Tag Archives: Disquieting Visions

Fantasy Worldbuilding 101, Or How To Make Your Setting More Like Middle Earth, And Less Like A Ren Faire

by Jennifer Allis Provost

The term worldbuilding gets used with some frequency when discussing fantasy, and, to be fair, if your worldbuilding isn’t up to par, your story will fall flat. What’s the point of investing all those long hours at the keyboard, crafting finely nuanced plots and flawed yet lovable characters, if the place they live in – whether it’s a castle, wattle and daub cottage, or even an igloo – rings about as true as the set from a high school production of Camelot?

Before you send that manuscript off into the abyss of querydom, compare your world against the following checklist. While adhering to these points won’t ensure that your setting is perfect, they will go a long way toward keeping your world consistent.

Food: What do your characters eat? If the story takes place in a medieval setting, I would expect to see more joints of meat and loaves of dark bread than chicken nuggets and side salads. Also, how is the food served? On metal platters, in wooden bowls, or on trenchers of bread? Are the bones thrown to the dogs, or saved by a thrifty kitchen maid for tomorrow’s stew?

Clothing: Pre-industrial societies tended toward two broad categories of clothing: spare and utilitarian for the working class, ornate and cumbersome for the nobility. Also, due to the labor involved with spinning and weaving, only the very wealthy owned several sets of clothing. If your peasant keeps showing up in pristinely clean shirts without any mention of Ye Olde Laundress, your readers will smell something fishy.

Even if your fantasy has a modern setting, you should still consider clothing carefully. If the character’s on the run, they’re going to get dirty. Also, what are they wearing while avoiding the Feds/evil vampires/rabid bunnies? Good clothes for going on the lam: jeans, t-shirts, flat soled boots or sneakers. Not so practical choices include flimsy dresses or blouses, spiked heels, and lacy lingerie.

Locomotion: How are your characters getting around? In a modern setting this isn’t as much of an issue, since we have all the requisite planes, trains, and automobiles. But, in those pesky pre-industrial societies, your characters are pretty much limited to animal-based transportation (horses, elephants, camels), boats, or some sort of magical device, such as a portal. Boats are, well, boats. If your characters have access to portals or time dust or whatever, please make it a grounded, working magic system.

If your characters rely on the animal-based transportation, please keep one thing in mind: remember to feed the animal! A quick Google search can give you valuable information about how much a horse needs to eat, how often it needs to rest, etc. While this might not be such a big deal for one or two characters on a short jaunt about the countryside, traveling for a significant distance requires either packing feed, or stopping at a stable for the night.

How do you worldbuild? What do you consider to be the vital details?



Jennifer Allis Provost is the author of the fantasy series Chronicles of Parthalan, available now, and an urban fantasy series, Copper Legacy. The first installment, Copper Girl, will be released June 2013 by Spence City.


Jennifer Allis Provost is a native New Englander who lives in a sprawling colonial along with her beautiful and precocious twins, a dog, two birds, three cats, and a wonderful husband who never forgets to buy ice cream. As a child, she read anything and everything she could get her hands on, including a set of encyclopedias, but fantasy was always her favorite. She spends her days drinking vast amounts of coffee, arguing with her computer, and avoiding any and all domestic behavior.


Blurb for Copper Girl:


Sara had always been careful.

She never spoke of magic, never associated with those suspected of handling magic, never thought of magic, and never, ever, let anyone see her mark.  After all, the last thing she wanted was to end up missing, like her father and brother.

Then, a silver elf pushed his way into Sara’s dream, and her life became anything but ordinary.

Available in print and e-book June 25, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-939392-02-2

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First Time Author Mistakes

by Crymsyn Hart

It’s been over ten years since I’ve first started to seriously look to get involved with the publishing world. I had graduated college with BFA in writing, had a complete novel that had been critiqued by a few of my teachers, and I was looked for an agent. I’d gone to the book store gotten the latest edition of Writer’s Market and started perusing through it. At this point I didn’t know anything about how to go about anything except from what my teachers and other writers at school had told me. And they all recommended Writer’s Market, which is a great book that now has a great website. But I wasn’t very Internet savvy at that point.

So I perused the pages that listed agents, went on line here and got some information on agents. After following the guidelines: sending in a query letter, synopsis of the work, first three chapters, whatever the agent called for, in the mail, I got many rejections. Most were form letters, but there were a couple with small notes saying the book wasn’t for them, but keep trying. Those were always encouraging .I amassed enough rejection notices to wallpaper my bathroom I think. Then I received an acceptance letter.

At this point, I was ecstatic. This guy was going to help me get published. But I had to send him some money first to help him cover the costs of shipping, copying, etc. Sigh… That was where he got me. Well my grandparents were happy to put up the money for me, but still. Words of wisdom, if anyone ever asks you for money up front, it’s too good to be true.

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A Challenge in Writing Fantasy Short Stories

by Terry W Ervin II



One thing on every writer’s mind as they are planning and writing a short story is word count. In almost every instance the shorter the work, the easier it is to find a market for it. It’s a balance of words, quality, and the story to be told.

In any case, there are more markets that accept 5000 word short stories than 7500 word stories, and some prefer word counts under 4000. Even those that indicate they will consider a 7500 word piece state it has to be really exceptional to be published. Consider in context what is being said, since I believe all publishers sift their submission pile for what they believe are exceptional stories. The longer the story, the higher the hurdle for it to reach publication.

Now consider writing a fantasy story. The writer has to introduce the reader to the created world, demonstrating or explaining ‘how it works differently’ as compared to the reader’s mundane, everyday world. The world building has to be packed within the context of the story while keeping the plot moving forward. Give the readers just enough to make sense, enabling them to understand. Allow the readers to fill in some of the blanks where ever possible.

An example to illustrate: A writer doesn’t need to explain to readers how an insecticide bug spray works (and its limitations) on a cockroach menace. The average reader can see the property owner in his mind’s eye removing the cap, pointing the can and pressing down on the nozzle, while avoiding inhalation of toxin. But a writer of fantasy may have to explain how a net stung with iron beads might be used by the royal gardener to snare the flitting fairies that have been stealing the blooming royal snapdragons.

In both examples the character is trying to get rid of pests, but the former dealing with the cockroach infestation would require fewer words than the latter dealing with the fairy menace. Maybe it would only require thirty words spread over a few sentences, but that adds up quickly when considering a word count limit of 5000. Why include the episode about the iron affecting magical creatures? Maybe it’s a way of establishing the rules or laws of that world for when a larger, more dangerous magical foe comes into conflict with the protagonist—so that the full explanation isn’t necessary, possibly right in the middle of intense action.

Maybe that’s part of what interests readers of fantasy—the discovery of new worlds and creatures, and how they interact. But there’s more than just how the fantasy world differs from the reader’s everyday experience. The story also has to include characters the readers want to follow through their interactions and adventures. Creating characters and relaying the story’s action takes words too—if at all possible everything tucked nicely into the 5000 word (or less) box.

So that’s the challenge. Write a short story with all the necessary elements, while including content related to the fantasy setting that is both necessary and intriguing. And keep the word count under the limit.


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The Greatest Teacher You Never Had

By Alethea Kontis

I haven’t had a lot of odd jobs in my life. Most of my jobs–like my relationships–have been long-haul kind of things. My first job was concessionist at a movie theatre when I was sixteen–by the time I turned twenty, I was running the place. That same year I graduated college and got a second job at a bookstore, and I haven’t left the publishing industry since. But there was a very brief time, in those first few months after I moved to Tennessee, before I landed the library job and another movie theatre gig, that I put my resume in at a temp agency so that I could get on the roster as a substitute teacher.

I was a substitute teacher for one day.

I sat in at the Daniel McKee Alternative School in Mufreesboro. That’s right, I got an entire day with juvenile delinquents. Right now you probably think you know exactly how this story ends, but you would be wrong.

I had a wonderful time with the kids. We chatted and laughed. We played Hangman with movie titles. One of the boys made me a rose out of a napkin. The only time I ever felt out of place was when I overheard one girl saying that her dad could drink another girl’s dad under the table any day. We didn’t do anything on the syllabus (they claimed they’d already done it), but they didn’t burn the school down, so I call it a win.

The second time I got the call, I was asked to sit in for a band teacher at Smyrna High School. Band? Ha! I couldn’t play an instrument if my life depended on it, but I was still excited. I put on the exact same outfit I wore to Daniel McKee, drove forty-five minutes to get to the school, and walked right into the office…where the secretary promptly ignored me. I took the initiative and asked, “Where is the substitute teacher sign-in sheet?” She pointed me to a closet-sized room behind her desk, and then promptly got up from her chair and walked away.

As I was signing in and greeting the other subs, I was stopped by a woman in the doorway with a horrible hairdo, pearls, and way too much make-up. The secretary peered anxiously over her shoulder. She introduced herself as the Vice Principal, and then proceeded to inform me that I was not adhering to the dress code.

I was taken aback, not just by her ridiculous accusations (since my oversized sweater and black leggings had obviously been fine for the other school) but also by the fact that the placement of her confrontation (the doorway) forced every one of the other subs to witness my scolding. She told me that my options were to go home and change, or to let them call in someone else in to sub. I was not about to drive an extra 90 minutes to kowtow to this woman’s demands, so I told her to call someone else.

As I stomped out, a student asked incredulously, “You’re substituting for Mr. Miller?” “Not anymore,” I answered.

To this day, I’m not sure how I would have handled that encounter differently. I could have put on my prom dress and gone back. I could have accused the woman of blatant age discrimination, which in hindsight was painfully obvious. (I looked like a high school student until I was 30. Now I look like a college student.)

I do know one thing, though–I wouldn’t have let the event affect me as deeply as it did. I let this woman crush my soul and spiral me into a horrible depression. In five minutes, this complete stranger brought back all my teenage insecurities and slapped me in the face with them. Because of her I turned down every other future sub request from the temp agency. Only later did I find out that a few of those calls were from a dear friend who taught an English class and had specifically requested me. I regret not taking those calls, and I am not a person who lives to regret.

As a writer, however, I highly valued this encounter. I needed to experience what it was like to face adversity, to be caught off guard. I needed to know that one’s past never stops haunting. I needed to know that even my strongest main character is subject to emotional downward spirals.  I needed to accept the fact that some internal struggles will never be resolved. In the adventure of life there is no “right” answer. The only “wrong” answer is not moving forward.

I was a substitute teacher for one day.

I think the person who learned the most was me.

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An Excerpt from The Master of Whitestorm

by Janny Wurts

1. The Galleys of Mhurga

Jostled from sleep by the bang of a fist against the beechwood oar that pillowed his head, Haldeth started upright, muscles tensed reflexively. But the command he expected never came; no guttural shout followed to transform the night into a misery of hardship, rowing against endless ranks of sea swells. By the dim fall of moonlight through the aft oar ports, Haldeth surveyed the lower deck of the galley Nallga. Every slave remained hunched and still over his loom, but one. The blow which roused him had not arisen from his Mhurgai masters, but from his own benchmate, in a useless fit of rage.

Annoyed himself, Haldeth forgot tact. “Mind your temper!” he whispered urgently.

The man at his side looked up. Confronted by gray eyes and a face which held no trace of laughter or compassion, Haldeth felt his breath catch in his throat. Gooseflesh chilled his skin. Although the air was tropical and mild, he shivered and glanced aside, reminded of the first night his benchmate had been dragged on board. As a battered, soot‑streaked captive not yet past his seventeenth summer, that savage look had been with him then, graven upon young features by the atrocities of the Mhurgai who routinely pillaged and burned towns on the shores of Illantyr. But who he was, and what family he had owned before he was chained for the oar, Haldeth never knew. The boy had grown to manhood in stony silence.

The Mhurgai called him Darjir, sullen one, for the flat, unflinching glare he returned when anyone addressed him. No man heard him speak, even through three years of abuse on Nallga’s lower deck. Haldeth believed him insane.

The cruelty of the Mhurgai could drive the strongest mind to madness, Haldeth well knew. Soured by bitter memories, he shifted a foot cramped by the bite of the galley’s floorboards. Even now, he suffered nightmares of his wife and two daughters; they had been butchered before his eyes the day his own freedom was lost. Daily, he cursed the smith’s constitution which bound him to life and health, for other than hair turned prematurely white, seven years as a galley slave had changed him little. Haldeth envied Darjir’s witlessness. Better to feel nothing than to endure the ache of grief and hatred, helplessly chained.

Sleep alone afforded respite. Determined to take full advantage of the hours Nallga would remain at anchor, Haldeth leaned once more across the oar and settled his head on crossed wrists. Darjir’s eyes followed him restlessly, luminous as coins in the moonlight.

“Neth Everlasting!” Haldeth lifted a resentful fist to emphasize his meaning, since words were wasted effort on a man never heard to utter an intelligent sound. “Bother somebody else, will you? I’ve had enough.”

Darjir flexed callused fingers against the oar. Then he lifted his head and spoke with sudden, startling clarity. “I’m going to get off this hulk.” His tone cut like the wind’s edge in winter.

Haldeth gasped. Shocked, he took a moment to react. No man escaped the bench of a Mhurgai galley alive. Attempts earned agonizing punishment, and since by custom the fate of the offender would be shared by the slaves surrounding him, a man dared not trust his fellows. Through three centuries of marauding, the Mhurgai held no record of slave mutiny; Nallga made an unlikely choice for exception. Caught by an involuntary shudder, Haldeth shook his head. “Be still!”

Darjir moved his ankle. A dissonant rattle of chain destroyed the night silence. “I’ve had enough.”

“Quiet, fool!” Haldeth felt fear, cold as the touch of bare steel against his neck. “The forward oarsman will kick in your ribs if he wakes and hears you.”

“I was named Korendir. And I’m getting off.” The words left no chink for argument.

Haldeth abandoned the attempt. Nervously, he surveyed the forms of the surrounding slaves for any trace of movement. But the lower deck remained peacefully undisturbed, quiet but for the lap of water against the hull. Prompted by reckless impulse, Haldeth met Korendir’s gaze.

“I’m with you.” The steadiness of his voice amazed him. “I’d prefer the knife found me guilty.”

Korendir’s bearded features split into a slow, ill-practiced smile which left the flint in his eyes unsoftened. “I thought you might.”

Haldeth bent once more over his oar, but sleep would not come. Years of suffering had inured him to his fate; he knew in his heart that Korendir’s proposition was nothing but desperate folly. Sweat sprang along his naked back. No mercy would be shown should their plot be discovered; and even if they managed to escape their chains, the Mhurgai collared their slaves with iron. The sea made an infallible warden. Reminded by the slap of waves against the hull, Haldeth hoped the water would claim his life. The knives of a Mhurga seaman never killed. They crippled.


“Bhakka! Bhakka!” Nallga’s mate shouted the call to rise from the companionway ladder.

Haldeth roused from an unpleasant dream and knuckled gummed eyelids. Dawn purpled the calm of the harbor beyond the oarport; in the half-light of the lower deck, the unkempt compliment of Nallga’s slaves stirred and stretched. The mate strode aft, thick hands striking the back of any man slow to lift his head. Swarthy, round-shouldered, and short, the officer wore no shirt. Scarlet pantaloons were bound at his waist with gemstudded, woven gold; a whip and a cutlass hung in shoulder scabbards from crossbelts on his chest, companioned by a brace of throwing knives and a chased dagger.

Haldeth shifted uneasily. Mhurgai sported weapons like women wore jewelry, even to the four-inch skewers which decorated their earlobes. Conscious of damp palms and a hollow stomach, the ex-smith cursed his impetuous pact with Korendir the night before. Surely as steel would rust, the plan could only lead to grief.

The mate strutted like a fighting cock down the gangway and glowered over the double rows of captives. “Out oars!”

Haldeth moved at his order, one with a hundred men who unshipped fifty oars counterweighted with lead and held them poised over the sea. A deep rumble sounded overhead, and shadow striped the oarports as the upperdeck slaves followed suit.

“Forward, stroke!”

With a drumbeat to set the speed the shafts dipped, shearing Nallga ahead against the tide. Chain rattled in the hawse as the deck crew raised anchor, but whether the galley left port for plunder or commerce, Haldeth could not guess. He bent his back to the oar, flawlessly coordinated with the man at his side. Korendir’s face remained as expressionless as ever beneath his tangled bronze hair. Except for the memory of his given name, the plot and the promise exchanged in the night might have been hallucination caused by too many years of confinement.


By noon, the air below decks became humid and close. Sweat traced the bodies of the rowers, and the waterboy made rounds with bucket, mug, and a sack of dry biscuit. Haldeth chewed his portion, resentfully watching the mate dine on salt pork, beer, fresh bread, and grapes, provisioned at Nallga’s last port. Though the man’s eyelids drooped, his ear remained tuned to the oar stroke; not even the lethargy of a full stomach would lighten his whiphand if he caught a lagging slave.

Korendir paid him little mind. He pulled his end of the oar one-handed and flicked weevils from his biscuit with a cracked thumbnail. Though bugs invariably infested the entire lump of hardtack, he never overlooked one. Haldeth endured the extra weight of the loom without complaint. Bored to the edge of contempt by Korendir’s fussy habit, he nearly missed the discrepancy even as it happened: his benchmate passed up an obvious cluster of insects and raised the biscuit to his mouth.

Korendir tasted the mistake the moment he bit down. He choked, and with a swift, thoughtless gesture, thrust his face through the oarport to spit over the gunwale.

Haldeth tightened his grip on the loom. Should a wave dislodge the oar from its rowlock, Korendir risked his neck and head to a hundred and twenty pounds of leaded beech shoved by water with an eight-yard mechanical advantage. Haldeth cursed and leaned anxiously into the next stroke. More than once he had seen slaves killed by such carelessness.

Korendir ignored the danger. He emptied his mouth with unhurried calm, then executed a pitched imitation of the captain’s gruff voice. “Alhar!” Deflected by water, the shout seemed to issue from abovedecks. “Get topside, thou son of a lice-ridden camel tender!”

The mate flinched. His sallow features suffused with rage, and weapons, mustache, and tasseled pigtail quivered as he sprang to his feet and stamped the length of the gangway. Haldeth felt his heart pound within his breast. But the mate passed without glancing aside, even as Korendir withdrew from the oarport, stupidly intent on his biscuit.

“Great Neth,” murmured Haldeth. Perspiration threaded his temples. The Mhurgai language was not a tongue readily mastered by foreigners; Korendir’s ruse indicated painstaking forethought. Yet however well planned his intentions, Haldeth perceived no advantage to be gained through a trick upon the mate. The man was notoriously bad tempered; his unpleasant mood would shortly be vented upon the hapless backs of the slaves.

Korendir finished his meal. He licked his fingers and returned his hand to the oar, apparently unruffled by the raised voices abovedecks. Between strokes, Haldeth caught fragments of the mate’s protest, clipped short by a bitten phrase of denial; the captain had summoned no one on deck, far less attached insult to such an order. He dismissed the mate amid startled laughter from the crew. Since gossip thrived on shipboard as nowhere else, the unfortunate officer immediately became the butt of spirited chaffing. Haldeth knew even the waterboy would smile at the mate’s idiocy before the incident was forgotten.

Shortly, the red-faced and furious mate stamped down the companionway. Braced for trouble, Haldeth glanced at his benchmate. Korendir never flicked a muscle. His mouth described as grim a line as ever in the past, even when the mate ordered double speed from the rowers with vengeful disregard for the heat.

The drumbeat quickened. Nallga’s oars slashed into the water. Waves creamed into spray beneath her dragon figurehead as the full complement of her two hundred slaves bent to increase stroke. Faster paces were normally maintained only to keep the slaves in battle trim; today, the drill extended unreasonably long. Soon the most seasoned palms split, blistered and raw, each stroke become a separate labor of endurance. Blood pounded in Haldeth’s ears, cut periodically by the crack of a lash as the mate laid his whip across some unfortunate laggard’s back. With lungs aching and eyes stung blind with sweat, he reflected that Korendir’s fellow captives would pound the life from his body should they discover him responsible for the mate’s ugly mood. Yet the man himself bore the agonies of exertion with impassive lack of regret.

The mate’s fury did not abate until the waterboy arrived with the evening’s rations. Sensible enough to recall that unfed slaves made slow passage, the officer restored his whip to his belt and at last slackened the pace. Beaten with exhaustion, Haldeth dropped his head on crossed wrists. Since the evening meal was more lavish than that served at midday, the slaves ate in shifts, permitted use of both hands. But like Haldeth, most of the men were far too winded to eat. Still irritable, the mate paced the gangway, urging them to haste with his whipstock until the night officer reported for duty. Soon after he called the order for rest, heavy sleep claimed the entire lower deck.

Nallga held course under reduced speed, driven by her upper oars. Midnight would bring a reversal, the lower oarsmen resuming work while the slaves above slept until dawn. The wind blew steadily off the starboard quarter, and the galley’s single, square sail curved against a zenith bright with tropical constellations. Mhurga’s fleet plied south in winter, to avoid the cold, storm-ridden waters of their native latitude. In expectation of mild seas and fair sky, the captain retired below, which left the quartermaster the only officer awake on deck. Phosphorescence plumed like smoke beneath the galley’s keep. The lisp of her wake astern described a rare interval of peace between the frailty of wood and sinew, and the ruthless demands of the ocean.

“Bhakka! Out oars! Reverse stroke!” The shout disrupted the night like a warcry, its bitten, authoritative tones unmistakably the mate’s.

The lower deck oars ran out with a rumble. Dry blades lapped into water, muscled by a hundred rudely wakened slaves. Entrenched in the long-established rhythm of forward stroke, the exhausted upperdeck rowers adapted sluggishly to the change. Chaos resulted.

Slammed by the conflicting thrust of her oars, Nallga slewed. Crewmen crashed like puppets against bulkheat and rail. The sail backwinded with a bang which tore through boltrope and sheet. Canvas thundered untamed aloft while the oars crossed and snarled, slapped aside by the swell. Leaded beech punched the ribcages of some rowers with bone-snapping force, and a barrage of agonized screams arose from the benches.

“Oars in! Quartermaster, hard aport!”

Nallga’s captain pounded up the companionway, still naked from his berth. His hand clutched a bleeding shoulder, and his face was purpled with outrage above his broad chest.

“Send the mate on deck!” he bellowed to the nearest seaman. While the galley rounded to windward, he turned on the quartermaster and shouted over the crack of wind-whipped canvas. “What in Zhaird’s blackest pit provoked that nullard’s act of stupidity?”

The quartermaster had no answer. Nallga rocked gently, her bow pointed to windward. A stricken groan from the benches recalled the captain to his responsibilities. He issued rapid orders. Hands ran aloft to subdue the mainsail and assess damage. Escorted by the heavily armed bulk of the ship’s marshal, the healer made rounds of the slave benches to tend the injured. His task took the better part of the night.

The mate spent an unpleasant interval in the captain’s cabin. He insisted he had been asleep in his hammock at the time the shout disrupted Nallga’s course, but repeated denials only made him look silly.

“Thou hast made a fool of thyself.” The captain gestured crossly. “No crew respects an officer whose behavior lacks logic. Perhaps rest will restore thy reason. Zhaird’s hells, it had better. This vessel cannot afford another of thy mistakes.”

Nallga resumed headway at daybreak. Crewmen labored over her sail with rigging knives and needles, and the oar banks stood gapped where injuries laid up several rowers. Seven looms had snapped off at the rowlock; replacements were fitted from a store of spares, and the broken ends stacked behind the lower deck companionway, their lead-spliced handles saved for salvage. Slowly the galley regained her trim, while fore and aft her crewmen whispered that the mate had lost his honor. Perhaps, they said, he had been cursed with madness, and their thoughts strayed often from their work.

Haldeth bent to the rhythm of the oar and furtively studied the emotionless man by his side. Last night’s call for reverse stroke had roused him from deep sleep. With reflexes ingrained through years of obedience, he had run the loom half out before his benchmate stopped it with his fists.

“Wait.” Korendir fumbled his end of the oar and seemingly by chance the blade splashed short of its full sweep. In the following second, the reverse stroke of the lower deck tangled with the entrenched beat of the upper, with disastrous results. The mate had issued no order, Haldeth perceived at once. The voice and words had been delivered with diabolical skill by the one man who would be least suspected: the Darjir named by the Mhurgai never spoke, far less rendered pitched imitations of his masters. Now, Haldeth watched the same oar rise, dripping from the sea. He concluded his thought grimly. If a man sought to undermine the mate’s authority, no method could be better. Except Korendir’s wayward performance had left two slaves dead from punctured lungs; six others gained multiple broken ribs, and their moans of pain could be heard as the day wore on.
“The dead no longer suffer,” Korendir whispered in reply to Haldeth’s silence. “And shattered bones are a small price to pay for freedom.”

His words held a ringing arrogance which allowed no grace for reply. Haldeth did not try. Either Korendir was a madman with a taste for cruelty, or he knew explicitly what he was doing; his implied intent was to release every slave on Nallga’s benches. Haldeth splashed the oar into the swell with bitter anger. More likely his benchmate would earn them all the cold taste of the knife.


Nallga entered the tiny harbor of Kahille Island late that afternoon. Mhurgai ships often anchored there, for springs flowed like silver down the islet’s mountain slopes. Most southern archipelagoes relied on rain cisterns for fresh water; controlled by a water-broker, the price came dear. But Kahillans were too unsophisticated to levy a fee, and free water made their harbor a popular port.

Nallga moored inside the barrier reef, and instantly became the target of a flotilla of native ventors in dugouts. Reduced swell offset their nuisance; casks made awkward handling, and the captain wished the loading accomplished as smoothly as possible. The Kahillans did not concern him. A culture without knowledge of metal could traffic no weapons with the slaves, and any guard spared for security left one less man for work.

On the lower deck, Haldeth lounged at ease, grateful for the respite. An unfamiliar deckhand stood watch. Seated on the gangway enjoying a basket of fruit, the man was tolerant of contact between the slaves and the Kahillan merchants. One bold wretch had managed to wheedle himself a bunch of grapes, but the officer was too busy eating to intervene.

Korendir leaned across the shaft of his oar with his head cradled on folded arms. To an inboard eye, he appeared asleep. Haldeth knew he was not. A Kahillan dugout drifted close to the galley’s side, all but moored beneath his oarport. The occupants sat with upturned faces watching a humorous mime as Korendir pretended to hunt lice in his beard. By periodic stretching, Haldeth caught the gist of the performance. The sham puzzled him until he noticed the Kahillan men were clean-shaven. For a people without knives or steel, the fact was a telling oddity.

Evidently Korendir intended to exploit the implications if he could. A final, furious round of scratching raised applause from his audience. The men in the dugout pushed off. Chattering and laughing as if they shared a fine joke, they unshipped paddles and executed a graceful stroke. As the canoe slipped out of sight beneath Nallga’s counter, Korendir shut his eyes and drowsed in earnest. Presently, Haldeth did likewise.

“Baja!” cried a smiling native in accented imitation of the Mhurgai call to rise.

Haldeth opened his eyes in time to see Korendir lift his head and peer cautiously through the oarport. Balanced precariously on tiptoe in the stern of his dugout, a Kahillan man stood with his paddle extended above his head. Lashed to the end was a small wooden box. Korendir squeezed both shoulders through the oarport to reach it. Untying the knots on the waving blade took him an imprudent amount of time.

Haldeth cast a nervous glance at the watch and observed that the sight of a slave straining through an open oarport did not pass unnoticed. The officer spat grape skins onto the deck and shouted a guttural warning.

Korendir ignored him. With an irritable frown, the deckhand rose and unslung his whip.

Haldeth kicked his benchmate’s ankle, imploring prudence. But with the final knot nearly undone, Korendir refused to relinquish his prize. The string fell loose, just as the deckhand strode the length of the gangway and uncoiled his lash. Korendir started to unwedge his shoulders from the oarport, but the deckhand moved first. Seven supple feet of braid struck, splitting through muscled flesh.

Korendir recoiled and skinned his collarbone on the oarport. Silent and sullen, he straightened. Gripping his oar with both hands, he lifted gray eyes and glared at the deckhand. The insolence earned him the whip-butt across the face in a blow that left him reeling.

“Mind thy manners,” snapped the officer. But the slave’s cold gaze left him strangely unsettled. He blotted sweat from his lip and sauntered back to his seat.

The instant the officer’s back was turned, Haldeth caught his friend’s shoulder and whispered, “Was that necessary?”

Korendir shifted his hand, surreptitiously exposing the corner of a small wooden box. Kahillan shaving tools were bound to be inside, and if his brief act of defiance had distracted the deckhand from noticing, Korendir considered the price worthwhile. One bruised eyelid dipped into a wink as he tucked his prize under his loincloth. Curled once more over his oarshaft, he ignored the flies which lit upon his opened back with impressive single-mindedness, and presently fell asleep.


In the dark, still hours after midnight, Korendir examined his contraband. Haldeth craned his neck to see over his companion’s shoulder as the box fell open. The contents were immediately disappointing. By the wan light through the oarport, Haldeth discovered that Kahillans removed their beards with slivers of sharpened shell, each imbedded in a layer of pitch to preserve their fragile edges. A slot to one side contained a well-used whetstone.

“Neth,” said Haldeth. Disgust thinned his habitual caution. “Those things are worthless.”

Korendir lifted his head. “They’re precisely what I expected,” he said mildly.

But Haldeth remained too irritable to demand any explanation. Angered that he had permitted himself any hope at all, he hunched at the far end of the oar shaft and sleeplessly waited for dawn.


The dishonored mate resumed duty the following day. His jaw was clenched, and his strut more pronounced as he relieved the officer on the gangway. Interpreting the signs as fishermen read weather, Haldeth knew the man’s temper would be short. No slave needed Korendir’s crusted back to remind him how readily the Mhurgai whip might fall. All orders on the lower deck were obeyed as though the rowers sat balanced on eggshells.

Nallga cleared the barrier reef just after sunrise. Driven by both banks of oars, she thrust through the swells under a stiff breeze, her forward slaves drenched in spray.

Accustomed to the shudder of planking against heavy waves, Haldeth rowed, preoccupied by thought. Korendir’s exchange with the Kahillan natives had been outright recklessness. Certain the mate would discover the contraband, Haldeth worried. Sharpened shells were no match for Mhurgai steel. Korendir was crazy to believe in them.

Scarcely an hour beyond the barrier reef, Haldeth noticed cold water wetting his feet. He glanced downward, immediately suspicious of a leak. Nallga was clinker-built, her strakes lashed through eyes on the ribs with tarred cord; one of the lines had given way, and seawater welled between the floorboards with each roll of the hull.

Haldeth swore. Korendir had surely been at work with his shells; the line showed no trace of chafing previously. And with the mate’s competency questioned by the entire crew, now was the worst time to discover hull failure. Yet Haldeth had no choice. Refusal to report a leak carried worse penalty than the whip. Reluctantly, he raised his voice.

“Zhaird’s hells,” snapped the mate. “How did that happen?” Surly and impatient, he rang the brass bell to summon the ship’s marshal since no Mhurga seaman ever walked among the slaves without an armed escort to cover his back.

The mate strode down the gangway to Haldeth’s bench. Even where he stood he saw the water sluicing through the floorboards. The cause was certainly minor, and in his present vicious mood, the protocol which demanded he wait for assistance rankled. The moment the marshal’s weaponed bulk loomed above the companionway, the mate barked orders to hold stroke. Then he stepped down between the slave benches.

Haldeth relinquished his oar and moved clear. Left to tend the loom alone, Korendir stared through the oarport as if unaware that an officer had arrived to inspect the leak.

The mate muttered an insult and added a curt gesture for Darjir to move his feet. Korendir complied without haste. He fixed intent gray eyes on the mate and appeared not to notice the foam-laced swell which rose beneath the poised blade of his oar. The sucking smack of impact tore the shaft free of his grip. The high end of the loom rose in a neat arc and struck the mate on the side of the head.

Haldeth cried out in alarm as pounds of leaded beech thumped into skull. The officer toppled like a felled tree. His weapons clattered over the wood of slave bench, rib, and floorboard. Korendir controlled the shaft with a one-handed motion and swiftly bent over the fallen body of the mate.

Haldeth trembled uncontrollably. A man four years at the oar could never have misjudged the swell; Korendir’s act surely had been deliberate. The marshal had witnessed its entirety, and his muscled, gut-round figure now pounded the length of the gangway. Both huge fists contained knives.

Fear closed Haldeth’s throat and sealed the breath within his lungs. Only divine intervention would spare him from hamstringing, and as he knew the Mhurgai, he would be lucky to escape that lightly. He remembered the mate’s knife too late; the marshal’s lumbering charge had already carried him aft. Haldeth found himself throttled by a hairy wrist, while ten inches of bare steel pricked his exposed back.

“Get back!” commanded the marshal. He spoke past Haldeth.

Instantly obedient, Korendir straightened. He withdrew his hands, which surprisingly held no weapon, but instead had supported the mate’s shoulder to hold him clear of the bilge. Salt water welled beneath the floorboards, lifting plumes of blood from the man’s split scalp. His tasseled braid was already sodden scarlet and his body lay ominously still.

Korendir shrugged, artfully emphasizing empty hands. The marshal snorted in disgust, but his death grip on Haldeth relaxed slightly.

“Zhaird’s own fool, thou art, to have made such a move,” he muttered to the unconscious mate. Then he fixed unfriendly eyes on Korendir. “Ship that oar, slave, and make certain it causes no further mischief.”

The marshal raised his voice and summoned Nallga’s healer. The man arrived, accompanied by a brace of deckhands who removed the mate from the bilge under the vigilant eyes of the marshal. After a brief examination, the healer stood up and pronounced the mate dead. He accompanied his prognosis with a clipped gesture toward Haldeth and Korendir.

“Those slaves should both suffer punishment.”

The marshal crossed his arms over his belted chest and spat on the deck. “I think not,” he said. “Why ruin two fine strong backs? The mate’s own carelessness earned his death. I saw. No hand held the oar which struck Alhar down. Any fool who thinks himself clever enough to walk alone on a slave deck well deserves a split skull.”

“The captain must decide,” retorted the healer. “I doubt the injury to Alhar was an accident.”

The marshal shrugged. He extended a hand for the healer’s satchel and helped the man back onto the gangway. A crewman arrived to replace the departed mate, and both officers retired abovedecks.


Interrupted at breakfast by news of Alhar’s misfortune, the captain heard the marshal’s account through without comment. But when the healer insisted the slaves be tortured in retribution, Nallga’s commander spared no patience for tact.

“Zhaird’s hells, I’m well rid of that incompetent excuse of a mate!”

The healer frowned. “That’s a dishonorable way to account for an officer who was murdered in thy service.”

The captain’s face went white. “Alhar’s weapons were not touched.” He qualified with menacing clarity. “Slaves who kill usually have courage enough afterward to strike a blow in self-defense. We’re short-oared enough without wasting the morning carving sheep.”

The captain sized the healer up in a manner that withered the reply in the man’s throat.

“Get thee gone from here,” he finished. “Quickly, or I’ll teach thee the meaning of insubordination with a rope on the end of a yardarm.”

The healer backed through the doorway, his satchel forgotten in his haste. The captain booted it out of the cabin with such violence that the medicine flasks shattered within. With no pause for apology, he rounded on the marshal.

“Clear that oar and get the joiner to work on the leak. Lock the slaves in the sail room, and don’t trouble me again concerning the matter.”


Confined in the semi-darkness of the sail room, Haldeth shivered as the sweat chilled on his body. The stroke of the upperdeck oars rumbled through the bulkhead at his back, and he breathed air thickened with the smell of mildewed canvas. The new location held nothing by way of advantage. Stout chain secured him to the ring set in the hatch grating, and a guard stood watch beyond the companionway. The man would not sleep at his post; every sailhand down to the waterboy had suffered repercussions from the captain’s foul mood. Haldeth found no comfort knowing that blame rested on the slaves whose oar had caused Alhar’s death.

As though sensing his companion’s thoughts, Korendir whispered from the shadow, “I never promised there wouldn’t be risk.”

Haldeth’s temper flared. “What have you gained us but misery? You’ve seen what happens to those who earn the disfavor of the Mhurgai. How long do you think it will take you to break, when they strip your back raw because you moved to swat a fly?”

“Be still!” snapped Korendir. “I never act without purpose.”

Haldeth felt his wrist gripped, and a warm object pressed against his palm. He raised it toward the dull streak of daylight which fell through a crack in the hatch grating, clued by the pungent scent of pine before his eyes confirmed. Korendir had passed him the pitch which once had lined the Kahillan box. Deeply pressed in the surface was an impression of the leg-iron key, surely purloined from the ring at the mate’s belt during the confused moment while the marshal had raced the length of the gangway.

Sobered into reflection, Haldeth returned the pitch. Over the stroke of Nallga’s oars, he heard the whispered scrape of a whetstone grinding shell, and in darkness, Korendir’s slow smile could almost be felt.

“I’ll have you a copy,” he said softly. “Wooden, but good enough, since the marshal so kindly oiled the locks.”

Haldeth suppressed a mad urge to laugh. Under normal conditions, the leg-irons were frozen with rust. But the marshal had nearly bent his key while unlocking the slaves for transfer to the sail room. In an irritable fit of efficiency, he had commanded a deckhand to work the slide bars with oil, then inspected the job personally to ascertain the work was done well. For the first time, Haldeth entertained the belief that escape might be possible.

He touched his companion’s arm. “Let me help. I can sharpen while you carve.”
Korendir passed the whetstone and the duller of his two shells, then resumed work in silence. The joiner would repair the leak in under an hour, and the duplicate key had to be completed before the marshal returned to fetch them back to the oar.
© Janny Wurts

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by Michael A. Ventrella


Jeremy Wembley grabbed the broom by the handle.  He took forceful steps toward the back of the room where Patrick stood unaware.   Patrick paid no notice as Jeremy shortened the distance between them, and seemed completely oblivious to Jeremy’s presence.

Jeremy raised the broom just as Patrick turned around.

“I’ll sweep the stockroom now, Mr. Brenner,” he said.

Jeremy knew that if he continued to impress his boss, it would not be long before he could get that promotion—and soon after, get the real reward he desired:  night manager of the Fredricksburg 7-11 on West Norton Avenue.

Unless his arch-nemesis, that kiss-up Eric Stoher got there first…

All the elements are there.  There is a goal the main character wishes to reach, and an obstacle that can prevent him.  There is character development and conflict.

But, you know, who gives a flying you-know-what?

The fact of the matter is that we want to read stories about people and events that are larger than life.  We want to read about heroes to do great things, make clever comments, overcome great odds.

This is nothing new.  The ancient Greeks didn’t do plays about the guy who cleaned the stables.

And I am no exception.  My books have been about wars and world-shaping events and the heroes whose presence made a difference.

However, at the same time, I have consciously avoided the standard hero that is a mainstay of much of fiction (and especially fantasy).   You know the type – the Chosen One from Prophecy who is the seventh son of the seventh son who is the only one who can wield the magic sword Noonah because he has surplus midichlorians and blah blah blah.   Maybe this hero starts off the book as a nobody, but he or she ends up as the World’s Greatest Swordsman or Most Powerful Wizard by the end and thus, being superior to us lowly humans, saves the day.

In my two published novels (ARCH ENEMIES and THE AXES OF EVIL) and in a short story in the soon-to-be-released anthology TALES OF FORTANNIS:  A BARD’S EYE VIEW, my main character is a teenager named Terin.   His problem is that, thanks to a mistake, everyone thinks he’s the Chosen One Who Can Save The Day.

By the end of ARCH ENEMIES, Terin is still running when a fight breaks out and still can barely cast a minor spell.  So what makes him the hero?

To me, what makes a real hero is someone who doesn’t have all those skills and yet, through bravery and intelligence, rises above what is expected and does the extraordinary.   Terin is the hero because he figures out a solution – he finds a way to solve the problem that is more than merely “hitting the bad guy with the weapon until he falls down.”

I like these kinds of heroes because they remind us that we all can be heroes sometimes.

Oh, I don’t mean to knock down the more traditional heroes:  I love Batman and Luke Skywalker as much as the next fan.  But when I create a hero for my stories, they tend to be average people put into extraordinary circumstances who must then find something special within themselves to make things right.

In the sequel THE AXES OF EVIL, people are now thoroughly convinced that Terin has wondrous powers, even though he doesn’t.  Now he’s confronted with a trio of barbarian prophecies which, he later discovers, contradict each other.  On top of this, his liege wants him to get all the barbarians off his land, and a bunch of silly goblins think Terin’s the one who will lead them to victory over the evil humans who oppress them.

These are problems that cannot be resolved by being the biggest fighter.  Terin solves them all by the end of the book through his cleverness and resourcefulness, and by being brave and willing to risk it all.

That, to me, is very admirable.  It’s what I admire about my real life heroes (Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King, to name two).   And it’s the kind of hero I like writing about, because I can identify with him and understand his fears and worries.




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Freebie Friday from Alethea Kontis

Alethea Kontis, our guest blogger this week, has a fun podcast project going where she reads aloud the original Grimm’s Fairy tales. Here is the link to “Cinderella”, : https://aletheakontis.com/2011/05/princess-aletheas-fairy-tale-theatre-episode-14/

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Molly and Jane Revisited

by Faith Hunter


Evan: Today at Witch Central, the interview/blog spot for all things witchy, hosted by the Everhart sisters, we are posting an interview with Jane Yellowrock, the Cherokee shape-shifter / skinwalker who hunts rogue-vampires for a living. This is from a taped interview, transposed to type for the blog, and where possible, parenthetical comments will be included for clarity.

Our interviewer is Molly Everhart Trueblood, a moon witch, and because of the sensitive nature of some of the questions—and answers—this blog will be a closed interview, available to only the supernatural community. No humans have been sent the password to the interview site, and if you have access, remember to share it only people who will appreciate paranormal! I’m Evan Trueblood, Molly’s husband. Welcome Molly and Jane. Take it away ladies.

Molly and Jane (speaking at once): Thank you Evan. Glad to be here.

Molly: And I have to give a special thanks to Evan Trueblood, for producing us today. The rumors circulating in the witch community that Evan is unhappy because of my friendship with Jane are well founded, as noted in the plot of BLOOD CROSS. His generosity today is exceptional.

Evan: (grumbles through his mike).

Molly: Jane, not everyone here knows what a Cherokee skinwalker, also known as a shape-changer or shape-shifter, is. And the myths that surround the Native American skinwalkers are violent and gruesome. Can you enlighten us?

Jane: Most of us prefer to be called American Indian, or AmIn, or by our tribal name, not Native American, which is a moniker probably dreamed up by some D.C. bureaucrat. I like to be called Cherokee. I haven’t done a lot of study about the western AmIn shape-changer mythos, like the Hopi tales, but what I’ve learned about the Eastern Cherokee skinwalker can be pretty awful, with age-related changes in dietary habits that are gruesome, tending toward … um … the consumption of human meat.

Molly: (groans in horror) So, they get old and start eating people?

Jane: Yeah, the tales are pretty nasty. But according to the oldest traditions of many tribes, skinwalkers were originally the tribal protectors and warriors. It was only after the white man came that their numbers began to decrease, and they started acting nutso, which makes me think that my subspecies of human may have been decimated by illness brought by Europeans.

Evan: (interjecting, sounding stern) Our apologies to the mental healthcare professionals and those suffering from any form of mental or emotional anguish.

Jane: Yeah, yeah, sorry. I guess there might be a more medically and socially acceptable diagnosis than nutso, but to get one, a shrink would have to spend time with someone who wanted to eat him, and in a lot less entertaining way than some Hollywood-created Hannibal Lector.

(Jane leans in, intent.) Skinwalkers are a magical subspecies of human, Evan, Molly. Very different from the were-creature mythos, who can adopt only one animal shape. Skinwalkers can adopt the shape of many different animals if certain conditions are met. For me to shift, I have to have some genetic material of the chosen animal, bones with some marrow is best, but teeth with some soft tissue works. And it’s easier if the genetic guidelines for size and mass are equal to the human making the change. Meaning that if the shifter weighs 125 pound in human form, then it’s easier to shift into a wolf or big-cat or other animal that weighed 125 pounds in real life.

Molly: But if you wanted to fly, to be a bird, and it weighed only 40 pounds, or if you needed to be a horse, and it weighed a thousand, what then?

Jane: (sounding hesitant) It’s possible to take mass from, or leave mass with, anything that contains no genetic material, like stone. But it’s dangerous. I don’t like to do it. When I dump mass, I leave something of myself behind, and not just body mass. The smaller brain capacity of smaller animals means that I have to store part of my consciousness—memory, spirit, whatever—in other parts of the animal or leave it behind in the stone. I never know if I’ll get all of myself back. And when I take on mass to change into a larger animal, I always wonder if I’ll drop it all, or get stuck with an extra hundred or so pounds of, well whatever I’d get stuck with.

Molly: Like an extra hundred pounds of stone. Well, if you get stone hard abs and bones hard as stone, it might be worth a little extra weight. (The girls laugh.)

Jane, you had a financially lucrative relationship with the Master Vampire of North Carolina, where you became the only vampire hunter to take down an entire rogue-vampire blood-family—that’s a mouthful, isn’t it?—as told by your writer, Faith Hunter, in the anthology titled Strange Brew. Tell our listeners what took you from your home in the Appalachians Mountains, near Asheville, North Carolina to New Orleans, Louisiana?

Jane: First, let’s clarify that I don’t kill just any vampire. I’m licensed to kill rogue vampires, and there are two kinds. Young rogues are vamps who were turned and not kept shackled long enough to cure, or ferment, or whatever they do to find sanity. This usually takes 10 years or so, during which time they’re under the care of, and dependant upon, their maker or sire. Old rogues are vamps suffering from the vamp form of dementia, which makes them a lot more dangerous than a young rogue, because an old vamp still has his mental functions, but his predatory instincts have gone whacko, and he—or she—has taken to violence.

There aren’t many people willing to take on the job of rogue-vamp hunter. I’d hazard to say that there aren’t 25 in North America and Central America together. And there aren’t that many sanctioned vamp-hunting gigs to be had. For a hunt to be legal, the local vamp council has to sanction the hunt and then call in a licensed hunter. So when the New Orleans council asked me to come for a job interview, I took the chance and made the trip. Katie Fonteneau conducted the interview for the vamp council and hired me. It was a lot of money, and it was a dangerous job. I earned every red cent I made on that one.

Molly: And what made this job so dangerous?

Jane: Whacked out vamps don’t usually eat their victims. This was an old-rogue with a preference for organ meat, livers were his cut of choice.

Molly: Eeeew. (more laughter) But that wasn’t all that made this job dangerous, was it?

Jane: No, there was a lot more. Spoilers, so skip the next sentence if you haven’t read SKINWALKER. The vamp in question turned out to be related to one of the most powerful vamps in the city.

Molly: And the whacked-out vamp, well, he wasn’t a vamp at all, was he?

Jane: (voice firm) I was hired to kill a vamp. The vamp council has issued a statement saying it was a vamp that got sick, and I took him out.

Molly: (Presses the point.) But it wasn’t a vamp, was it?

Jane: If I killed something that wasn’t a vamp, then I could, possibly, be accused of murder. So, it was a vamp, Molly, and that’s all I’m gonna say about it.

Molly: Okay, okay, but for our listeners and readers, there have been hints in this interview that tell exactly what the vamp turned out to be.

Change of subject. Tell me what happened in the vampire hunter community after you killed the vamp who was eating people—and vampires. Y’all. It was eating vampires too—in the party capital of the nation. And don’t fidget as if you won’t answer the question. Come on, Jane.

Okay. Our guest is never one to brag, so I’ll say it for her. There’s a website online for vampire hunters, and it lists contact info, number and difficulty of kills, website addresses, and a scorecard of sorts for each of the licensed hunters out there. It’s managed by a guy called Reach, or Reacher, a mysterious personage in the vamp-hunting community, who has his fingers in a lot of pies.

Our guest, Jane Yellowrock, hovered in the top three vampire hunters nationally for years, but after the photo of the thing she killed for the Vampire Council of New Orleans was posted to her website—and went viral, I might add—she moved firmly to the number one spot, and the price to hire her, moved up accordingly, am I right, Jane?

Jane: (mumbles) I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to do this interview. You’re going all Nancy Grace on me here, girlfriend.

Molly: But—another spoiler—the word in the supernatural community is that Leo Pellissier, Master of the City of New Orleans, is claiming that you, well, you murdered the insane vamp.

Jane: I didn’t murder anyone. I killed the vamp the council hired me to kill. If you read Skinwalker, you know the truth.

Molly: Okay, don’t get grumpy. Lets talk about your love life.

Jane: (laughing, covering her eyes) Oh, God. I knew not to do this interview. Let’s not talk about my love life. It’s so mixed up right now.

Molly: We witches are a predominately female community because our males don’t usually survive the childhood cancers they’re so prone to. So, we’re accustomed to marrying into the human community, having children with our human husbands, and passing along the witch gene only occasionally. With so few shapeshifters around, do you date humans?

Jane: I like humans, and yes, I’ve dated a few. Right now, I’m talking to a human, a blood-servant, and a vamp.

Molly: Anyone you want to tell us about?

Jane: No. No way.

Molly: Okay. Then tell us how the vampires relate to your scent.

Jane: (sounding relieved) Rogues recognize me as a fellow predator right off. I seem to provoke a response that’s primarily aggressive in them. But if they’re young enough, all they can think of is food, so they attack, wanting to kill or subdue and feed. Katie Fonteneau was the first sane vamp I ever met in person. When she got her first, good whiff of me, she attacked. Ditto with her boss, Leo Pellissier, Master of the City of New Orleans. But once he accepted me, the rest of them accepted me, and their perception of my scent changed. I’ve guessed it’s like a pride of lions. Once the alpha accepts the outsider, then the others will too. Now they say I smell like a combo of dessert and sexual challenge. Dangerous. They seem to like it.

Molly: (teasing) Tall, dark, and deadly. For our readers, Jane Yellowrock is six feet tall, has hip-length black hair, amber eyes, wears leather, and is armed and dangerous. Vampires like the way you smell. Okay, moving back to the subject of men. There are hints scattered about that Rick LaFleur is not quite human. Or more than human. Or maybe he is human and you liiiiike him. May we expect further enlightenment?

Jane: The answer to that question will be partially addressed in Mercy Blade, and will be addressed again in Raven Cursed. My writer is still working on that novel. Which means that I don’t know the answer, and for all I know, she might not know. She’s bad about leaving me hanging, you know?

Molly: So there’s a chance he is a skinwalker!

Jane: I didn’t say that, Molly-girl. Ricky Bo smells totally human, not like me, and not like what I remember of my kind, at all. Delectable to my Beast, but totally human.

Molly: I know some of us will be disappointed to hear that. But, that brings us to Beast. Jane is a being with two souls, one a skinwalker, one a mountain lion. What’s that like?

Jane: (sounding snarky) Crowded.

Molly: Come on Jane. Give me something here.

Jane: (sighs) It’s complicated. I have two conscious minds, each very different, trying to, learning to, get along in a body built for shape shifting. When we … merged, I guess is one way to put it … I got some of Beast’s strength and speed, even in my human form, and she got some of my language abilities. She talks to me inside my head when we’re in human form, and I can talk to her when we’re in cat form, though one of us is always alpha. It’s kind of … schizophrenic, I guess. But it works for us.

Molly: How about eating?

Jane: You’re not gonna like this. Especially your vegetarian listeners and readers. I like my steak rare. Beast likes hers on the hoof and freshly dead, raw, and still warm.

Molly: And your writer? The woman who tells your stories?

Jane: (sounding snarky again) Faith Hunter? She likes leafy greens and bean soup and yogurt. Wimp. The only thing we have in common is a love of fine teas, though I may let her teach me to whitewater kayak. It looks like fun, especially the Class III rivers. Oh – and she said to tell you that RAVEN CURSED, the fourth Jane Yellowrock novel, will be out in January 2011.

Molly: (laughing) Perfect timing for a plug Jane! I think that’s enough for today.

Jane Yellowrock, thank you for coming to talk to us. Evan Trueblood, producer extraordinaire and best hubby in the world, thank you.

Evan: It’s been a pleasure. And enlightening. And to all our listeners and readers, we hope you have a good witchy evening, and a good book to enjoy!

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Fights, Perils, Barriers, and Annoyances: The art of the middle

by James Maxey

So, I’m currently well past the halfway mark of the first draft of my tenth novel, Hush. When I started the book, I knew exactly how it began, since it starts just a week after my novel Greatshadow ends. At the end of that book, one of the surviving characters has made a vow to a dying friend to return a sacred weapon to a temple in a faraway homeland. The book starts with her gathering things she’ll need to make this trip. I also knew exactly how the book ends. The weapon needs to end up back in the hands of its rightful owners. So, I have a first chapter, that should be good for 5000 words. And I have a last chapter, good for another 5000 words. I’m under contract to turn in a novel approximately 110,000 words long. What the hell do I put into the middle 100,000 words?

I wish I could claim to have some systematic approach to logically filling in the giant gap between the beginning and the end of my books. My real approach is to just dive in and start making up stuff, then keep on making up stuff, then make up more stuff. So far, this approach has worked for me. But, somewhere around chapter 10 of Hush, I’d written two fight scenes back to back and I realized I couldn’t immediately use another fight scene. But, it was also too early just to have everyone settle down and talk about the weather for a chapter or two. What I needed, I thought, was a peril. I settled on the ship being damaged in the course of the last fight, and now it’s sinking. Once they saved the ship, there would be time for a talking scene. Then I’d throw in a big obstacle for my characters to get around. Then, it might be time for another fight. I realized as I was thinking through all the upcoming turns of events that I do have a few standard categories of events that my chapters follow. I don’t present these as formulas, but as a potentially useful tool for the next time you are writing a book and you’ve just had your characters jump out of the frying pan, escape the fire, and are now staring at a blank screen wondering, “Okay. Now what?”

1: Fights. Since I write action adventure fantasies, the first thing standing in my characters’ ways are ordinarily other characters. While in a perfect world they could resolve their differences with a friendly smile and a handshake, in my books someone almost always winds up throwing a punch. Fights tend to be inherently interesting, and I sprinkle them liberally throughout my books, but too much of a good thing gets tiresome. So, when even I’m tired of my characters fighting, it’s time for:

2: Perils. The ship is sinking! The building’s on fire! A tornado just picked up the house! Perils are obstacles that threaten the lives of the characters. They can’t be solved by punching someone. Perils are handy in their neutrality. The same hurricane that is dashing your ship against the rocks is also scuttling the zombie pirate ships that were chasing you. Or the evil space tyrant who was going to delight in torturing your heroes flees in his escape capsule as the space station gets too close to the black hole.

3: Barriers. What you need to succeed is someplace you ain’t, and getting to it won’t be easy. The medicine you need to halt the zombie plague is in a locked bunker in Antartica, and you’re on the side of the road in the Arizona desert with an empty gas tank and no bars on your cell phone. Or, maybe the floor plans you need to get past the bank’s security system are in a safe on the 99th floor, guarded by sharks with laser beams. Which leads to:

4: Puzzles. A subcategory of barriers. You’ve captured the Nazi attack plans, but they’re in code. What’s the key? They dying man’s last words were a cryptic quote from Shakespeare’s “Tempest.” What was he trying to tell you? Puzzles can sometimes be large enough to last an entire book, but if you scatter smaller ones throughout your plot they are useful in demonstrating that your hero has virtues other than tough fists and a heart of gold.

5: Tests. Not SAT type problems, but moral tests. The mob boss has just called your cop hero into a private meeting. Call off the investigation, turn over the hard drive with the evidence, and whoah, where did this suitcase full of hundred dollar bills come from? Or, the lead vampire has just pulled off her hood and, gasp, it’s your own mother! You aren’t going to stake your own mom, are you?

6: Annoyances. Of course, if every problem your character faced was some life altering choice or unstoppable foe, you’d burn out your readers pretty quickly. Sometimes it’s out of the frying pan, into the fire, then back into the %$#&! frying pan because the hero dropped his damn car keys. Other times, the good guy is just about to charge into the demon lord’s throne room when his kid sister taps him on the shoulder and asks what he’s doing. He was sure she’d been asleep when he slipped out the bedroom window!

7: Chats. No matter how gung ho your characters are, there are going to be scenes in your book where your characters do nothing but stand around and talk. Frequently, these scenes serve to advance the plot. After a fight, your heroes interrogate a captured guard and learns that the kidnapped princess is locked in the north tower. Now they talk through a plan on how to get her out. Later, they talk through what when wrong when they rescue not the princess, but her hairdresser. Stuff happens. People talk about it.

8: Respites and interludes. Finally, sometimes the world just gives you a break. Right in the middle of Greatshadow, I have a chapter where the characters meet the long lost grandfather of the narrator and are invited back to his jungle village to rest and recover from their wounds. The characters had just survived a long string of fights and perils, and it was a welcome break to have the characters sitting around debating philosophy while dining on an exotic jungle buffet of mystery fruits, raw snails, and katydids. I’ve made this a separate category from the previous one because other talking scenes can unfold while danger is imminent. With a respite, you and your readers can take a deep breath and relax for a moment and find out what your characters are like when they aren’t killing people. These peaceful scenes also help to establish a sense of what might be lost if Evil Triumphs.

Of course, all of these categories are amorphous, and frequently overlap in the course of a single scene. And despite the fact I’ve numbered them, I wouldn’t advise digging out your 8-sided dice from your D&D set and trying to plot a book by rolling random numbers. There’s an ebb and flow to these events that feels natural that you can only develop by actually writing. Still, if you do find yourself wondering “What comes next?” I hope this list helps jog your imagination.

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A Writer Remembers

by Pam Cable

Swarms of finches, wrens, and other tiny birds peck and hunt for food at feeders that hang outside my kitchen window. Even when I forget to fill the feeders, the birds arrive each morning, hoping to discover their next meal. These tiny birds never give up. They are constant, vigilant, driven. Despite the odds and possible dangers, the birds return every day.

Writers are like tiny birds. We beat our heads against one roadblock after another, writing against enormous odds, hoping and believing our next book will land in the laps of readers and on bestseller lists across the country. But even after decades into our career, we discover we must sometimes recall what made us write in the first place and the courage it took.

My granddaddy was a coal miner, but my father escaped the mines, went to college and moved his family to Ohio to work for the rubber companies. I spent every weekend as a child, traveling back to the West Virginia Mountains. My memories of my childhood run as deep as the Appalachian creeks and swimming holes I swam in as a child. My career as a writer was born in the dust laden coal towns of the early 60s.

For me, it is within sanctuaries of brick and mortar, places of clapboard and revival tents transcending time and space, that characters hang ripe and ready for picking.

From the primitive church services of mountain clans to the baptisms and sacraments of robed priests in great cathedrals and monasteries. From hardworking men and women who testify in the run-down churches of coal camps to the charismatic high-dollar high-tech evangelicals in televised mega-churches of today. Therein lie stories of unspeakable conflict, the forbidden, and often, the unexplained.

As a writer, it is my desire to transport a reader’s mind—but my deepest passion is to pierce a reader’s heart. The topic of faith, for me, has a way of doing that like nothing else.

My mother says I cut my teeth on the back of a church pew. I grew up in revival tents, tabernacles, and eventually in grand cathedrals with TV cameras rolling. In the early days, revivals were as exciting as the carnival coming to town and evangelists were royalty. I experienced a world from the sublime to the bizarre. It caused me to weave religion, spirituality, and the mysterious into my stories. Stories that hint to an ancient bridge where the real and the supernatural meet.

Many of my stories are based on truth, shreds of truth, people I’ve known, places I’ve been, and of course history plays a great part in some stories, like Coal Dust On My Feet; a love story set amidst the longest and most violent coal strike in the history of our country. It is truth and fiction.

Mother was a skilled storyteller without knowing it. All I wanted to do when I grew up was duplicate her life. I loved her southern accent and heritage and I felt neither imprisoned nor put off by it. But the most precious gift she gave me was a love for the written world, be it the word of God or of Mother Goose. Mom was my inspiration, and one day I picked up a pencil in the sixth grade and wrote my first story. I haven’t stopped since. The next forty years played into my storytelling, and after surviving life’s heartaches and hardships, it gave me plenty to write about.

A writer’s life is a solitary life. We hope we possess raw talent, unique originality, and gut emotional appeal. We raise the stakes on each and every page and hope, and pray, and believe that some day we’re blessed a bit of luck.

Is it worth the struggle? You bet it is. All you need, is the courage of a tiny bird.

Remember when you tackled that first story, essay, article, poem? That was courage. Courage is not confidence, nor the opposite of meekness. It’s feeling a measure of confidence, and then acting on those feelings. It’s a quality of spirit that enables you to face the moment, whatever comes, and keep going.

Courage allows you to see, hear, smell, and taste things as they really are. Courage makes you face facts, unfiltered by rosy daydreams. Courage frees you to be creative. It pushes you to prepare for the unknown without obsessing over it. To be open to what may come.

A writer can’t be open to new ideas if dazed and confused by fear. Courage enables you to be prepared and wide awake in every situation.

There were times in my youth I didn’t write because I was afraid of failing. I didn’t prepare for success because I was afraid it might happen. I didn’t look, really look, into my past because I was afraid of what I might find. As I grow older, I don’t give myself those options. Not anymore.

Fear is passive-aggressive. It’s the lazy writer’s excuse for not moving forward. It’s a great immobilizer, an avoidance technique. Fear puts the focus on what we might encounter, distracts us from what’s actually there. Courage empowers a writer to pay attention.

In the end, a writer can do without a lot of things. Remembering your journey is not one of them. Courage is the other.


Pam was born a Coal Miner’s granddaughter, and claims a tribe of wild Pentecostals and storytellers raised her. Her award-winning stories, articles, and essays have appeared in magazines, anthologies, and newspapers in several states. Pam’s passion and inspiration on overcoming life’s insurmountable obstacles is evident when she speaks and within the pages of her collection of short stories, Southern Fried Women, which was a finalist in Fiction and Literature-Short Story, Best Books of 2006 Book Awards, USABookNews.com, and a finalist for ForeWard Magazine’s Book of the Year 2006.

Pam has appeared on TV, Radio, and has been a keynote or guest speaker at regional and national writing groups, Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis, Women’s Centers, Junior Leagues, and many churches throughout the South. Also, in 2006 Pam was invited by the First Lady of West Virginia and the First Lady of Mississippi to speak to the people of Charleston and Jackson.

A week prior to this blog submission, she signed with a New York Literary Agent for her new novel, THE SANCTUM. Neeley McPherson accidentally killed her parents on her fifth birthday. Thrown into the care of her scheming and alcoholic grandfather, she is raised by his elderly farmhand, Gideon, a black man, whom she grows to love. Neeley turns thirteen during the winter of 1959, and when Gideon is accused of stealing a watch and using a Whites Only restroom, she determines to break him out of jail.

The infamous Catfish Cole, Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon of the Carolinas, pursues Neeley and Gideon in their courageous escape to the frozen Blue Ridge Mountains. After Gideon’s truck hits ice and careens down a steep slope, they travel on foot through a blizzard, and arrive at a farm of sorts—a wolf sanctuary where Neeley crosses the bridge between the real and the supernatural. It is here she discovers her grandfather’s deception, confronts the Klan, and uncovers the shocking secrets of the Cherokee family who befriends her. Giving sanctuary, the healing power of second chances, and overcoming prejudice entwine, leading Neeley to tragedy once again but also granting her the desire of her heart.

THE SANCTUM is about the divine meaning of family. It is a coming-of-age Southern tale dusted with a bit of magic, and set in a volatile time in America when the winds of change begin to blow.

You can listen to the audio from when Pam was a guest of Blog Host, Gail Z. Martin’s Ghost in the Machine podcast here:  https://www.audioacrobat.com/play/WVLZM3ds

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