Friday, November 30, 2012

Flash Fiction Fridays: Prepare for Battle

Today, we wrap up November with a fantasy piece by M.R. Mathias. Enjoy.


The Blood of Coldfrost
By M.R. Mathias

The concussive "whoomp" of an exploding oil keg brought the encampment awake. A ball of flame roiled skyward bathing the sparkling tundra of Coldfrost in an orange-yellow glow. Men were scrambling. Large mannish forms, more feral than not, darted about the shadows unchecked. The battle roar of a Breed beast cut through the frigid night as it brought an ax down into the head of a Westland Captain who was emerging from his tent. Flames danced crazily, throwing wild shadows about the chaos. The shouts of a fervent sergeant, trying to generate some sort of order among the terrified men, rang out from somewhere across the crunchy, snow covered terrain.

In the Royal Pavilion, Mikahl was trying desperately to get his king's armor fastened. They had been in Coldfrost for days, hunting and corralling the wild breed beasts that came out of the mountains to feed on Westlander flesh. Even in the heated pavilion it was so cold that Mikahl's fingers felt like giant sausages. Mikahl hated the cold. Coldfrost was bitter, but he was the King's Squire, and he would have rather cut off his own head than disappoint good King Balton. Determined, he ground his jaw tight with effort, fumbled the stiff leather straps through the buckles, and cinched them tight.

"You'll be stay'n out of it Mik." The king stood and twisted his frame to get the ornate plated chest piece to settle. His visage was one of savage determination. Even inside the tent his breath came out in great clouds of steam. "Watch over the horses. If one of them fargin beasts comes at ya remember your drills."

Outside the tent a man screamed out, his horrible voice cutting over the din of battle. King Balton Collum winced at the sound of the agony then pulled his infamous sword out of its sheath. Forgetting his helmet, he threw the scabbard to the side, and charged out into the freezing silver moonlight. The blade of his ancient weapon radiated an icy shade of blue as he went, but Ironspike's potent length graduated swiftly to the raging color of blood as the king started putting it to use.

Mikahl came out behind King Balton and darted around the pavilion to the canvas stall that was erected for the animals. He turned back just in time to see Ironspike's blade flash with a pulse of blinding energy. Screams of pain and fear erupted from man and beast alike as the flare filled the world full of blinding white radiance.

No breed beasts came for the horses, so Mikahl watched the battle waging out beyond the gray expanse of ice between him and the main encampment. Lord Gregory, the Lion Lord of Westland, was in a tangle with one of the ten foot tall creatures. The beast was trying to sink its finger long teeth into the Lion Lord, but finding it no easy task. A pair of his men danced around the combatants frantically. Every so often one of them would dart in and jab his weapon into the breed beast's side.

Not far away, the Royal Wizard blasted at the creatures with streaking lavender pulses of magical force. Pael looked insane with his wide open eyes, over clenched jaws, and his egg shaped alabaster head. His charge, Prince Glendar, was calling out orders to a troop of men that had surrounded a hand full of the breed. Mikahl wanted desperately to raise his old iron sword with them, but he wouldn't betray the king's order.

It ended when Duke Fairchild and his huntsmen came thundering in from the other camp on their warhorses. The Breed beasts were no match for the Duke's competent cavalry. With Lord Gregory's added might, and Ironspike's angry power thrown in the skirmish the savage beasts were soon brought to bear.
 
After they were corralled, Pael spelled them into a stupor. In the morning the men who were left alive herded them across the icy shallows, out onto the glacial Island with the others of their kind. King Balton then drove Ironspike's dragon-forged steel into the ice and let its power surge forth. A boundary was formed. The glassine field hummed and crackled with the power that would hold it in place for all of time. The Battle of Coldfrost was over. The feral Breed could no longer ravage the mountain herds or rape and pillage in the north.

One of the creatures stared at Mikahl from across the icy flow that separated the Island from the rest of the world. Mikahl couldn't help but wonder what the creatures would eat. The prison the beasts had just been confined to was nothing more than a solid slab of ice that rarely thawed. A glance around the encampment at the crimson stained tundra, and the gore strewn remains of his company hardened Mikahl to their dismal fate. Let them starve. He had no idea that someday he would have to face them again, but he would. And when it happened, good King Balton would be long dead from Pael's traitorous poison.

 Mikahl noticed one of his favorite sparring partners lying half shredded in the snow and had to force back a tear. He took Ironspike back from his King and dutifully ran to the pavilion to put it back into its sheath. The battlefield was so saturated with blood that his boots left a trail of footprints across the carpeted floor of the king's quarters. In all of his days, throughout all of the wild adventures his grand destiny would bring him, he would never forget the Battle of Coldfrost.
 
He would never forget the blood.


Copyright © 2010 by M.R. Mathias

M.R. Mathias is the author of the best-selling Wardstone Trilogy and the Dragoneer Saga. To learn more about Michael, please visit his website.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Editing for Grammarphobes: Verbing



Sometimes I think advertising is the bane of the English language. You might recall my rant awhile back about Chuck E. Cheese’s “Everybody say cheese is funner” lyric in its jingle. Well, here’s another linguistic abomination.

A local carpet company is now urging potential customers to “floor the house.”

Floor the house? What is that supposed to mean? One cannot wow an inanimate object. But that isn’t even what the spokesperson is talking about. The company is using it to describe the act of installing wood flooring.

What about “Beer me?”

Or “texting?” I must confess to being guilty of saying I “texted” someone when the phrase really should be “sent a text” or “received a text message.”

There have always been nouns that also can be used as verbs. Scribd.com has a great list of them here, which includes face, balance, plane, stop, transport, laugh, name, and cycle.

However, these latest examples, especially “floor the house” and “beer me,” just feel lazy, as if asking politely for a beer is too many words to utter and inventing yet another meaning for “floor” is so very clever. I know language evolves, but in these cases, it feels more like a devolution.

What do you think?







Monday, November 26, 2012

Cyber Monday vs. Black Friday




Are you a little slow on the uptake this morning after the long holiday weekend or have you plopped onto your desk chair with glee filled with the promise of Cyber Monday?

I have to say, I prefer Cyber Monday to Black Friday.

Even back in the stone age when I was a kid before the moniker of “Black Friday” existed, the day after Thanksgiving was the busiest shopping day of the year and was to be avoided by those who hated crowded malls and waking up early (me).

Huge brawls seem to break out every year on Black Friday. Nothing evokes the holiday spirit more than people coming to blows over some heavily discounted item.

I do understand the thrill of the hunt and can appreciate it. I, too, get a little giddy when I find something I really like at a great price, so kudos to those who are brave enough to venture out into the shopping wild.

That kind of pressure doesn’t exist on Cyber Monday. Heck, you don’t even have to take a shower or put on makeup to shop, and it can be done anytime during the day.

Yes, I prefer sipping my tea and clicking away this morning to the tune of free shipping.

How about you?




Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks



Thanksgiving is a fantastic holiday, isn’t it? Not only does it revolve around the best meal of the year (turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes —yum!), but it gives us a chance to put into perspective the things that matter most.

I’ve been so preoccupied promoting “A Bibliophile Christmas, “ I feel like I have shot right over this important day and headed straight into December.

So, without further ado, here is a list of things I am grateful for in random order, except for the first two.

My son coming home from college this week.
The men in my life: my wonderful husband and sons, and, yes, even my father.
Books.
Indoor plumbing.
Starbucks.
England, actually Scotland as well. Sorry, Wales and Ireland. Haven’t been there yet.
Downton Abbey and Masterpiece Classic.
Music.
Peter Gabriel.
Computers.
Florence + the Machine.
Wine.
Green Day.
Freedom of Speech.
Autumn.
Hot beverages.
Theater.
Electricity.
Prosciutto, Asiago cheese with rosemary, crusty Italian bread, and basil-infused olive oil.
You.

Yes, you, dear readers. Thank you for sharing some time with me week after week. I cherish you all.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

*Note: Due to the holiday weekend, Flash Fiction Fridays will return next week with a fine piece of fantasy by M.R. Mathias.







Monday, November 19, 2012

Introducing Books and Baubles: Holiday Tales for Your E-Reader



I love Christmas. You can ask anyone who knows me, and he or she will attest to this. My husband and sons even call me “The Christmas Queen,” after Lucy’s role in Charlie Brown’s Christmas pageant, which I have quoted on numerous occasions throughout my life. Some may say a little too often, and my boys have remarked upon some similarities between dear Lucy and myself, but we don’t need to delve into all of that right now. That’s between me and my therapist.

Anyhow…

It is no big surprise that I would eventually pen a Christmas story, “A Bibliophile Christmas.” To celebrate this release, I have a special treat for you, dear readers.

The immensely talented, insanely funny, friend of the blog Karen Cantwell, author of the madcap Barbara Marr mysteries, and I are teaming up for a fabulous seasonal promotion on our new blog page, Books and Baubles: Holiday Tales for Your E-Reader, which features a showcase of festive stories by a variety of authors to help get you into the Christmas spirit.

There also are all sorts of fun pages to explore, including lists of our favorite gift ideas, Barbara Marr’s Holiday Movie Guide, and, of course, a Classic Christmas Lit for Bibliophiles.

Don’t forget to enter for your chance to win copies of our latest holiday offerings, as well as a grand prize of all the books listed on the home page plus an amazon gift card.

I hope you will drop by Books and Baubles. Feel free to tell your friends. Let me know what you think.

Thanks!




Friday, November 16, 2012

Flash Fiction Fridays: A Spirited Discussion



Cossack
By Cleveland W. Gibson


The meanest, most arrogant, stubborn person: I meant Kazanski, him with the twisted lip, the mad grin inherited in a knife fight.

I always knew better than to believe in him as a leader, especially the time when we nearly died in the snow. As young Russian soldiers we'd lost our horses, got cut off from the rest of the Red Army. Now we heard he wolves howling close by.

Luckily we stumbled on a deserted cottage and sheltered from the worst of the Siberian blizzard. Upstairs we found a room and tried to keep warm. We lit a fire in a bucket, shared our food and vodka too. But NEVER our women.

Kazanski said, “Keep the door shut. Keep the ghost out.”

I lost my temper on the ghost issue but he insisted an old man visited him in the night when we shared the bed to stay warm. Ghost? Old man? Wrong Kazanski! I knew the ways of the world. The ghost who visited me, on my side, drove me mad with her warm body, not an old man, like Kazanski said, who visited him in bed. I’m red-blooded Cossack. I love women. I know women.

I argued with him. Really argued. Finally we agreed to swap places. In the middle of the night a ghost slid into bed on my side, and then I wondered about Kazanski, for a little while.

My ghost felt female, young even, I knew that much. I’d resolved to find out in the morning who entered Kazanski's side of the bed. I wondered about his ghost.

For the record I knew a female body, albeit a ghost, when I touched one.

But would Kazanski insist his ghost was an old man or a young woman this time?

That remained the "rub."



Cleveland W. Gibson has published many short stories, poetry, flash fiction, and anthologies. He has an exciting work in progress, a middle-grade novel called House of the Skull Drum.




Thursday, November 15, 2012

Great News


Remember yesterday when I wrote about all that wonderful exposure "A Bibliophile Christmas" has been getting? Well, this morning, I awoke to the happy consequence of it all.

Are you ready for this?

As I write this post, "A Bibliophile Christmas" is #2 on Amazon's Hot New Releases in Short Stories List! It's also #6 on the Kindle Short Stories Best Seller List and #10 in Books, Short Stories, Single Author.


At one time last night when it started creeping up the charts, "A Bibliophile Christmas" was right above    a compilation of Ernest Hemingway's work and a few spots underneath the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe. The bibliophile in me wanted to burst! 

A big thank you to my team — cover designer Amanda Kelsey, ebook interior designer Ted Risk, and editor Lynn McNamee and her proofreaders — you all are the best!

Being a writer is such a manic-depressive existence, with the depressive moments far outweighing any happy mania. But when it is good, it's really good.

Thank you so much for all of your support.




Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Exposure



No, I have not begun writing erotica, although both Whisper and Until were listed under that category on Kobo for a few weeks for reasons unknown. At first I was a little miffed, but then I thought maybe it would boost sales with that Fifty Shades series doing so well. No such luck.

Anyhow. My work has been getting some decent (not indecent) exposure lately.

I am happy to be featured on the Kindle Fire Department blog today, where "A Bibliophile Christmas" is the Book of the Day. If you would like to see the post, click here.

They called it "A heartwarming tale from one of our favorite authors, Karen Wojcik Berner's 'A Bibliophile Christmas' is a story of love, family, and friendship that can make a chilly day much more pleasant."

Also, BigAl's Books and Pals recently reviewed "A Bibliophile Christmas" and gave it four stars. BigAl said, "At turns funny, frustrating (at least for the characters), and touching, 'A Bibliophile Christmas' is a fun read that will be appreciated by fans of Berner's series or anyone looking to get into the holiday spirit. Chances are you'll recognize situations you've experienced yourself." Woot!

On Monday, Until My Soul Gets It Right (The Bibliophiles: Book Two) had a nice run as Book of the Day over at Ebook Impresario. Click here to check it out.

Plugging away at promotion continues today. I've got something fantastic in the works with the extremely talented and awesome Karen Cantwell, author of the hilarious Barbara Marr mystery series. Stay tuned for details.

Have a lovely day.




Monday, November 12, 2012

Editing for Grammarphobes: Cutting the Fat





Good Monday, everyone. In a little more than a week, the holiday season will be upon us, a time for merriment and feasting. So before we enter the season of excess, let's take a look at ways to tighten up our writing, to trim the fat, if you will.

Here are a few phrases that add unnecessary poundage to our prose.

Advanced planning: Planning by its very nature occurs in advance.

Bald-headed: Bald means to have little or no hair on the scalp, so no need to add the extra word.

Commute back and forth: If you are not going to and from something, I don’t think you are commuting.

Descend down: Since “descend” means to move down from a higher level, just use the verb.

Entirely eliminate: Eliminate means to eradicate something. The adverb is unnecessary.


Source: "200 Common Redundancies" by Richard Nordquist, http://grammar.about.com/od/words/a/redundancies.htm.





Friday, November 9, 2012

Flash Fiction Fridays: The Cure?


The Butterfly Effect
By Karina Kantas


Who would volunteer their face for a scientific experiment? Well I wouldn’t. Neither would any sane member of the public, which is why inmates serving life sentences were handed over for this government project. By the time the bill passed, freedom of speech had been demolished, so there were very few demonstrations. Now famous chemist, biologists and DNA experts had one year to perfect an antidote for ugliness.

Being branded ugly put you in a new class, the lowest in society. Ugly people were shunned and segregated by the butterflies of the modem regime. Forced to live and work in the poorest parts of the country. However, even that wasn’t enough to satisfy the beautiful people. It was announced that if the wondrous treatment did not work, then drastic measures would be taken.

I swallowed the bile that rose in my throat as I barely glanced at the deformed face of what used to be Prisoner X. Taking a deep breath, I forced myself to look again, before turning to Dr. Sapphire Turner.

“That’s nothing,” she said, her brilliant teeth beaming their brightness at me, her voice soft like her young glowing skin. “You should have seen the last batch. It was like looking at the face of a jellied corpse.” Her perfectly proportioned breast bounced as she laughed.


Jellied corpse seemed a valid description of what I was looking at, I thought. My stomach wouldn’t digest a worse vision.

Prisoner X’s skin had mutated into large puss filled abscesses As I watched, the skin bubbled and new boils appeared and then burst with a squelch. The vile stench of the mucus, as it ran down the crusty skin and soaked into the now lime green pillow, made me want to vomit. Covering my mouth and turning my head away from the sight, I swallowed the acidic saliva in my mouth before addressing the stunning Doctor.

“So what went wrong with this one?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she chirped. “The result is what we expected.”

Her hand touched my shoulder, but it was quickly removed in disgust.

“It’s trial and error at this point, but we’ll find a cure.”

The way she used the word cure made my skin crawl. Ugliness wasn’t a disease. Who gave them the fucking right to judge?

I would never have classed myself as ugly, but the yellow arm band I was forced to wear told me there were others that did. It doesn’t matter that I’m one of the lucky ones; permitted to continue working among perfection. I remain an outcast waiting for my sentencing: beatification or annihilation.


Karina Kantas is the author of five biker fiction novels, including her latest, Road Rage. She also writes urban thriller, fantasy, science fiction, horror, romance, and suspense, and has more than thirty pieces published in journals and E-zines. For more information about Karina, visit her website.





Monday, November 5, 2012

'A Bibliophile Christmas' Released


I am very excited to announce the release of my holiday digital short story, "A Bibliophile Christmas," which features Sarah and Annie from A Whisper to a Scream (The Bibliophiles: Book One).

Here's the blurb.

From the author of A Whisper to a Scream (The Bibliophiles: Book One) and Until My Soul Gets It Right (The Bibliophiles: Book Two) comes a heartwarming holiday tale of friendship and family.

Sarah Anderson and Annie Jacobs have not had the best of years. And now, here come the holidays.

Great.

Sarah's husband Tom is stuck in Boston after a nor'easter dumps a foot of snow on the day he is scheduled to leave for home. 

And Annie is working hard at picking up the pieces of her life after a painful divorce. 

But, maybe with a little help from their friends, Christmas won't be a total wash after all.

This holiday season, take a break from all the hustle and bustle, pour yourself a beverage, and have “A Bibliophile Christmas.”

It is available for all Kindle, Nook, and Kobo devices, iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, or PC at amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.







Friday, November 2, 2012

Flash Fiction Fridays: A Puzzlement

The ghosts and monsters are gone as we settle into November. I am very happy to welcome back California's new Senior Poet Laureate, Mary Langer Thompson, to Flash Fiction Fridays. 



Voices in the Corn Maze
By Mary Langer Thompson

Sometimes, as you grow older, you need to finish your bucket list alone. I live by myself in the over-fifty community of Sunset City. My daughter would like me to come live with them. But I’m not ready. Not yet. In fact, I’m not even going to tell her and my son-in-law what’s on my what-to-do-before-I-die list. They’d just laugh.

Today I’ll check off one more event. I’m going to walk through the corn maze on the farm near me.

I approach the natural puzzle, walk past the pumpkins, the gourds, and the arts and crafts, with scarecrows on sticks. There’s the bright yellow button mums. Maybe I’ll buy some on the way out.

A young man with red hair sits on a stool outside the entrance. The corn is a lot higher than I am, but then I’ve never been very tall. And now that aging is making me shrink.

The Maze keeper sees me and looks surprised. “You’re going in alone?”

“He travels fastest who travels alone, my grandfather always said. Will you look for me if I get lost?”

“We’ll turn on the sprinklers,” says the redhead, smirking. His hair contrasts with the golden corn. I think of my daughter’s blonde hair, changed from towhead to butterscotch over the years.

The stalks are dry, and beginning at the entry, the paths go in different directions.   I hear a boy say, “I’ll go this way, you go that way.” Their mother stands with them, looks at me and sighs, “That’s the way it is with two kids.”

I wish I’d had a brother or sister, except my son and daughter have never been close. I decide to follow the boy who seems to be the leader, the one who gave the command.

Photo courtesy of The Art Institute of Portland.
I maneuver past corn cobs and pipes protruding on the trail. One has to be careful.  Last year I tripped over the sloping curb walking home in the dark from Canasta in Sunset City. I broke my foot. My daughter will have a fit if I do it again here, except I think she was more upset over the eight-hour wait in Emergency.

The boy is too fast for me, and God knows where his brother and mother are, so I stand still for a moment to reconfigure my way. This is a good problem-solving activity.  It should help keep my brain sharp. I hear crickets, and the wind sounds like paper blowing. A beer can lies in my path. I kick it to the side.

Other voices: “We’ve been that way.” “Where’s the real path?”

That’s what I would like to know. The location of the real path.

Two girls pass me. One is using a stalk as a broom to make a trail. That’s sheer genius. I follow her, until she stops.

“What the hell…,” she says to her companion. Then, “We’re going this way.”

“Now?” says the other girl.

“Yes. Come on.”

She sounds so confident, I keep following her. I have no idea how far we are from the entrance or the exit. I’ve lost all sense of direction. Am I going left or right or in a circle? Is the maze a circle?

Now the girls are out of hearing distance. Oh, well, it’s good exercise to just keep walking, one foot in front of the other. Are those passing cars I hear? I didn’t know there were any roads near this farm. I had to walk quite a distance from the parking lot. I must not be near the entrance. I can’t hear any voices now.

I wonder as I wander, about life, about family, about growing old. Joe has been gone for how long now? I think it’s been six years, although the years are running together. He would have loved Sunset City and all the activities, especially golf. He would have laughed that it’s called “Heaven’s Waiting Room.” I don’t think it’s funny that he skipped the room entirely.

I don’t know how long I’ve been aimlessly, by default, wandering. I can’t hear any voices whatsoever. It’s growing dark, and I’m getting a little nervous. It didn’t sound like that Maze keeper would look for me, if necessary. I feel panic rising in my chest.  He’s probably forgotten all about me. This place is huge, bigger than I thought. Hadn’t I read it was about two acres? What am I doing? I can no longer hear cars, if that’s what I heard. I should have left breadcrumbs or something. Where’s the smart girl with the corn stalk? Where are the siblings or their mother?

I reach into my pocket, hoping I charged my cell phone. I saw a sign recently that said, “Call 911. We Want to be Bothered.” I’m glad somebody does.

It takes about an hour before the police find me. At least I don’t have any broken bones. I won’t tell my daughter I ever had this hare-brained idea or that gallivanting through a corn maze was on my bucket list.

Turns out I am just twenty feet from the street and parking lot.

The redheaded kid is with the cop. He says, “Don’t you realize they designed this thing so that people will get lost?”

Not this lost.

“You saw her go in alone?” The cop looks at him, surprised.

“No.”

“Yes, you did,” I correct him. “Remember you told me you’d turn on the sprinklers if I didn’t come out?”

“I never said that. You’d be soaking wet now if I had, anyway.”

He’s right about getting soaked. But my grandfather those many years ago wasn’t right. No one travels faster alone. But then, what’s the good of traveling fast anyway?


Mary Langer Thompson has published short stories and poetry in a variety of anthologies and journals, both print and on line. Recently, with her poem, “Wishbone in Moonglow,” she won the title of Senior Poet Laureate of California. For more information about Mary, please visit her website.