Julia Kee’s Thanksgiving

Author’s Note: I decided to take the topic in a new direction by showing something one of my characters is thankful for. I can’t show what Thanksgiving is like for Paul Harrison in Twinned Universes for fear of spoilers. Hopefully you’ll find this scene with Julia Kee, a minor character in the book, interesting. The next story in the Catalyst Chronicles will feature her. This scene was written especially for this blog.

Although Julia wanted to hurry her father into the Sagan’s mess hall, he stopped in the entryway to gawk at the mural. Yesterday it had shown a stretch of colorful fall foliage, but today it featured pilgrims gathered around a table groaning with roast turkeys and vegetables. There were a couple of Native Americans–not her tribe, since the Diné were far away from Plymouth–pictured off to the side, carrying in their bounty . Julia wondered how many of them would be invited to sit at the table. Certainly the women would be expected to serve the men. What a contrast to the crew of the spaceship; men and women mingled in the food preparation area, and all races and ethnic groups sat at the tables.

“How did they change the picture so quickly?” her father whispered to her in Diné.

“It’s called a holo.” Julia had to switch to English for the last word. “It’s not painted but made with light. Almost like a sand painting.”

“Strange.”

“Let’s get our meal.” She ushered him into line and grabbed trays for both of them. “I hear today they have fresh food and no rations!”

He cocked an eyebrow. “For that, I could have stayed on our own Earth.”

Her throat tightened. Dad hadn’t wanted to come with her at first, on this possibly one-way journey to Mom’s universe. Maybe it was selfish to want him with her, but Julia trusted him more than she did Mom. And she needed her parents to wake her up when she used her quantum quirk.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Julia and Mr. Kee!” Cass grinned as she collected double portions of turkey with gravy, roasted squash, mashed potatoes, and some other dishes that smelled like nothing Julia had ever eaten. She must be bringing everything back to her family suite. Too bad. Julia would have liked a chance to talk to Paul again. They had the quantum quirk in common, and she wouldn’t have minded studying his sharp jaw and intense blue eyes for a few hours….

“Have you heard the news?” Cass asked.

“About Paul?” Julia said before she could stop herself.

Cass rolled her eyes. “No news there: he’s still a pain. No, about Professor Sanchez.” She drew closer to Julia, bumping her and making her slosh gravy over her squash. “The officers found out about his other program, the one you were in,” she whispered. “They want to shut it down.”

Julia’s heart beat faster. “Do they know about me?”

“They know you were enrolled in SPUGS, like us, and that’s why you’re on the Sagan. But they don’t know you have the quantum quirk. Scott erased that from the records.”

Julia sighed with relief. Now maybe no one else would try to exploit her for her talent.

Cass grimaced as she shifted her two trays toward the display of pie slices. “Could you help me bring these back to the suite? They’re too heavy for me to manage both.”

“Sure.” Maybe if she was lucky she could get a glimpse of Paul. “Just let me and Dad find a table first.”

Freedom, a new world to explore, new friends…Julia had a lot to be thankful for this year. Now if only she got to talk to Paul and have dinner with both of her parents talking to each other, her Thanksgiving Day would be just as happy as anyone else’s.

Elevators and writing? Sure!

Elevators. I don’t much care for them. Not since I was young and stuck in one. It hovered over ten floors, just a cable held it aloft. A cable—well maybe there was more than one, I didn’t look to check—was all that kept us from meeting the concrete basement floor in a way no one wants to meet it…very quickly.

These thoughts ran through my head as I stood in front of the bank of elevators Elevator1-300x225waiting to board the next available car of doom to transport me to the fourteenth floor. Okay, okay, maybe ‘car of doom’ is a little extreme. But, hey, I was a kid when I was stuck in that elevator and I had just drunk a whole juice box and we were stuck there for two hours. I had to pee. If that combined with the threat of gravity sucking us down to crash land on the basement floor don’t spell doom I don’t know what does.

Finally the little ‘ding’ sounds and informs me the elevator has arrived. I step aboard. My hands are sweaty and the sides of my stomach clench. I seriously rethink the taco I ate from the Taqueria on the corner of the road on my way to my appointment.

It’s then that Abbie speaks. Well, she speaks to me. The rest of the people in the elevator have no idea Abbie is riding with us since she is one of my ‘imaginary friends.’ You know, one of the voices writers hear talking in their heads? Anyway, she informs me that she shares the same fear of elevators I do. She has an interesting story of a time when she was trapped in an elevator. I listen to her tell her tale and by the time the car of doom reaches the fourteenth floor, Abbie has told me the beginning of a great story. And I realize that even in the mundane, we find writing gems.

Since that elevator ride Abbie and I have become great friends. We’ve worked together to put her story on paper…all because of a shared hatred of elevators.

By the way, Abbie also told me there is no official phobia for the fear of elevators, but there is a phobia, Porphyrophobia, for the color purple. Strange but true.

Boy meets banshee

texting the underworldThe countdown is starting for TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD, which comes out officially August 15. The local launch party was Thursday, and the blog tour starts Monday.

Lots of people are unfamiliar with banshees, the Irish ancestral spirits who wail when a family member is about to die. There are many varieties of banshee: Weeping old ladies, hideous specters, and my version, a maiden who died too young. To celebrate TEXTING’s pub month, I figured I’d show you my vision of a banshee.

Here’s the scene in which our hero, Conor, meets the banshee who wailed outside his bedroom window when he was about to kill a spider. 

The girl wafted in over the window seat, solidifying as she went. By the time she’d seated herself in his beanbag chair, she was as solid as a middle school principal except for her right foot, which remained translucent. As he watched, the foot floated up as if she were sitting in a swimming pool.

“Look at you, now,” she said to the foot. “Why ever would you be doing that?” She used both hands to press her leg down and trapped the wayward foot with her other one. “There. All fixed.” She looked brightly at Conor. He lay there on the carpet, organizing his thoughts.

She couldn’t have floated in the window, he decided. There must be a ladder out there. It was nighttime and his room wasn’t lit very well and he hadn’t seen her right.

“Who are you?” He sat up, so he’d look like he was taking charge.

“Oh good, you speak the Tongue. I was afraid we’d not understand one another.”

“What tongue?”

She frowned. “Our own, of course.”

“English.”

“I never heard it called such as that. Is that what you call it?”

“It’s what it is.” Conor stood up, wobbled, and sat down on his bed, forgetting to check for the location of the spider. It could be crawling up his back for all he knew. “Who are you?” he asked again.

“I beg your pardon, you asked that already, didn’t you? I am the daughter of Maedoc, called Ashling, I don’t know how many years dead.” She pointed at his cell phone. “That is a little computer, is it not? I was watching you from outside. What are the little creatures that jump?”

“It’s a video game.” Conor’s mouth said, although his brain whispered, DEAD? She thinks she’s DEAD?

“Vid. Ee. Oh.” Ashling tasted the word, rolled it in her mouth. “Vid-ee-oh game.” She surveyed the room.  “This is strange and lovely. So clean! Is it that you’re noble, or is it that everyone lives in such a way?”

“We’re not noble.”

Concern flickered across Ashling’s face. “Not a son of the Ee Nay-ill?” Or that’s what it sounded like, anyway.

 “My father’s name is Brian. Brian O’Neill.”

Ashling’s face brightened. “A son of the Ee Nay-ill, then. Descendent of kings.”

Grump talked about O’Neills being kings, back in the dawn of Ireland. “There are a million O’Neills,” Conor said, feeling he should apologize. “I don’t think we’re noble anymore.”

Ashling stuck her pointy little nose in the air. “The Ee Nay-ill,” she said, “are always noble.”

Conor thought of Uncle Ralph drinking Budweiser and belching the national anthem.

Ashling stood up and walked around his room. She was wearing a green ankle-length wool tunic with a thin leather belt, a red wool cloak open in front, rough leather shoes on her feet. Her red hair hung to her waist in a thick braid, a green ribbon woven through it.

She floated up for a closer view of the solar system map on his ceiling. Her shoes were three feet above the floor, yet the beanbag chair was dented where she’d sat in it. She seemed real—sturdy and solid and muscular. But she was totally floating.

 “What are you?” Conor asked. Why wasn’t he freaking out? He should be running out the door.

The girl landed in front of him. This time her hand stayed in the air, raised over her head as if she were the brainy kid in class. “Did you see that? How I floated?  And, mark you, I just learned this…” She faded invisible, then unfaded back into view, except for her left foot. “An amazing thing, yes? Yes?”

Conor’s rear end seemed to have become part of his mattress. “What are you?” he whispered again.

Although he was beginning to think he knew.

“Not supposed to tell what I am.” She wasn’t very tall—Glennie’s size. She could stare straight into his eyes as he sat on his bed. Hers were a merry blue—O’Neill Blue, but with an odd wedge of gray at the bottom of each iris that for some reason lifted his heart. She smelled of woodsmoke and a chilly night. “But I don’t see why I cannot tell one person. Promise not to distress yourself?”

“I…I don’t know.” He thought he might be distressing himself already.

Ashling startled him with a wide grin, gleaming except for one brown tooth on the side. “I am a banshee, of course. Your family’s banshee. Sent by the Lady to…to… ach, you will distress yourself, will you not?”

Sent to…what?

To keen—like mega-weeping.

Before a death in the family.

Conor’s nerves woke up with another mighty twang. “Am I going to die?”

“You are distressed. I knew it.” Ashling patted his shoulder. “Calm yourself. It’s not so bad. I died once upon a time, and now here I am, all new clothes with a ribbon in my hair.” She gazed earnestly into his eyes. “Anyway, it might not be you. I’ve no idea what Death I’m sent for, see—I’ll feel it when it’s about to happen.  At least, I hope I will. In the meantime, I’m compelled to keen for any death that happens near you, the Ee Nay-ill. It’s part of my training.” She frowned. “At least, I think it is.”

“You haven’t always been a banshee?”

“Of course not. This may be my one and only time. But I shall be very, very good at it. They’ll talk about me after, they’ll say ‘Ach, if only she’d stayed, what a wonder she—’”

“I was about to kill a spider before.”

“I know it, that’s why I keened. And a marvelous keen it was, worthy of—”

“The spider didn’t die.”

“I know it. That was odd.”

She’s a screwup as a banshee, Conor thought. No matter how great she says she is.

Podcasts: Another medium for book lovers

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I was all stressed out about what I would post about since everyone’s mentioned books, books and more books: audio books, e-books, chapter books, MG books, fantasy books, science-fiction books…  You see where I’m going with this. We love books, we write books, and we read books. We are book people.

So yes, I wasn’t sure what I would contribute to this month’s topic until my college daughter, who’s home for the holidays, asked me to listen to a podcast on her iTunes. Now I have another medium through which I can enjoy books. For the last few weeks, we’ve been listening to Pocasts, when not listening to audio books. My favorite is Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and narrated by Cecil Baldwin (Commonplace Books).  Oh, my, the narrator is amazing. The book is funny, scary, and brilliant.

I’m a serious geek and have watched a lot of sc-fi movies. I finished Eureka a few months ago and Welcome to Night Vale reminds me a lot of Eureka except there’s something seriously sinister going on in Night Vale, from glowing clouds in the sky, angels seen by Old Woman Josie, Pteranodons, hooded figures in Dog Park, a house the scientists are convinced doesn’t exist, books that can’t be read, the Sherrif’s secret police…

Nothing is ever normal in Nigt Vale.

Since we are on the road a lot, we also listen to audio books. This summer we’ve focused on mythology. My kids loooove mythology. And it doesn’t hurt that I’ve a series based on one, lol. We’ve covered Greek, Norse and Egyptian. We threw in a few interesting stories like Sherlock Holmes and Archimedes and the Stargazers. We get these on CDs and the best narrator out there for these kid classics is Jim Weiss. Love his voice.

On a different note, if anyone is interested in having their book narrated into audio and is not sure how to go about it or even to try it, DM me on Facebook. My fourth book has just been turned into an audio book and I’ve never been happier. When not listening to podcasts, I’ve been listening/editing the chapters my narrator upload on ACX.

Anywho, happy reading and listening.

“It Reads Better Than It Lives”

I had to look up that quote to see which Bond heroine said it, in which book. It was Tiffany Case, in Diamonds are Forever, and I don’t think that line made it into the movie. Which is a pity, because it’s stayed with me for decades as one of the most sensible comments on “adventure” I’ve ever heard. I put my heroes through things that no sane person would want to do in real life…and for me, personal transitions fall into the same category.

In all my books, my protagonists change and grow—and I’m pretty shameless about taking an authorial wrecking ball to their safe and happy lives. But when the recession hit publishing, and mid-list authors (which I am) suddenly found themselves on the outs, I was forced to try to transition my career from perfectly contented, conventionally published author to scrambling, scrappy, panicked, more-or-less indie author. I say more or less indie, because Courtney Literary will be bringing out my next three books and doing all the technical stuff for me…but for the most part, they’ll fail or fly on my own efforts—not just my efforts as a writer, but at publicity. And like many writers, I suck at doing my own publicity.

I think I need to take a lesson from my own heroes. I was going to say that when it came time for them to transform their situations, they got down to business and did it without whining or panicking…but that’s not true. In fact, they have legitimate reasons to complain or whine or panic and they wouldn’t be human if they didn’t. (Fisk does all three, in a nicely humorous way if I say so myself.) But once their normal emotional reactions are over, they buckle down and get on with the job of transforming their personal situations—and are themselves transformed in the doing, despite any negative emotions along the way.

So I’m going to allow myself a little whimpering here and there, but I’m also going to buckle down and do my best to make this career transformation work. I still have no idea whether I’m going to succeed (which is why it’s so flipping scary!) but if I don’t, it won’t be because I didn’t fight for it. However, speaking as someone in the midst of the struggle, I gotta say, it really does read better than it lives.

Anybody else out there making a recession-based career transition? How did it go?

Hilari Bell writes SF and fantsy for kids and teens–and her protagonists are much braver than she is!

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Do Your Characters Say, “Mayday! Mayday!”?

The entire topic for this month is, “Mayday, mayday! Obstacles, unseen dangers and challenges.” We’re supposed to discuss writing-specific obstacles and challenges; however, I’d like to approach this topic from a different angle and apply it to characters, as that’s what popped into my mind as soon as I saw “Mayday!” It’s a call for help, and that makes me think of characters asking for help.

Although protagonists in science fiction and fantasy may have high-tech equipment or special powers, often that’s not enough for them to overcome the challenges they face. What makes them look for assistance? My science fiction Catalyst Chronicles series illustrates some situations where characters may seek help from others. These situations apply to characters in other genres too, but for discussion purposes I’ll use the ones I’m most familiar with.

In Lyon’s Legacy, Book One of the series, my heroine, Jo, starts off as the last person who’d ask anyone for help. She feels her family has abandoned her, particularly those on her father’s side–that is, except for her uncle, who wants her to become a musician like their famous ancestor, Sean Lyon, and that’s the last thing she wants. Consequently, she projects a tough shell to protect herself from other people. However, the events of the story crack that shell. When she realizes she can’t accomplish her goal on her own, she reaches out to someone she’s neglected for a long time and asks for help. This is a sign of emotional growth for her, especially since her goal is about helping someone else.

Twinned Universes features another character, a teenager named Paul, as the hero. He’s the alpha male of his group of friends, but he has to face some powerful, ruthless antagonists. At stake isn’t just Paul’s future or one person’s life (Sean Lyon’s), but Sean’s effect on history. Paul doesn’t mind asking other people for help. He’s an actor, and he knows it takes more than one person to produce a play. However, he does underestimate how much help his friends can give him, and he doesn’t always pick the right person to ask for help.

I’m currently working on Book Three of the Catalyst Chronicles, called Catalyst in the Crucible. The costs and stakes have gone up, while the main character has undergone a reversal of fortune. He needs support more than ever before, but the one person who can help him the most has reason to dislike him. (I’m being vague to avoid spoilers.) This book is going to stretch me as a writer, but I hope it’ll be a good read when it’s done.

Asking for help isn’t just an admission that the character is facing a touch challenge; it can be a sign of emotional growth that makes the character (and the story) stronger. Plus, if a character goes it alone, then there are no interesting sidekicks or partners to add spice to the story.

Do you think characters should stand on their own or seek aid from others? Do you have examples of either situation? If so, please share them in the comments.

Of misery and springtime

A-Little-Bit-Sinful-800-166x250It’s spring. For some of you that might mean that you’ve still got snow, but here in Central Texas everything is blooming. The world is green and it’s beautiful and I’m miserable. Spring means allergies, at least for me. I’m itchy and sneezy and wheezy and drippy – really the worst of the Seven Dwarfs. But y’all probably don’t want to hear me describe my allergy woes, so instead I’ll talk of new beginnings because that’s what spring is, right?  (this is my new book so I have to stick it in here so you’ll get my subliminal message & go buy it – go ahead…I’ll wait…)

Well, for writers we get new beginnings all the time. They come in the form of new books, new story ideas, first chapters and the like. Like spring, the beginnings of books kinda make me miserable. I know lots of writers who love beginnings. They love them so much they have 40 manuscripts started and they never finish any of them because they get a rush out of that first blush of a story. For me, the beginning is like wading through molasses, I know I’m going somewhere, but it’s murky and slow and sticky and really uncomfortable. But I keep going because just around the corner is my favorite part….ready for it?

The middle! Okay I know some of you writers out there are scratching your heads thinking I’m totally nuts. You’re probably right (on so many levels) but hear me out. The middle is where the characters start falling into place, the plot starts moving and all the exciting (and sexy) stuff happens. If there’s a villain then he (or she) is causing all kinds of trouble and the hero and heroine and stuck together trying to solve a problem, find a treasure, catch a killer or just trying not to kill each other. It’s all the good stuff. We read the beginnings of books to get to know the characters so we can get to the middle cause that’s where the story is at. (how’s that for great grammar?!)

So how about you? Are you a fan of Spring or are you suffering with allergies like me? And if you’re a writer, what’s your favorite part of the book?