Monday, April 23, 2018

Ta-Da! I finished the first draft of ALIEN VOWS!

I feel like a need a cigarette and I have never smoked in my life. I just finished the first draft of the sequel to Alien Bonds. In honor of that, here's the beginning of Chapter One:

“Yulayan!” Her father’s voice coming from the wall speaker make Yulayan jump. “Will you join your mother and me in the zagathuan?”

“Certainly, Ayzanai,” Yulayan said, closing her terminal.
Her parents were waiting for her in the zagathuan? This far into autumn, her mother wasn’t comfortable out of doors for any length of time unless she wore heated clothing. On the other hand, it was her father’s favorite space in all but the coldest winter months. Yulayan stood up and took a deep breath to compose herself. This might well be the moment for which she had been waiting and planning with growing impatience. She glanced at herself in the mirror, to be sure her clothes looked tidy, and none of her agitation showed on her face.

The person staring back at her looked obviously Wakanrean at first glance. Her face, covered in dense golden fur, was triangular in shape, with a curving arc of a nose and a wide mouth. Above her face, the longer crop of silver-white hair that made up her headcrest was distinct from Terran hair in that it never grew longer.

Yulayan closed her eyes as a childhood memory overwhelmed her without warning. When she was small, her mother had tucked her into bed every night. Yulayan could recall the sensory experience with aching clarity—the silky feel of her mother’s long black hair brushing her own small furred face; the sweetish scent of the perfume her mother sometimes wore; a smooth, naked Terran face looming over her, brown eyes smiling fondly.

Yulayan opened her eyes and frowned at her own image. Her eyes betrayed her Terran mother’s contribution to her genetic makeup more than any other feature. Her irises were not only an odd mix of amber and brown flecks in a murky greenish matrix, but they were too small. The whites of Wakanrean eyes showed only at the extreme corners, and Yulayan could clearly see white on either side of and even beneath her irises.

Her parents were waiting. Yulayan turned towards the door but paused as she noticed her profile in the mirror. Above her tightly fitted red trousers, not even the lose lines of her black tunic-style shirt could completely hide the round swell of her breasts. Modest they might be, but in a world where only nursing mothers had noticeable mammary characteristics, the recent flowering of her breasts had left a bitter taste in Yulayan’s mouth. This was too much to bear.

Yulayan felt a twinge of envy that Kifarao would never have to suffer this indignity, and then chastised herself for her own callousness. Her twin brother might have Wakanrean eyes, but his other features revealed his heritage to even the most casual observer.

Conscious that she owed her parents the courtesy of promptness, Yulayan walked rapidly through the short corridor that connected her room to the main room, then exited the house through the sun room.

Yulayan found the chill autumn air bracing as she crossed the lawn to the zagathuan. Located near the house and at some distance from the high boundary wall that enclosed the entire property, the outdoor room was defined by a stone foundation covered by a carpet of deep purple streaked with green and blue. The furniture was similar to that of the main room—two large sofas, a handful of chairs, each with a hassock, and assorted tables and appliances. Yulayan noted that the sound system was off and counted this as another indication of her father’s state of mind. Her father was a qatraharai, and almost always had music playing when he relaxed in the zagathuan.

“Thank you for coming, Yulayan,” her father said, rising to his feet. He stood next to the sofa where her mother still sat, and Yulayan looked at him with pride.

Kuaron Du was a true Wakanrean. He was average height for his species, but if the Terran woman beside him had stood up, the top of her head would only have come up to his chin. His silver-white headcrest gleamed in the bright sunshine, and the pupils of his amber eyes had narrowed to tiny dots. He was barefoot, too, even in the autumn chill; the claws of his toes left tiny scuff marks in the carpet. If his blue tunic and gray trousers were less uniquely Wakanrean than his features, at least they weren’t blatantly Terran, either.

“Certainly, Ayzanai,” Yulayan said, casting an appraising glance at her mother. It seemed to her that her mother looked a trifle subdued. She wore her black hair much shorter than she had in the past, barely long enough to touch her collar, which made her look older to Yulayan. Today her brown eyes were almost solemn. Even the dull red color of the fitted shirt and trousers she wore emphasized her gloom—not quite mourning clothes, but close enough to convey a somber mood.

“Kifarao will be here in a moment,” Kuaron said.

The kitchen servoid approached, but Yulayan waved it away. She was too excited to eat or drink anything.

“Here’s Farao,” her mother said, as the sun room door opened again. “Sit down, Yulayan.”

Yulayan sank into a chair and watched her brother walk across the lawn to join them. She knew from his movements that he was as anxious as she was about this family meeting. The way he ran one hand over the black hair of his headcrest was a sure sign that he was nervous. Yulayan had an epiphany as she studied her brother’s face.

It wasn’t any one feature that damned him as half Terran; it was the combination of subtle differences in the shape of his face, his mouth, his nose, his ears. There was just too much variation from the Wakanrean norm for him to pass as truly native to the planet. Not even the pure Wakanreaness of his amber eyes could save him.

Ayzanai,” Kifarao said, with a nod to their father, “Elazanai,” another nod to their mother. “I’m here as you asked.”

“Sit down, please,” their father said.

He waited until Kifarao was comfortable to speak again, and when he did, he looked first to Dina.

She nodded, and Yulayan saw that she held something in her hands. She was twisting whatever is was back and forth as if she wanted to break it apart, but it was too strong for her.

“I’m sure you both have some idea of why we’ve called you here,” Kuaron said. It hadn’t been phrased as a question, but he waited, as if he expected a reply.

Yulayan gave Kifarao a moment, but when he said nothing, she spoke up. “One of us—Farao or I—must become yarunai—so that we don’t risk becoming shahgunrahai with each other.” She added the explanation in a tone that mimicked politeness, but the tiny frown on her father’s face told her that he had interpreted her condescension correctly.

Her mother wasn’t so forbearing as to remain silent at borderline insolence. “We know how shahgunrah works, thank you, Yulayan,” she said.

Yulayan felt her face grow hot. She knew it was a Terran trait, and she was thankful blushes weren’t visible on a Wakanrean face. It always made her blush to be reminded that, Terran as she was, her mother had experienced shahgunrah within minutes of meeting her father.

“As you said,” her father said, “one of you must become yarunai. We waited as long as we could because your mother wanted you both to finish basic school here in Wisuta, but your doctors have confirmed that you’re both on the cusp of maturity. To wait any longer is to court disaster. One of you must leave immediately—within a day or two.”

Her father added the qualification when her mother started in alarm. Her mother was obviously unhappy about complying with this universal custom of her adopted world.

“We’ve called you here together for two reasons,” her father went on. “The first is because of yarun, and the second is because tradition dictates that today is the day that you finally assume the responsibility that destiny has allotted you.”

He nodded to his shahgunrahai, and Dina held out what she had twisted in her hands.

Yulayan caught the glint of silver and felt a surge of excitement. She glanced at the base of her father’s throat where a silver heicha was clipped onto his chest fur. Engraved on the oval surface was a lopsided polygon, the mark of Paruian, and a smaller glyph, in ancient Wisutan script, that represented ancestry.

Her father looked grave. “I know you both have always understood that this day would come, but I know from my own experience how different your life will be after today. It is no insignificant thing to wear this heicha. Everyone will look at you differently once they see Paruian’s mark. You may even find that you look at yourself differently.”

If they’re looking at the heicha, Yulayan thought to herself, they won’t notice my eyes.

“I know you’ve heard many times how much consternation and dissension your birth caused here on Wakanreo,” her father was saying. Yulayan had heard it all before, but she made herself listen respectfully. “Aside from the unprecedented phenomenon of a natural hybrid birth, there were those who expressed shock at the idea that the blood of Paruian had mingled with the blood of a Terran. You were almost to your second birthday before the Disciples of Paruian decided that you were indeed true descendants of Paruian. Your mother and I have kept these for you since that day.”

He held out his hand, and Yulayan saw two silver heichas, exactly like his own.

She drew in a breath as her father stepped nearer.

“And now I give them to you,” he said, bending down to clip one of the heichas to the fur at the base of Yulayan’s throat.

Friday, April 20, 2018

My books are like my babies

I was the third of four children, and when my mom got stressed and wanted to yell at one of us, she would often yell all our names instead of just the one who was about to do something bad or dangerous. Sometimes she even threw in the dog's name.

I thought of this the other day when I recalled writing a specific situation, and then I couldn't remember which of my books had that scene in it. All my titles repeated in my head, one after the other, and it came to me that in some ways, they are my children.

If you think about it, a story idea formed in my head and was made fertile by something in my life, either personal experience, or something I had read, or even just my imagination. The idea developed and took form, much like a fetus, until it had a life of its own. I could send it out into the world without me. But unlike people, books don't always have the same gestation period. Some might take nine months, but some might take nine years. 

About 25 years ago, I started writing seriously. Before that, I had dabbled in writing. I had started a book, which I later called Child of the Sand (still not published) but I hadn't finished it. Then somehow the beginning scene for The Sixth Discipline popped into my head. A man with a bow and arrow was walking through a forest. He had a premonition of danger and then he was shot (not fatally) and kidnapped. That was it, to start with. I sat down and started writing (I have never been an outliner; I am a classic pantser) and six week later I had a first draft. In actual fact, that first draft became two books, since it was too long for one. The working title had been Haven but that became the series name for the two-book series, The Sixth Discipline and No Safe Haven. It was the fastest I ever wrote a first draft.

But in the way of things, both books sat there and germinated a while. I always wrote whatever floated to the top of my brain, to take advantage of the energy that a story has when it's newly formed. I had a day job, a helpful husband and two wonderful kids, but I always made time to write in the evenings. I eventually joined a writers' critique group, and I took a writing class, both of which I found helpful. But in writing, I have found nothing more helpful than the actual doing of it. Getting feedback is 100% essential, but it's not how you start. You start by doing it.

And if you're lucky, you give birth to one or more stories. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Microsoft eBooks is a thing?

I own a laptop with Windows 10 and a tablet with Android. I have the Kindle app on both, but I almost never use it unless I want to look at a picture book or other book with color illustrations. For actual reading I much prefer the e-ink experience on my Kindle Voyage.

However, when I clicked the Start button on my laptop the other day, on the list of apps, right after Most Used and before the alphabetical list of all apps, a little rectangle appeared labeled "Suggested" and it said "Explore ebooks, Save on popular titles."

I had totally forgotten Microsoft sold ebooks!

I clicked the link, which took me to the MS Store and a display of books on sale, mostly for under $4. In fact, $1.99 seemed like the most popular price. Lots of them were nonfiction. I didn't really want to read an ebook on my laptop or even on my tablet, but I wanted to see how ebooks worked in Windows, so I bought The Maple Syrup Cookbook for $1.80. It took me a moment to remember my password to the Microsoft store, but I completed the purchase and got it downloaded. It said the file was epub and it would have DRM and could be read on 6 devices. 

Microsoft has no dedicated app to read ebooks; they simply tacked ebook functionality on to their Edge browser. The cookbook loaded in Edge just fine. I could flip pages and use the ebook menus, which look like this: 

On left: Table of contents, bookmarks,  find/search/   
On right: Options (font, display), read aloud, create bookmark,

The tricky part was going back and reading the book later, after I had closed out Edge and then reloaded it. I could not find where Microsoft had put the book!  I could access it by finding it in my browser history, but that didn't seem like a good way to rely on reading a book, because eventually it would move out of history. I did notice when the book was displayed in Edge that the URL was shown as: microsoft-edge:books:FGQPF3H08GQW

By searching for FGQPF3H08GQW as a filename, I found this location, but it didn't seem to have the book when I listed the files there:

Eventually, by hunting around in Edge, (MS Help was NO help!) I discovered that clicking the Star/Hub icon in Edge displayed some other menus, including one that looked like a bookshelf. Clicking that menu lists your MS books. Mystery solved!  Just to be sure the book was actually downloaded, I tried accessing it while I was offline and it worked fine. 

But seriously, why was this so damn hard! And why the mystery about where the file is on your PC? No wonder Microsoft eBooks haven't caught on!