writing

Two paragraphs from page 26 …

… because it’s late and I’m tired and I won’t be looking up the significance of this date in history today. I’ll just use some wippet math – two paragraphs from page 26 (2/26).

I’m deep in the throes of editing now, which is progressing at a snail’s pace since I’m trying to get all the details right. Is anyone out there using Liquid Story Binder instead of Scrivener? A friend turned me on to it and I’m loving it. Still have lots to learn, though.

Anyhow, without further adieu, a little bit from City of Ages:

Tristan came slowly, stiffly, blinking and groggy as he awakened. He poked about in the garbage heap that was his dwelling place before rising to his full height and smoothing back the crazy mass of his hair. A battered old rucksack hung from his shoulder, all the possessions he had in the world.

Justus looked about with a frown. He had not expected that Tristan lived in a palace, to be sure, but this was hardly more than a den, stinking, cold, and pitiful. Tristan’s mouth flattened in a tight line when he noticed Justus’s gaze. He turned aside without a word and headed toward Morden’s villa. Justus followed him, comforted by the knowledge that at least Tristan would sleep more comfortably tonight, on the road.

This snippet of my work in progress (thus, WIPpet) is posted as part of a challenge hosted by K.L. Schwengel. Comments, reactions, impressions, constructive criticisms – all are treasured, should you choose to provide them. Visit my fellow WIPpet participants here, or join the fun yourself:


cats, humor, writing

That Time My Cat Taught Me a Lesson After Trying for Only Six Years

Black and white kittenI’ve had Charley the Kitty since she was about four weeks old (her lopsided mustache reminded me of Charlie Chaplin, and so inspired her name). For school community service credit, my daughter decided to foster a litter of motherless kittens. What could be better and more fun than raising a bunch of cute kittens? Well, turns out that’s a lot harder than it sounds. I really gained an appreciation for a mother cat, after having to bottle feed five kitties several times a day. The Kittens all over mankittens were quite accomplished at crying for food as well as getting milk all over themselves as they frantically sucked down the contents of their bottles. The mess they inevitable created caused us to bathe them every day. Drying off after the baths, they would climb up on my husband, since he was warm and cuddly, apparently.

When the kittens were old enough to adopt out, I chose Charley to keep for myself. We just had a special bond from the beginning. She wasn’t the cutest or sweetest of the cats, I have to say, because she’s a little grumpy and rather demanding. However we just clicked. Perhaps because I’m a little grumpy and demanding as well? Who can say? Certainly not my husband! Anyhow, Charley has always communicated when she feels Nov2013 049strongly about something. This could result in a hiss or a growl or a loud, demanding meow when she’s hungry or cold.

When I started to work from home as a freelance writer one of the perks was more time spent with my animals, including Charley. However, Charley had a habit of meowing in the loud and fierce way around noon every day. I did the obvious – made sure her litter box was clean and her food dish was full — but that didn’t satisfy her. My plaintive question of “What do you want?” went unanswered. Eventually, though, I figured out what she wanted me to do – namely, snuggle with her in bed at the beginning of her afternoon nap. So now, almost every day, she meows at lunchtime and I go and lay down with her as one with would with a child, and put her to sleep. I’m quite proud of myself for figuring out her message after only a few years of trying. Who says old humans never learn new tricks?Cover art for The Cat's Guide to Human Behavior

This was one of the experiences, coupled with my rather fertile imagination, that led me to write The Cat’s Guide to Human Behavior. This humorous look at living with humans from the cat’s point of view has been recently released and is looking for a home on your ebook reader or bookshelf.

You know, just in case you want to do a little fostering of your own.

~

If you enjoyed this little story, check out the Nature’s Recipe blog hop for other participants’ stories.

humor, travel, writing

It’s the Destination, not the Journey

There are places that we travel to that we never forget. They embed themselves in our minds because of their beauty, majesty, symbolism, romantic history, or exotic splendor. These are the places that, when we are old and infirm, we will remember with a smile, and perhaps an embellished story or three to our grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

There are also places that we never forget for reasons not quite so awe-inspiring. Garberville, California is one such place. Last year, while in the middle of a rather agonizing bout of back pain, I decided that I simply had to go up to Crater Lake, Oregon. My long-suffering husband Dave did little to talk me out of this notion, 27 years of marriage having convinced him that when travel was concerned I would only be put off for so long. So there we were, driving our aging Nissan Maxima up the 101 freeway past San Francisco and north toward Oregon. After a drive of many hours, shortly after nightfall, we decided to gas up and eat dinner in a pleasant little hamlet of pine trees and rolling hills just off the freeway. As it was a Sunday evening, we feared that not many places would be open, but we were in luck! A little café was not only lit up, but it saw a steady stream of fellow travelers and locals.

The whiteboard above the counter listed numerous healthful and popular eating choices such as are often found in Northern California — alfalfa sprouts, tofu, and so forth. Dave was pleased to note the establishment’s beer selection, as he always is. The cafe was decorated with the flowing hippie-like artwork of what I presume to be a local artist or two, and various other hallmarks of small town life – a stand for the local newspaper, some posters about the softball league and announcements about garage sales and women’s club gatherings. We noted, with pleasure, the older gentleman with a long flowing gray and white beard who stumped up the stairs to the second level of the restaurant while carrying an old, well- used fiddle.

Music! How delightful.

Soon after he began playing, however, the hideous scratchings, howlings, and shriekings emitting from the instrument caused our opinions to change somewhat. No one else seemed bothered by the awful commotion, but we found it far from relaxing. I should note here that neither one of us are music snobs. Back in the misty years of our youth, David learned to strum a bit on the guitar, but hasn’t picked it up since, and my last musical endeavor occurred in the sixth grade when I learned — and promptly forgot — a recorder.

Dave usually takes quite a while figuring out what he wants to eat and even longer choosing a beer, so after ordering I fled to the porch, away from the “music.” Seating myself on a well-used plastic chair, I observed the surprising number of local inhabitants out for an evening stroll. I say surprising number because the town was quite small, barely much more than a few shops, now shuttered for the evening. I noticed that the two dozen or so people wandering around streets at this hour seemed to include a larger than usual assortment of dogs. Being a dog lover, they caught my eye.

“Look, dogs!” I told Dave when he came out to join me, beer in hand.

“I don’t like the looks of these people,” he said. “Keep an eye on the car.”

“But they like dogs!” I exclaimed. How could such people be untrustworthy in any way?

Dave gave me an unimpressed look. He is a great lover of dogs, as long as they don’t eat, poop, bark, destroy anything, or look at him. So, basically, the stuffed kind. Or the kind that populate that painting with all the dogs smoking and playing poker.
A Friend in Need 1903 C.M.Coolidge
I looked closer at the dogs. Usually they lacked leashes, or their leashes were made of ratty pieces of rope that the dogs’ owners must have found on the road somewhere. The dogs looked perfectly content to stay in their little pack, however. Perhaps this was because the human members of such a pack rather more closely resembled homeless dogs. None of the humans seemed to be wearing shoes, man and woman alike, nor did they seem to have availed themselves of a bathing facility any time in the recent past. Several of the men wore long dreadlocks, and several of the women may have run a comb through their hair in the previous week, although it was kind of hard to tell. The expressions on these people’s faces were usually rather serene and included a happy grin or two. There was loud talking and some skipping, too, as I recall.

One and one began to add up to the expected total of two. Here we were in Northern California — Humboldt county — surrounded by people who look like they dwelled under the bridge.

It was about that time that the proprietor of the establishment came out and informed us that drinking beer on the porch was specifically forbid by law and that we needed to go back in and endure Grandpa’s horrible scratchings upon the formerly noble instrument known as a violin just like everybody else.

Well, all right, maybe they left that last part out.

Dave seems to recall that the food wasn’t half bad, although I have no such memory. Suffice it to say that we ate our meal rather speedily and continued on our way, happily unscathed by the experience.

While in the course of writing this little blog post, I asked David if he remembered our visit in Garberville. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s when we stopped in the pot capital of California. There were a bunch of bums and dogs.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a rather concise summation of this little tale.

history, writing

Can Truth Father Fantasy?

Cover art for fantasy adventure Necropolis by Xina Marie Uhl
When Dru wakes up in an enemy city after being savagely beaten, he knows he has a mission. But he can’t remember what it is. The assassins, magical creatures, and age-old demons chasing him don’t much care about that, though.

I’m going to tell you a secret.

When writing parts of my fantasy novel Necropolis, I cheated. I took my inspiration from already published works. Did I plagiarize? No, nothing like that. Yet, something about this seems shady. Just what are these published works?

Primary sources.  They are firsthand accounts of history by people who lived through the events they are writing about. These could be letters, or photographs, or other items or documents, even something such as a Viking broadsword etched with runes. There’s nothing like a primary source to give you the essence of the time period or event you’re studying, the vibrancy and power of it. I referenced many primary sources when writing the short descriptive pieces that preceded each of Necropolis’s 22 chapters. These largely come from ancient history, since the world I created is sort of an amalgamation of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Mesopotamia. For instance, here is the stele inscription that appears at the start of Chapter 1:

Under the searing gaze of the sun god Rumda
did I march my army
my army of ten thousand

Before me fled the people of the land
The harvest lay withered on the threshing floor
Figs shriveled unpicked on the trees
Dust piled high in the homes
Homes where only jackals and foxes now live
Even these fled before me
before my army’s might

I crossed the harsh wasteland
to the edge of the world
to Eretria by the sea
That nest of vipers
Home to the Dwellers — the Old Ones
Defilers of the land

With the might of my sword
I slew the young men
With the point of my javelin
I made rivers of blood flow to the thirsty soil
I took the young women
I made widows of all
They heaped dust upon their heads
The air was filled with their weeping
Sweet music to my army
to the weary travelers
with the bloody sandals

O Eretria
Your walls are crumbled
Your temples are burning
Your city is no more
I am Kar the Mighty
Conqueror of Nations
I will clear away the old and make a new land
A new city, strong and fast
A new people that no one shall conquer

In this vow I stand firm as a yew
My arms held wide as a god to my people
As king of Eretria
King of the World

‘The Founding of Eretria’
Stele inscription
Year 1, Eretrian Calendar

Stele of Adad Nirari. Look closely to see the text written across the figure. Here is where the ruler’s conquests would be recorded. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adad-Nirari_stela.jpg

This inscription was based primarily on boastful words from 3,000-odd years ago. Tiglath Pileaser I ruled the Assyrian Empire from 1115-1077 BC.

Tiglath-pileser, the powerful king, king of hosts, who has no rival, king of the four quarters (of the world), king of all rulers, lord of lords, king of kings; the lofty prince . . . who rules over the nations, the legitimate shepherd whose name is exalted above all rulers; the lofty judge, whose weapons Ashur has sharpened, and whose name, as ruler over the four quarters (of the world), he has proclaimed forever; the conqueror of distant lands, which form the boundaries on north and south; the brilliant day, whose splendor overthrows the world’s regions; the terrible, destroying flame, which like the rush of the storm sweeps over the enemy’s country; who . . . has no adversary, and overthrows the foes of Ashur.

Ashur and the great gods who have enlarged my kingdom, who have given me strength and power as my portion, commanded me to extend the territory of their (the gods’) country, putting into my hand their powerful weapons, the cyclone of battle. I subjugated lands and mountains, cities and their rulers, enemies of Ashur, and conquered their territories. With sixty kings I fought, spreading terror (among them), and achieved a glorious victory over them. A rival in combat, or an adversary in battle, I did not have. To Assyria I added more land, to its people I added more people, enlarging the boundaries of my land and conquering all (neighboring?) territories.

In the beginning of my government, five kings . . . with an army of twenty thousand men . . .–and whose power no king had ever broken and overcome in battle–trusting to their strength rushed down and conquered the land of Qummuh (Commagene). With the help of Ashur, my lord, I gathered my war chariots and assembled my warriors; I made no delay, but traversed Kashiari, an almost impassable region. I waged battle in Qummuh with these five kings and their twenty thousand soldiers and accomplished their defeat. Like the Thunderer (the storm god Adad) I crushed the corpses of their warriors in the battle that caused their overthrow. I made their blood to flow over all the ravines and high places of mountains. I cut off their heads and piled them up at the walls of their cities like heaps of grain. I carried off their booty, their goods, and their property beyond reckoning. Six thousand, the rest of their troops, who had fled before my weapons and had thrown themselves at my feet, I took away as prisoners and added to the people of my country.

At that time I marched also against the people of Qummuh, who had become unsubmissive, withholding the tax and tribute due to Ashur, my lord. I conquered Qummuh to its whole extent, and carried off their booty, their goods, and their property; I burned their cities with fire, destroyed, and devastated.*

I tried to keep the spirit of Tiglath Pileser I alive when I created the poem that opens my fantasy novel. After reading inscriptions similar to this one, it was much easier to write the poem. I think I succeeded in conveying a haughty ruler who has no qualms about laying the countryside to waste. What do you think? Did I succeed?

I always tell people that I studied history in school because it is nothing more than stories – human stories from thousands of years. What could be more interesting and vital than such stories? Very little, I contend.

__

Source: R. F. Harper, Assyrian and Babylonian Literature (New York; D. Appleton, 1904) pp. 12-14. Reprinted in Marvin Peryy, Joseph R. Peden and Theodore H. Von Laue, eds.,Sources of the Western Tradition, Vol. I: From Ancient Times to the Enlightenment, 2nd ed., (Boston; Houghton Mifflin, 1991) pp. 20-21.

writing

Shaken to the Core

On February 5, 1783, a 7.5 to 8.0 magnitude earthquake  struck southern Italy, leveling over 100 villages and creating a 100 foot wide mile-long ravine. A second tremor hit at midnight, prompting a tsunami which killed thousands of people who lived along the Italian coast. All told about 80,000 people died.

Although my novel (which at last has a title!) City of Ages, does not include any earthquakes, it starts with a disaster of even greater magnitude.

In September, during a harvest moon, the plague came. It struck first in the home of a cloth merchant, and spread with deadly efficiency, jumping from child to adult in what seemed like hours. A headache and general feeling of weakness came first, followed by the sweats and tormenting body aches, and then, in the latter stages, fits of trembling, difficulty breathing, and the final stillness of death. One by one the villagers of Justus’s family’s estate died in agony, and the white-swathed corpses lined the pathways in increasing numbers until at last he directed them to cease digging individual graves and dig communal graves instead. All day and into the night the church bells tolled and weeping could be heard from the white-washed chapel.

When his family fell ill – his mother, father, and three brothers – he nursed them as best as he could. By then the doctors with their potions and poultices and the wise-women with their herbs and infusions had all died off, the first of many. He watched in increasing horror as his dear ones writhed in pain, pleading for him to quench their thirst and cool their fevered brows, weeping and trembling even as he wept and trembled alongside them in grief. He waited for the symptoms to show up on his own body, the lethargy and the sweating, and the violent death. He waited, hollow with loss, moving slowly but surely as he tended the goats and cattle, ground the grain for bread, and made soup to quench the thirst that afflicted him. With some relief, he fell ill a week after his youngest brother died. But then, to his astonishment, he recovered quickly and with no lingering aftereffects.

Death had passed him by.

This snippet of my work in progress (thus, WIPpet) is posted as part of a challenge hosted by K.L. Schwengel. Comments, reactions, impressions, constructive criticisms – all are treasured, should you choose to provide them. Visit my fellow WIPpet participants here, or join the fun yourself: