A Drift of Quills – Dealing With the One Star Review

This month our intrepid group of writers will be dealing with the low-rating review. The one star on Amazon. On Goodreads the scale goes from the dreaded, “Did not like it,” to the fantastic, “It was amazing.” Authors and readers, weigh in! How do you interact with the one star review?

Robin Lythgoe

Author of As the Crow Flies

Robin’s Website

The more I thought about this particular can of worms, the more I wanted to put a lid on it! Yes, people have the right to express their opinion. No, it’s not always kind, helpful, or even necessary. Yes, the person under the glaring light of criticism might learn something valuable. No, that doesn’t give Everyone Else the right or the duty to shred someone’s work to pieces.

Did it just get really foggy in here?

Patricia Reding

Author of Oathtaker

Patricia’s Website

I believe that in general, the more reviews, the better. When I see a book with few reviews and those that are posted are all 5-stars, I tend to think that the author got a few friends to post positive ratings in an effort to promote sales for the book. By contrast, when I see a book with quite a number of reviews, I expect that I will find that some people have highly praised the work, while others will have been considerably less flattering.

When I personally review a work, I try to put myself in the shoes of the average intended reader for that work.

Parker Broaddus

Author of  A Hero’s Curse & Nightrage Rising

Follow along on Amazon

Interacting with criticism is never easy as an author. There’s opportunity to grow, to shape our stories, and do better, but it still isn’t easy.

From the reader’s point of view, reviews can provide a wonderfully unvarnished perspective on what to expect. I read reviews on everything from books, computers, a new lawn mower or a plastic doodad to organize junk. Just how well does this doodad organize? How well does a this mower mow? How well does this computer compute, and how well does this book read? I usually gravitate toward the three star reviews. They are the middle of the road, balanced reviewers. They aren’t star crossed lovers nor bitter haters. They give me the good and the bad and I can get a fairly good idea of whether I’ll like the story.

As an author, I get all misty eyed at the 5 star reviews – but I probably learn the most from the 3 and 4 star reviews. To be honest, the occasional 1 star review doesn’t hurt too terribly bad. I assume that the story just wasn’t for that particular reader. Harry Potter received some poor reviews, even from critics. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone currently sits at a proud 1,082 one star Amazon reviews).

I liked this one: “The ending was rubbish.”

But Potter doesn’t have a corner on thoughtful critics, loud complainers and nasally whiners. Fablehaven, and The Land of Elyon, and The Chronicles of Narnia, and, well, just about everything ever written has found someone who can point to something they didn’t like, or, for those who are both careful and thoughtful, something that is genuinely wrong. For a story can go wrong.

But for the complainers and whiners, there’s the desire to respond – to lash out and strike back. After all, the Empire did it. 😉

The best piece of advice here comes from George Bernard Shaw:

“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

So what about you? Do you review, critique, comment or complain? And how do you deal with criticism of your own work? Let me know! I’m always interested to hear your thoughts on what you’re reading now and what I need to pick up, (or avoid)!


A Drift of Quills – In the Beginning, Inspiration

This month our little group of writers are recalling how stories start. Where they come from. What inspired a particular tale. We are speaking about The Muses.

Speak, Memory –
Of the cunning hero
The wanderer, blown off course time and again
After he plundered Troy’s sacred heights.
Of all the cities he saw, the minds he grasped,
The suffering deep in his heart at sea
As he struggled to survive and bring his men home
But could not save them, hard as he tried –
The fools – destroyed by their own recklessness
When they ate the oxen of Hyperion the Sun,
And that god snuffed out their day of return
Of these things,
Speak, Immortal One,
And tell the tale once more in our time.

~ The Odyssey

Robin Lythgoe

Author of As the Crow Flies

Robin’s Website

As I near the day I push the “publish” button for the second book in The Mage’s Gift, this seems a good time to reflect on the motivation behind the story. I think it was years in the making, and I think I will say the same about all my books and stories. What does inspire me? What prompts me to set pen to paper (I really did start out that way), and then fingers to keyboard? I’m inclined to call it “magic.”

Patricia Reding

Author of Oathtaker

Patricia’s Website

Taking a short hiatus from writing my fantasy series (The Oathtaker Series) over the past few months, I’ve been working instead on a non-fantasy story entitled, So I Opened My Mouth and Screamed. It will be published in 2018.

This story is near and dear to my heart, as being aware of a real-life story with which this one shares features, I felt I had to write it. It opens when a young man breaks and enters into the home of a family and, armed with a knife, sexually assaults the youngest family member (a young woman just turned 16) and threatens her not to call for help. I don’t want to give away the details, but the young woman in question is/was not your typical 16-year old. Rather than being a victim to the demands of her unknown assailant, she did precisely what he demanded she not do . . .


Parker Broaddus

Author of  A Hero’s Curse & Nightrage Rising

Follow along on Amazon

I like the question “what inspired you?” To inspire is to motivate, to encourage, to incite. It is an action that is uniquely intimate through its connection with personal desire. It touches on motivations and vocations, capturing both the mind and the heart. To be inspired is a special thing, and to inspire others an almost otherworldly, yet, perhaps, a worthy goal. Depending on the end. Depending on what you inspire your neighbor toward.

I’ve written in the past about the origin of A Hero’s Curse and the images that prompted a tale. I wrote a short story called “Two Weeks is a Lifetime,” which was inspired by my own experience with loss when my Papa died. It’s interesting that what might have inspired me to write is not the same inspiration a reader takes away. They weren’t inspired by my experience. Rather, those readers were were inspired by a story of a distracted young boy and his interaction with the loss of his grandfather.

When I wrote “Streets of Laredo,” I did it after ruminating on the old cowboy ballad of the same name. I was inspired by a song, and desired to see it fleshed out in story. Others have told me that the story went on to inspire them to contemplate the brevity of life, and their own luck at being here.

I don’t think I ever started out with a grand idea of inspiring others to grapple with loss, (Two Weeks is a Lifetime), or life and luck, (Streets of Laredo), or loss and damaged family ties and courage (A Hero’s Curse). I always started with something much simpler than all of that. I started with my experience. Or a picture. Or a song.

But to do something well – to write well – to capture the imagination and some common experience, that inspires! It propels us! At the very least to turn the page, and hopefully, it can prompt us to do more than simple accept the world as it is, but to strive for what could be.

That is my hope. My inspiration. And so, I write.




A Drift of Quills – Christmas Gifting

This month we’re talking about giftiness. We’ve put our thinkers toward finding interesting, reader-oriented gift ideas for you and your family and friends. So please, have a cuppa eggnog, put on your favorite plush bunny slippers, and laugh, (and maybe even take notes), with our imaginative, ridiculous, serious, and sometimes, spot-on gift ideas…

Robin Lythgoe

Author of As the Crow Flies

Robin’s Website

Bookish gift ideas are nice to have any time of the year, right? We all know people who love to read and write, and there are many gifting occasions throughout the year.

But it’s December already, and although we have the same twelve months every year in which to prepare ourselves, we’e running behind again. And if you are one of those Miracle Early Shoppers, you’re probably still looking for a few last minute ideas for stockings, or office parties, or… all that jazz.

So put on your party hats, queue up the holiday tunes, and let’s do this!

Patricia Reding

Author of Oathtaker

Patricia’s Website

I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read Parker’s opening. Then I got to Robin’s and laughed out loud. Why? Because she mentioned early shopping. I find the concept more than a little amusing.

You see, I tried that early shopping routine some years back. I discovered it wasn’t for me. Here are my reasons: (1) I buy things I like so well and am so excited about that I give them to the person right away, thereby leaving myself in the position of having to shop again for the actual holiday; (2) I buy things I like so well, I keep them (and yes, that leaves me having to shop again); and (3) I just keep buying things! I never seem to think it’s enough, I forget what I already have, and really, let’s be honest: the gift-giving impulse builds as the holiday approaches.

Parker Broaddus

Author of  A Hero’s Curse & Nightrage Rising

Parker’s Website…oh wait. You’re already here.

You’re a reader. You have friends who are readers. You have family who are readers. As Christmas comes galloping toward us, you’ve finally cast your thoughts toward that annual tradition of giving a gift that says you know and appreciate them, even if they are often lost in other worlds. But what to give? Here are some ideas I’ve found that made me laugh and snort my eggnog ~ with a couple of them making it to my shopping cart.

First up, for your reader who is also the coffee drinking family member. Here’s a way to honor that love, while still subltly saying, you’ve ignored the rest of us for too long. It’s time for a cuppa joe for two.

If your dear one is more of the type who checks out with a glass of wine and a story, which you want to pay homage to, but you’re still itching to send that message of too much time spent away from family togetherness, try this one.

But maybe it’s a comfortable setting that is the real culprit. The easy chair next to the fire. The lounge in the sunroom. How do you provide that space for reading, without making it so comfortable your reader forgets to return? No fear. I’ve found what you need.







Now, for your dear reader who doesn’t live with you ~ the one you don’t mind encouraging, as you won’t be the one missing meals. Try the 100 Books Scratch Off Poster, which is amazing, or the Owl Eyeglasses Holder, which is decidedly owlish.

I particularly liked the idea of the foodie reader’s gift set. Anything in this genre is sure to be a hit.

But perhaps what you are really looking for is, well, books. Take a look at some of the artful, surprising, and fun bundles offered on Etsy.

Of course, bookmarks and costume jewelry abound. Nothing says “I put as close to no thought into this gift as I possibly could” like a dime-a-dozen pendant that says “I love books.” Instead, go for the win and find something that sings.








What about you? What was the craziest gift you ever received?

And a very Merry Christmas, to you and yours from The Kingdom of Mar and Essie and Tig and Illiana and Sam…

…and myself.

May yours be merry and bright, full of hope, and light.


Writer’s Rambles – The Song Girl

Illiana is a refugee from the Kingdom of Aeola who works in the Palace, but struggles to find her place in her new surroundings. She is Essie Brightsday’s close friend, likes to see the best in others, is a good listener, and even better talker.

Illiana could sing. Song ran in her veins. It called in her ears. It lived in her mouth. It danced in her blue eyes.

And so it should. Her native Kingdom above the Sun—Aeola—was built by the cloudweavers, who use music to bind the elements. For, as they have said since the Beginning, music is stronger than magic.

But though she could, Illiana did not, in fact, sing.

It wasn’t because she had lost her parents when she was very young. Though that was true. It wasn’t because she worked as a servant in the palace, though that was also true.

She didn’t feel sorry for herself. She felt grateful that she had been invited by King Mactogonii to the Kingdom of Mar after the Aeolan council banished her from her homeland for thievery and treason. Even if it had been a onetime thing.

In fact, if you had asked Illiana why she didn’t sing, she probably couldn’t have told you.

It troubled her, when she thought about it. So she tried not to think about it. She tried not to think about the Kingdom of Aeola either. She tried to forget the way the melody wove through the air—even the very ground. She knew that her best friend Essie could hear the notes sometimes, when it rained. But Essie could hear and sense more than most. As hard as Illiana listened, she couldn’t hear the cloudweavers music in the rain.

So she didn’t think about it. Any of it.

But she missed it, just the same.


“Strange goings on,” Milp muttered to herself, punching the pillow a bit more violently than it deserved. She tweaked the corner and set it against the arm of the couch, surveying the effect. “Fire and blastin’, splinterin’ to little pieces,” she grumbled.

Illiana knew better than to ask Milp what she was talking about. Stay quiet and listen was the best way to handle Milp. “Folks thinkin’ somethin’ can be had for nothin’,” she continued. Illiana swept the last of her pile of dust into a bunch and gathered it up. Milp whipped around, pointing a bony finger in Illiana’s face. “But everything’s got a cost!”

Milp shuffled off, hunched and angry, throwing fresh blankets over the bed like they had personally offended her. The tower smelled clean. Not that it had smelled bad when Illiana and Milp arrived this morning—just dusty and unused, with that stale, stuffy odor a place that has been shut up for too long gets.

The arched windows in the tower above the archives let in a welcome breeze that carried with it the sound of the city. Illiana ran a finger along the sill, making sure it came away speck free. Small blackbirds with yellow breasts chirped from a nest on the outside ledge, shrill and angry at the intrusion. Illiana breathed in deep and smiled. “It’ll be nice for whoever moves in up here.” The mother blackbird ruffled her feathers as if imitating Milp and turned her back on Illiana.

Illiana could see the main street, Market Way, crawling all the way from the city gates, through the Trade District, and finally ending here, at the palace. There was nothing unusual in the busy main street, bustling with hawkers, shoppers and general activity. Except one thing. A tall woman with silver gray hair moved purposefully through the erratic throng, clearing a neat path as she swept a long stick in front of her. She wore a blindfold. Behind the woman plodded a squat, fat donkey, whose back was heaped with neat bundles tied in an intricate web.

Illiana leaned further out the window as the stranger headed for the courtyard below, passing out of view. It felt unusual to see a blind person move with such confidence. Illiana had only seen that in Essie.

“Let’s go!” Milp snapped. Illiana shrugged and followed Milp out the tower, down the circular steps, and past the public archives. She was done for the day. She left Milp with a cheery goodbye, which was met with more grumbled complaining, and trotted toward Market Way, headed for the city stables on the other side of Blacksmith’s Row.

She would meet Essie—and Tig, of course—on schedule at noon. A blind stranger in Plen—that would catch Essie’s attention. It might even be enough to pull her out of her obsession over her Arcane Academy rejection for a few minutes.

Illiana checked her own thoughts. The street felt odd today. She slowed her walk, paying more attention to the babbling noise around her. The chatter was animated and happy. Folks were trading and buying and selling and gossiping. But there. An old man threw her a quick glance, pausing his conversation with two farmers from up the valley, even snapping his mouth shut in a thin line as she passed.

Illiana blushed and quickened her pace. That was it. Some news was running through the city—but what kind of gossip would turn the Trade District and the valley folk against the palace staff? She could only stand the stares and little silences for another block. She slipped behind a market stall and between a row of shop fronts, spilling into a quiet back street. As she turned the corner she nearly ran into a boy who looked about her own age, or maybe a bit older. It was hard to tell as he kept his head down behind a heavy looking box of braided and polished steel.

“I’m sorry!” Illiana skipped to one side, but the boy ignored her, staggering off under his load. She shrugged. “Rude.”

She didn’t even realize she had finished the trip to the stables until she heard Cragg, a stable manager, call her name.

She smiled. “And good day to you Mr. Cragg.”

“Goin’ by yourself today?” Cragg asked. His knobby hands were swollen and bent with age. He couldn’t lift heavy things anymore, but no one could match him for handling the horses. He gave her a couple of twisted, tuber-like carrots.

Illiana’s smile slipped. “Essie’s not here?”

Cragg scratched at his untidy beard and shook his head. “Not yet. Haven’ seen her cat neither.”

Illiana spent the next little while brushing Champie, her big bay gelding, while she mulled over the unusual silences and stares in the street. She looked him in the eye. “It was probably nothing. Just my imagination.” Champie nodded. Encouraged, Illiana broke off a piece of carrot and offered it in her palm. “Most of the palace staff are from the Trade District anyway…”

Champie crunched and drippled carrot pieces all over her arm. Illiana brushed them off absently. “But the fire last week on Nobble Street was real.” She pulled at Champie’s forelock. “And nobody believes the protector’s report that it was started by ‘natural causes.’”

The tower bell sounded, far away, noting the time change. She had been brushing Champie for an hour. Even running late, Essie should have been here by now. She looked over at Tangerine, Essie’s short, sleek, black mare. Tangerine tossed her head as if to say, “I know as much as you do.”

Illiana cleaned out Champie’s stall, even though she didn’t have too. She shared the rest of the carrots with Champie and Tangerine. But by late afternoon, it was evident.

Essie wasn’t coming.


You’ve been reading a piece of parallel storytelling from the Nightrage Rising narrative. To find out more visit our main page for Nightrage Rising, or the Kickstarter update where it was first announced.

A Drift of Quills – Artsy Writing

We’re talking about illustration today. Art. Pictures. Those images that inspire story. I’ve said before that I write from pictures in my head. I work with illustrators and doodlers who have sketched rock basilisks, arcus vulturesUrodela and the Kingdom Above the Sun, Aeola. I’ve seen gorgeous, digitally painted pictures of the Valley of Fire, dragons, Syteless Peak, and Queen Leonatrix. (Check out more under Illustration, or Concept Sketches).

But before I talk about a particular piece that I love, allow me to direct you to my fellow Quill writers, who have interesting perspectives on how images interact with the writing process…

Robin Lythgoe

Author of As the Crow Flies

Robin’s Website

I have a huuuuge collection of images. I will never run out of inspiration from that quarter! I write primarily fantasy, but that doesn’t stop me from seeing a science fiction style image and diving off the cliff of “What If…” That happened recently with the short story “Sixes” that I wrote for the Quills’ flash fiction challenge.

In my story, Elran’s Journey, the main character is the younger son of highly regarded and respected members of the Peerage. In the eyes of society, he has everything any boy could or should want.

Patricia Reding

Author of Oathtaker

Patricia’s Website

It’s interesting how vivid are the pictures in my mind of things I write about, yet how terribly difficult it is to find photographs of those people, places and things, to show others.

Readers of Oathtaker know that early on, the twins, Reigna (derived from the word, “reign”) and Eden, are born. For me, this picture shows a bit of what I had in mind…

Parker Broaddus

Author of  A Hero’s Curse

Parker’s Website…oh wait. You’re already here.

There are several images and fan art pieces that I really enjoy and that even inspire the way I write. Many deal with Essie Brightsday herself, the central character of both A Hero’s Curse and Nightrage Rising. Essie Brightsday is a 12-year-old blind girl who has a certain amount of gumption, but still wrestles to find her place in the world. The way artists and illustrators have rendered Essie is both interesting and inspiring.

Interesting, as each image reveals something new about both the artist and the character, and inspiring in that I get to discover new aspects to a character I created. In that respect, I love images and illustration. It adds to the story in new and unexpected ways. I get to interact with interpretations I didn’t think of.

I think there’s an aspect of control here that could be difficult for some writers to give up. If I allow someone else to draw a character, thereby bringing some aspect of their own creativity and interpretation to the character, aren’t I giving up a part of this character? I’m essentially letting someone else into the creative process!

It’s true. I don’t thing there’s any way around it. Allowing someone else to illustrate and draw characters or images from your world is allowing them in on the creative process. But even allowing someone to read your story is allowing them to bring their interpretation and creativity to the table. And don’t we as authors want that interaction? Don’t we want readers to make the story their own? To inhabit the worlds and cherish and empathize with our characters?

So whether illustrating or acting or narrating or reading, the story is interpreted, and advanced, (and sometimes in unexpected ways). And as an author, that is something to love.

What about you? How do illustrations, images or pictures inspire your writing? Or, what about something that misinterprets your character or story? How do you protect your characters and story from the misinterpretation caused by someone else creatively advancing your story where you never intended?


Fan Art Competition

The Valley of Fire, by our illustrator, Danny Kundzinsh


I’ve loved getting to see the fan art generated by those who read and loved A Hero’s Curse. To reward those talented artists, and in conjunction with the announcement of the sequel, Nightrage Rising, our team has opened up a fan art competition, to celebrate art and illustration that inspires and enhances story, specifically as related to The Unseen Chronicles. The competition will be open from now until November 24th!

Each submitted art piece will be judged according to the following criteria, in priority order:

  • Ability to inspire or capture the essence of The Unseen Chronicles
  • Creativity in delivering a unique vision
  • Demonstrated artistic and technical skills
  • Ability to meet the technical requirements of submission

We’ve created a couple of different entry categories:

  • Open Illustrator Category: First Place – $50 Prize
  • Young Illustrator Category: First Place – $50 Prize

The Open Illustrator Category is meant to be just that – any artist of any age can submit art for review as detailed above. The Young Illustrator Category is meant to encourage artists 13 and under. Winners must be able to accept prize payment via either PayPal or check drawn on a U.S. Bank. Judges will include, among others, P.S. Broaddus, (me!) and our brilliant illustrators Danny Kundzinsh and Rebecca Frank. In addition to the judged prizes mentioned above, popular voting will be available on our Facebook page! Let your family and friends know so they can vote too!

  • Open Illustrator Contest Popular Prize Popular Prize – $25 Prize
  • Young Illustrator Contest Popular Prize Popular Prize – $25 Prize

If you haven’t had a chance to read A Hero’s Curse, or want to comb through it for fan art inspiration, you can grab a copy of the Kindle e-book for free on Friday, November 3rd, Friday, November 10th, or Friday November 17th.

Or, check out Chapter 1 of Nightrage Rising here. Or contact me for more ideas and scenes from Nightrage Rising!

Ready to submit? Upload your fan art here.

Winning art does not become the property of www.psbroaddus.com or P.S. Broaddus.  The artist retains all copyright and may reuse, resale, or repurpose their art as they wish; however, the artist grants www.psbroaddus.com and/or P.S. Broaddus the right to use the image both online at our website, in various social media, and in print in association with the website in perpetuity.
All submitted art will go through a pre-qualification round before being accepted as a suitable submission.  Art will be judged for its suitability as being related to The Unseen Chronicles.  As art is submitted, pieces accepted as suitable contest entries may be displayed online in a contest gallery and in various social media venues to share with our readers.
Non-winning art may be displayed on our site, contest gallery, and on various social media venues (including but not necessarily limited to Facebook) to help promote the contest and expose submitted art to a wider audience. Non-winning art will not be used for any other purpose without the permission of the artist. The artist retains all copyright and may reuse, resale, or repurpose their art as they wish; however, after the contest is completed, the contest gallery and social media displays may remain online to help promote future contests.
If for any reason the competition is not capable of running as planned, including insufficient contest entries, infection by computer virus, bugs, tampering, unauthorized intervention, fraud, technical failures, or any other causes which corrupt or affect the administration, security, fairness, integrity, or proper conduct of the competition, www.psbroaddus.com and/or P.S. Broaddus reserves the right at its sole discretion to cancel, terminate, modify or suspend the competition.



A Drift of Quills – The Prophet and the Assassin

This month our little troupe of writers did something a bit different. We’re not telling you about our favorite books, or what the writing process looks like, or how we outline, or anything related. We’re not going to tell you about stories – this month we’re going to give you stories.

Flash fiction is short fiction, usually under 1,500 words, and is often a self-contained narrative. It’s a lot of fun, but incredibly difficult to get right. As a prompt, we all used the same picture, but the stories that emerged are as unique and different as their authors. We hope you enjoy this collection as much as we enjoyed writing them!

Below I’ve shared “The Prophet and the Assassin,” along with our image prompt, but before you get there, I’ve linked to Robin and Trish, who both have fascinating tales to tell…

Robin Lythgoe

Author of As the Crow Flies

Robin’s Website



The mages—along with the history books and a dozen or so scouts—had professed their absolute certainty that the Shaddar Needles no longer held any power.

Either they lied, or the maggots had figured a way to put them back in operation. Cleaved nearly in half, my flitter wrapped around the base of one pitch black, sword-like spire. Shock chased after shock. First, came the shattering of the sky like a thousand shards of lightning. Struck, I hurtled earthward, out of control. Glass jangled and metal shrieked. Unimaginable pressure and the sensation of tearing preceded the remainder of my flight—without the benefit of the flitter. I met the sand with ferocious force. Finally, and most astounding of all, came the realization that I still drew breath. Each inhalation burned like a hot poker, but by all rights, I should be dead.

Sprawled in the needle’s dubious shade, I processed the fact that I’d been thrown clear before my little flying machine slid down the length of the spire to smash to splinters against the ground. If I died, who would stop the poison spreading from the decaying city?

Patricia Reding

Author of Oathtaker

Patricia’s Website


Her Golden Hair

I had no choice. I had to leave her behind. Still, the ugly hands of guilt and grief, like the twin jaws of a vise, squeezed my heart.

I couldn’t count the times she’d saved me. I could only hope I’d prove as faithful. She deserved that . . . and so much more.

How could I have been so reckless? I’d heard the rumors of pirates having invaded the area—all from highly reputable sources, no less. Still I’d insisted on doing things my way. I alone was responsible for my foolhardy pride, my selfish desire to be the first to arrive, my rash behavior.

The vise crimped tighter . . .

Parker Broaddus

Author of  A Hero’s Curse

Parker’s Website…oh wait. You’re already here.



Landships are usually a safe way to travel the dunes. Unless it’s a “clanker,” built from parts of the old combustible engines. They can’t go high enough to escape the desert sands that come out of the South like a solid wall of death. But it wasn’t the time of year for storms.

I’ve dreamed of starting over. I’ve dreamed of a fresh slate. It’s a myth. You can’t start over. The memories remain. The command remains.

There is no fresh slate for the living.

Our clanker got caught in a freak sandstorm. Our captain tried to outrun it. We were blown off course. My crewmates, all strangers to me, were lost, many of them succumbing to the gnawing wind, even before we went down.

I watched my candle burn low that night. I watched for the beauty of the dancing flame. It was simultaneously mesmerizing and frightening. It threw weird shadows around the interior of our broken wreck, highlighting the jagged edges and gaping holes open to the cold night. Its flicker should have invited monsters, or whatever survives in this wasteland—I counted on it—counted on them coming. Counted on dying. But nothing came, except morning. 

I wished I could sit and let death come, in whatever form it chose. Instead I staggered from the wreck, blinking at the weak, red sun which filtered through the dusty sky. On the horizon, irregular shapes broke the monotonous flat plain. Monsters or mountains, or a city. I walked. Through the day and into the night. I did not offer thanks for my life, as was our custom. Neither did I pray for death. I remained silent. I continued with no real thought for my end. Except perhaps some water. A light eventually attracted my attention. It flickered invitingly, like my candle. I adjusted course, a moth to the flame.

It was a cooking fire. A stranger stood, dressed in robes and shadow on the opposite side, unmoving as I made my approach. I paused on the edge of the light, waiting for a verdict, feeling the warmth. I hadn’t even noticed the cold of the desert night, until now.

The stranger stepped forward, into the circular glow. “You look tired.” Her voice and bronze colored features were that of a woman. Firelight glinted off her shaved head. Possibly a priestess of the An-Raj. I cleared my throat but a long day of dust and heat had put my tongue to shame. Nothing but a raspy hiss escaped. She tossed a skin of water across the distance between us.

We didn’t speak for some time. I sat and stared at the fire, content to see the dancing flame again.

“You’re a prophet of the Unnamed God,” she said. I glanced up, surprised. The corner of her mouth curved into a smile. “Few leave their hair and beard uncut in this region.”

“And what region is that?”

She pointed with her chin out at the desert. “Tajik is that way. Less than a day’s walk.” My face must have fallen because her grin grew large. “You aren’t fond of Tajik?”

I shrugged. “What is it to me?”

“I don’t know, Prophet. What is it to you?” The spit of meat over the fire dropped grease and sizzled in the quiet. “Come now. I have shared my food and drink with you.” Her teeth glinted in the light. “I haven’t even killed you, despite my profession.” I looked at her, curious. “Assassin,” she whispered, like a secret the desert could betray. Not a priestess then.

I shrugged again. “You are right as to my being a prophet.” I tucked my feet deeper under my rough, woolen robe and stretched my fingers toward the flame, welcoming the heat. “Tajik has attracted the attention of my God. Its oppression and cruelty to both persons and creatures cries out to the earth and has made its way to heaven.”

“But you don’t sound convinced.”

“I’ve never been to Tajik,” I said, evasive. She arched her eyebrows, but we ate in silence.

“So your sandship was on its way to Tajik?” she asked. A small pile of bones from her meal sat neatly beside her. She tossed them into the fire, one by one. “I assume it wrecked in the storm?”

“We were on our way to Sag.”

“Sag? That’s a long way from Tajik.” She studied me for a moment. “But you are going to Tajik now?”

“So it seems,” I replied, bitterness sharp in my voice.

“Will your God send a skybolt, like was done at Bathma, and Sid?” Her dark eyes flashed—but not with anger. “I’ve been there. There is nothing left but ash.” I wiped the grease from my mouth into my beard and shrugged. Her smile disappeared, replaced by a grim line. “I’ve heard of your God, Prophet. And I’ve heard of the prophets who are called by your God. They are known to have power. Strange, many of them. Living with birds in the desert, or wandering naked through the streets. But powerful, and speaking words of power.” She leaned forward. “But you—you seem to lack both power and conviction.”

She sat straight up then, proud and erect, her long neck coming out of her robe like a snake. “You act young, though you appear old. Take me. I hate who my master hates, and love who my master loves. When my master says, ‘Go,’ I go, and when my master says, ‘Come,’ I come.” She tilted her head, curious. “If you neither come, nor go, how can you be a prophet of the Unnamed God?” She threw the last of her pile of bones into the fire. “I am an assassin, Prophet—I need the favor of every god, especially a powerful one like yours. But I would not want you to pray for me.”

She was gone when I woke in the morning. I missed her water, all the way to Tajik. They say you can be defined by how you treat the lowest among you. In Tajik, the low did not live long. It was the only good they ever received. It was a city where nothing was sacred. I saw it. The numbness grew.

I told them of the skybolt, though I knew it would do no good. Nothing could save these people. The sky grew dark over the city, though it remained cloudless. From one end of the city to the other, I walked. I spoke. They didn’t touch me.

On the third day, an announcement was made by the regent of Tajik. It was as I was preparing to leave. I saw the greatest, the richest, and the strongest come out—I saw them picking the lowest out of the gutters, feeding them and clothing them. There was weeping and fasting. I even saw small children begging and pleading toward the dark sky.

I was surprised. But I didn’t care. Nothing could save them.

I left Tajik, and found an abandoned waytrain, rusted and heaped. It made a good watchtower. I had not seen a skybolt, only heard of them. Heard of the sky tearing open, and the bolt of death and destruction falling from above. Some call it God’s Fire.

Years ago, when I was first called as a prophet, one of the kings of the tri-mountain region laughed at my selection as a prophet and refused me entrance to his city.

No one would laugh at me now. Now that I had prophesied God’s Fire. I would be known for the destruction of Tajik—a great city. I would be known for the skybolt. Neither kings nor assassins could accuse me of lack of conviction and power. No one could accuse me.

I watched the sky, and Tajik. And Tajik changed. In a matter of days—hours even.

But it could not atone for all the cruelty and blood it had spilled. I felt the beat of the sun on my head and the tug of the wind on my cloak. The sky lightened, but I was not afraid. The skybolt would come. It couldn’t not come.

“Greetings, Prophet!” The assassin grinned at me. Her traveling cloak was dusty and her direction was in that of the city.

“They will not welcome you now.” My tone was sarcastic. “They are a new thing—they will not allow assassins.”

“I heard different. I heard they welcome all now, under a branch of peace. Quite a change, Prophet. Perhaps I underestimated your conviction.”

“The skybolt will still come. It cannot not come.”

She cocked her head, looking to the blue sky, and the bright sun. “Is that you speaking, or your God?”

I scowled, which made her laugh, her bronzed head thrown back and mouth open wide, white teeth flashing. “I’ve wondered since we met if you really were a prophet. But you have power in you, and you are strange. So perhaps I will let you pray for me after all.” Chuckling she left me, headed to Tajik.

That was long ago. Tajik still stands. They have not forgotten mercy, but they have forgotten me. Kings and assassins don’t know that I am a prophet. Powerful, and strange.



A Drift of Quills – Books We Love, Earnestly

Whenever we as a group talk about books we love, I pull my favorites out of my stack of recently read. (Check out the whole list on Goodreads!) Sometimes I have a hard time deciding which story to write about, but this time, it was easy.

But before I wax eloquent about a big fish, let me point you toward Robin and Trish, who both have excellent stories to recommend…

Robin Lythgoe

Author of As the Crow Flies

Robin’s Website

I really love chatting with my readers, and in a recent email exchange someone recommended a book for my Flinch-Free Fantasy list: The Dragon and the George, by Gordon R. Dickson.

Hey! I’ve read that!

About a million years ago…

I recall liking it, and the foggy memory tickled my brain until I had to go pick up a copy and read it again. It didn’t disappoint. True, the style is dated and it took a little too long for the real action to start, but what a fun read.

A modern couple is transported into another version of our world. The kicker? Our hero ends up in the body of…

Patricia Reding

Author of Oathtaker

Patricia’s Website

Recently, I read Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders Trilogy, consisting of Ship of Magic, Mad Ship, and Ship of Destiny. While I wouldn’t say I “love” these books, exactly, there are parts of this series that I very much enjoyed—so much so that I quickly read them one after the next.

I liked the set-up of the Bingtown’s oldest families and I loved the concept of the liveships. As for . . .

Parker Broaddus

Author of  A Hero’s Curse

Parker’s Website…oh wait. You’re already here.

The Hardy Boys series is formulaic and simple, and often plods into the cliche. But it’s fun. And I couldn’t help thinking how well they build their mysteries through the story. While bland, they get the formula right. I just finished a second one in as many weeks, and it was a good study in the structure of the genre. While I may not want to copy The Hardy Boys series when writing my own mystery, there’s value in internalizing the genre, the beats, and the structure on display. You’ve got to know the rules before you break them and I love that the series feels like a set of training wheels for writers. Fun, whimsical, dated training wheels.

But I didn’t come here to talk about The Hardy Boys. I’ve actually been ruminating on a story I just finished that involved an old man and a big fish. I’m talking about Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. It’s a fascinating tale that has differing interpretations. Is it the battle to land a big fish, or a parable of simple faith?

For me, it’s a vivid story. One that captures the imagination and the soul. I can feel the heat of the line and taste the salt of the sea. I think Hemingway captured, for us all, the battle to land a big fish.

But then it’s also otherworldly. Foreign. Strange. I think this is where it is a parable of simple faith. And faith can be a strange and otherworldly thing.

Why did the old man go out that far? Why didn’t he take the boy? Why didn’t he let the fish go? Those questions make me think of that simple faith. It makes me think of the way faith makes the disciples scratch their heads as Jesus points to kids as being an example to emulate, or sleeps during a storm, or says a couple of fish will feed a crowd. It doesn’t seem to make sense.

What did Hemingway’s story make you think of? Is it the battle to land a big fish, or a parable of simple faith?


A Drift of Quills – Writing Musically

Imagine a busy journalist’s bullpen, with phones ringing, reporters talking, laughing and yelling, screens flashing, and papers occasionally flying. I can write there. A busy mall, with the flurry of shopping and eating. I can write there. A quiet office, with nothing but the occasional hum of the air conditioner or the click of the printer. I can write there. So long as the environment doesn’t demand my personal attention and intervention, I can write. (It’s harder to write at home with the boys running around my desk – they aren’t just noise. They necessitate intervention).

So when it comes to music, I can write to a lot of things. Pandora Radio might be tuned to a Mumford & Sons or Lumineers station, or country, or Christian radio. Like many writers, I do enjoy instrumental music. Something with a cello is sure to be listened to with favor.

Then there are a few select songs that I turn on, not as background noise, but as a part of my writing process. Songs that run through my blood and sometimes even shape the story as I go. Here they are, for your perusal and dissection, in no particular order, and with only minimal, if any, explanation. (And here’s the list on Spotify).

“The White Whale Chant” by Roque Baños

From the end credits of In the Heart of the Sea, this song has a sublime element to it. It evokes a longing, perhaps for something we’ve never even tasted, and I love that in either song or story. I think it would be a beautiful thing if some element of my own stories captured or provoked that longing in my readers.

“Now We Are Free” by Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard

This song from Gladiator has this theme of longing combined with homecoming. You can feel both the end as well as a beginning in the music, and I love that it is tied to Elysium.

“Into the West” by Annie Lennox

From the end credits of the Return of the King this song is similar to “Now We Are Free,” in that it is a song of comfort for leaving this world. I love the lyrics here – the images and poetry is beautiful, and just listening to it I want my own writing to capture that beauty in the images I paint through word.

“Bethany’s Wave” by Marco Beltrami

From Soul Surfer, this captures that hope and longing I’ve been going on about above, but it includes hints of the cello, a choir and an incredible South Pacific vibe. What’s not to like?

“Moana” Soundtrack

So, we were supposed to name individual songs…but yeah. I had to throw this whole thing in there because I usually just play the whole thing. Disney did a great job with the Moana soundtrack, capturing the South Pacific chant, (those vocals, that harmony!) with an epic quality that is infused with the excitement and hope that we usually find in anything done by the Disney team. My stories often have some element of the epic, (particularly A Hero’s Curse), and the Moana soundtrack weaves that grandiose story through their music, but manage to keep it personal and close at the same time. 

“Minstrel Boy” by Joe Strummer And The Mescaleros

This song is a ballad really – a story. I can’t do it justice here. I’ll note this: the first two lines introduce the minstrel boy’s ultimate demise—by introducing the minstrel’s death at the beginning, Moore (the song’s writer) immediately communicates this story is about more than one minstrel’s (or hero’s) death. The climax, (found in second stanza), will not be the death of our hero. As the audience we are set up to look for something greater even than the sacrifice of a hero.

I’ve written about this one extensively, so if you’re interested in more, leave a comment and I’ll link or post on Facebook!

“Storms In Africa” by Enya

Enya did such a good job painting a picture through music of the rain coming in on the desert with this one. The image stuck with me and shaped A Hero’s Curse. Ever since I’ve saved this one as the one to bring me back to that original world I created. 

“Adiemus” by Adiemus

This one has a fun mix vocals, instrumental, epic and intimate. I enjoy the roller coaster it takes you on thematically – I can almost feel the story running through my veins. 

I could go on. I love music and how it tells story, shapes other stories, and fills our own story. But let me step aside and point you toward the other esteemed writers of our group, who have some fun thoughts on the subject of writing to music.

Robin Lythgoe

Author of As the Crow Flies

Robin’s Website


I write better when there is music playing.

I dream better.

Music is powerful stuff. Thanks to my mom and older sisters, I grew up listening to a wonderful variety of music. Sadly, not a one of us can play any instrument but the stereo. But just like with my reading and writing, I gravitated to certain genres of music.

When I’m writing, that selection narrows even further.

I need music with no words—unless the words are…

Patricia Reding

Author of Oathtaker

Patricia’s Website

I thoroughly enjoy having music playing while I write. It can create such an emotional environment. Sometimes it’s presence makes for the difference between my simply feeling something internally as I write it—and actually laughing out loud—or perhaps even weeping. I find that my tastes tend . . .


A Drift of Quills – Today’s Trending Topics

Stories inspired by or incorporating a person, news story or current event can be fascinating. Of course there is the historical fiction category, but there’s also the plain good fun of fiction or fantasy that incorporates timely and relevant news. Godzilla, (2014), as a B-film example, references and borrows from the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011.

I have some thoughts on the subject, but first let’s hear from the other writers in the group.

Robin Lythgoe

Author of As the Crow Flies

Robin’s Website

Use people? And places? And stories?? I’m innocent!

Well… mostly innocent.

Maybe “unconscious” would be a better word, because while I don’t (usually) intend to put current happenings and humans in my stories, I’ve had people point out that this is like that, or this person is just like that person.

One of the most frequent questions I get as an author is…

Patricia Reding

Author of Oathtaker

Patricia’s Website

An author writes what she knows—whether she knows it or not. By that I mean that when she writes, her knowledge, awareness, and/or understanding of the things she writes about shows. So, if she tries to write on a topic of which she knows little, that lack of knowledge will shine through just as clearly as if she writes about a field in which she is an expert. But as to her use of specifics from the world around her . . . now that makes for an interesting topic.

Of course, I use information from the real world in my stories. I also—quite intentionally—create “faith” or “belief system” allegories between the fantasy world I’ve created in The Oathtaker Series and the real world. When I do so, I use real life issues not in the micro-sense so much as in the macro-sense . . .

Parker Broaddus

Author of  A Hero’s Curse

Parker’s Website…oh wait. You’re already here.

I’m sure you have a favorite cultural or newsy reference in story. (Comment below, or share your favorite). Alas. I don’t usually write that way. A quick review of my short stories, screenplays, and novels reference nothing about today’s trending topics. But my stories may have something to say about today’s topics, without mentioning them directly.

I wasn’t thinking about Carrie Fisher when I wrote “Two Weeks is a Lifetime,” (Lodestone Journal, 2014). I was thinking about my Papa. But the themes of loss and regret are universal.

I feel the best stories aren’t those that borrow from current headlines, but instead grapple with themes that apply to current issues. Orwell’s themes of privacy, government intrusion and Big Brother are timeless, yet aspects of 1984 feels ripped from today’s headlines.

My new novel, coming soon, (are you listening, you A Hero’s Curse sequel seekers?), touches on poverty and lack of equality among those allowed to access magic. Because magical equality is a huge news item these days. 🙂

I write about heroes, loss, and sacrifice. The situations and characters are specific, but the themes are universal. They resonate.

And that’s how I want my stories to apply. To be remembered.