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

 

SIXES

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.

 

A Drift of Quills – Reading Socially

What’s your favorite way to catalog your reading? I love being able to look back over what I’ve read. Seeing the titles bring the stories up fresh in my mind, and they might even help me recall the time and place I was reading, and the events surrounding.

Before I tell you more about my chronicling habits, let’s hear from the rest of the crew…


Robin Lythgoe

Author of As the Crow Flies

Robin’s Website

 

When it comes to talking about social cataloguing for books, I think Goodreads is the *800 pound gorilla in the room. Nearly everyone knows what it is and how to use it. Nearly everyone uses it as their go-to option.

I do.

It’s easy to keep track of my books, including the correct covers and editions if you’re particular about that. I can put all the candy—er, books onto shelves I can name however I please, thus creating lists of…


Parker Broaddus

Author of  A Hero’s Curse

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

Goodreads. Pinterest. Facebook. Google+. I’m a relative newcomer to cataloging my reading socially. I saw the option on Facebook years ago, but felt like it was too much work to go through and name all the books I love and like – and then I felt like Facebook itself was too broad – I could detail my favorite books, my favorite movies, my causes, my hobbies – it was all too much, and too invasive!

Only recently, (within the past couple of years), did I discover how I could use and enjoy Goodreads. There were no distractors. Nothing about movies or hobbies – even the socializing is focused to books. If I was going to talk about and chronicle my reading online, this was the place to do it.

Now I really enjoy Goodreads. I appreciate their rating and review system, and how easy it is to recommend a book, see other’s recommendations based on my reading preferences, shelve a story for later, or add to my “currently reading” list. I still don’t spend much time socializing. My time is too full of reading and writing! But every once in a while I’ll participate in a thread, or start a new discussion.

And what about those giveaway contests, right? They are easy to access and fun to participate in, and there is always one running in a category I enjoy. Though, truth be told, I haven’t won a book yet…what about you? Have you ever won a Goodreads giveaway contest?

Where do you like to catalog your reading adventures? Where do you look for story recommendations?

A Drift of Quills – Our Favorite Writing Tools

Today our writing group asked about favorite writing tools. I puzzled over the question while I cleaned out my pockets for the day. Old notes, a to-do list, a pen, a tattered emergency twenty, and there–a tiny thumb drive.

That is probably my favorite tool as a writer.

But before I explain why, let’s hear from the other writers in our group as to their favorite storytelling tools:


Robin Lythgoe

Author of As the Crow Flies

Robin’s Website

There are so incredibly many tools for a writer to use today. (Not like in the Old Days, when it was pen and paper, a set of encyclopedias if you were lucky, and the library!) What a wonderfully rich age we live in!

What are a few of my favorite things? Er… tools?

A computer revolutionized my writing, so…


Patricia Reding

Author of Oathtaker

Patricia’s Website

As I’m sure my fellow Quills have regaled you with their ready wit and humor, I will, for my part, dig in with the mundane. 🙂

Unlike some authors, I actually can imagine what it would have been like to write a piece of any length before the day of word processing programs, and the ability to find information through the Internet with a few simple keystrokes. You see, I did something of that nature when I wrote a law review article in my second year of law school . . . a while back . . . As I recall, it ran about 60 pages, to which was added another 25 or so in citations. Following the rules set out in The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, every comma, every semicolon, every space, had to be “just so.” (It takes a second book just to figure out how The Bluebook works.)

Read the rest here.


Parker Broaddus

Author of  A Hero’s Curse

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

I carry my stories around in my pocket. On that miniature thumb drive in fact. I don’t always know where I’ll be, or what computer I’ll be using, and I can’t stand working in different documents on different computers. So I keep my “active” or “current” document with me, always. Wherever I am, I can plug in my zip drive, open my manuscript, and dive in. No wondering which document has the latest edit or merging or losing bits due to multiple files.

I may scratch notes on the back of bulletins or scraps of paper when I’m away from my desk, in meetings, or on the road, but all of it finds its way to that little zip drive. Every few days I back up my manuscript to a permanent hard drive, but if you’re looking for the latest story fluff floating around the old noggin, it’s in my pocket.

I think I like keeping it close–the proximity. Maybe it’s a Gollum-like trait…

What about you? Do you have a favorite tool as a writer? A pen that simply sings, or a scratch pad that bleeds magic?

Comment below!

A Drift of Quills – TV Shows We Love

As I was growing up, watching television was a family event. We waited until everyone was gathered and ready before lighting the silver screen. To me it was a bit like the storytellers of old, telling tales around a campfire. A communal experience resulting in a shared story.

Technology continues to change how we interact with stories, but I still love the communal aspect of a shared experience. In that vein, our writer’s group, A Drift of Quills, decided to discuss our favorites. Maybe you’ll discover something new today, or maybe we’ll find something in common.

First up is Robin, who has something to say on the subject of favorite TV shows…


Robin Lythgoe

Author of As the Crow Flies

Robin’s Website

I remember going through a period of time several years ago when I was bored with television. Oh, sure, there were some decent dramas to watch, and maybe few good action programs, but my speculative fiction soul positively yearned for fantasy and science fiction, and the pickin’s were extremely slim. But then…


Patricia Reding

Author of Oathtaker

Patricia’s Website

I’d guess that it was over a period of about fifteen years that I watched little or nothing in the way of television series, whether dramas or comedies. As a political news junkie, other things held my attention. Moreover, I had young people in the house, and there were so many things I didn’t want them to see and to hear before their time.

However, more recently, I thought it would be interesting to catch up on some of the shows I’d missed over the past years. I found that most of those of interest to me came from cable stations and/or are Netflix originals. Aside from the obvious series with the “political bent” (such as House of Cards), three main types have attracted my attention and they all relate in some way to my writing: historical fiction, crimes and mystery, and fantasy/superhero. While I find television considerably more graphic overall, I’ve enjoyed some series, nonetheless…


Parker Broaddus

Author of  A Hero’s Curse

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

I love movies. TV shows. As mentioned, part of that love relates to the communal, shared-story aspect of film. I watch Person of Interest with my wife and Phineas & Ferb and Dinotrux with the boys. I watched Marvel’s Netflix collaboration, Daredevil, which was particularly interesting as it featured a blind protagonist with super senses. How intriguingly fortuitous.

But today, since I’m a young adult/middle-grade writer, I’ll talk about A Series of Unfortunate Events, released on Netflix just this spring. I loved the witty repartee, the brilliant acting and cool-toned cinematography. The series stays true to the books and just as in print, the Baudelaire children have each other, even as everything around them is tragic and made near meaningless by a the ineptitude of adults.

It’s a story of ironic and even comic calamity stacked upon devastation, but the hope that springs from the Baudelaire orphans is the thing that gets us through–lets us breathe and even laugh at the comically absurd. To be able to laugh in the face of misery while clinging tight to hope and family–these are precious things.

But as the season wore on I found myself getting restless. The plot began to feel repetitive–and while the repetitious circle works in a crime show like Person of Interest, it wasn’t working for me here. The familiar cycle of a tickle of hope dashed by some tragedy instigated by the sinister Count Olaf became tired. The series’ bright moments felt fewer and further between and even the comedy seemed somewhat lessened, as the writers kept pulling out the same jokes and gags we saw in the first few episodes.

Finally, by the end of season one, I realized that while I loved watching the Baudelaire children face obstacles of every sort, I was rooting for them to win. I was rooting for them to emerge victorious. I wanted hope, but with every successive episode, the idea that a happy ending could be obtained crumbled just a bit more. “If you are interested in a story with a happy ending, that story is streaming elsewhere,” says the narrator, Lemony Snicket. Fair warning. In fact, each episode begins with a similar dire warning that all will be peril and nothing will work out. I began to realize that the wry humor of Lemony Snicket was not as wry as I had thought.

Season one has been completed and Netflix has promised additional seasons to finish out the Series of Unfortunate Events, (we’ve only made it through the first four books thus far!). There is much to love here. Dark humor, great themes, a muddled mystery, witty wordplay and the story itself is an engaging one. But I do love happy endings, and this one cannot offer that. At least, not yet.

A Drift of Quills – Books We Love

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Today our group is writing about books we love. I had to wrestle with what to recommend. I just finished Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt and the ever phenomenal Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. But today I’m especially excited to get to recommend Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner.

But first, let me point you toward my fellow writers, who have excellent reads to share.

 


Patricia RedingPatricia Reding

Author of Oathtaker

Patricia’s Website

 

In truth, posts about “books we love” are a bit difficult for me. This is due to two oddly co-existing—yet seemingly entirely contrary—truths: (1) there are so many I love; and (2) it is so difficult to find one that I love. How is this possible?

There are numerous changes going on in the publication world, which means that one cannot always have a sense of certainty in advance as to whether a book will be worth the time and expense. Still, there is so much out there to read! So, I’m going to step back in time . . .

 


Robin Lythgoe

Robin Lythgoe

Author of As the Crow Flies

Robin’s Website

 

I so enjoy doing our regular “Books We Love” posts! Do I pull one of the (usually older) books off my library shelves? Or do I choose something (usually newer) from my e-reader? I love revisiting my favorite books—and I love exploring new ones! Decisions, decisions…

You’ll be happy to know I made one.

I am delighted to spotlight A Hero’s Curse by our very own P.S. Broaddus. The book is a wonderful middle-grade/young adult fantasy-adventure about a twelve-year-old blind girl and her talking cat.

I have a confession to make…

 


Parker Broaddus

“Of making many books there is no end,” the wise have said. And we forget the gems of the past, buried in a mountain of fluff n’ stuff. Stone Fox is one of those gems. It’s an incredibly short children’s novel, written in a plain, simple prose, (similar to Sarah Plain and Tall, which just goes to remind us writers, we don’t have to wax eloquent for hundreds of pages to pack a punch).Stone Fox

Little Willy, our protagonist, is facing an ailing grandfather and the loss of their farm. To save all, he enters the National Dog Sled race held in Jackson, Wyoming with his faithful dog, Searchlight, and…well, you’ll just have to read the rest.

Stone Fox is about drama, in the best possible way. It’s exciting, it’s emotional and it’s unexpected. And it isn’t just the story that’s unexpected–every event turns us on our heads and pulls on our hearts–it makes us laugh and cry, just as the best writing should.

It’s a fun one to read aloud, a gold mine for writers looking to learn more about packing drama in their own writing, and just good literature.

So comment below! Have you already read Stone Fox? If so, how did you find it? Do you think this story speaks to an older generation, or can today’s kids fall in love with Searchlight as well?

A Drift of Quills – Characters Welcome

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Characters are great fun. Don’t we all have our favorites? Maybe we love their wit, or clueless misadventures–I’m looking at you Bertie Wooster. Sometimes it’s a character we relate to: I’m fond of Monk, the tightly wound, obsessive-compulsive detective.

Many of my stories are character driven–which means I’m constantly surrounded by…you guessed, it…characters.

So the question comes up regarding how these personalities come to life. Do I plan them in advance? Do they spring into being in the moment? How do you keep track of them?

Take Essie Brightsday, a young blind girl and the protagonist of A Hero’s Curse. How did she get here?

That makes me chuckle. I don’t know how she got here, really. But when she did show up, it was important that I know a bit about her strengths and weaknesses. For me, that’s more important than eye color and shoe size. If I know a character’s weakness, suddenly I have a character arc. I know what’s going to be hard for them through the story and I know what they are going to need to overcome to be victorious in the end. Or, if I’m writing a tragedy, the weakness revealed at the beginning will spell the character’s doom by the end.

If I’m really stuck, John Truby wrote The Anatomy of Story and detailed seven “key steps of story structure.” I enjoy using those story structure points by applying them to a character.

1. WEAKNESSFantasy protagonist, A Hero's Curse

2. DESIRE

3. OPPONENT

4. PLAN

5. BATTLE

6. SELF-REVELATION

7. NEW-EQUILIBRIUM

“The seven steps are not arbitrarily imposed from without the way three-act structure is. They exist in the story. These seven steps are the nucleus – the DNA – of your story and the foundation of your success as a storyteller because they are based on human action.They are the steps that any human being must work through to solve a life problem.”

I’ll spend some time thinking through the points with my character, to ensure I have a good arc. When I’m satisfied with my new creation, I’ll let it go. This is where that character really develops a life of its own. New themes emerge, subtleties and quirks and hidden qualities that I couldn’t have planned. But that arc that was laid out–perhaps by working through Truby’s seven steps–that’s what allows this character to live and breathe and come into its own.

What about you? What are some of your favorite characters, and why? Comment below! And while you’re at it, check out the interviews from Patricia Reding and Robin Lythgoe ~ because they deal with characters too.


Robin Lythgoe

Robin Lythgoe

Author of As the Crow Flies

Robin’s Website

 

The answers are… Yes. And it depends! (Oops, my questionable sense of humor is showing!)

I tend to flesh out a few key characters briefly, but they grow from that organically. Every now and then random characters stroll into the story uninvited. I am not a fan of those “Get to Know Your Character” worksheets with a bazillion trivial questions, but I occasionally find them helpful when a necessary character refuses to take shape.

I do not have a shortage of inspiration. There are just so many interesting real people and characters from stories and movies from which I can pick little details! For example…


Patricia Reding

Patricia Reding

Author of Oathtaker

Patricia’s Website

Oh, the fun of writing! When it comes to character creation: there are no rules! Sometimes, a character comes to mind, nearly fully formed. This might happen in particular, for those key parties who engage in the most important activities in a story. But even then, they can surprise me. The character may turn out to be an unexpected whiner, or to have an unusual sense of humor, or to manage success in the face of unexpected odds. Those things tend to happen quite by chance! For example, I have one minor character in my first story who I realized near the end, almost never said anything, although he was present for a goodly portion of the tale. Rather than go back and put words in his mouth, I . . .

A Drift of Quills – An Exclusive Interview With Essie Brightsday

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It’s been a year since A Hero’s Curse made its debut and twelve-year-old Essie Brightsday stepped out from between the pages. To mark the anniversary, I sat down with her to talk about what she thought of being brought to life, where she saw herself in five years, and what it was like having a talking cat.

She laughs at the last question and tucks a stray bit of brown hair behind the red cloudsilk bandana that’s over her eyes.

E: Well, having a talking cat sounds great, but that’s just because you haven’t been lectured by one.

P.S.: That’s not true. I think cats lecture, whether they speak Lingua Comma or not. It’s just what they do. A lot of readers want to know more about your blindness, about how you interact with it on a daily basis.

E: It’s not really something I think about, you know? I mean, I have two arms, two legs, a nose and ears that work, and eyes that don’t. It’s not like I don’t want to see, but it’s not what I’m thinking about when I get up in the morning. I’m thinking about breakfast, and what I’m going to wear, and what I’m going to do.

P.S.: Like get into something with Tig.

E: More like tweak his tail. I have to remind him who’s bEssie concept - Finaloss. *Laughs*

P.S.: So where do you see yourself in five years?

E: Ha! I probably won’t be seeing myself anywhere!

P.S.: *Face palms* Sorry. I didn’t even think of how I worded that.

E: Don’t worry about it. I’m joking with you. But really, that’s such a strange question to even think about! I don’t know. I guess I’ve always wanted to visit the capitol of Plen. There’s an academy there that anybody who wants to be a protector or champion attends. A lot of them eventually join the hero class.

P.S.: And that’s where you want to be?

E: I think so, but only if they take Tig too. *Laughs* I’d like to be more involved in the kingdom’s political structure. I might even try for a leadership position someday. Something that would let me help people and make a difference.

P.S.: Heavy stuff.

E: *Shrugs* I think there’s something in me that says I can’t make a difference, because of who I am, or where I grew up, or what I don’t have. I want to prove that part of me wrong.

 

What questions would you like to pitch to Essie? Or what other characters would you love to interview? And it doesn’t have to be exclusive to A Hero’s Curse! Comment below or share your own interview! And while you’re at it, check out the interviews from Patricia Reding and Robin Lythgoe ~ because character exclusives are always fun.


Patricia Reding

Patricia Reding

Author of Oathtaker

Patricia’s Website

 

This is Patricia Reding, coming to you with A Drift of Quills, and on behalf of Scripta Manent Publishing, where “Written Words Remain.” Today I bring you my long anticipated interview with the renowned Lucy Haven of The Oathtaker Series. Lucy, as many of you know, is the oldest living person known in Oosa, having survived the deaths of her two former charges. Of course, she has enjoyed the gift of “continued youth” since she first swore to protect a seventh-born of the Select, and will continue to do so for the remainder of her days.

I caught up with Lucy on her way out of sanctuary here, in the City of Light, following a Council hearing that the twins, Reigna and Eden, arranged after their return from The Tearless. (That is, following the end of Select: The Oathtaker Series, Volume Two). We’re standing outside the residence hall on sanctuary grounds. I must say, the Oathtakers in the city are all aflutter with news that the twins have been tested and have found Ehyeh’s favor! So, without further ado, here is Lucy Haven . . .

Be sure to catch the rest of the character exclusive on Patricia’s blog!


Robin Lythgoe

Robin Lythgoe

Author of As the Crow Flies

Robin’s Website

 

Let me introduce you to our guest, Bairith Mindar, a principle character in my book Blood and Shadow. He is a nobleman by fate, by birth, and by strength of character. His slight build, angular features, and graceful manner suggest elvish descent. One does not ask such things in polite society. Not straight out…

Bairith confesses that he is a mage, though when asked what spheres he can manipulate he deflects the question with a smile and an elegant gesture…

You can read the rest of Robin’s character interview with Bairith here!