Saturday, April 30, 2011

1st Chapter Saturday -- A Minor Opposition

A Minor Opposition
by Janet Lane Walters

New Concepts Publishing

Chapter 1

The ceiling fan stirred the hot, humid air. Alien aromas, sweat, spices and perfumes, assaulted her. Laurel Richmond leaned against the examining table and wiped her forehead with a cotton bandanna. A babble of voices floated through the partially open door of the triage room. She looked for Chandra and remembered the tiny Indian nurse had left for the day.

Laurel’s eyes blurred. A sneeze exploded. Her throat ached and a dull pain settled above her eyes. She looked down at her wrinkled khakis, glad she wasn’t wearing whites the way she would have in a hospital in the States.

The chatter from the waiting room became the voices of Babel, dislocating her in time and space. For an instant, she wondered where she lived this week and what year headed the calendar. A dozen scenes from as many countries flashed in her thoughts. For the past four years, she had worked for International Health Rescue Missions as part of a team that followed disasters and dispensed medical care and trained native health personnel.

She opened her eyes. The moment of disorientation passed. India. The coastal plains where a cyclone had ripped through towns and villages leaving death and disease behind. She gripped the edge of the table.

Some days, she felt like a taper lit at both ends, melting beneath an alien sun to ooze into foreign soil. A wish to go home fluttered in her thoughts. Except, she’d never had a home.

After pulling her spinning emotions under control, she walked to the door of the triage room and motioned to the next group of patients.

A dark-skinned woman with pleading brown eyes spoke in a high-pitched voice, joining syllables with staccato rapidity. Three wide-eyed children clung to her sari. As if offering a gift, the woman held out a baby. Laurel took the child.
The infant’s swollen belly and thin limbs spoke of malnutrition. Fevered flesh heated Laurel’s hands. The weak mewling cries brought tears to her eyes. She bathed the baby in tepid water and then plunged a needle into the thin muscle of his buttock. With shaking hands, she handed the mother a bottle of sugar water. Then Laurel examined the three little girls.

Her knees felt weak. She leaned against the examining table and forced herself to focus on the task at hand.

The sing-song spate of chatter stopped. Laurel looked up. Neil Bourne stood in the doorway. Though the day had almost ended, his khakis looked neat. His dark hair, lightly sprinkled with gray, and the tiny lines of experience at the corners of his eyes revealed the ten years’ difference in their ages.

He smiled. In the past, his smiles had brought comfort and allowed her to speak of her dreams like a child talking to a trusted uncle. Today, his smile made her feel edgy.

“Dear girl, it’s nearly eight. Time to close shop for the day. You work too long, too hard.

“No more than you.” She studied his face. Something in his expression told her he had news. Was the team moving to the scene of some new disaster? She wanted to protest another dislocation.

“Let me help you finish?”

Unwilling to let her tiredness show, she nodded, stepped to the door and gestured to the next patient.

For an hour, she and Neil assessed the rest of the patients in the waiting room. When the last patient had been seen, she closed the door and slumped on a chair.
“Time to go.”

Neil’s deep voice lured her to her feet. She washed her hands and splashed water on her face. As they crossed the road to the house where the members of the team lived, only his hand at her elbow kept her from staggering.

“Dinner?” he asked.

“Let me change.”

He shook his head. “If I let you go, you’ll collapse on the bed and miss another meal.”

She followed him into the house. “It’s too hot.”

“It’s a far cry from London in May,” he said. “Here, there’s the hot wet season and the hot dry season.”

“It’s not like home either.” Where was home? A chill made her tremble. Her vision blurred and she sank on a dining room chair. Flies droned. The ceiling fan stirred the air.

A servant entered and bowed. Soon dishes of curried chicken, rice, vegetables and fruit arrived along with a pot of steaming tea. The mingled aromas made her swallow.

She poured a cup of tea and sighed. “What I’d give for a glass of iced tea.”

“Barbarian.” He reached across the table and covered her hand with his.


She shook her head. “Just weary.” Tired of living like a gypsy, though she’d never known another kind of life. Nannies, city apartments, country houses, boarding schools, summer camps.

“In two weeks, we’re for London and a week there while we re-equip.” He squeezed her fingers. “You feel warm.”

“The heat. I wonder if I’ll ever feel cool again.” She sipped the tea and toyed with the food on her plate.

Neal ate as though his next meal would arrive at some unspecified future date. He finished eating and walked around the table. “Let’s take tomorrow as an escape day.”

“Can we?” As his fingers lightly stroked the tight muscles of her shoulders and strayed to brush her neck, she tensed. “The patients?”

“Will be here long after we’re gone.” His fingers caressed her throat. “I know a place in the mountains with a pool fed by streams and breezes sweetened by the scent of flowers. “I’d like to take you there.”

“That’s not a day’s outing.”

“I know, but it would be a splendid place for a honeymoon.” His stroking fingers stilled. “Marry me.”

Shock waves rode her nerves. What could she say that wouldn’t hurt him? From deep inside came the knowledge she no longer wanted this roving life and that was all Neil could offer. She wanted the home she’d never known and for him to remain a friend, a mentor, not a lover and the keeper of her heart.

He pulled her to her feet and turned her to face him. “We’re a smashing team.” His deep voice spun webs of enticement. “Consider the miracles we’ve performed and how many more are possible if we marry.” His mouth covered hers.

He’s not the one. The inner warning stiffened her body and aborted her response to his kiss. “I can’t.”

She couldn’t decipher the look in his pale blue eyes. She wanted to explain, but anything she said would keep the situation rolling like a mud slide down a canyon wall. Months ago, she had told him about the secret love she held in her heart. He had dismissed the memories as a fantasy.

“I’m sorry.”

He cupped her chin. “You’re alone. So am I. The world is full of people crying for what we can give them.”

The look in his eyes belonged to a zealot. She would never come first with him. The sick would always claim his energy. “I...”

His fingers touched her lips. “Don’t decide in haste. Think of how much you can give to so many in the future. Then give me your answer.”

She backed away. Beneath the panic that gathered in her thoughts, she wondered why he had waited until tonight to ask her to marry him. Was it because yesterday, her birthday, she had told him about the money that would be hers next year? Why hadn’t he asked her last month, last year, or at some time during the two years she had been part of his team. Not once in that time had she sensed his caring went beyond friendship.

She walked to the bedroom she shared with another nurse. Without undressing, she lay on the hard mattress.

The long night of tossing and turning, of sleep interrupted by strange, frightening dreams, ended at dawn. She sat up. Her head and throat ached. She looked at her roommate.

“Tell Neil...tell Neil...I can’t...I have to...” She lay back and closed her eyes.

As soon as the house emptied, she packed, wrote a note to Neil declining his proposal and hitched a ride to Calcutta with the man who brought supplies to the clinic. Though she knew running away was wrong, she couldn’t think of any other action to keep Neil from stirring guilt over her leaving IHRM. At the airport, she booked the first flight west.

From Calcutta to Athens to Rome. When she boarded the plane for London, her memories of the number of airports had blurred. Aspirin washed down with tea or coffee had kept her body bathed with acrid perspiration. In Athens, she had begun to sniffle. A cough had developed in Rome. By the time she reached London and the flat she had rented four years before, she wanted to sleep for a week. Five minutes after entering, she collapsed on the bed.

Sixteen sleep-drugged hours later, she showered to wash away the stench of travel and of fever, Her decision had been made. Tired of constant relocation and living out of suitcases, she yearned for a place where she could build a stable life.

A frantic day of packing began. The dolls she had collected. Her clothes. Two boxes of books. She stopped long enough to have dinner with her landlady. After leaving shipping instructions, she wrote a check to cover the rent for the rest of the lease. Then she booked a flight to the States and called Megan Carter.

The next morning, she headed for the offices of IHRM. Within thirty minutes of her arrival, she had typed a letter of resignation and carried it to the director’s office.

The gray-haired woman looked up. “Laurel, you’re not due in for a week.”

A bout of coughing left Laurel weak. “Resigning. A family emergency.”

“You sound beastly. Let me ring up a doctor.” The director reached for the phone.

“Can’t. Have a flight. Have to go home.”

The woman shook her head. “You’re ill. How can you handle an emergency when you’re the one who needs care?”

“I’ll see a doctor as soon as I reach the States.”

The director walked Laurel to the door. “I’ll hold your resignation. When this emergency ends, come back.”

“I can’t.” In the distance, a clock chimed twelve times and brought a fear she wouldn’t reach Heathrow in time for her flight. She hoisted the duffel and waved down a cab. When the plane rose from the end of the runway, she fell into a fevered dream as scrambled as her thoughts.


The annoying ring of the phone interrupted a strange, yet beautiful dream. Alex Carter groped for the receiver and mumbled a greeting. Instead of the husky drawl of his answering service, the sound of his sister’s voice confused him. She spewed a stream of sentences with the force of a flash flood. “Megan, slow down. Do you know what time it is?“

“Six AM and I have to work and Laurel arrives this morning and I was supposed to meet her, but I can’t so do me a favor and go to the airport. Her plane arrives at ten.”

Alex pushed into a sitting position. “It’s Wednesday.”

“Very good.”

The sarcasm in her voice made him clench his teeth. “Brat.”

“I know you’re off and since I can’t go and neither can Jen, you have to. Just think, you can do this favor for me without rearranging your office hours. Were you planning something special with Johnny?”

“Noooo” He dragged out his response. Who was Laurel?

“Please say you’ll go. The other day when she called, I was so excited about her coming home, I never thought about who would meet her.”

Alex interrupted her stream of words. “I’ll do it.”

“Great. See you.”

“Wait a minute!” He shouted to gain her attention. “How will I know her?”

“Brown hair, brown eyes, tall, slender. She was here the summer Mom got sick. She roomed with Jen and me at Grantley.”

“My memories are vague.”

“Alzheimer’s so soon.”

“I’ll remember that.” Alex stretched. “Once I have her, what will I do with her.” Megan’s giggle pressed a warning button. “No way, sister mine.”

“We’ll see.”

He imagined the cat in the cream smile on her face. “Megan!”

“I’ll leave my key under the mat. Have her call the minute you arrive. See you.”

Alex held the receiver until he heard a dial tone. Why did he have the feeling Megan had just orchestrated a crescendo in his life? His sister had a habit of trying to match every unmarried acquaintance, friend or relative with someone. He shook his head. Being involved in one of her schemes was the last thing he wanted.
Should he take Johnny or arrange for Sarah Rodgers to pick him up from kindergarten? He wasn’t sure.

After he finished dressing in jeans and a cream-colored knit shirt, he decided that while a five year old might find the airport fascinating, if the plane arrived late, his son would complain and fidget.

Alex remembered hours wasted at the airport waiting for his wife to return from one of her vacations in Europe with her “beautiful” friends. Though nearly three years had passed since the divorce and six months since her death, his anger remained strong.

Pushing thoughts of Rhonda aside, he ran down the stairs of the post-Revolutionary farmhouse. The aroma of fresh coffee made his stomach rumble.

While he breakfasted, he reviewed his memories of Laurel Richmond. Bit by bit, he built a picture of a tall, slender girl with a mass of brown hair, huge amber eyes and a propensity for popping into his presence as though she’d set an ambush.
His hand tightened on his coffee mug. “Poor little rich girl.” The comment had been his mother’s. Laurel Richmond was an heiress. Megan, he silently shouted. Not me. There was no room in his life for another spoiled rich woman.

He been there, done that. Money bread selfishness. His dead wife was proof of that. The moment her trust fund had been hers, she’d run to destruction. Parties, alcohol, drugs. She hadn’t had a thought for her son or the man she’d professed to love,


The insistent wail of an infant penetrated Laurel’s chaotic dream and brought an automatic response. One hand searched for the stethoscope usually worn around her neck. The other reached for a bag of medical supplies. Finding neither confused her. She opened her eyes.

This wasn’t Guatemala, Ethiopia, India or one of the other countries where she had been sent by IHRM. A spate of coughing left her ribs aching. Maybe she should have stayed in London long enough to see a doctor, but her desperate need to find a place where she belonged had goaded her into flight.
She glanced at the watch on her too thin wrist. How many hours had she lost as she’d fled India and Neal? Memories of his proposal still shocked her.

“Would you like a beverage?” Her flight attendant asked.

“Cola with lots of ice.” Laurel sighed. Soon, she could drink gallons of iced tea and eat chili dogs on crusty rolls.

Would she find a home in Eastlake? A trickle of grief seeped beneath the barrier blocking the sad moments in her life. She thought about the lie she had written in her letter of resignation. “A family emergency.” She hadn’t had a family since she was three.

Her mouth twisted into a mocking smile. “My mother was a hired nanny and my father the Mellwood Bank.” As memories rose of the accident and the hours spent trapped in the shattered car with her unresponsive parents, she shivered. The long months of pain-filled rehabilitation belonged in the depths of her subconscious. Only the kind and caring nurses who had become models for her life deserved to be remembered.

The stewardess collected her untouched breakfast. The infant’s wails ceased. Laurel pulled her jacket close and wished for a blanket.

A short time later, an announcement of the expected arrival time in Pittsburgh blared from the loudspeaker. Her thoughts focused on the summer visits to the Carter’s house in Eastlake. A brief taste of being part of a family had been snatched away by Mrs. Carter’s illness. When Laurel had returned to attend college at Grantley, things hadn’t been the same.

The plane touched down and rolled to a halt. While the mass of passengers pushed to the exit like angry ants from a shattered hill, Laurel remained seated. The aisles cleared. A flight attendant paused beside Laurel’s seat. “Are you okay? Would you like a wheelchair?”

“No, but thanks.” Laurel rose and walked to the exit. Using the railing on the right hand side of the enclosed ramp, she soon reached the end. The long hours of travel, the fever and the cough that had plagued her since the flight from India had drained most of her reserve strength.

At the end of the ramp, she scanned the milling crowd for Megan. Without warning, a memory of being sixteen and in love rocked Laurel.

A tall, blond, athletic man scanned the area around the exit ramp. His glance slid past her. She walked toward him. “Alex Carter, what are you doing here?”

“Laurel Richmond. I’m here to take you to Eastlake.” He clasped her hand.

“I thought Megan was meeting me.”

“She had to work.” His gaze swept over her. “Rough trip? You look exhausted.”

“I’ve been living a hectic life. How did Megan trap you into meeting me? I could have rented a car.”

A lock of sun-bright hair fell across his forehead. “That’s a long story. I didn’t know you were coming until six AM when my scatterbrain sister called. ‘Alex, I have to work and Laurel’s arriving at ten thirty and would you meet her and I know you’re off, so say yes.’”

Laurel laughed. “And so you came.”

He took her arm. His touch, the overheated building, the noisy crowd combined to make her feel faint. She inhaled. A trickle of cigarette smoke triggered her cough reflex. She fought to catch her breath. “Let’s get my bag.”

“Are you home for good?”

How could she tell him she didn’t have a home, just two residences the bank had retained? Would he understand why she had returned to Eastlake?

“Why don’t you consider staying in Eastlake? The hospital needs nurses. Have you kept up your license?”

“Yes.” She noted the signs pointing to the baggage area and turned to the right.

“Lately, I haven’t been thinking beyond each day.”

His fingers lightly stroked her jacket sleeve. She wondered if he was aware of his action. The rush of heat she felt in response to his gentleness dissolved the wall holding back her pain. In silence, she walked beside him.

She pointed to the navy blue duffel circling the carousal with the suitcases. “The duffel’s mine.”

Alex snagged the strap. “Just one?”

She nodded. “I’ve learned to travel light. Not much room in a tent or a hut.”

“What were you doing in a tent?”

“Working for International Health Rescue Missions. Didn’t Megan tell you?”

“Probably. It’s hard finding facts in her chatter.”

They entered the bullet train and exited minutes later at the door leading to the parking lot. The air, redolent with exhaust fumes, made her choke and cough. Alex opened the car door and slung the duffel in the back.

“How’s your son?”

“Johnny’s five and a lot of fun.”

“And your wife?” As soon as she blurted the question, she remembered what Megan had said about her sister-in-law and how she had abandoned her husband and her son.
A muscle at the corner of Alex’s mouth twitched. “She died six months ago.”
“Does your son miss her?”

The tic increased in tempo. “He hadn’t seen her since the divorce.” He pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the Parkway. “What were your assignments like?’

“Primitive conditions. Needy people. Too little help often arriving too late. I saw a lot of apathy and anger.”

“But you helped?”

“Some.” Just now, she didn’t want to talk about IHRM and the reason she had left.
“How’s your father? So many of Megan’s letters were lost because of the number of times the team moved. All I have is bits and pieces of what’s been happening.”

He caught her eye. “I bet if you had them all, you’d still be confused. Dad’s become the heartthrob of the middle-age set.”

She watched his face lose it’s guarded look. Though sorrow lines remained deeply etched at the corners of his mouth, the tic had disappeared. Had his wife’s desertion soured him? Not knowing how to offer comfort, she closed her eyes and drifted to sleep.


Alex glanced at his passenger. Though she had spoken about being a member of a medical team, he noted the expensive cut of her khaki slacks and jacket. Bet she had fun playing “Lady Bountiful.”

Her gauntness reminded him of his ex-wife’s physical condition the last time he had seen her. That afternoon, Rhonda had brazenly admitted using cocaine to enhance her playtime. “All of my friends do it. Why not try before you knock something?”
His fingers tightened on the steering wheel. The miles flew past. Laurel shifted in her seat. He became aware of the wheeze in her breathing. Deep circles under her eyes spoke of exhaustion. She was too thin. Anorexia? He could suggest several people who could help. He shook his head. She hadn’t asked for medical advice.

As they neared the mall ten miles outside Eastlake, he glanced at the clock. “Laurel, would you like to stop for lunch?”

She opened her eyes. She’s ill, he thought.

“Do you have time? It’s your day off. You don’t have to give up your plans for me.”

The vulnerability in her voice surprised him. “My plans are flexible.” He stretched the truth a few inches. His Wednesday afternoons belonged to his son, but there were many occasions when lunch wasn’t included.

“Then I’ll accept.” She straightened. “A mall. When did this happen?”

“Two years ago.”

He flipped on his turn signal and pulled into the parking lot of the Pirate’s Cove. “This is new, too. Owned by a friend. He just started serving lunch in January. Dad and Megan give it rave reviews. Evenings, there’s a jazz combo and a fabulous buffet.” He parked, got out and walked to her door. Her amber eyes appeared glazed.

As she slid from the passenger’s seat, a paroxysm of coughing caused her to double over. Perspiration covered her forehead. Her tanned skin blanched. She fell forward, but he caught her before she hit the ground. Her hair loosened from the coil at her neck and fanned over his arm. He lifted her into the car and reclined the seat. Her frailty shocked him.

Just how seriously ill was she? Had she come home to die? Her skin felt as though lava flowed beneath the surface. He inhaled the scent of jasmine.

“Laurel, can you hear me?” His fingers found her pulse and he counted the rapid yet regular beats. The dusky hue around her mouth alarmed him. He fumbled in his medical bag, pulled out his stethoscope and listened to the rattles and crackling sounds in her chest.

He shook his head. What doctor would let a patient this ill fly across the ocean? Had she even seen one?

As he pulled out of the parking lot, he reached for the cellular phone and tapped 911. “Dr. Carter here. I’m on the way to Eastlake Community with a patient.”
Three miles from town, a waiting dark blue sedan pulled from the side of the road. With lights flashing and siren blaring, the police car led the way to the hospital.
Alex pulled up to the door and jumped out. He lifted Laurel and held her against his chest. From nowhere, came a jolt of desire. He wanted to brush his lips over her face. Damn, he thought. She’s ill, and even if she wasn’t, these thoughts are out of line.

By the time a nurse appeared with a gurney, he was halfway down the hall with Laurel in his arms. Gently, he placed her on the sheet and steered the gurney into the Emergency Room. An urge to scold Laurel warred with his guilt over not seeing how sick she was.

“Portable chest, routine labs, make the CBC and blood gases stat. EKG. Nasal oxygen at three liters after the blood gases.” He reached for Laurel’s wrist and checked her pulse. “Hang a D5W at 75 ccs an hour.” Was she allergic to any of the antibiotics?

Leaving the nurses to carry out his orders, he opened Laurel’s purse. Inside her wallet, he searched for the name of someone to notify. A snapshot of his family caught his eye. Behind a credit card, he found a slip of paper. “In case of an emergency, notify the Mellwood Bank.” No help there, he thought.

He dialed his sister’s unit and waited for her to come on line. In a few words, he explained what had happened. “Allergies?”

“Penicillin. She took it once when we were in school and ended up looking like she had scarlet fever. What are you going to do with her?”

“Admit her.”

“Oh, dear.” Megan said. “I remember how she freaked out when they wanted to keep her in the infirmary overnight. Better put her on my unit. There’s a private room. I’ll be down in ten minutes.”

“Any idea why she doesn’t like hospitals?”

“She spent months in one as a child. After the accident that killed her parents. She seldom talks about what happened then.”

Alex hung up and called Admitting. Then he returned to the curtained cubicle. Laurel moved restlessly. She reached for the intravenous tubing. “Neil, please. I can’t.”

Who was this Neil who had upset her so? Alex put his hands on her shoulders.
“You’re all right. You’re safe here.”

She opened her eyes. “Where?”

“Eastlake Community.”


“Pneumonia. I need to know about antibiotics.”

“No penicillin, sulfa or erythromycin.”

He shook his head. “You’re making this difficult.”

“Don’t I know.” She tried to sit up. “When can I go to Megan’s?”

His fingers massaged her shoulders. “She’s on her way. You’ll be staying here for a few days.”

Tension ran like a wire through her body. “I can’t.”

The nurse pushed the curtains open and handed Alex the results of the X-rays and lab work.”

“How bad? Tell me.”

“Right lower lobe pneumonia. Elevated blood count. Low red count. Low oxygen blood level.”

She looked up. “I’m a mess.”

“You’ve got it.”

She sighed. “Guess I’ll stay.”

He nodded and ran his knuckles over her chin. “Be back in a few. Have to call home.” Moments later, he explained to his housekeeper why he was late. “Is Johnny upset?”

“Not so it shows, but he and his invisible friend are in the yard.”

The muscle at the corner of Alex’s mouth throbbed. While the pediatrician had assured him imaginary friends were a normal part of his son’s development, Alex wasn’t convinced. “Tell him I’ll be home soon.”

Megan appeared at the desk. “Where’s Laurel? What’s wrong? She’s seldom sick.”

He looked up. “Pneumonia, anemia, maybe anorexia.”

His sister shook her head hard enough that her short blonde curls bounced. “Never. She said she was coming home because she needed to think. How long are you keeping her?”

“Until I like the lab results and know the antibiotics are working. Are you sure she’s not anorexic?”

“She eats like Jen.”

“Not lately.”

“Where is she?’

“This way.” Alex crossed to the cubicle.

Megan pushed in ahead of him. “Laurel Richmond, what have you done to yourself?”

Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday's Writer's Tip - On Being Prolific - Thanks Isaac Asimov

While looking through my shelves for something to use as writer's tips I came across a book with essays of writers who are or were famous and thought I'd look at them and see what they have to offer. One was a short essay written by Isaac Asimov one of my favorite science fiction authors. This was a list of things you should do to become a prolific writer. I'll list the tips . They made me chuckle.

1. You have to like to write. If you don't you'll have to find another dream. This is true of any writer, even those who write slow. This is a good tip to remember.

2. You must not like much besides writing. This tip is a bit harder to consider. There are other things than writing and sometimes they get in the way. Also sometimes writing gets in the way of other parts of life.

3 You need self-assurance. This one made me laugh. Mr. Asimov's take is that you must be convinced what you've written is perfect and there's no need for revision. You can change a sentence once but not a million times.

4. Never lose time. Time is something that can't be replaced. He talks about ways not to waste time. Becoming antisocial, hiring people to do some of your work, never answering mail.

He ends with saying to concentrate on being a good writer and leave prolific for those who can't help it.

What about you, are you trying to become prolific or are you just trying to tell the stories and allow each one to take the time needed to turn your dreams into a good story?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thursday's Interview -- Lorna and Larry Collins

Today's interview is with the Collins, writing partners and partners in life. They are fellow EPIC members and I've enjoyed their company as several conferences.

1. What's your genre or do you write in more than one?

L&L: We started writing a nonfiction memoir, then moved on to mystery, romance anthology (Lorna) and fantasy (Lorna).

2. Did you choose your genres or did they choose you?

L&L: Our genres picked us, without a doubt! After living in the Osaka, Japan area and building the Universal Studios Japan theme park, friends convinced us we had to write about the adventure.

Lorna: I started the book, then asked Larry to add a chapter. What he came up with was a completely different book than the one I'd begun. So the project sat on a shelf for over a year until friends convinced us to join their writing group. At the first meeting, they solved the problem by suggesting we each write separate chapters.

Larry: By the time we'd finished three complete rewrites, however, Lorna's words made their way into my chapters, and there's a little of me in hers.

Lorna: Mostly the humor. The rewrite process is really how we learned to write together.

Larry: After our first book, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, was published in 2005, we attended the Maui Writers Conference. During one of the workshops, the presenter asked the question, "So, you've published your first book. What's your next?” Lorna had started a (still unfinished) romance novel, but I didn't have a next book. At the end of that same session, an announcement was made that one of the other presenters had fallen on the stairs and was hospitalized. I immediately thought, "What if the body of one of the presenters was mysteriously discovered on the stairs, and various authors at the conference all accused each other of the murder?"

Lorna: Larry told me his idea, and I really liked it. The next day, we met a fellow we'd seen around the conference as a volunteer checking IDs. We talked to him for no more than ten minutes. As we walked away, I said to Larry, "We have to write that guy." He became the inspiration for Agapé Jones, the protagonist in our mysteries, and Murder... they Wrote was born.

Larry: Neither one of us ever intended to write mystery, but now we're on our third, Murder on Maui, after the publication this year of Murder in Paradise.

3. Is there any genre you'd like to try? Or is there one you wouldn't?

Lorna: My latest work, Ghost Writer, (currently with the publisher) is a fantasy about a ghost. I really enjoyed writing that one. I have another called Sofia’s Garden to start as soon as I have time. Of course I’ll still write the anthologies and mysteries.

Larry: I enjoy science fiction, so maybe I’ll write that someday. I’m currently working on an anthology of genre fiction short stories called, Lakeview Park. They are about the people who visit a fictional park with that name.

4. What fiction do you read for pleasure?

Larry: Science fiction, mysteries, biographies, and whatever books Lorna leaves out after she finishes. That means I’ve been reading a lot of romance. However, I must confess I’ve enjoyed several of the novellas in the anthologies she’s written with others.

Lorna: I like sweet romance and cozy mystery, plus occasional biographies.

5. Tell me a bit about yourself and how long you've been writing.

Larry: I began writing in high school and was published twice in our high school literary magazine. During my work life, I have written a great deal of technical material, including one paper on how refineries work that was used as the basis for the company’s design training course.

Lorna: I have also done a great deal of technical writing, including procedures, instructional manuals, and training courses during my career.

6. Which of your characters is your favorite?

Larry: I enjoy Agapé Jones, particularly his relationship with his wife. Even though it’s fiction, it feels a lot like ours.

Lorna: I, too, love Agapé and Gerry, his wife. A current favorite is Max Murdoch, the title character in Ghost Writer. He’s pompous and opinionated, and was so much fun to write. I also have a very special place in my heart for Kimi McGuire and Jason Nakagiri, the principals in my novella Finding Live in Paradise from our award-winning anthology, Directions of Love. I drew a lot upon our lives in writing theirs, and I cried when I finished their story. I didn’t want to let them go.

7. Are there villains in your books and how were they created?

Lorna: We write cozy mysteries, and neither one of us really likes one-dimensional bad guys, our villains are multi-dimensional.

Larry: There is some good in all our characters, or at a least logical motive for why they do bad things. They are sometimes self-centered or oblivious to the feelings of others.

8. What are you working on now?

Larry: My short story anthology and the start of our next mystery, Murder on Maui. We plan a trip back to Maui in the fall to do current fact-checking and research. Hey, it’s necessary for authenticity.

Lorna: I’m currently working on my novella, A Shot at Love, as well as the prologue and epilogue, for our current anthology, The Art of Love with a deadline of early September. I’m also working on the beginning of Murder on Maui and planning the outline for Sofia’s Garden. Then we have at least one more anthology planned, Snowflake Secrets: The Magic Continues, which we plan to complete next year. It will be a sequel to our first, Snowflake Secrets.

9. What's your latest release and how did the idea arrive?

Larry: Murder in Paradise was published in February of this year by Whiskey Creek Press. We couldn’t let Agapé Jones remain in retirement. He was just too much fun to write. Besides, we were going to Oahu, and that’s where the majority of the book takes place. Besides, it was another chance to do research.

Lorna: Murder in Paradise is currently number three on the publisher’s best-seller list.

10. Tell me about your latest book and how it came about. Enclose the opening of the book around 400 words.

Lorna: My latest, Ghost Writer, is with the publisher and I’m waiting for the final edits. Here’s a taste of the beginning:

Chapter 1

“I don’t believe in ghosts.” I said it all my life to anyone who’d ask. I’m a ‘techie,’ a computer programmer. I deal with data and facts, not fiction and fantasy.

So how did I get mixed up with a temperamental, egotistical, rude, smart, funny, aggravating, self-centered, loveable… uh… spirit? Okay, if you insist, ghost.

It all started the day I moved into my house.

Well, it’s not really a house, more of a cottage on the sand south of Laguna Beach, California.

The place was the one blessing I received in a whole series of otherwise disastrous events, starting with losing my job.

I worked in the mortgage industry for three years following my college graduation. It was all I knew until I became another victim of the banking industry collapse. One day I went to work, and the company was gone. Pffft. Taken over by the government. The assets were sold, and I got two weeks’ severance.

Of course, at the end of the first week, not only was my job gone, but so was Jeff, my live-in boyfriend who hadn’t worked in over a year. I figured he’d found another female who was still gainfully employed. No great loss there. Still, it was nice coming home to a human being after work. Well, not always, but he was there most of the time waiting for dinner.

It was probably just as well because I couldn’t afford the apartment on unemployment insurance anyway, and I got the eviction notice the day after Jeff moved out, taking all the cash in my wallet with him. The building was in foreclosure.

So I packed my car and headed for my folks, thankful that I’d had a furnished apartment. I wouldn’t miss all the well-used and mismatched furniture or the odd dishes and silverware for three and a half.

I wasn’t expecting to stay with my parents, at least not for long. When I left for college, they turned my bedroom into Dad’s den, complete with leather recliner and big-screen TV. He wasn’t giving it up either. I’d sleep on the couch.

A block from their house, the car engine stopped, and I coasted to the curb. Dad took a look, but it was a goner.

So the news that I had inherited a house came at just the right time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Plotting - Scenes

Now to look at scenes. Each scene in the story should have a beginning a middle and an end. There's also something else that needs to be shown. Not really foreshadowing but a spur to make the reader want to go on. Each scene has a purpose and a problem to be solved but solving the problem should point to more problems as the story unfolds. If the problem solved ends completely, the story will end there or will fall flat.

What are some of the kinds of scenes" First meetings and this doesn't necessarily have to be the first few scenes of a story. A significant character can be met at a later time.

Discovery scenes are those which reveal new data about the character and the problem. These are generally significant discoveries.

Crisis scenes - where something threatens to bring failure to the hero or heroine in achieving their goal. If you have more than one main character, there may be more than one crisis.

Black moment scene -- Here the main character or characters believe they have failed. Believed is the key word. This brings an intensity to the story and this scene must be played out, as all main scenes should.

Climax scene - Here is the final battle no matter what kind of story you're writing.

Resolution scene that follows the climax and gives the ending of the story.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday's inspiration -- Still Bird By Bird and a bit more

Before I ger to Bird By Bird, I'll speak a little about dandilions. Today I was inspired by all the wonderful yellow flowers on my lawn. I know many people look on them as pests but for me they're a sign that the short days of wanter are really gone. I also love them when their heads turn gray and the seeds can be blown off. Guess in that respect I'm still a kid.

Now for Bird By Bird. Ann Lamott is talking about the two voices in the writer's head. One is the praising side and the other is the negative head. Seems perfectly natural to me. When finishing a book or a story I think, and probably a lot of other writers think "This is the best thing I've ever written. It's sure to be a best seller." Then that other side comes in and says, "No editor will see the brilliance or the readers won't buy." One has to find a way to ignore both voices and just keep doing.

Another thing in this essay brought to mind my first television interview for a local channel. years ago. I've only done two and not sure I'd ever want to do another. The first one was the worst. A two hour live show with call ins. I'd jsut sold the third book in about four months. I was told by the host/producer of the show that I was the most poised guest he'd ever had and I managed not to sputter and stutter. I have no real recollection of what I did or said. I had spaced out into another dimension. I was wearing a dark green pants suit and my calf hugging cordova leather boots. On the way home My feet felt strange and I couldn't figure why. Then I took off my boots and found I had clawed the feet out of my panty hose. So maybe i looked and sounded cool and collected. That was outside, but inside I was scared. Is there a moral here? Maybe it's that one can do what they must to promote their books. Of the second interview all I have is a video that I've never viewed.

Monday, April 25, 2011

25 April -- Week Behind and Week Ahead

Another week in the past and another one ahead. Am still cleaning up Confrontations, trying to fill out the worst Author's information sheet I ever saw, doing an interview that won't be up until June but lest I forget I'll do it now. Have started what was a Sudden Seduction but I may change the name if I can think of another S to go with Seduction. Thank heavens for my critique group. I started the story and found I had two opening scenes. Read them both to the group and they helped me see where to start the story and while looking over this, I saw what needed to be added. That's a plus. So will be doing some work on it this week.

Also this week, Tuesday- still Bird By Bird, Wednesday more on Plot, Thursday the Collins are being interviewed. Friday a writer's tip and Saturday a Chapter - I think from A Minor Opposition Sunday will find 3 more blogs to visit.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

3 Blog Visit Sunday Has an interview with Jane Toombs and also an article on when are you doing too much promotion plus other interesting things. This is on because I've an interview up. Some interesting articles about electronic publishing

Saturday, April 23, 2011

1st Chapter Saturday - The Dragons of Fyre

In this story are some of my favorite characters. Their replicas sit on the shelf above my computer.

The Dragons of Fyre
BY Janet Lane Walters
New Concepts Publishing

Chapter One

Drakon halted his horse at the end of the pass and stared at the collection of houses and the fields beyond. Last night he and his companion had ridden well past moonrise so they could reach the village this morning. Fall had arrived. Reds, yellows and oranges blazed across the hills.

Why had this village remained untouched? Ten years ago, the lord of Sea Cliff had attacked High Peaks and ravaged the villages closest to the tower. Of the three settlements sworn to High Peaks only this one remained. The answer had to be treachery. Drakon wondered if he would learn the names of the traitors.

*You will not,* the Old One said. *They are dead.*

Drakon tightened his hold on the reins. Every time the ancient yellow dragon spoke to him, he felt warmth and delight. Years ago, his inability to speak to the dragons had doomed him to ten years as a slave. *I wish they were alive so I could see to their punishment. Their treason made me Lagon’s prisoner and a thing to be sold to the priestesses.*

*Better a slave than living under the evil one’s control the way the heirs of the other towers do.*

A year had passed since Drakon’s escape from the temple of Fyre. Though he had sworn to see the man dead, the lord of Sea Cliff Tower remained alive. A need for vengeance invaded Drakon’s thoughts. His family, his near kin and innocent villagers had been slaughtered on that dreadful day.

*Patience,* the Old One said.

“Behold the lush growth of the fields,” His companion drew his steed to Drakon’s side. “Look at the height and fullness of the fyrethorns. The harvest will be abundant.” He raked his fingers through his gray-tinged brown hair.

Drakon shook his head. “I see, but do we need all this for one dragon?”

Radlan shrugged. “Who are we to cry about good fortune? There are few dragons in the land. From what I have heard there are five pair at Sea Cliff and none at the other three towers.”

Drakon’s jaw clenched. His desire for revenge flared anew. If only there was a way to defeat Lagon and free the High Peaks dragons.

*Have faith. There will be more dragons at our tower.*

Some of Drakon’s tension ebbed. *First patience and now faith. I’ll try. Before I gain those virtues, there’s a harvest to be completed.* He prodded the steed with his heels and the horse trotted down the trail into the village.

As Drakon dismounted the headman bustled across the commons with a hand extended in welcome, “My lord.”

Drakon straightened. Would he ever become used to being named as the lord of High Peaks Tower? “Just Drakon. Am I in time to help with the harvest?”

The gray-haired man nodded. “The men have started in the fields and the crew for the fyrethorns has just assembled.”

Drakon pulled on a pair of heavy leather gloves, grabbed a sack and strode to the row of fyrethorn bushes. Radlan had been right about the size of the harvest. A wry smile crossed Drakon’s face. The increased yield was due to the seeds he’d brought from the temple, the only good thing to from his stay as a stud in the harras.

A half dozen young women and four young men joined him. Drakon glanced at his fellow workers. One young woman flipped her glossy ebony hair over her shoulder. He swallowed. Her beauty made him wish for what was impossible.

Of the men, three were his age. The one with black hair was older. He glared at Drakon and drew the beauty away. Drakon frowned. Why did the man dislike him when they had never met?

He shrugged off the stares of the others and moved along the hedgerow pulling handfuls of the long blood red thorns. As he removed them bunches of crimson berries were exposed. The young women pulled the clusters and dropped them in baskets.

At day’s end, Drakon stared at the sacks of thorns and berries he helped carry to the storeroom. A bountiful harvest indeed. He walked to where Radlan and the headman stood. “We’ll need more than two carts to carry all the fyrethorn products to the tower.”

The older men laughed. Radlan clasped Drakon’s shoulder. “We’ll take just one load of thorns and berries. The other cart will carry grain and vegetables for the winter. Before the storms we’ll return for the rest and for flour ground from the grain.” Radlan led the way to the harvest feast.

“Do you think the other villages will be rebuilt?” Drakon asked.

Radlan nodded. “There’s talk of a division in a year or two. The people sworn to High Peaks Tower are still recovering from the invasion. Forget your questions and enjoy yourself.” The older man winked. “I’ve noticed several of the young women watching you.”

Drakon stiffened. If they knew what had happened to him ten years ago, they would avoid him. He crammed those memories away. Radlan had suggested keeping the days he’d spent as a slave a secret. Drakon wished he could talk to someone about his treatment in the temple of Fyre.

He glanced at the gathered people. Though most of the older men and women wore what they had for the harvest, some of the younger women had changed into bright colored skirts and blouses.

Aromas of cooking meats rose from a pit where a steer had cooked all day. Other meats hung on hooks over the coals. Drakon lifted a large wooden trencher and took some of the steer and a chicken leg. His stomach rumbled as he moved to a long table where kettles of cooked vegetables, grains and bowls of greens and fruit were displayed.

He grabbed a mug of ale and looked for a place to sit. Beneath a large oak tree, he noticed a group of young people. One of them waved. “Lord Drakon, come and eat with us. We’re glad you returned to the tower.”

As Drakon started toward the group the young woman he’d noticed earlier stepped in front of him. “Tiron, leave him alone. I’m claiming him.”

Drakon swallowed. One side of her blouse had slid from her shoulder and nearly exposed her breast. Would she issue commands he would have to obey? The sweet scent of her perfume brought memories of the priestesses at the temple. He was torn between following her and joining the larger group.

She touched his arm. “Come with me. There is much I want from you.”

Her voice held a demanding tone that seemed familiar. He walked beside her.

“Lord Drakon, when will there be dragons at the tower?” someone called.

Drakon couldn’t spot who had shouted. “There is one in the cavern now. The Old One said there soon would be more.”

“We heard you couldn’t speak to them.”

“True in part.” Drakon smiled. “I do not need the tea when I speak to the Old One.”

The young woman tugged on Drakon’s arm. “Forget those fools. Come with me.” She stepped closer. “Our kin ties are the most distant of any girl’s in the village. I’m destined to be your wife.”

Drakon gulped a breath. Like a vise, uneasiness gripped his chest. Her cloying perfume brought flashes from the past he struggled to forget. She reeked of desire the way that the priestesses had. “Just who are you?”


She led him to a sheltered place in the grove of hardwoods on the outskirts of the village. The leaves rioted with colors from pale yellow to russet. Drakon halted and nearly spilled the ale when the young man who had glared at him during the harvest appeared.

“Bejan, I’ve brought Drakon so you could speak to him about the dragons.”

“I have nothing to say to someone who was a slave.” Bejan turned and walked away.

How had he known? Drakon had told no one. Had Radlan let the secret slip? Or had Lagon spread the story of how he had sold Drakon?

“You’ll lose out on a chance to be a speaker, but I won’t.” Bekla sat on the ground and arranged her skirts so one of her thighs was partly bared. “Drakon, come closer. Though he’s my brother, he’s a boor.”

Drakon sat on a log at arms distance from her. He gulped some ale and began to eat. “What do you want to know?”

She leaned forward and her blouse gaped to expose her full breasts. “I want to be the wife of a dragon speaker. You are the only one at High Peaks. I want to ride with you when the dragons rise to mate.”

Drakon put the trencher on the ground. “The yellow does not mate. There are no reds or blues in the cavern.”

She edged closer and brushed her hand over his thigh. “A dragon rises here.” She licked her lower lip. “Come to my aunt’s house at moonrise.”

His stomach clenched. She commanded like the priestesses had. This time there was a choice. He had escaped from the harras. He didn’t have to obey her. Though he felt ill, he rose. “Don’t wait for me.” As he strode away he realized he had taken the first step toward freedom from the conditioning. Never again would he be trapped by a woman’s demands. A dull headache began.

When he reached the commons, he looked for Radlan but didn’t see the older man. Drakon stopped and talked to several of the villagers. Though he searched for Tiron and the other young people, they seemed to have vanished. Finally Drakon slipped into the headman’s house. He sat on one of the beds in the guest room and rubbed his aching head. At least the pain wasn’t as acute as when he’d drunk the berry tea or when the priestesses had used thorns as a punishment. Strains of music and the buzz of voices filtered through the shuttered windows. He had no desire to take part in the merriment.

When Drakon woke the sun had just risen. He broke his fast with food left from the feast and then joined the villagers in loading the wagons. After he and Radlan mounted their horses, they led the men who drove the wagons up the slope to the trail leading to the tower.

During the two-day trip, Drakon’s thoughts drifted to his escape from the priestesses. How fortunate he’d been to have been chosen as one of the studs to travel with the women who sought a rebellions acolyte and the stone seeker who had aided her escape. The man had provided a waterskin and torches to light the way through the dark passage. As Drakon had hurried along the tunnel, earthquakes had caused rocks to fall. He had burst into the open moments before the tunnel collapsed. What had caused the quakes? Perhaps he would never know.

*You are finally home.*

The voice of the Old One broke into Drakon’s reverie. *I am and we have brought a cart full of thorns and berries and left as much or more behind.* He smiled. Each time he spoke with the yellow, pride filled his chest. He wasn’t the misfit he’d been named by his father and brothers. Unlike them, he needed none of the berry tea for the speaker’s path to open.

*As was in the old days. When the carts are unloaded, come to the cavern.*

Drakon joined the men unloading the wagons. Once this chore was finished, he prepared the Old One’s meal and wheeled the barrow across the forecourt to the cavern.

As he entered the vast hollowed space, he wondered how the area had been made. Was it a natural phenomena or had magic been employed?”

*Part of each. The wizard friend of the dragons aided their escape and carved the mountain to make a refuge for them.*

The crystal pillars set about the cavern rose from floor to dome. The bright light momentarily blinded Drakon. The colors reminded him of the fyrestones the priestesses had used in their rituals. Side chambers, some dark and one cold enough to store meat lined the left-hand wall. Soft sand covered areas of the floor. Near the feeding trough and the area around the warm pool were solid rocks. A pair of streams, one hot and the other cold united to flow over a waterfall. Beside the waterfall was a wide ledge. The water left the pool through a drainage hole on the far side.

Drakon poured the meat mixed with thorns and berries into one of the stone troughs. He sat on the sand beside the Old One’s wallow.

The yellow dragon lowered his head so Drakon could scratch the leathery skin between his eyes. *Was the trip a pleasant one?*

Drakon wrapped his arms around his bent knees. *The harvest was plentiful and the food at the feast delicious.*

*I sense worry in your thoughts.*

*There was a young woman named Bekla. She tried to seduce me.* He closed his eyes. *I can’t do what she wants. My memories of the temple are too strong and she made me think of the priestesses.*

*Those memories will fade.*

*It’s been a year and they’re still strong.*

*And longer was needed to set the conditioning.* The Old One moved to the trough and ate. *Go to your dinner. Sofona cooked all day preparing for your homecoming. The men from the village will leave soon.*

Drakon patted the dragon’s side. *I’ll come tomorrow.* He left the cavern and walked to the tower. Inside the large kitchen the men from the village lifted packs of food Sofona had prepared for their journey.

When they were gone, Sofona sank on a bench. A few strands of gray wove through her brown hair. “I’m glad I don’t have to feed a large crew every day. There’s a plate for you in the warming oven. Where have you been?”

“With the Old One. He wanted to know about the harvest. I also took him a feeding.”

Sofona laughed. “I doubt he needed one. He went out this morning and returned with a wild boar. I took a ham and some of the meat for us. He devoured the rest.”

Drakon ate a bite of the pork and savored the flavor. He smiled fondly at the man and woman who had become his family.

* * * *

Arana shielded her eyes against the glare of the sun. Four blue dragons circled a single combatant. She stared at the changing pattern of the battle. There could be but one ending. How could the lone dragon from High Peaks Tower survive when he fought with no speaker? She closed her mind to the multiple voices she heard.

One of the creatures dove. The embattled one turned and raked his claws along his opponent’s side. A second blue attempted to swoop from above. The besieged whirled and caught the edge of the attacker’s wing with his foreclaws and pulled free. The injured dragon joined the first in retreat.

Arana began to hope. She knew nothing of battle strategy. Though she could have spoken to the High Peaks blue she couldn’t distract him for she had no advice to give.

Her hopes plummeted. The remaining opposing pair dove toward the High Peaks blue. Though her favorite twisted, he was too slow to prevent the largest of the others from clamping teeth-filled jaws on his neck. Arana’s scream was echoed by a piercing roar from the pens. She watched as the embattled dragon tumbled to the rocks. She ran to the far side of the landing field. The blue’s broken body lay on the rocks where Arana had witnessed the death of her foster mother.

Gone, she thought. Now all that remained of High Peaks’ lineage was one red and one green dragon. And her, but she was only a foster child.

Arana leaned against the wall and fought to stem her tears. The cool autumn breeze carried the briny scent of the sea. In the distance she saw the sails of an approaching ship. Did it carry traders or wizards? If the ship belonged to either group, Lagon would leave the tower to bargain with them. The wizards welcomed any chance to obtain the hide of a dragon.

She rubbed her arms. Since the battle had ended, her services would be needed by the dragons and the speakers. She was the only one of the slaves who had no fear of the huge beasts. Her ability to hear and speak to the creatures allowed her to move freely in the pens.

She was also one of the few slaves who knew the ingredients of the antidote for the tea made from fyrethorn berries. Most of the men suffered from headaches after a speaking session. None of the four who had controlled the battle were like her for she spoke to the dragons without drinking the tea.

One after another the blues landed. Hisses and pain-filled cries filled the air. Arana was torn between going to the beasts or the men. A keening cry rose to a piercing shriek and vibrated through Arana’s bones. A red dragon emerged from the doorway to the pens. Arana ran across the landing field dodging the hissing beasts to reach the surviving red of High Peaks Tower.

A smaller green dragon scurried after the red. *Soothe her. She will not heed me.*

Arana blocked the other voices and sent words of comfort to the red. As the beast’s cries softened, Arana stroked the leathery hide. Her mouth flew open. She sensed the presence of eggs. When had the pair mated? Somehow they had managed to slip free from the pens for a mating flight.

*I hid them.* Verde’s voice held laughter. *I am of their lineage and do not want to be the last of the High Peaks dragons.*

Arana stood on tiptoe and stroked his neck. *When will she lay the eggs?* She couldn’t hide the fear rippling through her thoughts. Lagon, lord of Sea Cliff Tower would surely destroy the eggs before they hatched.


*How can we keep Lagon from learning?*

*I will mask her so the evil one will not know.*

Though Arana had no idea how she could hide two dragonets or care for them, the news brought hope. *Return to your pen. The blues are settling. I must deliver the potion to the men and tend to the wounds of the dragons.*

Arana crossed the landing field and strode past the entrance to the tower. She opened the door of the stillroom. Unlike High Peaks, the tower here was surrounded by a wall. Halls connected the various buildings that abutted the walls.

She filled a basket with linen, needles and ointments needed to care for the dragons. She took a flask of water and added herbs for the antidote. Arana carried both through the halls to the room where the speakers lay on padded lounges.

Arana poured the contents of the flask into a pot of hot tea. One of the slaves filled cups and gave the liquid to the men. One by one they roused. Arana turned toward the door.

“Dragon slave.”

She stiffened but turned to face the lord of Sea Cliff Tower. The man had taken away the freedom she had earned at High Peaks for her ability to speak to the dragons. When he had killed the lord and his sons, Lagon had made the women of that tower into slaves. She bowed her head to hide the hatred in her eyes. “What is your command, my lord?”

He lifted her chin. His ice blue eyes glittered with remnants of pain. “After you treat the beasts, you will seek me.” A cruel smile curled his thin lips.

She nodded. “I hear and will obey, my lord.”

He grasped her arm. “Soon you will do more.”

“As you command.” The words nearly choked her. She pushed the door open and entered the central hall. From there she left the tower and crossed the landing field to the massive stone building that housed the dragons. The hisses and growls of the four blues reached her. Where should she begin?

*I will tell you,* Verde said.

He directed her to the dragon with a long row of talon slashes along one flank. She cleaned the ichor away and slathered a numbing ointment around the edge of the wound. When she finished the creature’s roars ceased. She daubed healing salve on the open areas and spread strips of linen over the anointed places.

She left the first pen and entered a second and set about mending the tear on the dragon’s wing. A finely woven cloth was placed beneath the tatters. By the time the wing healed, the stitches would disintegrate and the cloth would drop away.

Once the minor injuries of the other dragons had been treated, Arana left the pens. *Verde, thank you.*

*When they are hurt they listen to me.* Verde sighed. *Maybe that’s why I was born green.*

*Could be. As you mature you will learn more.* Arana repacked the basket. She wished Verde could persuade the blues to defy their speakers.

*Arana, no. The evil one would kill the speakers and find new ones. Or he could destroy the dragons and sell their pelts to the wizards. As long as he lives I will not do this.*

*I know but I wish we could free them.* As she crossed the landing field and walked toward the stillroom, a prickling moved along her spine. Her hands formed fists. She steeled herself to face Lagon.

“Arana.” His hand clamped on her arm.

The basket thudded on the ground. “My lord.”

“How fare the beasts?” He turned her to face him.

“The wounds will heal. Two will need several weeks of rest before they can fly.”

“The High Peaks blue was a mighty fighter. Does the red of that lineage grieve?”

Arana nodded. “In the confusion after the flight she would have flown away but I calmed her.”

“Don’t dampen her spirits too greatly. I want her to rise to mate.” His gaze drilled her. “When she does my blue will follow. With eggs of her get my dragon stock will improve.” He shoved Arana against the wall. “On that day you will drink the tea and fly with her.”

Arana bit her lower lip. She couldn’t let him see how her fear verged on the edge of terror. “What if she won’t rise?” She couldn’t let Lagon know the red was with egg.

His thin lips curved into a smile that held no hint of humor. “When you speak to her she will have no choice.” He scraped a fingernail along her cheek. “You are as ripe as the dragon. You will bear my son.” He clamped his teeth on her lower lip.

She winced. A sullen anger built inside. She sought to hide her repugnance toward him. He liked his women to cower and obey his commands. In the ten years and one of her captivity here, she’d seen ten women ordered to his bed. She’d seen the bruises and witnessed the lashings as each one failed to produce the son he desperately wanted.

He caught a lock of her hair and wound it around his finger. “Hair the color of flames. Fire is what I demand from you.” He pressed his mouth over hers. His body touched hers and his phala remained flaccid. Once again she was spared a mauling.

Lagon laughed. “Soon.” He held one hand against her throat. “Let your fears grow so I can feast on them when the dragons rise.” He released her.

Though relief threatened to bring her to her knees, she pressed against the wall for support. She thought of her fellow slaves. Most feared him, but one or two lusted to be in his bed. She didn’t understand their fascination. Though handsome, his icy blue eyes and thin lips spoke of his cruel nature.

The blue gem in his ear was said to be a payment for the youth he’d sold to the slavers. The boy had been from High Peaks Tower. Had he been the youngest son of the lord, the boy who had been her friend? Lagon had announced Drakon’s death when the women from High Peaks had reached Sea Cliff.

Her eyes closed. Though she tried to form a picture of her friend, she failed. For several years after her captivity had begun, she had dreamed of the young man and of being rescued.

The sound of boots against the stone floor announced Lagon’s departure. Arana released her held breath. She returned the basket to the stillroom, then ran down the inner hall to the bathing room. There she scrubbed away the odors of her labor and the stench of fear. She dressed. Instead of going to the rooms where the slaves were housed she walked to the landing court. At the edge she stared at the sea. Waves crashed against the rocks. Far below servants removed the dragon’s hide.

The ship she’d seen earlier had docked at the wharf in the nearby village. She noted the green flag and knew the ship belonged to the wizards. She breathed a sigh of relief. Their arrival meant Lagon would leave the tower once the hide had been scraped and the curing begun. He would eagerly negotiate a sale.

* * * *

Verde scurried along the corridor past the pens holding the dragons. The High Peaks red had fled from her pen and prepared for flight. *Not yet,* he commanded. *Return to your pen until after the sun sets.*

The dragon whined but followed his order. Verde’s chest puffed with pride and he swallowed a roar. The sound would alert the servants and they would discover his presence. He needed Arana’s help. He peered from the entrance to the pens and saw her standing at the wall. *Come.*

*What is wrong?*

*The High Peaks red has freed herself from her pen. I kept her from taking flight. She will go tonight. Could you bring her an extra feeding and put in thorns as well as berries?*

Arana ran across the landing yard to his side. *If she escapes the eggs will be lost.*

*If she lays them here Lagon will destroy them. She must go. If her eggs are destroyed I will be the last of my lineage.* The thought caused grief to fill his voice. “She wants to go to High Peaks.”

Arana stroked his side. *Then we must pray she reaches her destination. There is a cavern there with warm sand and a pool for swimming. There must have been animals that escaped when Lagon invaded for her to hunt.* She shuddered. *He will blame me.*

*Will he beat you?*

*A punishment I will gladly bear. I’m sorry he didn’t sell me to the slavers when he sold some of the women from High Peaks. I think he might have sold the last son of the lord, too.*

“Does the son still live?*

*Who knows if he does or where he is?* She squared her shoulders. *Let me bring meat for the red.* For an instant she wished she could flee with the dragon.

*We will find a way for you to escape.*

* * * *

Lagon smiled. A slaver’s ship had docked. The wizards on board would pay well for the dragon’s pelt and they would wait in port until the skin was cured. He left the tower and walked down the path to the rocks. One half of the blue pelt soaked in the brine. Though a red brought more coins, he had a use for the remaining High Peaks dragon. He intended to bargain for another blue gem and a string of red ones for Arana.

When images of her naked and bound to his bed arose, his phala throbbed. He drew a deep breath and fought to control the image. When he took her for the first time she would be in the speakers’ hall after a mating flight. The heirs of the three other towers would witness the event so no one could say the son she bore belonged to another man.

He barked a laugh. She disliked and feared him. He would possess her. Once she gave him a son he would make her his wife. From the moment he’d seen her during the takeover at High Peaks he had desired her. But she had been a child. No longer.

“Come back.” A woman’s shout interrupted his reverie.

He wheeled and saw the only child of his loins running from her nurse. Her ebony-colored hair had escaped its braid and flew in a dark cloud around her face. The girl halted at his side. “Why did you kill the dragon?” Her dark eyes flashed with anger.

“For my own reasons. You have no right to question me.”

“He was brave. I watched the battle from the tower heights. If he had fought one or even two dragons, he would have won. Who was his speaker?”

“He had none.”

She put her hands on her hips. “You should have kept him. He was stronger and cannier than the Sea Cliff blue.”

Lagon’s hands clenched. How could she have a loyalty to High Peaks? She was his daughter, not the get of the long dead lord of that now deserted tower. He grated his teeth. That lord had taken the woman Lagon had wanted. In the end, the Lord of High Peaks Tower was dead and Lagon had possessed the woman until she had ended her life after Lorana’s birth.

“Go to your room,” he commanded. The moment he was sure Arana was with child, Lorana would go to the slavers.

* * * *

Several days had passed since he and Radlan had returned from the village. Drakon climbed the stairs past his room on the second level of the tower and continued until he reached the square area at the top. He walked around the wall surrounding the edge and halted at one of the corners. He rested his elbows on the capstone and peered in the direction of Sea Cliff Tower.

Though the distance was too far to see the tower, he remembered every moment of the five-day journey by horse. He’d been forced to ride with Lagon. A gag had prevented speech. All during the trip, Lagon had gloated over his victory. At the journey’s end Drakon remembered how berry tea had been forced down his throat. When the agony of the headache had ceased he’d been aboard a slaver’s ship. Drakon sucked in a breath of cold air. Would Lagon ever pay for the death and destruction he had wrought?

*Drakon, come.*

*Old One, what’s wrong?*

*She escapes.*


*The last red of High Peak’s lineage. Soon she will lay her eggs. Eggs we need.*

Drakon started to the door. *When will she arrive?*

*She will not manage the distance. We must go to her.*

*What can I do? How far must I ride?* Drakon did not like the thought of leaving High Peaks.

*You will fly with me.*

*Men don’t fly.*

*In the past men and women rode on the backs of reds and blues. This is what you will need. A fur pad and long leather straps. Fur-lined sacks, stones to heat in a fire and pieces of fur to cover them and cushion the eggs. Find the sleeping sacks. I will need an extra feeding of meat and thorns. You must also carry a feeding in a leather sack.*

Drakon clattered down the steps. In the storeroom he gathered the supplies the yellow had requested. He pulled on a heavy jacket and took a pair of gloves.

When he entered the kitchen, Sofona appeared in the doorway of the hall leading to the quarters she shared with Radlan. “Is the Old One ill?”

“No. We go to rescue a High Peaks red and her eggs.” He told her what the Old One wanted.

“I’ll wake Radlan. He’ll bring the feedings.”

“Make sure he packs a second one and adds thorns to both. I must figure how to fasten these things to the Old One’s back.”

Sofona laughed. “You will fly like the men and women on the tapestry that once hung in the great hall.”

Drakon nodded. He had vague memories of the massive wall hanging. Hadn’t he seen and used that weaving after his return? Maybe the tapestry had been a different one. “I believe I will.” He carried his gatherings to the cavern and placed them on the sand.

The Old One sent pictures that Drakon followed, carefully placing the fur pad over the ridges on the dragon’s back. Because the yellow’s spinal ridges were narrower than the reds and blues there was no room for a saddle. He fastened the straps to the pad, ran one on either side of the Old One’s neck and united them with the pair drawn over the dragon’s rear legs.

Radlan arrived with the feedings. While the yellow ate Drakon added the rocks and furs to the two enormous sacks and tied them to the riding pad. As soon as the Old One had devoured the meal Drakon climbed to the dragon’s back. He fastened himself to the pad. The yellow moved from the cavern, across the forecourt and stepped over the edge. The great wings unfurled.

Drakon’s stomach felt as though it had dropped to the ground. Just before they crashed into a stand of towering firs the Old One caught an updraft and they soared into the moonlit sky. With caution Drakon relaxed his hold on the fur.

*Drakon, open your speaker’s path and call the red.*

Drakon sent a silent call to the High Peaks dragon. The yellow’s voice joined his. *I do not know your name. I am the son of the dead lord of High Peaks Tower. I want to help you.* Over and over he sent the message.

*I am the Old One, a yellow of High Peaks’ lineage. I want to help you. Call us. Lead us to you.*

*Who?* The voice carried undertones of pain, sadness and fear. The emotions vibrated through Drakon.

*Once I was called Jade. I am your controller. Where are you?*

*Gone from Sea Cliff. Past the captive towers. I thought to reach the cavern but I stayed too long. My mate is dead. The evil one set the other blues on him. My eggs arrive soon.*

Drakon heard despair in the dragon’s voice and sought to give her hope. *You must live. We need your eggs or the lineage is ended.*

*We will take the eggs to safety,* the Old One said.

*Will my dragonets be free from the evil one?*

*You have my pledge,* Drakon said. *They will fly and I will be their speaker. I was a slave. Now I am free. Your offspring will be cherished. I will rebuild High Peaks Tower and see those of Sea Cliff punished for what they have done.*

*Not the dragons,* she said. *Just the evil one. The dragons have no controller and their speakers must obey the evil one.* Her voice sounded louder. *I must land and wait for you. The eggs come soon.*

Before long, Drakon saw a large dark shape on the ground. The moonlight revealed the red’s resting place. The Old One spiraled down and landed near the laboring dragon.

*The eggs,* the red cried. *You have come in time. Care for them. High Peaks Tower will grow strong with honorable speakers and dragons.*

Drakon quickly untied the straps and slid to the ground. He started a small fire to heat rocks to bury beneath the furs in the sacks. As he worked, he wondered what he could do to fulfill the red’s predictions. How could he rebuild the line of speakers? They were usually the sons of the tower’s lord. Thoughts of being with a woman filled him with panic. Memories of the conditioning by the priestesses of the temple of Fyre bound him with iron bands.

*Not always the sons,* the Old One said. *Speakers can be found among the kin both near and far.*

*And in ones not tied by blood,* the red said.

Were they right? Drakon sat beside the grieving red and encouraged her. The first egg arrived. He nearly protested when the Old One caught the blue egg in his talons and licked the shell.

*Pick it up. Breathe on it,* the yellow dragon said. *Then place the egg in one of the sacks. There is no blue to perform the rite. Your breath must do.*

When the red laid the second egg, the Old One licked the shell and rolled the egg to the female dragon. Her tongue moved over the surface.

*Do not touch this one with your skin,* the Old One cautioned.

The red began to shake. *Speaker, my time has come. Name the dragonets and care for them.*

*I will.*

*Old One, you must teach them.*

*I will.*

*There is a green of our lineage at Sea Cliff. He was hidden and cared for by Arana who can speak to all the dragons the way you can.*

Arana. Drakon’s thoughts drifted to his childhood in the tower. There had been a girl four years younger. His parents had rescued her from the slavers. She had earned her freedom because of her ability to care for the dragons. Could Arana the red spoke of be the same girl?

*The evil one has made her a slave again,* the red said. *She helped me escape.*

A picture of a young woman entered Drakon’s thoughts. Her hair, the color of flames, told him the truth. She was his friend and playmate. *Why did he enslave her? She was free.*

*There are no free women at Sea Cliff. There are no free dragons except the green. Verde is his name.* The red rose and unfurled her wings. She lumbered forward.

Though she rose from the ground, Drakon knew she would never clear the trees. *Old One, stop her.*

*She chooses death. Honor her choice and honor her. Open the feed sack. While I eat, call the green.*

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday's Writer's Tip -- Finding time

Being published overnight doesn't happen often. What it takes is practice, persistence and professionalism. Maybe I'll go backwards. Professionalism is listening to the editors who may comment on what you've written and make suggestions for changes to make the writing better. Some writers believe that everything they've written is perfect and no one should suggest a change. I've written scenes that I feel don't work. In the early days I'm glad I was able to be advised by editors who made suggestions on how the scene could be fixed. Then one day a light bulb flashed and I looked at a scene I knew wasn't working and I knew what to do. Now this took time to learn. Probably 20 years. Some people are slow learners.

But another thing was persistence. The first book I sold was revised 17 times. This was a learning process and from those helpful editor comments I learned. What would have happened if I'd not been persistent. But persistence can also harm. A writer can work persistently on a story and work it over and over again and never really make the needed changes. So persistence can be a good use of a writer's time or it can be a waste of time.

Now to practice. A writer needs time to learn their craft. This can be difficult when he or she has a job and a family. The one thing to do is to set yourself a goal of writing for the week. Don't think in thousands of words but in hours per week. Say three hours a week oreven start with one hour a week. This time can be divided into smaller segments or it can be done in a whole block of time. Now that can be hard when one has children wanting things or husbands or wives needing time. But one can find ways to take that time. It may mean giving up something. Say every week you watch some TV program that runs an hour. Consider giving it up to write. Put the Idol or the soap opera aside. Fine creative ways to gain your hour or your fifteen minutes. Remember that the more you write, the easier it will become.

If you really want to succeed it takes practice, persistence and professionalism.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday's Interview -- Peggy Tibbetts

Today's guest is Peggy Tibbetts, a fellow YA Author.

1. What's your genre or do you write in more than one?

Let’s see now, I have written fiction and nonfiction, adult suspense, young adult historical fiction, middle grade paranormal mysteries, middle grade historical fiction, and picture books.

2. Do you choose your genre or does it choose you?

The genre depends on the age of the main character and the story. My characters tend to choose me, so therefore my genre chooses me – I think.

3. Is there any genre you'd like to try? Or is there one you wouldn't?

Well yes, as a matter-of-fact I had wanted to write a nonfiction book and I’m working on one right now.

I don’t think I’ll tackle fantasy anytime soon. I enjoy reading fantasy novels but I don’t see myself writing one.

4. What fiction do you read for pleasure?

I read and review books for pleasure which gives me access to all sorts of fiction. I enjoy reviewing picture books the most.

5. Tell me a bit about yourself and how long you've been writing.

When I was in first grade our teacher, Miss Knight helped the class compose a "Today" story, which she wrote on the blackboard. Then we had to copy it down on paper. Through that daily exercise I grew to love writing and learned how to tell a story. I loved to read.

Throughout my adult life I have also worked as an editor for an academic journal, children’s publications, and websites, most notably Writing

6. Which of your characters is your favorite?

Shh … please don’t tell the others … but I’m kind of partial to Sarah Smith, the MC in my new middle grade novel, “Letters to Juniper”. She saves her own life without really even knowing it.

7. Are there villains in your books and how were they created?

Let me put it this way. Rather than “villains” there is “villainy” in my books. And there are complicated characters. Complicated characters do villainous deeds.

8. What are you working on now?

I usually don’t “talk” about my WIP but it’s on my blog, From the Styx so it’s already out there being talked about. It’s a nonfiction book titled, “Crazy Bitch: A Love Story”. I began it as a series on my blog about our dog Venus’s struggle with CCD (Canine Compulsive Disorder). I am making it into a book which will eventually be published.

9. What's your latest release and how did the idea arrive?

“Letters to Juniper” was just released in Kindle edition by Sisterhood Publications. The print version will be released in May.

The ideas for my novels always come to me in the voice of the main character. “Letters to Juniper” was no different. During the 90s, I was as horrified as everyone else at news stories about the Montana Freemen, Ruby Ridge, and the Waco Siege. In all three cases, children were living inside the compounds during the standoff. I asked the question: “What would it be like to be a child, yet old enough to be aware of what was happening?” Not long after, Sarah came to me and told me her story in the form of letters, like a diary.

10. Enclose the opening of the book around 400 words.

Friday, August 2nd

Dear Juniper,

You probably don't remember me. My name is Sarah Smith. I've been thinking about you a lot lately.

We were best friends around six years ago. We lived next door to each other. In Florida. I'll never forget the name of the street we lived on. Bird of Paradise Lane. It stayed with me after all this time. I'm not even sure if you still live there anymore.

At first I couldn't remember the name of the town. I knew it was Fort M-something. So I looked it up on the map of Florida. I found Fort Myers and I'm pretty sure that's the one.

Today is my birthday. I'm 12. Hannah and the Slocumbs came by for supper. Hannah is my best friend. You'd really like her. She's 12, too.

I picked my own bouquet of zinnias for the dinner table. We had venison meat loaf, new potatoes and peas from the garden, and the first pick of our sweet corn. Yummy!

There was carrot cake for dessert with 12 candles for my birthday. I blew out every candle except one. But I don't have a boyfriend. So it doesn't count.

The Slocumbs gave me a six-pack of spiral notebooks from Sam's Club. From my own family I got a plaid flannel shirt. Oversize. Unlined. Just the way I like them. Also two more Nancy Drew Books for my set. Plus some underwear, socks, and one pack each of Bic pens and pencils from Sam's Club.

As birthdays go, it was okay. I've had worse. Like when I was seven. I spent my birthday alone, babysitting my little brother, Abraham. Do you remember him? Daddy was working. He forgot all about it. And Abraham didn't know any better. He was four then.

My best birthday was when I was six. Do you remember the pony rides at my party? You should. You were there. We had so much fun. It was at our old house on Bird of Paradise Lane, with Mommy. I had one of those bakery cakes with the sweet, gooey frosting decorated like Mickey Mouse. There was a ton of kids there.

You must be 12 by now. When is your birthday? I can't remember. Please tell me whenever you write back.

Peggy Tibbetts

Now available in Kindle ebook –
"This is a book you will want to share with your children, your parents, and your friends.”
– Natalie R. Collins, author of "The Fourth World", "Sister Wife", and more

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Plot - More points on the early middle

When a plot is being designed the writer is taking the reader on a journey. In a novel there are steps that the hero or heroine or both must take in the journey. The beginning is well in hand but where does the writer go from there. There are a number of plot points. The story is a building of events and solutions until the story reached a conclusion. The beginning of the story stats a problem that may be resolved but lead into a new problem to be solved.

But first the writer needs to decide if the main plot is going to tell the story or if there are subplots. These subplots can strengthen the main story. The subplot may have a resolution before the main plot ends. The subplot can focus on the main character's opposite or on one of the minor characters. If the first subplot is chosen this must be established in the beginning. For example in a mystery the story is the hero's and the subplot could be the villain's or the person threatened by the event of the mystery.

The subplot can be dependent or independent. The dependent kind is often used in romances. The hero has one agenda and the heroine another. Finding a solution to their dilemma brings them together. When deciding which is the main plot and which the secondary in this point. Ask yourself this question. Who has the most to gain and who has the most to lose? This will help decide which plot ends first.

If a secondary character is chosen to be a vehicle for a subplot, these can be braided by sticking to the main plot for several scenes and then returning to the subplot for several scenes. These can be alternated but there must be a different flavor to the two.

The subplot can also show a parallel to the main plot. Both may seem to be equal in strength, almost like mirror images. These subplots may come together. part and come together many times throughout the story.

The early middle of the story is the place to establish and develop your characters and their relationships. Remember that you're building to the first crisis.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday's Inspiration -- Bird By Bird - Intuition

This time the short piece sent me off on a real tangent. Writers must have split personality. First there is the creative side. This is where inspiration takes over and you become so immersed in the story that the story becomes your reality. There's no thought about word choice. It's a matter of getting the story down. Sometimes when the creative side is working the story takes a right turn or even a U-turn from where the story was headed. Continuing along this path could be right or wrong but while the creative side is in control keep the flow going. There will be time later for the editor side of the writer to take effect.

I once wrote the entire first draft of a novel in 72 hours. This wasn't an easy task when I had four children at home. Fortunately I had a great baby-sitter and a supportive husband. This was also over the weekend. When I finished pounding the keys. This was in the days of typewriters and I had just received a new electric one bought with the advance from my first novel sale. I shoved all those yellow pages in a folder and went to bed. When I woke, the editor side took over. I have never done this again and I don't think I want to do such a marathon of writing again.

Back to the editor side. This side is slow and methodical. I found those yellow pages and saw all the writing between lines, in the margins and on the back. Some of the scenes done just by intuition stayed as they were written but many of then were changed, re-written. Once these initial changes were made. The editor turned to nit-picking and the story was edited word by word.

Sometimes when we're writing it's hard to keep the editor from leaping in during the creative side's turn. I've learned through some botched stories that are partially written to push the editor back while I'm creating. Doesn't always happen. Sometimes I stop and search for a perfect word or grab the research books. Sure wish I could really split the personality keeping one side at bay when the other is working. Yes, the creative side sometimes tries to jump in while the editor is working.

What about you? Are you able to turn off one side of your writer when the other is working?

Monday, April 18, 2011

18 April -- Week behind and week ahead

Last week found me cleaning up Confrontations. The process always takes some time but I figure in two weeks or so It will be ready to send. Thought a bit about how I write and I've decided I'm like a painter. Since I'm a draft writer, each draft adds a different element to the story. This can confuse my critique partners since the final story may not be what they heard at critique. Have started A Sudden Seduction but I'm not sure which character to open the book. I'll read both openings and see what the group thinks. Writing is so much fun and rather like solving puzzles. It's also a bit like whiplash since I'm going from YA fantasy to Adult contemporary. Keeps life interesting.

Strange thing. Years ago in 2003 I gave a class on writing -- internet story and received an email from one of the participants. He finished his book and even sent me the critique I wrote to him. He also sent me some chapters that as soon as things settle down I'll read. Not sure what he wants me to do but I will write back.

This week on the blog. Tomorrow - Still being inspired by Bird By Bird. Anne Lamott always sends my thoughts in different directions. Wednesday will continue with the Plot material. Thursday's interview is with Peggy Tibbets, a fellow YA author. Friday brings a writer's tip and Saturday the first chapter of The Dragons of Fyre. Sunday I'll visit three more blogs.

I have an interview on another blog coming up on Tuesday. Will promote that when I find who and where.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

3 Blog Visit Sunday Information important to all who have books electronically published Article on things missing from stories and also articles and interviews Advice for writers

Saturday, April 16, 2011

1st Chapter Saturday -- The Temple of Fyre

Janet Lane Walters
New Concepts Publishing

Chapter One
Ria stuffed the scroll she’d taken from the shelves beneath her caftan and tightened the sash to make sure the cylinder holding the rolled papyrus remained hidden. Beads of perspiration covered her forehead. She rubbed the sleeve of her robe over her face. The night air held sultry remnants of the heat of the day. Usually, the thick walls of the temple complex kept the rooms and corridors cool. Tonight was different. The usual night breezes were absent so the heat remained. Perhaps the approaching solstice was the cause?

Or, maybe her fear of discovery caused her heart to thump against her chest and her muscles to tighten into confining bands? She was in a place where she had no right to be without the presence of one of the priestesses. Acolytes were forbidden full access to the scrolls found in the scriptorium. She drew a deep breath. She’d acted out of necessity. The scroll beneath her caftan was one she’d discovered during another of her night searches. She wasn’t permitted to read this one, but she had and the words had stirred questions her tutors had refused to address.

On the morrow, her ability to control the flames of the fyrestones would be tested. She would be ordered to call flames from a pair of scarlet crystals and blend her blaze with those raised by the priestesses of the circle. Then, the chief priestess would assign her a task. Ria believed the things she’d read in this particular scroll would help her during the ordeal. The test was not without risk. One slip and the flames she sought to control could turn her into a living torch.

She crept to the scriptorium door and peered into the hall. With senses alert, she listened and searched the shadows cast by the flickering torches on the white plaster of the walls. Sensing no one was near, she scurried along the corridor toward the living quarters of the priestesses and acolytes. With luck, she would reach her room without being discovered.

Her hand pressed against the scroll she wanted to read again. The words of this particular one were vastly different from the lessons she’d been taught by the priestesses. Had they lied? Were the ways to use the fyrestones described in these writings true, or were they only a fable invented by some ancient scribe?

There were other scrolls that told tales that seemed unreal. The aged priestess in charge of the scriptorium had laughed when Ria had asked about dragons with eyes the color of the scarlet fyrestones. The old woman had scoffed when Ria had showed her passages describing wands wielded by wizards that sent lashes of bright or dark flames to control people.

There was no one she could ask if this scroll contained truths. Questions weren’t encouraged. Still, she wanted to believe what she’d read in this scroll about the uses of the stones, for they told of helping the people and that appealed to her.

Ria sighed. Since the day she’d been bought from the slavers by the chief priestess, her life, though interesting had been lonely. Not for her the crowded classrooms, or the dormitory where she could form friendships with the other acolytes. She had her own chamber and a private bathing room. During her lessons, she’d been the only student. Even her meals had been taken with the priestesses, not the other acolytes.

Why had she been kept isolated from the other acolytes? What make her so different? Like Ria, most of the others had been brought to Rosti by the slavers. At twenty, she was a year or two younger than most of the young women who had entered the temple with her.

She’d learned to call fire from every color of the crystals and learned how to blend the flames to form sheets of fire. She could impose maps and pictures on the sheets and knew the ways of sending spears of flame to various places. From the tiny flames of the white, to yellow, orange, and scarlet fyrestones, her progress had been steady.

A peal of laughter made her stiffen. She ducked into a shadowed alcove. After the evening meal, acolytes were to be in their rooms, not wandering in the halls. A pair of senior priestesses, their orange robes gleaming in the light from the hall torches, appeared. The women hurried past Ria’s hiding place and entered the harras.

Ria trailed behind them. The noises from the studs’ quarters stirred her curiosity. The men seldom left the harras, except for exercise in the garden, or when they were summoned to the room of one of the priestesses. Until Ria passed her final test, she wasn’t allowed into the rooms where the men were kept. Several times, she had spied on the studs, but only during the day and never in the evening when the priestesses visited. She paused beside the beaded curtain and peered inside.

Her eyes widened. Most of the men were nude or scantily clad. Priestesses reclined on low couches. Studs offered beverages and finger foods. Ria watched as one of the men fondled a priestess’ breasts. Another man swayed to the sound of a flute. He held his organ in his hand. Ria felt a stirring low in her belly. Her breath caught in her throat.

Malera’s husky laughter rolled toward Ria. Before the chief priestess could discover her, Ria ducked into the hall leading to her chamber. When she reached the doorway, she carefully parted the beaded curtain and slipped into the room. If she’d been caught, Malera would have been furious. The chief priestess’ temper outbursts often ended in an injury for the culprit.

Ria sank on the bed. The scene in the harras filled her thoughts and stirred her curiosity. What would have happened next? Though she’d been betrothed before her clan had sold her to the slavers, he had died and the women hadn’t yet instructed her on the ways of a woman and a man.

A frown wrinkled her brow. The lessons of her teachers arose. Acolytes were forbidden to interact with men, except for official business. A priestess was permitted encounters, but she must never allow a man’s organ to enter her body. Such a surrender would destroy her ability to control the flames she drew from the fyrestones.

Memories of her first training session with the chief priestess had been a series of commands. Once again, Ria had heard Malera’s throaty voice raised in warning.
A priestess is not permitted to bear a child. To give birth means the loss of power. She must find a daughter among the acolytes. For that reason, I called you from the plains before your clan brought you to the marriage bed. If I hadn’t, your talent would have been lost. When my days as chief priestess end, you will take my place. Though you are not of my body, you are the child of my spirit.

At first, those words had brought Ria pleasure and a sense of smugness. If all the acolytes in the temple, she was special. Lately, she’d begin to question her mentor’s motives. Ria remembered no call. All she knew was her betrothed had died suddenly, and the next day, her clan had sold her. Had Malera sent the slavers?
Ria pushed her questions aside. She lifted a white fyrestone from the bedside table and gazed into the multi-colored depths. With care, she called a flame and lit the candles on the low table. She drew the purloined scroll from beneath her caftan and extracted the rolled papyrus from the metal container. After finding a comfortable position, she carefully unrolled the scroll to read again the words that had intrigued her.

Since the prime temple in the hills was abandoned, a circle has been established in each hamlet. The circle of fyrestones and their wielders will call forth the flames to protect the people. These crystals should be used to heal, to cleanse, and to bring peace and plenty to the hamlet. Male and female will be trained to use the stones for the benefit of all.

Ria sighed. Should she believe her mentor or the words of the scroll? How often had Malera told her the commoners were there to serve the priestesses? Ria ran her finger along the next lines.

There are five varieties of the opaline crystals bearing fire in their depths. All hold the power of the sun. The smallest is the white. This stone holds all the colors of the flames in its core. Any of the people of the land can use this fyrestone to kindle a blaze on the hearth and to light candles to illuminate the darkness.

To use the yellow, orange or scarlet, the wielder must be trained. The rare blue stone needs two to call the flames, Male and female who must be united in body, heart and mind. Woe comes to the person who tries to use the blue crystal without the triple bond.

What did it mean? Until she’d seen this scroll, she’d never heard of a blue fyrestone. She lifted the white she’d used to light the candles and studied the swirl of colors. She saw yellow, orange, and scarlet. She also saw blue.

Unable to answer the questions plaguing her, she hid the scroll beneath her bed. After bathing, she sought sleep. Tomorrow for the first time, she would take her place in the circle and play a role in the temple rituals. She would control the flames raised by the priestesses who drew on the yellow and orange, and blend them with the fire of her scarlet. Curiosity about the coming test surfaced and colored her dreams.
* * * *
Ria stood at the window of her chamber and stared into the inner courtyard. She glanced at the sky. Before long, the sun would approach midday. That moment marked the time of her final challenge before becoming a priestess of the Temple of Fyre.
Though she’d bathed before going to bed, she smelled the scent of fear on her skin. She wet an herb-scented sponge and washed. As she donned the white caftan worn by all acolytes, her hands shook. Once she completed the test, she would be entitled to wear the scarlet robes of a high priestess. Only Malera and the two priestesses too old to work in the circles were so honored.

Her stomach clenched and she feared she would be ill. She rubbed her hands on a towel and sat on the edge of her bed to await the summons to join the circle. Once she reached the temple’s inner chamber, she would take her place on the topmost tier and direct the flame as Malera ordered. For a moment, the room wavered. She inhaled deeply and sought to calm her stuttering heart.

The whisper of sandals on the stones of the floor brought Ria to her feet. She stared at the doorway. Malera parted the beaded curtain. “Come. ‘Tis time.”
Ria’s hands tightened. She walked toward the older woman. “Are you sure I’m ready for the trial?”

Malera smiled. “I chose you from the slavers’ pens. For five years, I’ve nurtured and honed your abilities. You are the daughter I dared not birth.”

Ria took the chief priestess’ hand and brushed her lips across the back. She tasted anger roiling inside her mentor. A part of Ria recoiled from the strength of Malera’s emotions. Who had angered the chief priestess? Would the fermenting fury guide Malera’s choice for the test?

“When I call fire from the stones, how will I use it?”

Malera’s thin smile increased Ria’s inner quaking. A glint of smug satisfaction in the chief priestess’ dark eyes tinted Ria’s thoughts with uneasiness. What did Malera plan? Suddenly Ria was afraid. She looked away to keep her mentor from reading these emotions.

“Do not fret. The task will be within your abilities.”

“When you joined the circle for the first time, what was your task?”

Malera pursed her lips. “A most enjoyable one. My mentor bade me cleanse the temple of the malcontents who tried to destroy the rights of the women who use the fyrestones. Though several of the women had escaped, I succeeded in destroying most of the rebels, leaving only those who had fled years before for my mentor to purge.”

Ria frowned. “What did the malcontents do?”

“They gave fyrestones to men who were unfit to use the crystals and to women who were untrained in the proper ways of this temple.”

“How could anyone not trained here use any crystal other than a white?”

“The rebel priestesses diluted their power. They joined with men. They permitted studs to use the stones. They were fools. A wise woman never cedes her power. She does not share control with anyone. As the only temple in the land, all must obey us.” She lifted Ria’s chin and gazed into her eyes.

Malera’s eyes narrowed. They compelled obedience. Something inside Ria made her resist the compulsion. Confusion filled her thoughts. Acid flowed in her gut. A need to rebel arose, but how could she act against the chief priestess’ guidance? The older woman had rescued her from forced service in one of the pleasure houses. Malera had shown the kindness Ria’s mother had withheld. Ria’s hands clenched. Just because the old man chosen as her betrothed had died under mysterious circumstances, she’d been declared cursed and sold to the slavers. No one had cared about her fate until Malera.

The chief priestess released Ria’s chin. “’Tis time for you to face the test, as all who are selected to serve the temple must.”

Ria nodded. “I am ready.” As the knowledge of how she wanted to use the crystal solidified, her stomach fluttered. Even if she must defy her mentor, she would use the stone to help, not harm.

Malera led Ria into the large rotunda where those who came to petition the priestesses waited for a summons. Tiles reflecting the colors of the fyrestones covered the floor. Benches lined the side walls. Tables where the petitioners placed gifts of food, cloth, spices and gems flanked the doorway to the inner chamber. Here also, the tithes from each hamlet were collected.

When Malera parted the curtain made from strings of white crystals like the one Ria had used to light the candles, her stomach clenched. She stepped inside and faced the circle. Three priestesses stood on the first tier and Ria studied the fyrestones in the depressions carved in the limestone of the circle. They glowed with power.

The chief priestess led Ria to the topmost tier where a single scarlet crystal glittered in the cup. With a flourish, the chief priestess handed Ria a scarlet stone. “This is the one you used in practice and have imprinted with your spirit. Use the crystal well.” She retreated to the base of the tiered circle. “Prepare for the testing.”

Ria drew a deep breath. She noticed a glint of scarlet in Malera’s hand and wondered why. Ria raised her crystal. The sun edged over the opening in the roof above the circle. “Let us begin.”

The three women holding yellow fyrestones called fire. Then two spires of orange appeared. Ria stared at the stone balanced on her palm. The sun centered in the opening. She basked in the warmth. Her crystal glowed and a flame rose. With care, she blended the yellow and orange tongues of flame with those from the scarlets.
“Seek the hamlet of Gydon,” Malera said.

Ria molded the fire into a sheet. A map of the land from the ocean shore in the south to the northern mountains appeared. Using a finger of fire, she sought the farming hamlet near the hills beyond both wastes and the grove. Houses appeared, then people, mostly women and children. Three elderly men and several youths led scraggly beasts to a pasture beyond the walls. Some of the buildings looked as though they’d been scorched by fire in the past. The gardens were ill tended. The people looked beaten. Ria smiled. She could help them.

“This is your task,” Malera said. “For years, the hamlet of Gydon has failed to send the tithe to the temple. You will destroy the fields, the flocks, the herds and the orchards to force the people to leave.”

“Where are the men?” Ria asked.

“Sold into slavery to pay the tithe. Twenty years ago, there were those living near Gydon who attempted to use the fyrestones in ways opposed to the chief priestess’ dictates. I cleansed the temple of their ilk, but three remained until my predecessor challenged them and won. Gydon must become a lesson for all the people of Fyre. They must see what happens to those who defy me.”

Ria held the flames steady. “How can those who remain pay the tithe? Don’t you see how poor the people are?”

“They have children to sell. Young girls for the temple. Older girls, women, and boys to serve in the pleasure houses. Destroy the flocks, fields, herds and orchards. Lay waste to all. Show the hamlets of Fyre what happens to those who refuse to pay the tithe.”

Defiance built within Ria. How could she use the flames to punish the innocent? “Do any of the rebel priestesses still live?”

Malera smiled. “They are dead and their studs with them. Do as I command.”

“Priestesses should use fire to help. I’ve visited the scriptorium and have read many scrolls. What you tell me to do is wrong.” Ria saw the thin line of scarlet flame flow from Malera’s hand. Ria felt the chief priestess’s attempt to use the fyrestone she’d been given. “No.” Ria braced and fought her mentor.

The gathered flames coalesced. The pictures faded. Spires of yellow, orange and scarlet shot higher and higher until they filled the opening in the roof. For an instant, Ria faltered. A blazing arrow of scarlet shot toward her. She felt a burn along her skin. With determination, she gathered her waning strength and held against the battering of Malera’s mental thrusts.

Ria staggered. Screams echoed in her head as one by one, the priestesses fell from the link. When the flames died, she saw the fallen women. Were they alive or had her defiance killed them? She held her breath until they stirred. She looked down. The crystals in the cups of the circle were blackened cinders.

Malera moved toward the circle. “Traitor. Even before the slavers brought you to Rosti, I chose you as my successor. When your were a child, I watched you in the flames. I saw you grow. I sent fire to kill the old man they wanted you to marry. And so you came to me. I have nurtured and cherished you, and betrayal is how you repay my care.”

Ria left the top tier and made her way down the levels. “I cannot harm the innocent for any reason. You are evil.”

Malera fisted her hands on her hips. “You have betrayed not only me, but the temple. There are no stones to replace the ones you turned into cinders.”

Ria met the glare from the chief priestess’ dark eyes. “I did what I was meant to do.” She stepped through the beaded curtain and strode across the rotunda. The slap of sandals on the tiles came from behind her. Gooseflesh rose on her skin.

“We have been betrayed,” Malera cried. “Acolytes and priestesses, join me. Drive her from the temple. Stone her. As was done in the past, the temple must be cleansed of those who deny the proper ways.”

Terror gripped Ria’s shoulders in a vise. She heard the footsteps of those who followed. Though cries for flight beat steadily in her thoughts, she refused to show her fear. Ria reached the outer door and stepped into the lane. The first rock thudded against her back and drove the breath from her lungs. She staggered but managed to stay on her feet.

As though the flames she’d sent skyward had triggered a solar flare, the sun brightened. Ahead of her, the wide lane leading to the temple was deserted. She glanced over her shoulder and knew she would never reach the market square before the women were upon her. Panic engulfed her. She ran. Rocks slammed into her body. One smacked her legs. She fell. The caftan tore. On hands and knees, she slid across the rough cobbles of the path.
* * * *
Malera stood over Ria’s body. “Traitor.” The chief priestess turned to the acolyte who had been the last to join the stoning. “See what happens to those who defy me. Next time, do not be so slow or you will face the same punishment.”

Another of the young women shrank back. A third knelt beside the body. “She lives. Should we call the alders to take her to the slavers?”

Malera ran her hands along the handle of her flail. “Let her lie.” She pointed upwards. “The sun will drink her essence and the carrion crows will dine on her flesh.” She indicated the dark forms that circled against the blue sky. “See, they gather for a feast.”

Two huge birds, the color of the midnight sky, landed on the path. Their orange beaks gleamed. One hopped forward and focused its gaze on Malera.

The chief priestess laughed. “Soon you will eat.”

The bird’s wings spread like ebony fans. “No,” one of the acolytes cried.

Malera pointed to the temple. “Since you have no stomach for what must be done, go to the temple and tend the priestesses the traitor harmed.”

The young woman backed away. “What about the fyrestones she destroyed? What will we do for the solstice rites?”

“Soon, the stone seekers will arrive.” Malera stroked the thongs of the flail. Most years, they arrive before the solstice.” She raised the flail and lashed Ria’s back and legs until blood seeped through the caftan.

The acolyte who knelt beside Ria jumped back to avoid the thongs. Something flew from her hand and skipped across the cobbles. “Why did you beat her?”

Malera laughed. “How else will the carrion crows know a feast awaits?”

The young woman covered her face with her hands. She scurried to the temple.

Malera spat on Ria’s body. “I am the chief priestess, the chosen leader of the Temple of Fyre. This land is under my control. The commoners bow to me. Rewards and punishments are mine to mete.” She spun, strode to the temple and hurried to the harras. The fires raging in her body needed to be quenched as only the studs could do.
* * * *
Ari paused at the edge of the grove and peered at the sky. The sun stood just beyond midday. Stay or go? If he pushed the burros, he could reach Rosti just as the sun set. Should he take the chance? The rocky plain between the grove and the hamlet was home to the lopestas that emerged to hunt after the sun set. One stumble on the rocks could turn a profitable season into a disaster. Tomorrow would be soon enough to head for Rosti. He would have a tenday to sell the fyrestones and depart before the solstice began.

He staked the burros and lifted the near empty panniers from their backs. He piled digging tools and the tent beside the wicker baskets. Beads of sweat collected on his forehead.

The scarlet fyrestone he’d worn on the day the pair of stone seekers had found him pulsed. He pressed his hand against the lump beneath his tunic. What did it mean? He stared toward the distant walls of the hamlet. His eyes widened. A plume of fire rose toward the sun. What were the priestesses attempting? Had one of their fires escaped from their control?

Not his business. The only traffic he had with the temple was for the sale of the opaline crystals he carried in his haversack. With the fyrestones he’d found, he would have enough coins for supplies and to buy some answers to the questions that had bothered him for years. Who was he and why had he been abandoned in the grove? Which hamlet had been his birthplace?

He started a fire and ate the remainder of the lopear he’d snared that morning. After setting several snares, he dozed until sunset. He checked his snares and cooked two grass hens, ate one and slept.

When pre-dawn lightened the sky, he loaded the burros. He set off across the rocky plain, taking care to avoid large piles of rocks where the lopestas burrowed during the day.

At the gate into Rosti, he paused to pay the entrance fee. “You’re in early,” the guard said. “Any luck?”

Ari nodded. At least the guard asked out of curiosity, and not the prying questions asked when a man left the hamlet. Ari often wondered if there were bonds between the guards and the thieves who preyed on solitary stone seekers.

“A bit,” he said. “Found whites and a pair of yellows before the site played out.” That had been the first of his finds, but he wouldn’t mention the others. “Sale will bring me enough for supplies and a few nights at an inn.”

The man stepped closer. “You’re the first stone seeker to arrive. With crystals in your pack, the priestesses will welcome you. Did you see the flame yesterday at midday, the one that rose above the temple? Heard one of the priestesses tried to kill Malera. Someone said all but the white fyrestones turned black and have no power.

Ari laughed. “Then mine should bring a good price.”

The guard nodded. “Might reward you with more than coins. Could offer a night with one of the priestesses. Or you could be chosen to join them for the solstice celebration. Hear they like the things a man does.”

Ari forced a grin. That was one reward he had no intention of collecting. If he gave a priestess too much pleasure, he could become a prisoner in the harras.
He led the burros past the guard and turned into the first lane where stables abounded. He stopped at the one Jorg had always used. His thoughts turned to his dead partner, and once more, he regretted being unable to save the old man’s life. Jorg had clutched his chest and fallen to the ground. Ari hadn’t known what to do.
The stableman accepted enough coins for a tenday. Once again, Ari thanked Jorg for teaching him to keep a secret stash of coins. Ari led the burros into a stall. He draped the blanket roll over the gate and hung the tent beside it. He hung the panniers on hooks and set the digging tools on a ledge. The stableman lifted a stone block and the trough filled with water. While the man brought hay and grain, Ari curried the burros. Once he finished, he hoisted his haversack and lifted a sack of dirty clothes.

After leaving the stable, he sought an inn. In the choosing, he heeded Jorg’s advice. Never stay at the same one you used the last time. Always seek one with a ground floor chamber and a private bathing room.

The second one he visited met his requirements. “You’re in luck,” the skinny innkeeper said. “In a few days, the place will be crowded with folks arriving for the summer solstice. Five coppers a day for the room. Meals are extra. For one silver, the laundress will see to your clothes.”

Ari nodded. He counted out the coins for the room and laundry. Though he had no intention of remaining for the solstice, he paid for a tenday, two beyond the festival. Once he sold the fyrestones and bought supplies, he would seek Jorg’s old partner. Besides the twenty coppers Ari gave the old man on each visit to Rosti, this time Ari was determined to purchase information. Once he knew all the particulars of the rescue, he would leave the hamlet. Being near the temple during the twice-yearly rites made him uncomfortable. The scarlet crystal, his heritage, always reacted. He feared one day, the stone would raise a flame and consume him.

He followed the innkeeper down a narrow hall and noticed two exits he could use to come and go without crossing the common room. The thin man opened a door at the end of the hall. Ari noted the heavy bar he could use to keep people out. He nodded. “This will do.” He dropped the sack of dirty clothes in the hall. “Have these washed. I’ll add others after I’ve been to the temple.”

“She’ll have most ready by morning. Will you take your meals in the common room or have them brought here?”

“I’ll have the evening meal brought, but I’ll decide when later.”

“Will you need a companion? I’ve a connection to one of the pleasure houses.”

“Perhaps. First, I have business to conduct.”

Once the innkeeper left, Ari barred the door. He dropped the haversack on the bench beneath the window and secured the shutters. He opened the pack, and one by one, extracted the fyrestones from the pack’s false bottom. As he touched each stone, the core color flickered. He placed each of the colors in a separate pouch and placed them in the large leather one he hung from his belt.

When he left the inn, he strode down the cobbled lane to the market square. He noticed his mentor’s aged and crippled partner beside one of the food stalls. Though Ari wanted to question the man, he knew he couldn’t until after the crystals had been sold.

What would Bil tell him? The man had been Jorg’s partner when they’d stumbled across the small boy near the edge of the grove. The scarlet fyrestone and the copper necklace had been the only clue to Ari’s identity, a clue he didn’t think the men had pursued.

Ari’s hands clenched. Who had left him there? Who had given him the stone? He’d never heard of a man being able to use any of the fyrestones except the white. Though several times, he’d dreamed Jorg had used one, Ari couldn’t remember finding one when the old man died.

The savory aroma of meat pies made his stomach growl. He purchased one and a mug of ale. The nutty flavor of the beverage soothed the fiery spices of the pies. Around him, conversations flowed. He ate quickly. Once the stones were sold, he would order a feast and a woman from one of the pleasure houses to share the food and attend to his needs. He’d been without a woman’s company since the week before the winter solstice. As he sauntered toward the temple, snippets of words reached him.
“Flame near touched the sun.”

“Saw that. Could have ended the world.”

“Heard the priestesses took sick. They’re not hearing petitions.”

“After the solstice when the rites are changed.”

Ari reached the edge of the square and followed the fyrethorn hedge to the arched entrance to the temple lane. The hedge lined both sides of the wide cobble-paved path. The brilliant scarlet blooms on the bushes hid deadly red thorns. Ari frowned. The odd thing was nowhere but here near the temple had he ever seen fyrethorn growing. He often wondered why.