Monthly Archives: July 2014

A Scene to Share

13843867_sI have been very busy, very broke, and a little depressed lately, which is why this blog has been a bit neglected.

Unfortunately, this week is only a little better. So in order to post something, here’s a scene from my current work in progress, Refuge Volume Two: The Ingathering. (You can find links to Refuge Volume One: The Order Master on the sidebar to the right.)

The main character in this scene is Claire Chang, who suffers from a magical mimic of bipolar affective disorder (also known as manic-depressive disorder). It’s a magical mimic of the disease because it’s caused by Claire’s astonishing and undeveloped magical talent rather than the genetic and brain-chemistry problems that normally result in bipolar disorder. The symptoms are the same, though. In this scene, Claire is sinking into a depressive phase, and I tried to capture the sense of that particularly in the early narrative where she’s struggling to do something as simple as take a shower.

I will get back into the swing of blogging hopefully at some point in the near future. Meanwhile:


Claire woke up after a while. She wasn’t sure how long. She was even less sure why it was important, but she rose mechanically and checked a clock, discovering that it was eight o’clock, which meant she had slept either four hours or sixteen. She supposed four was the more likely, although sixteen was not altogether impossible.

The basement room where she had slept had windows and through them she could see that it was dark. Evening, then, and she had slept four hours. That was good. On the other hand, she still felt lethargic. That was bad. It could be due to her injury or her depression, but in either case it meant something was wrong.

The basement had a bathroom, so she relieved herself and washed her face. Washing her face was a good sign. She even fished a hairbrush from her purse and brushed her hair. Examining her face in the mirror, she saw little to admire. Her Asian features, which some might have found appealing, seemed to her listless and devoid of expression. Claire got plenty of attention from boys and men, especially when she wasn’t depressed, so she supposed she was pretty enough. At least, reason said that had to be true. She couldn’t see it herself, though. She shrugged. It really didn’t matter. She wasn’t interested in Richard that way, or any of his friends, either. Anyway Richard was married. Actually, at the moment she found the whole idea rather pointless.

She considered fixing her makeup but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Then she considered taking a shower. Was that worth doing? Her hair really did feel pretty greasy. She ran her hand along the shower door handle and thought about it for a while. Finally she pushed herself into pulling her borrowed shirt off over her head and opening the shower door. Now she was already half-naked and would have to exert some effort before she could go upstairs, no matter what she decided. That thought motivated her enough to slip off her pants and her underwear. Now she was completely naked except for her bandages, if those counted. Should she take a shower with those on? They were supposed to be waterproof, Richard said, so it was all right, she supposed. Anyway they could be changed if necessary.

Shower or get dressed again? The idea of getting dressed again seemed absurd; it would mean that the effort of taking her clothes off was all wasted. All right then, shower it was. She stepped in, closed the door, and started the water. Brr! It was cold! But then it warmed up and felt all right. It didn’t feel particularly good, because she was already down enough that nothing did, but it didn’t feel bad, either.

Bright blue sparks shot up and down her arms. They tinted the water a shade of blue. Claire was used to that. The sparks didn’t hurt. She wasn’t sure what they were, and she thought she was seeing them with second sight rather than her eyes. Nobody else had ever seen them. They tended to come on during a depressive episode, although not always.

Richard thought her magic was connected with her mental illness. He might be right. He had been the one to give her some simple, basic lessons four years ago, after they had met when she went by herself during a lucid phase to pick up a prescription. Before she began meditating, doing breathing exercises, and using her second sight, her sickness had been worse. She had even been hospitalized twice.

Maybe it was like the pressure in an abscess. Her magic, bottled up inside her, pushed at her brain and wanted to get out. According to Richard, that was what caused her mood swings and hallucinations. If she learned more about it and gave it ways to come out, the pressure would drop and her symptoms should go away, or at least get better. That’s if Richard was right. Claire wasn’t totally convinced about that.

The sparks were kind of pretty to look at, too.

She found some shampoo, not her brand but it would work, wet her hair and lathered up, rinsed, scrubbed her body with a washcloth and soap, rinsed again, turned off the water, got out, toweled off, and put her clothes back on. Excellent. She was clean. That was an achievement.

She trudged up the stairs. Each step took an effort of will. Her legs and feet felt heavy. That wasn’t just the depression, either, because her side hurt with each step as well. Maybe Richard was right and she needed a day or two to recover before they hit the road. That thought almost sent her back downstairs, but by then she was already near the top, so she trudged on.

The lights were on upstairs. Someone was cooking or something had already been cooked. It smelled like chicken soup, or maybe roast chicken. Chicken, anyway. Claire thought about eating, although she wasn’t really hungry.

She heard two men talking and headed for the voices, which were just the other side of the door in front of her. The stairs opened onto a laundry room and the door of the laundry opened onto a dining room where two of her rescuers sat at a table with bowls of chicken soup and bread. One of them, a blond man probably in his thirties with beard stubble, turned to her and smiled. “Welcome to our hideaway,” he said. “I’m Jack. This is Peter. And I know already that you’re Claire.” He held out a great big hand. After a moment’s hesitation Claire took it and shook it.

“Hi,” she said.

“Hi,” said Peter with a wave. He was black, short, and stocky, maybe in his early forties by the slight tint of silver in his hair. Both men were dressed in casual clothes, jeans or corduroys and work shirts. “There’s plenty of soup if you want some.”

Claire nodded. She stepped around the table and into the kitchen. Bowls were set out and a big pot of soup sat on the stove with a ladle hooked over the edge. Claire told herself she really ought to eat something. She ladled soup into a bowl, found a spoon, and made her way to the table where she joined the men.

“Is Richard around?”

“No,” Jack said. “He and the other brothers are making sure our families get here all right.”

“Oh, yeah. Because he thinks the Droon are going to attack your houses.”


“Do you think they will?”

Jack shrugged.

“They never have before,” said Peter, “but they’ve never had much reason to, either. This is different.”

“Just because you stopped them from killing me?”

“We also killed three of them doing it,” Jack said.

“They don’t worry about getting killed the way most people do,” Peter said. “That’s because they reincarnate, you see. When they die, it’s only temporary.”

“But killing three of them at once while stopping what they were trying to do, that they might have a problem with,” Jack said.

“Anyway, better safe than sorry,” said Peter. “That’s why we’re here and bringing our families here, those of us that have them.”

Claire tasted the soup. It was pretty good, not too greasy and full of rice as well as chicken meat and vegetables. She didn’t feel hungry, but told herself that her injury needed food, and made herself eat.

“So how long have you guys been part of this — what did Richard call it?”

“The Scourge of God,” said Jack. “Ten years for me.”

“Only one and a half for me,” said Peter.

“We had a revolution just before Peter joined us.”

“A revolution?” Claire said.

“Yes. It started when Mike Cambridge, the Order Master, invoked the Pact of War and got information from a Droon. Did Richard tell you about that?”


“This Droon told Mike that the Droon are aliens, not devils from Hell, which is what the Scourge of God used to believe.”

“And some still do,” said Peter.

“Some people never learn. The Droon also told Mike about the Andol. Mike went looking for them and found one of them. He went off with her — with Amanda Johnson, that is — and fell in love with her.”

“Which is kind of kinky if you think about it,” Peter said. “I mean, she’s an alien.”

“Cute, though.”

“Tentacle sex.”

“What?” Claire looked from one man to the other, frowning.

“He’s kidding,” Jack said. “The Andol don’t have tentacles. Anyway, Mike passed on what he’d learned to the Chapter Masters.”

“And then all hell broke loose,” said Peter.

“Why was that?” said Claire.

“You have to understand that the Scourge of God was a very conservative, very devout Christian order,” said Jack. “What Mike told them was bothersome because he wanted to make alliance with the Andol. A lot of the Chapter Masters considered the Andol to be another kind of demon. They thought allying with them would corrupt the order away from its Christianity into some kind of New Age thing.”

“Which is pretty much true,” said Peter.

“I’m still Christian,” said Jack.

“You think you are. I think you are, too. Ask Jim Anderson and you might get a different opinion.”

Jack waved his hand. “Jim Anderson can go soak his head.”

“Who’s —”

“Jim Anderson is the Order Master of the hard line chapters of the Scourge, the ones that stick mostly to the old ways,” said Jack. “Anyway, Christians have been fighting over who is really Christian for centuries and we all lose when we do. Catholics against Protestants, both against the Orthodox, and then you have the Coptics, the Quakers, the Gnostics, the Mormons — it’s obvious God doesn’t want us to be unified, or we would be, so there’s no point in worrying about it. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who says he’s a Christian and tries to follow Christ’s teaching is a Christian, whether or not I agree with him about anything else. We can disagree with each other. Jesus never said different.”

“I see.”

Jack smiled a lopsided smile. “I guess it sounds like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, doesn’t it? I feel the same way. It’s what you have in your heart that counts, not what’s on your lips. But anyway, I was going to tell you about the revolution in the order. It started when Mike sent all the Chapter Masters a run-down on what he’d found out. Five of the Chapter Masters had a meeting and called a Council of Chapter Masters. The Council was supposed to consider the new information that Mike had found, but some of the Chapter Masters wanted to impeach him and execute him for heresy. It takes a whole Council to do that, you see. And it takes a two-thirds majority, too. So they called the Council to meet in New York. Mike went there to explain what he’d found in more detail. I don’t know all of what went down, but they did impeach him. But then somehow the Droon found out where the Council was being held, and they attacked it and killed almost all of the Chapter Masters.”


“Yes, it was a mess. Mike got away. Our Chapter Master didn’t. The Droon killed him. When we got word of that, we had an election and Richard became the new Chapter Master.”

“He and Jack are the only ones left who were in the order at that time,” said Peter.

“What happened to the others?” Claire said.

“After Richard became Chapter Master, the Andol found him and talked him into allying with them. When the rest of us found out, everyone but me turned on the Chapter Master — on Richard, that is — and tried to kill him.”

“You’re kidding!”

“I wish. They weren’t supposed to do that. They should have reported him and gotten the Order Master and three Chapter Masters to authorize the killing. Those were the old rules, but it was a chaotic time.”

“Even those rules aren’t in force anymore,” said Peter.

“No, that’s true, we don’t kill people as much as before. Only in self-defense or defense of others, like we killed those three Droon to protect you. But anyway, even by the old rules they shouldn’t have done that, but they did.”

“What happened?” said Claire.

“We won. They lost. Andol training helped a lot.”

“In other words,” said Peter, “they’re dead. That left some vacancies in the chapter and Bill and Tom and I filled them.”

Claire made herself eat some more soup. A few minutes later the front door opened and several people came in. Richard was one of them. The two other members of his chapter, Bill and Tom, were with him. Two women, a boy, and a girl completed the party. One woman and the boy ran to Peter, who jumped out of his chair to embrace them both. The other woman and the girl were connected to one of the other guys, Claire decided, not to Jack.

“Where’s Linda?” she said.

“I don’t know,” said Richard. “She wasn’t home and I can’t reach her by phone. I’m worried.”

At that moment, Richard’s cell phone rang. “Maybe that’s —” he began, but then stopped. He answered the phone. “Hello?” He swallowed. “What do you want? I see. I’ll call you back. Do anything to her, anything at all, and you’re all dead. I swear it. No, it won’t. I’ll call you. Give me half an hour. Very well.” He hung up the phone and sighed.

“What is it?” Claire said.

“The Droon have Linda.”

A minute of frozen silence, and then Jack said, “Who was that?”

“Jennifer Olson.” He looked at Claire and said, “She’s the Droon administrator for the Pacific Northwest.” He closed his eyes. “Dear God.”

“What do they want?” said one of the other men, Tom or Bill.

“I know what they want,” said Claire. “They want me.”

Richard nodded. “That’s right.”

Copyright: _ig0rzh_ / 123RF Stock Photo


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Thoughts on the Amazon-Hachette Dispute

Others have commented succinctly on the inadequately-known details of the dispute between Hachette and Amazon over a new contract to sell the publisher’s books online by the retail giant. But there’s one thing that has seldom been mentioned, and that is what I believe to be Hachette’s (and other publishers’) real problem with Amazon.

My thought is that the real dispute isn’t over what discounts Amazon wants to offer on the publishers’ books, or who controls the pricing, or how much Amazon will charge the publishers for preferred marketing. All of these are important issues to be disputed, but this sort of thing arises between publishers and booksellers all the time, and doesn’t result in the kind of high-profile dustup we’re seeing in the media today. If it weren’t for a completely different issue that makes publishers regard Amazon as The Enemy (albeit also a necessity of their economic survival), these arguments might (and probably would) still be taking place, but we wouldn’t hear about them. Amazon and Hachette would resolve them quietly and there would be no battling author open letters or media storms of protest.

What I believe Amazon’s great sin to be, the thing that sends Hachette and other publishers into a frenzy of opposition, is self-publishing.

Ebook pricing disputes threaten to shave off some profits from one side or the other. But self-publishing threatens the big publishers with extinction.

The problem lies in the way that publishing houses, especially the Big 5, operate or historically have operated. The publishers have, in the past, held control over distribution of books. Authors who wanted a chance to sell their books sought a publisher to publish them because there was no other choice. Publishers could dictate terms to all but the biggest and most successful and popular authors, because they had the authors over a barrel. Sign the contract or fade into obscurity — that was the choice.

To a somewhat lesser extent, the publishers could exercise similar dominance over consumers. They were the only source of books, and readers had to pay what the publishers charged or do without.

Self-publishing with print on demand and ebooks has changed that, and although Amazon isn’t the only company offering that service to authors, it’s by far the biggest, and the main reason why self-published books have become a significant and growing part of the book market.

The reality in today’s literary world is that publishing houses are unnecessary, and none more so than the Big 5. Smaller publishers often deliver a genuine service to writers in exchange for a cut of the proceeds, but the Big 5 act like entitled mandarins or Medieval chartered monopolies, so entrenched in the attitude arising from the choke-hold on distribution that they used to hold that they cannot innovate or adapt, nor can they humble themselves to offer authors genuine value for what they ask.

When readers can buy excellent, well-reviewed books for a fraction of the price the big publishers ask, the publishers lose readers. When authors can enjoy superb distribution of their self-published titles, and retain complete artistic control and a high share of royalties, publishers lose writers. And without readers or writers, they will cease to exist. Because they have always been middlemen, not producers.

More than any other company in the world, Amazon is responsible for this change in circumstances.

Publishers regard Amazon as the enemy for this reason. It’s not because it’s the biggest book retailer in the world. That’s the reason given, but it’s disingenuous in my opinion.

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