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Crossroads Finally Makes Sense

Many years ago, I was able to attend the Writers of the Future writing workshop in Los Angeles, taught by K.D. Wentworth and Tim Powers.  K.D. gave me a piece of short story writing advice: Mutilate the cows on the first page.  For me, who had a bad habit of burying the SF element too many words into the story, it was an excellent piece of advice.

But it was Tim whom I got to know quite well during that week, and I had the chance to spend much of a later convention hanging out with him and his wife.  Over coffee, I expressed my huge admiration for the event-puzzles Tim wrote as secret histories, and asked his advice on writing about the weird and wild in present-day settings.  The conversation was fascinating, far-reaching, and made my brain hurt with the effort to keep up.  His process of discovering and connecting historical events with fantastical motivations and influences stuck with me as I plotted out Crossroads of America.

Now, Crossroads is not a complex secret history, though it does draw from real historical reports, regional folklore, and local events.  But the biggest missing piece has always been why the major character–Jack–ends up in a position of such influence, why she is the one who must act, and why her actions might have the power to solve the, um… problems.

Today, while hunting Google for the names of a couple locations in the California wilderness, I came upon this:

“Scientists are puzzled by a mysterious Los Padres National Forest hot spot where 400-degree ground ignited a wildfire.  The hot spot was discovered by fire crews putting out a three-acre fire last summer in the forest’s Dick Smith Wilderness.”

And all of a sudden, Jack has a complex backstory that makes her the inevitable choice for the role she must play, and it’s all based on an actual event!

Now back to adding words to my NaNo count.

Sand of Bone – Chapter 7

Exiles on the run.  Divine rulers fighting to control the desert’s elements.  Dead people secretly walking the sands in search of redemption…

Sand of Bone is the first of two (maybe three…?) novels set in the desert land of SheyKhala.  A new chapter will be posted every Thursday until the novel’s publication in the summer of 2013.

To start with Chapter 1, click here.

Chapter 7

Shella knew she was still weak from her injuries because it didn’t occur to her to question Syrina’s decision to lock her up.  A Blade who wouldn’t look her in the eye had helped her to limp downstairs, below the stronghold, to a cell scarcely as deep as she was tall.  Then he’d set a lamp on the floor and locked the solid iron door behind her—all before she thought to ask why.  The cell held only a small covered pail in the far corner and a narrow bench that jutted from the wall.  Shella wrinkled her nose at the pail, then straddled the bench and lay back to stare at the low and dark ceiling.  Her hand moved to catch her nonexistent sword, finding nothing but air.  Without the weapon and her leathers, she felt almost naked.

Facing down Syrina had exhausted her as much as her own gall had unnerved her.  But the internal voice that had warned her against accusing Raskah in Court had been silent throughout Syrina’s questioning.  Perhaps the truth had become an intoxication of sorts, robbing her of reason, leaving her to again await the whim of a Velshaan to discover if she would live or die.

Continue reading Sand of Bone – Chapter 7

Sand of Bone — Chapter 6

Exiles on the run.  Divine rulers fighting to control the desert’s elements.  Dead people secretly walking the sands in search of redemption…

Sand of Bone is the first of two (maybe three…?) novels set in the desert world of SheyKhala.  A new chapter will be posted every Thursday until the novel’s publication in the summer of 2013.

To start with Chapter 1, click here.

Chapter 6

Shella surfaced from a pool of fragmented memories.  Scorching heat and biting cold.  An expanse of parched earth as wide as the sky.  Her numb and trembling body always moving onward.  A voice she almost recognized.  Later, a pair of gentle hands and kind voices, a soft place to rest, the marrow-deep ache of exhaustion and healing.

Her vision wavered when she first opened her eyes, but the shifting images slowly coalesced into a single steady one that emerged from the haze.  Dingy curtains around her cot diffused sunlight to a mild glow.  Discovering her confines were cloth instead of iron brought a sigh of relief.  She felt thirsty, hungry, and hurt.  But above all, Shella felt safe.

Continue reading Sand of Bone — Chapter 6

Sand of Bone – Chapter 5

Exiles on the run.  Divine rulers fighting to control the desert’s elements.  Dead people secretly walking the sands in search of redemption…

Sand of Bone is the first of two (maybe three…?) novels set in the desert world of SheyKhala.  A new chapter will be posted every Thursday until the novel’s publication in the summer of 2013.

To start with Chapter 1, click here.

Chapter 5

Commander Pyrius, once the most respected Blade commander in SheyKhala, rode an old and feeble horse across the barren landscape that surrounded Exile Stronghold.  The wind shifted as the sun slid beneath the sands, its sudden chill making Pyrius shiver.  Within a month, the night air would be cold enough to bite through leather.  Tonight, he knew, it would merely set his joints to aching.

Pyrius’s nightsight adjusted after a few rapid blinks, washing the landscape of color in exchange for sharp clarity in an infinite palette of deep gray and soft silver.  He’d once spent hours staring at the night and concocting metaphors that could let Shella “see” the beauty those with nightsight took for granted.  His attempts at poetry always sounded better in his thoughts than when he spoke them aloud, but Shella claimed to love them all.  Then she’d take hold of his arms and pull him close, matching her lips to his until nightsight didn’t matter and the only beauty that existed was held within his arms.

He let the horse amble along the ridgetop road to Exile, where Blades were dumped onto the dirt, and had to choose to struggle onward or lie down to die.  Over a year had passed since he’d found the last exile, and nearly two years since the bloodkin had recalled an exile home.  But he still rode out every dawn and every dusk, and the exiles still looked at him in expectation when he returned.  Were it not for Velshaan Syrina, who spent most all her time in the little tower chamber she’d claimed her first night, Pyrius might believe Exile Stronghold–his meager command of twenty-six outcast Blades–had been completely and deliberately forgotten.

Then Pyrius glimpsed movement, a long shadow creeping through the eroded gully below.  Continue reading Sand of Bone – Chapter 5

Sand of Bone – Chapter 3

Exiles on the run.  Divine rulers fighting to control the desert’s elements.  Dead people secretly walking the sands in search of redemption…

Sand of Bone is the first of two (maybe three…?) novels set in the desert world of SheyKhala.  A new chapter will be posted every Thursday until the novel’s publication in the summer of 2013. 

To start with Chapter 1, click here.

Chapter 3

Not even the midday sun, nigh hot enough to crisp supper’s bread on stone, burned as hotly as Shella’s anger.  She strode from the Blade compound, satchel hitched over her shoulder, and entered the city of Prime without breaking stride.  People on the street, shoppers making daily purchases, vendors hawking their wares, workers on errands—all stepped aside when they saw her approach.  More than a few murmured, “The comdar is angry.”

Though twenty-seven comdars held permanent residence in Prime Stronghold, everyone knew which comdar was angry.  Shella’s temper was as well-known as her expertise in the training arena.  The latter had garnered a large degree of indulgence for the former.

Had her temper learned to be as cunning as her sword, she might have been promoted to commander a decade ago.  The night she’d figured that out, she drank herself into a fury and hacked the hostel’s main bar to pieces before her companions could drag her out without getting themselves maimed.  Come morning, she’d had a magnificent hangover, an impressive bill from the hostelkeeper, a month of barracks confinement to endure, and a cool acceptance of her stunted career.  Her armbands of comdar’s copper would never be elevated to commander’s bronze.

Continue reading Sand of Bone – Chapter 3

Sand of Bone — Chapter Two

Exiles on the run.  Divine rulers fighting to control the desert’s elements.  Dead people secretly walking the sands in search of redemption…

Sand of Bone is the first of two (maybe three…?) novels set in the desert world of SheyKhala.  A new chapter will be posted every Thursday until the novel’s publication in the summer of 2013. 

To start with Chapter 1, click here.

Chapter 2

Fear slammed her from sleep already tormented with dreams of her brother.  Syrina clenched her teeth against another cry, and grabbed at her throat to tear away the sensation of fingers digging beneath her jaw.  Though she drew her knees to her chest, invisible fists hit her gut and left her struggling to breathe.  Another blow fell, then another.  She stifled her cries in the thin straw mattress, beat her fists against it as if she could drive away her non-existent attacker.  Her cry rose into a wail when heat lanced deep into her shoulder, tearing flesh and muscle from bone, stealing breath and sight and sound and thought—

It stopped.

Her body throbbed with the memory.  She let herself sob as the ache settled deep in her bones, then she sat up and hung her head between her knees.

Syrina knew better than to search for blood or bruises to prove the ordeal real.  Twice before she’d awakened to a beating, and each time had nothing to show but the memory.  She’d screamed for help the first time, only to be told that no one had entered her chamber and no marks could be found.  The second time had been worse than the first, but the result had been the same.  The surgeon had gone so far as to suggest—carefully, and in low whispers—that she had perhaps kept herself in solitude too long.

In any other place in SheyKhala, the merest intimation that one of the Velshaan might be unstable would see the offender arrested, flogged, and then caged in a wagon destined to be fed to the sands, or abandoned to Exile Stronghold.  But the surgeon was already in Exile, just like she was.  Only by beating him, starving him, or locking him in the underground cells could she make his life much worse.  So Syrina had given him sharp thanks for his concern and dismissed him.  She didn’t speak of it again.  But this nightmare…  Hallucination… Continue reading Sand of Bone — Chapter Two