A Villainous Perspective

“How the crimson tide burned inside of him, wracking him! He must feed it, and soon.”

I removed the following excerpt from Wyldling Snare because I wanted to restrict the narrative to three points-of-view. However, I feel that it provides a taste of this novel without revealing too much of the plot. Enjoy, and feel free to comment.

The golden shafts of suns-light streaming through the interrupted canopy deep in the untamed depths of the Darkenwood Forest remained unappreciated by the panting, dark-featured figure that creeped across the drawbridge of the ancient fortress. Once inside the castle walls, a pair of sinewy arms applied themselves to the wheel that lowered the gate over the entrance. Wraithlike, the dark figure darted down a passageway when the fortress was barred against the outside world, relieved to be out of the daytime light and heat.

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Although he detested the necessity to venture underground, the assassin was grateful to be deep in the hollow heart of the fortress where the shadows lay thickest, coiling sinuously like living things, so that he could finally remove the talisman that maintained his disguise. Torches seemed to march along with him in an eerie procession down the chilly, winding corridors, nearly stifled in the pulsing, oily blackness. And yet, life dwelled there within the stronghold, though a fusty odor of mildew and decay clung to its walls, its many chambers and its tunnels and dungeons. A colossal survivor of a long-forgotten age, the castle clung to its molding foundation, whereas its kin had long since declined into the ruined, crumbling corpses of an extinct race.    

Running his tongue over his fangs, the assassin slunk along the narrow, dank hallway that led to a heavy oak door pitted with gouges and reinforced with steel bands. Hackles raised and pelt rippling with anxiety, he tried not to think about the foul denizens inhabiting the lower levels of the fortress, the ones who whispered and taunted and promised delights. He set his jaws into a terrifying rictus to scare off the shadows around him; however, they would approach, and test his control yet again. After what seemed an age to the assassin, he stood before the huge door, motionless, uncertain of his welcome. He had not yet succeeded in his primary objective. In the dimness behind him, he could hear the steady drip of water as it seeped through cracks in the superstructure.  He twitched his whiskery mustache and raised a hand to scratch at the door.

“Well, enter, you idiot!  You’ve been standing out there long enough.”

The assassin’s tail went rigid behind him, and his fur stood on end at the sound of the angry voice, loud and clear even behind the huge door. He snarled at himself, gathering his courage, and then shoved a shoulder against the door, pushing it open with enormous effort. He had been sent to gather intelligence and he would report the information he had gleaned – just as he had been instructed. It was good to serve a master; in addition to the talisman that allowed him to move unregarded amongst the Kadorei, Milord gave him potions that kept the crimson madness at bay.

At least, they had used to.

Mostly.

Slipping through the opening, he yanked his tail inside as the door slammed shut like the valve of a diseased heart. He wrinkled his snout at the mingled scent of burnt candle wicks, ancient mildew and rancid sweat laced with rotgut spirits as he blinked his dark eyes at the unaccustomed light, dim though it was. Guttering tapers held the deepest shadows at bay in the corners, held upright in pockets of their own melted wax.

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A tall, dark-bearded man with a thin face and sharply pointed ears hunched over a huge, leather-bound tome that covered the entire surface of the wax-smeared worktable. Candles of varying thickness and heights surrounded him, the light they provided tumbling down and around the folds of his silky, blue-black robe like water off a waterfowl’s wings.  Even in the dim, golden light it was easy to see that his skin was not simply corpse-pale, but as gray as old ashes. He smelled of persimmons and frustrated rage.

Off in a dark corner, the assassin perceived a figure in dirty gray robes sprawled out upon a shabby divan, drinking out of a bottle and swaying in time with the ribald ditty that he softly sung. He smelled sour, of rotgut whisky, festering secrets and bitterness. The assassin’s eyes passed over him; that one was no threat in his present condition and was easily dismissed.

Now that he was within the confines of the chamber and away from the whispering, beguiling shadows, the assassin could wait patiently, even if he was uncomfortable deep in the bowels of the moldering fortress. It had been almost a fortnight, and the crimson madness was stirring again. He could feel it burning like acid at the back of his throat and tickling at the base of his skull. And the shadows kept whispering…whispering…

His fingers twitched. Joints popped and crackled. He felt his claws lengthen.

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The tall, dark-robed man continued to ignore him for a moment longer, obviously intent on his reading, seemingly a harmless scholar. Weak and vulnerable. Easy prey.

The assassin knew better. Oh yes, for his sins, he did know better.

Trembling, the assassin cleared his throat. “Milord?” he said.

Now the man turned from his volume and regarded him imperiously down his nose, one dark eyebrow raised. “You have news to report?” he replied in the assassin’s natal language.

The assassin hated that little tickle of dread at the base of his skull, but he would endure much worse in order maintain his tentative grasp on sanity. “Yes, milord,” he said. “As instructed, I have been watching and listening.” He avoided looking directly into the man’s eyes. To do so would be to challenge him. It was much the same amongst his own people.

“Good,” the man said without a trace of emotion in his voice. “Continue.”

“The boy is in the woods now,” he rasped. “He is on his way to that…that wall…but he is not alone this time.” Dare he trust that calm tone? The quiet mien?

“He returns to it,” the tall man said, one hand absently stroking his short, spade-shaped beard. His eyes glittered in the candlelight.  “Yes. I can profit from this…”

Gathering courage, the assassin stepped closer. How the crimson tide burned inside of him, wracking him! He must feed it, and soon. “Milord…” he said. “Perhaps I overpower the companion, bring the boy to you…and when you are done with him, I devour him?”

“Silence!” With a casual wave of his hand, the tall man sent the assassin flying into the wall, knocking off his wide-brimmed hat. He had not physically touched him, but the tattoos on his hands were writhing like a tangle of black, spiny worms.

“Your orders,” he continued in his resonant voice, “are – as they have always been – to watch and listen. You have done well in eliminating the old man. When the time comes, I will give you further instructions regarding his ward.”  

Suddenly the thin face – twisted with rage and black symbols crawling across ashen skin – and its fierce eyes filled the assassin’s entire field of vision. A visceral pain clawed through the assassin’s insides, and in spite of himself he doubled over, whimpering and groaning. After what seemed to be seasons passed, the agony disappeared as if it had never been. He straightened up again, his yellow eyes flashing with indignation and resentment.

“This is the order of the Dreadlord,” the man said, once he saw that he had the brute’s full attention. “You are not to molest the boy in any way. Do not disobey me in this. You have caused enough trouble already in sating your…hungers. If you compromise your mission, there will be a very object lesson in store for you. Do I make myself clear, eresh’gulkah?”   

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Eyes wide, the assassin choked down his terror and mortified anger at the Nehmwight appellation for slave. He managed a curt nod. “I am your eyes and ears, milord,” he choked out. “Your very obedient…slave.”

The tall man rewarded him with an enormous, shark-like grin. “Very good,” he purred, tossing a small metal flask to the assassin. “Here is your medicine. Now, leave us.”  Seemingly of its own accord, the huge door creaked open behind the assassin.

Trembling, the assassin clutched the potion to his chest. Backing away, he snatched his hat off the floor and scuttled out of the room. The door slammed shut behind him and narrowly missed crushing his tail as he fled.  

Curses! Foiled Again!

I’m sure there are plenty of authors out there who have been “cat-blocked” from their laptops and paper notepads from time to time.

My cat smells ambition and seeks to squash it…along with my chest.

A large, handsome, brown and white tabby tom cat with green eyes is sitting on my chest and blocking access to my laptop.
The ongoing, nefarious plot of Doctor Purr-nassus to block my writing attempts has once more succeeded. To the left and behind you see some evidence of work done: my storyboard for the Wyldling Series.

Did the Erin Hunters have this problem while crafting their Warriors series, I wonder? I’d like to think so. I’m sure there are plenty of authors out there who have been “cat-blocked” from their laptops and paper notepads from time to time. As you can see, this has not stopped me from typing. The Doctor doesn’t seem to mind that my arms – across which his butt and head are draped – keep shifting back and forth.

Well, since I’m already on the topic of cats I suppose I’ll just stay on it. I’ll share my opinion about that Warriors series by Erin Hunter that I mentioned. No, I am not going to provide a review with nitty-gritty details, but overall I would recommend the series for tweens and teenagers. The books are written for younger readers, after all. Also, if you don’t mind reading kid’s books as an adult – and you like cats – then I’m sure you’d enjoy reading it. The first series especially is well-crafted.

My eldest son started reading the Warriors books last year (he’ll be sixteen come September of this year) so of course I had to check it out and make sure that it was “appropriate” for my impressionable children.

Well, that was stupid of me.

Now I have the first six books and some of the “super editions” downloaded to my Kindle, and I’ve bought physical copies of books in the later series from second-hand bookstores. I couldn’t stop reading these books, even though the subsequent series were not as well-edited, I thought, as the first was. But, all plot inconsistencies aside, the books in the Warriors series are all worth reading.

If the story is good, I make note of any errors in my mind but I don’t let it keep me from enjoying the novel. I think to myself: this author (or authors, plural, in this case) has taken the time and effort to write a great story with engaging characters and I’m going to see it through to the end. And hey, they got published and have a pretty large following amongst young readers and adults alike, so they must be doing something right.

However, as Levar Burton would say: “Don’t take my word for it.”

Go check the books out for yourself.

By the way, the Doctor got sick of the rocking motion so he is no longer blocking me from my laptop. Hooray!

Well, that’s all for today, folks. Back to work for me!

Here’s a little something I wrote during my “salad days,” i.e. college

Originally, this was going to be a fantasy novel tentatively entitled Bride of Callahan, but then life happened.

The half moon glinted coldly down on the strange, shambling, three-fold figure dragging itself across the dormitory parking lot. Two young women walked stooped over with the weight of their drunken companion distributed between them, the toes of his sneakers scraping over the asphalt. Every so often, he would try to walk, throwing his friends off balance.

“Darn it!” Samantha hissed as she nearly fell. “This is the last time I help drag your boyfriend’s sorry butt home from a party.”

“Hey! Hey…it’sh not my fault…he drank so much.” The other girl giggled, staggering a little herself, her brown hair falling into her eyes. “Well, maybe it ishh…”

“We’re just lucky we got away before the cops came, Becca. Or have you forgotten that we’re underage?”

“Not like you drank nothin’ to get into trouble. Good old Sam, the deshignated driver!” Becca giggled again.

Breathing heavily, Samantha managed, with the fumbling aid of her inebriated friend, to muscle the young man up against the side of the building near the back entrance. Grinning inanely, he slid down until he plopped down on the lawn. “I’m a wee free balloony boy!” he crowed happily, and promptly keeled over on to his side and started snoring.

“Darn it, Joey!” Samantha restrained an urge to kick him.

Becca just laughed. “We can shtill take the elevator, right?”

Consternation writ large on her face, their sober companion looked around to make sure that no one was watching them, and then pulled out her key to their dorm building. “Not unless we want the RA at the desk to see how drunk you guys are.” She turned the key in the lock. “No sir. We’s gonna go up the backstairs m’dears.”

In spite of their predicament, Samantha couldn’t help but grin. Watching other people get drunk had been rather amusing, even though her efforts to restrain her friends had failed. She had wanted to leave long before they did, but she had felt honor-bound to make sure that Becca and Joey had gotten back safely.

It was with that thought in mind that Samantha and Becca doggedly dragged Joey up a flight of stairs to the dorm room he shared with a nice Irish Catholic boy named Eric Callahan, to whom they passed on their burden. He helped Samantha flop Joey down in his bed, and then dug the tarp and barf-basin out from underneath his own with an ease born of much practice.

“See if you can sober him up,” Samantha said, wearily rubbing her brow when they had finished. “Dunk his head in a toilet…or something.”

Becca laughed in delight.

“Oh, don’t worry.” Eric grinned with a mischievous glint in his eye. “I’ll make him regret he ever smelt alcohol.” He looked at Becca, appraising her condition. “Why’re you even dating him, Bex? He’s just turning you into what he is.”

“A leprechaun?” Becca snorted with laughter at her own joke.

“No, a freaking loser.” Shaking his head, Eric closed the door behind him.

Whaaaat? Ish he saying I’m a freakin’ loosher?” The dark-haired young woman turned to her friend.

Sighing, Samantha grabbed her hand. “C’mon Bex,” she said. “It’s time for bed.” With an arm around her waist, she helped Becca up the stairs to the women’s floor.  “Kim’s gonna be pissed at you, y’know,” she muttered. “I bet she’s sick of you coming home drunk every Friday night.”

“That’s what roomies are for. Getting pissed at. And with.” Becca groaned, clutching at her middle. “I think I’m gonna puke.”

There was one other student in the bathroom, brushing her teeth, when Samantha propelled her green-faced friend into a stall. She even held Becca’s hair back while she vomited; like Eric, she had gotten good at it due to the frequency of its occurrence.

“Bex drinking again?” called the other girl from her sink.

“Yeah,” Samantha called back.

“That makes four weeks in a row,” the other girl observed. “She ought to ditch that loser boyfriend. He’s going to get her into serious trouble.”

“Easier said than done,” Samantha grated out from between her teeth.

Why couldn’t she have dated Eric, instead? She wondered, and not for the first time. What does she see in Joey? And why am I still hanging around with them?

Disgusted with them and herself, Samantha helped her friend clean up and led her to her room. She knocked on the door. Fortunately, Kim wasn’t in. She had started playing it smart by going down to the community center—what students called “the Basement”—or watching movies with her friends on the weekend nights. Samantha envied her.

Becca managed to unlock her own door and trudged into her dark room. She collapsed onto her bed, burying her face in her pillow. “Dear God,” she groaned. She sounded almost sober. “What am I doing?” She rolled over on her side, gazing at her friend, limned in fluorescent light on the threshold. “Go ahead.  I can feel you judging, Sam. Say your piece.”

“What good will it do?” Samantha replied softly. “You’ll just do it again tomorrow night, and next week, and the weekend after that.”

Becca tilted her face to the side, her dark hair falling in waves against her pillow. She’s so beautiful, Samantha mused, but her eyes are filled with sadness.

“It’s not much fun for you, is it?” Becca said, and sprawled out on her back. “But you’re still here.”

Knowing that was the closest thing to an apology that Becca would ever give to her, Samantha went over to her and hugged her, golden hair mingling with brown on the pillow.

“Yeah,” Samantha said. “I’m still here.”

Becca pulled Samantha down next to her, squeezing her tight. Her body shook, wracked with sobs. Samantha held her until she quieted into slumber, and then rose from the bed. She smoothed her friend’s hair back from her face with gentle fingers.

This has to stop, she decided. You should be with Eric. He’ll treat you right and keep you on the right path. Resolved, Samantha left the room, closing the door softly behind her. She turned toward the stairwell, and saw Kim coming down the corridor.

“Is she out?”

Samantha nodded. “Yep. Like a light.”

“Thanks. G’night, then.” Kim smiled at her.

“G’night, Kim.”

Feeling waves of depression welling up inside her, Samantha walked past her own room, two doors down from the back staircase, and down the stairs to the men’s floor.

Eric’s face registered a pleased sort of surprise when he opened the door. “I didn’t expect to see you back here tonight.” He peered down at her distraught expression. “Is Bex okay? Are you okay?”

“I…I think so.” Samantha peered past him into the dimly lit room. “Is Joey…still sleeping?”

“Out stone cold.” Eric grinned. “Come in.  I’d offer to take you down to the Basement, but my cousin is coming over. We’ll go once he gets here.”

“Oh! I can go…”

“Nah, he won’t care.” Eric waved her in. “He likes meeting my friends.”

Samantha found herself sitting in an elderly orange bean-bag chair while Eric sorted through his manga collection for a volume he was dead certain that she’d find interesting. Behind her, Joey noisily sawed logs.

Samantha stared at the back of Eric’s head, the way his black hair tapered down neatly to the nape of his neck. “Eric,” she said. “You like Becca, right?”

He froze, a book in hand. He turned to face her, his blue eyes wary. “Yeah,” he replied slowly.

“I mean like like her,” continued Samantha, feeling lame.

“Yeah.” The young man glanced over at his roommate, as if to be sure he was still asleep. Snoring, Joey remained oblivious to their conversation. “What’s your point?”

Feeling her face heat up, Samantha looked down into her lap, confusion clouding her resolve. “You’re nice.  I just wish…Becca was with you.”

“Well, she’s not.” Eric’s voice was brittle. “We could wish the stars from the sky, but it’s not gonna happen.”

“Sorry.” Samantha felt ashamed for hurting his feelings. Eric wasn’t a close friend, but she cared about him all the same. Tears burned in her eyes.

“Shoot.” He crouched down beside her, an awkward hand on her shoulder. “Please don’t cry, Sam. You can talk to me.”

Her heart in her throat, Samantha looked up at him, and was just opening her mouth to speak when the call buzzer went off by the door. Eric mouthed an obscenity and went to the speaking grill. Samantha wiped her eyes with the hem of her T-shirt.

“It’s me, Eric!” A distorted male voice spoke loudly through the grill, and Samantha started, her heart palpitating.

“Okay, I’ll be right down. With a surprise!” Eric shouted back into the grill. He turned to the despondent young woman in the bean-bag chair. “He’s here.  Maybe you should come with me. I don’t want to leave you alone with my drunken roommate.”

“Are you sure? I could just go back to my room.”

“I already promised him a surprise. That’s you. C’mon.” Eric jerked his head toward the door. “We’ll cheer you up. And no booze, I promise.”

Samantha laughed and awkwardly lurched to her feet. Spontaneously, she hugged him. “Thanks, Eric.”

“No problem,” He said, blushing. “Hey! I’ll race you there.”

Suddenly feeling happier than she had for days, Samantha bounced down the stairs behind him, a strange giddiness bubbling within her breast. It was odd, the way her emotions were swinging around tonight. For a fleeting moment, she wished that Eric liked her the way he did her best friend, but she hastily banished that thought. She wasn’t even sure if she liked him in that way; the young man she was interested in was a fellow biology major with artistic aspirations. As far as she knew, Greg seemed like a nice enough guy. She grinned to herself as she rounded the last bend on Eric’s heels, and crashed into him when he stopped suddenly to avoid trampling a group of girls coming up the stairs.

“Whoa-ho, Callahan!” one of them yelled, leering at the two of them.

“Hey, it’s Samantha!” another girl exclaimed, reaching out to snag her arm and disentangle her from the embarrassed young man. It was Mary, one of her upperclassman friends. “You wanna watch a movie with us? Your cute friend is welcome, if he wants.”

“Uh, no thanks, ladies,” Eric responded, blushing furiously. “Sam and I are meeting my cousin…unless you’d rather go with them?” He glanced at Samantha.

“Maybe tomorrow, Mary,” Samantha told her friend. “I promised Eric I’d meet his cousin.”

“Have fun, Sam!” Mary winked at her. Continuing up the stairs, the other young women laughed amongst themselves, as if they knew a secret that Samantha did not.

“Sheesh,” she said. She felt her face heat up as her eyes met Eric’s.

Eric shrugged. “They’re just being girls. C’mon.”

With the echoes of the group’s laughter echo receding behind them, the two emerged into the lobby. As they passed the front desk, the RA on duty looked up from her paperback book—something by Stephen King, Samantha noted in passing—long enough to say “your cousin’s here again, Eric.”

“Thanks. And have a good night.”

“You too. Oh, hi Sam.”

Samantha smiled and murmured something polite before following Eric to the front door. Peering into the vestibule, she could see someone leaning up against the wall. Her heart froze in her chest.

It was a cop.

And that’s all I have. So, what do you think? Does it have novel potential or is it crap?

Reflections for Mother’s Day

I have heard it said that our children never really belong to us, that God only lends them to us for a little while.

This rings true. I think that a large part of being a mother is about learning how to let go. As soon as they learn to walk, it seems as if our little ones are dead-set on running away from us. A little each day, each month, each year, we see our children move a little further away and in the process, become more themselves. It is difficult for moms to allow children independence and room to grow into the people they are meant to be, because we know from our own experience that this growth often involves pain.

Mothers naturally want to shield little souls from hurt. And when they get hurt, we want to make everything all better. However, there are some boo-boos that even a mother’s kiss cannot heal. Although the temptation is strong to uproot our little sprouts from the garden of life and keep them sheltered in our greenhouse forever, this does not benefit them in the long run. We should instead tend to our little sprouts and cultivate them out in the weather where they grow. This way, little plants can develop a tough cuticle as they extend those branches and unfold their leaves toward the light.

One of my favorite songs is “Let Me Be Your Armor” by Assemblage 23. Go ahead and google the lyrics (or search for it on www.assemblage23.com), and you will see how this song seems to describe parental protection – and how this “protection” can go too far. Now, maybe I am really off base regarding Tom Shear’s intent with this song, but that is how the lyrics resonate with me as a mother.

When all is said and done, all we as parents can do is prepare our children to endure trials bravely in faith, by being present and modeling this behavior ourselves.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

God always has the best advice, doesn’t He? The trick is following His advice, and to do that, one needs to find “the way” in His Word.

The truth is, we cannot always protect our children from harsh reality or prevent them from making mistakes. Sometimes, all we can do is guide them through the consequences of their sins and poor decisions. As painful as it is to watch the pruner’s shears at work, we have to allow our little sprouts some freedom to learn from their mistakes – shed that dead wood – so that they can blossom into their own individual.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I love metaphors involving plants and flowers.

In a nutshell, what I am trying to say is this: don’t be a helicopter parent! Yes, parents should protect their children from harm but there are times when it is not appropriate to hover over them and shield them from the consequences of their actions.

The time comes when mom can no longer make decisions for her kid. She has to let them decide for themselves. This is painful to watch sometimes, but necessary. As they grow, children need to know that they have some freedom to make their own choices. This way, they learn more about being independent day by day.

Even if that means that the shirt they choose to wear happens to clash horribly with the pants!

Maple buds in April. Soon, the leaves will unfold. This is no coddled tree!

The Thief of Joy

I confess that I can be described as an “indifferent housekeeper.” Sadly, I am so ashamed of my house as a disgusting disaster area that I am reluctant to invite people over. I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable, like they need to don a bio-hazard suit in order to enter the door! Whenever folks do visit, I inwardly fret and freak out. I wonder: are they judging me? Do they think that I am a slob? Okay, the truth is that I really am a slob. “The proof is in the pudding,” as they say. More apropos to my situation: the proof is in the slovenly condition of my home.

There is a part of me that constantly nags that I am lazy, that I am an awful wife and mother for not taking better care of the house. I need to develop an organization and cleaning plan and stick to it. I need to get up off of my fat butt and do the chores. Shame on me for being a poor steward of the blessings that God granted to me and my family!

Whence spring these negative self-comments? Perhaps I judge my own housekeeping unfavorably based on my impression of somebody else’s home. I have friends who have beautiful, seemingly well-organized – and, above all – clean homes (Unlike me, they have included hiring a cleaning company in their budget, but I feel that’s just making excuses on my behalf.) The fact of the matter is, I feel that I am not doing my part in maintaining my own home and this stresses me out. In short, I am profoundly unhappy and disappointed in myself.

And don’t get me started on my so-called writing “career.” What career? Ha! I’m not even published yet. As much as I love reading others’ published works, it is not done without a modicum of envy. “Here are folks,” I say to myself, “who have boldly gone out, doggedly pursued their dream to become an author, and succeeded admirably. Meanwhile, what have you accomplished in this vein? Diddly-squat, and you’re not getting any younger.”

As Theodore Roosevelt once so aptly put it: comparison is the thief of joy.

Have you ever had these sort of thoughts about yourself? Not very encouraging or self-affirming, are they? We need to identify this malicious voice – Cathy Fyock calls it “the Bitch” while I call it “the Shrew” – and tell it to shut up and ship out. We don’t have time to dwell in fear of rejection, self-doubt and destructive self-criticism.

As usual, God in His wisdom has some advice for us self-criticizers:

Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.” Galatians 6:4,5 (NIV)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

Huh. Good point, there. I should stop worrying about all this stuff other people are doing and just do something, myself. Perhaps it won’t silence that nagging shrew in my head – she’s just too stubborn and persistent – but hopefully it will decrease the volume of her voice long enough for me to accomplish something noteworthy in my life. It will take prayer. It will take hard work. I might need an accountability partner to drag me kicking and screaming out of my recliner but I have confidence that if it is God’s will, I will become a published author.

Who knows? With God giving me strength, I might even improve in my efforts at housekeeping.

So, with that in mind, let’s you and me make a deal. I’ll try to be my best “me.” You try to be your best “you.” And while we acknowledge and celebrate others for their virtues and good works, we won’t punish ourselves for not being blessed with their exact set of capabilities and/or success.

What do you think your best “you” would look like? What methods have you used to successfully manage “the Shrew” in your own head? And no, drowning her with alcohol doesn’t count (LOL.)

I hereby formally invite you to comment.

“Cats, thy name is sloth,” or “Cats, the eaters of ambition.”

Justum et tenacem, propositi virum

“A just man, firm in purpose.” – Horace

Last week my husband brought home from the public library a graphic novel version of The Count of Monte Cristo, originally written by Alexandre Dumas. I picked it up, started flipping through it, and realized that although I have read this book before and remembered the plot in general terms I could not even remember the names of the characters. So yesterday I decided to download a free Kindle version and read it again. Right now I am about halfway through it.

I am sure that when I first read the novel, I did not fully appreciate all of the nuances therein, since I believe that at the time I was still a high school student in the state of Teenage Angst. Naturally, I focused on different aspects of the novel then and viewed it through the sophomoric lens of my own limited experiences. I skipped over the parts and details that I didn’t understand, such as references to French history and its notable figures, culture and quotations from the classics. I was reading the book for fun instead of explicating it for class, after all, so I was more interested in what happened to the characters and the overarching theme of the story than I was in “all that other scholarly minutiae.”

At the time, I did not have convenient means at hand for translating phrases rendered in language foreign to me or immediately researching the names dropped in the narrative. For example: What the heck does this French “ma foi” phrase mean that keeps popping up in the dialogue? (Answer: It’s an interjection that translates to “my faith!” and serves the same purpose as saying “my goodness!” “well!” or “indeed!” would in English.)

Praise be to God for the existence of Google and the invention of touch screens!

Much like the double-edged sword, modern technology can be a wonderful blessing as well as a pernicious curse to humankind.

In any event, in reading the Count of Monte Cristo again I am noticing details in the narrative that as a moon-eyed adolescent I previously glossed over. For example, the scene where King Louis XVIII is reading a poem by Horace, which is in Latin. The king occasionally quotes snippets from this piece of classical literature while his courtiers are trying to convince him of a conspiracy staged by the Bonapartists. One of these Latin phrases struck me as particularly significant after I looked it up: justum et tenacem propositi virum. (In English: the just man, firm of purpose.) This is part of a larger exposition that I feel is pertinent:

“The just man, firm of purpose cannot be shaken in his rocklike soul, by the heat of fellow citizens clamouring for what is wrong, nor by the presence of a threatening tyrant.”

What does it mean to be a “just” man? What did Horace mean by it, and for what reason did Dumas include this excerpt? At first glance, this phrase appears to describe the protagonist Edmond Dantes because it resonates so strongly with his activities; I say “appears” because on a deeper level I feel that it is also somewhat ironic. Edmond Dantes is “rocklike” and “firm of purpose” in seeking vengeance on those who have so cruelly wronged him out of base envy and avarice. True, he was innocent of the crime of which he was accused. He was wrongfully imprisoned for over fourteen years, his hopes and dreams for marriage with Mercedes and a career as a ship captain utterly devastated.

In our heart of hearts, don’t we in 2019 still sympathize with Edmond wanting to strike back at his oppressors? We would wish to do the same as he did if we had the means and the motive. Nowadays we say: “Yes, revenge is bad for you, blah blah blah,” and pay lip-service to this sentiment, but in that culture it was expected and a matter of honor that one would seek vengeance for wrongs done to oneself or to those under one’s protection.

The Count of Monte Cristo certainly raises an interesting question: if we had vast wealth of a hidden treasure at our disposal, how would we use it? We might have these grand and altruistic plans to be magnanimous to the less fortunate, but dig a little deeper and you’ll uncover the impulses of the sinful nature – to punish our persecutors in a way that we feel suits the crime.

Because it is Holy Week, in reading of Edmond’s plight I was struck by an odd parallel to Jesus Christ’s trial and wrongful execution. There two similarities: both are “just” – innocent of any crime – and both are firm in purpose. However, in practice the two men are complete opposites.

For the sake of argument, you could claim that Edmond Dantes is “just” because he is not guilty of the charge of which he is accused: treason. In Old Testament fashion, Edmond seeks an eye for an eye when he escapes the Chateau d’If. By law, the guilty should be punished for their crimes. However, Edmond feels that the legal system falls short and cannot touch his enemies, so he takes the role of judge, jury and executioner upon himself. He is consumed by his desire for revenge and determined not to waver from the path he has chosen. But I have to wonder: is dedicating one’s life to the pursuit of revenge the action of a truly “just” man?

And by the end of the book, did Edmond remain firm in his purpose to avenge himself, or would human mercy sway his “rocklike” resolve?

Jesus Christ was also a just man, firm of purpose. He was not shaken from his resolve to complete his mission of mercy – the very antithesis of vengeance. By rights, we as rebellious sinners all deserve to suffer God’s eternal wrath. That would have been justice. But Jesus was punished in our place. No human being could have predicted that. One would expect an angry God to smite his enemies for daring to lay hands on him. Just as Edmond was wrongfully incarcerated, Christ did not deserve to suffer and die on the cross. But He stayed the course, endured the agony, and emerged victorious. A truly just man, truly firm in His purpose.

Happy Easter everyone…or as they would say on Tehara: have a blessed Resurrection Festival.

In Springtime the Cycle is Renewed

Because I started this blog with my writing “journey” in mind, I suppose I ought to say something about it. The series of novels that I am working on is called the Cycle of Tehara (hence the name of this blog.) Within the Cycle of Tehara are several…ish story arcs. Sub-series, if you will. The story arc that I am currently working on is called the Wyldling series. Not particularly clever, but since I haven’t actually published yet I still have time to think of a better name than “series.”

Originally, my magnum opus was a single novel whimsically and incongruously entitled The Grand Illusion (yes, in honor of the song of the same name by Styx) that I began crafting at the tender age of 13. It turns out the joke was on me; I should have called it the Grand Delusion of a Teenage Girl Writing the World’s Longest Novel. Needless to say, the title I had given it had very little to do with the content of the novel, and nothing in common with the Styx song besides the title. The story itself has gone through multiple versions, revisions and expansions since I had the weird dream that spawned it in middle school.

A few months ago, I realized that The Grand Illusion was shaping up to be a grand behemoth of a tome twice as long as Stephen King’s It and The Stand combined. Nobody is going to read a single book so huge it could be used as a doorstop. I was afraid my epic novel – growing longer and longer every year – would be mistaken for the Encyclopedia Bore-tannica or something of that sort. I am no Leo Tolstoy after all. I am not even a Stephen King (wow, can that man churn out books!) So in the past year, I thought that maybe a trilogy would be a better idea. The 3 books into which I chopped up The Grand Illusion were to be called Wyldling Snare, Wyldling Trials, and Wyldling Deliverance. It turns out those three books were probably still too long for the audience I had in mind for them; the story is told from the point of view of 15/16 year olds, so it naturally follows that teenagers and young adults should be my target audience – right?

Currently, the Wyldling Series as I envision it is most likely going to be 5 or 6 books. The major plot points are mapped out for the entire story arc, but I feel that the novel previously known as The Grand Illusion needs a lot of reworking. As I’ve gained life experience and grown as a person, so has my novel. A woman in her fourth decade views things much differently than a 15 year old girl – or at least she should.

Viewed through the lens of the adult that I had become, my characters were behaving in ways that was ridiculous and unrealistic. Even in a fantasy story, certain things have to make sense – like, why is this teenager allowed to venture into forbidden, dangerous territory? Well, I decided that said teenager wasn’t allowed to do this at all, but that in his own mind he had compelling reasons for doing so, even if he was wrong to disobey and suffered the consequences. Besides all that, the protagonist was acting more like a whiny, angsty teenage girl than the battle-trained youth that he was destined to be.

I definitely felt that I needed to develop the villains into more believable characters, too. There had to be feasible motivations for their actions, other than “I’m crazy evil and I want to take over the world, mwahahaha!” or “Hello, I’m a bloodthirsty monster who wants revenge for some random insult the protagonist said to me off-screen.” Villains have to have some redeemable qualities, or at least be relatable as human beings – even if some of them actually are psychopaths and megalomaniacs. Perhaps some of them are merely going along to get along while others have been duped or trapped into following a certain path.

The Wyldling Series features six to eight individual villains/antagonists – depending on how one defines the term – but only five of them appear for significant amounts of time. Two or maybe three of them are killed off by the end of the series – I’m still trying to decide. One of the main villains is eventually “redeemed” and joins the ranks of the “good guys” by the end of the series. Another villain is not identified as such and remains a mystery until a future story arc.

If that sounds confusing, don’t worry. The whole journey is a little confusing to me, too.

I’m still working on the details, and as you know, the devil dwells therein.

God bless, and have a marvelous Holy Week.

Winter, begone with you! Spring is coming! Soon, this iris I planted last year will emerge from the soil…
Could it be that my novel shall also blossom anew?