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Some musings about my protagonists

22 Jun

I think I might want to say a bit about the main characters in the novels I have published so far, and the one I’m rewriting right now (it was originally written as a novel which would have been too short for any of the traditional publishers, and since this was before the ebook/self-publishing revolution I chopped it down to novella length and tried a couple of magazine markets with it. Didn’t sell, and frankly, it had not been all that well shortened so no miracle. But I remember liking the original. Which I have lost. So I’m rewriting the thing now as, again, a short novel.).

Mostly all of these longer works have been born out of musings about heroes, and love interests, and sidekicks, and some of the other character… should I say stereotypes?

Laura, the hero of Fourth Sword, does become a traditional hero, although it is not easy for her and does not happen fast. She was the one born from speculating what it might really be like, for somebody relatively normal and not well prepared, to be forced into that role.

As for the other two main characters –

Well, I think Tikka from The Demons of Khemas is very much the traditional love interest. The whole story started when I thought what a Conan the Cimmerian story might look like from the point of view of the girl. Except Conan, and his ilk, of course pretty much always left the girl behind after the adventure. Good enough for a princess, I suppose, but less so for a tavern wench, especially one who has no close family or other such strong support network. The kind of worlds most of the barbarian heroes live in might be interesting for a big, strong and well trained guy as a place to be adventuring in, and somewhere between quite pleasant and tolerable for a gorgeous princess or noble born lady who could count, most times, on a large group of big, strong men willing to protect her, but could easily turn into a living hell for people who are not rich, not well endowed in the muscles department and do not have large support groups, like a big family or clan or a closely knit village or anything else like that. A lone, pretty girl would probably be toast sooner or later. Unless she found a protector, and a permanent one, not somebody who just saves her once and then beds her, possibly leaving her as a future unwed mom, before riding off into the sunset. So Tikka gets something of an actual love story with her barbarian.

And since the story is from her POV she also had to have a bit more to do than most of the normal barbarian love interests or it might have become a rather boring story in which the girl pines, maybe has a few tantrums, looks nice, is threatened, gets rescued, has sex, and waits a lot while most of the action happens to the guy (also, I do not write sex scenes. I don’t think I could write good ones, based on the unfortunate fact that I almost invariably find the ones I read boring. Visual presentations can work for me, if I like the actors and the scene is well done, or sometimes if I find the art pleasing when it’s a comic, but written just doesn’t. So I really have no idea what would be a good, well written sex scene.)

But yes, The Demons of Khemas has the love interest as the main character.

And the one I’m working on now has the sidekick.

Again, I got curious when contemplating the role of sidekicks, or other supporting characters for the hero in fiction. Why would somebody settle for being the permanent number two? What would it be like? Okay, one alternative is of course the scenario where the helper has a bad case of hero worship, and is also permanently in awe of the hero, and because of that is willing to devote his life to the hero, probably considering himself lucky because he’s the one who has managed to get so close to this wonderful being. But what if he was more normal, and ambitious? What if he also was somebody who actually could perhaps be a hero in his own right if he left and settled among more normal people? Somebody who also is actually pretty awesome himself, or at least smart and competent, but can’t really shine as long as he stays with the hero because the hero happens to be somebody truly extraordinary, somebody who can outperform almost anybody merely human? Would there actually be some rewards for being just the helper in that case?

So I got this young man who is working with a member of an advanced separate species of humans turned into superhumans, and is not exactly completely happy with the situation. And of course things will go south, and the kid gets his chance to be the hero for a little while.

I like stories with somewhat less used character types. While I was writing one of the early scenes in Fourth Sword, about Laura working as a cleaner, well, that came partly because I have sometimes played with the idea of a mystery story where the sleuth is the cleaner. What would be more natural job for an aspiring amateur sleuth to stumble on something suspicious than that? Lots of stories where the heroes look for clues while pretending to be cleaners, not so many – I may have read about one or two, but I don’t think I ever managed to locate the actual book or books, just read some mention about it, or them, somewhere – starting with a real cleaner finding something suspicious and starting to dig into it. Well, unless we are talking about crime scene cleaners, there has been at least one movie and one television series with that scenario. But yes, character types who usually are just in supporting roles, or main characters who have some less glamorous occupation than the usual ones, or maybe characters who are older or in some other ways a bit less typical – I like those stories so I also like to write them. Not to complete exclusion of the usual characters types, I also happen to be rather fond of some cliches, but also with those I do like them even more if there is some sort of twist included. 😉

Some figures from the free promo

18 Jun

Okay, this might be of interest to some of you. The novel was downloaded about 400 times, of those a bit over 300 from the main site Amazon.com, over fifty from Amazon uk and a few times from others, exceptions being Amazon br, it. and es. I have no idea whether that is good or bad for a beginner. From what I have seen some of the better established writers, especially those who can also get on the Amazon bestseller lists with actual sales, can get several thousand downloads when they put their books on the free promos, but I haven’t been able to find any figures for first timers like myself (the short stories have been available since last fall, but Fourth Sword and The Demons of Khemas are my first novels, I have never had anything published through any of the traditional channels and I haven’t done anything like write for any fan fiction sites. All I have written have, until now, stayed in the drawer and hard drive. So nobody knows I exist.).

 

I got, so far, two four star reviews, very nice ones except one complained that I don’t know how to use commas (true enough, I have no bloody idea what would be the correct grammatical way to use them in this language so I mostly just place them on those spots where it feels, or would feel natural to pause if I were to speak the sentence) and the other that there had been a couple of grammatical errors which had momentarily dropped him/her out of the story. Well, considering I am not a native speaker I suppose that’s not too bad.

 

Best place on the free downloads lists (that I noticed, I checked about three or four times each day) was 1881, and at that point it was the 31 most downloaded in the category ‘Sword and Sorcery’ and 38 in ‘Epic Fantasy’. It got on higher spots on those two fantasy lists two days earlier, 29 for ‘Sword and Sorcery’ and 34 for ‘Epic Fantasy, but then it was a bit lower on the general list, number 1962. Again, no idea if that is good or bad or average performance.

 

Okay, interesting. From what I have read I might start getting some noticeable sales once I either have several more novels out, or with time, of course providing my writing is entertaining enough that enough of those people who do read them like them enough to recommend them, or mention them from time to time to others. At this point I have no exposure so no matter what the quality of my stories, even if they are good people won’t come to buy because they simply don’t know that I exist, and pretty much the only way they will find me is if they stumble on my stories accidentally. More material might remedy that, or time, and it probably will need both lots more material and a lot more time. Or, if I’m unlucky, it may not happen no matter what I do. This whole thing does seem to be something of a lottery, only with the provision that if your material actually is good – or entertaining, which is not necessarily the same thing, and with this entertaining is presumably the more important quality – your chances are a lot better. 🙂

 

So, time will tell.

Tadaa!

12 Jun

I got impatient and published a bit earlier than originally intended. So I’m probably not going to put up the 5th and 6th chapter now, mainly because I’m a tad worried about Amazon’s attitude. All my stories and novels are in the KDP Select program which means they should not be available anywhere else, and as long as Amazon Kindle is the only platform for them I will keep them in Select.  About four chapters is what is available with the peek in function on Amazon so maybe it’s better to stick to that.

 

Now the more widely the stories are available the better it is is the general recommendation which I agree with and I have every intention to get mine on other ebook platforms, and as PODs and audiobooks, but I’m in no hurry and I think it will probably be a bit easier to do more at a time. I have learned the imobi conversion, but even with that things seem to change a little bit every time I do it so it always takes some time, so I’d rather spend the time to learn the others at a time when I can then spread wider at one stroke. Maybe when I have about five novels or so. Which I might get to even by the end of this summer if I stay busy. I have been writing for a while, and while ‘Fourth Sword’ was the only whole novel I had ready and so took only some heavy editing, I have several of these part done ones, three about half written, of which one is almost written but with some connecting scenes and the end missing, and a few more where I have written some key scenes and have a pretty good idea of the plot. Two of them are science fiction, of the space opera type, one is a sequel to ‘Fourth Sword’, other a sequel to ‘The Demons of Khemas’, and the third a novel length story of the Wampyrs (but that has to wait until I have written the two short stories which should come before it). And there are also a few almost done short stories. So yes, I think that for the immediate future I will concentrate on writing more stories and leave the published ones just to KDP, and during that time they will stay on the Select program. And then starting either next winter, or some time during the year after that, I will for a little while use my time to learning those other conversions and doing them.

 

But, for now, may I present: Fourth Sword, a portal fantasy novel about a down on her luck Finnish-American woman who gets yanked into a world where everything she ever dreamed of is real, and finds she’d much rather had kept on just watching all that on the silver screen or reading about them in books since when monsters and enemy soldiers who have never even heard of the Geneva Conventions exist having just swords to fight them is not much fun – even less for somebody who has never learned how to use a sword, and is just an out of shape woman (I do have a few very good female warriors here, but lets face it, when it comes to physical fighting women are at a disadvantage, and while there are always outliers in a pre-gunpowder society they would have to be something of a rarity. And since I have always rather disliked the miraculous upgrades unless they really are magic Laura gets none. She will, however, learn some magic and get in shape – running around and existing mostly on travel rations for several months would be liable to do that  ;)).

 

http://www.amazon.com/Fourth-Sword-ebook/dp/B00DCCYMG6/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1371039006&sr=1-7

 

And yep, I’m not particularly good with the picture  manipulation programs, only decent addition to the picture I managed with that were those light splotches. They do, however, fit the world of the novel. Well, one more thing I should learn better.

 

Oh dear, this self publishing hobby is full time work, especially when you are trying to do all of it yourself – writing, painting, learning how to use all these damn computer programs… 😀 If this ever starts to get where I might be tempted to give up my day job, well, that would have to be good enough money that I can both live on it comfortably and be able to hire pros to do about everything else but the writing part, and maybe the painting although I would probably then keep that as a separate hobby. I’m decent but there are lots better cover artists around so I would probably rather use their work if I could afford to pay for that.

Got cover picture, yay!

11 Jun

Okay, my painting is still a bit shaky, the damn hand gets tired fast, but I have managed a few generic landscape things. So I think I’m going to use this moonlit mountains one for a cover. I’ll play with it a bit, first, and maybe then.

EPSON scanner image

 

 

 

 

 

That is about as generic as can be, I might as well have gone and found some free to use photo, but I do prefer using something that is all mine. As said, I’ll play with it some, let’s see if I can add something which looks sort of magicky (well, magick is a word, so that should be too) to it.

And chapter 4, sample of Fourth Sword

10 Jun

And the 4th chapter. I may post a couple of more, but once again I will probably take them off once I publish the novel. We’ll see. Right now I’m not quite sure how long it will take before I can publish it, although the main thing missing now is just the cover, I think everything else is starting to be in fairly good shape.

Oh yes, I’m still thinking I’ll use Fourth Sword as the name.
Chapter 4

Laura froze. She stared at the chained boy, waiting for him to yell and alert everybody to her presence. But he didn’t. He just stared back at her for a second or two, swallowed and shook his head, then stole a quick look down the hall, looked back at her and made a few frantic gestures with his hands, like he was trying to push her away.

No mistaking what that meant, not really.

Laura withdrew back, then put her back against the wall and leaned on it, panting.

He’s telling me to leave… instead of asking me for help he’s telling me to leave.

That kid was one of the prisoners, the last in a chained line of sacrificial victims. Somebody in a very bad situation. She was a total stranger to him. Yet he seemed to worry about her safety.

She couldn’t just leave him there. She couldn’t. Maybe if it had been a grown man… but not a kid.

Late teens, maybe, oh god, he’s only a boy.

But what could she do?

Think, girl, think!

Oh, Conan… I wish you were real. And here.

There had to be something

Okay, those collars the prisoners were wearing – she’d have to take another look. Maybe if the system was what she had thought it was…

She looked into the hall again. The boy looked back at her, grimaced and waved his hands at her again. Laura attempted a smile, gave it up and looked at his collar, then pulled back to the other side of the doorway and sighed in relief.

This was going to be easy. For her anyway. The collars weren’t solid, consisting of two halves with holes on the ends, and joined together on both sides by a circular piece of metal . On one side the joining piece was bigger and the chain had been threaded through it. Then the chain went through a ring bolted to the wall, and then to the next prisoner’s collar.

All she had to do was to free the end from her side of the wall. If the prisoners would be able to get rid of the chain, well, they’d still have the collars but they would be otherwise free.

She didn’t know how much that would help. And probably only a few would be able to thread the chain through all those rings before the bad guys would notice. But it might still give the boy and maybe at least a few of his companions some sort of a chance.

That might also lead to the bad guys noticing her.

Or it might help me. Confusion could be good for me too.

She hoped.

She stuffed the big dagger she had been gripping in her hand the whole time back into her bag, turned to the pin holding the chain and withdrew it, then, taking the end of the chain out with her other hand, put the pin back.

Then she looked at the weapons on the wall in front of her and took down one of the swords before going back to the doorway. And smiled grimly.

She supposed that the boy and the few others at the end of the line would most probably just try to sneak away. But if they didn’t, if they chose to fight – then this would be one, rather final way to find out whether the people in the big hall were playing some sort of a game. If the prisoners attacked the priests and the worshippers with these weapons, made of steel, very real and more than sharp enough, they wouldn’t be playacting.

Not that she really believed in that alternative anymore. The screams she had been hearing were too real. Besides, mixed in the smells of smoke and incense was that stink of burning flesh, and she had seen the priests throwing something into the big fire in the center of their stage. Something taken from the body of a man.

Laura looked again into the hall. The kid was still looking towards the doorway, as were two of the men behind him now, having felt the chain slacken. She offered the boy first the end of the chain, then the sword. He looked at her face, then down to the sword and the chain for the time of a heartbeat, drew in a deep breath, nodded and took them. He forwarded the sword to the next man in line and then, while Laura still looked, slid the chain, in slow motion, through the ring on the wall on her side, then through the ring on his collar.

None in the crowd of  gray-clad worshippers seemed to have so far noticed what was going on. Their chanting was loud enough to hide the sounds, their attention was keen on what was happening on the stage, and the boy and several of the men ahead of him were behind their backs anyway. The – priests or whatever – on the stage hadn’t raised any alarm yet either. Laura prayed it would stay that way as long as possible.

As the boy turned to take the chain trough the ring between him and the burly giant next to him Laura went back for more weapons. She wasn’t quite sure why, she had not really planned to do more than what she had already done.

But she did it anyway. Who knew, maybe all those ‘you’re the hero’ thoughts during the last couple of hours – or however long it had been – were taking effect.

She nearly dropped the sword she took down next for her hands had started to shake, but got hold of herself and next took something that looked a bit like a scythe, only with the blade not at a 90 degree angle from the handle, but straight, into her other hand and took them back to the doorway. The boy was a bit closer to her this time, already reaching his hand into the weapons room to get what she had brought him.

Laura swallowed. Maybe the prisoners were going to fight.

She thought it might be a good time for her to start sneaking away. Yet again she surprised herself by going instead to get more weapons for the prisoners.

Dumb…

Maybe it was only because she really had no idea what else to do. Getting out of there would have been a better idea, if she had had any idea about which way to go to accomplish that. But she didn’t. Knowing nothing she was as liable to run straight into the hands of the bad guys as away from them.

A rather large part of one of the walls was empty before the alarm came. Laura rushed to the doorway holding a halberd, well, at least she thought the thing was called that, and a sword and was nearly run over by three of the prisoners, two of whom stopped and took the weapons from her while the third went to the wall and took down a two-bladed battle ax which would have made Conan proud. She jumped out of his  way, then stood against the wall as several more of his fellows came in for weapons.

There were sounds of fighting close to the doorway, but after a while it sounded as if the fray was moving more towards the middle of the hall.

Now was definitely the time to start making herself a priority again.

There were now no more prisoners coming for weapons. Either they all had one or they were cut off.

Laura realized she was starting to panic. She didn’t want to go into that hall but understood suddenly that neither did she want to be left behind if those men were successful in fighting their way to freedom. She didn’t like the thought of being left here alone at all. She didn’t think the robed characters would be friendly towards her if they found her and figured she had had something to do with what had happened.

Probably they wouldn’t be nice to her even if they didn’t find that out. Somehow they hadn’t given the impression of being that type of people.

Okay. Think.

So she wanted to hook up with those prisoners. So she’d had to find out what was going on in the great hall. Right now. This was likely to be the only chance she’d get, if she didn’t go with them now she would probably not find them again.

Laura took a deep breath, then once again looked into the hall and lost her last hope that it might be some sort of an act right then and there.

Those men were killing each other for real.

The prisoners were doing well, but they were moving away from her. Their goal seemed to be two big open doors she had not noticed before, on account that they were on that side of the hall where the opening from where she had first looked down here was, right above the doors.

There didn’t seem to be many of the prisoners near her anymore.

Laura felt her panic raising again. No way was she going to be left here on her own!

What she did next probably wasn’t smart and Laura knew it, but she was fast getting past the point of being able to act smart. She wasn’t able to think clearly at all, even near clearly, anymore. Things had started to move too fast. It was fear which drove her into the hall, running towards the main group of the prisoners and trying her best to avoid the fighting going on all around her. She managed to get almost to the middle of the hall before she found her way towards the doors cut off by a group of three of the prisoners fighting five of the gray-robes and stopped, undecided which way to go as every direction seemed to be full of men swinging weapons, making her feel like she was that proverbial deer caught by the headlights of a truck on a highway.

That was when the smells of the fight finally got to her. Freshly spilled blood, shit and piss. She had seen too many war and horror movies for what she had been seeing and hearing to have affected her that much so far, even while she had known it was all real that knowledge had been sort of academic. She had been shocked but it had still felt like it was some distance away. Like none of what was happening was really relevant to her, however horrible in itself.

It was the stink which finally made it all hit home.

People were dying all around her. She herself might die here, any moment.

And Laura froze. Completely.

For what felt like an eternity she just stood there, staring around herself with wide eyes. Then her eyes met and locked with those of one of the gray-robes. He was standing over a dead prisoner, holding a sword, with blood on his robe and on his face. To her he looked absurdly young and soft. Had she seen him in almost any other circumstances she would have thought him harmless. Unless she had noticed those eyes. So cold, they would have made her fear him even without the bloody sword.

He stared at her for a moment, then his eyes widened, as if in recognition. He screamed and attacked, running towards Laura, but she still couldn’t move.

She felt weird.

She was about to die, killed by a man she had never seen before, a priest, or a worshipper, of some absurd devil-worshipping cult she knew nothing about, in a place she didn’t recognize, not even knowing how she had ended here. And for some reason she got the impression that the reason why he was going to kill her was something personal…

“Oh shit…”

For an endless moment she stood there, staring at the man running at her and feeling like a prize idiot, for she still couldn’t move, not even while some part of her mind was yelling at her to do something, anything, but still she just stood there.

Then there was a yell from behind her, somebody yanked on her arm and sent her reeling against one of the pillars. She almost fell but regained her feet just in time to turn and see her rescuer lock swords with the young gray-robe.

What followed was probably a rather spectacular show of swordsmanship. Unfortunately Laura was not in a suitable state of mind to appreciate what she was seeing. She clung to the pillar, feeling numb and trying to get a grip of herself. And stared at the man who had just saved her life.

After a moment the ex-prisoner defending her was joined by two of his companions and the gray-robe took off. Her three defenders let him go.

Laura was still staring at the man who had saved her, just barely noticing the two others.

One of the newcomers was the young blond boy she had seen first, and Laura felt a faint relief to find him still alive. Her defender turned to exchange a few words with the boy, then nodded at him and turned towards her, gave her a glare and strode off. The young blond and his companion, an older man – on second thought, maybe just old – with silver white beard and hair the same color, walked the few steps to Laura. She tore her eyes away from the third man now striding into the melee around them and focused at the two now in front of her.

It dawned to her, the first clear thought after the bald guy had attacked her, that she hadn’t understood one word of what those men had been saying to each other, even if she had heard their short discussion clearly. What was worse, the language hadn’t sounded even remotely familiar.

The older man said something to her. She shook her head. When she didn’t react in any other way he simply took her by the hand and started to drag her towards those open doors.

Laura followed him, feeling numb.

Oh my god he was handsome…

Her savior. So maybe that bit shouldn’t have been her main priority right now. But ‘he’s handsome’ was a much more comfortable thing to concentrate on than anything else she could think about right now.

And he had saved her life.

Oh shit!

She had just been saved by a tall, dark and very handsome warrior.

Laura nearly started to giggle, then bit her mouth a bit. If she went that way she knew she’d end up screaming at some point.

But it was kind of funny.

After a few moments of stumbling after the man dragging her she mentally shook herself. Right, thinking about how handsome that man had been, or how funny the whole thing had been, in its absurd way, might be a nice substitute for thinking about the reality around her, but she couldn’t afford to try and shut out what was happening. If she wanted to stay alive she’d have to stay focused on what was going on.

She was losing it. Fast.

Correction. She had already lost it, totally. Time to try and get a grip again. She had to.

Some hero… more like the damsel in distress. Except I’m not pretty enough for that role, really. So… comic relief?

In spite of her efforts the fight after that was still more or less lost to her. There was a confusion of moving shapes and noises. The old man dragged her through it, and she followed him as best as she could, trying to stay as close to him and the boy as possible, most of the time just barely able to keep on her feet. Couple of times the man and the boy exchanged sword strokes with some of the enemies. Both of them seemed to be skilled with their swords. As far as she could tell. They stayed alive, anyway, while at least a couple of their opponents didn’t.

At one point she felt a yank as somebody grabbed the strap of her bag and pulled her towards him, and when she turned to look she saw one of the gray-robes with a big knife. While she didn’t manage to do more than to scream it was enough. The whitebeard turned and hit the gray-robe with his fist, and the slash intended for her missed its target and just severed the strap of her bag. Then the boy stepped between her and the gray-robe, and the gray-robe stepped back to avoid the boy’s sword, having only the knife, and Laura was pulled away by the whitebeard while the boy followed.

As they were dragging her away she looked back and could see the man and her bag hanging from his hand. Laura was sure she’d miss that bag and all that had been inside it, sometime later. Now she was only glad she still had her life.

She continued her stumbling half-walk, half-run after her guardians.

All around her there were men lying on the floor, some dead, some wounded. Most of them wore gray robes. All the prisoners she saw who were down seemed to be dead. Laura thought that probably they had taken their wounded with them. That seemed like a comforting thought.

They came to the big doors. A few of the ex-prisoners were defending them against an equally small group of gray-robes.

Laura wondered where all the head-priests, the ones in black and red, had disappeared. Actually, most of those in gray robes were gone now too. There had been a long line of the chained prisoners when she had looked into the hall from the upper passageway, but there had been at least something like three to five times as many gray robed men in the worshipping crowd. There weren’t many to be seen now. There were also too few corpses, she felt sure, to account for all of them. The rest were just gone.

As they went through the doors she decided that whatever had happened, as long as the missing priests and their congregation stayed missing she wouldn’t worry about it.

Come to think of it, she didn’t remember seeing any of the gray-robes wearing anything like swords. Maybe most of them had been unarmed. That would explain why they had ran.

After the doors came a short corridor and her protectors started running. Fortunately they ran only the length of that passage, as Laura was feeling barely able to walk, much less run.

It was night outside. The other end opened into a moonlit yard, which seemed to her to be overflowing with men and horses.

To her dismay she was taken to one of the animals and thrown on its back. It shied. She grabbed for its neck and nearly fell off. Did they expect her to ride it?

The damn thing doesn’t even have a saddle!

“Hey!” she yelled to the whitebeard who had already turned his back, “Wait a minute! I can’t ride!

While the men’s language was strange to her Laura still hoped that maybe at least some of them would understand English. Of course right then they wouldn’t need to understand her words to see what the problem was. As the old man turned the horse obliged and shied again as she frantically embraced its neck.

The whitebeard came back and took hold of the horse’s head, looked for a moment at the way she was hanging onto it, about half off by now actually, said something that sounded like a curse, pushed her back up and then turned his head and yelled something. After a few seconds a dark-haired youth came running to him. They exchanged a few words, the boy grinned at her and then vaulted effortlessly up behind her, took a strong grip of her waist and said something. Laura hoped it was something comforting, not something like ‘dolt’. She also hoped he would be able to keep her on the horse, as well as himself. The arrangement didn’t seem very practical to her, not on an unsaddled horse.

She was very glad the men hadn’t decided just to dump her.

Trying not to move more than her head she took a new look around her. A few of the horses did have saddles, most didn’t, many didn’t even have bridles on them, a fact which didn’t seem to bother the men already astride, or in the process of mounting, much. She yearned for one of the saddled animals, then realized that those few seemed to be reserved for the wounded. Why only a few saddles? Except that maybe these horses belonged to the congregation, and maybe the men she was with hadn’t found all the saddles.

Or worse, they didn’t think they had the time to saddle all of the horses.

Almost immediately after that they took off, all of them. The yard was enclosed by a low, broken wall, with forest behind it. There were no doors barring the gate and they rode through it, to a road going through the forest. The moonlight was bright, but the road was narrow and well shadowed by trees. Yet they rode fast, the horses kept to a full canter most of the time.

Laura guessed there might be pursuit coming after them.

She didn’t have much time to worry about that right then though, she had trouble enough as things were. The kid behind her was surprisingly strong, quite able to keep them both astride, but that didn’t stop her from holding on to the horse with a death grip. She strained her legs on its sides and her hands on its mane and felt every one of its strides on her behind. Soon her whole body was hurting, and her ass was killing her.

The ride went on, and on, and on. When Laura was able to think at all she just hoped that the whole thing was a nightmare, for nightmares do end. Their ride didn’t, not for what felt like an eternity. Sometimes they would leave the road and ride on some smaller paths through the forest, their speed reduced, and more and more reduced to a walk, then they’d come to the road, or a road, and canter for a while. Sometimes there was the splash of water from under them, once they crossed a stream big enough that she not only noticed it before they went wading but also got her feet wet as the water came up well to the belly of the horse.

When they finally stopped the moon was close to setting, having disappeared some time ago behind the trees. They had ridden the last moments in an almost total darkness, the horses slowly picking their way on the narrow track they had been on.

Laura dimly wondered what the time was. She had had a wristwatch, but had put it into the bag for work so now it was lost with all the other things which had been in her bag.

She wondered whether they were safe yet, or had stopped only because now it was too dark to ride on.

There were no preparations for a camp, they simply got off their horses and more or less lay down on the spot. Her co-rider helped her down, nearly falling under her as she dropped ungracefully from the horse’s back, then helped her to walk beneath a big tree, where they found a deep layer of dry leaves. Somebody threw her something, which, when she felt it in the dark, turned out to be either a thick cape or a blanket, smelling strongly of horse. She drew it tightly around herself, then lay down on the leaves. They seemed to be freshly fallen.

It’s spring. This should be spring.

She lay there, for a moment unable to sleep, looking unthinking towards the only direction where she could see something. The moon was there, behind trees, their boles showing dark against the light. After some moments she could see it moving into a gap between them.

Laura stared at the moon for several minutes before she realized that there was something very wrong. She had spent enough nights staring at the moon.

This one wasn’t the one she knew.

Very similar, but… there were unmistakable differences. No Mare Crisium for one thing. Some other things seemed to be wrong too. She would have needed a telescope to be sure.

It looked bigger than it should, too.

One thing she was sure of now.

She wasn’t anywhere near home.

It took her a long time to fall asleep. When she finally did the last things she sensed were that smell of a horse and the salty taste of her own tears.

Sample: Chapter 3 and some musings about how to name a novel

5 Jun

I’m considering ‘Fourth Sword’ as the name of the novel. There is a sword, or rather, two magical swords which do play an important part, so it’s descriptive, and ‘sword’ presumably says ‘fantasy’ pretty well.

Main problem with names which have ‘sword’ in them is that pretty much every possible combination has already been used for something, novel or game. Now of course there is no law against using a name which already is in use somewhere, provided we are not talking about something which has been trademarked. But all sorts of sword this or that sword type of names are (hopefully…, I did do some checking and there seems to be a song called ‘The Fourth Sword’, but no other hits) too generic to be trademarked. Still, I don’t think it’s good to either pick a name which is well known as the name of an already existing novel, movie or game, and it’s not good to pick a name which is used in lots of novels and perhaps also by a game and a movie or two because that makes it much less likely anybody will take a look. Or lots will, realize this is not that novel which is the one they were looking for, and will leave fast.

And the name should sound enticing. Like this might be something worth looking at. I do, personally, like both descriptive and short, but with the first novel I felt just ‘The Demons’ had the problem of being too generic, that could  be horror, or maybe a thriller, or urban fantasy, or literary, or… well, lots of alternatives besides fantasy, and it was also something already used. Without the article, by Dostoevsky actually. I’d rather not start competing with him. So I put the name of the place there too. Can always change it later. Although I probably won’t, I like the idea of naming the later stories as something or somebody of someplace. 🙂 And yes, there probably will be at least a couple more stories, I think Tikka wants to get where she does have that secure place for herself before she will stop bugging me.

Okay, back to this novel. So this will probably be ‘Fourth Sword’. Now this story is first in several, the story turned out to be something that was just plain impossible to tell in the space of one book, unless I would have gone for a true goat gagger (great description, by the way, I think it may have been invented by Sarah Hoyt, at least I have not seen it elsewhere). And even then, it might have been about two goat gaggers. So I’m trying my best to write each one as a something that does have a satisfactory resolution and can be read alone, but it is going to be obvious the ending is more ‘will be continued’ than a true ‘The end’. I think I may get to where I know it should end in about four. Or five. Probably not more than that.

And so I still need to figure some other name as the name of the whole series.

Oh dear.

Chapter 3

Conan the Barbarian. He should be somewhere here. This looks like his world. That looks like a fucking human sacrifice by some fucking goddamn devil god worshipers…

Oh God please, I want to go home.

I’m not the right type of hero for this story!

Please… somebody… this can’t be happening.

The ‘Conan’ stories had been among Laura’s favorites when she had been in her teens, both the originals and many of the adaptations. She had even liked most of the movies. Right now she thought she might change her mind about them.

She didn’t look very long at the stage, but long enough to see the form the red and black -robed men were cutting up. It was a man too. Or had been. She was way too sure of that.

This time she also noticed that the almost naked men standing in line against the wall to the further side of the crowd from her were chained. They had collars around their necks. A chain ran from the collar of each man to the wall and from the wall to the collar of the next man, and so on through the line of the prisoners. Their hands and legs seemed to be free though.

She could count a bit over twenty of those men. If that chained line reached unbroken to the area where the red-and-black dressed ones were… killing… You have to think that, that is what is happening, it is fucking real… them, there might be something like close to a hundred of the prisoners. Or at least eighty or ninety. Many.

Laura stared a moment more, feeling frozen and starting to shake.

All the people seemed to be men, victims and priests and crowd, although she wasn’t quite sure of the gray-robes as they all had shaved heads and their robes were loose.

Laura closed her eyes and swallowed, then, trying to suppress her shivering, withdrew her head, got up into a sitting position, her back against the wall. And almost started to giggle. So what was wrong with the picture? Hey, there was no luscious female victim to be saved, at least she had seen none, and she was definitely not the musclebound male hero who would rush down there to do the saving. This needed Conan, it did. And that sexy woman. She was neither.

What a pity. It would all have been just perfect otherwise.

Wrong story here, let me out… Why couldn’t this have been Alice’s Wonderland? Or something…

Then she slapped her hand over her mouth and bit it, telling herself to calm down. There had to be some logical explanation. Laura found herself wishing Mr Spock was here to tell her what it was, and never mind the fact that she had never been that big a fan of that series, in any of its incarnations.

She was still shivering. A few deep breaths helped a little. She didn’t take too many though. She was scared she might start hyperventilating.

OK. Theories.

Think.

Maybe… she had amnesia and had during that part which she couldn’t remember somehow wandered into a movie set.

Okay. I’d better check. If this is a set there will be cameras and stuff…

She swallowed and again sneaked a look into the hall. No, there didn’t seem to be any cameras anywhere. And as far as she knew movie cameras needed light, lots of it. There were no spotlights in sight, even unlit ones, only the smoking torches and the bigger bonfire on the stage and the firelight produced by them playing on the walls and the skins and robes of the men. Bright enough for a human eye, too dim for cameras.

She withdrew her head and had to concentrate on her breathing again for a few moments. Her gut felt tight, and her hands were shaking a little. The panic was getting closer to the surface.

She could not afford that. She just could not.

Maybe you are not Conan, but you are still the hero. Think that. Well, maybe not the type of hero who saves those victims, just the hero of her own story, but that does mean you will survive if you keep your cool. Okay, you are the hero who witnesses the evil and has to stay alive to tell others. Yes, that will do. Think that. Think. What would that hero do? Figure this out…

OK. So maybe this wasn’t a movie shoot. So could this be one of those live role-playing games? She had never taken part in one, but she knew people who were into them. From what they had told they could be very, well, real-looking sometimes, there were many talented people who liked to play. Maybe what had looked like the body of a butchered man had been only some sort of special effects doll? Or man wearing some sort of special effects prosthetics, or something…

Right…Would any group of role-players have the money for something like that? Stuff like that had to be very expensive.

Or… maybe those people on the other side of the wall really were dead serious.

Dead. Right.

Real devil-worshippers killing real living human victims. For real.

That smell of burning meat…

Oh God, oh God, oh God… She had to find a telephone. She had to call the police. It was their job to figure out, and take care of, things like this. Not hers.

Again the drums and the chanting stopped. Laura covered her ears but heard the screams anyway. If those were role-players they were taking their acting very seriously. A scream like one of those would hurt one’s throat.

Too real. Those screams had sounded too real. She decided she’d again better proceed from the assumption that all she had seen was real. She could laugh at herself later if it turned out to be a game or a play or… something.

Oh God, I hope I am hallucinating… that I’m in a nice, safe cell in some mental hospital somewhere and hallucinating…

Laura didn’t want to but she just had to take one more look. Maybe she would find something that would make it all not-real.

The prisoners. Most of the ones she could see fully wore only some kind of breeches, except for two who had on… uh,  dark, knee length skirts? Okay, kilts. Even if they weren’t tartan. The breeches on the others mostly looked like they might be underwear. All were barefoot. No decorations, no jewelry or wrist-watches or anything. They really did have their hands free. The chain, or rope, no, it did look more like a chain, still on second look seemed to be running from a collar around a man’s neck to the wall to the next man’s collar. The crowd of the gray-robes was standing well away from the prisoners, as they – the sacrificial victims – were not taking their part in the scene very gracefully. As she was watching one of the gray-robes on the back of the crowd strayed too close and fell as a prisoner kicked him. Two members of the crowd reached down and dragged the curled up figure a bit further away from the prisoners, then ignored him as he stayed down and cradled his stomach.

She hoped the prisoners would be able to get at least a few more of the crowd-members. That was about the only thing she could think of doing for them, wishing them that opportunity.

Unless she found that phone.

Somewhere, in the back of her mind, was that thought of an – other – world. It had been there from the beginning. An another universe, a paraller world, one more like Conan’s Hyperborea, or maybe Lankhmar, or Lovecraft’s Dreamworlds… but she would not let that thought come up. She wanted to go home. If this was somewhere on her Earth she would be able to go home.

She refused to think of any other alternatives.

Oh crap, why didn’t I buy a new cell right away…

Her old had broken, presumably from being dropped once too many times. But she could use the old landline in the hall, it was part of the rent, and it was not as if she was going to lose some swanky job for not being reachable all the time, not with her job history. So she had been pushing getting a new one into ‘real soon’ for well over two weeks now. After her next pay day.

Just swell.

Back to present. Concentrate. You have to concentrate. You need to stay in the present now. And figure out what to do next. You’re the hero. Think that. You’re the hero. A hero who will survive and speak and blow this thing sky high. That’s good enough. Hell, I might even get on television for this.

She couldn’t start looking for a phone when she had no idea whether there would be one anywhere in here, all she could do would be to keep her eyes open for one. The next logical step then, now, would still be to find a way out. Without being spotted. Laura realized she was still shaking and took a few moments to breath deeply with, this time, an almost successful effort to calm down, then surveyed the corridor she was in.

It continued for a little way beyond the opening into the sacrificial hall. Then it ended in a wall, but there were two small doorways there. She’d have to get there. Because she was not going back into that darkness she had come from, crazy devil-worshippers or no.

There was no balustrade in the spaces between the columns. Laura got down on her stomach, crawled to the wall opposite of the gap and then slithered past it, feeling sick and praying the red and black robed ones were too busy to look her way. She didn’t think she was completely hidden from them, even in the dark and on her stomach. At least her clothes were mostly dark, except for the white sneakers, and even those were pretty dirty.

She did get to the other side of the gap with nobody raising an alarm, then got back on her feet and walked the couple of steps which took her to the two doorways, her legs feeling rubbery.

She was pretty sure she would never again be able to enjoy any Conan story. Or anything else which might remind her of what she had just seen.

***

One of the doorways led to a narrow corridor which seemed to continue on straight, staying on the same level with the hallway. The other one opened into a stairwell. The stairs went down. Laura hesitated a moment, then chose the stairs with the vague idea that finding a way out would be more likely from the level the people she had seen were on, even if the risk of them noticing her was greater.

She descended slowly, praying that nobody would decide to take those stairs up while she was there. After only a couple of steps she was out of the lit area and was then once again proceeding blind, having to rely on touch and hearing.

Woohoo. Another mysterious corridor.

I’m getting a bit tired of them.

The stairs went down until she was probably more or less on the same level as the floor of the hall. When the stairs ended she again found two doorways, chose one, found a corridor and encountered a dead end after a short walk and had to go back. The next doorway she tried opened into a corridor that kept on going, with no additional openings of any kind, at least she stumbled on none.

This passage was probably next to one of the walls of the hall of the priests, and the wall wasn’t quite solid for after a while she could hear the sounds coming from there, at some points hardly muffled at all, and there were points with holes big enough to let the light of the fire through. The noise made her almost turn back, but then she decided to go on just a little bit further, still hoping there would be a way out of the place somewhere near to the priests’ hall.

They would not live in here. And even if they did the victims surely had not. There had to be a passage to surface somewhere.

At some point she realized she was starting to see better again. A short distance later she found herself in a small stone room with doorways, this time three of them besides the one she was standing in, one in each wall. Two were dark, one brightly lit, the sounds of the drums and chanting coming loud and clear through it.

Laura picked the doorway furthest away from that one and ran to it, then stopped.

There had been something hanging on the walls of the small chamber.

She looked back.

Two of the walls were not bare, but lined with what looked like weapons. She squinted her eyes and looked harder.

Those shapes were weapons, swords and daggers and axes alongside with other sharp and pointy things she had no names for. Real ones?

Her mouth felt very dry. She swallowed, swallowed again and tried to produce some spit.

Okay. Something sharp and pointy might come in handy. Having some sort of weapon with her would definitely make her at least feel better. A little bit better.

But she’d had to go close to the lit doorway to get one.

For a while she didn’t move, just tried to peer from where she was standing through that lit doorway into the hall beyond. She couldn’t see anyone. So presumably no one on that side could see her either. Maybe. She swallowed again, then, moving very slowly, one step at a time, and keeping a nervous eye on all the doorways but most especially on that one she went towards the weapons, then stopped where she could see both walls where the weapons were hanging for a better look.

There were no firearms among the arsenal. Not that she would have known how to use one, anyway.

They were not made of fiberglass. They had been there a while, all were covered in thick dust and many were rusted. She stared at the collection for a moment, then almost went for a sword. Such a classic, a sword. Except to use one effectively one should have at least some training.

“Not smart,” she whispered to herself. Now which ones might I actually be able to use to defend myself if I had to…

And where the hell were the robes kept? She sure could have used a nice, concealing robe. One with a big cowl.

She took a look towards the doorway, saw nobody, took a deep breath to calm herself. That didn’t work much better than it had any of the previous times she had tried it.

Laura realized she kept alternating between feeling almost too scared to act to nearly completely disbelieving everything she saw.

She wasn’t doing very well here. Freezing might get her killed, but so could getting careless.

All right. Concentrate. Keep focused.

She stepped close to one of the walls and leaned her brow against the smooth, cool stone and tried to get a grip of herself. After a few moments she felt a bit better.

So…She still didn’t have a clue of what had happened to her or what was going on. She just didn’t have enough information. But – again she told herself she had to proceed from the assumption that what she saw and heard and felt was real, however unbelievable. Hopefully she’d get the chance for hysterics later. But that time was not now.

Okay. The weapons. One step at a time.

Laura finally took two daggers, one small, the other long enough to almost qualify as a short sword, thinking herself more or less stupid as she took it down and hefted its solid weight in her hand, and tried the edge of its blade – pretty sharp – before stuffing it into the confines of her big bag with the handle outside for, hopefully, easy access, but unable to totally resist the temptation. Blame it on too many fantasy books of swordwomen and on watching stuff like the old series ‘Xena’. Not that she thought she would have any real chance against such people as those on the hallway right on the other side of the wall, armed with anything. She most definitely was no warrior princess.

Still having those daggers did made her feel better.

She again wished there would have also been something like cloaks hanging on the walls. On all the stories the heroes always found something to use as camouflage when they had to get in or out of such places as the one she was in.

And what is this place anyway? Temple of an evil god? Sure as hell looks like one.

Unfortunately there was nothing. She felt rather conspicuous in the blue jeans, faded violet T-shirt and dirty white shoes she was wearing. At least those shoes were meant for running, and the jeans and even the shirt were dark enough not to be very visible in the bad lighting here.

Then, belatedly, she realized that those were the exact same clothes she had worn to work – that evening – and they didn’t look, or feel, as if she had been wearing them for all that much longer than those few hours she remembered wearing them.

That strained her amnesia theory a bit.

Laura turned to go, then saw a movement in the corner of her eye. She jumped around, tried to get the longer dagger out of her bag and managed to rip both the lining of the bag and the hem of her shirt in the process, then stood there, panting and holding the blade in her shaking hand.

There was nobody else in the room, nor in any of the doorways. That part of the hall she could see was also still empty. Then the movement repeated. Her eyes focused on the wall right next to the doorway.

She saw the end of a chain, secured with the simple system of two rigid metal rings fastened to the wall, the chain between them and a large pin through all three.

The chain jerked again. The chanting and drumming were going on full blast, had been going on all the time she had been in the room. Laura started to approach the doorway warily, muttering to herself quietly “Idiot, I’m an idiot” as she went, but going anyway.

The doorway. She swallowed, hesitated, then pushed her head to the other side till her eyes were able to see what was on the other end of that moving chain.

As if she didn’t already know.

She found herself staring right into the frightened eyes of a blond teenaged boy.

Sample chapter of second novel

27 May

Or actually first novel, I wrote this before The Demons, but I have needed to edit it a lot more.

 

I am pretty busy right now trying to get this novel into some sort of publishable shape, so posting is going to be somewhat slow for a while. But I am going to be posting a few sample chapters of this novel too. Ah, the nameless one… well, it doesn’t even quite have a name yet, I have been calling it On Dragon Paths so far but I think I am going to change that. Maybe.

 

Anyway, the first chapter. Which I am not quite happy with, it’s mostly an infodump and gives some of the background in order to make what follows understandable – the story is a portal fantasy, and the first version was written completely from the viewpoint of the protagonist, an Earth woman who ends up in some other, parallel world where magic works, and you began to understand the world at the same rate as she did, and it just didn’t work very well, so after a while I added the parts from the viewpoints of some of the other characters. But I don’t think I am going to began a complete dismantling at this point. Maybe I should, the general advice is, after all, that you should only put forth your best work.

 

On the other hand I have been playing with this so damn long already that starting that all over again just doesn’t feel right. It is what it is. I don’t know if polishing will make that much of a difference now. Complete rewrite might, but that I am not going to do.

 

But anyway, here we go:

 
Chapter 1

A few hours earlier, somewhere else:

The shackles chafed his wrists and neck, the night air froze on his bare skin. Otherwise he was in good shape. The Mershan would not hurt them, not yet. Not before the ceremony.

Prince Theran, Keeper of the Black Sword and Defender of the Realm – and with a score of other pompous titles none of which he much liked – walked on.

He tried to hope. The enemy’s custom was to give some sort of a fighting chance for their sacrificial victims. It was supposed to raise the energy – hope, anger, despair, to have them all present in a victim was much better than a victim who had already given up, so the Mershan would play with their victims. At least in theory that might give him and his men the break they needed. They would be kept well enough before that, no beatings and enough food and water. Again, for the sake of the power the enemy hoped to raise… Most of his men who had survived the capture were unhurt so if only a couple of them could break free the odds might not be completely impossible. Especially as most of the Mershan present during these ceremonies, if the knowledge their spies had given them was right, didn’t carry weapons.

Theran bent his neck to hide the fleeting, bitter smile.

Yes, and if he and his men could just sprout wings about now…

He couldn’t believe in hope. But he would not give up, not before they tore his heart out. He had beaten the odds before.

Of course the odds had never been quite this bad before.

At least the Black Sword was safe. He rarely carried it unless the mission was one where he thought he would need it. The Swords were highly visible to magic, hiding one took constant work, and he had not thought he’d have much use for magic when inspecting the Borderland Dukedoms on the far side of the Dragon Mountains as a representative of the High King, as was the custom to do once every year. Those dukedoms were in the more dangerous parts of the borderlands, sure, but there hadn’t been all that much enemy activity for generations even here, and his party had been thought to be sufficiently large and well armed. So he hadn’t taken the Sword. It was still safe.

And Lania… she had been one of the warriors who had stayed to guard the Sword. The thought that she was safe offered some comfort.

He wondered if the Mershan knew who he was. They had not implied that they did. Of course whether they knew or not didn’t matter much anymore. They knew how strong his Talent was. Like the Sword that was something hard to hide, impossible after they had gotten this close to him.

There were a few others with exceptionally strong Talent among his men. That might have been what had lured the Mershan to come after them in the first place, whether they had recognized him or not. Far more power could be taken by killing the Talented than from the more ordinary sacrifices.

What worried him the most was that the Mershan had not done anything like this for so long… there were not supposed to go that far inside the Free Lands, not in this day and age.

What was going on? Were the Free Lands as a whole at risk? Or just the Dukedoms?

He hoped there would have been some way to warn his people. But they had been too well warded. Perhaps…

The line of prisoners was brought to a halt so abruptly that Theran almost fell. An enemy soldier near him guffawed and Theran glared at him, noting absently that the boots the man was wearing were his. Had been his.

When he looked past the man he saw that they had reached a clearing in the forest, one surrounded by a broken wall. There was a low hill to one side. The rising moon was near full, its light bright enough to show the door leading into the hill clearly.

Well, it looked like they had arrived. End of the line.

He had been schooled to conceal his emotions since he was a child. He was confident nobody could have told what they were at the moment. That was good. Because he was very, very scared, and probably the only thing left for him was to die with dignity. That much he still owed to his men.

And to himself.

***

Los Angeles:

“You done yet, uh, it was Laura, right?”

Laura Thomas, down on the floor on her knees, looked up at the tired face of her coworker, an older black woman, and nodded.

“Almost. Just have to get a few more of these chewing gum stains off. You go ahead and leave if you’re done.” She reached with her left hand to push a few of the escaped strands of her long hair – sort of blond at the roots, very blond at the tips,  badly in need of some hairdresser care – away from her face, ended up wiping some sweat off too. Not that the work was all that tiring – well, it could be, but in truth her sweating might have had more to do with her weight. Which was a bit more than it should have been.

The other woman hesitated, then nodded. “You remember everything you should do when you leave?”

“Yes.”

“Well, all right, but remember you have to be out in half an hour.”

“Don’t worry,” Laura said and smiled.

The woman didn’t look totally convinced but smiled back anyway.

Fine job, Laura thought, cleaning up the messes of supermarket customers. Not that she hadn’t had worse ones. Cleaning cheap hotel rooms, for example. At least here she wouldn’t have to deal with things like used condoms or vomit. Not often, anyway.

On the other hand, here she wouldn’t find tips left on the table either.

Wonderful life… What the hell has my guardian angel been doing lately, probably off somewhere drinking… or that job order got misplaced years ago.

She waved goodbye to the woman. She shouldn’t actually have left Laura alone, her being the new one and not considered quite trustworthy yet. The older cleaner had family though, kids waiting at home. She was in a hurry. Laura had no pressing needs. Except for sleep.

Laura couldn’t remember the woman’s name. She had been told it on the first night, a couple of days ago, but she’d forgotten and been too ashamed of that to ask again. She’d have to figure some way to find it out if this work became permanent. Like she had been sort of promised. If she proved herself out.

Proved that I’m willing to work my ass off for pay which isn’t enough by itself to keep me in my apartment and eating, and that I’m law-abiding enough that I won’t steal even that food which is past its ‘best before’ date and will be thrown away anyway.

She took a few steps to the next gum stain and kneeled again, feeling disgusted. This one was fresh. Less easy to get off than the older, well hardened ones.

Well, this helps to pay the bills. As long as I also have that waitressing job.

At least there the pay was almost decent. An actual restaurant, at least according to the owner, but definitely on the low end of the scale. But yes, they did pay the staff fairly well, and the tips could be good. She just couldn’t get enough hours there to make a living with only that job. Even with the tips.

Her knees hurt. She decided for the umpteenth time to try and get rid of at least some of that excess weight, it was beginning to affect her freedom of movement. Not to mention her social life. Or her job prospects… at the restaurant her boss had been given hints about that lately. Her figure had been really great once, a classic hourglass, with the  muscles of a trained dancer. With that figure guys had once mostly seemed to ignore the fact that she pretty much was what usually got called ‘horse-faced’. Not really ugly, mind you, just not quite model material… but with that figure she had been a stunner, in spite of her less that beautiful face.

Now… she hadn’t danced for years. Now she was getting past the point where a polite way to describe her figure would be ‘full’ well into where the only fitting word was just fat. And men didn’t seem to be particularly interested anymore. At least not those types of men she would have liked to meet. Who’d be interested in a fat and horse-faced menial worker?

Not that she had any time for social life. And even when she worked most of the time she was awake there never seemed to be enough money. She should never have taken those loans… only back then she had thought she had a really bright future.

Laura sighed and tried to push her hair out of her eyes once again. She really wanted that visit to a hairdresser, but she wasn’t sure if she could afford it this month. Or next one, either. Her real color was blond but a rather dull and sort of dirty looking blond. As a golden blonde she looked good. Or at least she had used to look good with that color, who knew if it did fit her that well now.

Maybe she should start thinking whether she might be able to handle a third job again. A part time one, only on two or three days during the week maybe? Finding one was of course a different matter.

She had studied prelaw once. Before things had started to go to hell. Sometimes she still hoped she could get out of the hole her life had become. Other times she just hoped to endure it. Simply paying those bills she couldn’t avoid, food, rent, electricity, gas for her old car, was hard enough, and when you added trying to pay off that goddamned old student loan, and the other one, it meant working most of the time she was awake and that left very little chance for improving things. She kept trying to find better paying jobs, but while she did have enough education for at least something she never seemed to be able to give a good enough impression at the interviews she managed to get. She had tried to study, but most of the time she was simply too tired.

Oh, stop feeling sorry for yourself, there are people much worse off…

Laura grinned at herself – well, she was sure that complaining, mental or vocal, was probably good for you, at least sometimes, but maybe she really had done enough of that for tonight – then bent her head and stopped the familiar mental jeremiad, concentrating again on the job.

Several chewing gum stains later Laura finally rushed out of the employees’ door, having gotten out with only a few minutes to spare. After a nervous look around the badly lit parking lot she headed towards her old Toyota, one of the few cars left there, digging for the keys as she walked.

Maybe she wouldn’t go to bed right away. There was that paperback novel she had found in the used books store… a little bit of derring-do by a well-muscled hero hunting a dragon might be exactly what she needed to unwind tonight.

Maybe just a chapter or two.

And then, with no warning, it happened.

***

Elsewhere:

The sound was high, an unbearably sweet rising and falling note. Young Prince Aran, High King Arakan’s second son and heir to the Crown, turned restlessly in his sleep, then awoke with a start. His eyes searched the room before finally setting on the large black sword on the table opposite his bed. Slowly he got up and walked to the table.

The sound was still echoing around the large bedchamber. Somebody, probably one of his bodyguards, was shouting something from the other side of the door. He paid the voice no attention.

The sound was definitely coming from the sword. He reached for it and then paused. He had never touched the Black Sword before, and it was something more than just a weapon. Yet there was supposed to be no danger.

The boy took up the sword, then drew it from its scabbard. He just barely managed to do that. He was only eleven, after all, and this was a grown man’s weapon. When the sword was out the sound got clearer, and then abruptly ended after a triumphant high note. He almost dropped it.

The pounding on the door got louder.

“I’m fine,” he shouted, then carefully lowered the sword back on the silk-covered table. “Wait just a moment, I’m coming!”

There were several anxious faces on the other side, all his nightshift bodyguards and several of the other guardsmen working on the same floor. Even one of the servant girls, holding a broom she had probably grabbed from one of the closets for a weapon. Nobody would be cleaning the floors at this hour of the night. The boy almost laughed at the fierce look on her face. Well, she was well trained, but ayway… it just looked funny. It took an effort to keep his face serious.

“Your Highness…”

“I’m fine, as I said before. But something probably very important has happened. Go and wake the king. I think his presence is required here.” He thought he was sounding quite grown-up and felt a fleeting sense of satisfaction before something occurred to him.

“Jemar,” he pointed at a guard who had often worked as his valet when he was traveling. “Come inside and help me get dressed.”

Naming characters (and everything else)

24 May

Okay, I think I may finally be able to start getting back to art, slowly. Strength exercises and stretching and work positioning and all that stuff seems to be taking effect. Arm and shoulder still gets sore on some mornings, but at least it’s not sore the whole time and I can keep my hand steady when I hold a pen or a brush, at least for a while. I still have some problems with shaking, but I’m not sure how much is caused by physical problems at this point, or if just being nervous that it might happen will sometimes cause that now.

But until I have something to show might as well talk about something. Like names. Interesting question when you are writing, and one of the more difficult ones for me. Frankly, I have to confess that I think I mostly suck when it comes to thinking up names for fantasy characters.

Or places. Like Khemas.

Confession: I used a fantasy name generator. Actually, several. I don’t have them bookmarked, I just use some search engine when I get stuck looking for a name for something. Occasionally a name does just pop into my mind, and then I usually do use it, after a bit of searching – looks like almost any random string of letters can be found as a name, or a word, in some language, and I would be embarrassed if I found I had named some big strapping hero something which means, say, ‘poop’ in some language somewhere, even if that happened to be one spoken by less than half a million people in the back of beyond and not likely to be known by anybody else but the native speakers (and that can’t actually be counted on any more, while most readers will probably just accept an unknown name as the name of the character and not think about it, there are some – like me – who occasionally get the itch to start playing with those search engines, and if it’s on the internet you will probably stumble across it sooner or later). Or the heroine who gets described as the most beautiful thing ever and desired by all will be given a name which is supposed to be mysterious and alluring and exotic and is the equivalent of Daisy in some language spoken by several million people. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but still, it does, doesn’t it?

But yes, I use those name generators fairly often. And when I do I don’t always do the internet search for any unfortunate meanings or associations the name which comes up might have. I guess I’m counting on the ‘but it came from a name generator’ defense if something will at some point come up. Well, khemas seems to actually exist as a verb, maybe meaning ‘silent’ in Hindi, and Khamis is an Arabic boy’s name, meaning something like ‘armed forces’. Neither which quite hits what the city is supposed to be like. But at least they are not that far off either.

One other way of naming I have is to use Finnish words, or sometimes less used Finnish names, usually with slight distortions. Finnish is a small language, there are about five million speakers, so I’d presume names based on it should sound suitably alien to most people.

So, tikka is the Finnish word for woodpecker. I thought it suited a woman with notably bright red hair pretty well. Grath, on the other hand, is one of those name generator alternatives. Anya is of course a name in use, also in Finland if slightly differently written, Anja, which I thought about using first but then ended with the more often used Russian spelling, she just didn’t quite feel like an Anja to me (no offense to Russians, the character may be a bit dumb but that doesn’t mean I think Russians are that, it has more to do with her sex appeal, I have known a few Anjas and they were all a bit more motherly types – hm, actually, that fits too, she is motherly). And Mambi, again the name generator.

One good point about names in The Demons of Khemas is that the cast are supposed to be a rather mixed bunch. I thought of something like one of the hubs of commerce on the Silk Road, a place where lots of different nationalities came for trade, and many also stayed. So the names are a mixed lot too. I have most of the story of what happens to Tikka, Grath and Para next (para is also a Finnish word, an old one meaning the helper of a witch, a familiar spirit) already, but this story will take them somewhere with a much less diverse population, so I may have some problems as now we are entering a place where the names should kind of sound like they are all of the same language, or at the most there may be a character or two who belong to some other group, and their names should then stand out a bit as different. Much harder to do that. Linguistics is not among my strong points. I guess I will go for Finnish with those names, considering this is going to be the place Tikka is originally from.

Or maybe I will just go for the name generators again… well, I have some time to think about this, first I am going to edit a finished novel, and then finish the one I started writing a few months ago – both featuring people and places where several different ethnicities with different languages mix, so if the names are all over the place that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

I think I may try to fit a few short stories in there somewhere too. I have about five to six months left before the dark comes and SAD will start to bother me again.

The Demons of Khemas, on Kindle

12 May

Okay, done. Hopefully well enough that the end result is readable, this is the first time I have tried to put a whole novel on the program. It should be available in a day or two at most.

Well, one can always tweak it afterwards. Have to say this is one of the aspects I love about that system. I did my best, but since I have to do all by myself – I just don’t plain have the money to use any of the editing or other services available, no matter how cheap some of them are, right now – and I’m not exactly superwoman here it’s probably inevitable there will be at least a few glitches somewhere no matter how many times I read the story through (and if not the story itself, then there is the imobi conversion…). Hopefully I’ll find them sooner rather than later (help appreciated, so if you buy the novel and find editing or any other problems with the file, please tell).

First thing I will be changing is going to be the cover. I’m still not fully recovered from the problems I have been having with my dominant hand, it’s getting better but I still have some slight problems holding it steady when I try to do any more detailed work with a brush or a pencil, so the cover I used for now is a simple photo of a stone arch, an entrance into someplace dark. I have a painting half done, hopefully I will manage the detailed stuff in the next weeks and can then change that cover, I just didn’t feel like waiting more for the cover since I’m not completely certain I will be rid of that problem, well enough, by that time.

It’s a repetitive strain injury, the reason is my work, and since I can’t quit working in order to wait for it to go away, well, the cortisone injections helped, but after that I have still been needing some physical therapy help, strengthening exercises plus trying to figure out better ergonomics at work. I have had similar problems about three times before – once the cortisone was enough, other time needed a bit more work (mostly physical therapy) and for one, carpal tunnel syndrome, I needed surgery, both wrists. I rather hope this will be like that second time, since by now it’s obvious the cortisone wasn’t quite enough. It has been getting better, but I got a couple of setbacks on mornings when there were more papers than usually. My ‘day job’ is that of a paper carrier, and right now I have two routes I do from a car – this includes taking the newspaper from my left with my left hand, transferring it to my right and then putting them into the mail boxes with my right, most without getting out of the car. The problem is with my left hand – I’m a southpaw – I have to bend it kind of backwards in order to be able to pick the newspaper from the left seat – yep, I use a company car and those cars have the driver’s side on the ‘wrong’ side – and that may be the main problem. Other part may be how much I need to turn the wheel every morning, I drive next to the mail boxes standing on the roadside, and do hell of a lot of backing up and turning this way and that way and then back to the main road only to back up again on the next side road… well, I’m getting very good as a driver, at least as long as we are talking about handling a car in tight places but with no traffic to speak of since I do those routes between midnight and sunrise. I used to do routes which were mostly high apartment buildings but my knees can’t quite handle all the stairs anymore, and I was lucky enough to get these car routes, but it seems I’m going to need some adjusting here.

The Demons of Khemas, free sample, 6. chapter

10 May

And chapter 6.

Editing has been going well, I may be able to put this for sale in a couple of days. I’ll have a post then.

 

14.5. Okay, as said, I’m removing a couple of these, this and the 5th chapter now that the novel is on sale. And yep, I do know they can undoubtedly be found somewhere on the net if you look for them. 🙂 I still think I may publish at least one short novel at some point here before I put it up for sale, even with the risk I may then at some point find it, or parts of it, plagiarized somewhere. That is, by the way, the one thing which does make me pissed – piracy not so much, you could look at that as advertizing as long as the pirates also have the real author’s name attached, but plagiarists, that is something I really, really don’t like (trying to stay polite here. My real feelings can not be expressed in a ladylike manner).