July is upon us. Happy 4th everyone! I hope that you had a wonderful holiday. Now I invite you to continue the celebration with we Quills, by taking a look at our latest flash fiction tales.
This time, Parker selected the pic we are using. Here is is:
This and more work by the artist Zhiyong Li, may be found here.
It seems Parker wanted to give us a lot to work with, as this piece is very busy. For my part, I've been challenging myself to keep my flash fiction tales as short as possible, in an effort to try to give the most for the least. Last time, my flash fiction story, title and all, ran exactly 1000 words. The time before that, my piece ran just over 400 words. This time I've found myself in-between, having used, title and all, a mere 800 words. So . . . here goes!
Signs, Signs, Everywhere There Are Signs!
Having arrived at the port in Corsair, the largest city in Metzphlat, Kira and her mother stepped off the ship’s deck and onto the wharf, then shuffled through the bustling crowd. Signs all around, in assorted sizes, shapes, and colors, directed folks, informed them—and no doubt warned them—of numerous matters.
Suddenly, came a jostling from behind. Kira’s grip loosened and a second later, she found herself quite alone.
Quickly she looked ahead, but could not catch sight of her mother in the still growing crowd. Unsure whether the gangs hurrying both directions had swept her beloved parent back the way from whence they’d come, or had caught her up and whisked her forward, Kira choked back a cry.
Mother had warned her not to appear weak—to do so would make her a ready target of the pirates and criminal riff-raff that bandied about. Taking that advice to heart, Kira stepped to the side, away from the center of activity. Catching the eye of a nearby pickpocket as he masterfully performed his unique version of prestidigitation, lightening the financial wherewithal of his latest victim, she squared her shoulders, gritted her teeth, and tipped her chin up into an “I-double-dare-you-to-try-to-mess-with-me” expression.
That’s when movement from above caught her attention. Her jaw dropped at the marvel of the sight. Flying machines! First came one in the shape of a fish. Behind it prowled another looking very much like a cat. It gained speed quickly, as though it meant to gobble up the first—as felines are wont to do with seafood. Kira had never seen such machines before, but she’d heard of them, and she knew that magic powered them. Word of their existence had made it to her provincial little town shortly before she and her mother had set out on their venture.
She thought back to the night that Jack-the-peddler had stopped in Pauperton. Whenever he made his way through, the townsfolk gathered to see his wares. But this time things differed. This time instead of trying to outbid one another for the most unusual and therefore coveted of the peddler’s fare, the townsfolk spent the evening discussing the loss some months back, of their resident magician. Without a person of magic to tend to the weather, they’d soon also experienced the inevitable failure of their annual crop. The town’s stored goods wouldn’t last much longer. Indeed, hunger had already set in.
Jack had suggested that someone set out for the grand city of Corsair. There, “ships the size of mountains come to port,” he’d claimed, and “flying machines that deliver people and equipment from place to place, fill the air!” Magicians ran those machines, so surely, one could be found one in the city, Jack had reasoned. Moreover, Corsair boasted its own training grounds for young witches and wizards.
And so, without further ado, Kira and her mother—whom the Pauperton residents valued as one of their wisest—set out.
Kira leaned against a wood pillar around which hung ropes that held the ship close, while water slapped its sides. Fear visited her as hunger pangs gripped her.
She had to think. Perhaps mother went straight to the school of magic, intending to meet back up with Kira there. Yes, that made sense. So, she should set out to do the same.
Something caught her eye. A steel bar held at the end of some rope from a hook was being hoisted up into the air, although by whom, or for what purpose, Kira could not tell. Still, she ran to it. If she could get a good look at the city, she might get her bearings. Then, perhaps she’d find what she sought.
Quickly, before it was too late, she jumped. Teetering on the edge of the bar, she steadied herself as it rose jerkily into the air. Cautious, fearing she might lose her balance, Kira didn’t even consider reaching for the orange drink she found at her side. Better she just concentrate, she reasoned.
Slowly, the bar rose, higher and higher. Then, quite suddenly, it ceased its ascent, although it did wobble a bit from side to side for a minute or so. Kira held on tightly. Then, shortly, the bar went still.
She looked out at the glorious city before her, and that’s when she noticed—really noticed for the first time—all the signs. There were signs everywhere! And that’s also when Kira came to grips with the immensity of her difficulties. For the signs provided all the information she could possibly need—information that could point her in the direction she sought. There was just one problem. Unfortunately for Kira, it was a big one. A really, very, monstrously, outrageously, big problem.
Kira couldn’t read Metzphlatish.
Some of you might remember that I mentioned Metzphlat in a recent post when we Quills discussed whether we create our own languages for our fantasy tales. It was fun to work the concept back into this little tale . . .
Well, let's see what P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse, has for us this time around.
Parker? Paaaaarkerrrr! You're uuuuup!
Oh, there you are! (Be sure to follow the link for the rest of Parker's story.)
Morrowsky, the First Flying City
Twelve-year-old Zee Anderson liked straight lines and right angles. Unfortunately for her, the city of Morrowsky had very few straight lines and no right angles. Instead it had sails and balloons, walkways and cupolas, turrets and towers—all built on top of each other with little reason or rhyme—except to reach higher into the sky.
What fun! Thank you for sharing. Every time I read one of these, I find myself wanting more. I'm sure that will be the case with the next flash fiction tale from Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies.
Take it away, Robin! (Again, follow the link for more.)
When Toady says they’re to paint the Widow Grayling’s house, Akasha stares along with everyone else.
“Orange.” Uneven teeth make his smile particularly fiendish. The gang erupts into hoots and shouts of laughter at that. The widow’s a quiet woman of modest means. Her house used to be brown, but most of the color’s chipped off now. It would no more willingly wear orange than would the widow.
“She needs some brightening.” Zekan always backs up Toady. If their illustrious leader decided they should all become acolytes at the local temple, Zekan would hand out the cassocks and thump anyone who questioned the choice. Same if Toady resolved to filch grub down in the Bellows—Royal Ghost territory, where Toady’s Azure Fang Gang would swiftly find their end. Hopefully not a permanent one… Did the Ghosts kill children?
Thanks for visiting with us all. We Quills so enjoy sharing the joint post we do together on the first Friday of each month. Do leave your comments, and stop in again.
I admit that May 2018 was a month for the record books! Hopefully, June will settle a bit. So let's start it out with a new Quills post. This time our topic is whether we finish books we hate. Do you want to guess in advance what each of us said? Be sure to click on the link for each of Robin and Parker so as to get the rest of their stories.
In truth, I can't imagine my fellow Quill, Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, reading anything to the bitter end that she doesn't very much like. But perhaps I'm wrong . . .
We’ve all come across them—those books that are so badly written you wonder if the author was even an earthling. Or, assuming that they weren’t hatched on another planet, if they bothered to attend grade school. Or if they live in a sensory deprivation chamber and have no freaking idea what the real world is like. The first pages of such a book are usually painful. Do you risk the agony of finishing the entire book? You want to know my philosophy?
P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse, do you read things to the bitter end? Even when you hate them? I suspect you might be a bit more likely to do so than Robin, although I can't put my finger on why I think that might be . . . Am I right or am I wrong?
What to do with a book you hate? Or, even worse, a book that was just, 'meh.' It doesn't even warrant the energy of hurling it against the opposite wall. It barely deserves a sigh and a shrug, and certainly won't get a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Too much effort for a story that simply didn't captivate. So what do you do with that story? Are you a finisher? A staller? Or a tosser?
Does anyone want to guess what I'll say, in advance? Do I read things to the bitter end, or do I not? What do you think?
Do I finish books that I start, but hate? I can answer this question with a single title: Moby Dick. I found it utterly incomprehensibly, annoyingly, mind-bogglingly boring, and odd—and downright awful. I hated it. Nothing anyone could say about a color or its significance, or what the author may have intended that color may have symbolized, could resurrect this title for me. I found a solid 70% of the work to be complete nonsense. Lest I be mistaken, let me put it simply: I truly and completely abhor this work. Perhaps more than any other I’ve ever read. So, I think the early readers of Moby Dick—those who considered it a total flop when it was first published—were spot-on.
So . . . yes, I hated Moby Dick. But you’ll notice from my comments above that I read it. From front to back, from beginning to end, I read it. Why, you ask? Excellent question! Unfortunately, I’ve not an excellent answer, except to say that before I felt I’d be justified in concluding that Moby Dick is/was an “utterly incomprehensibly, annoyingly, mind-bogglingly” horrible read, I had to give it every conceivable chance to prove to me that it was something else. Sadly, it did not. It was not. It is awful.
Another book I truly did not like but read front to back, was War and Peace. As I’ve read a great deal of Russian literature—and for the most part, have found the works quite worth my time and effort—my problem with this 1000-plus page work was simply the plodding slowness of it. But I read it.
In the past, I rarely if ever put a book down that I didn’t like. However, I’m more prone to do so today. Perhaps that’s because I’m starting to measure my life (or what’s left of it!) a bit differently. That is, I know I no longer have all the time in the world. Another reason is because, whether the work is Indie or traditionally published, there’s a lot in the market that is not well conceived, written, edited, or presented—and too many times I find stories that . . . well, that I've read before. This is unfortunate, as I genuinely appreciate a new story with unique creatures and characters, freshly told.
So, today when asked whether I read to the bitter end, works that I hate, I can no longer say, “Yes. Always. I always complete a work I start.” Today, I’d have to say something more like: “Most often.” I really try to give a work every chance possible. That said, now when I find that I dread picking up my current read, I won’t necessarily deny myself the ability to choose something else. If I emphatically despise the one before me, I won't necessarily complete it just because I had the bad sense—or misfortune—to have picked it up in the first place. Of course, had I lived by this rule back in the day when I read Moby Dick, I would have dropped it, as a consequence of which I'd not now be able to emphatically say that it is an “utterly incomprehensibly, annoyingly, mind-bogglingly" awful read.
So, did you guess right for any of us? All of us? Do share!
Stop by again in July when we share some new flash fiction with you!
Of late, we Quills have had fun creating our own spine poetry and flash fiction stories. This time around, we turn our attention to more serious (???) things, namely, a discussion about whether we make up our own languages for our books, and if so, why—and if not, why not?
This time, I'm inviting Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies, to be the first to share her thoughts. Here goes . . .
I have a kind of lazy love for language. My copy of the 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style makes me crazy, but… I’m one of those readers that will highlight passages in novels that sing to me. Sometimes I copy them into a file to come back to later so I can oo and ah over them. And I did take the equivalent of seven years of foreign language in high school. (I think I learned more about English there than I did in English classes!) Then there was Tolkien. Was my experience a recipe for conlang or what?
Thank you, Robin! Now, let's hear from P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse. Take it away, Parker!
Klingon. Orcish. Elvish. Dwarvish. Or even Lapine from Watership Down. They are made up languages, which raises interesting questions about the constructs of language itself. It also raises interesting questions of the creator - do you have to have an artistic bent, or a mind for engineering and constructing? And finally, how does a new language help tell a story?
My sincerest thanks to my fellow Quills. So now it's my turn!
D’Abunzid Bayshofenskidoe stooped for the griggen. Past the field of hoff, ripe for picking—notwithstanding that creckenmat had only just begun, he waited for a response from Doblay Spitzen’blar.
WHAT’S that you say???? What’s wrong? Don’t you read Mezphlatish? No problem, just check the glossary at the back . . .
I love language and the nuances communicated through highly similar but different words. I think it is fair to say that the work I do in both of my lives (as attorney and as author) depends on a keen sense of words and of the manipulation of them. For these reasons among others, I truly admire anyone able and willing to make up a language for a story and then to stick with the system religiously—which is necessary if the language is to work. If even a single instance occurs where it is not used but perhaps should have been—or perhaps could have been—then that failure could make a mockery of the entire system. But concerns over this issue present only one small reason for why I have created terms for people, places and things in my stories, but have not created new full-blown language(s).
My works include fantasy creatures that have their own peculiar features and names. For my ongoing fantasy series, The Oathtaker Series, I also created a world-order, and governmental, religious, and magic, systems. In many cases, words needed to be coined for those things because they do no exist in our world. But I’ve not gone further. I haven’t even made up names or words for the times of the day or for the days of the week or for the seasons of the year. Why?
I think it’s safe to say that no one knows my works as well as I know them. Yet I know that if I created an all-out new language for my stories, I’d have to refer back to the rules of that language every time I intended to put it to use. I’d have to keep track of all the words I created along the way, and I’d have to be certain that my every use of any of those new words was correct and consistent so as to maintain continuity (and thereby, credibility). But if I—the author—would have check back to the rules and terms already created whenever I put the language I created, to use, then what of my readers?
There are features typical of what I call the "quintessential traditional fantasy." Such features are one reason that some people love fantasy—and they are also the reasons why others avoid it completely. One feature of these stories is that in many cases, the characters’ names are . . . odd. There have been times, however, when I’ve refused to read a work (no matter how fantastic others have said that work is) upon discovering that I couldn't even read the characters’ names. Because I feel that way, I’ve chosen not to do that to my readers. Thus, the names I use are mostly common names, although occasionally, I’ve made one up. But even when I might pronounce a name that I’ve used differently than another person might pronounce that name, those names that I’ve chosen to use are easy to “sound out.” Thus, readers won’t stumble on them every time they come upon them. For a similar reason, I’ve not created full-blown new languages for my stories.
For me, there is probably nothing worse while reading, that forgetting what something is. In those cases, I have to page backward to find when the thing was first introduced so as to refresh myself on the details about that thing or, if there is one, I must check the glossary. At least with a glossary, there’s an easy place to find the answers I require. However, stopping to check a glossary interrupts my flow as a reader. Thus, I’ve often chosen to skip stories that follow this pattern. Moreover, I’ve chosen not to create so many things in my stories that my readers must resort to the use of a glossary. In my experience, some fantasy stories require one because the primary focus of those stories is the world that the author has created. By contrast, my stories are first and foremost about the people who inhabit the world of my tales.
In short, I read to enjoy—not to make more work for myself. I expect my readers do the same. Thus, I choose not to go too far, thereby scaring away potential readers who might pass on my work because they do not speak Mezphlatish (or whatever other language I might have chosen to write my tale in).
What do you think?
This past October of 2017, we Quills thought it would be fun to delve into the world of flash fiction. We selected a single picture and then each told our own story for it. We had so much fun with our flash fiction that we decided we'd do it again.
As noted in my October post, there are many types of flash fiction. Operating on the "up to 1000 word" standard, I can attest that my story today falls into the category in that, including the title it comes to exactly 1000 words. I do hope you enjoy it.
First, here's a look at our inspirational picture and my fellow Quills' stories . . . This piece, by JuYoung Ha, can be found here, at the link.
Please drop a comment to let me know what you think!
So, P.S. Broaddus, author of A Hero's Curse, what have you for us this time around?
Parker's story is entitled, "The Myths We Didn't Tell."
Our city was rotting, from the inside out. Any city has a bit of corruption. It's the nature of our world. Everything is fallen. Except the naiads, if you believed the legends borne in the shadow of their sacred mountain, towering above us. But in Trichor we did not believe in myth and legend. Only gold and silver.
(Follow the link for more!)
Thank you, Parker!
Robin! Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies! Oh, there you are! It's your turn now!
Robin's story is entitled, "Trapped."
She'd lived for so long in the monster’s dreams that his reality felt false. Too bright on her eyes. Too sharp against her skin. Too pungent in her nostrils. The flames, though, they were the same. They licked at her as they always had. Insatiable. In the dreams they did her no harm. In reality they would consume her.
(Follow the link for more!)
What fun! And now, for my offering, entitled, "The Resistance."
They call me stealth. No, not that kind of stealth. Let’s see . . . How can I make this easy to understand?
Oh, I know!
Imagine the largest man you’ve ever seen. You know the one. He has legs the size of a cathedral’s pillars, and biceps like boulders. His neck is reminiscent of a bull’s. He might be a bit—yes, all right, quite a bit—overweight. His middle hangs over his beltline . . . And don’t even start me on what happens when he bends over. Honestly, that is a sight I do not want to think about.
There. Can you picture him? That’s right. He’s the guy the others call, “Tiny.” So . . . that should give you an idea of what I mean when I say they call me “Stealth.” In short, I earned the nickname because I’m anything but.
I stood in the open window frame and looked out. Thanks to the noise I’d made earlier, the guards on duty had quickly lit all the torches and then run off to what they thought was the source of the trouble. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang and I all spread out, each to find his own way out of this fix. In any case, the place is lit up brightly now. So what should have been a quick nighttime entry and snatching of the goods, followed by an equally hasty departure, might as well have been planned for midday.
I looked below and caught off to the castle’s far west end, a horse and rider galloping off. I recognized them instantly as Rusty and his trusted steed, Vellum.
Thank goodness our fearless leader got away!
Finding myself up too high, unable to jump to the ground safely, I shielded my eyes from the direct light of the torch’s flames, and then surveyed the grounds below.
Seconds later, I shook my head in frustration, unable to conceive of an escape route.
I pulled back into the recess of the window, took in a deep breath, and then peeked out again past the edge.
This time, I noted to my right, a tree reaching toward the castle. If I could balance myself and walk along the ledge to the next window, I might be able to jump into its branches. From there I’d be just a few long strides, a somersault, and a jump away from escaping into the night.
From nearby came the sounds of another horse and rider as they took off into the night. I couldn’t tell if it was one of our own.
Until now, the leaders have been willing to give me a little space. They seem to like my youthful enthusiasm and know I have much to learn. But tonight I might have fixed all that. You see, tonight, I wore my new leathers for the first time—and likely, tonight was the last mission they’ll ever allow me to join.
Honestly, I’m not sure what I’d been thinking. I knew I needed dark clothing to remain largely unseen at night. After all, that’s when we of the Resistance do most of our work. But what I hadn’t figured on was the sound that leather makes. You know what I mean, right? That crunchy, squeaky sound that comes when you turn in your saddle? Or in my case a short while ago, the sound it made when potential danger entered the room and I pulled back my bow . . .
Yes, that sound.
So now, on account of my vanity—in wanting not just any dark suit, but rather, a smart new outfit to wear—my comrades and I are in deep trouble. Or to be more blunt, if caught, we’ll be facing the gallows.
“Blast!” I muttered.
Assuming I make it back safely, I expect Rusty will relegate me to some duties at our hideout. As it is, I’d had to beg him to allow me to go along tonight—which he was not wont to do given the catastrophe that followed me the last time . . .
I can see it now. Rusty will have me divvying up the spoils when the gang returns. The very prospect makes my head spin. I’m really not that good with numbers and of course, it’s not like everyone gets an equal share. Oh, no no no! Nothing so easy as that! No . . . shares are determined by a member’s age, rank, experience—and most important of all, on the level of threat each individual assumes on any given mission.
Of course, if Rusty doesn’t have me doing that, he’s sure to find some other dreadfully unpleasant duties to assign to me, like . . . running errands, cleaning up behind the gang, doing the laundry, or better yet, emptying the spittoons and keeping the privies in respectable order. You get the picture.
I glanced down as a wagon pulled up almost directly below me.
“That’s it!” I whispered to myself.
That wagon was my salvation—and lucky for me it was a filled with . . .
Oh no. Say it isn’t so.
No . . . It can’t be. Surely, that’s just food—maybe rotting food . . .
I took in a long, deep breath.
No. I was right the first time. Papa says that’s the smell of money because where there’s manure, there are animals, and where there are animals, there are well-fed folk. But if that’s the smell of money, then I think I might prefer to live destitute.
The operative word here, of course, is the word, “live.”
Recognizing I needed to move if I intended to do that going forward, I prepared to take a leap of faith.
“Steady, Stealth,” I cautioned myself, as I stepped to the ledge. With my toes hanging over, I crouched, swung my arms back and then forward as I followed through with the rest of me . . .
It’s March, and as the temperatures in my neck of the woods are holding steady at just above freezing, we Quills are posting our latest.