On not writing in order to write better

I finished the last book a couple of weeks ago and haven’t written a word since. I am working on the next one but I can’t just start writing. I do have to do a substantial amount of planning before I start drafting a new story and of course, in this case, I’m actually planning to draft several books back to back, an entire series, rather than just one. That way I get more fun writing in before I have to stop and start planning the next one.

(In case you’re wondering, this particular series is now looking like a quartet, but who knows? At this point I’m still only at the overall story arc stage.)

Planning works for me. It doesn’t work for everyone. Some people can’t do planning at all. It stifles the creative spark and leaves a cold dead shell staring at the computer screen. Others have to plan every single little event in their books. It’s a process which can take years. Yes, that’s right. YEARS.

I’m…somewhere in the middle. I start out with notes, and then I figure out the main plot points (the tent poles, as I think Blake Snyder puts it) and then I do a scene list. So, yeah, probably close to the nth degree planning end of the scale.

For one book, this takes a while. For four books… Please send cake and remember me fondly.

When a trilogy becomes a quartet. Or more…

I’ve known for a while that the Scent of Freedom was only the end of that particular story. It wasn’t the end of the story. I always wanted to write more about the Hunters, so I wasn’t surprised when the idea came to me for another Hunter, sent through to the human realm on a mission for her queen. This Hunter’s story was rather long, her search for self-continuing across, as I thought, three books.

Well, actually, to be honest, at first I thought it would be one book. I mean, it’s only demons, right? How much trouble can they be?

Quite a bit, as it happens. So things don’t turn out quite the way any of us planned in the first book and I thought, okay then, three books. Three will do it. It’s a trilogy. It’s a nice, well-known number of books for a story to fit into.

Which was working perfectly well up to yesterday when a discussion with my sweetie about stuff that would happen in these books, particularly the third one, threw an almighty spanner in the works which necessitated the introduction of another book.

So it’s not a trilogy anymore. It’s a quartet. And since I started looking at what happens in that book, the more I’m wondering if it won’t become a…quintet(?). For crying out loud. Is it so hard for the story to just stay the story?

*glares at the story*

*story fluffs its hair and assumes the educational pose*

Well, no, says the story, but it’s not my fault that you just didn’t realize how big this story actually is. It was always going to be five books. It just took you a while to realize it. And really, if you’d been paying attention you’d have realized this a long time ago and wouldn’t now be whining about it. So it’s all your own fault, really.

Yeah. Thanks. *headdesk*

Be a part of Be a Bard history

The first ever online Be A Bard game is currently taking place. There’s a unicorn in the river, being watched by a planet while an old lady and a bunch of moles try and winch the unicorn onto a life raft. And now a hippocampus riding a shark has appeared. It’s not looking good for the unicorn. Or for the moles, for that matter. The axe might be okay, though.

Oh yes, there’s an axe, too.

And this is why I love Bard. Because everything makes so much SENSE.

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!

*ahem* Excuse me. I mean, because it’s… yeah, okay, it’s nuts. Come and join in. Just look for the #babg hashtag or follow @BeABardGame or @AMhairiSimpson. As you can probably tell, there’s no requirement for anything to make sense…

Teaser Tuesday – MURDER AT THE VICARAGE

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of A Daily Rhythm. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser for today, from THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE, by Agatha Christie, book 1 in the Miss Marple series.

‘Rememember they had a quarrel,’ I said.
‘About Lettice and her bathing dress.’
(18%, ebook edition)

BLURBM

‘Anyone who murdered Colonel Protheroe,’ declared the parson, brandishing a carving knife above a joint of roast beef, ‘would be doing the world at large a service!’

It was a careless remark for a man of the cloth. And one which was to come back and haunt the clergyman just a few hours later. From seven potential murderers, Miss Marple must seek out the suspect who has both motive and opportunity.

This is a recent acquisition, as I’ve been hearing about Agatha Christie my whole life but had never actually got round to reading any of her work. I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I’m enjoying it greatly, mostly because Miss Marple doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks of her. Great fun!

Writers sell dreams

Writers sell dreams. They are salespeople, sometimes of used cars, sometimes of toothpaste, sometimes of three hundred thousand acre estates with a forty bedroom manor house dating back to the 1400s, woodland suitable for hunting and shooting, a trout stream, three guest cottages and planning permission for a private helipad and animal sanctuary. No one needs that many bedrooms, nor that much land, but how it would feel to have it anyway? To have your own private kingdom or the freedom to hop in a car and go anywhere, or just to have nice shiny white teeth that don’t hurt when you eat ice cream.

That right there? That’s a dream. It’s something you want so badly you can taste it and when the chance comes up to have it, you barely dare hope it’s real, scared it will evaporate before your eyes before you can grasp it.

Sometimes, of course, we’re taking money for another kind of dream. The ones people in this world can’t make real, no matter how much money they make – to ride a dragon, fly a broomstick or fend off a ravening horde of battle-scarred but-curiously-inept monsters with only a sword and witty banter (and rescue the gorgeous [insert gendered noun here] of their choice, of course).

Every word of a book is selling a dream. The difference with books, though, is that, unlike every other kind of copy, a book is itself the dream that it’s selling.

Even if a car has its selling points written all over it, probably in neon purple and lime green tape, those words are not part of the car. You can take the tape off and the car’s awesomeness (or lack thereof) will not be changed. That wonderful three hundred thousand acre country estate is not materially affected by the words used by the selling agents to describe it. Calling it a “fabulous development opportunity” or a “gorgeous countryside retreat” will not change a single roof tile or blade of grass on the actual property. The walls are not made up of a million repetitions of the word “brick”. Changing the words you use to describe what you’re selling will change the efficacy of the story you tell about it, but it won’t change the item itself.

Stories, however, are the dream they sell. A writer’s job is to make the reader want to be there and the more they want to be there, the longer they stick around, living this new dream through the pages. But someone riding a dragon is going to have a very different experience to one riding a unicorn. Changing one word changes the story, which in turn changes the dream you’re leaving behind the reader’s eyes, the dream you’re selling them with every page turned. Who hasn’t wanted to ride a dragon or a unicorn at some point? But which is this a story about – a dragon rider or a unicorn rider? It’s important to know. They’re different dreams, to be experienced in different ways.

Dreams don’t have to be trodden on. They can be hat and coat, fire and shelter, even food and drink. When you create a story, remember: dreams are real and stories make them more so. That’s why sales are full of them. Salespeople aren’t selling an item. They’re selling how it makes you feel and dreams are the most emotive thing. How would you feel if your dream came true? What would you give, what would you do to make that happen?

Writers don’t sell stories. We sell dreams. So watch those threads. Hearts and minds are yours for the weaving of words, and not just for the life of a product, but for the life of a story and stories can last forever.

Knowing what you’re doing

Did you set some goals/resolutions/intentions around New Year’s Eve or the following day?

Have you reviewed your progress yet?

I know at least three people just looked at the date and thought, what the f***, Mhairi, it’s only 7th January!! Give us a fighting chance!!

The thing is, how do you know if you’re moving towards your goals if you don’t keep checking back?

I go through quite an in-depth goal-setting process at the end of each year. It includes looking back at the last year, coming to terms with everything, good and bad, as well as looking forward to what I want to achieve in the year to come. I use Michael Hyatt’s Five Days To Your Best Year Ever course, which includes a bit about how you have to constantly review your goals – it helps you acknowledge every little milestone which in turn keeps you motivated to hit the next one.

You can do this whenever the hell you like, but I know me and I know that I need to do this weekly if I’m to have any hope of sticking with it. Monthly might as well include a date with Neil Armstrong in a cute café on the Moon – it ain’t gonna happen. My review day is actually Tuesday (long story) but hey, I’m talking about it now. I’m sure you’ll cope.

So, I open up my little book – I finally found a use for a GORGEOUS little Moleskine notebook I’ve had since forever and never used because it was just too damn pretty – and look at the goals. When I did Michael’s course, I went through all the stages and the working out of stuff in this beautiful little book.

After I thought I was done I went back through and added an extra layer of “why?” which is, funnily enough, where I ask myself “why?” five times about every single goal to try and get right down to the root of why I want to do that thing. Sometimes it throws up the fact that the goal isn’t actually something I want, but something I feel I should want – one of this year’s goals got scratched because of that. There’s no point in having huge goals that I’m not actually interested in achieving.

In the interests of full disclosure, not all the goals in the book were mentioned in my post on the matter last week. Some of them are private and that’s okay. So I’m just going to talk about the ones I did mention.

Daily blogging – I have written five blog posts in the last seven days, which includes this one and the New Year’s Day one – I call this a win! Damn impressive, actually, I hadn’t even realised I was doing THAT well. (this is why we regularly review our goals, folks)

Daily fiction writing – I’ve fictioned two days out of the last seven, although today will probably be a third. I’m going to call that a win. It’s an excellent start, for sure, and that’s what this is all about.

Read 2 books a week – I’m still on the non-fiction book I was on last year and I haven’t read any fiction at all!! I know exactly why that is – it’s because I don’t make time for reading! I need to sit down and sort that out. Reading over breakfast is one idea, as is reading in bed before lights out. That would be a good time to read a dead tree book as the light of an ebook will not help me sleep. So not doing so great on this one but I have a plan and I can live with that.

Exercise – I’ve been walking the dog every day, sometimes twice a day, since Richard went home. It’s not the highest level of exercise I could be doing but it’s consistent and I’m very happy with that. The best thing about it is that there are several other things I can and will be adding into the general routine, Pilates for one, so this will only improve.

Encouraging others in their creativity – I’ve sent out three Daily Drop emails (today will be four) in the last seven days and posted one as a video on YouTube for those as likes that sort of thing. Yesterday I Skyped with a Bard fan about writing, publishing and the creative process. I cut up a couple more decks over the last week and announced a temporary closure of Bard orders while I get caught up on the pre-orders, an announcement which promptly produced another order, or rather an attempt at one. Bless her heart, the lady is willing to wait. Again, I’d prefer the Daily Drop be living up to its name but currently I’m averaging every other day and that’s fine too. Again, we’re going for small steps and consistent progress and the fact that it’s going out as frequently as it is is absolutely fine by me. Getting it up to Daily is the end goal – we’re still on the road!

Likewise, Bard is a journey. Cutting the decks takes a few hours, so technically I should be able to cut several in a day. Unfortunately, it’s hard bloody work and by the end of one deck my right hand is in a LOT of pain, to the point where I can barely move my fingers. This is why the process is taking longer than it should. It’s also why the price will be going up when I reopen the orders. Both these things come under the heading of Self Care.

Now that I’ve broken it all down, I’m really rather proud of myself. I’ve started well out of the gate, albeit not perfectly. I don’t mind that. After all, it is the Shoot For The Moon Challenge. It’s not supposed to be easy or even necessarily attainable. The idea is that you’ll end up doing more than you might otherwise have done, nothing more or less. I can see I need to pay more attention to the areas of reading and writing (and me a writer, too – the irony, it burns) so that’s on my list for today in terms of planning, as well as actually doing! Plans are great but an implementation is better.

So how about it? Where are you on your goals? Still working towards them? Do you think a regular review process might help? Let me know your thoughts!

Pivot points and shooting for the moon

The beginning of a new year is definitely a pivot point, a place you can stand and turn in any direction you please. Personally, I’m not a fan of looking backward but it’s helpful when figuring out what you want to do going forward. Isn’t there a saying about people who don’t study history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past? I can’t remember the exact wording but I know it’s something along those lines. I’m not keen on repeating any of the bad stuff, but it helps to look at it, as well as appreciate the good stuff. So looking back is kind of necessary in order to pivot successfully, I feel.

Hate that.

Oh well.

So, 2015. Most people have already done their posts about 2015 but a/I was busy and b/I kind of like combining the past and the future at this moment in time.

Last year had some major triumphs and some massive challenges.

Triumph #1 – coming off my depression medication

No one told me I had to, although my doctor voiced his concerns when it obviously wasn’t working anymore and I was on such a high dose we didn’t really have any wriggle room. I only set out to decrease the dosage to the point where I could come off it and go onto something else, something more effective. An unusual case of aiming low and hitting a lot higher than anticipated. It took several months, I worked out the reduction plan myself and stuck to it, while making some fairly major changes to my diet, and it worked. I won’t lie and say it’s all been sunshine and roses ever since, but I know the difference between depression and a bad day and since coming off the meds, the bad days were just that – bad days.

There have been a lot of good days too.

Triumph #2 – launching Be A Bard

This has been a rollercoaster, so many ups and downs I barely knew where to put myself at times. I started a Kickstarter and cancelled it almost immediately. I’m still very much on the fence about Kickstarter. I know part of it is me not liking to ask for money. In fact, the biggest part of it is probably me not liking to ask for money. There are also other fears, like “what if people don’t like it?” and “what if everyone rips the piss out of my artwork?” but the main issue is me not liking to ask for money. To date, only two people haven’t liked the game and not a single person has been shitty about the art. It’s impossible to please everyone, so I continue to be shocked more people haven’t hated the game but it is what it is. And what it is is a game that about 95% of players love to somewhere near obsession and tell me I should crowdfund. So…yeah.

But it is now a THING. An IN PRINT THING, albeit in a small, limited edition run of pretty hand-cut decks in pretty hand-stencilled boxes. I’m proud. My hands hate me but I’m proud. It even (very nearly) has a home – the website is in the pipeline, just waiting for me to sort some stuff. Hoping to get a buy link up there, so that people can just buy it without having to message me and me send them a PayPal invoice and so on and so forth. Around twenty people did that, though – sent me money for a deck before I got it printed up. In some cases, multiple decks. MULTIPLE. DECKS.

To say I was gobsmacked is an understatement. Ten percent of the run was spoken for before it went to print. Not bad for a completely unknown game maker with a completely unknown game.

Triumph #3 – meeting my fiancé

Unlike the two triumphs above, this was not something I actually put any effort into so I can’t really take any credit for it. I mean, I didn’t DO anything. I was simply sitting there, minding my own business, espousing the unconsidered benefits of chickens in fantasy fiction, and Richard just kind of showed up. And continues to do so. He’s a blessing, not even slightly in disguise, and definitely belongs on this list.

Triumph #4 – consistently attending Pilates

This may not seem like much to you, but (more or less) consistently attending a Pilates class once a week for the last three months (I think I missed three classes out of thirteen) has revolutionised my back issues. I’ve found I can’t sit up in bed for very long, my back still HATES that, but the everyday twinges I used to get, as well as the guerilla sciatica, have almost entirely vanished.

So that’s the list of awesome things. The list of not-so-awesome things (ie, horribly gnarly challenges) can pretty much be condensed down to me being afraid – afraid I wasn’t good enough, afraid I would never be good enough, afraid to believe in myself in case my faith turns out to be misplaced, and afraid of what others might think of me. These are all fears to work on eliminating this year. I discovered a long time ago that acting from a place of fear is never a good thing – the only problem is that when I’m scared, this principle is the first one I forget!

And so we end 2015 and look forward… to 2016!! YAY!!!!!

The Shoot For The Moon Challenge

As befits our yearly tradition, SJ and I sat down on Tuesday and went through our year just gone and established our goals for our year to come. Mine are as follows:

Write fiction every day – even if it’s only a hundred words, it counts. The important thing is the daily practice.

Blog every day – I used to do blog every day. Then I stopped. Recently I started doing morning pages, which became pretty much the same thing as daily blogging. So now the blog will once again be my morning pages.

Read two books a week, one fiction, one non-fiction – the biggest thing missing from my life right now is a regular refilling of the creative well. Both fiction and non-fiction do this, I think, as well as both helping me to learn various things, either about my craft, others’ perception of the world or just how things work.

Exercise – I’m happier and healthier and more productive when my body is physically tested on a daily or near-daily basis. Between rowing (Richard’s rowing machine is now installed in my garage), Pilates, skipping rope and dogwalking, I’m pretty sure I have this covered.

Encourage others in their creativity – whether it’s through Be A Bard, conversations with friends or simply in my interactions with the world at large, this is my most fervent belief: everyone is creative. Some people just need a little more encouragement.

Some of these goals are specific. Others are more nebulous. The principle remains the same. Establish a daily practice. Maintain it consistently. See what happens.

I suspect what will happen is exponential growth. The biggest challenge, of course, will be in maintaining the daily aspect of the practice. But I figure if I could spend my twenties (and part of my thirties) getting myself into offices I hated five days out of seven, I can now, in my own home, work towards goals which will make me very happy five days out of seven. Ideally seven days out of seven, but we’ll see. The daily bit is the key. Actual quantities achieved are not such a concern right now.

This is my pivot point. I used to set a goal and the minute I slipped I would abandon the whole thing and count myself a failure. I was so scared of not being good enough that I never even came close to seeing how good I really was, let alone how good I could be. I would give up at the first blip, secure in the knowledge that I had already failed and there was no point in keeping on.

I’m not going to do that anymore. Consistent daily action is the only thing I am really going to work at and if one day it doesn’t happen, that’s okay. I’ll just get right back on it the next day. The fact is, I know I can do something towards at least one of the above areas every day, so the chances of a completely dead day are almost nil. And those are odds I can live with.

What about you? What’s your pivot point? More importantly, where are you going to go with it?

The Water Guardian is live!!

I am aware this post should have gone up yesterday. I spent most of yesterday trying to stop my mother’s dog from barking and didn’t think of it until this morning. So, YAY!!! THE WATER GUARDIAN is live!!

I’m sorry if I’ve already mentioned this, but this is my first release in a year, and it’s the first under this name in nearly two years. This translates to MEGA-EXCITEMENT on my part. This has been a tough year and I feel like I’m really moving forward now. WG is only a short story but it represents more than just words on a page to me.

The story has been written for months but I didn’t do anything with it for a long time. I don’t know why. On the surface, it was fear, fear that it was no good. I have no idea what was going on underneath – my head’s been all over the place this last… several years. Who knows what lies beneath, eh?

The fact that I saw this story through, got it edited (by several people), sorted the cover art (yep, that was me), and uploaded it…

It’s like a personal battle has been won. I didn’t even know I was fighting this battle, or maybe I did. I know I’m not making much sense and I may or may not be getting a bit weepy at this point, but this is a huge deal for me.

Which doesn’t mean you have to go and buy the story. It’s a fun story and I greatly enjoyed writing it. Apart from anything else, the challenge of writing a six-year-old was new for me. But you don’t have to buy it. I’m just so proud of myself for getting it out there. It feels like opening a door to the rest of my life.

It is currently only available on Amazon – turns out Kobo needs financial info I don’t have here at my mother’s home in order for me to upload. Next candidate is Smashwords but it may take a while to filter through to Barnes & Noble from there, as well as wherever else Smashwords uploads to.

I guess this is as good a point as any to end this post. It’s not like I’m terribly articulate today. I’ve included an excerpt below and if you’d like to check it out on Amazon it’s live all over that shop!! Someone even bought it in Germany at some point. That did make my jaw drop! Anyway, here are the links to the UK, US and DE shops and read on for more about my first release in a loooooong time…

***

Ranya Mestrien is only six years old but she already knows she’s a burden on her family. She should be able to manipulate Water at will. Instead she can barely move a droplet. It’s unsurprising, then, that she spends more time with the despised tovariken, those without elemental magic, than in her own home.

The night she slips away from a House dinner and nearly drowns, everything changes. It’s not only the Scion who discovers her soaked on a jetty in the harbour, cradled by the Water Guardian himself. Her parents are there too.

The Water Guardian’s interest seems to indicate she’s not as worthless as everyone thought and now the Scion, third in power in the House of Water, has plans for her.

It turns out family isn’t always who you’re born to.

Excerpt:

Ranya waited for a break in the flow of people, then stepped out the door, head held high. Not that it did her any good. At six cycles, and small for her age, she barely reached the lower shoulder on most adults. But she had to look as though she knew where she was going. Her parents were down at the waterfront, part of the escort for the review of the Ambassador’s ship prior to the Scion and her family leaving the Rose City and returning to Water. As long as no one decided she looked lost, she had several hours before her parents returned home.

She turned towards the waterfront, but pulled up short at the scuffle ahead of her on the Water side of the street.

A cluster of half a dozen boys pushed and kicked at something on the ground. Ranya swallowed. She didn’t want to cross the street just yet, but she knew one of those boys. The emblem outlined in turquoise thread on his jerkin was unmistakeable. She had no wish whatsoever to cross Theron, not today. Not ever.

The boys moved and she saw a shape on the ground. As she watched, a hand latched around Theron’s ankle and he hit the ground with a yell. In the gap, she saw a boy, arms flailing, two or three hands punching or grabbing as he kept one arm, sometimes two, over his face to protect it.

Ranya sighed.

She didn’t get the whole ‘them and us’ thing between Tovarikin and Varika. As a Varik, one with the ability to manipulate the element of water, she was supposed to be superior to the four-armed Tovarikin, but there had been numerous occasions when she had strongly wished for a second pair of hands. Particularly as her elemental ability was barely enough to corral drops on a plate.

A prehensile tail whipped around another boy’s ankle and he screamed as his leg went out from under him. Ranya giggled. She wouldn’t have minded a tail, either. She shifted her shoulders. The extra shoulder blades were a reminder that Tovarikin and Varika were all born alike. Any physical differences were down to the midwife’s blade.

The Tovarik was scrambling to his feet. Theron watched from the dust, his face a mask of hate, but then his expression changed, his lips widening in a smile, as water boiled up from a bucket next to a pastry stall and shot straight towards the back of the Tovarik’s head.

Ranya screamed a warning, already running towards them as the wordless cry left her lips, and the Tovarik turned and ducked, but not quickly enough. Water engulfed his head. He clawed at his face, falling to his knees. The Varika watched and laughed, occasionally kicking him.

Ranya looked around desperately. Her eyes lit on a loose stone and she wondered if she dared. Through the circle of Varika, she saw the Tovarik writhing on his back, drowning on dry land. She had no choice. She picked up the stone and threw it with all her strength.

All her strength turned out to be more than enough. The cobble flew, straight and true, striking Theron neatly in the back of the head. He fell across the Tovarik’s legs, and the tov turned his head, coughing up water, then punched Theron firmly in the face before pushing himself unsteadily to his feet. He leapt out of the circle of boys, across the street and down an alley. The other Varika were so shocked by Theron’s collapse they mustered water too late. He was gone from sight before the bubbles could reach him and the water splashed to the ground as they turned to see Ranya, turning red with the realisation of what she’d done.

Theron threw off the Varik attempting to help him up.

“What the fuck happened?” he snarled, then followed the direction one of his friends was pointing – Ranya. Their eyes locked. She turned and ran.

She ducked behind a sausage seller’s stall but ran again after catching sight of the flicker of fear in the man’s face. She didn’t blame him for not wanting to get involved. Theron’s family emblem was well known. No one wanted to get in trouble with the Ambassador’s family, even if he was a fairly distant cousin.

She dived down an alley on the Tovarik side of the Line, knowing her only hope was to stay out of sight. Shouts behind her and pounding feet alerted her to a couple of facts. One, they weren’t going to let her get away as easily as the Tovarik boy, and two, they were all several years older than her, with correspondingly longer legs.

She twisted and turned, down alleyways, onto the Line and back off again. She saw her destination and risked an all-out run. Something cold and wet smacked into the back of her neck and started crawling around towards her mouth and nose. She didn’t waste time trying to push it away, just ran faster, even though her legs burned and her lungs were exploding. The water reached her tightly closed lips, before rushing upwards into her nose. She hit the door hard, her weight pushing it open, and she fell on the floor, gasping and choking as the water crowded down into her lungs. The door swung shut behind her and the water ceased its attack, the energy directing it cut off as the door hid her from the wielder’s sight. She turned over and coughed and coughed until the floor was soaked and she could breathe again.

Light globes cast a steady light and soft shadows around the shop floor, but the man beside her blocked it out. She realized he was holding her head and body, supporting her while she retched up the water. A third hand offered a towel which she took to dry her face off and the fourth was braced against the floor, supporting his upper body.

“Upsetting your people again, Ranya?” Tomin’s voice was low, gentle. She’d never seen him angry. He didn’t seem to mind that she was Varik, either. She sat up and he let her go, squatting back on his heels.

 

#ROW80 check in and Readercon!!

Well, if you haven’t met your goals over the last few days, don’t worry about it. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even try. I’ve been at Readercon (leaving today) and having the best time ever with some of my best Twitter friends. It’s been an absolute gift to meet these people who I have only previously spoken to online, to get to know them in the flesh and spend time with them. Yes, if you’re wondering, that time was usually in the bar. I thought that was an exaggeration but no, it’s absolutely true.

So, no words were written. In my defence, I’ve had some major tech issues which mean I can’t use my laptop because it’s got no charge. I brought the power cable thinking I could find a plug adaptor out here. Guess what?

In many ways, Readercon has been like being back at university. The sessions were mostly quite academic in tone, which was helpful in some cases and not in others. I expected more about the craft of writing and this was more about the other end, the books that result. Which was great, because there were also things like analyses of young adult books and what it is that kids are looking for in fiction, which is relevant to me. There was also a panel about cities, which I hadn’t thought about but is also relevant. One of those things I saw in the programme and though “Hmmm, I should probably go to that.” And you know what? I’m glad I did.

To be honest, the best thing about Readercon has been meeting people. I met up with a bunch of Twitter folk who are actually not the ones I talk to that much, but it was just fantastic to meet them. Steve Umstead‘s book Gabriel’s Redemption is now available in print and I got a signed copy, and Glenn Skinner‘s book The Keya Quests: The Battle For Shivenridge is also available in print and I got a signed copy of that too. *cue extreme giggling and happy dancing*

I got to chat to one of my favourite people Al Boudreau, whose In Memory Of Greed is a fantastic thriller and I also got to meet Karen DeLabar, K. Victoria Smith, and Jennifer Gracen, who I have chatted to in passing, but not so much directly. That changed this weekend!

As a writer it is very important to connect with people, readers and writers and even just supportive folk, but actually getting to meet them is something else altogether. And then there are the people I met who were completely new to me. It took me 24 hours to find Steve, Karen, Karen and Glenn, which was good because it meant I actually met other people too. Myke Cole writes military fantasy – his first book is on my To Be Read list, and Sally Grotta is a writer and photographer. I even got to speak, albeit rather briefly, to Peter V Brett.

I find it hard to meet new people. I’m not one of those who can just go up to complete strangers and start chatting about whatever, but the new people I met at Readercon were definitely worth knowing.

The bad thing was that I had no plug adaptor for my laptop and the hotel shop didn’t have any, so it’s only now that I’ve been able to get online via my laptop again. I started writing this post this morning and I’m afraid I abandoned it a couple of hundred words in so that I could spend more time with the peeps before they all wended their merry ways home. Big thanks to R. B. Wood for the lift to the airport, thereby saving me $60, and to Leah Petersen for being so chirpy on the way and once we left RB to go through security.

It’s brilliantly sunny outside. Feels as though I’ve been away for weeks and I’ve still got a few days to go. This is the best trip ever, even if I have done absolutely NO WRITING WHATSOEVER.

Oh, and Charles J Shields has won a free copy of Jennifer Willis‘ Valhalla! I’ll be in touch, Charles.

Along the Coastline – Elemental Races #11

Three weeks ago (sorry about that) readers voted that Shirrin and her new command should explore the coastline together. The story continues…

“We will explore the coastline. Together,” says Shirrin. Roshin glowers. Dellerin is calm, accepting her orders. Shirrin resists the desire to shake her head. Roshin and Pylstra showed no fear in battle and it took considerable strength of will to pull themselves out of the sea before the maelstrom could swallow them up. Why is it that the strongest fighter has to the be one who is most displeased with being under her command?

The night passes quickly, for everyone is exhausted. The sun is already well above the horizon when Karista wakes her up, flicking his tail into her face. Shirrin is startled. For a moment she cannot remember where she is. It seems like she is back on Delruth, surrounded by dragons and other riders, but didn’t Delruth fall? Then it comes back to her and shame colours her face a deep red, burning her up from the inside.

“I did what I had to do,” she mutters.

“Indeed,” says Dellerin, a few feet away, poking at a small fire with a stick. A small animal is suspended above it on a spit. Dellerin turns the spit before speaking again. “Roshin also agrees. But she had a… good relationship with your father.”

Ah. That explains a lot.

Roshin enters the cave and drops a bundle of dry wood to one side.

“Oh, you’re awake.” She looks pointedly at the sun. “Are you ill?”

Shirrin considers challenging her on her insolence, but she’s hungry. Fighting on an empty stomach is never a good idea, no matter how important the battle.

“No. But I am hungry. Why don’t you eat something? I’m always grumpy before I eat.” She turns to see Dellerin lifting the spit away from the fire, carving strips off it and holding them out to her. She can feel Roshin’s eyes boring into the side of her head, wanting to say something, but unable to find the right words. Shirrin allows herself a small smile.

*

They are only a short flight from the coastline and they stay high. Shirrin tells Roshin and Dellerin that this is to avoid enemy archers, but in reality she wants to see this weed for herself. It is soon visible, much sooner than Shirrin expected, a great green bruise, mottled and broken in places, but soon deepening to an even green, the colour of spring grass. It seems like an age since she last saw grass and she wonders briefly if she ever will again.

They cross the entire area of weed, passing high over Jalrath. It doesn’t appear near the city. The docks are clear for a few hundred yards in every direction. But beyond those few hundred yards, the weed coats the sea. Karista drops low at one point, out of sight of the city, and spikes his tail down through the weed.

“It’s as deep as you are tall,” he comments, rising again. There are no fish.

*

They land in the late afternoon, gliding in to a patch of desert out of sight of Jalrath or the next city state, just visible from the air but hazy in the distance. Even Roshin is downcast.

“I had no idea,” she says. “I mean, it’s everywhere. For miles around Jalrath. And no fish. The sea slugs, er… Sea People, were right..”

“But not immediately around the city,” points out Dellerin. “There’s a clear patch there. They must be doing something to stop it from growing. It’s too thick at the edge to be a natural end to the growth.”

Shirrin sighs.

“I saw no one place where it was thickest,” she says. “Nowhere that I could imagine it had started. It is impossible to tell how thick it is without testing it as Karista did, and doing that would take days. We can’t test that wide an area. Not with just the three of us.”

“Maybe there isn’t just one starting point,” says Dellerin slowly, as though he is thinking the thought as it comes to him. “It was thickest in an arc around Jalrath, only clear around the city itself. Maybe…”

They all look at each other and leap onto their dragons.

As they fly back along the coastline, Shirrin can see that Dellerin is right. Leading way on either side of the city are trails through the desert. North and south, a trail breaks free of the main one and curves down to the coast before disappearing suddenly, as though cut away by a knife. Shirrin gestures with her hand and Karista spirals down, the other dragons following suit.

The trail does not end. It runs beneath a creamy-yellow cloth the exact same colour as the desert. The dragons land quietly and their riders creep towards the cloth. Boxes are piled up underneath, all with three interlocking triangles painted on the side. Shirrin shivers. It is the mark of the Dark One, he who brings corruption and greed and evil to the world. A mark of early and unnatural death. A warning.

“You were right,” she whispers to Dellerin.

“It gives me no pleasure,” he assures her.

There are hundreds of boxes. As the riders near the edge of the cliffs, Roshin gives a low whistle. A gentle incline leads to the cliff edge. It’s burnt black, as though seared by a dragon. Weed chokes the sea below. It’s a windy day, but the sea moves sluggishly, bound together by the plant life growing uncontrollably within it. They move back to safer ground, eyeing the boxes.

“Problem located,” says Dellerin. “It must need to be combined with water, otherwise it only burns the soil.”

“I bet there’s another site like this on the other side of Jalrath, where the other trail disappeared,” says Roshin.

There’s a soft sound. She freezes, then pitches forward, an arrow protruding from her ches. Dellerin and Shirrin throw themselves sideways as more arrows whistle past. A furious roar erupts, the sound morphing into a shriek.

They’ve found the dragons. We’re trapped.

What do we do?

Excellent question. You decide!

1/ Jump into the sea
2/ Tell the dragons to attack
3/ Tell the dragons to fetch help from the Sea People

Voting continues through midnight, Saturday 9th July, US Pacific Coast time.