A Slain Darling, Resurrected

Kill your darlings is shorthand to ‘remove scenes that don’t feed your story’ – and this was one.

This scene didn’t make it into the final version of Empire’s Reckoning, mostly because the book was already long, and while this added to character- and world-building, it didn’t feed the plot. But I awoke to snow today, and was reminded of it, so here it is. If you’re in the middle of the Empire’s Legacy trilogy, there are spoilers here.


Teannasach, may I go?” I asked formally. He stepped forward, offering an arm and the kiss of farewell. Our lips brushed for the briefest of moments. I wondered if knowing what I was made him uncomfortable, but if it did, he did not show it.

“Go safely, Lord Sorley,” he said. I swung up onto my horse and turned its head south.

I’d woken with a scratchy throat, but we’d talked and sung into the small hours, so I thought little of it. But as I rode through the morning, I reluctantly admitted to a cold. My throat was painfully sore now, and my nose alternately running and blocked.

Ingoldstorp was some distance away yet, but they would give me soup and fuisce, and a warm bed, and perhaps a night’s sleep would chase the illness away. I found my hat in the saddlebags and wrapped my scarf a little tighter around my neck. The day was getting colder, I was sure.

An hour later the snow began. Big flakes, wet and heavy, at first: then, when the wind picked up, smaller and denser. The world around me turned white, and still the snow fell, thick and fast and rapidly shrinking the visible world to no more than a few arms’ lengths in front of me. I started to shiver. I couldn’t see the road now; all I could do was trust my horse to seek shelter.

I let the reins lie slack. The gelding plodded steadily forward, its head low against the wind. My fingers were numb, and my toes. The snow stung the exposed skin of my face. I closed my eyes. 

Random thoughts: lambs would die in this. Had I wrapped my ladhar properly? Druise would be so angry with me. I drifted into a daze, time and the white world passing without sense or recognition.

My horse roused me, swinging his head and snorting. I looked around me, slowly realizing we stood in the lee of a building. I pushed myself up in the stirrups, my right leg dragging over the saddle as I dismounted, feet sinking into snow well over my ankles.

I fumbled along the wall of the building, looking for a door. I found one, but its latch resisted my stiff fingers. Swearing loudly, I pulled a glove off with my teeth and tried again. The horse pushed up against me, wanting cover.

On the fourth try I got the latch and the door open. I stumbled in, the horse following. A cattle byre, I could tell, from the smell and the heat, although almost no light found its way into the building. A cow lowed, and another. Probably the torp’s milk cows, I thought muzzily. I hoped so.

My hands were too cold to remove my horse’s bridle, or its saddle, even with both hands bare. He stood placidly enough, so I left him, moving towards the cattle. A warm, heavy body loomed in front of me. I put a hand on its side; it didn’t flinch. Slowly I moved around it until I was among the cows. I leaned up against one, almost hugging it. Apart from a flick of her tail, she didn’t object. Milk cows, as I had hoped, accustomed to being handled.

The heat radiating off the animals warmed me, even though the strong smell of urine in the byre made my eyes water. I would stink of cow, I thought, but I didn’t care. The cattle chewed and belched and shuffled, and one nosed me, its hot breath scented with hay. I’d never liked cattle much, before.

Warmed, I went back to my horse, removing his tack. He’d find hay and water, although the cows might kick him. By feel I found the bread and cheese in one saddlebag. Then I sat down to eat and wait.

The food tore at my sore throat, but I made myself swallow it, in small mouthfuls. I sat as close to the cattle as I safely could, and at some point, exhausted, I fell asleep.

A man’s voice woke me. Concerned, not angry: no torp or house would turn away a traveller in this weather. He knelt. “Are you well?”

I tried to speak, coughed instead. “Well enough,” I managed. “My horse brought me here. Where am I?”

“Ingoldstorp. Who are you?”

“Sorley.” A bout of coughing racked me. “Toscaire to the young Teannasach. I was riding south from Dun Ceànnar.”

“Well, sit quiet while I give hay to the kyne and your horse. I’ll take you up to the house, after.”

He was quick with the feeding. Then he piled the water trough high with snow, the byre door letting in blasts of cold as he went back and forth. It would melt soon enough from the animals’ body heat. Then he gave me a hand up, threw my saddlebags over his own shoulder, and took me to the house.

Winter Sheep Herd: Scott Payne, Pixabay

The snow and my cold ran their course together. Ingold—or rather his Konë—distractedly welcomed me, found me a bath and a bed, fed me, and sat me by the fire when I coughed. I had been lucky: I could well have died, had my horse not brought me to the cattle-byre. But my cold remained only a cold, preventing me from singing to repay my hosts’ hospitality, nothing more.

Not that the Eirën was often present. Ingold, a handful of years older than I, spent all the daylight hours out with his men and the sheepdogs, digging ewes and lambs out of drifts. I offered to help, but he refused. “I don’t doubt your skill with sheep, Sorley,” he said. “But you’ve work to do for the young Teannasach, and that can’t be risked.” So instead I fed the penned and stabled animals, and warmed half-dead lambs by the hearth of the house, with the Konë and the torpari women.

The weather changed on the fifth day, the wind shifting south, warm on the skin. Snow melted rapidly, turning the yard and the track to muck. “I’ll turn the sheep out in the morning,” Ingold told me, as we shared fuisce that night. I had played for them earlier; I couldn’t sing, but music of any sort was always welcomed. “You’ll be on your way, no doubt?”

“I will. If this weather reached south, the Casilani ships will have been delayed, but if not, they could be in harbour already. I have letters to go to Casil, from Ruar and the Raséair, and I must stop at the Ti’ach na Perras on the way.”

I had been gone well over two weeks. Ingold sipped his fuisce. “What are they like, these Casilani?” he asked.

“Wily. Sophisticated, and skilled with words and subtlety. At least the officials. The soldiers,” I shrugged, thinking of Druise, “are not so different from any men.”

“You’ll need all your wits about you, if you’re to ensure they treat us fairly,” he commented. “But the same was needed with the Marai. I suppose it’s no different. But we’ll be hard-pressed to pay tribute this year.”  The talk drifted to the effect of this unseasonal snow, and how many lambs had been lost. “We’ll have been better off than most,” Ingold said. “I had enough men to rescue most of them. Some of the torps will have lost almost all, I’d think.”

“Why did the Marai leave you alone?” Had he supported them?

He snorted. “I’m a practical man, Sorley. I sent my wife and children to Dun Ceànnar, and then I went too, but later. I told the torpari I’d gone south to fight at the Wall, for the Marai, and I left them orders to cooperate. We lost a lot of animals to feed the raiders. There’s some pale-haired babies born this year, and they took a few girls, and a boy or two, as slaves, but they didn’t burn the byres, or the cottages. A small price to pay for our lives, I’d say.”

I couldn’t argue. I toasted him silently, and he grinned and drank his fuisce down. “Bedtime,” he said. “I’ll be out at dawn tomorrow, so I’ll say goodbye now. Safe travels, Sorley.”

(c) 2020 Marian L Thorpe

Featured Image: Beneath The Snow Encumbered Branches, Joseph Farquharson. Public Domain

Ode to the Cat

She looks so innocent.

The cat, at darkest nighttime hour

Woke me from my deepest sleep

Clawing windows, screaming mee-owr!

Threatening glass with forceful leaps.

What beastie caused this early ruckus?

Fox or cat or something else?

But whate’re it was, there is no justice,

For this human, sleep has left,

But cat is snoring on the loveseat,

Unperturbed by nighttime fun.

While I wonder, eating chocolate,

Where it is my words have gone.

The Dreaded Author Interview

Authors know we shouldn’t turn down the chance to promote our work.

Being interviewed as an author is one of those love/hate situations. We’d probably all be happy to talk about our books and characters – but not about ourselves! But we also know we shouldn’t turn down the chance to promote our work.

Here’s my latest author interview, from A Muse Bouche, an Ottawa-based writing site:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUFOo1wpNOZVKbvHfXdJdmg

Camera image by StockSnap from Pixabay; Frightened girl by Pezibear from Pixabay

Listening

I got 50K words in, and I stopped writing. Not because I didn’t know what came next, but because I was both bored and frustrated by my own writing.

My current work-in-progress, Empire’s Heir, is probably the most planned book I’ve ever begun. I’m moved from complete pantser to at least acknowledging that an outline isn’t a bad idea. With Heir, I did a really detailed outline. I know my themes and my subplots, and where I was introducing a new twist to support the saggy middle – all before I began to write.

I got 50K words in, and I stopped writing. Not because I didn’t know what came next, but because I was both bored and frustrated by my own writing. Bored because I’d already done ‘young woman coming of age under challenging circumstances’ story with my protagonist’s mother – it’s what my whole first trilogy is about. Frustrated, because some of the themes and subplots meant I was stretching credulity to have my MC present for some of the conversations and action, but without them, the book would be too simplistic.

My last book, Empire’s Reckoning, also challenged me in different ways, and I found having a playlist for it helped keep me focused. Maybe that would help, I thought, and went looking for (and soliciting) ideas for songs. And I gave my playlist for Reckoning one more listen.

One of the songs on that playlist is Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Teach Your Children, one of the anthems of my youth. I listened to it, and sang (ok, that too is stretching credulity – let’s say I vocalized) along with it, and then I went to bed.

To wake up early the next morning hearing, very clearly, the voice of my protagonist’s father, a voice I’ve never heard, although he’s been a central character in all books but one – and the solution to both my problems with the story. Switching its focus just a little, creating a two point-of-view story that contrasts Gwenna’s youth and naivete with Cillian’s wisdom and experience, adding a ‘passing of the torch’ theme – all those made the story so much more interesting. Situations central to overarching themes in the series can unfold without Gwenna directly observing them.

I should know by now that linear planning doesn’t work for me. I’m a mind-mapper on paper, a doodler, working with free-flowing thought and image, creating lateral connections – and I think that’s what ‘pantsing’ is about: letting the subconscious make those connections and drive the story. “Feed them on your dreams…” Graham Nash wrote, fifty years and more ago…and it seems it’s still the best advice for my writing.

(Lyrics to Teach Your Children here.)

Sit back, put your feet up, and listen…

An audio version of your writing is an interpretation of your characters that extends out to others, a shared experience.

A writer, releasing her work into the world, gives her characters over to the readers. We have our own idea of their personalities, their appearance, their voices, but what we see and hear will not be what the reader sees and hears.

But an audio version of your work – that’s an interpretation of your characters that extends out to others, a shared experience. I’ve had other work read before on podcasts, but Benjamin Kelman’s reading of the first chapter of my novella Oraiáphon surpassed them. He has given his own versions of personality to my characters, surprising me with some, but in the end completely pleasing me.

Here’s the link. You’ll need about half an hour, but please, listen to his other readings too on Stories to Drive By. You won’t be disappointed.

The Moon Hunters, by Anya Pavelle

An atypical post-apocalyptic story.

The Moon Hunters: A Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction Adventure by [Anya Pavelle]

The Moon Hunters is an atypical post-apocalyptic story; instead of a devastated, destroyed world, much of the narrative occurs on a lush tropical island. Members of a group led by a charismatic man escape an early 21st century pandemic by travelling to a remote, privately owned island. Out of touch with the rest of the world, sub-societies within the group evolve in several different directions. But one man’s belief in his own divine enlightenment – and his power over others – challenges the lives of everyone, but most of all the protagonist Leilani.

The reaction of individuals or small groups to years of isolation is not an uncommon theme in books: Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, Lord of the Flies – but the evolution of a isolated society is usually the realm of science fiction stories based on lost colony ships. That The Moon Hunters is set on our world was a refreshing change.

What does a group withdrawing from the 21st century world take with them? The eclectic choice (Leilani is a librarian/scribe, and so has access to the books and written documents brought) is, I think, key to Pavelle’s world-building. The society has developed cultural traditions that appear drawn from a wide range of cultures, as it would be if their libraries – and members of the group – reflected a varied cultural heritage. Add to that the materials and foods available on a island in the tropics, and the rituals and hierarchies that have emerged in one of the towns on the island are reasonable developments.

World-building is The Moon Hunters greatest strength: detailed, precise description of the environment, of clothes and buildings, of the sounds and sights of the island – and of the off-island settings. Immersive and imaginative, the reader is subsumed into the world. But for all the lushness and beauty of the physical world, the political one – in Leilani’s village, at least – is harsh and unforgiving. How she navigates and eventually breaks free of its restrictions and expectations is a large part – but not all – of the story – and there is a romance, too.

Recommended for readers looking for a post-apocalyptic story less dark and disturbing than many.

Sorry? Not sorry.

I love this season.

I haven’t been blogging much recently, and I’m not apologetic. It’s October, my favourite month. So instead of sitting at my desk, or even going out for an hour on my bike, I’ve been hiking – and hiking takes longer. Sometimes half a day, sometimes more, depending on how far I drive to get there.

I often don’t drive far. My city is blessed with good hiking trails, both in it and close by. We’re a ground-water-dependent community, and the aquifers in the limestone bedrock are protected. So lots of naturalized parkland, and lots of trails. Two days ago I hiked for nearly three hours, through old cedar forest, regrowth deciduous, and open, regenerating pasture – and I didn’t leave the city.

Spending time on Guelph's trails more important than ever - GuelphToday.com
Preservation Park

Some days, I don’t drive at all. I just walk 10 minutes to the university arboretum across the road, and from its own loops of trails I can connect onto the river trails, and go either west or east. One way takes me into the city (and the BEST ice cream shop); the other takes me away from houses and roads and alongside limestone cliffs. It depends on my mood (and my craving for ice cream.)

Cliffs along the Guelph Radial Trail. Photo: Emily S Damstra
Guelph Radial Trail

Other days I have a wish for less familiar trails, and I drive to somewhere new, or less visited. My hiking boots and pole live in the car now.

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, grass, outdoor and nature
Pinehurst Lake

I love this season. The colours are beautiful, there are no mosquitoes or deerfly, and the air is cool. Winter will be here far too soon. I’ll blog more then. In fact, I’m only writing this post because it’s raining!

Children: Out and Proud (A Re-post).

This isn’t exactly a guest post, but Bjørn Larssen’s newest post on his blog is the best (and funniest) description of how it feels to have a new book published and out in the world to be read (or not read) and reviewed I’ve ever seen. So follow this link! You won’t be disappointed.

Children, by Bjørn Larssen

Is this a story about gods and their damaged children alone, or is it allegory?

Children, by Bjørn Larssen, may be unlike any book you’ve ever read. In this first book of the Ten Worlds series, Larssen rips the layers of civilizing transformation off the Norse gods. Forget Marvel’s Thor. Forget the Christian and Hellenic influences on Baldr – in fact, forget Baldr altogether. His gods are self-centred and thoughtless and cruel, and their children pay the price. But is this a story about gods and their damaged children alone, or is it allegory?

This isn’t a review, because I was involved, a little bit, in this book’s development. I read an early version, and the almost-last version. I made comments and suggestions, and I wrote a blurb for it, which I think is on the back cover of the print versions. So it would be unethical for me to review it. But I can comment.

Children brought tears to my eyes more than once, both for the characters and the reflection of our own society. Bjørn himself has written about the influences in this book, and I won’t repeat them here, except to say that some are political, and some are personal. The use of allegory to hold a mirror to the politics and ethics of a time is an established literary form: Spenser’s Faerie Queen, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Orwell’s Animal Farm. In Children, I see Larssen continuing this tradition.

If you choose to read Children, you’ll need time: time to absorb the story; time to walk away from it (at least I did); time to appreciate Larssen’s spare prose. It’s not a Sunday-afternoon-by-the-fire read. But watching – from a distance and in a small way – this book come into being, and the author wrestling with how to write with clarity and precision what needed to be said, to express the horrors the gods’ children experience – and yet still, in places, be extremely funny, as life is – all I can say is that I was honoured to witness this book’s gestation and birth. Thank you, Bjørn.

You can find all the purchase links – ebook, paperback, or hardcover – here, along with a description of the worlds and characters, written by Loki, and an excerpt.

Hollow Road, by Dan Fitzgerald

As with all good speculative fiction, Fitzgerald has asked some hard questions about our society

I’m pleased to be participating in the Storytellers on Tour blog tour for Hollow Road, Book I of The Maer Cycle by Dan Fitzgerald.

Legends describe the Maer as savage man-beasts haunting the mountains, their bodies and faces covered with hair. Creatures of unimaginable strength, cunning, and cruelty. Bedtime stories to keep children indoors at night. Soldiers’ tales to frighten new recruits.

It is said the Maer once ruled the Silver Hills, but they have long since passed into oblivion.

This is the story of their return.

Carl, Sinnie and Finn, three companions since childhood, are tasked with bringing a friend’s body home for burial. Along the way, they find there is more to the stories than they ever imagined, and the mountains hold threats even darker than the Maer. What they discover on their journey will change the way they see the world forever.

Travel down Hollow Road to find out which legends are true, and which have been twisted.

Three friends on a journey together: what a classic start to a fantasy story! Two men: an apprentice mage and a soldier; one woman, a skilled archer. They’ve been hired (and well paid) to take the dead body of a friend back home for burial. Too well paid, in truth. Why?

Danger lies on the road home; danger that comes from legend and story: the Maer, a humanoid people reputed to be cruel, fierce fighters. But as Finn, Sinnie and Carl discover, the perceived danger from the Maer is mostly that: a perception, the result of fear and lack of communication. The Maer are as human as they are, although their appearance is different, and their culture perhaps more advanced than the three companions’ own.

Hollow Road is the first book of a trilogy. It serves as a wonderful introduction to Fitzgerald’s world, introducing the societies, the conflicts, and the main characters deftly. The three main characters are distinct personalities: conflicted Carl, who’d wanted to be a mage but had no skill; Sinnie, a woman who knows she can’t settle to the village life of her mother; Finn, the young adept who quickly will outstrip his mentors. Each has a role to play in the tentative alliance with the Maer, and each have things to learn from them.

The scale of Hollow Road appealed to me. The world is small (so far); the action takes place in a limited geography, devoid of huge armies, fortresses to storm, or vast distances to travel. Sufficient small details build the world without weighing down the story, building a believable iron-age society with some magic, but not so much that it dominates. Finn’s body magic assists the trio in their goals, but only in a way equivalent to Carl’s prowess with a sword and Sinnie’s skilled archery.

I had two small niggles with the story, neither major. One is the pacing of fighting scenes, where I felt tension could have been increased by a change in the rhythm of the narrative; the other is in some of the language in dialogue. Fitzgerald’s characters speak naturally, often using modern words in an iron-age setting, and while for the most part I didn’t find this jarring, one or two words did jump out at me as inappropriate.

As with all good speculative fiction, Fitzgerald has asked some hard questions about our society; about how we judge and fear people by their outward appearance. His characters – and readers – see that once true dialogue begins, commonalities outweigh differences. But while individuals learn this, and accept the Maer as human, will the Realm, the larger government which is only hinted at in this first book? Hollow Road ends with questions that should make the reader impatient for the next book in the trilogy, The Archive, due out December 4th. It certainly made me frustrated that I couldn’t keep reading the story immediately!  Strongly recommended for readers who like character-based fantasy with a solid plot.

Win a signed paperback copy (US only) of Hollow Road!

September 13, 2020 at 12:00am EDT to September 20, 2020 at 11:59pm EDT

Hollow Road by Dan Fitzgerald. Adult Fantasy, 243 pages, published: September 17, 2020 by Shadow Spark Publishing.

Book Links

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54801285-hollow-road

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08FDPR332

Author Information

Dan Fitzgerald is a fantasy writer living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When he is not writing, he might be gardening, doing yoga, cooking, or listening to French music.

Find out more about Dan and his books at www.danfitzwrites.com, or find him on Twitter or Instagram, with the handle danfitzwrites in both places.

Author Links

Website: http://www.danfitzwrites.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanFitzWrites

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danfitzwrites/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/danfitzwrites