The boy ran up the lane, his thoughts filled with a sweet tension. What would she say? How did she feel about him? Did she know he loved her? His heart beat faster, and his hands were hot. The wind whipped around him, trees sighing like his heart as the leaves moved against each other in waves.
Far away, men sat in a room filled with another type of tension. Pride fought with fear, and anger contended with both. Would their preparations go unnoticed? Were their plans subtle enough? Would they live to see the next minute? A technician pressed switches, and two men grimly stepped up to the console, produced twin keys, inserted them and twisted.
The girl walked along the street, almost skipping. Her heart was light and without care. Her hair was long, black, and braided on the sides. Her eyes were brown with golden flecks, and her skin smooth and olive. Her best feature was that she did not know her own beauty.
The boy slowed a little, out of breath. He needed to bring a gift. There was a flower stand, and he saw a rose of uncommon size. It was pink and red with violet streaks, and he knew that it would be fitting. He emptied his pockets, and gave his money to the vendor, who seeing his fever returned a few coins with a smile.
Lights raced in lines along the console, and the room shook. Men leapt to their feet, and as the fire blossomed outside, they cheered. Their country would join the ranks of the wealthy and powerful. They too could reach far and crush those they opposed. The blood ran hot in their bodies as the flames rose and diminished. They called to their God and praised Him by way of praising their own ingenuity.
She stopped for a while and watched the ducks glide along the pond, and then turned her slim wrist around and saw it was time to meet him. Her pace quickened. She found herself in a favorite place, a lane of cherry trees, the blossoms falling like snow around her. She turned around and stared up through the blossoms at the blue sky.
He held the rose in his hand, the green paper crinkling as he walked towards the park. His sharp eyes saw a tiny form, spinning among the cherry trees. He ran one hand through his short black hair, and wished he was taller, and his face less round. He touched his chin, and almost turned away. Courage blossomed in his heart, and he walked faster.
The fire climbed higher and faster, orange and red becoming blue and cold. When it was no larger than a dot from the ground there came a splash of white and red and blue, shimmering in the stratosphere like a ribbon as the larger portion fell away. The hopes and fears of the men crossed into space, where the sky was darker than their hearts, and the fire spread out into the vacuum like a ghostly violet orchid.
She pirouetted once more, and reached up to the petals, and made a wish with her eyes shut, long lashes over her smooth eyelids, and her mouth forming a perfect bud. She slowed, and felt a hand touch hers. She knew the touch, and her eyes flew open in glee. It was he, and he held her fingers with a delicate grip. The girl smiled, for her wish was true. He came.
The rose he held behind him for only a moment, for he blushed and brought it out. Her eyes shone with a pure light, enjoyment and not greed, and he loved her even more. Her delicate fingers took the rose, and she brought it to her nose, and closed her eyes. He held her hand more firmly, and they walked between the trees, the cherry blossoms falling around them.
It spun slowly as it separated, its cover falling away like leaves behind it, and tiny jets sprayed here and there to slow its rotation. Silent here in the darkness, the sun rose behind the limb of the Earth and rainbow colors surrounded the small cone as it reached its zenith. Gravity won over momentum, and it arced downwards. First violet, then orange and yellow streams washed along and away from it.
The couple found a stone bench at the end of the path, a little away from the rest of the park, and they sat on the cool stone, only their hands touching. The boy knew what he wanted to say, but a cold hand seemed to grip his heart, until he looked in her eyes and whispered to her. She brought the rose up to his face and leaned towards him, for she knew. She whispered back to him and the world seemed to stand still.
The wind buffeted the cone as it slowed, and complicated things began to happen inside. A steel rod pushed two pieces of metal together, a tiny computer calculated speed, altitude and position, and made a decision. Strong pulses of electricity, exquisitely timed, raced to their destinations, and fired the many small charges in a graceful symmetry. The device disappeared, to be replaced by a light and fury too powerful to have a color, as death unfolded for the city below.
She kissed him, her hand in his, their bodies yearning towards each other, the rose almost forgotten in her other hand. Their souls met, their love was all there was, and they passed from this perfect bliss without pain to the other side of existence as their world disappeared in a white wave of heat and light. Trees, buildings, and all life were swept away.
The only solid object remaining in the park was the thick stone bench, and as the ashes fell like the cherry blossoms before them, the light of the sun broke through the gritty clouds. If anyone had been there, they would have seen the shadow of the lovers burned into the stone of the bench, and faintly an image of a rose in a shadow of a hand.
The scent of cinnamon and honey rolled in the breeze, and I followed the trail down the cobbled road. The pastry shop was small and old, but was well-kept and clean. As I entered, a small bell on the door chimed.
An old woman was rolling dough out on a stone slab, and I watched her for a while. She patiently rolled the dough paper-thin, folded it over on itself, and rolled it again. She held up the strip, measured it with her eye, and cut it with kitchen shears. She laid a thin cloth over the dough, her eyes came up to me, and she gave me a sly slight smile.
“Welcome to Âmes Douces. My apologies. Our filo is the hardest dough to roll out. You have to finish what you have started. Then you must cut it short.”
She wiped her hands on a towel, and came up to the register.
“What can I get for you, monsieur?”
“What is your best? I fancy myself to be a gourmet.”
“We have a famous baklava. It has a rich, subtle flavor.”
“May I try some?”
“By all means. Here.”The morsel of pastry vanished as it entered my mouth, and a symphony of flavors emerged – honey, cinnamon, almond, and a smoky undertaste gave way to a mournful sweetness of lemon zest. Suddenly I imagined a small girl playing at the beach, throwing a ball in the surf. Then I was back in the bakery, and I shook my head.
“I’ll take some of that. It’s incredible. A very refined taste.”
The old woman smiled and slid some of the treat into a bag.
I walked back to my hotel, and laid the bag on the dresser. I opened the top, snagged a piece, closed the bag, and plopped down on the bed, intending to watch the news. I took a bite of pastry… She was walking along the sidewalk, looking in windows, and I could feel her sadness. Where was her mom? The girl stood up on tiptoes, holding a small purse in one hand, and craned her neck to see inside the store. There were toys and stuffed animals inside, so she skipped inside. The light seemed different somehow, hazy and colorful…
I was back. I looked at the pastry in my hand, and took another bite…
She picked up a stuffed bear with large eyes and a blue ribbon around its neck. A remote voice spoke, with no words audible. Her head turned, and a rush of sensations poured over me – a hint of perfume, a slight coppery taste, a chill on her skin, and a view of a well-pressed red skirt, nylons, and black shoes. The voice gelled and became coherent. “Can I help you, miss?” A hand softly gripped my shoulder…
The hotel room had a slight smoky taint to the air. I got off the bed, shakily, and stumbled to the bathroom. I stared at my reflection. My eyes were shiny and cruel-looking, my skin taut. I splashed water on my face.
When I returned to the bed, the bag was still there, of course. There were a few crumbs of pastry on the bedspread. I opened the bag and looked inside. There was enough pastry left to spend the whole night, perhaps, being… what, precisely?
The aroma from the baklava was enticing…
I was haggard the next morning, and my feet moved by themselves. The bell chimed, I passed within, and faced the old woman again.
I leaned wearily across the counter and whispered to her…
“How do you do it? Why?”
Her smile was an amiable web of wrinkles.
“I hope you enjoyed your treat, monsieur. I recommend the miniature Apfelstrudel…”
I interrupted her and gripped the edge of the counter so hard my fingers turned white.
“No! What happened to me? Why did I see those… things? What is in your pastry?”She tightened her lips, though her smile did not disappear, but simply became sardonic.
“Vous êtes drôle… Monsieur, you see our sign. Vous parlez français. Would you ask the butcher whether he puts blood in the sausage? You are a gourmet. You know that great cooking, like all art, requires… sacrifice.”
She wrapped up the strudel in a bag and placed it on the counter. Her eyes gleamed.The world spun around me and I looked into the fires of Hell.
Âmes Douces… Sweet Souls. How low and foul a being would I be if I did this?
I laid the money on the counter, took the bag, and left.
The sun glinted off a small object, tumbling slowly end over end. Maxwell breathed slowly, smoothly, and pushed away from the airlock with his legs. He saw in his rear view video feed the ship receding quickly. A moment watching this, and Maxwell whispered, “Select Ranged Target 122798, cross-hair image superimpose, forward feed.” Now he saw the tiny cylinder approaching in the reticule the tracking computer provided.
He breathed again, air like silk in his throat slipping away. The image steadily grew in his visor, and merged almost seamlessly with the glinting, blinking thing he saw with his eyes. A jet on his suit fired once, instantly opposed by another, and the two objects became one.
Maxwell brought his arms slowly towards his face, and muttered another command to the computer. A few hisses and thumps and his velocity relative to the tumbling object slowed to a crawl. Slowly, slowly, slowly. His fingers touched the object, and he expertly opposed the spin with one hand and caught it with the other.
He drew his legs up, and spun slowly around. Maxwell examined his prize, and read the inscription: James Montgomery Doohan (March 3, 1920 – July 20, 2005)
The stars spun in his visor as he rotated, and he tucked the cylinder, shiny but slightly pitted, into a belt loop and pushed some webbing around it, then tugged the covering tight. He smiled as he noted the ship coming into view again. “Let’s take you home, Scotty.”
Commander Jai Tiberius Maxwell, Chief Engineer of the United Earth StarShip Enterprise, first of its class, landed feet first on the airlock hatch.
Monster credit Piolinfax – Image on Wikimedia Commons
I’m making up stuff again. The squishy sort of stuff, things an autopsy, a scanning electron microscope, centrifuges and spectrometers might be involved with if these were real-world organisms.
Building a monster requires some science. It’s best done if you’ve studied a soupçon of biology, a bit of chemistry, maybe even engineering if you’re fabricating a serious danger to your protagonists—say something that can survive in the dark vacuum of space, slice your arm off and eat it, break down a door with ease, is absolutely paranoid about its own survival and looks really ugly to us wee humans.
The alien race I’m designing is called the Sigotha:
The Sigotha as adults are about six feet long, and can rear up to twice that height. They resemble a cross between a lobster and a scorpion, and actually have both an internal and external skeleton. These apex predators are armed with a retractable scimitar blade on each leg, claw-hands on the front legs, a stinger tail, and four mandibles that are capable of slicing through metal conduit. A blow from one of their legs or the tail can send a man flying down a corridor. Their limbs can be coordinated in an attack that would reduce a cow into steaks and choice cuts within moments. They have two sets of eyes on the head, one set usually retracted, and speak in a series of clicks from their claw-hands, which also have prehensile appendages for manipulating tools. There is a tympanum or drum mouth on their upper thorax which they use to mimic sounds. Hearing, vision, sense of smell all surpass humans. The Sigotha are faster on ‘foot,’ amazingly agile, and have somewhat quicker reflexes than human beings. Their exoskeletons resemble metal armor, although the carbon-silicate material is much lighter and more difficult to penetrate than any material we use as armor today.
Yet again the humans have expanded out into the galaxy and encountered another sapient apex predator. There are lots of fascinating and horrible creatures in science fiction. Some are filled out only enough for a plot line, others are built into waking nightmares.
There are many creatures out there, but this one is my own (hugs his Sigothan, which emits a sibilant series of buzzes and tries to reach his head with a rapidly-clicking lobster-like claw). We’re going to have so much fun together!
“If the public likes you, you’re good.” — Mickey Spillane
Our signature motto is “Be true to your reader and the rest will follow.”
Have faith in your reader, but earn their trust first. Write something they would enjoy.
We hope you have a lot of fun here. Read. Critique. Create. Make friends.
— William V. Burns
Writing about those who stand in defense of their country is a challenge. If you’re close to your subject, if you’ve lived it, then you may have trouble stepping back to gain perspective. If you have never served, then you have to gain currency with terminology, basic tactical concepts, and may never capture the gut feelings of combat or even being a member of the service.
History can lend a hand. There is much source material. Possibly more has been written about war than any other human activity. I would guess from the books I’ve read that the leaders in war were favored first, and only during the last two hundred years have the front line soldiers’ stories gained prominence.
Soldiers serving under the command of General George S. Patton, nicknamed “Old Blood and Guts,” used to quip, “our blood, his guts”. Combat requires both, and a successful commander must also have the brains to see the battle in the context of history, to build a bold plan, and know when to hold to it or abandon it in the fog of war.
If you write about war, you will have to possess all three of these qualities.
Life in the military has been characterized as long periods of waiting patiently, punctuated by moments of heart-pounding action. A writer’s lot is not near as hazardous, but does involve working steadily, training yourself to know your genre and your craft, and then that moment of decisive action when you present a manuscript or a pitch for a book to an editor or agent.
It all comes down to that opportunity, maybe the only one you will get for your work to succeed.
Are you ready? Have you prepared, drilled, practiced? Has someone competent in the field checked your work? Are you using the right tools, tactics, strategies?
Will you pass inspection, will you reach your objective? Will you win?
–William V. Burns
Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons User:Onomatomedia
This last January I had the privilege of attending the San Diego Writers Conference, held at the newly upgraded Doubletree Hotel in Mission Valley. The venue was beautiful, the machine of the Writers Conference hummed along flawlessly, and the very best parts were the people.
The camaraderie of writers is a delight to experience. The professionals stoop to help the newcomers, the assured comfort the nervous (ye who are about to find out what an agent thought of your novel, we salute your courage), we cheerfully and thoughtfully dissect each other’s work, and then we retire to dinner or the bar to sip and sup and talk about the trials and comforts of the trade. Ideas and sometimes deals are worked out over a cocktail napkin. Friendships are made and sometimes even romances.
Writing is devilish hard work, as those who have iron enough to confront the virtual blank paper of a word processor know. It’s never assured, and lonely when you create, and sometimes hollow in the achievement of work that sometimes goes unread after all the sweat and tears put in. But there is the phone, or chat, and the solitude is broken. And perhaps once or twice a year you can make a pilgrimage to meet with your profession: agents, editors, a multitude of other writers, and then come the triumphs, small and great of learning more about your trade, your fellows, and yourself.
So it was a chill wind in my heart when I read that the 2013 San Diego Writers Conference was cancelled.
The founder and coordinator, Diane Dunaway Kramer, was injured in an auto accident, and has been unable to help put together this year’s event. I pray for her recovery.
I will miss the camaraderie this year. I hope the event will be back in 2014.
–William V. Burns
Just one month ago I attended the 2012 San Diego Writers Conference.
My objectives were to polish the pitch for my novel, and to learn what I had to do to get it published.
What did I learn?
- How to create a great query letter
- Build a synopsis of your novel
- Jumping over the Slush Pile
- Experience a Writers Convention
- e-Books: The New Market
Was the conference worth every dollar I spent, and the time to get ready?
–William V. Burns
Arthur Conan Doyle -- A Study In Scarlet
What makes a work of fiction echo down the ages, relevant to all who read it?
How can you craft a story, or a book, or a script that will resonate cleanly to readers who come to your work after you have left the stage?
A few thoughts…
Consider the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
What is the difference between the first Sherlock Holmes novel—A Study in Scarlet and Doyle’s 1891 novel, The Doings Of Raffles Haw?
One sits in the golden path of the world’s great mystery novels, and the other… well, I’m reasonably certain you’ve never heard of it.
In Scarlet, Sir Arthur begins by detailing the life of John H. Watson, M.D., veteran of the second Afghan War, recuperating in London. An interesting character, sympathetically described, who meets his roommate-to-be, a man who greets him and immediately says, “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”
What has begun as the reminiscences of an Army surgeon twists into a mystery… Holmes meets Watson and the game, as they say, is afoot.
The Doings Of Raffles Haw begins as a mundane tale of fiscal and family woe, and in a chapter or two slowly changes to a fantasy about unlimited wealth and its uses. The characters are utterly forgettable.
Points: Sharp, interesting characters, doing interesting things. Amaze your reader.
Both are set in approximately the same period. Both have plots with secrets revealed, and human failings set in a Victorian prism.
Both in their own way are fantasies.
One tale illuminates its period, and the other is just a shadow of its time.
–William V. Burns
Project Gutenberg links to both novels:
A Study in Scarlet
The Doings Of Raffles Haw
It was another pointless day at my community college. The usual agitators in my English 204 class had started a discussion which ranged far off its original course, and finally degenerated into an argument about that old cliche: If you knew a nuclear weapon was about to explode in a city in a few hours, and you had the perpetrator in custody, would it be ethical to torture him until he gave up and disclosed the bomb’s location?
Jenny, an earnest Marxist with deep blue eyes and an equally deep bosom, passionately laid out her reasoning for appealing to the terrorist’s human side, and stated that the end “…never justified the means, if the means were really mean.”
Paul, our designated conservative, opined that “…in the event that the torture was successful, and the city was saved, the President would surely pardon the torturer. In any case, what right does scum like that have to due process?”
Our instructor, a bored remnant of the Seventies, a blasé man in a tweed jacket, interjected a homily about the ineffectiveness of torture, but lost the thread somewhere in a dazed rant about the political system.
I was hoping Jenny would bounce up again – but then another student spoke up. None of us knew him by name. He was one of those colorless, middle-aged students who came in, took their notes quietly, and left, just collecting their credits for whatever reason. His voice was flat and unemotional.
“You’re all missing the point. There’s nothing philosophical about torture. It’s an act you perform because at the time you feel you have to. You don’t think about the morality of it. It’s beyond that. You have another human being before you, and you need the information. You have to be right. You just do it.”
The plain man rubbed his forehead. We were silent.
“He’s there, and he doesn’t want to tell you what you need to know. You’re there, and you have no choice. You just do it. In his agony, you know he’ll tell you anything he can think of—lies, fantasies, half-truths. So you have to take it to the end. You have to get to that point where he knows he’s going to die, where he’s bleeding from everywhere, and he knows the pain won’t stop, won’t stop until that last labored breath. He’s soiled himself several times. There’s bile on the floor. He’s drowning in his own sweat, and it smells of fear. The stench of him fills the room. You keep pressing him, until in that final haze of pain, just before he dies, you’re sure.”
There was no sound in that room except our breathing. The plain, middle-aged man placed his palms gently on the desk in front of him, and looked around at us.
“Don’t we all just do what we have to?”
He put his little notepad under his arm and left the classroom, just as the bell rang. We never saw him again.
–William V. Burns