Fiction

All posts in the Fiction category

The Lofty Views of a Mouse

Published November 13, 2016 by nruhwald

brainThe evening began so well. After the hub-bub of Sunday’s frenzy, Oakwood Fellowship was finally quiet enough for the three mice to head over to their favorite spot in the receptionist’s station next to the Lost-and-Found box.

Ricky carried a communion cup fill with apple juice left over from the nursery snacktime, plunked it on the floor within easy reach, and settled down on a holey mitten.

Lena and Meg continued their discussion as they climbed up into the cupboard.

“Because, you know how humans only use ten percent of their brains?” said Lena.

Meg’s ear twitched.

“Oh boy.” Ricky hid his smile in the cup of apple juice.

Meg hopped up on an empty box of Dove soap. “Excuse me?”

“You know, on the scans. Only ten percent of the brain lights up,” Lena said. “On average.”

“I beg your pardon. Humans do not use ten percent of their brains. They may, or may not, use ten percent of their brains at a time, depending on what they are doing. But different parts of the brain are used for different things. People don’t do everything at once.”

“Well maybe, but-”

“-but nothing. For instance, a person cannot use every part of their house at once. Does that mean some parts of the house are unused? No, that’s dumb.”

“Well, you could get more stuff done if you could be in every room at once.”

“The brain doesn’t work like that.”

“So your analogy doesn’t work.”

“People don’t work like that either.”

“But if they did…”

Meg smoothed her whiskers in an effort to stay calm.

Ricky took another sip of apple juice.

“The point is,” Meg said. “People do, at some point during the day, use all the parts of their brain. There is no secret reservoir of untapped brainpower.”

“Well, whatever,” said Lena.

Meg gave a dismissive flick of her tail and scurried over to the smartphone. Someone lost it in the ladies washroom two months ago, and had never come back for it.

“You’re drinking all the juice,” said Lena.

“Well have some then,” said Ricky.

“Although.” Meg’s brow furrowed as she flipped through her Facebook newsfeed with quick, dexterious motions of her paw. “You may have a point.”

via Daily Prompt: Lofty

Winnowna, Meet Patrick

Published November 6, 2016 by nruhwald

winnownapatrick

Time for a new sneak peak of my upcoming novel The King’s Children. If you haven’t had a chance to meet my main characters Patrick Hood or Winnowna, you may want to do so now.

If you have, read on to see what happens when they meet each other for the first time.

 

Winnowna sat alone at her table in the tea parlour. Scant few others took tea in the spacious room; the resort town popular only in the summer months. The others talked and sipped their tea as if nothing was wrong. They knew who she was. Even in a drastically reduced mode of dress and without her entourage, no one could fail to recognize Princess Winnowna Illusia. Still, they pretended they did not know her.

She stared at her cup of tea, at the reflection of the chandelier in its surface. Her hand shook as she raised the cup to her lips. The next hour or two would decide her fate. After the rebels arrived and signaled their presence, Winnowna would run. Some of them would ensure the guards did not get in her way while others guided her to the docks where a ship waited for her.

Taking a deep breath and releasing it slowly, Winnowna smoothed the mauve satin of her skirt. She would have difficulty running in the voluminous dress and fine shoes, but she could not have worn something more practical without alerting her maid to the fact that she planned to escape.

They would come soon. Winnowna looked out the windows.

A strangeling walked across the roof of the buildings on the other side of the street and a chill of horror swept over her. She considered fleeing deeper into the inn, but she sat and watched him as though caught up into a dream.

Murmurs of concern arose from the other patrons in the tea parlour; some of them stood and began backing towards the exit. Her guard stood stiffly, hands on their weapons. What was this? Strangelings did not brazenly walk the streets in broad daylight.

Winnowna felt her mouth grow dry as his eyes met hers. The strangeling slid down the shingles on his feet, caught the eaves trough before he fell, let go and kicked off a pillar before landing on the street. He must be a strangeling, no human moved with that eerie feline grace.

He began to walk across to the street towards her, but didn’t get far. A group of men advanced on him and soon had him backed up against the wall of a haberdashery. A few onlookers watched uneasily from a distance or quickly ducked into buildings.

Who were these men? Was this the group of rebels she was supposed to meet? They could just as easily be an impromptu gang of concerned citizens. They outnumbered him ten to one, but nevertheless the strangeling did not appear intimidated.

Winnowna picked her opera glass out of her reticule to better observe the scene. The strangeling said something, but she could not tell what. One of the men pushed him against the brick wall.

A knife flashed in the hand of one of the men. The strangeling made a quick, precise gesture, and the knife flew from the man’s hand and struck the wooden sign above the door of the inn. One of the patrons shrieked.

The men backed off, dismayed at how easily their leader had been disarmed. The strangeling walked out from their midst and stalked down the road, back in the direction he had come. He hadn’t gone far before the men started to follow him. The strangeling glanced over his shoulder and began to run. The men gave chase, and were soon lost from sight beyond the window frame.

A breath of relief, the strangeling was gone.

Her guards were still preoccupied, looking out the windows, trying to work out what had happened. She could imagine no better opportunity to escape.

What if the strangeling was still out there?

Winnowna hesitated at the thought, but her choice was clear. Many strangelings awaited her in the gulf. Now she faced only one. And her allies were out there too. She must find them.

She jumped from her seat, hiked up her heavy skirts, and darted for the servant’s door, dodging a maid carrying a tea tray as she ran down the hallway, into the kitchen and finally out the back door into the narrow road behind the inn. Thinking of nothing but ensuring she was not followed, Winnowna ran down the cobblestone street, turned left, right, and right again.

The broken door of an abandoned theatre presented itself as a likely hiding place. She burst through the door, and hurried down a set of rickety steps into the dark and dusty basement.

Winnowna ducked behind a large backdrop, trying to catch her breath. She heard no shouts or running feet in the streets above. For the moment at least, she was free. She giggled. Free, think of it!

It took her over two weeks to accomplish, but now—

A shadow moved in the darkness. She froze. Her eyes searched the cluttered basement, and were met with too many possible threats. Painted faces leered at her out of the dark, and ominous shapes lurked in the shadows.

The princess crept deeper into the room, shying away from a trunk full of gruesomely realistic body parts. She bumped into a coatrack, knocking a rubber mask onto the floor. A hummed tune floated to her, gone almost as soon as she heard it.

She halted, listening intently and watching, but she heard nothing. Perhaps the sound had come from outside?

“They’re coming for you.”

Winnowna whirled at the unexpected voice, her heart convulsing madly in her chest.

The strangeling stood barely fifteen feet from her, his eyes flowing ghastly green like the eyes of a wild animal caught in lantern light. One of the creatures who preyed upon her family for the last three hundred years.

He looked—nothing like she expected a strangeling to look. Indeed if he hadn’t been a strangeling Winnowna might have thought him handsome. Where were the horns and deadly fangs the stories promised? And he was young; he could not be much older than she was.

He wore a long, dark coat that reminded her of a highwayman, tailor made for him. Actually, it looked like a costume.

He brushed his hair out of his eyes. “They’re coming. I tried to tell your friends, but they wouldn’t listen.”

So those had been the rebels.

“What have you done with them?” she demanded.

The strangeling frowned. As he shifted, the green glow disappeared from his eyes, revealing them to be blue, almost black in this light. “Nothing. I’m trying to warn you. My name is Patrick.”

“Patrick Hood?”

“Yes.” He looked up. “They’re coming.”

 

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for part two!

Welcome to Desylvar

Published September 19, 2016 by nruhwald

Watch your step, though. It can get weird in here.

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This the first in a series of posts about the world I have constructed for my novels: Desylvar. It seems appropriate that I begin at the beginning, and present you with Desylvar at its most basic level, as everything else about Desylvar is based on this foundation.

Later on, I will tell you about how faerie society works. Personally, I don’t find humans as interesting, but I may write some about them, too. Today, I’m going to tell you about what I believe is the most important question a story-world can answer.

What separates the bad guys from the good guys?

Desylvar is not an “us” versus “them” world. In too many stories, the good guys wear white hats (metaphorically) and the bad guys wear black hats, and everyone lies, kills, and sometimes even tortures in order to get their way. The good guys are not good, they are simply better, or not as bad, as the bad guys.

However, Desylvar is based on moral and spiritual laws (you could call them laws of magic if you like) which apply to everyone as impartially as the law of gravity.

Even if an antagonist in Desylvar were never confronted by a protagonist, that antagonist would eventually suffer personal destruction as surely as if they had injected themselves with a virus. If a protagonist steps over the line, even unknowingly, there are consequences.

Neither are protagonists at a disadvantage because they choose to adhere to these spiritual laws. Those who choose evil often believe they have chosen freedom and power, but this is an illusion. If a human on Desylvar chooses to utilize the power of evil faeries, for a time they may experience great power, and believe they are free to do as they like. Eventually, though, they come to realize they were simply being used themselves, with no greater freedom than a slave.

The protagonists may not personally possess great power, but neither do the antagonists. The protagonists owe their allegiance to someone else with great power, but unlike evil faeries this master does not seek their destruction.

The protagonists are the protagonists because they are in alliance with the one who created those spiritual laws in the first place. The Seelie faeries call this person Eloheim. I’ve borrowed the Hebrew word for God here. So long as said protagonists continue to abide by the spiritual laws (the equivalent of not jumping off a cliff) they are protected. Nothing the Unseelie do can touch them.

This is the most abstract of the posts I’ll be writing about Desylvar, but I think it is also the most important. Some time ago I read a post by a blogger I respect (whose name escapes me), which said that only an experienced writer should attempt to write an allegory in the fantasy genre. Too late.

I don’t think I could write something without expressing myself in it. Although I have discovered how difficult writing an allegory is, I think I have some pretty great teachers in the novelists I read.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series, date TBD, on faerie-circles.

 

Which Publishing Method Should You Choose?

Published June 9, 2016 by nruhwald

bookpublishingThe publishing world used to be simple. You sent your manuscript to the publisher, and if you kept doing that maybe eventually you got published. At least, that’s how they show it in the movies.

I don’t know. I wasn’t alive when the world was simple.

Maybe it never was. Now there are big publishers and small presses, big agencies and boutique agencies, vanity presses, and independent publishing. What’s an author supposed to do?

Then they say, “only you can decide which publishing method is right for you.” Great, that’s so helpful.

Traditional Publishing

This is supposedly the respectable route. The route where you don’t end up with a million unsold books in your basement. It’s also the route I was dead set on pursuing back when I really didn’t know much about all the options available.

Pros

I knew a little about self-publishing, but I thought traditional was the way to go if you were really serious about making it big. After all, you could get access to the big publishers with their fancy marketers and all the other people who know what they’re doing.

You don’t have to pay anything, and you get access to a team of people who will edit the book, design the cover, do the marketing.

All I had to do was get an agent, and then a publisher, and they would take care of everything. Right?

Cons

I soon began to realize the amount of work, and waiting, and frustration, that goes into just finding an agent. Trying to write a query letter was like pulling teeth. Then I had to do the same with a synopsis. At the end of that I had a maybe-okay query letter and synopsis with which to hopefully snag an agent. Past that point, everything was in their hands.

And I learned that if I got an agent, that agent’s first priority would be their agency, not me. Apparently I would have to worry about whether or not my contracts were fair, even though originally that was the agent’s job.

Even if I managed to jump through all the hoops the publishing industry uses to filter out only the manuscripts that will make them the most money, and dodged the bullet of a bad contract, I still would have to learn how to market my own work.

Self-Publishing

So I started looking at the other options. Specifically e-publishing. It’s a brand new world with ebooks these days, and many writers are packing up their things and heading West.

Pros

Ah, ebooks, I thought. No unsold manuscripts sitting in the closet. I get to pick the cover art, or work with a cover designer myself. (I also get to pay for it myself, but that’s beside the point.)

I decide when my manuscript is ready for publication. I decide what, and when to write next. I get to not-give-a-rip about what anyone else thinks will sell.

Best of all, if my first (third, fifth) novel doesn’t sell, by definition no one was watching. If my novel was traditionally published and didn’t sell, my agent would know, my publisher would know.

Everyone would know.

This way, if it doesn’t work the first time, I can always get my marketing act together later and rerelease it.

And I can start out slowly. There’s no tedious process of sending out queries, waiting fretfully, trying to figure out why the responses aren’t coming. I can just start, and do whatever my budget permits, and build on that. I don’t need the agent to call to celebrate. I can celebrate the little things. Like whenever I get a new follower.

I have time to figure everything out, and I’m in control the whole time.

Cons

By now you’ve probably guessed independent publishing is the way I’ve decided to go. (Btw, I hope to be making noises about cover reveals and release dates in about a year.)

I’m on my own now. I have to either do everything myself or pay someone to do it for me, with no guarantee of return. But I like this.

I get to do everything my own way (provided it works), and at my own pace. And I don’t have to worry about impressing intimidating publishing professionals. At least not yet.

Book Review of The Sword Bearer by John White

Published June 2, 2016 by nruhwald

SwordBearerCoverSynopsis

(from Amazon.com)

“It was John’s birthday. He would be thirteen. And what’s more, it was on this day that his grandmother would tell him the mystery of his locket . . . And of his parents. But it was not to be. Before he could find out, he was magically transported to the land of Anthropos where he was startled to be hailed as the Sword Bearer, the slayer of the Goblin Prince. Here, in the imaginative story of the early history of Anthropos, John White captures the excitement and wonder of another world.”

Review

John White’s The Sword Bearer features a Bristish-grandfatherly narrative voice, and a magical adventure undertaken by a realistically imperfect child protagonist. Much like another well-known British author of fantasy children’s books we all know and love. Granted, John White is not C. S. Lewis, but who is?

I enjoyed The Sword Bearer because it provides interesting characters and dramatic adventure. And I’m always looking for biblically-sound Harry Potter alternatives. The Sword Bearer is both entertaining and spiritually meaningful.

I just wish that Anthropos, John White’s fantasy world, seemed a little more convincing. The world of Anthropos seems to solely consist of what is being portrayed in the novel and nothing more. If this was a movie, the audience might have a nagging awareness that what they are watching is a movie set.

The protagonist, John, in his imperfection strayed into un-likability for me a time or two. Fortunately, my interest in other characters kept me reading until John got himself sorted out, but generally I prefer to be able to root for the main character throughout the story.

Beyond that, The Sword Bearer is a wholesomely entertaining read, perfect for those of us who have reread The Chronicles of Narnia a dozen times and are looking for something a little different.

 

Becoming a Better Writer

Published May 24, 2016 by nruhwald

relax-working-on-the-garden-picjumbo-comAll writers go through stages of believing their work is utterly fabulous, and believing their work is awful, even the best ones. Though when you’re thinking clearly, flawed is a better word than awful.

After all, what you wrote yesterday is better than the chicken scratch you were churning out ten years ago, right?

So you know you’re somewhere between complete drivel and genius. But where, exactly, are you on that spectrum? “I know I write well, but am I good enough” is the recurring theme.

Answering the “good enough” question, even if it were possible, probably wouldn’t be very helpful. You want to know, but really only if you’re going to be told you are good enough. In which case you would get complacent and stop seeing your errors.

All you can do is get better. Keep learning the craft of writing.

You’re not as good as some people say you are. You’re not as bad as other people say you are. You’re learning. We’re all learning.

Here’s how you can do it.

I’m not going to go into a bunch of techniques, there is a lot out there already for you to find. I’m talking about attitude.

First, you need to get into a headspace where you can see your mistakes, let’s call it the editorial mindset. It’s not as much fun as the writer’s mindset I’m going to talk about next, but it’s not the “every word I write is trash” mindset either.

Taking writing workshops and the like is helpful, I imagine. I’ve never done much of that, but I probably should. I like to get out and observe people calling out writing mistakes in the “wild”. You can do this three ways, by getting critiqued yourself, by reading the critiques other people have written about other people, or by critiquing other people’s work.

The middle option sucks the most, and you may very well need to time to move out of the “every word I write is trash” mindset before you can think clearly again. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most effective methods. Learning correct writing principles is one thing, applying them to your work is another.

Having someone do that for you shows you what mistakes to look out for in your work, and it makes the lesson difficult to forget. Like, impossible.

Secondly, you must put aside (not forget) everything you learned in step one, and enjoy yourself. This is the writer’s mindset.

Are you good enough? Good enough for what? Why are you doing this anyway?

You do this because you enjoy it, and enjoy it you must or your writing will be as dry as toast. And you probably won’t do very much of it. Dry toast crumbs.

Some parts of writing are just for you. First drafts mainly, anything you write from scratch. Mr. Fancy Pants Critique Man is not invited.

Just write, enjoy it. Do you unreservedly love what you just wrote? No? Wonderful! You’ll fix it later. Keep going.

To learn to write better, you have to write. Make a mess. Then fix it.

And get those people who love whatever you write no matter what to critique your work, too. You may not learn anything from them, but you need them. When you do get published, these will be your readers.

Some people will love what you write, some people already do. But keep getting better. Keep writing.

The Power of Fiction

Published May 20, 2016 by nruhwald

book-863418_1280Stories are powerful. I suspect that all writers who yearn to create more than entertainment believe this too.

I’ve found meaning in many stories, though I don’t know what the creators of these stories intended, and honestly I don’t really want to.

I’ve been thinking about one of them a lot lately, so I thought I’d share it with you.

A few years ago Apple decided to give everybody a free digital copy of Song’s of Innocence by U2. A lot of people were annoyed by this, but I wasn’t. Many of the songs spoke to me. I could probably write a blog post any of them, but one of my favorites is “The Troubles.”

That song hits me in the feels every time. Especially this part:

“Somebody stepped inside your soul
Somebody stepped inside your soul
Little by little they robbed and stole
Till someone else was in control

You think it’s easier
To put your finger on the trouble
When the trouble is you
And you think it’s easier
To know your own tricks
Well, it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.”

(I often skip over quotes when I’m reading. If you do, that’s fine, but you might want to go back and read the lyrics when you’re finished reading this post. It’ll make more sense then.)

I find this song so meaningful because it reminds me of a friend of mine. He made a stupid mistake once. He was young, but that didn’t protect him from the consequences of his actions. He had a long road ahead to make it right. But he trusted the wrong people, eventually lost control of himself, and ultimately his mistake cost him his life. I haven’t told any of my friends or family about him, but I cried when he died.

My friend isn’t real. And by that I mean he is a fictional character and not a tangible human being. He is very real to me, and I did cry for him.

So I got emotional over a story, and a song reminds me of that story, and now I get a little choked up every time I hear it. So what?

These stories matter because my friend is not alone. We lose too many people this way. Too many people give over control of themselves “little by little” until it’s too late.

For instance, my city is currently suffering the consequences of a drug called fentanyl. It’s killed hundreds of people a year since it showed up. If this current year is anything like last year, a couple people have probably OD’d this week already. They probably weren’t bad people.

Addictions are insidious things. Perhaps someone starts with a low-grade drug. A little bad choice, the consequences of which would be slight if they left it at that. But they don’t. They progress to stronger and stronger forms. At some point other destructive habits form in order to conceal and feed the addiction. Then one day it’s too late.

Sometimes they pick the wrong drug the first time, and their one bad choice is the last choice they ever make.

I believe most, if not all, evil works this way. Not everyone dies from a slowly and innocuously growing pile of bad decisions. Sometimes people “just” lose their job, or “just” lose their marriage, or “just” end up in jail.

Too many people are getting caught in nightmares that grew so slowly they didn’t realize what was happening. Well, let’s be honest, they probably did. There are always warning signs. But it always seems so difficult to back out, and going deeper seems easier.

(It’s almost like people are being lured to destruction by intelligent, malevolent beings. Huh.)

I’ve seen this happen to other people, in milder forms to myself, over and over. I think I found my friend’s story so compelling because it reminded me of this.

Through fiction, we can find truth in the strangest of places. I’m not mentioning “my friend’s” name because I’m not sure about copyright issues, and chances are none of you will have heard of him. Though my friend’s story resembles no scenario that is possible in this world, I found truth in it. The stories we tell matter.

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