Archive for March, 2016

As with any post I write about The Walking Dead, this will contain spoilers!

If you haven’t seen the episode from March 27, 2016, then skip this for your own good. (But come back later once you’ve seen it.)

Once again, this is not a recap of The Walking Dead. I’m using the show to point out both their successes and failures in storytelling and how we can learn by example to become better writers.

Last night’s episode leaves us concerned for the well being of our band of anti-heroes, but I want to focus specifically on Morgan. He is a  character type that is pretty important in the world of storytelling; a character with strong beliefs that differ from those of the protagonists and therefore causes conflict. Morgan’s beliefs aren’t just causing conflict within the group, but also bringing conflict to the group externally.

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All life is precious, even when that life is trying to kill you.

 

Let’s talk about Morgan’s cycle of thinking that he shares with Rick.

Leaves the Wolf Leader alive in the forest > Capture the Wolf Leader and hold him prisoner. > The Wolf needs medical attention, Denise gets brought in to help. > Carol discovers what’s going on and argues with Morgan >  The Wolf kidnaps Denise > Wolf and Denise get surrounded by walkers and he rescues her from becoming a light snack.

This proves to Morgan that the process Eastman used on him will work on others. If he’d only had more time, The Wolf could have changed of heart . This is a solidifying moment for Morgan and his perspective on the situation.

Let’s look at this with different eyes.

Morgan doesn’t stop to consider that if he never captured the Wolf, then Denise never would have been kidnapped. She could could have been hiding in her clinic during the attack. He doesn’t consider that leaving the Wolf alive may have lead to the attack of Wolves on Alexandria. If the leader was killed it could have changed the whole Wolf pack structure, and they may never have found Aaron’s satchel from the car trap, or the plan would have been different to begin with.

Without the leader, it was very possible that truck which smashed into the tower, thus setting off the horn, would never have attracted the walkers to Alexandria instead of marching safely away.

The attacks on Alexandria are not the only thing that can be tied to the Wolf Leader being left alive. His way of thinking has changed Carol’s perspective as well, making her doubt her morality and choices. This, in turn, has brought on even more conflict and danger to the group.  The story is stronger because of Morgan’s choices. It’s far more complex than merely being attacked by outsiders, because it effects the characters internally.

Show vs. Tell (Again)

The Walking Dead received some flak for that glimpse of Morgan’s life with Eastman. It seemed rather pointless at the time, but I believe it’s because it wasn’t what everyone expected. There was this idea that Morgan the Wise and Heroic was out there somewhere being awesome. Instead, we got to hear the tale of a deranged man being brought level by the pacifist cheese maker.

That episode was important. What if he spent five minutes explaining to Rick that he met a guy with a goat and now he doesn’t kill people. Would you believe it as strongly? Would you understand the relationship between Morgan and Eastman and why it was powerful?

Now think about Carol. Between the walker attack and the day she bakes beet cookies, time passes. I think it’s a few weeks, but hard to say because it was glossed over. She leaves a cookie for Sam, our only hint that she is in grief over losing yet another kid.

When she starts freaking out about killing people, did you believe it or were you confused? (I’d ask you to raise your hands but… well… internet.) We went from Carol vocally championing the “kill or be killed” agenda to Morgan’s “I’m sure everyone is a nice person deep down” philosophy.

Let’s go through my thought process: “What’s wrong with Carol? Why is Carol acting this way? She’s… starting to believe what Morgan said? What? When did this happen?”

If you’ve read my other posts I bet you already know what I’m going to say. Show vs. Tell. Morgan’s episode was weird and felt out of place when it happened, but the reality is the character development is far more powerful to see it than to be told it happened. It’s hard to move from Carol the Warrior to Carol the Pacifist without the steps in between. Of course, Melissa McBride is a fantastic actress and does a fabulous job with the character change. It is because of her acting that makes this change at all believable.

On a Final Note

I want to talk about Rick and his character development. In his conversation with Morgan he says if the illness at the prison happened now, and Carol did what had been done before, he would agree her actions were necessary. He would not banish her. Those people needed to be killed; they needed to be burned to halt the spread of disease.

It’s easy to think about it and be horrified. If you get sick, you’re a threat to the whole community. We don’t have the resources to cure you and ultimately everyone, therefore; you’re done.

We’ve traveled a long way from the days of the prison. Back then, there was still hope for a return to what once was, but now I think Rick sees a hope for something entirely different. The past is gone, nothing will ever be the same. We’ve walked the road with Rick and Company and we’ve watched him transform from attempting to cling to old values and slowly relinquish them for the realities they face. It’s easy to say Rick is becoming a villain, but is he really? He is playing by different rules in a very dangerous game.

Tune in next week for the finale episode.

Is Daryl dead or just injured?

Who will be going up to bat? (I’m evil.)

Will Carol come to her senses and save the day yet again?

Are we actually going to get to find out the truth about Negan or will they make us wait until Season 7?

Hopefully these questions are answered or it will be a long summer!

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The title says it all! I’ve come to the end of the rewrite/revise and preliminary edits of Book Two. This was a much more complex process than Book One, which merely needed some minor rearranging and additions in comparison. I’m very  happy to have the whole thing out on paper in a coherent story instead of the confused mess it was in the original manuscript.

The cover art is complete for Book Two as well. I will be revealing the cover once I’m nearing the end of the final edits. Hurrah! Stay tuned for that announcement.

The final edit will also include the formatting process for paperback. I found this to be an extremely helpful process last time in discovering errors. I’m planning to launch both versions at the same time, which I feel was a mistake with Book One.

That’s all for this week’s blog, but I hope you all have a fantastic weekend.

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Today I’ll be answering with questions of the Author Oracle as designed by Angel D’Onofrio on her blog.

0. The Fool: Which of your characters is the most intuitive?  The worst decision-maker?

The Most intuitive character is my protagonist, Impyra. She just doesn’t trust herself enough to follow those instincts every time.

The worst decision maker is Ka Harn, the Emperor. He is a terrible leader and allows things happen instead of stepping up and taking control.

I. The Magician: What character, location, or object has the most positive influence in your story?

This is a tough one because there are a couple of very positive characters and places hiding in this crumbling world. If I had to choose one, I would choose Winifred. She has taken it upon herself to create a sanctuary for the people without expecting anything in return.

II . The High Priestess:  Do any of your characters have very strong beliefs?

Multiple characters have strong beliefs. The chief among them being Garinsith and Winifred. They see the world much differently than everyone else.

III.  The Empress:  Who is your biggest supporter?  Give them a little love, here.

My biggest supporter in life is my husband. That’s followed by my friend Anita and her husband and my friend Lisa.

IV.  The Emperor:  Do you outline or plan?  (You know … plotter or pantser…)

Okay, so this is not an easy answer. I’m not a plotter or a panters, but I’m also both. I don’t just rush into my story headlong without knowing exactly where I’m going from beginning to end. I also don’t create an outline at all and it’s kept in order in my head. I allow inspiration to guide me as I go and if something better comes up, I will deviate from the original course.

I don’t create a story outline, but I do create tons of resources for my stories, such as historical timelines, maps, and so on.

I call it disorganized organization.

V.  The Hierophant:  What do you feel is your most valuable piece of writing advice?

The most valuable piece of advice is that you need to be okay with taking a break. So many people chant “write every day,” but that’s not always helpful. Writing yourself into burnout is bad. If you find yourself needing so many breaks that you can’t be productive, then you need to examine what’s really happening. There is usually an underlying cause that needs to be addressed before you can write at your best.

VI.  The Lovers:  Which of your characters follow their heart?  Is it for the right reasons?

Many of my characters follow their hearts, but primary among them is my main character Brosen follows his heart. It is his choice to do what he knows is right by helping Impyra that kicks the whole story into motion.

VII.  The Chariot:  Tell us about the first “darling” you ever “killed”

Well, I can’t say much as it is a spoiler in Book Two. Let’s just say the first POV character to die gets his just desserts.

VIII.  Strength:   What do you feel your greatest creative strength is?

My greatest strength is that I see things so clearly in my head from start to finish, as if I’m watching a movie, and I can hold onto that for a really long time.

IX.  The Hermit:  Can you write in coffee shops or other busy places, or do you need quiet?

I do not like hanging out in public doing things and being watched. You could say I need my peace and quiet except I’m always writing with my kids. The only time they are quiet is if they are sleeping, (which getting them to sleep so I can write is not easy.)

X.  The Wheel of Fortune:  Do you have a set routine or schedule?

I have a very loose schedule. I try to write every day or edit every day, unless I need a break. I try to write before I do anything else other than eat dinner. Disorganized organization.

XI.  Justice:  What’s the biggest consequence that your main character will have to face?  (If it spoils the plot, feel free to be vague.)

Both main character and protagonist will be given choices that they were never prepared to make and for reasons they don’t understand. Their choices will have an effect on the whole world.

XII.  The Hanged Man:  What sacrifices do you make for writing time?  Or, what must your main character be willing to choose between?

I’ll stay up a little too late to write one more thing.

XIII.  Death:  What do you do after you’ve finished a project?

After Book One I started a new project the next day, then I took about three weeks off.

XIV. Temperance:  Please share your best tested & proven tip for balancing writing and “the rest”:

Forgive yourself. Beating yourself up for not doing things like someone else or as someone else advises is much worse for your writing than being kind to yourself.

XV.  The Devil:  Everyone has a nasty habit they can’t shake.  What’s your main character’s?

Because I have a protagonist and a main character, I’ll do both.

My main character keeps things bottled up. He’s trying to share more but when people question him he gets defensive.

My protagonist thinks she should be able to do things without help, and feels guilty when things go wrong for others who did help her, and that makes her blame herself for everything.

XVI.  The Tower:  Have you ever had to scrap an entire project and start over?  How did it feel?  Were you frustrated, sad … relieved?

I’m going to say I had to scrap pretty much the entire middle of the old manuscript of Darkness Falling to write Book Two. It feels fabulous, though, because the old material was depressingly bad.

XVII.  The Star:  What is your favorite part of starting a new project?  New notebook smell?  Getting to know the characters? Building the plot?

My favorite part of a new project is the initial rush of ideas flowing without obstacles or doubt.

XVIII.   The Moon:  What’s the biggest lie that your main character is telling themselves?

Both my protagonist and main character want to believe their roll really isn’t as important as others make it out to be, but deep down they know it is important and are afraid.

XIX.  The Sun:  Do you have any themes, symbols or objects which come full circle in your work?

The basis of my world is balance and cycles. The cyclical themes are freedom, hope, and how people forget which causes history to repeat itself.

XX.  Judgement: Do your characters get what they deserve?  Why or why not?

That’s going to be a big question at the end, actually. Did any of the characters really deserve what happens? Is it good or bad? I can’t say or it will give it away.

XXI.   The World: At what point did you know that you had to write this project?

These characters have lived in my heart for a long time. They’ve grown up with me. They’ve survived computer malfunctions, illness, hopelessness, and life getting in the way. Not writing this story would be a huge regret in my life.

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If you haven’t seen The Walking Dead  season 6 episode 14 on March 20th, 2016 this post contains spoilers!
You’ve been warned!

A couple of weeks ago I talked about how The Walking Dead did a good job with breadcrumb storytelling through the season, leading us quietly to the infiltration on a Saviors base and the questions it brings to the plot. This week I’m going to talk about how The Walking Dead did a horrible job of storytelling with falling into a hole many writers stumble into, the abyss known as show vs. tell.

This is not a recap of the episode. There are recaps all over the internet if you’re interested. Instead, I’m focusing on the episode’s primary characters, Denise and Eugene, and how the show failed both of them as well as the viewers.

Denise and Eugene act as a mirror. Both are cowards. Both have survived to this point by standing on the shoulders of others. Eugene was extremely lucky to come across Abraham right when the big red tank needed to fill a hole in his heart. Denise extremely lucky to have driven towards Alexandria and was given the advantage of high walls and a big pit to act as a walker mote. Both have been growing in confidence and skill and both believe they have something to prove.

Denise convinces Darryl and Rosita to take her an apothecary, which may have a pharmacy. Having the rare skill of saving lives isn’t enough in her mind. She also wants to prove she can help in other ways. This is unnecessary. Doctors are like food, water, and shelter in the dangerous lands of the zombie apocalypse. She deserves the protection she receives by doing her job.

We also have Eugene going on a walk with Abraham to… where are we going? Where is this place exactly and when did we learn it was there? Is this in the Saviors base? That seemed pretty far away from Alexandria. Eugene is almost eaten by a full metal zombie in trying to prove he can fight, then pushes away one of his closest friends by being a jerk.

Abraham, with his always tactful eloquence, points out to Eugene what I just pointed out about Denise. He may have lied about knowing the science behind the walker plague, but he is smart and he does have knowledge that is useful to the group. If he can make bullets, that’s just as important as shooting those bullets in a straight line. He deserves protection.

The show leaves Eugene alone in this mysterious metallurgy factory. This episode is really about the pharmacy, right? Besides, if we go with Denise we also get to hang out with Daryl. Who doesn’t want to hang out with Daryl? Even Denise chose to walk with Daryl instead of Rosita after the “tracks or scenic route” disagreement, but to be fair, Rosita’s primary emotion is annoyance. (I was glad Rosita is getting more screen time. I hope this continues.)

The pharmacy is full of medicine, and dead babies… and key chain license plates. Denise chooses Dennis, the name of her dead brother. We get to sit on the sidewalk with Denise contemplating her cowardice. We get to see Denise wrestle a Walker for a cooler. We get to see Denise proclaim her empowerment and then she is shot through the back of the head and dies.

Everything we just learned about Denise, her entire arc, ends here. All that remains of her story lies with Tara, who is gone until next season. That is another problem with this death. We don’t even get to see her girlfriend, the most important relationship in her story, go into major grief mode when the death is fresh in our hearts.

As the swarm of dudes with guns come out of the trees the moment of failure is upon us.  It’s the idiot from the burnt forest with Daryl’s crossbow. They have Eugene as a captive. Wait… what? Right here is where we are given a prime example of too much tell and not enough show.

The pharmacy should have been the secondary story to the real story of this episode, the story of how the hell Eugene was captured by the Saviors… or Renegade Saviors? We don’t even know exactly because we didn’t get to see what happened.

What would you rather see?

1) A sad woman contemplating her cowardice while sitting on the sidewalk.

2) A terrified nerd being captured and interrogated by a small army.

Option two is much more important to the overall story of Alexandria and our rag-tag team of anti-heroes. Yes, Denise’s death is disastrous, but it didn’t require an entire episode of pointless character building. If the audience hasn’t already gained empathy for Denise through her arc throughout the season, giving her a dead brother right before she dies isn’t going to help. It’s like your best friend telling you that there is birthday cake, but they already ate it and you can have the plate. Thanks….

This is the same thing you need to be asking yourself when you’re writing. “Would you rather” is not only a fun game to play on a road trip, it’s a primary question of figuring out what is more important to the story as a whole. Also, “what is more important to this story?” Denise’s death was important to the story, but her dead brother was not.

Conflict is what drives a story. This is especially true in a setting where you’re limiting the timeline. If you need to choose between two points of view remember this: The conflict between an antagonist and your protagonist or point of view characters should always trump internal self-examination of a solitary character. Internal self-examination has its place, but this episode of The Walking Dead neatly showcases when it is the wrong place and the wrong time.

I want to finish up by saying that I liked Denise. I really liked seeing her grow as a character. I really liked how she felt like a real person through her anxieties. In those moments after she wrestled that walker and triumphed, I really proud of her because I thought she was getting somewhere. Then she suddenly died and it was upsetting. I’m especially sad that her death was on such a badly designed episode.

Other fun notes:

I was right! Morgan was building a cage. Jail cells and dungeons count as cages.

Where is Carol getting all of these cigarettes? You would think they would be low on the supply list when the town is near starvation.

For their brutal murder of the Saviors the Alexandrians were given 100 bottles of pink slime. Mmmm. That was totally worth it.

If you were hoping for more beet cookies and having your life saved by the biggest bad ass in town, too bad! Carol has left the compound. Does she really think being alone will prevent her from having to kill? Did she leave the show? Will Morgan chase her down and teach her the art of the staff? I guess we’ll have to wait and find out.

 

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If you missed part one of SoulWave you can find it here.

__________________________

Lindsey took advantage of the Eternally You staff’s offer to take her purse and coat down to her car and inform her driver that she would not need a ride.

The receptionist called the elevator for her and gave her a final, professional smile as the doors slid shut. Around her, the car began to descend but she did not move with it. Instead, she was given her first taste of passing through the steel, wires, and wood and left to float in her own illumination in the dark elevator shaft.

After a moments she realized that there was no longer a need for elevators or doors. She considered passing through the walls but the idea was unnerving. It was one thing to move through something thin, such as drywall, but quite another to fly through solid concrete. Instead, she descended down into the elevator and out through the metal doors.

The lobby of the building which housed Eternally You was just as richly decorated as the clinic. There was a small café near the windows with a view of the busy sidewalk. Lindsey floated past, unable to smell the coffee brewing. She also took note of the confused glances in her direction, and some full on stares.

Out on the sidewalk she crossed in front of a young man who jumped back when he saw her. “Whoa! What is that?”

“Excuse me,” she said, hurrying past.

More faces and exclamations of surprise met her along the way. People pointed and snapped pictures with their phones. Perhaps being at eye level for conversation was helpful for others, but traveling would be much better at a higher altitude. She made her way to the rooftops, where only those on upper floors would be able to see her pass. At least she would be less aware of their reactions.

Without having to concern herself with traffic, it was a quick flight to her office. It had been four months since she took a leave of absence until she was well. A few weeks ago she lost hope that she would ever return.

Lindsey felt a swell of joy overtake her as she descended into the lobby. If she was going to take the lead once more, the employees would need to get used to her presence. She prepared herself for the shock and confusion that followed. At the security desk she stopped to speak with the guard, who stood up and took a step back as she approached.

“Martin, I’m heading up to the office and I wanted you to be aware to prevent any possible negativity from your staff.”

His mouth dropped open and his eyebrows lifted. “Ms. Roker?”

“That’s right. I’ve returned and I’m glad to be back.”

“What happened to your body?”

“It’s a long story, Martin. I’ll have a memo sent out once I’m settled.”

Still confused, he didn’t stop her as she flew past. This time she didn’t bother to wait for the elevator. Behind her, the gasps of surprise from those standing outside the doors were quite audible. She was starting to feel a small sense triumph at the reaction. Her competitors would have nothing on her uniqueness.

Lindsey shared her office space on the top floor with little else than the primary boardroom. The comfort and familiarity of the place made her happy. She was surprised to discover a meeting was in progress when she arrived. All of the usual faces sat in their usual seats around the big glass table; all but one, the vice president serving as her temporary replacement.

As she approached the reception desk, her assistant sat up straight in her chair.

“Good morning, Gloria,” Lindsey said.

“What?”

“I’ve returned from leave and am ready to get back to work. Can you brief me on the meeting?”

“I…” Gloria’s dark eyes widened, then narrowed. “How is this possible?”

“I’ll explain later,” Lindsey said, exasperated, giving up on getting any useful information and instead entering the board room.

“What’s this?” Alan, the head of accounting, sat back hard in his chair when he saw her.

Sitting at the head of the table, in her chair, was Scott Gleeson. His blond hair was slicked back and shining. He dropped his pen with a loud clatter onto the glass table.

“I’ve returned,” Lindsey said. “Before you all start asking questions, I’ve had a medical procedure which separates my consciousness from my body. I am expecting that none of you will show me special treatment due to my new condition.”

“What is this?” Scott laughed, leaning back in the chair, which reclined slightly. “Is this a prank? Did you set this up, Marcus?”

Marcus, heavy-set and balding with nervous eyes behind the thick lenses of his glasses, shook his head vehemently. “No, it wasn’t me.”

“This isn’t a prank.” Lindsey moved forward. Every head in the room turned to follow. “Continue with your discussion, I’ll figure it out as you go.”

Scratching at his temple, she could see by Scott’s expression that he was not amused. “That’s not going to happen.”

“I know this isn’t proper procedure but I’m ready to get back to work.”

“Yeah, that’s not what I mean. How do we know you’re Lindsey Roker, exactly? You’re…” he scrunched up his face in an attempt to find the right word, “a very convincing drone, perhaps.”

“Drone?” she almost laughed at his audacity.

“What would you call it, Beth?”

The older woman shrugged, leaning with one elbow on the table. “Maybe she’s a ghost.”

Everyone at the table chuckled.

“I’m not a drone or a ghost. I’m very much alive and I am still the head of this company.”

“That’s debatable,” Scott said with a shrug. “From where I sit, I’ve been the head of this company for months, and things are better than ever.”

“He’s right,” Marcus was nodding furiously, always one to back the most expensive suit in the room.

“My body is in cryo stasis back at Eternally You, that can be confirmed.”

“Then you’re dead.” Beth leaned back, crossing her arms over her chest. “Only dead people get turned into popsicles.”

“I’m not dead. I’m alive right here in front of you; the SoulWave was a voluntary procedure.”

The faces around the table cast skeptical glances at each other.

“I think being alive, and remaining head of this organization, requires a body.” Alan said quietly.

“Damn it, that’s discrimination!”

“Is it?” Scott shook his head, smiling his infuriating, pretentious smile. “Quite frankly, I believe if you pass on, half of your shares are up for sale and if it was your choice to have this done, it may even count as suicide.”

She knew exactly what that meant. In the event of suicide she would forfeit her remaining shares, the ones which would have been willed to her husband and daughter. Instead, they would drop directly into Scott Gleeson’s pocket.

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“It’s not what I would dare; it’s the reality of the situation.”

Another thought came to mind. “It seems to me you’re ready with this knowledge. You’ve been researching it, haven’t you?”

“We had to, Lindsey,” Beth said quietly. “Things weren’t looking good for you.”

“You’re going to hear from my lawyer about this, do you hear me?”

Scott frowned, tenting his fingers before him. “Not to be rude, but I don’t think you have a leg to stand on.”

The executives erupted in laughter. Enraged, Lindsey exited the room, flying directly through the wall and out into the open air. She sped her way across town, ignoring the roadways and flying directly over the rooftops. Her anger boiled through her. It wouldn’t be the last they saw of her. She would bring a case against Scott and his cronies. Once she was installed into her old position, she would find new bodies to fill the seats in the boardroom.

Brooding as she was, it wasn’t long before she was in her neighborhood and her house came into view. The lovely four story home was a dream to behold. A finely manicured lawns with perfect gardens full of flowers waited to greet her. Her husband’s car was in the driveway, and she was glad. In this instance recruiting his help would be beneficial. Until people were used to her new form she would need a body to take the direct focus away.

Passing through the front door she found the house was quiet. “Michael! Michael are you here?” She hurried up to his office to find him sitting at his desk, working on paper work. “I’m glad you’re home.”

“Of course I’m home, I picked up Abby up from school today.” He lifted his head and jolted in his seat. “What the hell? Lindsey?”

“Yes, it’s me.” She sighed in relief to see his face. “I’m so glad you’re both here.”

Michael made his slow way around the desk. “What the hell happened to you?”

“I had a procedure done, the SoulWave. I wanted to surprise you. I’m not sick anymore.”

He drew near, inspecting her with confusion. She couldn’t smell his cologne or feel his warmth. After moment of silence he pulled back, shaking his head and putting his hands into his pockets.

“I’m speechless. This is unbelievable.”

“I know. We won’t have to write up a will. I was thinking that we should put a down payment for you to have it done, too. Not now, of course, but when you’re ready; and for Abby, for the future. We can be a family forever, no matter what.”

“No.” Michael shook his head. “You’re not listening to me, which isn’t a surprise. I can’t believe you would do something like this without talking to me first.”

“Michael, I…”

“Actually, never mind. I can believe it. This is just like you, only thinking of yourself.”

“How can you say that? I did this for us, for our family.”

“For us? No. You did this because you’re afraid to die. Jesus, Lindsey. What the hell are you supposed to be anyway? How will you work? All of your finances are going to be tied up because of this.”

“No, I have documentation…”

“Stop, I don’t care. I’m done with all of this and now you’ve made it easy.”

Lindsey felt as if she were spinning, her emotions began to boil back up. “You want to talk about selfish? I was in pain, dying, and about to leave both of you forever. I found a solution. All you can think about is about the money.”

“You’re right, I’m thinking about the money, because how are we going to pay for a place to live? How are we going to pay for Abby’s school? Our debts? No, I’m not the selfish one because I actually think about these things.

“I’ve wanted a divorce for a long time, but then you got sick. I wasn’t going to be the asshole who divorces his sick wife. Besides, at least I knew I had an out. You were going to die. Now what? You’re going to live forever and you expect me to spend eternity with you?”

“I don’t understand.”

“I’m sick of you and how you never consider that other people might want a say in what happens around here. I want out, and I want half. Actually, I want more than half. Look at you. You don’t need a house. You’re a ghost.”

“Michael….”

“Mommy?” a small voice said from the doorway. Abby peeked her little head around into the room, eyes sad. Her sandy-blond hair was pulled into pigtails and she carried a doll under her arm. “Is Mommy home?”

“I’m right here sweetheart,” Lindsey said as calmly as possible.

Her daughter looked up at her, startled. “You’re not my mommy,” she said.

“Beautiful,” Michael said, shaking his head.

“Yes, it’s me,” Lindsey lowered herself to Abby’s level, but the girl screamed and ran.

“Abby!”

“Now you’re a terrifying monster. Good job. That’s another thing I’ll get. How does a ghost take care of a kid?”

“Shut up, you prick!” Lindsey snapped, hurrying after her daughter.

Abby ran to her room, slamming the door behind her. Lindsey was right behind her, but stopped at the wood, choosing to wait.

“Abby, it really is me. I’ve just changed, that’s all. Now I can stay with you forever.”

She listened for a response. After a few moments she could hear Abby sobbing.

What have I done?

Lindsey passed through the door. Abby was sitting on her bed, hugging her doll tightly to her chest. When she saw the light she scrambled toward her pillow, pulling the blanket over her head.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“What happened to my mommy?” Abby asked, still hiding.

“I’m right here, I just look different now. I’m not sick any more, and I won’t die. I can be with you forever.”

Very slowly Abby lowered the blanket, her eyes were red with her tears. Lindsey waited while the girl considered whether the change was good or bad.

“How will you tuck me in?”

“Well,” Lindsey thought for a moment. “I can’t but I can still read you a story if you hold the book and turn the pages.”

“How will you kiss me goodnight?”

A powerful sorrow filled her. If she still had eyes she would have cried from the pain. “I can try. It will be different.”

She dared to move closer to the bed. Abby reached out her hand, and Lindsey brushed against her fingertips.

“It’s warm,” Abby said before pulling away. “I miss my old mommy.” She began to cry again.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart, but I am your old mommy. I just don’t have a body any more, and my body was full of sickness. Isn’t it better that I won’t die?”

Sniffing into her dolls hair Abby nodded, but continued to cry. Lindsey stared helplessly at her daughter, unable to pull her close and comfort her. She was filled with grief at her losses; things that she never expected to lose once her body was gone. Her career, her husband, her daughter; everything was hinged on the fragility of flesh and bone.

“I still love you, Mommy,” Abby said suddenly.

“I love you, too. Forever.”

___________________________________

Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed my short story, SoulWave! Please feel free to leave a comment.

 

Cover and Spine, Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale will be available July 12, 2016

I want to begin by saying I was given an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Novel summary by the author:

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

My Review:

As you may be guessing, this review is a little different than those I’ve laid out in my guidelines. That is fine with me, however; to help Danielle E. Shipley launch her newest novel. This is the first time I’ve read an advanced reader copy of another author’s book.

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale follows the titular character as he is brought from another world into modern times. His culture shock is eased by the fact that he lands in a Renaissance Faire, and not not just any Faire, but one that houses the real Robin Hood, Maid Marion, Will Scarlet, and Little John. There are also characters from King Arthur’s court.

I have to confess that I went into this blind. I did not realize that Allyn-a-Dale is a character from the Robin Hood legends. If you do not know who he is, he’s the minstrel of the Merry Men. (I had to look it up on Wikipedia, don’t laugh! Most of my study of Robin Hood has been historical reference rather than the myth itself.)

First for the positives

This book is absolutely fantastic. I can’t say it any other way. Shipley uses wonderful tone to tell the tale. Her writing reminds me of a more classic form of literature, although not as heavy and difficult to wade through. She often gives asides to the fourth wall to make humorous commentary as well, which gives you the impression of having the story told you. It is very much like a performer at a Renaissance Faire, who pretends to speak Olde English, but then reminds you that we are still in 2016.

The characters were delightful and their relationships believable and interesting. My favorites were Will Scarlet and his roguish ways and Allyn’s father Gant-o-the-Lute, who is always ready to offer helpful advice, even when it is rather obvious advice. Both characters made me laugh, which is what I like best in a book.

The action sequences were exciting, often unexpected, and Shipley is very good at creating an air of mystery and tension. I’m looking forward to when the rest of the series comes out because there are questions that remain once the antagonist is dealt with, which probably means I’ll be waiting for a while as this is only book one.

There are no editing or formatting errors to speak of, and the book is beautifully laid out. Being an advanced copy, I did not get to see the artwork which the final copy will contain. That’s okay, though, because I will when I get my actual copy once it releases.

As for my notes.

Really the only thing I can say is at the very beginning of the book I was a little disoriented. We start with two characters with roles that still seem uncertain, even at the end. After a short prologue we are moved to the point of view of Maid Marion, and then to a whole new world with Allyn-a-Dale.

After that it doesn’t take long for the confusion to be unraveled and everything from the start makes sense soon after. This note is chalked up to my own misunderstanding of the opening being more of a prologue than the actual story.

My overall rating of this book is five stars.

Five Star

Important Information for The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale: The Outlaws of Avalon, Book One by Danielle E. Shipley

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy / Young Adult

Novel Release Date: July 12, 2016

Goodreads Page

Danielle E. Shipley’s Website

Cover Artwork by Lars van de Goor and Milan van de Goor 

Excerpt

Allyn would have known Will Scarlet for a relation of Robin Hood’s even had he not been introduced as his cousin. Though clean-shaven, younger, and framed by thick locks of gold tinged with the color of his name, Will’s face was patently similar to Robin’s, with the same blue eyes that sparkled cheerily at Allyn when the two were presented to each other.

“And where’d you pick this fellow up, then, Robin?” he asked blithely.

“In my tent,” replied Robin, “with Marion.”

Will’s brows leapt toward his crimson cap’s pointed brim. “Wish I were Allyn!”

“Will…”

“Joking, joking,” Will waved aside Marion’s halfhearted rebuke. He coughed. “…Mostly. So, Allyn-a-Dale — looking to join the Merry Men, are you?”

“I don’t really know,” Allyn said doubtfully. “What are the Merry Men?”

To Allyn’s heart-thudding dismay, Will answered, “We’re an infamous band of outlaws.”

“Not really,” Marion hastened to jump in.

“Not anymore,” Little John amended.

“It’s complicated,” said Robin. “But we’re really not at liberty to tell you much more about it until we’ve spoken to Merlin.”

“That would be King Arthur’s chief counselor and illustrious wizard,” Will said in answer to Allyn’s questioning expression. “He literally runs the show around here, so—”

“No,” said Little John, his gaze a grim weight on Will Scarlet.

“Oh, would you chillax, you pedant?” Will huffed, facial muscles ticking with minor irritation. “I know you think the Outsiders have been using the word with nary a care to its meaning, of late, but I know what ‘literally’ means, and in this case, I literally meant ‘literally’!”

The marginal lowering of Little John’s brow silently warned what he would literally do to Will if he said that word but once more.

“And they’re off,” said Robin, shaking his head. “Don’t worry, Allyn, they only bicker like this when they’re both breathing.”
Allyn’s lips twitched toward the beginnings of a smile, but froze halfway, his mind only just now becoming fully conscious of what he’d heard. “Robin,” he said, fighting a sudden swell of anxiety. “Did Will just say we’re off to see a wizard?”

About the Author

DaniellAuthor Photo, Danielle E. Shipley, jpege E. Shipley is the author of the Wilderhark Tales novellas, the novel Inspired, and several other expressions of wishful thinking. She has spent most of her life in the Chicago area and increasing amounts of time in Germany. She hopes to ultimately retire to a private immortal forest. But first, there are stories to make.

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“Have you been diagnosed with a terminal illness? Are you suffering in pain and torment knowing the end is near? What will happen to your loved ones if you leave them behind?

“At Eternally You Inc. we have solutions that could solve all of death’s problems. From cryogenic stasis to our patented, cutting edge SoulWave, your last breathe doesn’t need to be your final goodbye.”

Her eyes tracked away from the LCD screen hanging on the wall, annoyed by the commercial. The smiling faces of attractive, vigorous people spending time under a blue sky captured the dream beyond the reality. This service wasn’t for the healthy; it was for the desperate and dying.

I’m already here. No need to keep pushing the sell.

For her comfort, the reception area was luxurious decorated with almond finish on the wooden tables and firm wingback chairs with rich, cream colored upholstery. Tall vases full of fresh sprays of tropical flowers graced the end tables. At the desk, the receptionist was dressed in a designer suit, her hair perfectly styled and her makeup finely applied. She was the centerpiece to the illusion crafted by design to cater to a clientele who could afford the services offered by Eternally You, clients exactly like Lindsey Roker.

Her hands shook as she lifted the glass of water given to her for her wait. It was a real glass, not the cheap paper cups usually found in a doctor’s clinic. The water was cool as it slid down her throat; not enough to sooth her nerves or the endless pain in her muscles. It was better than sitting still. Patience was not her virtue.

“Ms. Roker,” a young nurse called from the doorway, chart in hand.

Gathering her purse and jacket, Lindsey teetered uneasily to her feet. Her life was full of accomplishment. Wealth, fame, family; she was highly regarded for her philanthropic contributions to the less fortunate. She lived the dream most people would strive for in vain. It felt rather unfair that her existence was to be cut short by an incurable illness.

Following the nurse back into the sterile white clinic, the atmosphere retained the well-polished appearance of luxury. A series of small interview rooms lined the corridor to her right while to the left the area opened out into larger rooms encased in glass.

Futuristic white machines edged in blue light hummed quietly on standby settings. Human-sized tubes where bodies were frozen were easily recognizable. In the farthest room to the rear of the clinic, a large orb-shaped machine reminded her of a free-floating eyeball stared in her direction.

I’m walking through a damn sci-fi novel.

It wasn’t far from the truth. Eternally You was the first to have their cryogenic containment approved and sanctioned by the government. The SoulWave technology was the latest craze to hit the media; a promise of true immortality beyond the hope of being revived if a cure was found.

It was an exciting time to be unwell for the wealthy.

The nurse stopped at an exam room door and motioned for Lindsey to enter. Her smile was warm and patient but well practiced.

“All of the legal waivers are in order and your payment has been approved,” she said cheerfully. “Dr. Mentz will be with you momentarily.”

“Thank you,” Lindsey said, taking a seat on the exam table.

It was a familiar dance over the past eight months. Wait in the reception area, sit in the exam room, discuss the test results and prognosis, worry herself into a frenzy. Her company needed her. Her husband needed her. Her daughter needed her. She wasn’t dead but she felt useless in this endless parade of doctor visits and experimental treatments. The idea of laying helpless in a hospital bed waiting for the end was not appealing.

When next the door opened a young man with dark hair stepped in; his white lab coat and serious expression the pristine uniform of the medical profession. He surveyed her chart, making notes.

“Your lab work and preliminary exam have all come back with good results,” he spoke without lifting his gaze. “You are within acceptable ranges for all of our procedure options.”

She found it ironic that his use of the word “good” merely meant she was close enough to death to legally flash freeze her body. If nothing else, it lessened her concerns that she would be forced to wait and retest once her illness progressed.

“Have you gone over the pamphlets we sent you home with last time?”

“Yes,” Lindsey said, folding her hands in her lap. “I’ve decided on the SoulWave.”

Dr. Mentz nodded, writing that into her chart. “You’ve discussed this with your family?”

“Yes,” she said, but it was lie. This was her choice, not theirs.

He looked her firmly in the eye, concerned. “No one chose to be with you today for the procedure?”

“It was my decision to be alone. I don’t want them to see me looking like a corpse.”

“All right,” Dr. Mentz said, nodding absently.

He set the chart down and sat on the small rolling stool by the counter. Leaning forward, rested his elbows on his knees and lanced his fingers together. “Before we beginning there are a few things that you should be aware of that other patients have reported.”

I don’t care about them; I just want to get this over with. She gave him a tight lipped, tolerant smile. She knew it was the law to discuss potential side effects.

“You will feel disoriented at first. You may experience dizziness. Although you will no longer require food or sleep, you will have phantom sensations for these activities. Much like having an arm or leg amputated, your mind will try to compensate in awareness for what has been lost.

“To lessen feelings of hunger, it is suggested you spend as much time in the sunlight as possible. Solar energy will sustain you. If you feel as if you can’t function due to feelings of fatigue, it’s recommended you find a safe, quiet place to rest where you will not be disturbed. Patients report that these sensations begin to fade after a few months.”

“I understand.” Not needing to eat or sleep would be beneficial and add more hours to her day, she didn’t think it would be a problem.

“It is also common to experience depression and anxiety associated with grief and loss. If at any time you feel overwhelmed by these feelings our psychology staff is here to help. Also, your body will be kept in complimentary stasis for thirty days. Should you choose to reverse the procedure we will preform a reversal, however results may vary on your functionality once revived. It isn’t the same as cryogenics.”

“I know.” Lindsey frowned. “I highly doubt I will want that.”

“Lastly, you will no longer be a physical being. You will have a presence which appears tangible, but you will not contain matter as you do now. Some patients find the ability to move in any direction they please freeing, while others try to mimic their old life. Just be aware that you will pass through objects and will require assistance for many tasks you take for granted.”

“I did read the brochure fully. Can we please get started?” Lindsey said, unused to be lectured.

“Of course,” Dr. Mentz stood up and offered his hand. She shook it, confused. “The last time you will shake hands.” He smiled but she was not amused.

He left her alone to remove her clothes and dress in a hospital gown. She ran her fingers through her sandy blond hair, feeling the strands pass between her fingers; soft and rough and familiar. It was either this or disappear into the unknown of eternity. Losing her physical form was worth it to leave the pain behind but remain in the world she loved.

The nurse returned to lead her to the white orb at the center of the clinic. Multiple assistants were present, all dressed in surgical gowns and masks, their eyes hidden behind protective goggles. Her heart began to pound. Lindsey allowed the nurse to help her lay down on the narrow table where the machine opened at the front.

“This is going to be similar to an MRI. If you think you’ll feel claustrophobic we have a mask to help keep you calm.”

“I’ll be fine, I’ve had many MRIs.”

The nurse gave her that same sad smile people offer to the dying; gently squeezing Lindsey’s shoulder once to remind her of her bravery and walked away. She lay still, staring up at the ceiling while the final preparations were made. In the pamphlet it said the procedure only took two minutes. It would be over soon.

“We’re going to step into the protective area now, Ms. Roker. Do not be alarmed.”

“I won’t,” she said.

The room became quiet when the door shut. Only the hum of the machines remained to keep her company. Slowly, the panel began to slide into the small opening in the SoulWave. She clenched her fists as the light dimmed and she was encased by the smooth walls. Tiny blue lights flickered to life all around her. They began to blink in disorienting patterns. Lindsey closed her eyes. This wasn’t like an MRI at all. Was this the last thing she would see with her eyes?

Her breathing was loud inside the tube. The pain in her bones screamed at her for laying on her back. Behind her head, the crackle of an intercom startled her.

“We’re going to begin now,” Dr. Mentz’s grainy voice said. “The chamber is going to spin around you and you may feel dizzy. Keep your eyes closed to prevent nausea.”

“I’m ready,” she said, upset at the tremble of fear in her voice.

The whir of the machine grew louder as the turbine began to spin. She felt the air press against her, a false wind generated by the motion. Flashing light penetrated her eyelids until at last she was bathed in a solid blue glow. Her mind raced as the memories of her life flashed before her in succession.

Learning to ride a bike, her days in private school with her friends, music lessons, graduating university with honors, her first date with her husband, their first kiss, starting her own business, her wedding day, growing into a multinational corporation, the birth of her daughter, the deaths of her parents, the diagnosis of her illness.

Everything blended together into a blur of time and space. She felt herself lift up off of the table. Her pain eased into a vague ache. Lindsey looked down at the SoulWave machine spinning and humming. She could see the bottoms of her feet in their white surgical booties at the end of the tube. It took several moments to realize she was hovering near the ceiling.

The lights in the machine began a steady pulse and the spinning slowed. Once it stopped the door to the safe area opened. The Eternally You clinical staff stepped out, applauding their success. Lindsey Roker was free of her disease riddled body.

“Let’s get her into the cryo chamber before she flatlines,” Dr. Mentz instructed.

Lindsey watched them lift her lifeless body onto a stretcher and rush it into the next room. From here she looked so frail and old; a worn out suit left on the floor after a long day of work. Within a matter of moments she was placed into the chamber and flash frozen into stasis.

“To keep your loved ones at ease, it is best to hover at eye level,” Dr. Mentz said, looking up in her direction. “The best way to accomplish that is through concentration. Movement will become more natural for you in time.”

She thought about how the room would look from her normal height. After a few moments she descended downward and found herself in a reasonable proximity.

“Very good,” he said. “Now you can take a look at your new form.”

The nurse who held up a large hand mirror. Instead of the haggard, exhausted face she was used to there was nothing more than a glowing orb of pale white light reflected back.

“Congratulations,” Dr. Mentz smiled. “You have achieved immortality.”

——–

This ends part one of my two part short story series SoulWave. Check back next Saturday for part two!

I hope you enjoyed the story. Please feel free to leave a comment.

This post is about The Walking Dead on March 6th, 2016. It’s not a synopsis but there are spoilers. You’ve been warned!

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There are spoilers in the trees.

Storytelling isn’t something The Walking Dead always accomplishes with grace. Trying to get characters from point A to point B with long marches through the woods, coming up with confusing plans to resolve problems, the Glenn Miracles (one more and he can be sainted,) and often a lot of exposition with no action.

Last night’s episode finally showcased how this season has been setting up some really good storytelling. We were once more poked with the moral ambiguity stick, sprinkled with Polaroid photos. Ah, memories. We watched Carol at odds with herself, questioning her beliefs and quietly grieving over Sam. (She has now lost four children in the course of the show.) We witness Abraham’s inability to let someone down gently and learned why dingle-berries are brown. We were shown Morgan building something. Is it a cage? Is he going to lock Rick in a cage? We also were reminded that Tara is living in the land of déjà vu with this mission. Maybe Rick’s middle name is Brian.

What really happened in this episode is that we witnessed the breadcrumbs of information leading us strategically into the best type of storytelling: Actions not Words. Show vs. Tell.

Earlier in the season we watched Daryl deal with three people who escaped from Negan. Nothing is really explained and only tidbits are given through their dialogue. This leads us to believe they are from Negan’s settlement, and that it’s bad news because necessities have to be earned, which includes medical help.

Later we run across the bikers on the road, nicely dispatched with a rocket. That may be a bit unrealistic but it was fun. The bikers make it clear that Negan takes what Negan wants unless it gets exploded. Rick and Company feel at ease, however; because gobs of goonies are all over the highway with none to carry word back to this Negan character.

Last week we met the people of Hilltop and learn about the classic “protection scam.” You give me half, and I don’t kill you in exchange. It seems fair except for “half” being a relative term in the current economic climate. Rick and Maggie set up the same deal with a twist, “Give us half and we’ll kill Negan.” It’s a win/lose situation because our heroes get some food but the Hilltop people are still going to be under the thumb of an unstable leader.

Finally we come to last night and the hasty plan of underestimating your enemies. The capture of Maggie and Carol puts us in a spot to consider the whole sequence from a new perspective. What do the people of Hilltop really know about the Saviors? How many settlements are really under the protection of Negan? Think about the compound. This was a military base, not a settlement. With the addition of the extra forces in the woods, I’m guessing there’s more to the Negan Network.

All of this underlying information was given to us in a roundabout way. The characters involved are only divulging what they know, and clearly they don’t know everything. That is why the buildup to Negan has been good storytelling. Everyone is in the dark, and bit by bit they are turning on the light.

This is the type of storytelling that excites people. Hopefully the show can continue to keep things interesting going forward.

Thank you for reading and if you have anything to add or share, please feel free to comment!

Editing is a cruel and unforgiving process. Once you’ve made the arduous journey of turning blank pages into a legible tale, you then must go back through and brutally critique your own work, not just once but multiple times. Seeking out every typo, comma splice, run-on sentence, and unnecessary chunk of text is daunting work.

One of the most painful pieces is cutting scenes, characters, paragraphs, or chapters that are not necessary to the story.  You’ve spent all of this time thinking up such lovely words and now you need to blast some of them into oblivion.

There are some hard and fast rules when it comes to cutting. Does this build character? Does it further the plot or sub-plot? Is this an information dump? (That includes backstory, world building, or what you’ve learned from research.) Is this a repetition of information?

Those are all good rules and necessary. Despite that, sometimes it’s hard to let go of a scene. That’s why I have some simple foundation questions I ask myself while editing.

Will the story still make sense without this?

If you can answer “yes” to this question, then it needs to be cut. Not only is this a simple way of critiquing yourself, it also encompasses all of the rules of cutting.

Does the reader really need to know how this magical engine functions? The story will make sense without it.

Do I need to keep this character with only a couple of lines easily given to someone else? The story will make sense without him/her.

This scene where everyone runs through a fountain laughing sure is fun, but nothing important happens. The story makes sense without it.

A highly detailed description of the castle grounds isn’t required for the story to make sense.

scarychainsaw

Cut. Cut. Cut.

 

As an example of cutting info dumping, in the original manuscript of Darkness Falling, the first chapter was 24 Word document pages. In the current version it’s 4 pages. Cutting is hard but necessary.

Is this something this character would already know?

If you can answer “no” to that question, then it needs to be cut or it needs to be explained.

Would a poor girl working in a shop understand the inner workings of the palace guards? Cut it!

Just because your characters are refugees from Earth living on a space station doesn’t mean all of them understand the science keeping them alive. Cut it!

Does your farm boy know the entire martial history of the kingdom and the line of inheritance? Cut it!

This also applies to mind reading. Unless you’re writing in a fully omniscient style, don’t jump from head to head to explaining thoughts and feelings. Stick with body language and facial expressions.

Cutting takes practice.

Sometimes it’s not easy to admit to yourself that a scene doesn’t belong. If you really love a scene but know it needs to be cut, it doesn’t mean you have to delete it forever. Copy and paste it into another document and keep it for yourself.  “Deleted scenes” can be things you share with fans at a later time (or so we all dream.)

Thank you for reading as always. If you have any other tips for cutting up a manuscript, please feel free to share in the comments. The more we know, the better editors we all become.