A Refuge – Part One

To counter some of the doom an gloom out there, I’m working on a dystopia story with a bit more hopeful angle. I’m posting this in small segments for now. It’s still, more or less, a rough draft. I’ll shoot for two segments a week – and hope I don’t get stuck :) We are stronger than we think we are!

 

A Refuge – Part one

Theo rubbed weary eyes, and then tried not to. She had been driving for close to four hours now. Her route was planned to avoid the cities and major towns. There would be danger in the cities. More than she could cope with alone, at any rate. An open convenience store tempted her to stop. She didn’t hesitate. If they still had gas, she could fill both her tanks and maybe even get some coffee, if she was lucky.

As soon as she took out the key, she reached for her eye drops. That would wake her up better than coffee. She noted the lack of cars here and no traffic at all on the road, though the signs said this was a junction of roads between sizable towns. When she put the drops back, she shoved her pistol into the small holster at her back. She grinned, thanking her grandfather for his foresight to leave her this package at the school “just in case”. Something about the lack of traffic bothered her. Things were getting bad in a hurry.

“I need about forty gallons of gas. Do you have any fresh coffee?” She said to the attendant before she was properly through the door.

“You’ll have to pay first. Cash only.” He frowned at her and then tried to put on a more polite expression. His hair was dark and ragged with a scraggly beard.

Theo grinned, “Sure thing, I need to make a little stop first and get a few goodies for the road.” She did her best to imitate the airy, light mannerisms of one of her classmates. It seemed to drive the guy at the register as nuts as it had her. And that was her intent. He was setting off all sorts of alarms in her head.

While she did what she said she would, she also looked around. She heard a muffled voice in the storeroom next to the ladies’ room. She also thought she heard movement in the men’s room. So, there was at least one in the men’s room and two in the storeroom. Her main reason for going into the ladies room was to make sure her weapon was ready. She knew it was, but she felt better for checking it.

She took her time looking over the food, a mask of dumb blonde frozen on her face, though she was neither dumb, nor blonde. She wanted some quick energy boosters on hand and chocolate fit that role just fine. She had real food in her truck. The coffee was not nearly as fresh as she’d like, but it would do. Now she just hoped they were still taking paper money. The guy didn’t look quite smart enough to have grasped yet, just how worthless it was.

As she put her items on the counter, she saw greed leap in his eyes.

“Two hundred and fifty dollars.” He stated, without bothering to ring anything up.

“I only want forty gallons of gas, sir. The sign says it’s $4.99 a gallon.” His actions reinforced her impression that this guy was danger, and had no business behind the counter.

“Two hundred and fifty dollars.” This time, there was an implied threat hanging in the air.

She reached into her bag and carefully pulled out the required cash. She slammed it down on the counter and stalked out, just as her classmate would have and left to pump her gas. She deposited her purchases and quickly began filling the near tank, watching for the next move. It came in the form of another vehicle pulling up along side the same pump. Since there were three other pumps, the alarms were now ringing madly.

“Give me some gas, woman!” The driver said as he got out, making the word woman into a slimy, inferior thing. He approached her with his hand in his pocket, but if he had a gun, it was a small one. Then she smiled.

“You want gas, man” She managed to slur the term into the realms of a witless dog. “Okay, here you go.” Theo turned to him and held the nozzle to full force, dousing him with gasoline. He screamed in a language she didn’t know, but she got the idea.

“Since you seem to need help, would you like a light too?” She asked sweetly as she pulled a lighter out of her pocket.  His eyes went very wide as his mouth dropped open and stayed there. “Now, we can escalate this and you die or you can walk away now. If you wash it off fairly fast, it won’t burn too badly.”

His face suffused with anger and he started to draw his hand out of his pocket. Several things happened at once. Theo saw the one in the store come to the door with what looked like an AK-47 and a badass looking military vehicle pulled up on her off side. She noted at a glance that the soldier on the gun did not wear a blue UN hat. Evidently, the gunner had managed to grasp what was happening fast enough to cut down the man with the rifle, while the vehicle pulled between her and the store. She caught that at the edge of her vision, as time seemed to slow down. She didn’t remember any order to her hand to drop the nozzle, but it was lying on the ground and her pistol was already coming up.

It was so exactly like practice. The lighter dropped unnoticed as her left hand joined the right and she acquired the sights as her hands locked into position. The firing was just as automatic. Then she emptied the clip center mass. He seemed to topple over in slow motion and then everything rushed in. She breathed again.

“Ma’am, are you all right?” It was incongruous, that courtesy in the soldier’s, no Marine’s, voice after they had each just killed someone. He didn’t look at her, but kept his eyes up and out, scanning.

Theo couldn’t help it, she laughed, though it came out as a slightly hysterical squeak. “I’m alive, so yes.”  Her eye fell on the blood pooling about the body of the man she had just killed. The shock of it jarred her back to reality. “There are at least three more inside.” One reality. The other one would have to wait.

She got to see the efficiency of a well-trained squad in action as the man behind the driver made a hand motion and three other men boiled out of the vehicle, weapons up and out. Two went to the near corners of the building so fast they were blurs. The one she guessed was in command, dismounted on her side, but the gunner on top remained. One more came to stand beside her other side.

“Ma’am, you stay here. And get that weapon reloaded!” That was from the sergeant, she could see his stripes now. She sprinted back to her truck, reaching in quickly to grab more clips. A new one was in place and a round chambered before she turned back.

The sergeant gave her a short nod of almost approval. She took a good look at him. He didn’t look old enough to have so many bars pinned to his shirt. His face caught her attention, the steady, hard set to his dark features and the determination in his eyes spoke of more than just the current situation. The assessment had taken seconds, but Theo knew without doubt, she could trust this man.

Movement inside the store caught their eye. The marines held their fire until they had better targets. That didn’t take long. Impatient, someone stepped around the candy display and hosed the windows. Theo jumped at the sound. The man tried to duck back under cover, but he didn’t count on the gunner’s sights and he shot as soon as the first round hit the windows. They could see into the store clearly now and two more figures were moving around, keeping low. The two marines at the building had disappeared. Theo thought they must be checking the back. The sergeant murmured something into his microphone and a moment later one of them came around to the corner, keeping low.

“Close your eyes, Ma’am, and stay down,” the sergeant told her.

The next instant she heard two distinct small explosions followed by boots running. She eased up to peak over the edge. Something was said over the radio, but she couldn’t catch it.

“All clear, Ma’am. I need to check my men.” The look the sergeant gave her plainly was “Stay out of the way” and he’d rather she didn’t go in at all.

Theo wondered if it was because she was a woman, or simply a civilian. Probably the later, she guessed. Either way, she wasn’t ready to stand around and wait to be told what to do.

“Gunny, we found a body, probably the owner, in the storeroom. What now?” The marine who spoke looked far too young, even to her eyes, to be a marine. He didn’t even look old enough to shave.

The tiny hesitation was all Theo needed. “Sergeant, if I may suggest, let the local sheriff handle it. You’ve the two prisoners there, for one thing, and from what I’ve seen, there may be more trouble in the area. The sheriff can warn us of any spots to avoid and if he’s not quite ready to believe how bad things are getting, this should wake him up.” She grinned up at him, his bulk making her feel small. “Besides, who’s going to argue with you? You’re Marines!”

“The lady has a point.” The young marine grinned at her.

The sergeant gave her a hard look she couldn’t read and sighed. “Very well. A small town sheriff should be okay. That’s if the phone works.”

Miraculously, the phone did work. By the time the sheriff pulled up, they had decided these were either some pretty inept terrorists or a band of the many illegals that had invaded the country in recent years. The sergeant, Matt Greer, added that they could be both. Once he got over his shock at the incident, the sheriff called in an ambulance and loaded the prisoners into the back of his SUV.

He came up to Theo and Gunnery Sgt. Greer. “I should have you come to the station and file a report, but I have a feeling there’s no real point. Process is going out the window fast. Would you come to town for dinner though? With your men and Miss Stevens, of course. I think I owe you one.”

5 Reasons To Join A Writers Group

Okay, there are probably many more than five, but these are my top five reasons why writers should belong to a small, but active, writers group. In person or online, a good group can be a critical element to successful writing.

1. Regular feedback and support of your peers. Writing in a vacuum is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Having a group of people you meet regularly with gives you an opening to bounce ideas off of each other. You encourage each other and that is probably one of the most motivating things you can experience. It’s one thing to have your best friend gushing at how wonderful your writing is and quite another to have your peers cheering you on. They’re in the same boat. They understand the process. They’ve either already been there, are there now, or see they are going to be there – someday. They want you to succeed in the same way that they want to succeed. When it comes down to it, they have your back and you have theirs. At the same time, they will tell you honestly when they feel something needs fixed.

2. It’s a formidable tool for improving your writing skills. When you ask for feedback on a story, or a part of one, you are getting experienced feedback. They write too and, while they also make mistakes, other writers are much more likely to catch things that need to be fixed early on. Likewise, in giving feedback, you will also gain additional insights into your own work and sometimes see your own mistakes boldly mirrored in the other writers efforts. Of course, helping each other is what such groups are for, but it’s nice when you help someone else and yourself at the same time. Sideways as it were :) Editorial services can’t even come close the team work of a good crit group.

3. You have access to a wider range of experience you can call on for advice. In my original group, we had a diplomat who worked for the State Department. There was also an anthropologist and we had two spouses who were happy to help on technical issues, an aerospace engineer and an ex-military sergeant with some special forces experience. There were others with varied, though perhaps more ordinary, skills that were just as valuable. Since most of us wrote Science Fiction or Fantasy, these were a great asset. We had a pool of talents and experience to call on when questions arose. Even if we didn’t have anyone in our immediate group, there was usually someone who did have an outside contact we could ask.

4. They are with you for the long haul. It makes a huge difference when the same people are around from the beginning of your story, particularly if it’s a multi-book situation. If you need feedback on a scene in book two or three, you don’t have to spend a lot of time trying to get them to the point of understanding where you are in the story. They already know. They know you and your writing. Bouncing ideas off of them is easy. Any time I’ve tried it with others, it has seldom helped very much unless it was narrowly technical. Ultimately, they have time and interest invested in your writing, as you do in theirs and it’s in everyone’s interest to see a piece succeed. It tends to validate the group as a whole, not just the individual writer.

5. It’s more fun this way! Writers, like any other group, get more enthusiastic when they hang out together. You have fun. You challenge each other in small, sometimes silly, ways. Laughing together is a magnificent way to help overcome writer’s block. Discussions that take strange, totally off the wall directions free your imagination and often stimulate new story ideas.

So, what are your reasons for – or against for that matter?

I am starting up a new group soon, hopefully with some of the old hands coming along too. Comment if your interested. Where you are in the process doesn’t matter. Love of writing does.

Blueberry Tarts

I started making these tarts when I had lots of sour cherries to work with, these days it’s blueberries. I wanted a homemade version of toaster pastries. It works with any fruit, really. You need to vary the spices, the sugar and sometimes the corn starch to the fruit used. Apples and peaches generally need little sugar, sour cherries take more. I spice the way I would pies.

You want to make the filling ahead of time and chill for at least 4 hours. I prep and chill the pastry, except for adding the water, ahead of time as well. Not only does this significantly cut down on prep at breakfast, it helps keep the filling from leaking out.

Filling:

2 1/2 C Blueberries, fresh or frozen (or other fruit)

1/4 – 1/2 C sugar

2 1/2 Tablespoons Cornstarch

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Mix dry ingredients together in med. saucepan. Add fruit and about a tablespoon of water to start. Cook over low heat until fruit begins to release juice, then increase to medium heat. Bring to a slow boil and simmer till quite thick, stirring often. This will take from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on fruit, longer if frozen. Chill

Pastry:

3 C All Purpose Flour *

2 teaspoons Baking Powder

1 (scant) teaspoon Salt

11/2 tablespoon Sugar (do not omit!)

1 C Butter, softened (I would not recommend margarine in this recipe)

1/3 C water

*If desired, you can use half plain flour and half self-rising flour, then omit baking powder and salt.

Blend dry ingredients. Use pastry cutter to blend in butter until close to the consistency of cornmeal. Chill.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Blend in water, a little at a time until all dough is moist. It should be slightly moister than standard pie pastry, but not sticky. Check it by squeezing with your hands, it sometimes will look drier than it is. When well blended, take about 1/3 of the dough and press into a even rectangle on floured board. Roll dough to 6 X 12 inches, 1/8 in thick. Cut into 8 – 3 X 3 squares. They won’t be exact, don’t worry about it. You can roll each a little more as you fill, if needed. Moisten two adjacent sides and place a large spoonful of filling in center. Gently fold pastry over filling into a triangle joining dry to moist edges and seal the edges. This is why you must chill the filling (and thicken it). Be careful not to let the filling get on the edges. Do not overfill. Make sure your edges are well sealed.

Place on greased cookie sheet and use a sharp knife to cut slits in the top of the pastry. This is as important as sealing the edges and not over filling. If you don’t, steam will cause the pastry to separate and you’ll have filling on the pan instead of in the pastry.

 

 

Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, or until the pastry is just starting to brown at the edges. Cool slightly. The filling will burn your mouth faster than hot pizza. They reheat in the toaster nicely and the pastry will tolerate being packed for travel. I make these for camping trips.

Makes 20 – 24 tarts

 

Let me know, if you think of any creative variations. I am always looking for new ideas in the kitchen.

Some Resources For Writers

Navigating the web looking for information is not something I like to do. It takes time. It can be difficult, but there are some really good resources out there. Here is a list of some useful sites for writers. Note, these are in no particular order.

The Writer’s Daily http://paper.li/eandtsmom/1330524591 This is a newspaper with a good mix of articles on writing, industry news, etc.

Absolute Write http://absolutewrite.com/ This is a Large writers resource site with articles, forums, etc. for every genre and pretty much all writing levels.

Writer’s Digest http://www.writersdigest.com/ This group has been around for a very long time – before internet. This is an excellent place for market research, including lists of publishers, editors, agents and what they are looking for right now. They also have good articles on the craft of writing, publication tips, and other items of interest.

Preditors and Editors pred-ed.com As the name suggests, this site is devoted to exposing publishing scams of all kinds and keeps lists of good/bad publishers/editors/agents. I highly recommend checking with them before signing anything with anyone.

This list would not be complete without mentioning the many genre professional organizations, many of whom have a lot to offer non-members visitors. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Romance Writers of America are two examples. There are as many as there are genres in literature. These days, they all have websites.

I am not including in this list any of the blogs or indie book promotion sites, simply because they are too many and I would be sure to leave out someone important.

Happy Writing!

Worldbuilding Consistently

I reread Isaac Asimov’s Nightfall, (published in 1941) last night for the first time in years and was impressed – and reminded of something that occasionally happens with authors in worldbuilding. Especially when dealing with a different belief system than the author really wants to give credence to. I encourage you to go back and read that short story. Asimov does not intrude with his own commentary anywhere in the story. All differing viewpoints are held and expressed by the various characters in the story. He keeps all those viewpoints consistent with what the society both knew and believed. He kept his own opinions out of it.

There is another author, that I won’t name here, who is not quite so honest in her writing. The stories contain a certain belief system and a certain degree of actual spiritual power and influence. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, when you build a world that way, you need to stay honestly in the world that you’ve built. Just because you’ve written about a world where magic is real, does not mean you believe in magic as you write it. If you, as the author, happen to want to question the validity of the magic, or any belief, then it should be done by the characters in the story. Not ever, not even once, should the author inject narrative commentary to throw doubts on the belief system. If you feel the need, write a disclaimer as an afterword.

This is critical for Science Fiction and Fantasy worlds, where we are dealing with societies that don’t exist and their belief systems (and abilities) are limited only by our imaginations. I don’t go into depth on the religious beliefs of Sorth because it isn’t necessary. Their psychic abilities give them perceptions beyond ours. What is a matter of belief for us is closer to established fact for them. Within the story, I accept that.

Tolkien built a world where magic existed, mostly as a more subtle force, and he stayed consistent with it. He established the background of how that world came to be and what the rules were there. He stuck to it. Any questioning of how that world worked could only come from characters within that world.

The same thing is true of StarWars. Lucas allows scoffing at the Force from the very beginning by characters within the story, but he doesn’t let that change the way he designed that universe. He also does not intrude any thoughts, opinions or beliefs from outside the world he has built. They either are already there, or simply don’t exist within that context.

I have also done some role-playing over the years. This is similar in that whatever you have determined the rules of your world to be, the story has to stay within those bounds and you’re own, real world view points must not intrude. If you are not comfortable with the rules of your world, change them. It is your world, after all.

Mountains Of Thyme

Thyme. Thyme. Thyme. I really do have mountains of thyme, or at least a mountain of thyme. I love growing my own herbs. They are so superior to anything in the store that they aren’t even the same critter. The work to dry and store most of them is small compared to the return. Both flavor and nutrients are more potent. This year, the herbs have exploded while the rest of the garden has struggled.

Sage is extremely easy. Oregano, mint and lemon balm only require removal of any bad leaves. Basil can be a little more difficult, mainly in cleaning any soil off without bruising the leaves. Parsley is quick to snip. All these I harvest several times during the summer.

Thyme is the most tedious, though it also dries the quickest. I grow the old fashioned thyme, which has the best flavor, but also the smallest leaves. Separating the leaves from the stems is taking hours. The stems break easier than the leaves come off and can be too small to see easily. It’s driving me slightly nuts. I can feel my eyes crossing.

When I’m done though, there will be enough for a year with some left to share. It helps if I keep reminding myself I only have to do a serious thyme harvest once a year.

 

Laughter Is The Best Medicine!

“A merry heart doeth good like medicine,,,” The ability to see humor in an otherwise stressful situation lightens our heart. It’s crucial to reducing that stress. Find the humor in making a mistake and you’ve taken the negative away so you can focus on the solution. We do this every day.

But how about our writing? Do your characters find the humor in the little things they encounter? Do you spice things up with humorous description of something common place? One of my favorite humorous tidbits is in Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor in describing a low-level insertion flight as “like being in the womb of a woman addicted to disco dancing”. He accomplished two things. I had absolutely no trouble getting his point and I laughed. Laughing breaks the tension a tiny bit to keep the story from getting too grim. The serious things are still there, but the characters face them with a good heart.

Ah, but you are writing a serious book, maybe even non-fiction. Humor is a great way to identify with characters and get a point across. No matter what you write, a bit of humor now and then will make your reader come back for more.  Nearly all of the books that I consider favorites are books that have a touch of humor to them. The humor is not the object of these books and the stories often deal with serious situations.That does not keep these wise writers from realizing that humor, just like love, is a part of life and we should allow our characters to express it – or cause it. That touch makes them human (even when they’re alien).

In one of Barbara Hamby’s books, The Witches of Wenshar, she opens the book with Starhawk thinking it was her misfortune to travel with a man capable of putting his foot in his mouth to the knee and still able to speak intelligibly. * If I had never read the author at all, that line would have sold me. It conveyed both conflict and a character with a sense of the ridiculous.

In Warrior Song, there is a serious scene discussing the activities of a probable traitor. Serious stuff. Shazir makes a comment about reality eventually biting his (the traitor’s) tail off. Now, the traitor doesn’t have a tail – but Shazir does. It would be a perfectly natural way for him to describe his thought and all the more amusing since the subject is human.

If you find your writing getting bland, tensely serious, or even depressing try finding a bit of humor, either in what’s happening, or how the character perceives the things around them. Let them do the human thing of laughing at what is troubling them. Your readers will love you for it.

Laugh in the best of times and in the worst of times.

 

* This is not an exact quote as this is one of the many books I lost in a fire.

Writer’s Groups and Crit Teams

I find myself in a slightly terrifying position. I’ve worked with the same writer’s group that was also a cooperative crit team for years. The numbers dwindled  over time, as some had dry spells and drifted away, or fell by the wayside, for whatever reason. One of my most important writing partners seems to have dropped off the face of the earth these last few months. This is not good. These folks, several of whom became good friends, have been a part of the development of the Talmanor trilogy from the early days. Who am I going to find to argue the plot points that may need changing in the third book? Help me to see what I have over looked? Anyone else is going to have to play catch up, at the very least. Of course, they’d get the books already published in the deal, but still….

No book ever comes to market by the writer alone. Somewhere, there are others who support, encourage, call you out on errors and generally help you stay on track. You do the same things for them. It is – and must be – mutual. I see now that I should have made more of an effort a long time ago to get new blood in the group.

It looks like I am going to have to start a new one. I hardly know where to begin. Our original group came out of a much larger group where we met often in chat over a decade ago. This has been on my mind for a while now. I believe it’s time to get it done.

This looks like a good place to start. :) Anyone out there interested in starting a new writer’s group with a slight SciFi/Fantasy bias, but open to other genres?

Here are a couple older posts that will give you an idea of what I have in mind.

http://bit.ly/1aLrzRR

http://bit.ly/1hnYCSn

You don’t have to be a published author, just serious about your writing and willing to have a little fun in the process.

The Ones Who Matter Are The Ones Who Care

The ones who matter are the ones who care – and the ones who don’t care, don’t matter.

I guess we all have people we love who don’t really seem to love us back. Friends, even family, for whom our caring is of no consequence. They can’t be bothered to keep us in the loop about things happening in their lives. It’s sad and sometimes deeply disturbing to see casual disregard by someone you should have close ties with. I have reached a point in my life where I can no longer let them matter to me either.

There comes a time when you have to take stock and clear out the clutter in your heart. You still care, but you have to shield your own feelings against the callousness of others. You can’t expend much of your energy on one-sided relationships.

The ones who matter are the ones who care. Those who share their thoughts, their lives with you. They stay connected. They are there when you need them – and when you don’t. If something important happens in their life, they take the time to share it with you. They not only expect you to share with them, they welcome it. They stay in touch.

I will focus my energy on those who are in my life, who stick with me whatever happens to be going on in our lives. Maybe we don’t get to see each other very often. Maybe life keeps us going in different directions most of the time, but the connection remains.The caring remains.

There are a very few who I feel would be there- no matter what. You know, I’d be there for them – no matter what, too. Most of those are not even related to us. That does not keep them from being brothers and sisters of the heart.

 

A Panther In The Yard!

A few years ago, we had four Fainting goats. I happened to look out the kitchen window one Friday morning just as all four of them fell over, as they do when threatened. My instant reaction was to yell for my husband to bring his gun, something was after the goats. I was right – and wrong. Soon, he was in the yard, scanning the edge of the woods and saw a rather large black panther (yes, they do live in the Southeast).  We were somewhat alarmed that his shot missed and changed our plans for the weekend.

Instead of going with the rest of the family on a trip that weekend, he stayed behind to make sure it didn’t come back. Before the rest of us left, he’d already called the local game warden to report it. The game warden said he’d get back to him.

The facts surprised us all. The panther turned out to be a pregnant female that had gone missing from her cage at a nearby truck stop while she was on her way to Florida. Her cubs were to be raised for release into the Everglades. She had managed to get out of her cage, looking for a secure place to give birth. She found what she wanted in a small cave near our house. When she terrified our goats, she wasn’t after them. She had been raised on cat food and had never eaten fresh meat. She had smelled our cats and was looking for a handout!

After they tracked her down and collected her and her new cubs, they stopped by our house to let us know what had happened. Roland even got to pet her and said she was just a very large hearth kitty. Boy, was he ever glad that his scope was off that day!

Our own black cat took one look at the panther Roland was petting and gave him her worst stink eye, as if to say, “You are NOT bringing THAT into the house!”

Our beagle had long since done the prudent thing and hid under the computer desk.