Sunday, October 30, 2016

Flash: Christmas Stocking

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The wind tore the sturdy wood door from Maria’s numbed hands. Giving over now that the battle to reach shelter had been won, she let the driving snow push her exhausted body into the cabin. Tugged along by the life-line connecting them, her companion stumbled across the threshold. No longer feeling the gale force winds, Laars summoned the remainder of his strength to close the thick pine barrier behind them. The rustic cabin’s solid stone walls, slate roof and wooden floors provided welcomed relief from the blizzard.

The ceasure of the ice being driven into their bodies made the cabin feel hot. The park ranger flipped the mitten portion of her gloves back to free her fingers. Halfheartedly she lifted her goggles to view the room, knowing it would reveal the lost hikers weren’t here either. No welcoming flames were dancing in the riverstone-constructed fireplace; the table and mismatched chairs left behind by others were still stacked in a corner. The one open door would lead into a separate sleeping area, but little hope remained. Maria heard a sob escape and it took her a moment to realize the sound came from her own throat. Behind her, the intern assigned to her search-and-rescue team slowly slid to the floor.

The boy had been amazing. Maria was all for equal rights, but sometimes tasks just needed to go to the taller and stronger. Laars had at least a foot on her five foot two frame and the strength of a twenty-one year old male that enjoyed outside activity. He had blazed the trail since false dawn and took the brunt of the wind, until the storm unleashed whiteout conditions. She had often joked she could find her way around the park blindfolded; for the last two hours she might as well had been. She released the gorilla clip connecting the lifeline to her utility belt.

The sleeping room revealed a half dozen cot frames leaned against the walls, waiting for hiker’s pillows and bags. She closed the door. They only needed to heat one room tonight. A quick inspection showed the fireplace sturdy and ready for wood, but the box for wood was empty.

Maria closed her eyes; Patrick had been the one assigned to prep the cabins for winter. Laars replaced him in November, about the same time Maria came back to work full time after taking two months off to complete her GED. They were still discovering what had not been done by Patrick at the end of his six-month internship. The park manager, Nelson, was a wonderful trusting man who was willing to hire a migrant worker’s daughter, and she loved him for it. But that personality characteristic prevented him from double-checking work when an intern reported a task complete. He trusted people who were willing to work in the middle of his beloved beautiful nowhere.

Stepping over Laars’ long legs, Maria idly noted she still had on her snowshoes. Good, because she was going to need to bring in a lot of wood. College-boy and her had restock the sheds just after Thanksgiving, so there would be plenty. It would just feel like an eternity bringing the wood in.

Maria drew in a breath as she stood before the cabinet. The heavy thing was made from two inch seasoned oak and weighed over three hundred pounds, mostly to prevent campers from moving it around. Inside was suppose to be an emergency first aid kit, two tins of dried foot, several gallons of water for when the water pipes froze outside, and other survival materials.

Laars lifted his head when she switched from Spanish to English after examining the interior. It wasn’t like she had a Latin temper, but sometimes … She hoped she didn’t shock the kid’s whitebread sensitivities. Though he was two years older than her, he had a very protective upbringing. Upper middle class somewhere in Washington, a state her family picked apples in for two months when they did the West Coast circuit. His father was a doctor, lawyer or something like that.

Leaning his head against the door, his goggles completely fogged so he talked to the ceiling, Laars asked “Problem?”

Maria’s lips twitched. Single word sentences, but humor was returning. A good sign. They had just spent a full day of an unsuccessful search for three hikers who were stupid enough not to check the weather reports or to check in with the ranger’s office before taking one of the dozens of trails. They had found the car last night when closing the park, planned and fretted all night as the old man mountain promised to have his way, and initiated the search and rescue at first light. He had fallen down not one but two gorges, hiked over 20 miles in high winds that kept the helicopters grounded, and after no sleep and reaching an exhaustion he probably had never experienced before in his life, he could still joke.

She licked her cracked lips before answering. “Nope, none at all. Only we should have fired Patrick before we hired him.”

“Right.” Laars lifted one ice coated mitten to try and move his goggles, but gravity claimed the weight of the arm when lack of fingers prevented him from accomplishing his task. “No food, huh?”

“No food, blanket, and the first aid kit is a nest for something. There is not even a pot to piss in.” She closed the door to the cabinet before walking over to the intern. “Or melt snow for water.”

Standing over him, she continued. “Speaking of water, we need to get you stripped.” She picked up his hands. “Alley-up.” Fortunately, Laars had regained enough energy to help her pull him up. She was just over a hundred pounds soaking wet, and he had to weigh close to two hundred pounds in soaking wet gear. Nothing was dripping since inside the cabin was still the ambient temperature of the outside. Only lacking was the wind-chill factor.

She helped him remove his mittens then his gloves and muttered a short prayer to her family for sending her a pair of gloves that had mittens that flipped on and off the finger area. She set to work on the ice locked lifeline while he removed his eye and face protection. Her fingers, fragile from the cold, tore and bled a little but she managed to remove the line from around his body and unhook the front of his backpack so he would be able to take off his parka.

When she started working on her own backpack, Laars said, “Let me.” Maria willingly let him take over; he could see the hooks, snaps, and buckles and she could not. When she tried to shoulder off the backpack she discovered that ice had bonded it to her parka. She turned around and let the taller man leverage the pack off then did the same for him.

Placing her pack on the beatup table, she chipped away a little of the snow. The table wobbled; one of the legs was missing and someone had duct taped a branch to replace it. Eventually she was able to remove the two reflective rescue blankets. Not much good if the person was in hypothermia and not generating his own heat, but better than being naked. Turning around she noticed Laars was swaying back and forth and had made no further progress on undressing.

Grabbing what looked like the sturdiest chair, an old camp chair missing the canvas on one arm, she place it behind him and ordered him to sit. Maria took a moment to examine his eyes while she wrapped one blanket around his shoulders and placed the other on his lap. Good, her shadow cast by getting between the overbright whiteout windows and Laars caused his pinpoint pupils to get larger and darker. Some shock, but not life threatening. Not yet, if they could get a fire going. She wanted to get wood right away, but one more thing needed to be done.

Unclipping the satellite phone from her utility belt, she dialed the home office and reluctantly placed the cold metal to her ear after pushing back the parka hood. Someone she didn’t know answered. “Team Gamma has reached Merveille Chalet. No sightings of Greens. Over,” she reported.

“Verify Team Gamma at shelter. No sightings of Greens,” came the crackling response. The cell phone had trouble boosting through the storm.

Since she didn’t know who the person was, she bet he was someone from the National Guard. “Yes. Any luck at your end?”

“No Gamma, but the storm is suppose to clear tonight and the birds can fly tomorrow.” The dispatcher shared. “All other teams made it back; only you are still out in the field. I have marked you secured for the night.”

“Roger. We will report in the morning.”

“Roger and good luck tonight,” replied the solider. “Stay warm.”

No wanting to worry anyone, since they couldn’t help Laars and her anyway she responded with, “Will try, over and out.” The satellite phones were a great invention, able to get through most of the rugged terrain of the park. But the three pounds added up over time. She turned off the phone and took off the utility belt. No need for that extra weight when fetching wood.

Remembering one other rescue supply in her pack, she pulled out two cans of soup and activated the heat elements. Crouching down in front of Laars, she examined his skin, lips, and eyes again. He was awake but not doing well. “Laars, here is some soup.” She pressed warming can into his hand. “Drink it. I am going out and will be back as quick as I can.”

Debating a moment, she finished emptying her pack beside the table. She could carry twice as much wood this way, even if she wouldn’t be able to buckle it. She could carry it in her arms; on her back, the wind would pull it off balance and her with it.

Between the second and third load, she noticed he had switched soup cans. With the fourth load, he had started putting the tinder and kindling from the first load together in the fireplace. “I should be doing that,” he said as he tried to stand when she came in to dump the load of fuel logs. He nearly toppled over into the stone, but managed to grabbed the mantle before doing so. The Mylar blanket drifted off his shoulders to the floor. The mantle was a huge expanse of native wood nearly six inches in diameter and five feet long, varnished with the bark still on it. Several nails had been pounded into it to hang things and various carved names of previous visitors decorated it.

“No, you shouldn’t,” she said as she removed the wood from her backpack. The backpack provided an added bonus of moving the wood without getting snow on it during transportation. “There are at least four fire pits between here and there, and I guarantee that unless you know where each obstacle is out there you will twist an ankle or break a leg.”

Sinking back to the floor, he commented, “I am not clumsy.”

“Oops, sorry, didn’t mean it like that. I had no business having you break the trail after we passed marker 12 on Sunrift Gorge.” She pushed back her goggles to better see him. “Laars, you did incredible things today and should be proud. I could have never made it the distance without you.”

“I fell twice and you had to pull me out of a creek.” Came the sulking reply.

“So, you were my windbreak, practically carried me through some four foot drifts, and removed one rock slide.” Making certain his clear blue eyes met her brown ones. “Really, I needed you today. Understand?”

He nodded, looking like a schoolkid not certain the praise was real but wanting it to be so.

“Okay, so I am bringing in the wood because I am going to need you just as much tomorrow.” She waited for him to acknowledge that with another nod. She was pleased to see the pupils reacting more to changes in light and his lips had lost their blue tinge. He had started thinking again, but not up to full clearness. The man was normally a ball of intelligence and curiosity. Exhaustion and exposure made people do stupid things because they just can’t think. “What I need you to do is set up the fire, and then … drat.”

“What’s the problem?” asked Laars.

She walked over to where she had unpacked her supplies. “I don’t remember my matches. I have the rescue pack set up to go … double checked it last night, matches are on my list … did I check it off?” she mused to herself.

“I’ve got a lighter in my kit.” Volunteered Laars. “My swim should not have affected it.”

“Great.” She walked over to his pack. “Which pocket?”

After extracting the longnecked lighter, she handed it over to him. “Only got two more trips left and then I think we will have wood to get through the night. I want this place to be warm by then.”

“Yes boss.” He smiled.

Carrying the backpack in front of her, she quickly left the building. Outside she was almost grateful for the need to concentrate on moving. While in first aid mode, Maria had forgotten how attracted she was to him until he smiled. With the survival juices flowing she may do something stupid like admit she had fallen for the oaf. Her first day back on the job Nelson had told her to go help the intern and a Boy Scouts troop put up a new information lean-to by Avalanche Point. When she had got there, Laars was helping the tallest boys lift the beams overhead. He had had stripped down to his undershirt and khaki pants. Yum, something about a man working hard.

She had come to admire his willingness to work, but was a little worried about his eagerness to please. Yes, he was an intern but he only had one semester left before finishing college. He was smart, using his internship to study biodiversity within the park for a thesis. He should have more self-confidence.

After all he had everything going for him. Not at all like her with her patchwork schooling over sixteen states. She had been lucky to complete her GED. The only reason Nelson had been willing to hire her was because she spoke four language fluently; she was a guide he couldn’t pass up on. Her dad had dropped off the family at the park while the car was being repair and she had seen the advertisement for a bi-lingual guide. Lying about her age by one year, but not about her citizenship, Nelson had agreed to hire her for the summer. Since the job made more than twice the money she would have made picking crops, the family had been all for it. Maria missed them horribly, but one thing led to another and now three years later she was a full park ranger and had her GED. More than she ever expected from life. Definitely not in Laars’ league, however attractive he was.

The fifth trip through she opened the damper on the chimney; the smoke hadn’t been bad yet. City boys. Yes, think of him as not yet finished. Intern-expert. Worker-boss. Man-woman. Nope, don’t go down that path. Student-graduate. She was a graduate and no longer needed to worry about school ever again.

When she finished the last trip, the fire was just beginning to create a bed of coals, which would regulate heat throughout the night. She returned to the door to take off her snow shoes. The room was warm enough to start melting the snow. She stripped off her parka and outer pants and laid them out to dry before approaching Laars. He also was down to his park uniform and the room was beginning to look like a sporting good store exploded.

His soaked through park uniform; steam was rising from it as he continued to nurse the fire.

“Out of those clothes,” she ordered.

He looked up as she said the first words in nearly an hour. She had pulled the damper without a comment while trudging through. Laars looked at her in confusion, but with sparkling eyes totally aware.

Good, the worst of the exposure seems done, but why was he confused. She ran the words through her mind making certain she had spoken English. Yep. “Your clothes are wet. You know better than to stay in wet things, right?”

“Oh,” he looked at her sheepishly “but I don’t have anything to change into.”

“I know we didn’t bring extra clothes since we were not suppose to be out here all day. Just strip down and change into the extra socks and underwear. The blankets are not the best, but should do.” She said briskly.

“Extra what?” His fair skin allowed a blush to start at his neck and work its way up past his ashen eyebrows to his short curly blond hair.

Since she had taught the survival course herself the first week she was back, she replied icily, “The extra socks and underwear and knit cap that should be in your survival pack in little bags to make certain you can maintain temperature at night in dry undergarments.”

The intern dropped his eyes.

(words 2,932 - first published 10/30/2016)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Blog: Nano Choice Part 3

NaNo is just three short days away. Below is the synopsis for The Swan series with my guess for the word length of each installment. Time to get writing!


Bit by a were, Charlie discovers his transformation animal is prey in the world of shapeshifting predators. Can he survive long enough to his perfect mate?

The story is in four parts to be published as four short novelettes:

The Swan and the Pussy - Saving a cat from a pack of dogs ends up transforming someone who had been losing the game of life into a Swan. Unfortunately, Charlie is now a prey animal in a world of predators. Some people never get a break. (about 12K words)

The Swan and the Hawk - A seer predicted Charlie would meet his perfect mate. Can a fat Swan find happiness with the ambitious Hawk in charge of the City's Aviary? (about 15K words)

The Swan and the Dolphin - Sent to Florida for testing, Charlie gets adopted by the Pod and dragged deeper into shifter politics. As the water gets hotter, can he hold his breath? (about 18K words)

The Swan and the Dragon - Seers are never wrong, but can Charlie survive a relationship with a ... Dragon? (about 20K words)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Other Cool Blogs: io9 March 23, 2016

Image acquired from the internet hive mind

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought I would share a little storytelling lesson I found on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Published March 23, 2016 by Charlie Jane Anders on io9, the posting is entitled "10 Vital Storytelling Lessons I Learned from Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Sometimes stuff like this is little more than a walk down memory lane, and since Buffy isn't a bad memory I decided to read through. My goodness! This is actually great stuff.

Lesson One: You can be scary, fun, AND sad. ... How true and how difficult. Some episodes we laughed, jumped, and cried our eyes out. Most times when writing I managed one, and if I am lucky two. Ms. Anders is right on point saying to pull off this emotional roller-coaster, everything comes back to characters.

Lesson Two: Takeaway quote "it’s totally fine to have the apocalypse going on in the background, while instead focusing on a smaller, more personal struggle in the foreground."

Ready for that link now?

WRITING EXERCISE: Think about an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Why has it stuck with you? What significant character activities appealed to you? Was it scary, fun, or sad? Write at least 100 words on the subject. ... Now rewatch the episode if you can find it and take it apart based on characters, goals, and stakes. Be sure to include the villains, the Scooby Crew, and secondary characters who appear in more than one episode.

For those who did not watch Buffy, use Dexter, Supernatural, Twin Peaks, or other show you like and does scary, funny, and sad.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Anthology Released

WeAreNotThis is out. One of my short stories was accepted into this charity anthology.

Some things have happened this year to make me ... exasperated with the government of my adopted home state of North Carolina. The people are amazing. The state beautiful. The NC Legislature needs to learn (pardon FDR for the rip-off) the only thing to hate is hate itself.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Writing Exercise: POV and Figures of Speec

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POV and Figures of Speech

Figures of speech, the descriptive picture using words, can help define the main character of the story, not only through describing him but the word used in the narrative. How they view the world and their personal experiences will impact what and how they share information with the reader. Limiting the story to the POV character's vocabulary can expand the book's world-view, drawing the reader deeper into the story and the main character's mindset.

For example, a solider may describe the boat he is on as "clashing with the waves", while the terse farmer from steering would say "the ship plowed through the sea," and the verbose seamstress describes "the vessel cutting through the white crests, like scissors through crinoline, not well, but with determination."

WRITING EXERCISE: Today's challenge - take a single action - ship on the sea, fist punching the gut, a man limping across the room, a woman smiling welcome, etc - and then have three different people describe it from their point of view in a single sentence. You should end up with three sentences. Possible protagonists include a teacher, a wizard, a criminal, a space ship engineer, a (highly intelligent) toddler, or any of the people used in my three examples.

I am rather proud of my flash, With Moon Watching Other Places, The main character is a dryad and I describe many items in relation to the natural world. Breaking from the standard human viewpoint was refreshing and challenging.

Please post your comments below.

(first publication 3/12/2015; republished in new blog format 10/25/2016)

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Flash: The Big Question

Image Courtesy of Kittisak at

“So who are you voting for?”

I jerk up from my reading to see the hottest senior in school motion at my stack of biographies and autobiographies. Blinking, I refocus my eyes behind my glasses. “I’m investigating.”

Collapsing in the chair next to me, all male and taking up twice as much space as me just sitting down, Grayson pulls out “The Art of the Deal” by Donald J. Trump from my pile and starts thumbing. New ink and paper scent waft to me, my personal aphrodisiac, sending my heart double-time. The town library hadn’t been able to keep up with the demand until the most recent book order came in. They called me immediately since I donated to the special election order, and I think I have the only one still left in the building.

I set down “Living History” by Hillary Rodham-Clinton on top of “Hard Choices” by the same author. “I’ve already checked that out.”

“I’m only looking.” Grayson snaps the book closed and tossed it on top of “Seven Principles of Good Government” by Gary Johnson.

“Have you decided yet?”

His dark eyes roll before he pushes his hands through his hair. “Who knew adulating would be so hard?” He links his hands behind his head, leans his chair back on two legs, and looks at me. “I was ranting at my mom since she was forcing me to finish my homework early so I could watch the debates. I mean, what does it really matter? I’m stuck with whatever people decide, right? She stopped me cold when she pointed out my birthday is the day before the election, so I will be 18 and get to vote.” He gives me a half grin, making my heart beat even faster than opening a new book. “The next day after school, she dragged me to the board of elections and got me registered.”

“Did you do that draft registration thing too?” I smile back. Grayson and I have been teamed a lot since junior high for group projects, mostly by teachers to keep the star running-back's grade point high, so him talking to a nerd like me didn’t make me go all tongue-tied.

He rocks a bit. “Nah. I’ll just run by the post office the week of for that one. I just got to get it done before the summer job starts.” The chair clicks as all four legs returns to the floor after the librarian wiggles a finger our way. “So what is a brainiac like you still doing in school at 18? I figure you would have skipped a grade or two.”

“An accident kept me out of school for four years. I’m lucky to be on level. My birthday is November first.”

He whistles softly. “That was some accident.”

I glance over his shoulder. “Yeah, it was.”

“No fly zone. Gotcha.” Grayson stands. “But, you know, if you need to talk about it…”

Smirking, I cock my head. “And why would I talk to you?”

“I don’t know.” He reaches behind his head to adjust the hair band holding his dreads, blushing a bit. “I thought, maybe, we were, like, friends.”

I bite back a laugh. He was serious.

I frown.

“We are, kind-of.” I stand, stacking my books. Hell, why not. If the people I am reading about can run for president, I can at least ask. “So are you taking anyone to the prom yet?” I glance sideways, causal-like.

A smile starts spreading wider and wider on Grayson’s face. “Depends. Are you asking?”

My eyes immediately drops to “A Woman in Charge,” and I gulp. Women can be anything. Firmly putting the books back on the table, I turn to face Grayson, clasping my hands in front of me. “Would you do me the honor of escorting me to the Senior Prom?”

He leans forward and grasps my right hand. Reluctantly, I let him pull it up towards him. I’m sure my face was a mask of confusion. He gently kisses the knuckles while staring down my arm into my brown eyes. “The honor is mine.”

What? He wasn’t joking.

Breathless, I couldn’t keep from asking, “This is for real. You aren’t going to a locker room and joking about this later.”

“I don’t do locker room talk.” Grayson’s tenor hardens. He hadn’t let go of my hand yet. I feel his breath brush my fingertips.

I swallow again. “Okay.” I step closer as my arm is a little uncomfortable with the way he is holding it. I apply a little pressure downward.

He guides the joined hands down but still doesn’t let go. “You have my number, right?”

I nod.

“Good. I still got yours from the science fair project.”

I nod again.

“Would you like to go for pizza?”

Pizza. A date. Think. “Who’s driving?”

Grayson shrugs, pulling my hand up a little with the motion. “My provisional license won’t let me have passengers, how about you?”

“I’ve got a full license, but no car. I was going to walk home.”

His eyes drop to the table. “With that load of books?”

“A girl’s got to do.”

Grayson grabs my other hand and wraps both around him. “How about this? You drive my car. We go for pizza. You drive home. And then I can get home from there.”

“Sounds like a deal.”

A new smile crosses Grayson’s face. I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. “Deals should be sealed.” And his head drops until I feel his lips on mine.

(925 words – first published 10/23/2016)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Geeking Science: Animal Bras

Image Courtesy of duron123 at

"Probably no one in history has ever needed to write a sentence that contained the words "gecko feet," "van der Waals forces," and "strapless bras." is the third sentence of "A Passion for Physics--And Fashion" published in Caltech's E&S online magazine November 20, 2015.

Today in Geeking Science, I bring you Animal Bras. Not animal print bras, but a strapless bra build using animal biomimicry to hold everything in place. Yes, this is for real. I know it is October and weird stuff happens - and with the presidential elections just around the corner in November this October is weirder than most. But the information isn't from an Onion article - it came from Caltech's Engineering and Science magazine.

The first weirdness which started everything is a total geek had a real, honest-to-goodness wife. One not afraid to wear strapless bras to be fashionable. Is this even allowed? Geeky doctorates with hot wives? I mean outside of television sit-coms.

Anyway, wifey was having the typical pull-tug-squash issues when Dr. Roy had an epiphany. "Gecko feet."

I hope he didn't say it aloud.

Geckos have the ability to stick on walls using van der Waals forces (need more information about how this work see the YouTube: Gecko Adhesive fit for a Spiderman). Dr. Roy conceived strapless bra insert working the same principal, tapping into van der Waals and gravity to hold everything in place. This isn't some temporary glue, tape, or chemical adhesive.

As one male said when I shared the article during ConCarolinas 2016 "Year in Science" panel - "God Bless Science."

Interested in the bra? Kellie K Products carries them. Not cheap, but any strapless bra that doesn't end up at the waist when being worn carries a hefty price tag. Find out more here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Author Spotlight: Jake Bible

Book Cover from Amazon

If one combined all the energy of a four year-old, the charming arrogance of a sixteen year-old, and the plain crazy of an eighty year-old paranoid dementia patient and sprinkled in some ADHD, mech zombies, and medieval space stations, you may begin to understand who is Jake Bible. He writes from middle grade to adults, horror to fantasy, thriller to science fiction. Whatever comes out of his blender mind gets put on paper. A lot of it – the man publishes six (or more) heart-pounding books a year.

I am not kidding about the mech zombies, the Apex Trilogy starting with Book 1: Dead Mech. The blurb reads: “Hundreds of years after the zombie apocalypse decimates the world, human civilization has put itself back together again. Their secret weapon against the zombie hordes: the Mechs. Massive robotic battle machines. But what happens when a mech pilot dies in his mech and becomes a zombie?”

And the medieval space station can be seen in the Reign of Four. Other series include Dead Team Alpha, Z-Burbia, and ScareScapes (middle grade), just to name a few. Mr. Bible nails the horror, the gooshy, pus-flowing, zombie-filled horror, even if the bodies don’t stay down - you think the creatures had claw hammers to dig those nails out.

He presently resides in North Carolina and can be seen at various conventions in the area. If asked on a panel how to fix a dragging portion of a book, his response is always “Blow something up.” with a gleeful grin.

His website is: Jake Bible Fiction and his podcast is Writing in Suburbia (unscripted, NSFW - has very mellow voice, tends to have rants about writing).

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Flash: School's Weird

IN PROCESS - I had a thing this weekend. Below is the first 1,200 words of the flash. More to come when I get back on Sunday.

So things had been weird for a while at school. I mean even Randalf noticed, and he doesn’t notice anything which isn’t related to the Periodic Table or Alchemy, not even poor Selena who crushed on him so badly she volunteered as his Chem-Alch lab partner for two years running until the counselor made her switch to Sculpting the Human Figure. Now I’m stuck as his lab partner, which isn’t a bad thing being a guaranteed “A” for all lab projects. It may even pull my dismal science score into the average range.

It isn’t that I suck at science-science; for some reason my mind doesn’t twist the magical applications of alchemy, astrology, transmutation, and the like. Give me an engineering project, a practical real-world application which can be presented to the nulls as a finished project without getting zinged by EEP and I am golden as a Phoenix egg. This little ability kept me from dropping back a level the last two years; I just squeak by.

Anyway Randalf turned to me while brewing a dehydration potion and asked, “Have you been getting mail?”

I look up at the fume vent, wondering if the gas discharge had gone to Randalf’s brain and shook something loose for once. Vapors curled against the flow, but the spell clearing the possibly poisonous air held firm. I wasn’t dizzy at all – not that much makes me dizzy, except for Javan who is the star running retriever and a total yum and I hadn’t seen him all day. All week actually. Just like the mail. “Mail stopped nine days ago, just after the Equinox. If you had been to the girls’ dorm you would hear all kinds of complaints from Ladybird.” Her boyfriend graduated last year, and they have been writing back and forth daily while he does his ‘tween-year internship.

“I don’t go to the girls’ dorm.” Randalf grunted.

“Then you have to be the only junior boy who hasn’t been snuck in.” I’m pleased to see his head whip up. His eyes lose focus a moment, while they adjust from staring at the green flame to looking into my green eyes.

Yes, I have green eyes, amazing, almost glowing, green eyes, just like all Barretts … and yes, I am one of *those* Barretts, number thirteen of fourteen so far. Stupid parents have effective immortality and pop one out every ten years. After two hundred years of marriage you think they would get over themselves but they are still all lovey-dovey.

I would like to have that some day.

Not with Javan. He is strictly a look type of guy, brains need not engage. Day-to-day I rather have someone like Randalf at my side, once he stops being a spaz. He grew like a beanstalk since freshman year and looks like a just-raised skeleton and is about as graceful as a newly animated bag of bones. I wonder what he kisses like.

His eyes are puppy brown by the way and are way too large for his face. But then everything on his face is too big for his face – his nose, ears, mouth, and chin complete with afternoon dark whiskers. You think a guy as good as he is with alchemy would have come up with a hair remover.

“That’s against the rules.”

I smiled slyly. “Some rules get broken.”

He frowned, returning his attention back to the potion. “I guess you are one of the ones who breaks them.”

Randalf is so much better than I at staying focused. If it had been me, the flame would still be blue. Who knew a second line existed to feed a copper mix into the Bunsen burner? “Only curfew.”

“Only curfew?” His head flopped to the side; I guess he is imitating Dr. Saunders headcock inquiry, a habit nearly everyone picks up during Modern Null History.

“Hum-hum. Who can sleep at lights out?”

“Most of us,” said a male voice without the creaks of teenage years.

Daphne’s Braids, how much had the teacher heard? “Hello, Mr. Walker.”

“Hello Ms. Barrett, Mr. Seconds.” He nodded at each of us. “Any problems?”

“No, sir.” Randalf answered for both of us. I always let him do that.

Oh, I am not a timid, shy girl. Randalf has already asked to be my lab partner for practical physics next year and I am going be totally all over that course. I mean I read null practical engineering books for fun, hiding them behind romance covers, of course, like Randalf buries his advance alchemy pamphlets in comic books. Biology and chemistry are my bane. I did okay freshman year with geology, but the second half of the year science with astrology/astronomy destroyed that grade.

Plus I am wicked in the music department, having inherited a full spectrum of Siren gifts from my father. Presentation of group papers always falls on me. And I’m second chair on the debate team as well as the clarinet. I sleep through history, much to my parent’s disgust, but do okay anyway because our family dinner talk rarely touches on anything which happened in the last decade and I haven’t forgotten much since coming to Evergreen High, especially with touch-up during the seasonal breaks.

In Mrs. Giacosta’s math class, Randalf and I have vied for the top slot all junior year. He swept the matrixes section, but, after switching to multi-dimensional charting, I knocked him out of the top slot with the last pop test. Mrs. Giacosta loves pop tests, saying life never tests you when you expect it. Those are closed book; her scheduled tests are open book.

The woman, who is also the headmistress for Evergreen, is not one to mess with. She cut her own arm off when a Ripper Stone bore into her hand, before the parasite could take over her mind.

“Sleep is essential for developing minds young lady.”

I paste on a sincere smile. “I will keep that in mind Mr. Walker.”

“If you want an extra credit project, why don’t you make sleeping draft?”

Randalf perked up. “We should have time tomorrow.” Tomorrow is make-up day for anyone who had a failed potion in the last two weeks. Everyone else in the class had at least two failed experiments, most three, which is another weird thing - the high rate of magic failure since we got back from the seasonal break. Randalf is not the only alchemy nerd in class; yes, he is the *best* of them, but Kris and Alpine are close. And it’s not just the alchemy class. I actually hit a wrong note on an simple two-octave aria yesterday. I haven’t cracked a note like that since … well, elementary levels, maybe. Everyone has been having problems.

Mr. Walker shook his head. “The extra credit project will have to be done by Ms. Barrett. You can observe, but all actions must be her own.”

We look at each other. It’s going to kill Randalf to watch me “cook” a sleeping draft. He nods slightly. I can see in his eyes he thinks I can do it if he can talk me through it. He has more confidence in my abilities than I do.

(words 1,201)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Other Cool Blogs: Pictures

"Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham
Created by Jorge Cham. Copyright 3/4/2015. Used with permission. 


Next month is NaNo - National Novel Writing Month (November). Do I want to try this again to get me going? I didn't "win" last time, but I did get over 10,000 words out of my head and onto paper. ... something to think about in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Editing Rant: Rosemary

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at

Know Your Topic

Oh for the love of ... if you write about something common from a historical setting that still is used today, at least get it right.

"She stripped rosemary leaves off a plant and dropped them into a woven basket."

Leaves? Really? Rosemary Sprigs, yes - rosemary needles, yes. Leaves - no.

And in one sentence the author has thrown all cooks and gardeners out of the story. Amazing how simple it is to put in an epic fail into a book. With herbalist ability a popular part of magic and also historic medicines, I would recommend writers either find a Beta reader familiar with the material or study up on the topic.

This goes for all topics actually. A male friend of my mine had the misfortune to write a gun battle where a character thumbed off the glock's safety. He didn't know, his editor didn't know, and his proofreader didn't know. But his audience let him know loud and clear glocks do not have external safeties.

Another edit I had a person performed CPR on a character gasping for breath. CPR is to start a heart, not breathing.

Obviously a writer cannot know everything they write about, which is why a good stable of beta readers from a variety of backgrounds is essential. The worse things are the things you think you know about, but you don't or they have changed since you learned them.

Not everything is important to get prefect. Don't know guns, then don't be specific about guns. Not everyone is a gun owner. And really in the middle of a fight what does a character care if a .22 or .34 is aimed at them - there is a gun aimed at them. Details really don't matter.

On the other hand - FOOD - food you need to get right. I have yet to meet a reader who does not eat.

Good luck.

WRITING EXERCISE: This one is a little different; learn something new … not through reading or YouTube. Take a class from a person. The class can be a one-hour course but needs direct interaction with a subject matter expert. Comb through your local newsletter, your town’s webpage, “what’s happening” at your library, the local gardening club, free classes offered at the community college or high school, or other sources and find something you think a WIP character of yours may need to know.

READING EXERCISE: Read two non-fiction books on a subject related to your most recent Read-In-Progress. Examples: Reading about pirates in space – read about Chinese women pirates or Blackbeard; your present Urban Fantasy has Knight Templar, read about them; the mystery centers around monks in an herb garden – study herb gardening. Children books from the library’s non-fiction section have some really good information.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Flash: Ubel and Sidero

Image Courtesy of photostock at

The two turned as one when Vinny burst in the small room: Ubel, a Germanic overlord whose very name meant evil, and Sidero, a woman whom even the cadre elders treated cautiously. Ubel’s hand was wrapped around Sidero’s throat and Sidero’s claws were digging into Ubel’s chest.

Gulping audibly, Vinny announced, “The decision has been made.”

Ubel released his grip and his shirt snapped into place as Sidero pulled in her claws.

“This is not over.” Ubel whispered, his mouth line thin, promising thunder and blood. In medieval times, he had lined streets with the heads of his enemies. Whatever master brought him across had judged well on Ubel’s survivability and adaptability. The vampire had miscalculated on his ability to control his creation; the master’s name and ashes long lost to time.

Sidero smiled without teeth and nodded to the door for Ubel to go first. They stalked passed Vinny, a matched set of black and spotless white clothing, anger, and power.

Only with the dynamic couple gone could he look around the room to see what was left of the other three candidates. Pieces and parts, blood and bone, were strewn in the small room, decorating the walls and soaking into the floor. The detached head of the ancient Balash stared at Vinny from the grisly scene.

The destruction didn’t bother Vinny as much as Ubel and Sidero walking out without a mark on them.

He prayed to his unresponsive god they liked the decision the triad made on who was to be the next leader.

(257 words - first published 10/27/2013; republished new blog format 10/09/2016)

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Blog: NaNo Choice Part 2

Holding Cover by Erin Penn

I've decided what I will be doing for NaNo 2016. I will get "The Swan and the ..." series out of my head and onto paper. It is about a male shapeshifter (a swan) and various women he meets in the shifter world - the Pussy, the Hawk, the Dolphin and the Dragon. The first story should run a bit over 10K each, each one getting longer, with the last closer to 30K - for the total of 50K - the Nano Goal. Urban Fantasy Romance genre.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Other Cool Blogs: Magical Words November 27, 2012

Image Courtesy of Tuomas_Lehtinen at

The Perfection Myth

“I have to get this right.” How many times you have told yourself this as you revise your manuscript the 15th hundredth time? And we are just talking about the first page. You still haven’t written the second page.

Lucienne Diver gives some excellent advice on Magical Words of “Giving up on Perfect”.

Me. I like things right. A lot.

Learning having a thing “good enough to be right” does not mean “perfection” is still an ongoing lesson for me to master. As in perfect. Sigh.

At some point during our childhood we learn to color only inside the lines. Maybe Ms. Diver’s words can help you learn this lesson a bit faster than my long-time struggle. Link here:

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Book Review: Prime Suspects

Book Cover from Amazon

Prime Suspects by Jim Berheimer

Homicide detective David Bagini awakens on a strange world only to discover he is, in fact, the forty-second clone of the Bagini line. Having no memories of why his Prime entered into a clone contract, he wants answers.

The first problem is his Prime has been murdered and Bagini Forty-Two is now in charge of the investigation.

The second problem is all the clues point at one of his fellow clones and they already know all his tricks.

How can he solve his own murder when all the suspects have his name and face?

**At last, something to go with Caves of Steel on my shelves**

Prime Suspects secures a place alongside Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov in the sci-fi-mystery genre. An extremely well-done mix, mingling the police procedural and the science fiction in equal parts. Keeps one guessing to the end, but provides all the clues. A reader is right beside the detective gathering the clues and learning the world until only one possibility is left.

Jim Bernheimer's trademark snarky main character gets a little old in this particular book because, well, it is the distinguishing characteristic of so many of the characters, an inherent aspect of a clone story. I am pleased to see the clones remain close in personality, yet each develops as a unique person as well. The delightful comedic snarkiness of Confessions of a D-List Supervillain takes on a Noir overtone in this novel.

Worldbuilding - Oh, the sociological worldbuilding in this story is absolutely awesome. Identical twins raised apart will each develop along similar patterns; identical twins raised together will deliberately work to differentiate themselves through dress, hair and hobbies. Prime Suspects' world shows what happens when an individualistic person suddenly is faced with dozens of twins.

And Jim takes the worldbuilding to a second level. For psychology - the struggle for ego in the detectives is worse than the waitresses because the police must work closely together instead of in isolated restaurants. For sociology - In a society without children and without elders, rampant college behavior dominates as the clones struggle to define themselves. For Social-Psychology - In a world without advancement or dreams, the clones face years of therapy, depression, and escapism.

Prime Suspects works well a police procedural, and the mystery is solid. But the story truly shines as a science fiction speculation about how a clone society might function.

(bought at a Convention from author's booth at full price)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Flash: Waking up Dead

You are born. You die. In between is when the world exists. Or that is why people say.

Maybe they believe in heaven, or hell, or reincarnation, but the only surety is the here and now. Between birth and death. That is what people say.

People lie.

Waking up inside a coffin can rearrange your world.

Trying to escape the top-of-the-line casket your family bought with the unused portion of your college fund can drive you half mad. Sure the adjustable bed and mattress are nice during the breaks between claustrophobia panic attacks, but the chemically treated interior isn’t exactly fresh air.

Eventually the white satin lining, cotton padding, strong metal interior and beautiful mahogany wood exterior gives way to your screams and pounding. To your sobs and clawing. To your whimpers.

It’s not like the fancy locking mechanism is on the inside.

You wonder if you would have to pay extra for that feature.

Of course once you break the casket, you got a pile of dirt to get through. Worms, roots and the flowers your family left. Hopefully you don’t loosen the headstone so it falls on you as you emerge.

And for that trip there is no adjustable bed and mattress to rest on. You only thought you knew claustrophobia in the casket. When you breathe dirt and can’t move your fingers because of the earth falling down, you go truly mad.

Rain fills the spaces between the dirt. Don’t even try to move after a downpour. The disorientation will make you dig in the wrong direction. But you won’t care. All you want is out.

Eventually your reach it. The surface. Hopefully it’s night, because after the endless dark of digging your way out, the sun bloody hurts. Hopefully no one is around, because after all the effort to get out, you are hungry beyond measure.

If you are lucky, you are a zombie and those worms were tasty snacks on the way up. You may be able to pick and choose who your grab.

Vampires have it much worse.

The madness makes it easier to do the first kill. But the nourishment heals you, body and mind. So you get to go mad again when you realize what you have done. What you have become.

You get to go mad every night for the rest of your life.

Vampires have it easier. Most walk into the sun before they hate themselves forever.

Zombies have to find someone to kill them.

Which is hard, because it ain’t exactly assisted suicide. The monster in your head has a will to live. It dragged you kicking and screaming through the casket, dirt and first kill. The monster that is you doesn’t want to die.

So you got to trick it. Trick yourself. Something only the mad can do. Fortunately you are already there. And if you are lucky, you have someone who loves you enough to kill you.

(words 496 - first published 5/24/2013; republished new blog format 10/2/2016)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Blog: NaNo Choice

Image from the Internet Hive Mind

Hey all, I am going to attempt National Novel writing month in November again. I know I have never finished the Cons of Romance from the 2015 NaNo, as well as previously worked on stories of The Anti-Christ's Big Sister's Blog and the Ice Queen superhero.

Also in the brain is Queen City Coven (a urban fantasy romance series), The Swan and ... (an urban fantasy series), the Ranlo brothers (a romance series), Ebony's Rainbow (a romance series), the Moonguard (a fantasy series), the Saga of Joelie (epic fantasy), the Waking Dead (necromancers), and a dozen other stories.

I was wondering is there any particular story you would like to see expanded or characters you want revisited? You may want to visit the Character Cross-Reference and the Universe Cross-Reference for ideas. Let me know of anything you are particularly interested in and it may become the November writing - and if nothing else you will get to see a few additional blogs particular to the world and characters

Thanks for reading and commenting,

Erin Penn