked up in the series was more along the lines of erotica, you would be very confused. No one expecting Jorge and the Mystery of the Golden Whiffle Bat is going to be happy to find Jorge Does Dallas. (this phenomenon will be addressed further in Part 5: How to destroy a series. Coming soon!)

So, once you know the size and scope of your series, you can get a better handle on what tools you will need to build it into the opus of your dreams.

Coming soon: Part 2: Heroes, Sidekicks & Villains: Who cares what these guys do anyway?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Series on Series: Part 0 The Introduction

I had this really cool idea to write series of blog posts on series. (Series on Series, S.o.S See what I did there? I slay me) I thought I’d do five, and post them every day for a week. In retrospect, I think I’m actually going to take several days between each post, just to give people a chance to discuss things in the comments if they want. (there ARE people reading this, right? RIGHT?) So, I’m starting today with this little introduction, to let folks know what to expect.

Before I embark on this vast undertaking, let’s set down a few ground rules.

1) I AM ALWAYS RIGHT! Except when I’m not, which is almost always. Everything I’m going to offer is my own opinion with little to no basis in any provable fact. Your mileage may vary, the 7:30 show is different from the 9:00 show, please tip your waitstaff.

2) For every example I offer here, there will probably be a dozen examples that disprove what I’m saying. I know this already. Such is the imprecise nature of the field we’ve chosen to hoe. (or something) Nothing is exact, and that’s what makes it wonderful.

3) I will provide links to books/authors/series as I mention them, but if I mention them repeatedly, I’m only going to link it the first time. All points will be heavily skewed toward urban fantasy, because that’s where I am right now.

4) This will be a spoiler friendly zone. I intend to discuss plot twists, endings, behind-the-scenes secrets and tapioca. I will try to make a comprehensive list of all spoiler topics just below, but be assured I’m going to miss some, and then someone’s going to get pissy. “I didn’t know the Titanic sank! You’ve ruined this for me for life!” I also have no authority to govern what is said in the comments, so be prepared for unannounced spoilers there too.

SPOILER ALERT: For the following: The Dresden Files, Torchwood, the Kushiel series, The Anita Blake series, The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, Harry Potter, the Price is Right, the old testament and anything else I may or may not mention, think, or hear of in the future. Also does not cover any works that may or may not be mentioned in the comments.

5) I encourage and enjoy discussion! Please, leave a comment about your opinions, favorite series, techniques you’ve used, or chidings on my poor research skills. But do it nicely, and civilly, or I shall beat you with a barbed-wire cat-o-nine.

Many thanks to Theo and Chie who both helped me make sure the following blog posts are at least coherent.

Coming Monday:

Part 1: What kind of series do you have?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Teaser Tuesday Eleventeen

This teaser is from Peacemaker. At this point in the story, our hero Caleb has had his mount (an arcane-powered mechanical construct) explode beneath him, and the bad guy has staked him spread-eagled out in the middle of the prairie to die. But it appears that someone isn’t ready to let him go yet…

~*!*~

Cool water trickled over his lips, and delicate touches moved over his chest and arms while the soothing song went on. It took him some time to realize that he could open his eyes if he wanted, and when he did he found himself staring up into dark eyes set in a lovely, honey-brown face.

The Indian woman, the one from the mountain and his dreams, smiled to see him awake, and she slipped her hand behind his head to support him while she trickled more water down his throat.

Caleb gulped it as fast as he could, though he was certain even an entire river would not have been enough. When he managed to choke himself, she laid his head back down with a chiding look.

“I…” He paused to cough. “Thank you.”

Smiling shyly, she gathered up some clothes and bowls and rose, walking gracefully across the floor.

Only then did Caleb realize that he was inside one of the large teepees, cheerfully lit by a crackling fire in the middle. The smoke rose in a column through the hole in the top, and beyond it he could see only darkness. It was still night then, but the same night, or another one?

An attempt to sit up revealed that he was still stretched and tied, the lodge apparently erected right over his place of confinement. The nullstone amulet still nestled in the center of his chest. Perhaps they didn’t trust him after all. “How long have I been here?”

The woman was busily working with some pungent smelling plants on her side of the fire, and barely glanced over at his voice. His answer came instead from the other side.

“Time passes differently here, so that is hard to say.” From the shadows, the old shaman appeared, moving to take a seat next to the fire. The coyote familiar padded into view as well, laying down with its head on its paws, but its eyes on Caleb.

“You speak English now?”

The old man smiled, the creases in his face deepening. “There is only one language of the spirit, and all who are brothers may speak it in this place.”

Caleb glanced around. “What, in this teepee?”

“You are in the Place Between.”

“The place between what?”

“Between life and death. Between asleep and awake. Between one world and the next.” The white-haired man threw a handful of something on the flames, and aromatic smoke rolled out. Sage, Caleb thought. “Coyote spoke to me of your need, and your readiness to see this place.”

Caleb eyed the familiar beside the fire, but he couldn’t tell if it was the same coyote that had watched over him on the prairie. One looked very much like another. “Am I…hallucinating still?”

The old man chuckled. “It is possible. That is one way of reaching this place.”

“Am I dying?” The woman returned to his side, and Caleb eyed her warily. She knelt, scooping a handful of a dark, wet substance from a bowl, and began smearing it on his burned forearms. The poultice was cool and sent tingles through his skin.

“I do not believe you are dying. Though you would have, without our aid.” The old man produced a long pipe and began filling it with tobacco. Caleb could smell it even under the aroma of the other herbs. “I am called Crying Elk. I am the medicine man of this band of the people. And you are a star soldier of the white man.”

“Star soldier?” The old man tapped the place above his heart, and Caleb understood. “My badge…” It was gone, he supposed, wherever Warner had discarded his shirt.

“You are not the same as the last star soldier who came to this land. He was a man like the dark one, the one who digs into the mountain’s heart and causes such pain. He was only interested in his personal gain.” Crying Elk smirked with dark humor. “We would not have aided him, no matter how he begged Coyote.”

That fit in line with everything Caleb had learned about his predecessor. “I feel like I should apologize for that.”

The old shaman snorted, smoke curling from his nostrils to join the haze. “Each man chooses to walk his own path. His choice was not yours, so why would you need to apologize for it?”

Caleb shrugged, only to be reminded of the bonds that tied him. The woman frowned at his fidgeting, reaching to smooth some of the sticky goop over his forehead as well. “What is…what is she doing?” Instinctively, he flinched away from her touch, and she frowned, grabbing his chin firmly and giving him a glare.

“She is a great healer of our people. The poultice will take the heat from your wounds, allow them to heal. The water will replenish you.”

“Why are you doing this for me?”

“I told you this already. Because you are not like the other. You spare lives when you could more easily take them, even among people not your own. You give food to the hungry, and warning to those in danger.” The old man grinned in the firelight. “Though your spirit guide should more likely be praised for that.”

Spirit guide…Ernst! “Is Ernst all right? Where is he?”

“I am certain he is fine. He was fine before he found you, and he will be fine after you are gone.” He rested a hand on the head of his own familiar, more a gesture of respect for an equal than affection bestowed on a pet. The coyote looked up, and Caleb swore he could see the animal smile in return.

Even knowing he would not be able to move past the nullstone, Caleb tried to reach out for his connection to Ernst. It was like pushing through yards of wet wool, but he gritted his teeth and tried anyway.

The woman slapped his arm lightly, and shook a finger in warning. Caleb resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her petulantly.

“You are not strong enough just now to fight the power of the draining stone. I will teach you later, when you are more yourself.” Crying Elk drew on his pipe deeply, his eyes watching the dance of the fire before him. “Now is the time when we must speak of more serious things.”

Caleb dragged his gaze away from the woman with her hands all over him to look at the old shaman. “What things? And you know, it’s hard to have a conversation all tied up like this.”

“Is it? It is not bothering me in the least.” The old man blew a perfect smoke ring, amusement in his dark eyes. “Attend now. Time must not be wasted in this place.”

“But you said time—” Caleb fell silent at a look from the old man. Maybe they’d answer his questions later. Probably, they wouldn’t. Just like Ernst.

Friday, August 14, 2009

She's Alive!

Rumors of my untimely demise have been greatly exaggerated (and were totally invented by me for comedic effect).

Yes, I know I haven’t been blogging. Bad Kari. No donut. But there was the little matter of a vacation somewhere in the middle of things! And since my #1 beta reader, Chie, was here for a visit, it could even be considered a working vacation.

See? We went to a baseball game. Totally research. To my right, I had Chie and Dr. Gita (my medical consultant who answers things like “what diseases do you get from being wet all the time?” and “how many ribs can a person have removed and still function?”).



And to my left, I had hubby and kiddo!



It was kiddo’s first baseball game, and she was thrilled. Too bad we were all baking in 100 degree heat and had to leave early.

Notice that, being the person holding the camera, there are no pictures of ME. (see what I did there?)

Today, I got through scribbling all the notes down for my revisions on DD. Most of them still say things like “expand here” and “clarify”, but once I sit down to type it all out, it’ll flow into the perfect prose. Or something.

I’m actually feeling really good about this. I can’t wait to get it turned back in, so I can get back to work on the Son of DD. Which still needs a title, I might add. As does the series as a whole. Suggestions are welcome.

And speaking of series… I DO still plan on writing a few blog posts on the subject of series in general. I’m just trying to plan out what I want to say ahead of time. Keeps me from babbling and rambling. Wonder if I could get those done this weekend too…hmm…