Grace's Mosaic Moments


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Civility lives!




CIVILITY LIVES!

In the past decade—particularly over the last two years—we've all asked ourselves if Civility is dead, if caring, graciousness, and good manners are now lost in the mists of time. I am fortunate enough to live in an area where I experience civility on a daily basis, but frankly, I'd truly begun to wonder if Longwood and Lake Mary (Florida) were oases in the wilderness.

I am happy to announce that after my recent cruise, I can say that my personal optimism about people in general has been justified. Civility not only lives among members of the cruise ship crew—who are, of course, trained how to behave—but among the passengers on board. And among the people we encountered on shore. 

Example:  Evidently Royal Caribbean trains its people to make a special effort to greet those who are alone, particularly the elderly. Every time I went to breakfast, I was not only wished a good morning but asked if I needed coffee, juice, could they carry my plate, etc. One young man even raced to a different floor to find me a paper cup for "to go" coffee. The servers in the dining room went out of their way to provide what our fussy eaters asked for at dinner, even scaring up crême brulée on a night it wasn't on the menu. Another amused the girls—adults too—with napkin folding and little fun tricks. Everywhere we turned, someone was willing to go the extra mile. (We were, by the way, aboard Majesty of the Seas.)

This attitude did not end with crew. Graciousness ruled everywhere. People complimented perfect strangers on their clothes, laughed together at little incidents, held elevators, went out of their way to be helpful. For example, holding a place in line for me at Guest Relations so I, clearly a senior citizen, could sit in comfort while I waited. And then there was the lady who saw my cane while at the Mexico in a Nutshell museum and made sure I got safely down a steep ramp.

No, of course things were not always idyllic. For example, Cassidy, almost 12, and two young friends encountered a drunk on an elevator. They were ordered off the elevator by the young drunk's companion in no uncertain terms, but it seems likely the companion did so to protect the children from something they should not have to see or hear. At least that was Cassidy's interpretation, along with speculating that the drunk's brother was also trying to protect him from being seen in that condition. (Evidently, one can drink at 16 in Mexico, and the young man had taken full advantage of drinking legally.)


I have, however, saved the best story for last. Here, copied from Facebook, is Susie's story of how our cruise started—or almost did not start at all.

So lemme tell ya what happened today..... Mike almost didn't get on this cruise.
We were checking in at the cruise terminal in Tampa, 90+ minutes from home with no traffic. The boarding cutoff deadline is 3:30p, boat leaving at 4p. At 1:30pm Mike realizes that he BROUGHT HIS EXPIRED PASSPORT, not the new one. He's not allowed to board at all without a valid passport. We freak out. There's no time to go home and come back. Who can we get to go to our house, grab the passport and run to Tampa???
Lionel to the rescue! But he's in Winter Park and not answering his phone! Finally Mike reaches Lionel who goes and gets the passport. We now have just over 90 minutes till they pull the ramp away from the boat!
Lionel hits lots of rain and holiday traffic causing delays. Mike is insisting that we go on without him. My mom is hungry and upset. I'm crying. The girls are keeping it together..... Finally...... we reluctantly go on board and hope for the best.
3:17p...... mike texts that Lionel is not there and is in traffic. Doesn't look good.
3:30p..... We're at the muster stations and I tell the girls that evidently he's not going to make it. We are so sad, guilty, upset, concerned. Everyone around us is excited about starting their vacations! Not us.
3:40p I've heard nothing from mike and the deadline has passed. I'm assuming that Lionel will be Mike's ride back to Orlando. How will we get on without him?? What will he do for 5 days? Back to work? Who will interpret for us gringas in Cuba and Mexico??
Back at the check-in where he'd been for 2 hours, several customer service people got personally involved in his saga. As Lionel frantically pulled up at 3:35pm, they radioed the gangway people to hold on. A security guard outside grabbed the passport from Lionel thru the car window and hopped on his bicycle to deliver it to another guy at the entrance who then ran it up the stairs yelling "I got it! I got it!". It was like a relay race!
Stamp, sign, photo, run!!!!
3:46pm Mike texts me a photo of himself inside of the ship! We are ecstatic!!!!!!!!
We ran to meet him and the ship set sail. Whew!!!!!!!!! What a roller coaster way to start a vacation! We're so glad to all be together......

Tense moments? You bet. But what a relief when Mike made it. He says they pulled up the gangway the moment he was aboard. (Frankly, looking back, it was more like a scene in a movie than something that was actually happening.) So a special thanks to Royal Caribbean for being so helpful under difficult circumstances.

~ * ~

Mugging it up in Savannah (7/13/18). Riley, center; Cassidy, front right.


Below are some of my photos from our cruise. Susie took great photos of back streets in  Cuba where few, if any, of the passengers found their way. (Courtesy of Mike being at home in a Spanish-speaking country.) At the moment she is in Savannah again, where the Citrus Singers are performing for QuestFest, a national conclave of Girl Scouts. When she gets back, I hope to get some of those Cuba photos to pass along (many taken by young photographer extraordinaire, Riley). 

Susie, Tampa Bay, still grinning over Mike making the boat.


 
Would you believe Hailey's lunch? Olives, pickles & French fries.


Military helicopter checking us out in Key West - making sure our ship hadn't been taken over by terrorists?




We were blown away by the treasure at the Atocha Museum in Key West. It was found in 1985, three years after I moved to Florida, and was a huge story at the time.  Long-time treasure-hunter, Mel Fisher, offered the state a third of it but Florida claimed it all. Eight years later, the Supreme Court declared the entire treasure was his. It's the single greatest treasure ever found, and not far off the Key West coast. If you're in Key West, don't miss this! Here are some examples:

Necklace & earrings
Gold & emerald crucifix
Gold chains
Silver ingots
Solid gold
Grapeshot (not from Atocha)
 
These bows are the "before & after" of treasure-hunting - how all items looked before cleaning




Went to a restaurant for a cooling drink & encountered a 2-footed crumb vacuum


Doing the tourist thing - that's Riley hidden behind Cassidy




Havana Harbor

 
Eastern Orthodox cathedral, glowing on the Havana skyline




Odd dragonfly that flew on board in Havana


Ancient fortress guarding Havana Harbor


Sand painting at Mexico in a Nutshell, Cozumel


Chichenitza - one of c. 20 ¼-size replicas of Mexican ruins (Mexico in a Nutshell)

 

Flyers at Mexico in a Nutshell
  We were told the man at the top represents the sun, and the four flyers represent the four seasons, the four directions, and the four elements (earth, air, fire, water). The men kept circling all the way to the ground, accompanied by a drum being played by the man at the top while spinning the square with his feet.


For someone like me, who walked the real ruins on a previous trip (when I was younger!), Mexico in a Nutshell was a perfect tour. I heartily recommend bypassing shopping and the beach for this well-done peek at Mexico, past and present.


The "swansong" of our cruise

~ * ~

 To view the Citrus Singers' new video, click here.

For a link to the re-edited version of The Courtesan's Letters, please click here. 

For a link to Royal Rebellion, Book 4 of the Blue Moon Rising series, click here.  


For a link to Blair Bancroft's web site, click here.

~ * ~ 

Next week (hopefully) - a new series on Characterization

Thanks for stopping by,

Grace

Saturday, June 30, 2018

New Video from the Citrus Singers

Hailey, 6/29/18 - Nothing like catching a barracuda on your first deep sea fishing trip!
 ~ * ~
 
For those new to my blog:

Above:  Hailey is my oldest granddaughter. 
Below:  Susie is the director of The Citrus Singers, the chorus of the Central Florida Girl Scouts of America. She is also my daughter. Riley and Cassidy are my granddaughters. Michael is my son-in-law (and owner of Millennia 3 Media).

 ~ * ~

The new Citrus Singer video is a parody of Camila Cabello's Havana.


Behind the scenes:



The Citrus Singers "Patch"
 
Abby's cloak waiting in the wings



 
Demonstrating a pose for Abby




 
Conference Time - on the right, Susie, Dave, Mike

FYI, that's the studio that was painted pink for the previous video.

  
Grace notes:  The Citrus Singers' new video will be featured at the Girl Scouts' QuestFest in Savannah, Georgia, July 14, 2018.  

~ * ~

The Story of the Citrus Singers' New Video

On Monday night (6/25/18), as we came out of the movie theater after watching the latest Jurassic Park epic, we were suddenly stalled in the lobby as Susie checked the "proof" of the Citrus Singers' just-finished video . . . and stood there, phone plugged into the wall, for fifteen minutes while she edited the mistakes in the captioning. Sigh. Thank goodness the lobby had benches. But I think you'll agree the end result was worth all the effort.

Speaking of effort . . .

I was present for only one recording session - the opening scene - and after two and a half hours (mostly without air conditioning as it was too noisy to run while filming!), I decided I needed to eat as well as breathe cool air and went home. So, no, you won't see me in the audience though I screamed loudly with all the others in earlier takes. And that's only one example of what it took to make the video. 

Just think about the efforts of whoever made the cloak Abby wears as she comes down the aisle. And it took six or seven takes to get her hair to swirl just right! And then there were the two carloads of moms and girls who made the road trip to Savannah, Georgia, the city where the Girl Scouts were founded. When I asked Riley and Cassidy about the trip, I got a groan from one and "Hot!" from the other. This from girls who were born in Florida?? But if you study the Savannah scenes, you will see they are mostly outdoors - with the girls biking, running, circling, leapfrogging, etc. Activities not usually undertaken in either Georgia or Florida in the June sun. So . . . not quite the "fun" road trip one might think.

The "home" scenes were filmed in Susie's house, where I suspect it was not necessary to turn off the AC! But I'm willing to bet there were a lot of "takes" before everybody got it right. So when you watch this new video, which is even more Girl Scout-themed than the last one, please keep in mind all the behind-the-scenes efforts that went into it: the Moms, who did so much; Michael, who directed; Dave, the videographer who also edited; Susie, who created the concept, wrote the dialogue and parody & laid out the scenes, as well as being general factotum for the whole shebang.

And if you think she is "over the top," in the opening scene, well, there's a reason for that . . .

 To view the Citrus Singers' new video, click here.


~ * ~

THE COURTESAN'S LETTERS

Blurb for The Courtesan's Letters, revised version with new cover, June 2018:

Miss Abigail Todd, the very proper headmistress of an academy for young ladies in Boston, arrives in England to settle her grandmother's estate, only to discover that her ancestor was la grande Clarisse, the most notorious courtesan of her day. And, to Abigail's even greater horror, she discovers she herself is the perfect image of her grandmother. Clarisse has left a series of letters detailing commissions Abby must carry out in order to obtain her inheritance (an amount far greater than anticipated). In order to do this, she must accept the assistance of Jared, Earl of Langley, grandson of the man who was Clarisse's lover for forty years. Has Clarisse created these letters because of love, nostalgia, mischief, vengeance . . . or is she perhaps more interested in matchmaking? The most likely answer: all of the above.

Author's Note:  The Courtesan's Letters is suitable reading for Ages 14 & up. As a paperback, under the title, The Indifferent Earl, it was nominated for a RITA award by the Romance Writers of America and was awarded "Regency of the Year" by Romantic Times magazine. 

Grace note: I just realized the heroine of The Courtesan's Letters has the same first name as the heroine of the Citrus Singers' video! 
~ * ~

For a link to The Courtesan's Letters, please click here. 

For a link to Royal Rebellion, click here.  

For a link to Blair Bancroft's web site, click here. 


 
For a link to Blair's Facebook Author Page with background on The Courtesans' Lettersclick here.





                    Next blog:  July 14, 2018


Thanks for stopping by,  
Grace

Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Rant & a Revamp


Found on Facebook - the latest sign to be added to my collection. Sigh . . .



Grace - Ranting Again

As most of you know, every once in a while I find something so egregious, so inexcusable, that it sets me off on a rant. That happened last week when I chose a book via Bookbub. (Which just goes to show that you can pay to advertise anything!)

Well . . . it wasn't as bad as that remark implies, but it was shocking, nonetheless. Please examine the following dialogue from The Lady Takes a Risk (revised in the fashion of the novel I am ranting about) and figure out what is wrong with it.

   The footman had no sooner shut the door to the colonel’s carriage than Lady Amelie turned to her husband, pronouncing with considerable ire, You might have told me!
   And spoiled your determination to sacrifice yourself on the altar of social disgrace? he returned, his tone carefully neutral.
   Ignoring the barb—and a barb it certainly was—Amelie continued her tirade. You could well afford to whistle my sixty thousand pounds down the wind. So why on earth did you marry me?
   I assure you, my dear, not even the Prince Regent would ignore the lure of sixty thousand pounds.
   Why?
   Marcus shrugged. Noblesse oblige. Knight to the rescue. The possibility of bringing my household out of chaos? Respite from a cold bed and long, lonely nights?
   Amelie, huffing a breath of outrage, crossed her arms and turned her gaze to the carriage window, staring with seeming fascination at scenery she had seen a thousand times before.
   Mee-urp!
   Marcus stared at the soft-sided portmanteau his wife was holding in her lap. What, he asked in arctic accents, was that?
   Lady Amelie, back straight, shoulders stiff, ignored him.
   Mee-urp!
   Amelie . . . ?
   That, she said, looking straight ahead, is Bastet.  



I expect it didn't take long for you to go, "Huh? What happened to the quotation marks?"

Try to picture an entire novel, a lengthy historical romance, written without quotation marks. Not. A. One. Resulting in total confusion between actual dialogue and the characters' thoughts and actions; besides being so totally abnormal as to be thoroughly off-putting.  

The book was also handicapped by being written in extreme "storyteller" style, something that's been shunned for years by most fiction authors. And yet . . . I kept reading because the historical research was obviously painstakingly accurate, the story itself was intriguing, and the prose - even without quotation marks - was oftentimes lyrical. In other words, here was a possibly gifted author so absorbed in what he/she was researching—a writer, so "blindered" by history—that I wondered if he/she had ever looked up from academia long enough to read a single work of fiction. The book certainly didn't present that way. I considered assigning the blame to arrogance: the author was deliberately thumbing his/her nose at the rules of dialogue, but somehow I'm more inclined to think the author was someone who simply never came up from air long enough to understand the fiction genre and how it is presented.

There were a number of other oddities in the book which I won't detail because they might pinpoint the author too clearly, but it's absolutely tragic to see a talented author so centered on a single project that he/she fails on one of the few unbreakable rules of writing: enclosing dialogue in quotation marks. I mean, we all had to read James Joyce, right? And how did that go for you? I still recall the experience with horror.

If you want people to read your books, your presentation has to work. It must be easily understandable. Isn't that why I've been blogging about Writing & Editing since 2011? Your work has to make sense. It has to be easily read. I. e., unless you simply want to be known for your eccentricity, there are certain rules you have to follow. No if's, and's, or but's about it!

As for the "Revamp" . . .

It seemed time to give my very first traditional Regency - first published in 2003 by Signet as The Independent Earl - a new cover. And here it is - now live on Kindle and Smashwords, complete with revised blurb and "tweaked" manuscript. More details can be found on my Facebook Author Page (link below).




For a link to The Courtesan's Letters on Amazon Kindle, please click here.

For a link to The Courtesan's Letters on Smashwords, please  click here.

Grace note:  I have a new Facebook Author's Page up, providing what I hope is interesting background on The Courtesan's Letters.  To read the page, click here.  

Also, Kindle Scout has put my Rebel Princess on 99¢ sale through June 29.
For a link to Rebel Princess, click here.

~ * ~

For a link to Blair Bancroft's web site, click here. 

To request a brochure from Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, please use the link to Blair's website above.  (New price list, as of 6/22/18)


Thanks for stopping by,  
Grace

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Index to Grace's Writing & Editing Posts

SEMINOLE MIDDLE SCHOOL BAND CAMP.
As I've mentioned in the past, music is alive and well in Seminole County, Florida. On Thursday night I attended the concert which wound up an 8-day "band camp" for middle school students. There were four bands. The beginners with eight days on their instruments managed "Mary Had a Little Lamb" - well, half of it. But the two jazz bands and the concert band? Wow! They were amazing, and all of them "beginners" only a year or two ago. Well, perhaps not quite. Riley, who plays the Euphonium (sort of half-way between a French Horn and a Baritone), was asked to play the trombone for the first time in Band Camp and soloed on it at the concert (in the Junior Jazz Band - Video below.) Cassidy, with a year on trumpet, soloed directly after her. (That's Mama you hear screaming in the background.)

For video of the Reale sisters doing back-to-back solos, click here.

~ * ~

A Time of Tragedy:
Although life goes on, as seen from the Band Camp story above, this was a hard week in the Orlando area. In the midst of memorials for the 49 killed in the Pulse nightclub massacre, the singer shot by a crazed fan, and the 2-year-old killed by an alligator, all within a day of each other two years ago, yet more tragedy struck. A woman walking her dogs was dragged into a lake by a 12' alligator and killed. Even more horrible, a woman who was being beaten escaped her house and called 911, leaving her four children, ages 1-11 behind. The first officer to arrive was shot in the eye through the door. (He's still fighting for his life.) After a hostage stand-off of 21 hours, it was discovered that the man with the gun (father of 2 of the children) had killed them all before taking his own life. Something almost impossible to comprehend. And no, the above is not fiction. It is what actually happened this week in Orlando, home of DisneyWorld, Universal Studios, Sea World, and all the other activities that turned our orange, celery, and cow town into the resort capital of the world.

~ * ~

Grace note:  In between finishing my SciFi series, rewriting & adding 10,000 words to a Christmas novella (once published as The Last Surprise & scheduled to come out this fall), plus creating the characters for a new Regency Gothic, I've been attempting to organize my posts on Writing & Editing into book form. (Far more easily said than done.) Meanwhile, we'll still have to rely on my twice-yearly Index. Sorry about that.


UPDATED INDEX TO GRACE'S WRITING & EDITING BLOGS
January 2011 - January 2018 


Note: Topics with more than one post in the series are in Bold type.

WRITING

Formatting a Manuscript - 5/9/11
Nuts & Bolts, Part 1 (grammar, punctuation) - 5/16/11
Nuts & Bolts, Part 2 (punctuation, helpful books) - 6/16/11
Back to Basics - Punctuating Dialogue - 10/7/17 & 10/14/17
Tab conversion (from manual to auto) - 8/5/11
Using Italics - 2/15 & 2/22, 2014
Using Capitals - 4/12 & 4/19, 2014
Manuscript Format for the 21st Century - 5/6/12
Writing No-No’s - 5/28/12
Character Identification - 5/5/18
Point of View - 6/18/12
Dictionary for Writers (5 parts) - 2/4 - 4/7, 2013
Layering - 6/30/13
Layering, a Writing Technique - 7/16/16
Dangling Participles - 7/7/13
Misused Pronouns - 5/1/218
Show vs. Tell - 7/21 & 7/28, 2013
Notes on Writing Dialogue - 2/10/18
Playing with Tags - 3/19/16
The Colon is Down but Not Out - 2/24/18
Writing Fragments - 3/10/18
Varying Sentence Structure - 3/24/18
Treacherous Words - 8/11/13
The Difference a Word Makes - 9/1/13
“Modern” Punctuation - 9/15/13
Questions to Ask Yourself - 10/13/13
Third Person vs. First (2 parts) - 5/31 & 6/8/14
Rule-Breaking (3 parts) - 6/21 - 7/5/14
Don’t Be a “Rule” Slave (adverbs) - 5/6/17
To Be or Not to Be (was & were) - 5/27/17
Attitudes Toward Point of View - 2/20/16
Point of View - 12/9/17
Synopsitis - 4/7/18
Mystery vs. Gothic - 10/22/16
Telltale Signs of Amateur Writing - 10/1/16
How to Write a Bad Book - 3/12/17
What is Women’s Fiction? - 6/25/17 & 7/1/17
More on Women’s Fiction - 11/4/17
Shortcut Codes for Writers - 5/16/18

HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR CHARACTERS series:
What you need to discover about your characters - 10/15/2012
More questions about your characters - 10/29/12
The Rest of the Story - 11/5/12

Also:
Character Development (3 parts) - 11/7 & 12/5, 2015 & 2/6/16
Character Development - the Unexpected (2 parts) - 8/20 & 8/27, 2016
What’s in a Name? - 3/18/17
The Nitty Gritty of Names - 4/30/17


WRITING WORKSHOP (9 parts) - 12/6/14 - 6/28/15
[Ideas, Fresh Twists, Research, Title, Names, Opening & Hooks, Plot, Goals, Motivation, Conflict, Setting, Characters, Narration, Dialogue, Pacing, Point of View, Transitions, Mechanics, Self-editing, & Questions to ask yourself before declaring your work “finished.”]

WORLD-BUILDING series (4 parts) - 12/28/13 - 2/1/14
   [a look at the problem of creating a whole new world]

WRITING A SERIES (5 parts) - 1/21/17 - 2/18/17. Why Write a Series? “Single Title,” “Cliff-Hangers,” “Mixed Approach” & Summary +
Update on Series - 12/30/17


EDITING

I Ran Spell Check, I’m Done, Right? (self-editing) - 7/2/11
The Final Steps (self-editing) - 7/14/11
A Tale of Three Books - 9/24/16
The Difference a Word Makes - 10/15/16
More Thoughts on Final Edits - 11/5/16
Editing & Holiday Musing - 12/ 30/16
Editing Scold - 12/4/13
Misused Words (2 parts) - 10/4 & 10/25, 2014
More on Editing - 5/3/14
Editing Examples (4 parts) - 8/8, 8/23, 8/30 & 9/13, 2015
Editing Examples 2018 - 1/27/17
Copyediting Challenges (7 parts) - 8/29/15 - 10/31/15 + 4/3/16


EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK series:
Intro to Self-editing - 4/1/12
Should You Hire Help? - 4/28/12
Anatomy of an Edit - 8/5 & 8/19, 2012


SPECIAL TOPICS

**The Varied Faces of Indie Pub - 1/14/17

Reminiscences of Controversies (3 parts) - 5/13 - 5/26, 2013
     [a look at writing controversies over the past 2 decades]
Guideposts for Critiquing - 1/28/11
Writing Mistakes, Near Misses & Just Plain Strange - 3/4/11
Shortcuts for Writers (ASCII codes) - 3/18/11
Rules for Romance - 9/18/11 & 10/16, 2011
How Not to Write a Book - 12/20/12
How Not to Write a Book - 4/4/15
Branding - Bah, humbug [writing multi-genre] - 1/21/13
How Does Your Novel Grow? - 4/ 28/13
Word Perfect to Indie Pub - 11/27/13
Questions Fiction Writers Should Ask Themselves - 10/13/13
On Being a Writer - 8/22/015
The Tricks to Track Changes - 1/16/16
Running Off at the Keyboard (rant) - 2/13/16
Why I Love E-books (2 parts) - 5/21 & 5/29, 2016
Organizing the Out-of-the-Mist Author - 7/9/16
Out-of-the-Mist Oops - 8/9/17
The Sound of Silence - 7/30/16
Transforming Truth Into Fiction - 9/4/16
What’s the Fascination with Fairy Tales? - 4/1/17
Cultural Confusion - 6/10/17
Twisted Times (the influence of today’s news) - 7/16/17
Random Thoughts - Making Changes to Published Works - 2/17/18
The Problems of Wrapping Up a Series - 4/14/18
Why Writers Must Read! - 4/21/18 

**the post with links to indie-publishing information

~ * ~



Grace note:  Royal Rebellion went "live" on Amazon on June 14. 
For a link to Royal Rebellion, click here. 

~ * ~

For a link to Blair Bancroft's web site, click here. 


 
For a link to Blair's Facebook Author Page,  click here.




To request a brochure from Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, please use the link to Blair's website above.  



Thanks for stopping by,  
Grace

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Peek at ROYAL REBELLION


HURRICANE UPDATE

A group from Harvard (which is about as reliable as one can get) just published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine (an institution of impeccable reputation) stating that the death toll of "64" in Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, was off by about 4600! Yes, one third of those are attributable to inadequate care in the days following the hurricane. Nonetheless, the statistics—the result of house-to-house surveys— are staggering. And an indication of just how great the devastation was. And still is. Electricity still has not been restored in some parts of the island, and on June 1st, we began a new hurricane season. How much of the death discrepancy was due to the overwhelming nature of the storm, how much to inadequate local government, how much to obfuscation by the federal government? Who knows? Yet this devastation could happen again anywhere, any time over the next four months. 

In comparison with the U. S. mainland's greatest storm boondoggle, Hurricane Katrina, "only" 1600 died in New Orleans. Supposedly FEMA learned from its mistakes there, but with this new revelation from Puerto Rico . . .

Hurricane Season 2018, GO AWAY, FAR, FAR AWAY!


~ * ~




Speaking of the fall of 2017 . . . on November 18, 2017, I posted a short story to this blog. It was the just-finished opening chapter of Royal Rebellion, an Interim between Book 3 and Book 4, which takes place three years later. Since Royal Rebellion will finally make its debut on Thursday, June 14, I decided to reprise "The Witch and the Wolf" for those who have not read it. It makes a good introduction to the pacifist planet Psyclid, its king and queen, the four royal children who have turned their backs on their upbringing and joined a rebellion against a classic aggressive Empire . . . and to the their significant (highly significant) others.

Grace note: From the standpoint of Writing & Editing tips, I like to think "Interim" is a good example of an opening chapter that reminds readers of characters from Books 1-3, as well as providing an intro to the characters for those who have not read the first three books. "Interim" also ties up a romantic loose end that simply didn't fit into the previous books but needed a Happily Ever After before Book 4 could get down to defeating the nasty old Empire!


INTERIM
or
THE WITCH AND THE WOLF

The ballroom, Crystalia, the Psyclid royal palace
Two Blue Moon cycles after the Battle of Psyclid
   The music flourished to a close, the women’s skirts flaring in a final kaleidoscope of color before settling to hug their bodies close as they dipped into curtsies. Their partners bowed, the men’s bright tunics competing with the women for which gender would add the most brilliance and sparkle to the evening.
   All but one, that is—a man slunk into the shadows behind a marble pillar, his back against the wall. Although he wore the required tight white hose, his tunic of black velvet fell well below his knees, his sole concession to fashion the intricate gold embroidery on his sleeves and on the bottom of the tunic. Embroidery he could not reject because his sister had created the garment with her very own hands, so what was a man to do?
   Except hide.
   He should not be here. This was a night for celebrating the completion of Psyclid’s ridó.
   A full two Blue Moon cycles after it was needed.
   He had failed. Men had died, ships were lost because there was a gap in the force field intended to protect Psyclid from the Regs. From the revenge of a mighty Emperor on a pacifist planet that asked only to be left alone.
   He, T’kal Killiri, had been tasked with getting the job done, and he’d fallen short. He was here tonight only because King Ryal had ordered it. And if there was one thing the Pysclid engineer was, it was loyal to the crown.
   A trumpet fanfare echoed through the vast ballroom. T’kal winced, recognizing the signal for what it was. The royal family was arriving and the ceremony was about to begin. The ceremony he wanted no part of.
   Fyddit! (Only the Regs had profanity strong enough for the occasion.)
   There was a great shuffling as the crowd parted, making a broad aisle from the ballroom’s double-doored entrance to the dais raised a good two meters off the floor, where a gilded throne with scarlet velvet seat and back, flanked by equally colorful sidechairs, awaited the Psyclid royal family.
   And there they were, emerging from the crowd, ascending the steps—King Ryal and his wife Jalaine. Six feet behind, the Princess M’lani, her red-gold hair gleaming in the light of the crystal chandeliers, her beauty unrivaled, even by the sister she had replaced as Heir Apparent. At her side, not accepting his proper place a few steps behind, was her husband Jagan, the Sorcerer Prime. The man who came late to the rebellion. T’kal’s lips curled in remembered derision. He and Jagan Mondragon were never going to be close. It had, in fact, taken considerable effort by the Princess M’lani to get them to work together to save Psyclid from the Regs.
   What . . . ?
   Shaken out of his stubborn indifference, T’kal stared as another couple mounted the steps.    Unexpected guests from Blue Moon. Not Tal and Kass, but the youngest royal and his Herc wife—K’kadi the bastard. K’kadi, whose powers seemed to expand from minute to minute. K’kadi the Strange turned K’kadi the Seer. The despair of the royal family become its most powerful weapon.
   Maybe.
   T’Kal, who had witnessed one of K’kadi’s losses of concentration, still had his doubts.
   Among the missing royal children was King Ryal’s other bastard, his eldest child, B’aela Flammia, a witch best known as the Sorcerer Prime’s foremost assistant and long-time mistress. Before, that is, she transferred her favors to the acting Reg governor, Admiral Rand Kamal, nephew of Darroch, emperor of twelve star systems, the man who abhored the defiance of an obscure pacifist planet that refused to stay conquered. Unfortunately, Baela’s notoriety would never go away, even though her liaison with Kamal had been as a spy for her country. T’kal, knowing her as well as he did, suspected B’aela had likely refused to join the royal parade. She had not, after all, been raised a royal, as had Ryal’s other three children.
   She was here, though—somewhere in the crowded ballroom. T’kal always knew when she was near. Whether on a dark, dangerous night in Oban or in Crystalia’s crowded ballroom, her scent filled his head. A problem he had steadfastly ignored for many years.
   It was no surprise, however, that Tal and Kass weren’t here. Tal, leader of the rebellion, had sent a handwritten letter congratulating T’kal on the completion of the ridó. And confided that his wife, once Psyclid's Princess Royal, was suffering through a bad first trimester and would be unable to attend the festivities. As for his own absence, he hoped T’kal would understand. He still liked to think that keeping a low profile was protecting his parents and brother and sister who still lived on Regula Prime. Although, Tal added, it was more likely that by now half the Nebulon Sector must suspect that former Reg Captain Talryn Rigel and his huntership Orion had not been lost in a battle with the Nyx.
   T’kal ducked his head, glowering at the intricately patterned floor of green and white marble tiles. Tal’s note had suddenly become a stark reminder that the battle against the Regs was far from over. That celebration—even a small one like tonight—was premature.
   Another fanfare. The crowd surged forward, the gap filling in as all eyes turned toward the dais.
   Gap. T’kal winced.
   King Ryal, still a vital, fine-looking man though closer to sixty than fifty, stepped forward, his words smoothly amplified so they could be heard in the farthest corner of the ballroom. Even all the way to the wall stuck to T’kal Killiri’s back. “Friends, guests, welcome! You all know why we are here. Tonight we honor a man who has gone too long without recognition.”
   As he spoke, Ryal’s sharp eyes searched the crowd. Not a sign of tonight’s honoree. “When we were invaded by the Regulons . . .” Psyclid's king continued. “When we were shocked, confused, and in despair because we had no idea how to fight back, one person stepped forward. One person sought out other brave souls, found ways to make the Regs sorry they’d ever thought of invading Psyclid. Five years later when our Sorcerer Prime returned from exile, he found a large and effective resistance force already in place, considerably shortening our march toward Freedom Day.”
   Murmurs of agreement and approval swept through crowd. T’kal continued to study the colorful swirls in the marble tiles.
   “So naturally, when the Emperor threatened us once again, we turned to the same man, putting him in charge of building a ridó twenty times the size of the one protecting Blue Moon, a task which required re-discovering a technology long lost. And in spite of the near impossibility of what we asked of him, the ridó was built, only a tiny gap over open ocean unprotected by the time the Regs attacked.”
   King Ryal paused, dropping his gaze to his eldest daughter, who was standing in the front row just below the dais. “There are many other heroic acts I could name, but Killiri is a modest man. He will tell you that he failed because the ridó was not complete on the day the Regs struck. But where would we be now if it had not held over Crystal City? Over every city, town, and field on the planet? Where would we be without . . . T’KAL KILLIRI!?”
   T’kal wanted to turn tail and run, but he settled for pushing his back tighter against the wall as the roar of the crowd nearly deafened him. He didn’t stand a chance of remaining anonymous, of course, since his friends,  knowing how he felt about this event, had stacked the odds against him long before the evening began. His brother-in-law, Anton Stagg, descended on him from one side; Master Sergeant Joss Quint from the other. In front, two of the men who had been with T’kal that night in Oban opened a way through the crowd, both grinning from ear to ear.
   He’d known it would come to this. There was no way out of it. And now that the moment was here, he said all the right things, praised those who had done the actual engineering. Thanked those who labored so long and hard at a task whose completion seemed more a miracle than a technological triumph. He even thanked that constant source of annoyance, Jagan Mondragon, Sorcerer Prime. Looking back through the years, it was a wonder they hadn’t killed each other.
   Not that he said that, of course. T’kal’s lips twitched. No, he and B’aela’s long-time lover would never be friends.
   After granting a teeth-gritting half-minute to acknowledge the crowd’s shouts, howls, claps, and stamping feet, T’kal forced himself to descend the steps with dignity, his full attention on the goal of losing himself in the mass of people below. Except . . .
   B’aela was there. She seized his hand, the crowd melting away before them, with no more hindrance than calls of Well done! Thank you! and a fervent May the Goddess bless you! to mark their passage across the ballroom. The open doors to a balcony closed behind them, T’kal’s self-appointed bodyguards taking up a stance before them, barring any who might try to follow.
   “A well-executed maneuver, Highness,” T’kal drawled. “I suppose you planned the whole thing.”
   Dark eyes that had been sparkling with joy turned frigid. “Highness?” she asked. “Since when, T’kal?”
   “Since the day I learned the truth.”
   “Ancient history, Daman Killiri,” she returned with equally lethal formality. “You have had plenty of time to get over it.”
   “I have had time to face the reality of it.”
   “T’kal! We’ve spoken fifty, a hundred times since then, and never before—”
   “We were colleagues, working together against the Regs, working to restore the country—”
   “We were friends. Are friends!”
   T’kal looked out over the palace curtain wall to the shimmering beauty of Crystal City at night. At the crystalline buildings lit in a rainbow of colors topped by black sky, the infinite number of stars outshone by the light of Psyclid’s three moons—Blue at full, Red a mere crescent, and White down to a waning half low on the horizon. He was being stubborn. Again. The quality that made him so good at getting things done. And so poor at achieving any personal happiness.
   He suspected tonight was now or never. B’aela had played her part. It was his turn to be  braver than he’d ever had to be before. Even that time on Oban.
   “A fine setting for solving problems,” he offered.
   “Yes.” Her face softened ever so slightly. The militant look in her dark eyes faded to questioning.
   And there she was, the only woman with the capacity to make him forget N’tali. Even when he had not liked B’aela Flammia, she had stirred him out of the grief he had wrapped around himself for so long. T’kal took in the view that was far more fascinating than the beauty of Crystal City at night: a strong nose in a pale narrow face, huge brown eyes accustomed to hiding every emotion, the masses of dark brown hair as curly as his own, confined tonight in an intricate array of braids and studded with diamonds. If he didn’t unfreeze his tongue and say what needed to be said, he really was the greatest fool in the Nebulon Sec—
   “Sometimes,” B’aela said with care, “I miss the days of the resistance. There was a camaraderie, a special something impossible to recapture.”
   He knew exactly what she meant. He’d had thoughts, even back in the days when she was Jagan Mondragon’s discarded mistress. Thoughts that coalesced in Oban. And were shattered when she offered herself, willingly, to the enemy. Disintegrated completely when B’aela’s mother revealed she was born of the House of Orlondami, fathered by a king.
   Which, of course, reminded him of another problem—the once-favorite nephew of Emperor Darroch. “I heard that Kamal came back with you from Hercula,” T’kal said, tossing yet another obstacle into the mix. “That he fought the Regs. Evidently, your powers are even more wondrous than anticipated.”
   B’aela sucked in a sharp breath. “You cannot think—you who were my contact—” She broke off, gaping at him. “You know quite well I went to Kamal for revenge. And as a spy. You cannot believe that now we are free, I would—”
   But, agonizingly, she had to admit it was true. Regulon Admiral Rand Kamal, former acting governor of Psyclid, had been at the forefront of the Regulon attack on Hercula. He had lost his ship, been captured, and ended up commanding an armed merchant against the Reg’s latest attack on Psyclid. And she, B’aela Flammia, had shared a ship with her former lover all those long weeks home from Hercula to Blue Moon. T’kal had every right to wonder if she had played a role—perhaps an intimate role—in his defection from the Empire.
   “You will appreciate the irony, I'm sure,” she returned, her tone now cool and slightly caustic. “On our journey to Hercula, I shared a cabin with K’kadi’s mother, Anneli, and we have kept in touch. Which is how I know that Rand Kamal has a new interest in his life. And that it has become serious enough he may make the liaison permanent if his wife ever grants him a divorce.”
   T’kal rubbed at the frown lines on his forehead. Kamal and K’kadi’s mother? Then again, it was a pairing no stranger than the other convoluted romances that marked the rebel cause. Tal Rigel, once a Reg Fleet Captain, and Kass, former crown princess of Psyclid.  M’lani married to her sister’s former fiancé, Jagan Mondragon. K’kadi from Blue Moon and Alala, the Herculon warrior. T’kal’s own sister married to Anton Stagg, a Reg.
   Of all the royal children, only B’aela, the eldest, remained unmarried. And, to T'kal's gut-wrenching surprise, seemed to be hinting at an interest in the weirdest pairing yet.
   “There is a certain matter Ryal did not mention,” B’aela said. “He wished to spare me further humiliation, but we have not forgotten that among your many heroics, I owe you my life.”
   “I would have gone to Oban for anyone who needed rescuing.”
   “I know . . . but it wasn’t like that, was it?”
   T’kal drew a deep breath. “No.”
   “You were so angry when I went to Kamal. Every time I reported to you, you positively seethed.”
   “Yes.”
   “I know you loved your wife. A good woman. Pure." The words tumbled out. "It is the talk of Psyclid that you have never looked at another—”
   I looked. I did not act.”
   “Oh.”
   He knew what she was trying to say. An acknowledgment of something they’d each known for a long time, and for a myriad reasons refused to examine more closely.
   “B’aela,” he burst out, “you know what I am!”
   “As you know what I am.” A whore. Unworthy of the Hero of Psyclid. Most particularly,  the role of mother to his children.
   “Feelings aside,” T’kal said, ignoring the scarlet letter B’aela was certain must be flashing  on her forehead, “I fear the pairing of witch and wolf.”
   Dear goddess! She’d thought of all the other reasons he might object, but not that. Under the light of a full Blue Moon, B’aela studied the man she had admired for so long—the dark eyes, the square jaw, the sturdy body with shoulders broad enough to carry the whole of Psyclid on his back. “When I was very young,” she told the Alpha of his pack, “I thought I knew what love was. I wanted the Sorcerer Prime as a plant longs for the sun. But the sun burns, and in the wisdom of a more advanced age, another man caught my eye and my admiration. A man who flew half way round the world to save me from the most terrible degradation of my life. A man who single-handedly took down the Reg Governor-General—”
   “‘Handedly’ is perhaps not the most accurate word,” T’kal drawled.
   Distracted for a moment by his grim humor, B’aela pictured a shaggy gray wolf tearing out the throat of Governor-General Anton Grigorev. She had not been there, but she had savored the reality of it many times over.
   B’aela drew a shuddering breath and continued with the most difficult words she would ever have to say. The truly important ones she had to get out because it appeared T’kal never would. She was unworthy, she knew that, but she had crafted every second of these snatched minutes on the balcony, and she would not throw the opportunity away.
   “I wish to continue my list,” she said, meeting him eye to eye and emphasizing each word. “A man I have come to love, and whose children I would like to make my own.” Her chin jutted up.  “Even though I know I have fallen too far and have no right to ask for any man’s love—”
   “Hush!” At long last, T’kal did not hesitate. He folded her tight against his chest. “I would say madness has attacked us both, but since it’s been this way with us for some years now . . .” B’aela felt a chuckle ripple through his chest. “Whichever way I look at it, it’s wrong. Except you are the only woman who has ever tempted me into a second love. So I fear we may be stuck with each other.” His lips against her temple, T’kal added, “As part of your plans, you wouldn’t by any chance have a limm standing by?”
   “But of course. How else would I take home the man of the hour?”

   K’kadi, who had been released from the dais and was dancing with Talora Lassan, the woman some called his second wife, smiled and nodded his satisfaction. It was about time B’aela took his mother’s advice. Which, he realized, would likely make him related to four of the most powerful men in the Nebulon Sector: Tal Rigel, Jagan Mondragon, T’kal Killiri, and in the not-too-distant future, the Emperor's nephew, Rand Kamal.
   The end of the Empire was coming. It would take a while, but it would happen. That much he knew. Though who would sit on which throne—which thrones would even exist when all was said and done—was beyond even his powers of prognostication.

~ * ~

Next week: Index to Grace's Writing and Editing blogs, 2011-2018.

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