Short fiction – Lucky Chance

I haven’t written much lately. But I did write this. It’s for you. For free. And it won’t cost much of your time.

kitten held in human handsChristie stepped aside as a few more laughing workers bounced down the steps into the freedom of a Friday night. She looked at her phone and checked the time. Quarter past. It wasn’t like Darren to be late. Maybe she should call him.

She’d found his number and was about to press ‘call’ when he appeared, glowering. “Sorry,” he said, clattering down the steps. “Hanson went on and on and on.”

Christie knew what that was like. The boss in full spate was hard to shut up.

Darren grasped Christie’s arm. “Let’s go. I don’t want to be late for this party. There might be a job opportunity in it for me.”

Christie fell into step beside him, hurrying along the footpath. Stopped by the traffic lights Darren dithered, bouncing on his heels as the cars went by, throwing up a fine spray from the wet road.

A tiny wail caught Christie’s attention. “That sounded like a kitten.” She gazed around. Nothing but wet pavement. But there it was again, somewhere low down. Staring around she spotted a storm water drain, still gurgling with the last of the shower’s runoff. Crouched down she peered between the bars of the grid and made out a bundle in the corner, the light reflecting from huge eyes. “We’ve got to get it out.”

“What are you talking about?” Darren grated. “We have to go.”

“It’s a kitten. It’s trapped. It’ll drown.”

He rolled his eyes. “It’s just a bloody cat. Thousands of the things are put down every day.”

Christie stared up at his scowling face. He wasn’t quite so cute and handsome from this angle. Heartless bastard. “Go. I might see you later.”

“Sure.” He stormed off across the road. Ignoring the fading thud of boots, Christie pulled at the bars.

“What’s up?”

Christie peered up at the man standing beside her. Pete, the senior software engineer where she worked, a nice enough guy, but quiet, a bit stand-offish. His hair flopped into his face as usual. Just as well he wore glasses. “There’s a kitten trapped down here.” As she spoke the tiny creature meowed again.

Frowning, Pete pushed his hair aside and crouched beside her, inspecting the grille. “If I can get my fingers under here…” He reached between the bars and heaved. Once. Twice. With a squelch the grid lifted and slid aside. Together they peered down into the darkness, while the kitten yowled again, its voice barely audible above the drip of water and the sound of passing cars. The pit was deep, Christie judged deeper than she was tall.

Pete stood. “I’ll go. You’ll get dirty.”

Before Pete could climb into the pit Christie grabbed his leg. “I’ll go. I’m lighter than you. I won’t be able to pull you up.”

He chewed his lip for a moment, then nodded. “Get yourself over. I’ll lower you down.”

Holding her wrists he lowered her until her feet sank into ooze that made her flesh crawl. The kitten crouched in the corner, all wet fur and huge, frightened eyes. Her heart melting, Christie picked up the tiny body, cradling it in both hands. Poor little thing, wet and trembling. She wondered how long it had been there.

“Hand it up here, Christie.” Pete’s face was a dark oval, silhouetted against the evening sky.

She placed the kitten into his waiting hands.

“Poor little puss,” he murmured as he put the little creature in his jacket pocket. That done, he reached down for her hands and dragged her, muddy and bedraggled, out of the drain. “Okay?” he asked as he steadied her with a hand on her hip.

She nodded. “Kitten?”

Pete lifted the kitten out of his pocket, stroking its head with one finger. She could hear the purr from here. The look on the man’s face hit Christie right in the heart.

“I think you’re one life down, little fella, one very lucky little cat.” The grin on his face morphed into something else she couldn’t quite pick. “Do you mind if I keep him?” he asked. “I mean, if you want him…”

Grinning, she blinked away the incipient tears. “No. I’d like to, but I can’t.” She’d been afraid he was going to suggest the council pound.

Pete looked her up and down, making her aware of her damp, filthy clothes. “Um… I can give you a lift home. If you don’t mind stopping at the supermarket so I can pick up some kitty litter and food?”

Pete had lovely blue eyes behind his glasses. Wiping her nose with her grubby hand, she said, “We’d better stop at the pizza joint, too. Looks like I won’t be going out to dinner, after all.”

“I’m a good cook. If pasta and a salad would suit?”

“I’d like that. Then I can help you clean up Lucky.”

He had a lovely smile. “Lucky it is.”

Introducing Nya Rawlyns’s latest, “Timber Lake”

Timber LakeProlific genre-bending author Nya Rawlyns has a new release out in the ebook stores.

Timber Lake

Michael Brooks is a loner, and with good reason. A short fuse and a tendency to shoot from the hip, sometimes quite literally, mean he’s all the company he’s got most of the time, and he likes it that way just fine. It suits his job as Warden for Wyoming’s Fish and Game Department.

Being alone sounds good to the researcher for the USDA Forest Service, Dr. Seamus Rydell, especially since it means time away from the pressures to follow his family’s political traditions. He’ll need a guide to Timber Lake to set up his testing equipment, and who better than a Warden whose boss needs him out of sight for a while?

They’re just doing their jobs, until both men get derailed by a lust threatening to light up the night sky and by egos big enough to fill the wilderness.

When a psychopathic poacher intrudes, Michael’s past rises up and the present twists out of shape around a sick mind. As the future for both men fills with darkness, it is all too clear no one will come back from Timber Lake unscathed.

Timber Lake is a standalone suspense/thriller taking place against the magnificent backdrop of the Snowy Range in southern Wyoming. 

This second book in Rawlyns’s Snowy Range series (I wrote about the first one here) introduces a few new characters and an absolutely murderous villain. At its heart, Timber Lake is a romance as two men with very different pasts engage in games of one upmanship, interspersed with scenes of affection they don’t seem to be able to avoid. Over time, respect and understanding builds between Michael and Seamus as they battle with the elements in the unpredictable mountains. I liked both men, both strong in their own way, both confronting themselves as well as each other. The sex scenes are sensual, rather than blow-by-blow – which suited me perfectly.

I loved the scenes in the mountains with the tortuous trails, the trees, the water, the weather. And the animals. I especially liked Seamus’s mule. When the psychopathic poacher appears the story builds into a climax which had my flesh crawling. A suspense/thriller it is indeed.

As usual, the writing is expressive, filled with details about horses, mules, and mountains as well as men. The secondary characters, the two ladies in particular, are sharply drawn, three dimensional people with their own story. All in all it’s a satisfying story that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Tch. I don’t think Rawlyns is able to write just a SIMPLE romance. She keeps have to mix it all up with nail-biting plots.

Buy the book at Amazon: ARe/OmniLit : B&N: Kobo: Apple:

RIP Authonomy

Pile of books

Somebody told me on Facebook today that Harper Collins is shutting down its online slushpile, Authonomy,  on 30th September 2015.

Authonomy. That brought back some memories.

Harper Collins started the site in 2007/8 and soon thousands of aspiring hopefuls swelled the ranks of members. Authonomy expected you to load up at least ten thousand words of your manuscript to enable other members to read and review your work. If they liked it, they would place the book on their virtual bookshelf, effectively one vote. The idea was that the five books which had accumulated the most votes as at the end of a month would be awarded a gold star, and would receive a ‘professional’ review from the HC editors, with a possible view to getting an HC contract. You can see why we all signed up with stars in out eyes.

At first, it was a wonderful website. I met many of my writer friends there. The late MM Bennetts was one. She helped me to hone my historical novel, To Die a Dry Death – and wrote the sonnet for Jeronimus, that being beyond my skill. Although she has left the planet, her wonderful wit, wisdom and knowledge of history stay with us at her website. Do take a look.

Diane Nelson was another. She published my first science fiction romance, The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy, through her now defunct publishing house. She’s now my good friend and editor – as well as being a talented writer  under the pen name Nya Rawlyns. I met and worked with Gemi Sasson Brickson, author of a wonderful Robert the Bruce trilogy and a heap of other books since then. Elspeth Cooper, who has been runner up for the David Gemmell fantasy award, was another.

I never won the gold star. But then I don’t think it ever did anyone any good. Sure, HC published a few books plucked from the slushpile. But I pretty quickly came to the conclusion that by the time you got into the top ten of any genre (which I did), the talent scouts would have had a look. Winning the gold star wouldn’t make any difference. At first, the race for the leader board was polite. I’ll never forget one memorable month when Pete Morin (Boston lawyer) and Charles Utley (London lawyer) both had their books hovering on the fifth spot. Each supported the other in a sportsmanlike manner, urging their own followers to vote for the others’ book. In the end, I think Pete’s got the gong first. The next month it was Charles’s turn. Or the other way around. But it didn’t matter – neither received an HC contract.

But it was too good to last. Pretty soon the gamers moved in. They realised before the rest of us that for HC it was never about the quality, always about which book was most likely to sell. People began to trade shelves. “I’ll back your book if you back mine.” Actually reading the book was an optional extra. One fellow clearly watched the screen showing who had just joined. He would soon “review” and back their book. The thing was he never read more than the blurb. I suspected as much when he reviewed To Dry a Dry Death, mentioning things that never appeared in the book, but are alluded to in the blurb. He was caught out when somebody wrote a blurb on a book that contained nothing but a few words, repeated over and over and over. One woman went even further -she backed the book as soon as it was loaded, and sent a message saying she would review later. Of course, both these people sent messages reminding you if you didn’t reciprocate quickly. The messages feature became an inbox for spam, with people offering swaps, or urging members to ‘back their books’. The forums, which had been lively places to exchange views and have some fun (while doing a bit of marketing)  became a bear pit of accusations, vitriol and back-stabbing.

The final straw, for me and many others of the old guard, came when a REAL gamer joined Authonomy. This fellow had a following of thousands in the online gaming community. He had also written a book. He created a Youtube video, explaining to his game followers how to join the website, and how to then back his book. His book soared into the top contenders virtually overnight. We were scandalised. Most people reached the top of the tree through real hard work, reading and reviewing at least the first chapter of hundreds of books to increase visibility in the hope people would reciprocate. (Mind you, as people neared the top, it was known for some to back every book they opened. After all, the prize was in sight.) Quite a few of us, muttering oaths about ‘fairness’, resigned then and there, and repaired to Facebook to lick our wounds. Many of us, now bitter and twisted, signed up with small presses, or self-published. Really, looking back, we were naive. The race was always about popularity, never about quality.

Still and all, I enjoyed my time on Authonomy. I met many friends all around the world who are still my friends, and I became a better writer. I learned a few lessons, such as don’t take advice from everyone, especially people who do not read your genre. Even then, beware of false praise. And beware of people who can do nothing more than spruik the “rules of writing”. I cringe when I think of some of the “advice” I offered. It was all with the best of intentions, of course. But nowadays I think advice is a bit like magic – given sparingly, if at all. There are other sites around. I joined a few, but none were ever like the Authonomy of old. These days I meet my friends on Facebook. If I need a critique, I ask a few trusted friends whose opinions I value.

Thanks for the memories, Authonomy. It was fun – but I won’t miss you.

The whales are back

Whale season is a great time here at Hervey Bay. The whale migration, when the whales swim north from Antarctica up to the warm waters of the Whitsundays and beyond, then back down to the feeding grounds in the icy south, happens every year. The whales appear in late July, with the first arrivals being sub-adults which haven’t yet reached sexual maturity. They’ll motor along at about eight knots up the Queensland coast – quite a clip. But some, in fact rather a lot, drop into the calm, shallow waters of Hervey Bay for a spot of R&R. They’ll stay for a day, or a week, depending, I suppose, on what their fancy takes them. They relax, slow down, play. Do a spot of people-watching. And we people are just as pleased that they drop in to meet us.

I took my first whale watch cruise for the 2015 season on the big yellow whale-watch boat, Spirit of Hervey Bay. (That’s a link to their Facebook page, where you can see lots of lovely photos.) Unlike our usual clear, calm winter days, the weather was a bit ordinary, with a turbulent sky and choppy seas. But there’s always a plus. It seems when the weather’s a little rough, the whales tend to put on a performance. And this day was no exception. Here’s a few shots for your edification. And put it on your bucket list. Sure, you can see whales in lots of places. But there aren’t too many where they’ll hang around and play.

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The death of a lion

"Cecil the Lion" by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cecil_the_Lion.jpg#/media/File:Cecil_the_Lion.jpg

“Cecil the Lion” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cecil_the_Lion.jpg#/media/File:Cecil_the_Lion.jpg

Probably THE biggest story on the interwebs last week is the murder of Cecil the lion. Wikipedia has an unemotional couple of paragraphs of the facts. Essentially, American dentist Walter Palmer paid two men in Zimbabwe $50,000 to deliver a lion for him to kill. They lured the cat out of a national park, where Palmer shot and wounded him with an arrow. Cecil was later killed with a rifle, and his body skinned.

I suppose our American dentist thought he was brave, accepting the challenge to bring down a lion with an arrow. Adventure, you know? Excitement. Blood lust. Killing. A photo with a dead lion. “I did that.” But in the end, it was a high-powered rifle that did the dead. Excuse me while I vomit.

The aftermath of this event has been quite remarkable. Facebook, Twitter and the like have erupted in outrage. The two Zimbabweans who Palmer paid are facing charges, and it seems Zimbabwe wants to extradite Palmer for poaching. Zimbabwe does allow hunting of wildlife, but only in designated areas, under a quota. And though I don’t like the idea, I suppose I can understand it. There’s only so much space and so much game for top predators. But the two Zimbabweans didn’t follow the rules. I have no sympathy for them, but they at least are facing the legal consequences.

Palmer, safe at home in the USA, is another matter. A large crowd reportedly converged on Palmer’s dental practice in Minneapolis, causing him to close his office and go into hiding with his family. Yes, it all does sound like a witch hunt, a lynch mob baying for Palmer’s blood. He’ll be fine. The fuss will die down in a few weeks, or days, when something else excites the public imagination. But the lion is still dead.

Mobs baying for blood is wrong, but I make no apology for adding my two cents worth to the chorus. Palmer is not the only one. We often see photos of “hunters” posing with dead animals on Facebook. I wonder how stupidly short-sighted these people can be. Our world is bursting at the seams with one invasive species and everything else gives way before its voracious demand for land, water, air – everything. Remember all the animals in your childhood picture books? Lions, tigers, elephants, rhinos, leopards, gorillas, urang utans? They’re all under threat because of US. You and me. People. This is why I wrote my two paranormal tiger books, and why I donate the proceeds, little as they may be, to tiger conservation.

I’m delighted to say that the Government has banned hunting trophies from entering Australia. The uproar over Cecil’s death has provided an opportunity to have the same legislation passed in the US, and maybe other countries around the world. Add your signature to this petition. It’s a small thing, but it might make a difference. If these so-called “hunters” can’t bring home the heads and skins of their victims, they may not bother.

Please, please give a thought to the wild world. We humans should be part of an ecosystem, just one component of a complex tapestry of life on this Earth. We’ve upset that balance so much I doubt we’ll ever be able to bring it back completely. And on that happy note, I’ll end.

Vale, Cecil. May your death not be completely in vain.

Wishing and hoping doesn’t make it real

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

Look, I’m a space nut. It says so on the header up there. So when NASA announced the discovery of “Earth 2.0” I was as excited as the next space nut.

But let’s put this into context, people. What do we really KNOW about this planet, as FACT?

  • It’s in the constellation of Cygnus, 1,400 light years from Earth.
  • It orbits a star slightly larger than our sun, but of the same solar type.
  • The planet has an orbit of 385 Earth days.
  • It’s slightly larger than Earth.

And that’s it.

Let’s face it folks, astronomers have done a LOT of conjecturing on what amounts to a slight dip in the brightness of the star as the planet passes across its face. Science Alert has a rather good article about the discovery, with a little less hype.

We don’t know how long its day is. We don’t know the composition of its atmosphere. We might think it’s rocky but we can’t be certain. We certainly can’t suggest for a moment that its surface looks like the wonderful artist’s impression at top left. We should remember that Mars and Venus are in our sun’s habitable zone. Venus, in particular, could be seen as Earth’s twin – from a distance.

That said, (and to quote Captain Piett) it’s the best lead we’ve had. He was promoted to Admiral not long after that. Maybe we should send a star fleet to check Kepler 452b out. Maybe we’ll meet some Klingons.

 

 

Aurora Springer’s latest release is GRAND MASTER’S GAME

Game-cover-cleanSpaceships are not prominent in the universe of the Grand Masters. The majority of interplanetary transport is via the portal web. Travel is almost instantaneous and any discomfort experienced by spinning through the void disappears in a picosecond. An interesting effect is that it is faster to port to your friend on the opposite side of the galaxy than to phone them. Phone messages travel at the speed of light and will only be effective between adjacent planets, for example, Earth and Mars. Messages can be written on paper or keyed into a com chip and then delivered by portal through the Interplanetary Communications System. The Grand Masters have a type of miniportal in their coms for exchanging messages, but this advanced technology is not available to ordinary folk.

The last of the huge sleeper ships left Terra a millennium ago, although isolated human colonies can still be discovered in remote regions. Humans are tenacious. Space Corps employs a fleet of spacecraft and drones to explore uncharted regions of the galaxy. Even the Griffin Grand Master uses drones in his search for the ancients. When an inhabited planet is found, a portal can be installed by the technicians on the spaceships. The Space Corps scouts play a key role in repairing the portals during the crisis when portals fail at random.

Violet uses a shuttle to travel from the moon to the planet when she visits the dragon lords of Sythos. She also flies a skimmer, or small personal aircraft, when traveling from the nearest portal station to visit her mother or her tutor.

Blurb

Spin across the galaxy as Violet and her Grand Master hunt their enemies.

Cracks in the portal web threaten galactic civilization, and suspicions fall on the mysterious Grand Masters with their immense psychic powers. Once, there were twelve Grand Masters, humans and aliens, on the Council. Now there are eleven. One was killed when the young pawn, Violet, rescued her Grand Master, Athanor, from the Red Queen’s dungeon. The Red Queen fled the fight and now she lurks out of sight, regenerating her energies.

Athanor devises a risky plan to expose his enemies on the Council and force the Red Queen into the open. His strategy will employ Violet’s empathic skills as his secret weapon. Meanwhile, she wrestles with her erratic talents and doubts about their unequal partnership. In their search for revenge, they contend with the portal crisis, psychic traps and hostile aliens. In the inevitable battle of Grand Masters, Violet and Athanor each will face their worst nightmares. What is the sacrifice for victory?

Buy Link: Amazon

Excerpt:

Two men in gray uniforms entered the conference room, burly Sergeant Hepple followed by slim Private Ronyang.

The Sergeant’s broad face was creased in a worried frown. He brightened on seeing Violet and greeted her warmly, “Miss Hunter, our paths cross again.”

Ronyang threw her a quick smile before his olive face reverted to seriousness.

After briefly introducing the two scouts, Kondric said, “You remember Violet Hunter. Her companion, Griffin, exchanges information with Space Corps on planets outside the portal web.”

He waved a hand at the table. “Take a seat. I called you here to discuss our little problem.” Kondric took the chair at one end of the oval table, intending to preside over the meeting. The two scouts took seats near the door, while the Grand Master pulled out the chair next to Violet. He laid his arm across her shoulders with casual possessiveness and Violet was amused by his unconscious impulse in the presence of possible rivals.

He caught her flash of insight and sent, “You are my pawn. Would you prefer me to ignore you?

Of course not! I love your touch.” She suppressed a smile in deference to the glum faces of the Space Corps men.

Effortlessly exerting his superior authority, Athanor glared at the two scouts and barked. “What happened on Haven?”

Private Ronyang glanced nervously towards Kondric, who was the senior officer at the table. Kondric gave a nod of consent.

His gaze glued on the Grand Master’s grim face, Sergeant Hepple explained in a rush, “We’d parked the ship in orbit round Haven to stock up on fresh food. Our team hopped to the portal station outside the town of Muddybank. When we got the message from Major Trenet, we reconfigured the portal for bulk transport. As usual, we set a roster for guard duty. I got the evening slot. Late in the evening, red lights flared over the town and we heard explosions. Two of our men raced back from the town and reported an attack.” He paused for breath and glanced at Ronyang.

Athanor’s brows lowered in a frown. “Who attacked?” he asked.

Sergeant Hepple gestured to his left. “Private Ronyang saw what happened.” The Sergeant nodded at him to proceed with the report.

Ronyang gulped and burst into speech, “I was walking through the town when a whole bunch of giant insects dropped from the sky. They had shiny black bodies, two pairs of wings and six red eyes. The ugly critters grabbed the nearest townsfolk in their huge mandibles. Their screams were awful! Everyone else scattered, running for their lives. I did the same. In the distance, I saw a red giantess rise over the roofs of the houses. She tossed lightning at the terrified inhabitants. So, I raced back to the station to report.”

Our enemy, the Red Queen!” Violet gasped in dismay.

Outrageous!” Livid with rage, Athanor leaped to his feet and leaned his hands on the table top. His disguise slipped. He loomed as a grim figure of menace with the eerie blue fire in his eyes. “By the fires of Hades,” his voice boomed. “The Red Queen has gone too far. She has broken the Council treaties by attacking an unprotected human colony. You couldn’t bring worse news.”

Bio:

Aurora Springer is a scientist morphing into a novelist. She has a PhD in molecular biophysics and discovers science facts in her day job. She has invented adventures in weird worlds for as long as she can remember. In 2014, Aurora achieved her life-long ambition to publish her stories. Her works are character-driven romances set in weird worlds described with a sprinkle of humor. Some of the stories were composed thirty years ago. She was born in the UK and lives in Atlanta with her husband, a dog and two cats to sit on the keyboard. Her hobbies, besides reading and writing, include outdoor activities like gardening, watching wildlife, hiking and canoeing.

Aurora has published science fiction romances in two series, two novellas and short stories. Her first series, Atrapako on Eden, describes the interactions of humans on the terraformed planet of Eden with scaled aliens from the hostile planet of Vkani. She has published two books in this series: The Lady is Blue and Dragons of Vkani. Her second series is Grand Master’s Trilogy. Book 1, Grand Master’s Pawn, was published in March 2015. Book 2, Grand Master’s Game, is available for pre-order and release on July 17th. Her short story, Gifts of Jangalore, is set in the Grand Masters’ Universe. Her standalone novellas are: A Tale of Two Colonies and Captured by the Hawk.

Media links:

Blog: http://AuroraSpringerNovels.blogspot.com/

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Aurora-Springer/e/B00K2C4NL8

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Aurora-Springer/885945434752937

Twitter: http://twitter.com/AuroraSpringer

Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/101087717415198221200/posts

And I thought to myself, “Not me.”

picture of Death as a skeleton with a scytheGetting older has its trials. You get sick of the endless “old fart” comics and jokes about hearing loss, memory loss, libido loss etc. You get sick of the equally endless round of emails pointing out how much better it was ‘back then’. Or the ones that ask if you remember what the relationship was between a cassette and a pencil. You get sick of being told you’re only as old as you feel. In a way, of course, that last one’s true. There was a meme going around Facebook (correctly spelled and everything) that said “Inside every old person there’s a young person wondering what the hell happened.” The brain is alive and well and firing on all cylinders but the body… the body’s suffering from shell shock. Not so very long ago I used to be able to stand with my feet together, and rest my palms on the floor in front of me. These days it’s a painful struggle to put on a pair of socks.

You’re probably wondering what caused this particular rant. Death. That’s what. I read a blog post this morning written by an online friend. She related the demise of a backyard robin at the paws of next door’s cat, then talked about three human deaths, all different, with different impacts on the living. One stood out to me – the fellow who had a massive heart attack. The doctor wouldn’t accept death and tried all manner of invasive treatments to resurrect him. In the end, his son told the doctors to let him go. And the blogger related the story of the deceased as he’d been eighteen months before, aware of his mortality, aware of the limitations caused by his condition, and resigned – even content – that death comes at the end.

An hour or two later I read an article written by Graham Richardson, well-known political commentator and a stalwart of the Hawke government. About the same age as me, he explained how he’d been diagnosed with cancer in 1999. How he should have sought treatment earlier, but being a typical bloke, didn’t. The first op kind of worked, but some of the deadly cells remained to spring up and grow again. As they do. The article (in the Weekend Australian 4th July 2015) is well worth a read, and gives an insight into chemotherapy, cancer treatment, and its effects. It now seems Richo will have to have an operation to remove his bladder, bowel, prostate, colon and rectum. He will be fitted with colostomy bags which would have to be emptied regularly. The man is already in constant pain.

And I thought to myself, “Not me.” When you get to your mid-sixties you can pretty much guarantee you will have seen death in many different guises. My mother died of bowel cancer, as did my oldest sister. Another sister wiled away the last years of her life in an old folks’ home where she needed help for just about everything. Three or four people I know died of pancreatic cancer, the one where the diagnosis is always too late. The doctors can take bits out of you to offer a semblance of being alive, but who wants to live like that?

Well, let me tell you, folks, when the seven-foot skeleton with the scythe and the brilliant blue orbs in his eye sockets comes to call, if the options are the living death of constant pain, or being eviscerated, or coughing my lungs into a handkerchief, I’ll move along, thanks.

 

Reader expectations – a mixed blessing

There has been outrage amongst my circle of writer friends about the response to E.L. James’s new contribution to literature. For those just emerging from a cave or whatever, this is Grey, the same story told in her Fifty Shades trilogy, but from Christian Grey’s point of view. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to be disappointed and frustrated to learn that Grey sold in excess of one million copies in four days. The question, inevitably, is why?

It’s not JUST marketing. Whether we like it or not, James’s faux BDSM rode the crest of a popularity wave, from whence it was picked up by Random House. Despite the cries of lousy writing, lack of editing, and the depiction of an abusive relationship, the books have out-sold everything except the Bible. People queued for this latest missive.

I should be so lucky.

James hit a nerve. She excited people’s imagination – even, dare I say, the many, many people who bought the books just to see if they were really as awful as everyone said they were. I read a few excerpts online but BDSM erotica (if that’s what it is) is not my thing, so I wasn’t tempted to read any more.

And that brings me back to the real point of this post – reader expectations. If you get it right, as James clearly did, riding on the coat tails of the mystifyingly popular Twilight, you make a killing.

My very good friend, Nya Rawlyns, writes in a variety of genres but these days her books seem to be classified as gay romance. Which is sad, because often it isn’t true. Take her latest offering The Eagle and the Fox.

TEaTFJosiah Foxglove is given a second chance when he takes over his family’s spread in the shadow of the Snowy Range. A veteran of the Gulf War, he came back broken in body and spirit.

Marcus Colton buried his long-time lover and best friend three years ago. Lonely and still grieving, Marcus finds solace in keeping his business afloat but that doesn’t help him get through the long, dark nights.

Damaged souls converge as violence wracks the small community of Centurion, WY. The town protects its own so when Kit Golden Eagle shows up, it’s easy to place blame on the stranger.

Kit Golden Eagle is running. From poverty, from abuse. Forced to live by his wits, the Ojibwe teen slowly succumbs to living a life of hate and lies.

It looks open and shut, but for Josiah and Marcus the facts simply don’t add up.

Something’s rotten in Centurion, something that smacks of a hate crime…

Unfortunately, this excellent book is diminished by reader expectations. Some look at the cover and expect a paranormal with shape shifters. (The eagle and the fox, you see.) Others will read the blurb and realise Kit Golden Eagle and Josiah Foxglove might be the eagle and the fox. That, and the fact no mention is made of shape shifting and the book isn’t listed as paranormal. Heck, it’s not even listed as a romance, yet it has been judged as one.

Expectations, you see.

If it’s listed in gay literature, it has to be a romance, it has to be steamy. Except it’s not. Sure, there’s a romance arc – with sex, even. Life tends to be like that – love will find a way. But it’s a loooong way short of the whole story.

What this book is is a slice of life in a small American town, where the drought hits hard and despair hits harder. Foxglove is a war vet with PTSD. Marcus is an in-the-closet gay man who has lost his partner. Petilune is a vulnerable young girl with a learning disability and Kit Golden Eagle is an embittered Native American kid making his way in the world as best he can. And, as the blurb says, something’s rotten in Centurion which will enmesh the whole community.

I love the way Rawlyns brings the tiny town of Centurion, overshadowed by Wyoming’s Snowy Range, to life. You don’t have to be American to relate. Transfer the story to a dusty wheat belt town in Western Australia and it’ll still make sense. Because it’s about the characters, you see. It isn’t a boiler plate, paint by numbers romance, it’s a slice of life with all the complexity that involves. Nothing like the nasty, fantasy world of Christian Grey.

This book is very difficult to slot into a box. I’ve spent some time considering where I’d put it on a bookshelf. Let’s see now… a slice of life starring a range of disadvantaged, damaged people. A small town mystery, hope and despair, starting again, love and loss… <Sigh> I guess it’s just going to have to go into Literature.

Oh – and for those to whom these things matter, it’s beautifully written. Go on, give it a try. There’s a link on the cover.

Going into darkness

(c) canstockphoto2824330

(c) canstockphoto2824330

I awake in darkness. My stomach feels like an old Victorian boiler, all churns and gurgles and gasps of gas. But my head doesn’t hurt. Not yet. I know if the headache comes, so will the vomiting. I ease myself out of bed, careful not to disturb my slumbering husband, and make my way through the familiar darkness towards the kitchen to find pain killers. But I don’t get there. The Victorian boiler objects, adding compression and cramps to its increasingly violent protests. I’m going to be sick, I’m sure of it. I divert to the toilet, crouching on all fours above the bowl. My body burns, my hands so wet they slip on the tiled floor. The urge to vomit eases, but I’m so hot. I’m in a state of near collapse, confined in this narrow space. Not good. I crawl backwards, then stagger to my feet, clutching at the door frame for support.

***

“Greta! Greta!”

The words filter through and I recognise my name and Peter’s voice, and that I’m lying on a floor. But I can’t respond. The me inside my head has no control of my body. He tries to move me, tells me to put my arms around his neck but I can’t. There’s no panic, no frustration. I just can’t. Then I’m face down on the tiles. They’re so cool on my fevered skin it’s pleasant lying there. Peter pushes a pillow under my head.

I fight to speak. “Cool.”

“Should I call an ambulance?”

I’m back. I’m panting, and burning hot but I’m aware of my body, and that it needs the toilet. “No. Toilet.”

From there, I recovered enough for him to help me to bed. Piecing it together from what I recall and what Peter saw, I think I got halfway standing up, then lost consciousness and slumped around the door frame onto the floor. He was awakened by the loud thump. He put his hand out, found I wasn’t in bed and went looking. I can only imagine his fear when he found me lying on my back, my eyes open, one eye looking up, the other to the left. He says I muttered, “Hot” but to him my skin was cold and clammy, and I don’t recall saying anything. He tried to get me up, but I passed out again so he laid me face down on the floor.

That’s when I started to recover.

I’m telling this very personal story because of how I felt. I remember trying to haul myself upright, but passing out is like going into darkness, stepping through a door into nothingness. A void. A place with no dimensions, no thought, no feeling, no awareness. When I returned from this place I had no idea what had happened or why I was where I was. But the scariest thing was being unable to move, or speak, when I desperately wanted to. And even though I desperately wanted to, no panic, no anger – just the simple recognition that I couldn’t.

Later, I wondered if that’s how people feel when they die. If it is, I’m okay with that. I’m happy to pass into a void. Not that I’m suggesting for a moment that this was a near death experience. But I’ve fainted before because of blood loss, and as soon as I heard the voice ask, “Are you okay?” I was able to evaluate my physical circumstances and answer with absolute certainty, “No.”

This time, when the void spat me out I was present. The driver was in the cab, hands on the controls. But the controls wouldn’t work.

It’s cathartic to write this down. I expect I’ll use it in a story sometime.

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