Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Sam and Dean Winchester--Favorite Character Tuesday

Awhile ago I wrote a post stating the belief that Supernatural had gone on too long, indicating that the show was simply working too hard to outdo previous seasons.

A person should be woman enough to admit when she was wrong. Season 11 surprised me and ended far differently than I anticipated, but truthfully, that isn't the only reason I'm withdrawing my objection. I'm afraid I'm going to have to admit it. I'm in love with Sam and Dean. It feels like a dent in my status as a feminist to admit this. They are extremely macho, and whenever we see them interacting with women in a romantic capacity (which isn't often), they are pretty much dicks about it. But I can't help it. I'm in love. My son is rolling his eyes at me (in my imagination, that is). According to him, every woman is in love with Sam and Dean.

There are so many things not to like about them. They lie. A lot. Even too each other. Especially to each other. They use people. They have an extremely unhealthy attachment to each other. They make deals with demons for each other, go to hell for each other, betray damned near anyone to protect each other. Dean unleashed the Darkness into the world to protect Sam, and Sam sets Lucifer free from hell for Dean. Part of this is love for the other, but a lot of it is a pathological inability to face life without the other.

Despite knowing all this, I'm in love. True, they are incredibly sexy. Damned fine.

Seriously, look at that and argue with me.
But that is only a small portion of the reason I'm in love.

They have dedicated their lives to helping other people. They go to any distance for a friend in need and often do the same for a stranger. But worse for me, their good qualities are only another small portion of the reason. 

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you probably think you know where I'm heading. Yes, you guessed it. They are tortured souls. I'm unsure why I'm so drawn to the tortured soul. Give me someone who has been screwed over by life, and I swoon. (Maybe not swoon, but you get the idea.)

Life was pretty good for Dean for the first few years. Then a demon killed his mother while Sam was
in the cradle, and it all went to hell. Their father become so obsessed with avenging his wife that he forgot he had responsibilities to his living children. Hunting the demon who killed his wife, he dragged the boys around the country, staying in cheap motels, and giving them limited access to education. He rapidly parentified Dean, leaving both boys for long periods of time and having Dean care for Sam when he wasn't really old enough to take care of himself. This robbed him of his childhood. Later, Dean started going with their father, fighting creatures of darkness long before he would have finished high school. This left Sam completely alone, often in cheap motels until he, too, was deemed old enough (at far too young an age) to join them. No wonder, they're messed up and have a pathological attachment to each other.

As they've grow older, their problems just have gotten worse. Both have spent time in hell, being tortured. Sam lost his soul for awhile. They made mistakes in which things have gone badly and people gotten killed. Their entire life is dedicated to hunting and killing creatures of darkness. Yes, they're tortured souls.

So, it's okay with me if they make several more seasons.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Goddess's Choice audio, Part II Chapter 2

Samantha returns to the palace to find her sick father.

Let me know what you think in the comments, and if you can't wait for more, you can always buy it below.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Writing Religion in Fantasy

I was on a panel at Marscon about religion in science fiction and fantasy. First a personal note, although I grew up in a highly religious household, I am not presently religious. I consider myself antagonistic. I don't want to believe that death is the end and that nothing but this life exists, but I can no longer believe the things I was taught.

Since I don't write science fiction, I'll stick to religion in fantasy. If you are writing historical or epic fantasy, part of your world building should definitely be to create its religious order or orders. Every human society has had some type of religion. Religion has effected everything from economics to science to war. It has been the driving force in many civilizations. To create a world without any sort of religion is a bit unrealistic. I never considered a religionless world when I first started on The Goddess's Choice.

For ideas about creating your own religion, study the myriad religions that have been practiced, particularly ancient religions. You'd be surprised at the things people have believed and have done to honor their gods. In The Ghost in Exile, the goddess of love is worshiped by having sex with her priestesses or acolytes.

From The Ghost in Exile:

When The Ghost entered the temple, he was greeted by soft music and delicate perfume. Young women and men—acolytes of Aphrodite—in sheer robes that concealed nothing, danced in celebration of the goddess. Worshipers watched the dance until they found an acolyte to their liking. They gave the priestess the proper donation and disappeared with the acolyte into one of the private rooms that lined one wall of the temple, where they worshiped the goddess in a more intimate manner.

One of the members of my writers' group thought this was an invention of my perverted mind. It was not. Many fertile god/desses have been worshiped in this manner.

Most religions can be borrowed from with impunity. However, drawing on Christianity is tricky because so many Americans still believe it. You can do it. You just have to be more careful so you don't offended half of your potential audience, especially if the religion in your world is corrupt.

In most religions, the good wars with the evil, so having a mixture of good and evil in your religion often works best. Remember, religion and morality don't have to have anything to do with each other, and in our world, they often don't.

Conveying a moral principle or deeply held belief is much more difficult than creating a religion. The last thing you want is to come across as preachy. You are not writing a sermon. You are writing a novel. Your first job is to tell a good story. Without the good story, people won't read your books.

I struggled with this in The Goddess's Choice. One of my most deeply held beliefs is the importance of forgiveness. If we don't forgive, it twists and mangles our lives and makes finding happiness difficult. We become too focused on the wrong done us to reach for joy. Forgiving others isn't for their good. It's for ours. Whether the other deserve forgiveness or not is irrelevant, we deserve to leave the pain behind, and we can't do that unless we forgive. If the other has done something awful to us, this can be difficult, but without forgiveness, we never have peace. I wanted to convey this message in The Goddess's Choice, but to do so without becoming preachy wasn't easy. One of my main characters, Robrek, has been treated terribly by a myriad of people. If anyone deserves revenge, he does. But to claim his full power and for his own peace, he must put his anger behind him. I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote the forgiveness scene. I think I finally managed to convey this message while telling a good story. The scene is below. In the comments, tell me if you think I've nailed it.

Robrek sat and began eating the tart. Its sticky sweetness increased his anger. Lowering his shields, he glared at Holy Writ[a magical gold horse]. “Am I supposed to forgive him [his father] because he gave me a tart? Do you know how many times he ate the last one on the plate, leaving none for me? Do you know how many times he beat my back raw?” Robrek got up and began pacing. “He could never even call me by my name. It was always, ‘Boy, do this.’ ‘Boy, do that.’ ‘Boy, why are you so damned stupid?’ ‘Boy, how could I have fathered such a weak, worthless runt?’ An apricot tart and a little food are supposed to make that all right?”
:Abusing a child is never alright. It angereth the goddess.:
Without warning, Robrek felt himself hit as if by a powerful wind of darkness. He was knocked to his knees, and suddenly he was no longer himself. He was Angus Camlinstamm, and he’d been cursed with the stupidest child ever to be born.
“How could you be such an idiot? Don’t you know that the priest wants you dead?” he yelled at his son. Green eyes like Donella’s [Robrek’s mother who died in childbirth] looked up at him from underneath curly, black hair. “I’ll teach you a lesson you’ll never forget.”
He grabbed the boy, tore his shirt off, threw him over the dining room table, and yelled at Boyden to hold him still.
“Please, father, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to,” the boy begged.
Angus hardly heard the boy’s cries. Instead, he saw skin the color of creamy bhat as Donella’s had been. The boy screamed as he brought the strap down. But he needed to learn. So he hit him again and again, bringing the strap down harder and harder. The boy’s hair, so like his mother’s, lay across the table. Oh, Donella, why? How could I have traded you for him? He continued to beat the boy until his arm ached. When he stopped, the boy rolled into a ball on the floor, sobbing and trembling.
Robrek threw himself away from whatever Holy Writ had done to him. “I was five years old, damn him!” Robrek yelled at the horse. “He had no right to beat me like that!”
:He did not. Forgiveness doth not mean the other was right. Forgiveness isn’t about the other, but thine own soul.:
Robrek jumped to his feet and stabbed his finger toward the horse. “He should rot for what he did to me! I will never forgive him! Never!”
:Then thou wilst become like him.:
“I would never do something like that to a child!”
Again the dark wind hit him, knocking him to the ground. He was in the stable paddock. His sword was wet with blood, and there were piles of corpses surrounding him. A man approached, and he stabbed quickly. Behind him he heard a small noise. He turned, cutting Tegan nearly in half. The child that had reminded him so much of himself dropped at his feet, and he turned to kill another. He crushed the child’s hand with his boot.
“Stop it!” he screamed, wrenching his eyes open. “That wasn’t real!”
:It could be.: The body of the slain boy appeared in front of him again. He closed his eyes, but the image still burned in his memory, and again he saw his sword plunging through Milady’s mouth. :How art thou different from thy father?:
He backed away from the horse. “When I killed the child, I didn’t even understand what I was doing.”
:And didst thy father understand what he wast doing to thee?:
The dark wind came again. He heard his beloved Donella screaming from their bedroom. She’d been screaming for nearly two days, and the baby still wouldn’t come. It was all his fault. The herb witch had warned him about having another child. Please, Sulis, please. Let her live. The screaming stopped, and he heard a weak cry. He ran into the bedroom. Donella was lying with her eyes closed, her dark skin nearly as white as a Korthlundian’s. The entire bed was covered in blood. “Do something!” he bellowed at the herb witch, who was wrapping some small hideous thing in a blanket.
He was kneeling by a freshly dug grave as they lowered the body of his beautiful Donella into the cold earth. He’d had to purchase a spot of land just outside the graveyard because the priest wouldn’t allow her to be buried on consecrated ground. Would those gods of hers take her? He sobbed as the shovels of earth began to fall onto her sweet body. She can’t be dead. It’s all my fault. She can’t be dead.
“No!” Robrek shouted. “It wasn’t me that got her pregnant! He had no right to blame me for her death. He deserves my hatred.”
:It is not about what he deserveth, but what thou deservest. Sin provideth its own punishment. He chose to indulge his grief and his rage until he hath choked out all that could have been good in his life. He is an empty man when his life could have been full of the joy of his sons. Dost thou desire such emptiness for thyself?:
“I desire nothing but revenge.” Robrek’s hand itched for a sword so that he could strike off the horse’s head..
As always, the horse seemed to know what he was thinking. :Dost thou believe thou wilst feel any better if thou dost?:
“Yes, I do!” Robrek ran to the stable and grabbed a sword. As he turned around, he found himself faced with illusions of his father, his brother, Duke Argblutal, and Father Gildas. He rushed his father and with a single stroke struck off his head. He turned and did the same to Boyden, Argblutal, and Gildas. As he turned back, he found his father whole and alive. Again and again he killed the four men, and again and again they rose. He slashed and stabbed until he dropped with exhaustion.
“What do you want from me?” he sobbed. “Why won’t you leave me alone? I never asked you to come! I never wanted any of this!” He gestured wildly at the three horses, and Holy Writ nodded. At that very instant, a profound silence descended into the clearing. He looked around frantically, but he soon realized the silence had nothing to do with the lack of sound. The wind was still rustling through the treetops, and the birds were singing every bit as loudly as they had a moment ago. He could still hear the stream rolling over the rocks. Holy Writ had done as he asked. He could still see the horses, but he couldn’t feel them any longer. They’d gone and left this emptiness behind.
Wild Thing edged closer and nudged him with her nose. :Wild Thing scared. What wrong?:
“Nothing’s wrong, girl. It’s just you and me, like it always should have been.” Struggling desperately to ignore the emptiness, Robrek rubbed the Horsetad’s nose and set about cooking himself something to eat. Every few moments he looked over his shoulder to make sure the horses were still there. Despite how much he fought them, if they left, they’d take half his soul with them. But what Holy Writ demanded was impossible. He’d have to live with half a soul.
Darkness fell as he finished eating, and with the darkness, the emptiness became unbearable. I don’t need them. He knew this was a lie, but he wrapped himself up in it and fell asleep.
Dressed in clothes of deepest black, he stood on a dais. Duke Argblutal knelt at his feet; the duke’s supporters, servants, and guards knelt behind him. Argblutal begged for mercy. But mercy was dead inside Robrek. He grabbed the duke by the hair and pulled him to his feet. He used his magic to turn his hands into claws, and with a smile of triumph, he tore deep into the duke’s chest and ripped out his still beating heart. The duke screamed and dropped at his feet. Robrek laughed, but the duke’s death had done nothing to assuage his grief or his rage. So he grabbed the hair of the first of the duke’s men and tore out the man’s heart as well. Still, he felt no relief. One by one he ripped out the hearts of every one of the duke’s men. But it wasn’t enough. He ordered Father Gildas brought before him, and he tied the priest to the stake and set him on fire. He reveled in the priest’s shrieks of agony, but when the priest had been reduced to ashes, he felt no better. He had the bonfire built higher and threw in all of those who had testified against him and all of those who had joined the mob that would have killed him. Their cries of pain were music to his ears. But when they had all been quieted by death, he felt no peace. He struck out with his magic at all that came within his reach. He used his power to cause the utmost suffering and pain, as he had once used it to heal. Both the guilty and the innocent suffered and died at his hands. None could stop him because he was the most powerful sorcerer the land had ever known. But the more he killed, the more his emptiness grew. until it became a chasm so vast that not even the deaths of every living soul in the joined kingdoms would fill it.
He awoke, sick to the depths of his soul. I am a monster. He tried to tell himself that it had been just a dream, but he knew Holy Writ was right about him.
He knew what he had to do. He went to the stable and got the gold sword. He knelt in the paddock and placed the point at his breast and closed his eyes.
:Stop!: Three voices shouted in unison, and the presence of the three horses returned. :This thou canst not do.:
:No hurt.: Wild Thing wailed.
“I have to,” he said. “I won’t be like them.”
:Then forgive them, but do not destroy thyself.:
Robrek laughed savagely. “Why do you care? Because it’s not my ‘destiny’? I never wanted a destiny.” His hand slipped, and he felt a sharp prick in his chest. Bright blood stained his shirt. What am I doing? He dropped the sword and fell to the ground, clutching the small wound.
:Thou dost not have to feel this pain. Release thy hatred. Forgive.:
“I can’t. They deserve to suffer for what they’ve done.”
:They are suffering. But thou needst no longer punish thyself for what they hath done.:
The dark wind hit him. This time he was his brother. He was ten years old and a crowd of five boys near his own age surrounded him. “I say he has demon blood, too,” one of them said.
“I do not,” he protested.
“His mother was a demon witch,” another jeered.
“No, she wasn’t.”
A third laughed. “Just look at your little brother. Father Gildas won’t even let him in the school.”
“I don’t care. My skin is as white as yours.” He shoved his white arm toward them.
“White on the outside, but black underneath,” another said.
“Liar!” he shouted at the boy who voiced his deepest fear. He struck out with all his might. He knocked the boy to the ground, but there were five of them. They ganged up on him and beat him.
When they stopped, he dragged himself home, and a servant fussed over him. Robbie came into the room and peered up at him. It was Robbie’s fault this had happened. If it weren’t for him, nobody would say things like that . . . .
He sat in his room at the inn, counting his coins. What did he care if no one in the village would talk to him? He didn’t need them. He had everything he needed right here. These coins would fulfill his every need.
But Robrek felt the emptiness his brother refused to acknowledge—a chasm within Boyden he attempted to fill with greater cruelty, but doing so only widened the chasm. Not wanting to feel Boyden’s despair, Robrek struggled to separate himself from his brother, but Holy Writ refused to release her hold on him; instead he plunged once more into the dark wind. He was his father again. He stood at the back of the room near the pier. With the other young men, he hooted and made crude gestures at the new whores brought from abroad. “And the next, from the barbarous land of Mahngbhayo,” the auctioneer called, as a small, dark-skinned girl was led into the room. He went silent as her green eyes bored into his soul, stirring something in him he’d never felt before—something far stronger than lust. “She doesn’t speak a word of the language, but what does that matter with assets like this?” The man grabbed her breast. She slapped his hand away and glared at him with defiance and pride. “A spirited one! She may need some taming, but isn’t that half the fun?”
The girl drew herself up as if she were a queen looking down upon her subjects. Angus wasn’t fooled—he saw her lower lip tremble. He found her courage and dignity enchanting.
“Come on, sweety pie! Show us what you got!” the young man beside Angus called out, and Angus threw the other man against the wall. “Show some respect,” he hissed, though Angus had said something similar to the last whore.
He whirled back to the auctioneer and named a price. He glared around the room, daring someone to top it. No one did. He handed the auctioneer every dram he’d intended to use for new stock for his farm. He draped his own coat around the woman to hide her near nakedness from the prying eyes of other men . . . .
He saw his sweet elfin girl lying on their bed with his tiny son sucking at her breast. “He’s a strong one, like his father.” Donella smiled.
His heart bursting with love and joy, he sat beside her. He was a father, and the most perfect woman in all of Sulis’s creation was the mother of his child. “He’s perfect,” he whispered, and gently stroked the soft fuzz on his son’s head. He promised himself he wouldn’t be like his own father. He’d be gentle and kind. He would earn his son’s respect and love.
“What shall we name him?” Donella asked as she raised the infant to her shoulder and gently patted his back.
“What do you think of Boyden?” he asked.
“Boyden?” She wrinkled up her brow in the way that he’d always found alluring. “Boyden is a fine name for a barbarian without an ounce of color in his skin.”
He leaned in closer and kissed her deeply. “Mother of barbarians.”
She laughed, and the baby let out a sigh of contentment. He had never imagined such happiness . . . .
He heard the small, weak cry coming from the other room. It wouldn’t stop. The wet nurse wouldn’t be there for an hour. He stomped into the room to pick up the baby himself. It was incredibly small, much smaller than his brother had been. The tears of its hunger fell from emerald green eyes. He ran from the house, leaving the crying infant behind . . . .
He sat on the bed at the inn and handed over the coin. The woman dropped her dress and joined him. He closed his eyes and took her in his arms. He tried to pretend she was Donella as he made love to her fiercely, desperately. But it didn’t work. When he’d shared Donella’s bed, he’d felt complete. Now, releasing his manhood into the whore’s body, he felt emptier than ever.
When he reached home, he found Robbie drawing pictures in the dirt with a stick instead of doing his chores.
“Boy!” he bellowed.
The ten-year-old boy looked at him with terror. “Please, sir, I didn’t mean . . . .”
He refused to listen to whatever fool excuse the boy made this time. He grabbed the strap next to the door and threw the boy over the dining room table. He beat the boy viciously, but he got no more relief from the anguish than he’d gotten from the body of the whore.
He stopped and ordered the boy to his room. He couldn’t stand the sight of the curly black hair or the rich, dark skin . . . .
He watched as his seventeen-year old son mounted his Horsetad and rode away. He’ll be back, he told himself. He can’t survive without me . . . .
He looked at the remnant of the scaffold on which they’d meant to burn his son. Robbie had escaped the flames, but he’d lost both his sons this day: no kin murderer would live under his roof. Where had he gone so wrong? He remembered when he’d watched Boyden suck at Donella’s breast. He remembered the promises he’d made to himself. He’d broken them all. His sons had no more respect or love for him than he’d had for his own father. He went to the inn, intent on giving coin to the whore, knowing that doing so would do nothing to fill the aching void inside him.
“No! I can’t stand it any more!” Robrek cried. “Why wasn’t I the father I promised myself I’d be? Why did I let Donella’s death turn me against my own son?”
More visions followed. Father Gildas’s failures in healing while the power of those he condemned grew, fueling his fears for his reputation and influence over the people. Duke Argblutal’s obsession with kingship, which had twisted his life so that hatred and anger were the only emotions left to him. Unable to tolerate the pain and emptiness, the guilt and despair any longer, Robrek tore himself loose from the visions. He sobbed for the pain those he hated had caused themselves.
:Dost thou see? They have paid the price for their sins. Thou canst hold to thy pain and become like them. Or thou canst release it and be free.:
“I don’t know how,” he moaned. “Tell me what to do. I just . . . want it to be gone.”
:Forgive. Release thy hatred into the hands of the goddess. The Holy Mother can bear all of our griefs.:
“How?” he asked, but then he felt it—the goddess’s open arms ready to enfold all of his pain into herself. Suddenly, he understood. Sin, and the pain it brought, was its own punishment. He could allow others’ sins against him to turn him into a monster, or he could forgive them and save his own soul. It was a choice between emptiness and joy, between sorrow and love, between destruction and fulfillment.
In other words, it was no choice at all.
“Take it please! I don’t want it any more!” He thrust himself into the goddess’s arms, allowing her to heal his wounds and purge the anger from his soul. As soon as the last vestige of his anger and hatred left, his power poured forth within him. Energy filled his body with exquisite pleasure; every ounce of his flesh was flooded with joy. He laughed with sheer delight and was sure he was glowing with light.
Sensations poured in from all sides. Ronan’s simple pleasure while he sunned himself. The hawk’s fierce triumph as it took the pigeon, and the pigeon’s terror and pain. The rabbit’s delight in the new patch of cabbage leaves, and the mother’s despair over her wayward child. The bird’s bliss as it sang to its mate, and the farmer’s joy as his grain pushed its way toward the sun. It was too much, far too much. He collapsed onto the ground and covered his head, but there was no escape. He’d go mad.
Over the whirlwind of sensation, he heard Holy Writ’s command. :Shield!:
He reached through the chaos for the knowledge of how to shield, grasped it, and snapped his shields into place. The entire world went silent in an instant. He rolled over and smiled at the sky. He felt spent and abused, but also clean and pure. His head ached, but he was happier than he’d ever imagined possible. He wanted to dance and sing. He lowered his shields slightly to allow the horses in. He felt their pleasure and pride in his accomplishment.
:Thou hast done well. Thou art worthy of thy destiny.:
:I knew you had it in you, human child. Oh, how you will be able to move now.:
:A good beginning.: Robrek threw back his head and laughed. He hadn’t realized Brazen was capable of humor.
Religions help make your world as full and rich as the real world, so yes, create a religion when you build your world. Moral beliefs can be part of your story. You just have to make sure the story comes first.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Review of The Birth of Death

I met Joseph Macolino at Windycon, and we traded books. Here is my review of The Birth of Death

I greatly enjoyed Macolino's novel. He creates a world full of many of the typical magical creatures--elves, centaurs, trolls, but also throws in some lesser known races and some creations of his own. Overall, he creates a vivid and lively world that the reader can get lost in. The characters are deep and human, even though many of them aren’t technically human. They respond with real human emotions and feel like people you’d like to know. He handles the multiple points of view masterfully. To me character development is the most important part of any novel. If I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care what happens to them, and I definitely cared what happened to Artimus, Savannah, Irontail, and Tel’Shira. The plot is interesting and well developed. It also didn’t turn out exactly as I thought it would, which was a nice surprise. When I met Macolino at Necronomicon, he claimed the book was dark, and it isn’t exactly sunshine and roses, but the darkness doesn’t overpower the narrative and leaves room for hope.

I highly recommend Macolino’s first novel, and I eagerly awake the sequel. 

If it sounds like something you'd like, you can find it here:

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Bull Riding Witch

I've had the novel, The Bull Riding Witch, finished for quite some time, but I had been uncertain how I should go about publishing it. I tried agents for awhile, but it has the opposite problem that The Goddess's Choice had; it is too short for traditional publishers. I hate these arbitrary lengths that one has to conform to to get a traditional publisher. A novel should be as long as it needs to be to tell the story, so I have now decided to bring The Bull Riding Witch out myself.  My editor has a two-month waiting list before she can get to it, so it will be a little while. To get you in the mood for it, here is the short story of the same title I wrote first. Changes have been made between the story and the novel, but it should give you a taste for what's coming.

The Bull Riding Witch

Author's Note: "The Bull Riding Witch" was originally published in Short-Story.me. January 2011. It was reprinted in Urban Fantasy (KYStory, 2013) and my short story collection, Blood Cursed and Other Tales of the Fantasy. Get an ecopy of these collection for free by signing up for my newsletter. Form is to the left.
I remember little of my life before I woke up with a raging hangover and inside a body I knew wasn’t mine. But you try explaining to people that you’re a woman trapped in a man’s body. See how far that gets you, especially when you’re a bull rider.
I have a rodeo in Lafayette tonight, so I’m trying to get ready. Not an easy feat if you’ve ever seen my trailer. I find my western shirt and jeans easily enough, but my belt is buried somewhere in the goddess awful mess. You’d think with its huge buckle I could find it, but everything that isn’t covered by frozen pizza boxes and empty beer cans is stacked two feet to three feet high with books—Jim Butcher, Barbara Hambly, Mercedes Lackey, Parallel Universes, Guide to the Supernatural for Dummies. Unfortunately, the books have proven about as useful as the pizza boxes in explaining what happened to me. But somebody, somewhere has to be able to tell me how I got stuck in Josh Killenyen’s body and, more importantly, how to get back into my own.
There is a knock on my trailer door, and I open it. Mr. McGillihan is standing there. In exchange for odd jobs, Uncle Gilly—as everyone calls him, although to my knowledge he’s nobody’s uncle—lets me keep my trailer on his land and pays me a pittance. About enough to keep the insurance current on my truck. Insurance for myself is impossibly expensive since my profession tends to include a lot of injuries.
“Horse. Colic.” Uncle Gilly nods toward the barn. He rarely speaks an entire sentence.
I follow Uncle Gilly into the nearby barn. When I enter, I feel a crushing pain in my gut. Wild Girl is rolling her eyes, snorting and groaning. Her gut feels just like mine, and let me tell you, it isn’t pleasant. Colic is one of the most painful and dangerous things that can happen to a horse. I approach carefully because a colicky horse doesn’t pay much attention to its surroundings and can step on you without even realizing you’re there. I touch her, and she instantly calms. I kneel next to her and put my hands on her gut. I close my eyes and reach inside Wild Girl’s intestines with my magic. They’re blocked all right. Uncle Gilly must have bought a finer grade of grain because it’s packed her insides up tight. I work on loosening it up and moving it along the intestines. Wild Girl lets out an immense fart and then poops out a huge pile of . . . well, you know.
I straighten, both my guts and Wild Girl’s feeling a ton better. “She’s fine now, Boss,” I tell Uncle Gilly.
“Good.” He nods and walks away. Neither of us has ever said the word aloud, but Uncle Gilly knows about my magic. He figured it out about a year ago when one of the barn cats got hit by his truck. Nothing human could’ve saved the poor thing, but I did. Ever since then, he comes to me every time one of his animals has a problem. With all I save him in vet bills, you’d think he could pay me a little more.
It’s probably because of my magic that someone didn’t want me around, and they could hardly have picked a bigger loser to put me inside. At twenty-three Josh has never had a job, except occasional farm work and bull riding. Good thing he was decent at it, and I’m better than he was.
As I clean up after Wild Girl, I try for the thousandth time to think who might have done this to me, but I can’t even remember my own name. I do remember that things are different where I come from. There are no trucks or computers or electric can openers. But magic and magical creatures—like dragons and trolls—are common. I think it’s one of these parallel realms things that Hamby and some of the others write about, except they got it wrong. According to their theories, my magic shouldn’t work in this world, but it does. I got the skills of my own body and Josh’s as well. I didn’t need to learn how to drive a truck or read, write, and speak English. Most of Josh’s memories came with his body, too, but few of my own. Does Josh have my magic in my body? Have my enemies completely eliminated him, and I have no body to go back to? Being stuck inside Josh Killenyen forever isn’t a pleasant thought.
I go back to my trailer and finally find my belt under Dragon Riders of Pern and Spells for the Clueless and Inept. I grab my new hat, which I bought with last week’s prize money. Cost me pretty near all of it, but a proper cowboy needs a proper hat. Sometimes I find myself thinking like Josh Killenyen, and it scares me.
I get in my truck with its camper shell on back and start the three-hour drive from Hamilton on the west side of Alabama to Lafayette on the east. I’ll sleep in the back tonight like I usually do for the two-day rodeos; I can’t afford the price of a motel.
* * *
At the rodeo grounds in Lafayette, I drink in the scents of roasting corn, chicken-on-a-stick, and cotton candy. It’s exhilarating because it means shortly I’ll be having a brief, but wild ride. Nothing compares to the adrenaline rush of being on the back of a bucking bull. I wonder if in my other body I was addicted to adrenaline or if that came with Josh’s body as well. On my way to the arena, I pass a booth that sells T-shirts. I spot one that says, “Cowboys make bad lovers. They think 8-seconds is a long ride.” I laugh. Whoever wrote that has never been on the back of a bucking bull. Eight seconds is a long ride.
When I get to the staging area, I check what bull Josh has drawn—Man Killer. I smile; Man Killer is about the fiercest bucker on the circuit, and if I’m going to win tonight, I need a good bull. After all, half my score is based on just how hard a time the bull gives me.
From the staging area, I watch the rodeo. Fortunately, I came late enough that I missed the girls riding around with their flags to the sound of patriotic music while the announcer talks about God, America, and Dodge trucks. Rodeo people seem to worship all three with equal reverence. While I watch, I attune myself to my magic so I can be ready to ride.
Finally, it’s time for the bull riding. I climb onto the launch chute, then onto Man Killer’s back. He snorts, and I don’t try to calm him. That was the mistake I made when I first became Josh. Instead, I reach into him until I become one with the bull, making it possible for me to match all the bull’s movements like I was born on the back of a bucking bull.
I nod, and the chute opens. Man Killer roars into the arena. We’re giving them quite a show when something hits my hand and I suddenly let go. I fly off and hit the ground, knocking the wind out of me. The bull’s hoofs crash down inches from my head before the rodeo clowns are able to distract the beast. I run for the fence, vault over it, and stand there panting.
“What happened, man?” Dan, the closest thing to a friend Josh has, asks.
“I don’t know.” I shake my head, but I do know. Someone just used magic to try and kill me. I turn every which way looking for the witch, but of course, there’s no one wearing a pointy black hat. I close my eyes and reach out with my magic, and I feel something, across the arena in the third set of bleachers. I tear off. Halfway there I come to my senses and stop. Charging down an unknown witch wouldn’t be the brightest thing Josh ever did. Before I can decide what to do, I lose the witch’s scent. I close my eyes to try to pick it up again, but I feel nothing. Still, I wait, and I only go into the back of my truck when the lights have been turned off and nobody’s wandering around.
When I curl up in my sleeping bag, I start shaking. I see again the bull’s hoofs coming down inches from my head. I feel the ground tremble underneath with the impact. I’m damned lucky to be alive. I don’t know if I dare ride tomorrow, but if I don’t, I’ll barely have gas money to get back to Hamilton, and I’ll have to beg Uncle Gilly for an advance on my wages to buy groceries.
What little sleep I get that night is full of dreams that nearly make me vomit. You picture the effect an 1800-pound bull would have on the human head. Not pretty, is it?
* * *
I spend all the next day prowling the rodeo grounds. I haven’t a clue what I’m searching for, and I don’t find any neon sign that says, “Witch will sit here tonight.” When the gates open, I stand near them with my eyes closed, trying to sense everyone who comes in. The sensations of that many minds about causes me to lose what few marbles the fall yesterday didn’t knock out of me, but I don’t sense any magic.
When it’s time for the bull riding, I decide to chance it. I really need the money, but tonight I’ve drawn a bull named He-man—you know, from that stupid Masters of the Universe cartoon—but he should probably be named Daisy-Muncher. I haven’t a chance to win on that bull unless everybody else falls off. Dan Foster scores an eighty-three, and Ben Walker, a man I can’t stand, scores an eighty-five and ends up with top prize money of eight hundred and seventy-five dollars. Nothing weird happens when I ride, but I score a whopping sixty-five and end with a whole sixty-six dollars in prize money. I guess I’ll live on ramen noodles for the next week. You can survive on that, but a man ought to have meat.
I freeze. I just thought of myself as a man again. Am I completely losing touch with who I am? I almost want to cry, but then I remember men don’t cry.
After a week on ramen noodles, I’m so mad I want to beat the living you-know-what out of the witch who made me lose. You might think that nearly dying should have aggravated me more than eating noodles, and yes, I still have nightmares about that bull’s hoofs. But I’m hungry for something different to eat. I’m nervous as hell about the upcoming rodeo in Robertsdale, down by Mobile, and that makes me mad, too. I nurse the anger all during the five-and-a-half hour drive, fantasizing about what I’ll do to the witch when I find her.
I win the bull riding in Friday night’s rodeo for a whopping $615. Robertsdale’s purse has always been a little on the small side. More importantly, nothing funny happens. Dan and me and some of the others go to celebrate at a sleazy bar called Hole in the Wall. The bar owner knows me and cashes my prize check. I open my fool mouth and say the first round’s on me.
I pack away more than a couple of beers, then in walks Ben Walker—did I mention I can’t stand him?—with a blonde wearing a ponytail, a short skirt, and a low-cut blouse. She’s hanging all over Ben. The skirt and blouse don’t catch my attention—although they do catch the attention of every man in the place—but what comes with her does—the distinctive odor of magic. It was her. The witch who tried to kill me.
Mad and drunk, I storm right up to the blonde, grab her arm, and shout, “Why in the hell did you try to kill me?”
Ben tells me to get my filthy hands off his woman, and I tell him where he can stuff it and his mother. He punches me in the gut. Now, Josh is big, but he must never have learned how to fight worth a hill of beans.
When I can’t get up any more, Ben grabs the witch’s hand. “Come on, Eileen. They let any old trash drink in this place.”
* * *
I have no idea how I end up back at the rodeo grounds in the back of my truck, but I hope I didn’t drive. I have a whole $75 in my pocket and a note that the bar owner took the rest to pay for damages. Why should I have to pay? It isn’t like I wanted my head to break the bar stool.
The next day I’m in no condition to ride, and Ben wins the top prize money again, which pisses me off even more. Eileen isn’t in the staging area like some riders’ women, and I can’t sense her anywhere else in the arena. But the pain in my gut is taking most of my attention, and she could be ten feet from me and I might not feel her.
* * *
Because of my magic, I heal fast, so by Tuesday I’m feeling mostly alive. I’m more than determined to find this Eileen and get the truth out of her by any means necessary. Ben is from Auburn. Thinks he’s all high and mighty because he goes to the university there, and I figure Eileen is some sorority chick. So I go to the Hamilton public library where they’ve got computers, and I google Ben to get his address. I borrow Uncle Gilly’s truck because Ben knows mine, and no, I don’t ask, but I leave a note and the extra key to my truck. That should be enough for any reasonable person, especially considering how much I save him in vet bills.
I get to Ben’s apartment complex at about three in the afternoon. He comes home about four with one of those university-student book bags, wearing khakis and a polo shirt. He isn’t even wearing boots. Some cowboy.
About an hour later he comes back out and gets in his truck. At least he has a truck and not some fancy-assed BMW. I follow him, and as I hope, he drives over to another apartment complex and picks up Eileen. Now that I know where she lives, I lean back in Uncle Gilly’s truck and wait.
About two hours later Ben’s truck squeals into the lot. Eileen flings the door open almost before the truck has a chance to stop. She jumps out and screams, “I hope I never see you again,” then slams the door and stalks off to her apartment. Ben squeals out of the parking lot. I can’t help smiling. Anything that makes Ben unhappy is mighty fine with me.
I give Eileen a minute to get settled. Then I knock, and she opens the door. Before she can recognize me, I push my way in and grab her arm. I’m about to ask her again why she tried to kill me when I’m hit with what feels like a sledge hammer.
When I wake up, I’m on the floor with my hands and feet tied. Eileen’s sitting on the couch across from me. I’m starting not to like Eileen. Now, you might be wondering why I don’t magic my way out of the rope. My magic only affects living things, and even with living things, I have to be touching them, so I’m pretty much stuck. You might also be wondering why I didn’t use magic on Ben the other night. Well, I was so mad and drunk I didn’t think about it.
I try to stall Eileen while I work at untying the ropes. “You have me where you want me. Before you kill me could you at least tell me why?”
She snorts. “What witch would ever dare kill? Don’t you know that whatever magic of ill-intent we do comes back on us four-fold? A death curse is suicide for a witch.”
I have to keep her talking because I’m not having any luck with the ropes. “You expect me to believe there is another witch around here?”
She rolls her eyes like I’m the stupidest dumb ass she’s ever had the misfortune to meet. “Of course there are other witches. My coven has five members, but I promise you it wasn’t one of them. If it was a witch, she would need something of yours—hair, fingernail clippings, blood—to work any magic against you.”
“Huh?” I know, brilliant comeback, but my head is reeling. “If you have a whole coven, how come I’ve never run into any of you?”
Eileen rolls her eyes again. “We don’t exactly advertise. Alabama isn’t friendly to witches. You know, Exodus 22:18: ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’”
I have to admit she has a point. I don’t “exactly advertise” my skills either. “Well, how many witches are there around here?”
She shrugs. “Probably less than a dozen, but there might be more. The more powerful ones can shield themselves so I can’t feel them. I can feel you though, but I don’t know what you are.”
Maybe I’m stupid, but I believe her when she says she didn’t try to kill me. Mostly because if she wanted me dead, I’d be dead by now, so I decide to tell her the truth. “I’m a witch. I heal things, make them better.” Well, truth be told, I can make them worse, too.
“A witch?” she says like I’m speaking Chinese. “Men aren’t witches.”
“I’m not a man. I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body.” She looks at me like I’m crazy. “Look, can you untie me? I’ll tell you everything.” I’ve just about given up getting the ropes off.
“I’m waiting for the rest of my coven. When they get here, you’ll tell us everything, then we’ll decide whether to untie you or kill you.”
“I thought you said witches don’t kill.”
“If we do it as a coven, the feedback is diffused enough that we can handle it. It isn’t pleasant though.”
I gulp, wondering just how many times her coven has killed people, and start working harder on the ropes. Eileen just sits there with her arms and legs crossed, swinging her foot and not looking at me. “You mad at me or Ben?” I ask, hoping her fight with Ben doesn’t get me killed.
“Don’t mention that jerk to me!” She snorts. “Can you believe he thinks I’m a liar? He doesn’t believe I’m a witch.”
“You told him?”
She glares at me. “Long story. None of your business.”
She looks away from me and doesn’t say another word until her coven shows up. The first to arrive is a pretty black woman with her hair shaved to a fine buzz. Eileen introduces her as Kinyisha. The other three eventually arrive. Sandy, Nadeen, and Susan are white, but only Eileen has that sorority chick look.
My hands are numb, and I wonder how I’m going to talk them out of killing me. I tell them about the attack and everything I know about my situation, which isn’t much. I think I’m a princess from some parallel realm. Then one day I wake up in Josh Killenyen’s body. I don’t know how I got here or how to get back where I belong.
When I finish, the witches sit there and look at each other for a while and then down at me and then back at each other. “I think he may be crazy,” Kinyisha says. “But I don’t think he’s dangerous to us.”
They debate my sanity for what feels like forever, and when I try to hurry them up, they threaten to gag me. Apparently, they don’t have a leader, so they have to come to a consensus before they do anything. Eventually, they reach the consensus that I’m either insane or a—I won’t say the word they use, but it’s foul—liar. I can’t convince them otherwise, especially since I can provide so few details and merely say, “I don’t remember” to most of their questions.
Finally, they decide I’m probably not dangerous and untie me, but they make me stay out of touching distance. Then they debate whether or not to help me. Kinyisha—I’m starting to like her—is all for helping me. “Isn’t that the purpose of a coven? To help those in need?”
“But he’s nuts!” says Nadeen. “He claims he’s a princess from a parallel universe. You ever hear of any parallel universes? Does he look like a princess?” I’m starting not to like Nadeen.
Still, they eventually decide that if there is some unknown witch working hostile magic in their territory, they need to know more about it. They agree that one of them should stick with me at every rodeo. Eileen doesn’t want any part of it because she’s mad at Ben and doesn’t want to be anywhere near him. When the other women ask her why, she won’t tell them anything. I figure she probably isn’t supposed to tell people she’s a witch. The other four agree to take turns, but Nadeen is far from happy.
* * *
Kinyisha comes with me to the next rodeo in Poplarville, Mississippi. She weaves some of my hair into a ring and charms it. She says it will block any curse aimed at my hand unless it’s thrown by a really powerful witch.
After making my ring, Kinyisha sits in the stands to try to feel for the presence of any witches. Nothing funny happens, and I score an eighty-five, which means that unless somebody gets real lucky tomorrow, I’ll walk off with the top prize money.
I offer to let Kinyisha sleep in the back of my truck with me.
She’s reluctant, but doesn’t want to pay for a motel room, and I don’t have the money for one. “If you try anything, I’ll curse your genitals”—she used a different word here—“and make them fall off.”
“Hey, I may look like a man, but I’m a woman. I’m not interested in you that way.”
She snorts, still thinking I’m crazy, but she climbs in the back with me and seems disappointed in the morning that I didn’t at least try to molest her.
Nobody uses magic against me on Saturday either, and nobody tops my score. I end up with $852 in prize money.
* * *
Nothing happens over the next few weeks, and I continue to win. The witches are starting to get tired of me, and frankly, I’m tired of them, especially Nadeen who always looks at me like some garbage she just stepped in. Meanwhile, Eileen makes up with Ben—apparently he apologized and bought her flowers and chocolates and who knows what else. She talks about how wonderful he is, and I just about lose my lunch on her sorority girl shoes. She comes with me—well, with Ben—to the rodeo in Millbrook, Alabama, just up the road from Montgomery. She makes me a ring like all of the other witches have done, and I get on my bull. It’s Man Killer again. We barely get out of the chute when something hits my hand, and I go flying off into the wall, breaking my arm. I’m in so much pain I can’t concentrate enough to look for witches. To my humiliation, I have to be taken away in the ambulance, and, of course, with me out of it, Ben wins the top prize money.
* * *
On Saturday I drive to Auburn to meet with the witches. Eileen says she didn’t feel anything, which scares the witches because only someone powerful could hide from them. Besides, Eileen’s ring should have stopped anything done by a less powerful witch. They wonder if they’re in over their heads and should take it to someone more powerful. They decide not to because they don’t trust the powerful and because it could be one of them behind it. Instead, the witches decide they’re all going to go to the next rodeo I’m fit to ride in.
* * *
I haven’t a clue how I’m going to pay the hospital bill, especially since my broken arm keeps me out of bull riding for a week, but as I said, I heal a lot faster than normal, so I’m ready to ride the week after that down in Panama City, Florida. The witches are excited because they can go to the beach between rodeos. At the rodeo ground, the witches spread out throughout the crowd to feel for witches. Nothing happens on Friday night, but I draw He-man again and only score in the sixties. Ben scores an eighty-two, which will be hard to beat on Saturday night.
Eileen goes off with Ben the next day, but I go with the rest of the witches to the beach. Nadeen seems disappointed that I don’t react to her in a bikini.
* * *
On Saturday I draw Kracken—he’s not quite as tough as Man Killer, but mighty close, and with all of the witches spread throughout the crowd I figure I’m safe enough. I’m not about to let Ben beat me again. I ride first, and for the first few seconds, I think everything’s going to be fine. Then the curse hits my hand, and I go flying off. This time when I hit the ground, I’m so mad that I don’t go over the closest fence like I’m supposed to. Instead, I ignore the danger of the bull and charge across the arena to the stands where I felt the curse coming from.
I gape in disbelief. Right in the middle of the stands sits Eileen. Kinyisha and the other three witches run up to me, and they gape at Eileen, too. When the crowd clears out, Eileen claims she didn’t do anything, and there must have been some other witch near her. The other witches don’t believe her, and I don’t either. They decide to take her off to a coven thing. I insist on coming with them, but the witches won’t have any outsider involved.
“Just try and stop me from coming,” I say, and Kinyisha hits me with one of those sledgehammers.
When I wake up, the witches are nowhere in sight. I go wait at my truck.
* * *
I fall asleep waiting, and about three in the morning, Kinyisha crawls in the back with me. From the sound of her voice, I can tell she’s been crying. “She finally admitted it. Breaking all our codes, she sent the curse against you. Ben provided her a few strands of your hair the first time. And you gave her plenty to use the other two times. If it helps any, she wasn’t trying to kill you, just make you fall off so Ben could win. She said you were using magic to win, and that wasn’t fair.”
“Well . . .” I start to defend myself, but I think she might have a point. I’m not about to admit it, though. Instead, I say, “So Ben believes she’s a witch.”
“She broke our vow of secrecy and told him. He didn’t believe her at first and just gave her your hair as a joke. He made fun of her when she told him that she made you fall off the bull. That’s why she was mad at him, but when you started winning again, he made up with her. She told him it was too dangerous for her to do it tonight with the rest of us here, but he bullied her into it, saying he needed the prize money for tuition.”
“Whether she meant to kill me or not, she came damn close. Just what do you plan to do about that?”
“She’ll be taken care of. You won’t have to worry about her again.”
“Taken care of? Just what does that mean?”
Kinyisha shakes her head, and no matter how many times I ask her, she won’t tell me. She does offer to introduce me to the more powerful witches she knows to see if any of them can help me with my body switching problem, even though I think she still believes I’m crazy.
I take her up on her offer. Maybe something good will come out of nearly having my head smashed open like a watermelon.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Goddess's Choice audio, Part II, Chapter 1

As spring comes to Korthlundia, Samantha and Robrek meet for the second time.

If you can't wait for the next chapter, you can always buy it on Amazon.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Marscon 2017--Five Reasons to Go to Cons

My husband and I went to Marscon last weekend and had a fantastic time. Why go to cons, you ask? What's in it for me?

Here's a list of the 5 funnest things about cons,not in any particular order.

1. Cosplay. Con people take their characters and costumes very seriously, and there are always some fantastic displays. Most Cosplayers make the costumes themselves.
Check out that mask.
Chariot Man

Steampunk Teapot Racer

My husband's the one not in costume, but I still think he's pretty cute.

2. Entertainment. Danny Birt, the Blibbering Humdingers, and Mikey Mason were all there singing geeky songs.

This isn't live at Marscon, but it's one of my favorite Mikey Mason's songs.

And there's one from Danny Birt.

They're even better in concert where you have the energy of the crowd.

3. Other Geeks. You're around others even geekier than you are. It's coming home to your people.

Geeks, including my husband, at the Doctor Who Tea Party.

4. Panels.  I was on several panels. The funnest panel was one I was on with Todd McCaffrey, Mark Wandrey, Kim Headlee, Monica Marier, and Charity Ayers. For this panel, the audience provided a person, a place, and a thing. Todd started a story and then dumped it to the next person on the panel who added to it, and then dumped it to the next. Repeat. I've never done anything quite like this, but it was hilarious. We ended up with a story about a great white shark named Bongo who loves the music of bongo drums and the taste of monkeys. I also did panels on romance in fantasy, the making of a good adventure, and the use of religion in fantasy and science-fiction. In addition, I helped Allen Wold with his writing workshop about getting a story started. Fun times. 

5. Games--role playing games, video games, dice games, card games, table top games, board games. You like to game they have it.

Seriously, if you haven't been to a con, you need to check it out. If you have, what's your favorite con, or your favorite thing to do at a con?