30 September 2011

#FridayFlash - Where Am I?

This scene might answer some questions that you may have. I probably should've posted this before the last one, but I'm still playing with the order of scenes and had thought to leave this for later. (Thanks for the feedback, Jen!)

Here are links to the other scenes I've posted.

Akeva couldn’t shake the feeling that she should be taking care of something important. Lying in a warm cocoon of comfort, Akeva burrowed into the bed with the hope that she’d stay asleep. Maybe she’d dream about that kilted man with his strong arms wrapped around her again.

Instead of seeing the Kilted Man’s ice-blue eyes, disjointed images flickered through her mind. A red-rocked desert, lightning flashes, a stone circle, endless green glens, a rustic house, and finally the Kilted Man lunging at her as she fell. Akeva eyes flew open and she broke out in a sweat. Shit.

Ignoring the protest from her battered body, she pushed herself to sitting. The room swirled around her and she closed her eyes as she took deep breaths.

Damn. It wasn’t exactly sleep she’d been waking from, but another one of her faints. And as usual, it had occurred at the most illogical and inconvenient time, not that now was any better.

Several seconds passed before the ringing in her ears stopped. When Akeva opened her eyes again, she found two concerned women watching her, both dressed like characters in a period movie. While uttering something that Akeva couldn’t discern, the younger one held out a cup to her.

Akeva accepted the cup, and after a tentative taste, she gulped down the water like a person in a desert. “Thanks.”

The young woman’s brows lifted. “Ye dinna have the Gaidlig?” Akeva frowned, the woman’s thick accent made it difficult to understand her.

From her perch in the bed, she glanced around the small room, taking in the rustic nature of the chair, candle sconces, fireplace, and dresser. Despite its’ sparseness, it was better than the hard and cold ground she’d slept on the past few nights. “Where am I?”

A smile lit up the young woman’s face. “Faradoch den Beithe.” Before Akeva could ask where that was, the older woman cleared her throat, causing the young woman to roll her oddly familiar ice-blue eyes. “Jean, our housekeeper, would have me say this house belongs to my husband, Ennis, Laird Faradoch den Beithe,” she sent the housekeeper a sharp look, “but, I live here too, forbye.” The woman turned her attention back to Akeva. “Ye can be calling me Meriel.  What do we be calling ye?”

“Akeva Riordan.” She lifted her hand for a handshake and the bruises on her arm became visible. Meriel’s smile wavered as she tried to ignore the purple marks. Akeva lowered her arm. “They don’t hurt as much as they did a few days ago.”

Meriel nodded, and before the other woman could ask any questions about how the bruises had been delivered, Akeva asked, “How did I get here?”

“Brian, my cousin, saved ye more bruising by catching ye. When ye dinna wake, he carried ye in to the house.” Brian must be the Kilted Man. She didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.

Akeva glanced around the room again, this time looking for a phone, but not finding one. “Could you lend me a phone, I need to call my Dad.”

Meriel’s brows furrowed. “Phone?”

Oh. The strange dialect, the old clothing, and the rustic room finally made sense. She must’ve stumbled into an Amish or Quaker settlement, not that she’d ever visited such a place, even growing up in Ohio. Places without modern technology never held any appeal for her. She believed in better living through printed circuit boards. Of course they wouldn’t have a phone, but there must be one nearby.

“Could you take me to the nearest phone?” Akeva pushed away the quilt and swung her legs off the bed, but Meriel’s firm hand on her shoulder kept her in bed.

“Och, no, lass. Ye had to be carried into this house, ye will stay right there in that bed.”

Just that attempt to get out of bed had reminded her how weak she’d become over the past few days. Akeva sighed. “Could someone call my Dad. He’s probably frantic since I haven’t called him.” Both women frowned at her with confusion written on their faces.

“My cell phone died, probably from electrical shock in that thunderstorm.” Akeva searched for her pack, she’d show them her phone. “Where’s my backpack?”

Jean frowned. “Backpack?”

Panic flooded Akeva’s body. I lost it.

Meriel stooped over and lifted a black bundle. “Ye mean this?” The woman held it out in front of her like it might explode.

Relief washed over Akeva as she grabbed the bag from Meriel. “Thanks.”

Akeva pulled out empty snack wrappers, her digital camera, and her laptop before she found her phone. “Figures it would be at the bottom.” She held up the device that held half of her life. Her laptop held the other half. She pushed the power button and nothing happened. “Like I said, it’s fried.” She hoped they’d be willing to help her even if it went against their anti-technology beliefs.

The younger woman’s brows furrowed, leaving a deep line between them. Jean’s hissed as she took a step back, her narrow-eyed gaze fixed on the items on Akeva’s lap.

What’s with them? It wasn’t like the stuff would kill them, her devices barely qualified as paper weights.

In a whisper, Meriel asked,  “What are those?”

Really? Could there be people who didn’t know a camera or phone when they saw one? “Just my dead electronics. Like I said, I’d use my phone or my laptop to get in touch with my Dad, but they’re fried.”

Akeva opened her laptop and pushed the power button for what must’ve been the thousandth time in three days. And like all the other nine hundred and ninety nine times of pressing that button, she received no response. No spinning hard drive, no screen flicker. Nothing.

Closing the lid, she sighed as she thought about the cost of buying a replacement for the laptop, she’d have to wait on a camera. Damn.


Unnerved by Meriel’s strange pronunciation of the word, Akeva glanced at the two women. Jean glared at Akeva with suspicion, while Meriel wore a wary expression. Were they angry because she’d brought modern gadgets into their house? It wasn’t like she’d meant to cause them trouble, she just wanted help getting home.

“Um,” Akeva shifted in the bed, “if I could call my Dad, I’d be out of your hair as soon as he can get here.”

Meriel’s eyes settled on the pile of items on Akeva’s lap, then to the phone in Akeva’s hand. She reached out. “Do ye mind?” Akeva handed it to the woman.

Turning the phone over in her hands, running her fingers over the smooth buttons, Meriel seemed entranced by the device. The old woman shook her head and stepped back again when Meriel held it out to her. “I am no going to touch the wicked thing.”

Meriel stood with an expression of awe, curiosity, and maybe a little fear. The feeling of unease Akeva’d been feeling grew. Meriel turned to Akeva. “And what are ye supposed to do with this?”

This house, as far as she could see, had no modern conveniences. They wore clothing that Akeva only expected to see in period movies. And now, their reaction to her devices made Akeva’s gut twist into a knot.

Putting the phone back in the backpack, she asked, “Where exactly are we?” When Meriel looked confused by her question, she tried again, “What city?”

Meriel frowned. “The closest town is Naern, only a few days ride from here.” A few days ride? Akeva didn’t remember seeing Naern on the Arizona map.

“Ye must have hit ye heid verra hard if ye dinna ken where ye are.” Meriel’s smile reminded Akeva of the placating type an adult gives a young child. Or a crazy person. “Ye are in Clan Chisolm lands, in the Highlands.”

“As in the Scottish Highlands?” She may be a geography-challenged American, but—


Her reality was unraveling right in front of her. Akeva swallowed hard, then asked, “What’s today’s date?”

Meriel gave her that smile for simpletons again. “The sixth of August.”

No matter how sure she was of the answer, she had to ask her next question. “What year?”

Meriel’s brows furrowed again as she glanced from Akeva’s face, to the devices, and back to her face. “1661, o’ course.”

“Scotland, 1661?"

She couldn’t believe it. No, she didn’t want to believe. As a physics major in college, she’d learned about string theory and multiverses, all of it just hypothetical constructs. The bed beneath her, the strange clothing,  the women who had no idea what to do with a cell phone, these weren’t hypothetical constructs. Very non-hypothetical.

Sure, the landscape she’d traveled certainly resembled photographs of Scotland, but she’d reasoned the unusually placed countryside could’ve been some hidden oasis in the middle of the Arizona high desert. Out in the dark hills that first night after waking at the stone circle, when she’d tried to navigate by the blinking stars, she hadn’t been able to find Orion or the Big Dipper. She’d entertained the idea that she’d  stumbled into a time travel corridor, a mashup of real life physics and elements of science fiction novels. It was just an idea, but ...

Had she really traveled from an Arizona vortex from 2008 to a Scottish stone circle in 1661? Was it possible she’d traveled thousands of miles and hundreds of years? In a flash of lighting?

Meriel said, “Aye.”

28 September 2011

Tech Tool Tip: Speech to Text

A quick tip: If your computer has a speech-to-text functionality, use it.

You can catch so many mistakes by listening to the computer generated voice as it reads the words exactly as written. Embarrassing mistakes that can be avoided if you use this tool:
A screen grab of the Mac OSX tool.
  • double words
  • misspelled words
  • missing dialogue tags
  • overly strong emotions that don't belong in the email to your boss (I remember sending a couple of those while at Intel.)
  • unusual word flow
Lately, I've been using it extensively while revising scenes. I'll highlight-a-few-paragraphs/listen/correct and repeat as needed, then move on to the next set of paragraphs until the end. As a final test, I listen to the entire scene before moving on to my next hatchet job scene.

So, give this tech tool a try, you might just add it to your toolbox.

23 September 2011

#FridayFlash - Dinna Tell

Brian kept his face calm, hiding his surprise at Meriel’s request. Now he understood why she’d insisted they stand in the middle of the sitting room, speaking in hushed voices. “Ye dinna have to ask, I willna say anything about the lass.” With his chin, he pointed to the door. “But the talk has already begun.”

Jean nodded once before she spat out her words. “Aye, I caught that loose-tongued Mairi asking one of the stable lads if they had seen our young hero here,” her lips pursed as she sent him a pointed look, “but she will no be saying anything more, forbye.”

“I wager she doesna have to.” Brian rubbed his throbbing hand as he recalled a brief conversation in the barn. While Brian had been unloading his horse, a groomsmen had asked Brian if he’d “aided” the lass in a tone that hinted at less than gentlemanly help.

Meriel noticed Brian’s swollen knuckles and frowned. “Which one was it?”

He could never keep a secret from Meriel, even if he tried. “Ye will ken when ye see him.”

Meriel sighed and shook her head. “Och, aye, I dare say I will.” Now it was her turn to give him one of her looks. “I thought ye would ken better.”

Brian shrugged, of course he did. Why else would the Clan Rose chief routinely send him on diplomacy errands, particularly those to the Freuchie. Yet, that didn’t mean he had to stand idle listening to a groomsman’s lewd accusations about the lass upstairs, no matter what the lass may have done or wore. “I was just teaching him some manners.”

Meriel sent him a pointed look, then said, “I will have a conversation with Ennis about the lads. In the meantime, dinna add fuel to the fire.”

Brian gave her a curt nod. “As I recall, it isna my behavior that ye wanted to discuss.”

What about the lass caused this distress? That made Meriel demand secrecy?  He glanced at Jean for a clue but only found the taciturn housekeeper glaring at him. Turing to Meriel, Brian asked, “What did she say?”

The dim light of the afternoon filtered through the tree outside the window and dappled light fell into the room. Even with the uneven light, he noticed the tight corners of her lips as Brian waited for Meriel to answer. Bran could feel the worry thrumming on his cousin’s skin.

What could the lass have said that could be so terrible? Had she killed the man who had marked her? Was she hunted? What?

“I am still making sense of it, aye?” She gave Brian a wan smile and sighed again, her shoulders sagging. “It’s nay for ye to be concerned about.”

“What do you want me to say to the people who ask about the lass? Mairi saw that the lass was practically naked. I guarantee that is one detail she will pass on,” he gave Jean a pointed look, “no matter your reprimand.”

The images of her bare limbs covered with purple bruises came unbidden to his mind. How could someone have done that to her? He fisted his hand again.

Meriel interrupted his thoughts. “I dinna ken.” A corner of her mouth lifted. “Ye are a gentleman the last time I checked. I am sure ye will come up with a suitable answer,” she paused, “a civilized one I hope.”

Meriel turned to Jean. The older woman answered Meriel’s question with a brief nod before leaving the room.

Brian grasped Meriel’s elbow to keep her from following the housekeeper out the door and guided her to a chair. “Sit.”

Meriel bristled at his command, but she complied. He sat on the edge of the sofa facing her. “There is more to this than ye are telling me. What is it?”

She lifted her chin and peered at him. “I dinna confide everything with ye.” Why was she so defensive? Why was she not answering his question?

“Aye, that is true, but I think I deserve to ken what all the secrecy is about, I carried her in here after all.”

Meriel turned away, her gaze settled on the glass figurines that sat on the shelf. His cousin sat quietly thinking with those lines between her brows. What was it about the lass upstairs that caused his cousin to be so secretive, so upset?

Brian sat back, deciding to wait her out, but when nearly a minute passed in silence he couldn’t hold his tongue any longer. “I canna imagine anything so bad that ye canna tell me.” Meriel twitched, unusual for her. “If ye worried about the lass and the man,” and he used that term loosely, “that hurt—“

“Brian, it’s n—“

The sitting room door swung open and Ennis strode in, slamming the heavy door behind him. “I should have kent the Rose yelp would be hiding out with his protector.” Ennis stopped in front of Brian and glared at him. “How dare ye bring a woman such as that into my hame. Have ye nay shame?”

Brian stood up and clamped his jaw tight to keep his silence. Meriel rose and placed her hand on Ennis’s shoulder to calm him. He shook it off.

Ennis glared at Brian and blocked Brian’s view of Meriel. “Dinna look to her for help. Ye are no better than a bairn, always hiding behind her skirts.”

Brian took a step froward, returning Ennis’s stare. By Brian’s count, he owed Ennis hundreds of punches for every insult he uttered about himself or his family, and he felt the need to deliver each and every one right now. He is Meriel’s husband. He couldn’t hurt Meriel by doing her husband harm, even if the bastard deserved it. Too bad Meriel hadn’t married someone else. Knowing how Ennis would rage at the thought, Brian chuckled as he stared down the man.

“Ennis.” Hearing Meriel’s sharp voice, Ennis blinked, and she moved to her husband’s side, restraining Ennis with a simple touch of her hand on his arm. “Brian found the lass as he prepared to leave. He only brought her in as she needed tending to.” Ennis’s eyes squinted at Brian, as if trying to see the truth written on Brian’s face.

“Dinna fash, Meriel. I am certain Ennis,” Ennis’ eyes tighten at Brian’s use of his given name rather than his title of Laird, “would have been grace himself and helped her had he been the one to find her.”

No one disputed the blatant lie, but Brian felt Meriel’s disapproval roll off her in waves. Ennis’ already icy glare hardened, causing Brian to grin again.

Ennis turned away from Brian to speak to his wife. “Where is she?”

“Upstairs in Brian’s room. Resting.”

Ennis completely turned his back on Brian before addressing Meriel again. “I will speak to ye. Alone”

“Good day to ye too, Ennis.” Brian walked out of the suddenly too crowded sitting room. Better that Meriel deal with the man, she could to calm the man as only she could. Not even Brian’s father, a respected clan chief, could effectively deal with the hot-heided Ennis for any length of time.

The door clicked behind him and a snort escaped him. For his act of decency towards the mysterious lass, he’d become the subject of the latest gossip, punched a man, and nearly came to fisticuffs with his cousin’s husband. And he didn’t even know her name.

21 September 2011

Story Outlining in Photoshop?

In the latest Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith podcast, the director of the movie Reckless, Gus Van Sant, mentioned that he sometimes outlines his stories in Photoshop. He'll change colors, fonts, moved things around, even incorporate graphics, like balloons. Jeff, the moderator, suggested that it would take a long time to complete an outline in this manner.

As I've only used Photoshop Elements, and am still learning the ins and outs of the program, I'd agree that it would be a long exercise, but I can imagine how stylized and eye-catching it could be. Rather than outline with Photoshop, I could certainly see myself utilizing my Bamboo tablet to brainstorm, create mind maps, and compile story collages.

Photoshop is a pricey tool to have laying around. Just looking thru our own computers, I found other alternatives that could be used to outline, mind map, brainstorm, or just be creative, that are much less than Photoshop.
  • Corel Painter Essentials - bundles with the Wacom Bamboo tablet, free trial download
  • Google SketchUp - Free from Google
  • http://www.apple.com/iwork/iWork with Keynote, Numbers, and Pages- an Apple product equivalent to Microsoft Office
  • Microsoft Office: Word & PowerPoint - who doesn't know these?
  • Mind Node - free mind mapping software
  • Notebook - Mac only, digital notebook that performs handwriting recognition and sketching
  • Photoshop Elements - a photo editing too with drawing capabilities
  • Scrivener - a writer's dream program for managing any sort of writing project, with digital notecards and synopsis creation
  • Shape Collage - photo collage creator - just import the pics you want to use, pick a shape and viola. The pro version removes the watermark.
  • SketchBook Copic Edition - a drawing program that was free on the Apple Mac App Store
  • SketchBook Express - a drawing program that was free on the Apple Mac App Store, an iPad version also available
  • Skitch - a document capture program, free on the Apple Mac App Store & Adroid Market
  • Xmind - free mind mapping tool
  • TuxPaint - a free kids drawing tool, with some cool stamps
Oh, and don't forget the age old reliables ... pen, pencil, markers, crayons and paper.

What do you use to generate your story ideas? Share in the comments.

14 September 2011

More on Music

For as long as I can remember, I've loved listening to music. As a child, instead of napping, I would turn on my parents clock radio to the lowest setting and listen to Captain & Tennille, the Bee Gees and anyone else that aired on the Tucson AM radio station, KTKT. I was about five years old when my Dad gave me an old record player along with a couple of Buddah Records LPs, the maroon label with the fat guy on it. When the songs Leader of the Pack or [Sittin' on] the Dock of the Bay played, I would turn up the volume full blast, but then had to cover my ears because it was so loud. My Dad would walk in and turn down the volume, all the while wagging his head at me. I was lucky he didn't take back his gift!

It was in junior high when I discovered that I didn't have to listen to the country and western music that my parents played. (I like some C&W music, just not all the time.) Most of my friends listened to the popular radio station, KRQQ FM, who played, and still play, the same songs over and over. So, just to be contrary, I chose to listen to the only rock station in Tucson at the time, KLPX. That's how I discovered Van Halen and Alice Cooper. This just proved to be my gateway station to other rock ... Motley Crue, Queensryche, Scorpions, Metallica and even some Pantera.

For much of high school, I thought I would become a professional trumpet player, join a symphony somewhere as principal trumpet. Then I thought about the lifestyle I wanted, and well, being a trumpet player wasn't going to pay those type of bills. So, instead, I chose to study Materials Science and Engineering, where the salaries and benefits were more aligned with how I wanted to live.

But I never gave up on enjoying music, be it as a listening experience, sometimes at ear-splitting volumes - but only when the kids aren't around, practicing my trumpet from time to time, or playing the piano. And as I mentioned before, I listen to music while I write to get into the mood of my stories. Sometimes I already own the music that will help, but like for my first story, mostly set in 1600's Scotland, I didn't have anything. Not even the "Last of the Mohicans" soundtrack.

I thank my lucky stars for the internet where I discovered the folk/rock band the Peatbog Faeries  and Martyn Bennett, traditional Scottish music set to a dance beat. (Did you know there is a bagpipe rock band called the Red Hot Chili Pipers?  I bet you can guess the type of music they play.)

So, by pursuing writingt, I've found another way to feed my love of music. (Which makes the internet services Pandora and Spotify perfect for me. Pandora for the ability to discover new music, and Spotify for the ability to listen to the new music over and over at will. At high volume, if necessary. And Amazon and iTunes make it entirely too easy to grow our music library.

All that as intro to my Scottish story playlist. Maybe you'll discover something interesting in the list.

What are your favorite music discoveries? That feed your Muse?

07 September 2011

Katz's Writers on the Move

Earlier this summer Christina Katz created a group on Facebook, Writers on the Move, in which members share their ups, downs, and status quos about being physically active. Her own blog post announcing the group can be found here. Yardwork, housework, swimming, walking, running ... if your are exercising, no matter the level or expertise, you are Moving.

I admit, I didn't join at first, intimidated by the fact that the Christina Katz founded the group. I mean, come on, I've read her books Writer Mama and Get Known Before the Book Deal, she's a famous writer, why would she want someone like me, an unpublished writer, in her group? I know, stupid thinking, particularly after I asked her to friend me on Facebook, AND she'd accepted, but there you have it.

Weeks passed, and I kept seeing her group updates and finally caved and asked to join. Because really, who couldn't use a little nudge to keep exercising and maintain a healthy lifestyle? I joined and was heartened by all the support that the members provide each other. I've received helpful suggestions on exercise shoes while Zumba-ing that might not cause my plantar fascitis to cripple me, a recommendation for a beginner yoga DVD and calorie/food/exercise tracking apps, and many likes and commiserations, all which gave me the courage to reach out to others. Yes, even to Christina Katz. As a matter of fact, she was one of the first to comment on my updates. Me! Boggles the mind doesn't it. (Or not -- I shouldn't have been surprised by how accepting these Writers On The Move are. Members of the #amwriting community on Twitter are very encouraging and welcoming to us newbies, to all writers really.)

So, if you are a writer, and if you find that you need a nudge to be Move, to Move more, or to Move some, I recommend you check out the group. Just search for it while logged into your Facebook account.