Monday, April 30, 2007

New update

Wow. I'm hoping to soon start thinking about revising novels again. Maybe as soon as tomorrow. The last few weeks have been something else!

Steve is recovering more rapidly than had been expected at the outset. He was transfered to our local hospital on Saturday and his mom is trying to get him released as he isn't hooked up to anything and she figures it will go faster at home. So he is really, truly, officially on the mend.

I spent the weekend with my sisters. All three of the sisses from far away were there, plus the local sis and I. It was enough to make the nurses think we needed name tags! Not only that, but several from the next generation came as well. And my one nephew brought his wife and 11 month old son along, neither of whom had met the extended family before. So now my mom has seen all of her great-grandkids. It was good to have the sisters together as we made huge headway into dismantling Mom's apartment. Certainly there have been tears as we realize that phase of life is over and another, difficult, one is in front of us. Mom's name is on the extended care list for a nursing home bed. In the meanwhile, she will remain in hospital until one comes available. She's been told about the extent of her stroke and the outlook for her, but she doesn't retain it all every day.

On Sunday we celebrated Mother's Day a little early being as it was the only time all the sisters would be together before they start heading back from whence they came. My nephew picked up enough Buster Bars from Dairy Queen (Mom's favorite treat) for the whole family--16 of us that day, I think--and we gathered in the hospital cafeteria with Mom in a wheelchair. It seemed like she enjoyed the outting, but apparently today she's forgotten it happened. Oh well. We tried, and she did smile yesterday.

In 1991 when we were all together (my sisters have lived overseas for most of their lives, so *getting together* doesn't happen often) my mom asked us to talk about what we wanted to inherit when the time should come. There are not many treasures as my parents did not have a materialistic mindset, but there were a few things from our grandmother, and some items such as serving bowls that had been our parents' wedding gifts in 1943. So at that time we made a list and wrote our names.

My nieces and I spent much of the weekend sorting out the apartment, starting with that list made in '91. A few times a sister would say, "I said I wanted that???? Why would I say that?" So there was a bit of trading going on but it went smoothly. My nieces and I also identified other items that had value--sentimental or otherwise--and laid them out to be picked over. We also shredded a lot of paper! My parents collected a lot of bits of poetry and jokes and short stories, etc, over the years. Our other task was to deal with the obvious garbage and recyclable material. In theory, what would be left at the other end would be items for a garage sale.

Working with my nieces brightened the task a great deal for me. Being members of the family, they had sentimental attachment to stuff, but being another generation removed also gave them more objectivity. And they enjoyed finding cards and treasures they'd given Grandma years before as well!

So the bulk of that sorting has now been done. We have until the end of May to have the place completely emptied, and the local sis and I expect to have a *garage sale* right in the apartment that last weekend to try to sell the furniture, kitchen stuff, lamps, etc, that the family has no need of. The apartment has been in the family for 22 years, so the building's owners plan to repaint and redo floors when we're done so we can have the sale inside no matter the weather. (Each unit has an outside entrance of its own.) So when we get over there with a vehicle some time this month we'll bring back the stuff I have set aside.

Emotionally, it's been a roller coaster. There were a lot of tough moments but also good times with family. Sisters and their kids are starting to trickle back away from BC and the excitement will be over, at least for awhile. Probably. We don't know the future, but God does.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Family Updates

In the past few days Steven has continued to improve. They removed him from the ventilator on Tuesday (if I remember right; the days are running together around here) and from ICU yesterday, Wednesday. So now he is on a *regular* ward but still in the Calgary hospital. They've started taking him for walks. He's quite enjoying real food even in the form of clear broths and I think ESPECIALLY being able to talk! They expect to keep him there for another week or two but the sun does seem to be shining on Calgary after the darkness of the past couple weeks. You cannot begin to imagine the relief and the prayers of thanksgiving that are being sent heaven-ward.

Of course those aren't our only prayers. I snuck a day off work yesterday to spend with my sisters and my mom at the hospital where she is. She's less alert, less talkative, and less cooperative. About the only thing she was emphatic about was refusing her dinner after only two bites. (She let me feed her the dessert, though--strawberries.)

My niece Karen is on her way, as are her parents who are missionaries in Bolivia. They all expect to arrive late this afternoon. My nephew from California arrived Tuesday night and returns home Saturday. Mom's recognition is approaching iffy and her interest in her visitors seems minor most of the time. Other times she hangs onto my hand (or whoever's) as though her life depends on it. Maybe it does.

Unless the phone rings meanwhile, I plan to go over on the weekend and stay a few days. My sis gave notice on Mom's apartment for the end of May so at least while the sisters are gathered we have something for everyone to do (sort and pack) besides visit at Mom's bedside (with each other as Mom isn't participating.) Of the five of us girls, all but one will be here. The last was here for a couple weeks in February and is trying to decide when to come back. It's hard to know. Mom could hang on for quite awhile, but it looks to me like she's giving up and just waiting for the last goodbyes. I don't know. I could be SO wrong. But that's where it's at.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Health stuff...and other stuff

First off--Steven. He is doing very well, though the road from my last post to this one hasn't been smooth. He managed to yank out his respirator tube on Thursday so they had to re-do it and kept his sedation lower again for a day or two. Now, however, he is unsedated and understands to leave the darn thing alone. They are planning to remove it today and if things go well with that, he'll be out of ICU soon. Recovery will still be a long process, but his fevers are down and the antibiotics are doing their job. So that is a HUGE answer to prayer and I thank you very much. Steven will too! And I know his folks and grandparents are in awe of how many people have been praying for Steve.

Meanwhile my mom had a stroke so my focus has swung in that direction. Jim and I drove over Friday afternoon (she landed in hospital 90 miles away Friday morning). She'd been sent to the regional hospital for a CT scan and had just arrived back when we got there. The scan showed that she has bleeds on both sides of her brain. Just to complicate things, she also has a clot. This means they cannot treat either condition as it will speed up the opposite one. I'm thinking it must be unusual to have both kinds of pressure building in the same head. She's been on coumadin for a long time which is a blood thinner. It's supposed to prevent clots if I remember right. So it hasn't done that, and she has bleeds so they've had to discontinue it. Right now it is anybody's guess how long it will take for her to have another stroke...and which kind it will be.

The official words are things like *fairly significant stroke* and *the prognosis is poor*.

She can speak, but easily loses where she was going with a sentence. Then she gets frustrated while she tries to figure it out. Then she'll move her hand, her face will clear, and she'll say, "Never mind, it doesn't matter." Her right side is fairly paralyzed: she can lift her arm if asked to but not move her fingers, for example. Her right leg is equally uncooperative. Her left side has also been affected, but less so. Watching her left hand try to hold a fork and chase food around her plate is difficult, but she is shocked if asked if she needs help--and refuses it. The one time I did hold her knife up to the edge of her plate so she at least had something to run her fork up against. She glared at me but made use of it and the meal went better after that.

Every day it seems to be news that she is in the hospital, that she had a stroke, that she spent hours in the regional hospital Friday waiting for the ambulance to be free to return her to the local hospital. She knows us but is surprised that family is starting to gather from a distance. I believe she knows why, but then forgets.

Her doctor is on the hunt for a local extended care or nursing home bed for her as it is clear she cannot return to her apartment. She's managed the past few weeks (since I was there in March) with a live-in caregiver but that day seems to be passed. And of course we don't know how long this stage will last either. Could be a day...or a month. It isn't likely to be much longer.

Should we feel sorry for my mom? No. We should pray that God will take her quickly. My dad died almost 9 years ago now, she is 84, she has loved God and followed him for most of her life. It has been her biggest fear that she would lose her mind and waste away in a nursing home. She is ready to go. It would be a mercy if God took her soon.

The journey is hard, even knowing that heaven awaits her. It's been an emotionally wrenching couple of weeks around here and I appreciate your continued prayers for Steve, for my mom...and for me and my family. I'm home (and at work) at the moment but I know the phone could ring at any time and end this little lull I'm in. If all things stay even I plan to go over Thursday for a few days. I'd like to see Mom again...and also the clan is trickling in and I haven't seen some of them in a few years. It is silly to even try to make plans but hey, I'm human.

So, Chris asked why I was having company (in comments). Here's what happened about that. The company was my nephew (my mom's grandson) and his young family who are missionaries in Mozambique. Because of mom's stroke and us going over there, we visited with my nephew there instead of at home, which also gave him more visits with his grandma. We popped in to see her one last time Sunday morning at 8 o'clock before leaving for our place, where my nephew preached in the main church service. I took them out for lunch (remember the disaster in my kitchen!), then went over to friends' from the church who had offered to host a casual time for folks who wanted to visit my nephew's family. From there they left for Spokane.

Thus I managed to avoid having overnight company and even avoided having anyone over for a meal. While Jim and I were over seeing my mom, my in-laws moved the gas line and reinstalled my gas stove so that is a huge blessing for me. (My FIL was a gas-fitter before his retirement.)

Jim did go to work for his night shifts this weekend and is on his way home now. The cows have wrecked part of the fence so he does have to concentrate on fixing that before he goes back to work on the kitchen. His folks (and I) are tired of herding them back in! Of course, all our plans are dependent on what happens with my mom.

Writing? What's that?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

New Blog in Blog-Land

For the writers in our midst: If you haven't seen Randall Ingermanson's website, his plotting method called The Snowflake, signed up to receive his free writing ezine Advanced Fiction Writing or his newer ezine on marketing for writers called Mad Genius Writer or read any of his books (which you should have!)'s a chance to check out his new blog full of tips for writers: Advanced Fiction Writing Blog.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Oh yeah...and the kitchen

Just because there is nothing else to think about these days, my entire house is a disaster. Jim is frantically working on moving the gas range today and putting in at least the sink countertop and sink. More countertops would be nice but I'm trying not to be picky!

Every single room of our house--which is barely over 1000 square feet anyway--has stuff stacked all over. And there is a fine layer of sawdust overtop of all the boxes and junk. We're eating out way too much but trying to make even something basic like fruit salad and toast takes forever because nothing at all lives where it ought to and I can't remember where it is. Because it changes every time I DO find it to use it. Because there's never any place to put it back down! And because, if I don't get a sink hooked up today I'm gonna have to take a whack of dishes over to my mother-in-law's house and wash them, because there isn't even room to put out my camping wash basins any more. And a stove would be nice.

Did I mention I'm getting company on Saturday? My nephew Phil, his wife, and two kids ages 7 and 4. So yeah, I need to find the spare bedroom, too. Guess what I'm doing evenings this week? Racing the clock...and the calendar.

Update on Steven

Steven's Tuesday had its ups and downs as well. Although the doctors believe he could now breathe on his own, they are keeping him on the ventilator (and therefore sedated) because of his recurring fevers. They'd rather leave the tubes in a day or two longer than have to put him through REintubating him. The main prayer request today is for the fevers to abate. And stay there.

They're having to drain fluid from around his heart and lungs via a chest shunt, and they've had to run his IV through his neck because of how swollen his body is. Still, there is no sign of infection and that is good.

The odds of getting this bacteria are like one in a million. We always knew Steven was special! Foothills Hospital in Calgary has never seen this disease before, and only about 40 cases are reported annually worldwide.

Thanks for your kind words and prayers.

Book Tour - Return of the Guardian King Day 2

I'm frustrated that I just don't have the time or the brain power to put together the kind of post that I feel Return of the Guardian King deserves. Well, the whole series, really, because I'm still at 2/3 of the way through book 3 and haven't read the final installment. Karen Hancock is a wonderful writer and I'm enjoying the journey through Kiriath on Abramm's shoulder.

I hopped through a lot of blogs on the list yesterday. Usually when I do that I keep notes of ones to draw to your attention. I completely forgot to. I'm functioning on less than a full brain here these days and this is a way it shows, I guess. But if you go to my niece Karen's blog you'll find she did a bit of a round-up herself.

Karen Hancock is contracted for two more books from Bethany House. I'm looking forward to reading them as well. I'm sorry, Karen, that I wasn't able to do justice to this tour. I wanted to!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My nephew--please pray

A few of you keep track of my daughter's blog and may have noticed her post a couple of days ago asking for prayer for her cousin Steven.

Steven is an honors student in his final year of high school: a bright, musical and fun fellow. Last Monday evening he had a bit of a fever. His mom (my husband's sister and my close friend) had him into emergency here in our small town three times over the course of the next couple days. When he didn't respond to the antibiotics and continued to get sicker, they airlifted him to Calgary Thursday evening. His mom and grandma (my mother-in-law from Been Farmin' Long left immediately by car for the six hour drive. A niece lives in Calgary right across the street from Foothills Hospital and was able to be there to meet Steven when he arrived. Steve's mom, K, arrived about 2 a.m. By 5 a.m. they had Steve in ICU and on a ventilator.

Meanwhile we were on our way to Calgary for Jim's Irlen appointment. In keeping in touch with K, we decided to go to Jim's appointment first and then to Foothills. (We were completely willing to ditch the appointment if she needed us; we could always re-make it for a month or two down the road.) Jim's appointment went well. A couple of things really surprised me about it. One was how much more clearly he can read aloud with the colored lenses in front of his eyes. I guess it is hard to inflect a sentence correctly if you need to focus on one word at a time! There was much more fluidity (is that a word?) to his reading which was very cool. Also, his verbal spelling was faster and more accurate. Don't ask me how that could be; it doesn't make a speck of sense to MY brain. But I guess when given a word to spell, he gets a picture of the object or action in his mind plus a picture of the word--then he spells it. With the lenses in front of his eyes, he skips the step of getting the picture of the object. That is so weird I can hardly stand it! It's not like he's reading--it's all in his head! We expect to get his new tinted glasses in a few weeks and are quite excited about it. Of course, this has been somewhat eclipsed by concern over our nephew's condition.

After Jim's appointment we headed for Foothills Hospital to see K. We spent a couple hours with her. Her husband and their other son (age 16) arrived shortly after we did. We were in and out of the ICU waiting room so much over the next two days that it began to feel like home. Things have been very touch-and-go for Steven. If he hadn't been airlifted to Calgary he is unlikely to have survived thus far. Friday was a very bad day. They ran a lot of tests (some of the results are still coming in) and he almost didn't make it through the day. Saturday and Sunday were days of minor (but real) improvement. We had to leave Saturday evening (back to Hanna's) and home Monday.

Saturday they provided a general diagnosis of a Gram Negative Bug--a super bug of some sort--with the complication of sepsis. Today it looks like they've narrowed down the specific bug to Fusobacterium necrophorum. CT scans show clouding in Steve's lungs which improved slightly on Saturday and worsened again Monday. Most of his vital signs have stablized and his oxygen mix has been reduced from 60% to 30% (about 20% is normal air).

However, there were significant setbacks on Monday. Steve has an adenovirus which normally wouldn't be much of a problem, but in his weakened condition, it is complicating things and he is in isolation. His fever has been up and down along with the rest of his symptoms.

He is in critical condition. While there is reason to hope, the situation could still go either way. You know...any of us could die at any time, but we don't feel vulnerable most of the time. To see my 18 year old nephew struggling for his life has really reminded me of what we all take for granted most every day.

If you are able, please remember Steven and his family in prayer. This is what is sustaining them during this dark hour. God is real and He is holding them up.

Book Tour - Return of the Guardian King

Sorry I'm late jumping in on this month's Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy tour. I have reasons, but I think I'll pop them into a separate post.

Return of the Guardian King is book four in a series by Karen Hancock. She's received awards for all the books so far. Return of the Guardian King could well continue that trend!

I first learned of Karen Hancock a couple of years ago and inter-library loaned the first book of this series The Light of Eidon and Arena (a stand alone in a different universe.) When Return of the Guardian King, which came out April first, became slated for this month's tour, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and to order the first three books from Amazon. Which I did. I am currently about 2/3 of the way through the third book and am finding many strengths to this series. I'd intended to have the third book, Shadow over Kiriath done in time to leave it with Hanna before we left on Sunday (I'd left The Light of Eidon and The Shadow Within for her to read.) However, my weekend did not go as planned, so Hanna has to wait for book three.

One of the things that I struggle with as a writer is how to make a fantasy setting come alive within a Christian worldview, especially in having a *fake* religion that supports Christianity but isn't it. Karen Hancock does a good job of this, I think. In fact, she so impressed me with her abilities that I emailed her when I was doing the worldbuilding for Marks of Repentance and asked her about it. She helped me to think through some of the aspects to consider. Thanks, Karen!

Have a look at what some of these other bloggers have to say about Karen and her books: Nissa Annakindt, Wayne Thomas Batson, Jim Black, Jackie Castle, Karri Compton, Frank Creed, CSFF Blog Tour, Gene Curtis, D. G. D. Davidson, Chris Deanne, Janey DeMeo, April Erwin, Kameron M. Franklin, Linda Gilmore, Beth Goddard, Marcus Goodyear, Andrea Graham, Katie Hart, Sherrie Hibbs, Sharon Hinck, Christopher Hopper, Heather R. Hunt, Becca Johnson, Jason Joyner, Karen, Tina Kulesa, Lost Genre Guild, Kevin Lucia and The Bookshelf Reviews 2.0 - The Compendium, Rachel Marks, Rebecca LuElla Miller, Shannon McNear, Caleb Newell, Nicole, Eve Nielsen, John W. Otte, Robin Parrish, Rachelle, Cheryl Russel, Hanna Sandvig, Chawna Schroeder, Mirtika Schultz, James Somers, Tsaba House Authors,
Steve Trower, Speculative Faith, Daniel I. Weaver, Dawn King, Rebecca Grabill , Jill Hart.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

And an early renovation photo:

So here is a photo that shows a bit what the new cabinetry looks like and the new lino. Of course the toe-kicks aren't in place yet. It occurs to me that I never mentioned on the blog that we changed our mind about which cabinetry we were buying. The price of the Home Depot hickory cabinetry that we wanted came in at nearly double these alder cabinets. I decided I liked the alder ones pretty well after all! They're built to very nearly the same standards--and we're not a household with 8 kids who slam cupboard doors so I expect these will stand up just fine for as long as we care. The main thing we like about these is the rustic graining which was also a draw on the hickory ones. Of course the grain in alder is different than hickory, but that's okay. We just don't like the fancy select-and-better wood with boring grain. And we're totally NOT an oak household.

Today we're headed out of town for a few days: Jim has his appointment with an Irlen specialist in Calgary Friday morning. We also expect to do the rest of the shopping for the kitchen: the dishwasher, range hood, combo microwave/ toaster oven/ convection oven, drawer pulls, sink and faucet, lighting, etc. The countertop arborite should arrive here while we're gone.

So, in theory, when we get home Monday we should have everything we need to install the countertops, sink and faucets, and then run the new gas line to move the range. Have a good weekend!

Book Tour - Coral Moon Day 2

In keeping with the posts I did on novel openings last week, I'd like to pretend that chapter 2 is the opener of Coral Moon and show you how Brandilyn Collins presents the character and setting. (The first short chapter is from the villain's pov, and we don't learn a lot about him: specifically, just enough to set the stage for the conflict.)

Leslie Brymes woke to a promising day of argument and scorn.

She stretched, groggy eyes roving the master bedroom suite of her newly rented house. Sunlight seeped through her pink curtains, casting the walls and carpet a hazy mauve. Her flannel sheets were soft and warm, coaxing her back toward slumber...

She resisted.

As sleep morphed into awareness, her mind began to pop with names and workday duties. Eleven a.m.--interview Bud Grayson by phone. Two p.m.--Myra Hodgkid at her house. Leslie smiled, imagining the arguments of these opponents and the article she would write. Nothing like a little controversy to sell newspapers.

She slid out of bed and made her way to the bathroom, interview questions trooping through her head. Mr. Grayson, how much did publicity from the country's fascination with the Edna San murder have to do with your decision to build a hotel in Kanner Lake? Ms. Hodgkid, why do you oppose the hotel when it promises new tax revenue for the town? As hot water in the shower hissed and pounded, Leslie considered others she might talk to, the word count she would need. Above all, how to push her story from the Kanner Lake Times pages into bigger newspapers and onto TV. The national-interest hook might still have some life in it, especially with the recent airing of her interview about the Edna San case on Crime America.

For that, she had to give her roommate a lot of credit. Paige hadn't wanted a thing to do with any public appearances, yet didn't try to stop Leslie from being on the show. Paige knew how much Leslie wanted it to boost her career.

The twenty-five thousand dollars hadn't been bad either.

Leslie stepped out of the shower, anticipation zinging through her veins. She donned a bathrobe and towel-turbaned her wet hair, then parked herself in front of the closet, considering what to wear. She pulled out jeans with sequins and little pearls on the thighs, laid them on the bed, then eyed them critically.

Perfect for the sweater.

In this opening page we get a sense of Leslie's surroundings, both her home and what makes her community tick. (Kanner Lake is practically a character in its own right.) And we see what drives Leslie. This also contains about all of the back story from the first book that is needed to get on with book 2. Does the back story feel dumped to you? Is it a good, bad, or indifferent way to hook us into the story?

Yeah, I know...I'm ignoring the real chapter one, which starts with the words Kill tonight--or die. So in this book the hook is in chapter one (2 pages), but the line and sinker are in chapter two. Confusing way to start, but it seems to work.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Book Tour - Coral Moon

So...last year I read (and talked about) the first book in the Kanner Lake Series called Violet Dawn. (That was the novel that opened with the main character discovering a dead body in her hot tub at night.) Brandilyn Collins has thought of more nasty things to befall the poor citizens of Kanner Lake in this second book, Coral Moon.

Yes, more bodies...but the first one is discovered in the passenger seat of the town's young newspaper reporter (no hot tubs in this story!). Once again Collins takes the reader on a ride with multiple pov characters as we all try to hang on for the twisty ride and figure out whodunit.

This is the third book that I've read by Collins. Even though her signature style of Seatbelt Suspense isn't how I'd brand myself as a reader, I do like how she writes and will doubtless continue to read the Kanner Lake series at least. An innovative marketing (and community building) idea that she's had is the creation of Scenes and Bean, a blog written by readers who auditioned to play the part of Kanner Lake residents.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Half a Kitchen!

Of course the new kitchen isn't far along enough to post photos yet, but Jim and I spent most of the weekend completing the rip-out of the old kitchen (the sink cabinet and the gas range had remained to the end). We laid a sheet of thin plywood over the kitchen area and began installing the new base cabinets. The ones that can be are already leveled and bolted to the wall. This morning one of my boss guys came to install the new lino, which he and Jim both assure me looks wonderful...I've been at work and haven't seen it yet.

Jim leaves tonight for his job. The status is: base cabinets all in place. No countertops. No kitchen sink. No range. However, I'll join him for a weekend away on Thursday and when we get home Monday, we expect to get those 'minor' details taken care of before his next round of workdays (next week he leaves Wednesday evening). Then we'll have company for the weekend, so I'm sincerely hoping to have an operational kitchen!

So far we've left up the one main upper cabinet and don't plan to take it down until after the company has been and gone. Then in go the uppers and the electrical (which I assure you is fun with concrete block walls!) I'm hoping there's light at the end of the tunnel. At the moment, the entire house is a disaster and the cat is seriously annoyed with us. And I'm tired.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Novel Openings - In Legend Born

Well, it looks like I'm playing this game mostly by myself, but that's okay. By forcing myself to slow down and look at some of these openings--slowing down enough to type them out--I've gotten a few ideas. I don't know if I'm successfully emulating the techniques or not, but my contest entry is about as done as it's going to get and will be on its way within the hour.

Here's one last opening from a novel that's a little bit older than the others I've posted: In Legend Born, the first fantasy novel by Laura Resnick (Tor 1998). (She'd written romance under a different name.) Anyone wanting to watch complex and compelling worldbuilding in action can find it in In Legend Born and the novels following it. Superb.

The Outlookers arrested him less than an hour after his boat docked in Casavar, the westernmost port of Sileria. It was a poor welcome home after nine years in exile, but Tansen supposed he should have counted on it. Despite his Moorlander clothes and his Kintish swords, he still bore the unmistakable signs of a shallah--and bore them proudly: the long mane of dark hair, the cross-cut scars on his palms, and a jashar, the intricately woven and knotted belt which declared his name and history.

Under Valdani law, which had ruled Sileria for more than two centuries, shallaheen were forbidden to bear weapons. And so the two slender Kintish swords Tansen wore aroused considerable interest; indeed, judging by the spee with which the Outlookers had singled him out, alarm would not be too strong a word. Realizing the Outlookers were after him, Tansen ruthlessly suppressed the fear which pricked him at the sight of those fair-skinned Valdani in their anonymously gray tunics following him through the crwded, narrow streets of Casavar. He was no longer a helpless, ignorant boy, and he would not act like one by racing through back alleys and over rooftops with a pack of clumsy Outlookers in hot pursuit, destroying the fragile peace and abusing innocent city-dwellers.

Perhaps he should have hidden his swords, but he really couldn't afford to have them out of reach. There was no telling when the attack he expected would actually occur; he only knew that he must be prepared for his enemies at all times now that he was on Silerian soil if a Society assassin came for him, he wouldn't have time to fumble through concealing folds of cloth for his swords. He needed to be as ready as he had ever been in his life.

Now however, he'd have to do something about these Outlookers. The long years of his exile, the skills he had acquired, and the battles he had won now stiffened his spine and gave weight to his voice as he halted on the rough cobblestones and turned to confront one of the men he'd spotted out of the corner of his eye.

"Did you want something?" he asked blandly. Valdan, the official language of Sileria for over two hundred years, rolled smoothly off his tongue.

Momentarily caught off guard, the Outlooker now swaggered forward. "Hand over your weapons," he ordered.

Tansen arched one brow. "No," he said simply.

Anyone besides me want to offer any opinions on this opening? :P

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Novel Openings - Shivering World

I recently picked up Shivering World by Kathy Tyers (Bethany 2004). I'd read and loved her Firebird Trilogy so was eager to check out her newest book when I finally came across it. Here is how she handled the novel's opening:

The ten-passenger landing craft's hatchway admitted a swirl of foul, rigid air. Wrinkling her nose, Graysha Brady-Phillips gripped her seat's armrests and stared out a tiny viewport. Yellowish-tan crater walls curved upward close by, like the monstrous rib cavity of some prehistoric beast that had swallowed the lander whole.

So this was Goddard, humanity's newest habitable world.

Habitable being a relative term, of course.

A tall figure stepped on board--a woman, Graysha decided after comparing shoulder and hip widths. Swathed in a belted brown coat that hung almost to her knees, the woman dangled a second hooded coat by its shoulders.

In that instant, everything Graysha had heard about planetary surfaces became real. There was no climate control out there. The very thought made her head pound...or was it just due to hunger?

Under the stranger's quilted parka hood, brown eyes gleamed over a proud, firm nose. "I assume you're Dr. Brady-Phillips." She had a throaty feminine voice. "I'm Ari MaiJidda, with a capital J. Colonial Vice-Chair." Raising her arm, she let the extra coat slide onto Graysha's lap.

Startled by the woman's abruptness and chilled by the blast of outdoor air, Graysha stood up and eased into the parka. She took special care to settle it gently on her shoulders. Her legs trembled, which she attributed partly to the mandatory three-day landing fast to prevent acceleration/ deceleration sickness. That made it especially hazardous to someone in her medical condition. But even more than the fasting, she attributed her trembling to sheer dread. Panic gripped her when she thought about standing on an unenclosed planet.

This was 2134. Born in a comfortable, enclosed space-city habitat, Graysha had never visited open air.

No wonder Gaea Terraforming Consortium offered triple frontier-duty pay to scientists and technical experts. Orbital habs provided greater opportunities and better air than any of the three established planets--dying Earth, sulfurous Venus, or not-quite-terraformed Mars.

And now Goddard...

"Are you feeling all right?" MaiJidda broke into her thoughts. "I heard you're terminally ill."

Annoyed, Graysha looked up from fastening her parka. All travelers arrived hungry! "All I need is to break my landing fast, Vice-Chair MaiJidda. Spending three days without solids leaves everyone looking a little peaked. And my complexion is fair, even under normal conditions." She had tied back her blond hair. Rare among the increasingly interracial settlers of space, it usually attracted compliments.

The science fiction feel comes through strongly from the first, and conflicts regarding Graysha's illness and her fear of the *open air* planet are obvious. We see a little less of what Graysha looks like, but there are a few hints. Enough for a reader like me, who likes freedom for the imagination to roam. If you like more character description, do you have ideas for ways it could be woven in? Does anything already in the story feel data dumped...or merely necessary to set the stage?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Novel Openings - Talyn

I thought I'd take a look today at how a first person POV novel supports the same elements of introducing setting, characters, and conflict (preferably without data dump). Here's a sample from Talyn by Holly Lisle (Tor 2005). I happen to count this as one of my favorite fantasy books and have read it twice. First I bullied my library into buying the hardcover, then read it, and when the paperback came out I bought it and read it again. But...I hadn't analyzed the opening before, and I'm curious what you think:

Pada and I stepped out of the Shields building at twenty past the Dog on the last day of Madrigas to find shreds of the moon peering out from behind scattered clouds offering the only light on the dock. The air bit into me--my light uniform had been enough when I went in, but while I worked, early spring had given way to tenacious winter, and I was not more than three steps away from the warmth of Shields when I wished I had my cloak.

"Lamplighters are late again," Pada said. Pada has a great gift for stating the obvious. Conversations with her include such statements as "Ah, the tide is high" and "Well, the streets are certainly crowded today," which makes her wearing company to keep.

The whores who clustered by the front door late at night, hoping for safer custom than from sailors in port, gave us good even, and we nodded acknowledgment. We in Shields guard all the taak, and the lands beyond, and we thus represent all.

Beneath our feet, the ancient boards of the dock creaked and shuddered. Beyltaak has no money for renovation, but I wonder every time I step out the door of Shields, if this will be the time the boards concede defeat and dump me into the icy bay. To our right lay the warehouses--looming hulks of black against black, since the lamplighters had not been through. To our left, the ships--and I couldn't help but notice how few rose and fell against the wharf, their wooden hulls bumping softly at their moorings, their furled sails flapping in the wind off the bay. Poor business, and in spite of that, the inescapable stink of fish.

When we were past the whores, Pada picked up the thread of her previous narrative in midsentence. "...and then he said, "I would that you would, with me, just once, for I dream even when waking of knowing the pleasure of you.'" Pada rolled her eyes. "And then he offered me whole bolts of fine ribbed velvet in red and purple, as if I was some street tart who'd flop on my back for his bedamned rags."

I watched Pada from the corner of my eye. Even in the dark, I could see her fury. She's prettier than me--delicate and blond and fair, with huge blue eyes and the features that gather men's glances like flowers attract bees. She takes all such adulation as her birthright--as her due. But she thinks men should just admire her from afar, and give her things. "If you don't want him to make such offers, stop leading him around by the nose."

Pada stopped dead on the dock and stared at me as if I'd slapped her. I was watching the whores behind us, and the dark cluster of bones players before us, and movement at the mouth of the alley just beyond that, and I thought perhaps, whether we were in uniform or not, we might keep moving. None of those on the dock at that moment were the best of company. But no, Pada would have her dramatic piece.

"I?! Leading him around by his nose?! He clings to me like a motherless calf. And for this, I should take his cloth and bed him?!"

I decided to get moving again; unlike Pada, I do not trust the Shielder uniform to keep away all evil, any more than I trust my looks to turn all men to pudding. I'm tall, with nice eyes and features that people call either strong or angular--or sometimes handsome. My mother was a great beauty in her day, but all I got from her was good thick auburn hair. The rest of me is a female version of my father. It's a look that works much better for my brothers.

Some authors can't find a decent way for the first person character to talk about how they look, but I think Holly pulls it off fine with Talyn (not that we know her name yet--that's still to come). Even in a tight third person pov it's hard to work in a character description unless the character is quite vain and thinks constantly about every hair being in place. These folks are more common in chick-lit than in fantasy, where the emphasis is generally much less on fashion. Come to think on it, that might be one reason un-fashionable me likes fantasy better!

From Holly's opening page, we get a solid feeling for the setting and quite a bit about how the main character thinks (mostly by comparison to her companion, Pada). And there are hints of conflict to come. I've already admitted to this being a favored book of mine, so I guess it's obvious I don't think the data was dumped, but I'm curious what you think--and whether or not you've read Talyn.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Novel Openings - Daughter of Exile

This opening from Daughter of Exile is a completely different style than the one I posted Friday. I believe this is the first novel by Isabel Glass (Tor 2004) and it seems to break many rules. The voice of the entire novel is similar to this opening snippet (so at least it is consistent!) but it does evoke a lot of TELLING.

It had been fourteen years since Lord Challo Hashan was banished from court, but as the years passed he did not grow resigned. Instead he turned bitter in his exile: his once-thin frame became gaunt, lines of discontent etched themselves in his face, his mouth turned downward in a permanent sneer of unhappiness. His golden hair developed strands of gray, turning it a strange rusted color, and grew unkempt to his shoulders. His beard, completely white, fell to his chest.

From court he and his four-year-old daughter, Angarred, had gone to his manor house, Hashan Hall. Once there, though, he neglected his lands, and more and more of them had to be sold off to pay his debts. He spent long hours in his study, poring over histories and genealogies, trying to understand where he had gone wrong, trying to plot a way back to power. After awhile his thoughts would stray from his books and he would remember the long candle-lit halls where he had danced, or the king's great feasts of twenty courses. As if torturing him, his mind would present each scene perfectly, the straight lines of the dancers as they bowed and curtsied toward each other on the checkered marble floor, the delicious smells of food mingling in the air.

Angarred frequently discovered him bent over one or another leather-bound tome, the fat candles guttering in the drafty air of the study. With her father distracted Angarred grew wild, roaming the fields and forests in her ragged finery. She ran with Lord Hashan's packs of dogs or swam in the lake or visited the people who lived on his lands, some of whom had been there for years without his permission, or even his knowledge. She was tall for her age, like her father, but big-boned, more substantial, with thick red-gold hair that fell in tangles down her back.

Hashan could afford only three servants, all of them hired from the village near the manor: Rushlag the housekeeper, Elenin the cook and a steward they rarely saw. Rushlag would sometimes catch Angarred before she set out and try to bind her hair in plaits or mend the holes in her clothes, but Angarred came home in the evening she would have lost the hair-ribbons and torn and dirtied the dresses, and Rushlag, catching sight of her, would moan and wring her hands.

The things I see here are a solid setting and character descriptions. The reader certainly gets a hint of possible conflicts, but to me it did feel like a lot of data. Still, I read the book because it was recommended to me. Once I accepted that this was the book's voice, I was okay with it, although it didn't keep me riveted to the seat or up till three in the morning.

I'm curious what you think. Would you turn that one more page...and then maybe one more?