7 Tips From a Reticent Spymaster

When it comes to fantasy storytelling, Charles Yallowitz is your man. From why only some vampires can (and should) reproduce to the proper way of knowing the best mapper shop in town, he’s the expert.

He recently dragged one of the best spies from his Legends of Windemere series out to ask him for 7 Tips to Being an Effective Spymaster. The post is as follows:

(From a Yahoo image search)

So, I’ve asked Kai Stavros from War of Nytefall: Rivalry to give some tips on being a spymaster.  He doesn’t really want to share his secrets or be out in public, so he gave me a list.  It was written into my car with a warning that I should never ask him to do anything like this again.  Here we go:

  1. Never do public appearances unless they are on your terms . . . Just going to voice a complaint right away, huh?  You know, I could have asked another of my spy characters to do this.  Well, I don’t have any, but I know a few who would willing to make stuff up.
  2. Always double-check your information.  (That makes sense.)  Torture is a good way to confirm . . . Really!?  This is what I get for asking a vampire how this goes.  In his defense, vampires regeneration, so what would be a fatal wound for a mortal isn’t a big deal for them.  Still, there could be kids reading this, Stavros.
  3. Maintains some friendships with your coworkers, but remain distant.  You don’t want to get attached to those you might have to sacrifice for the sake of a mission.  The exceptions are your masters or employers depending on your personal employment position.  (That was bizarrely bureaucratic.)
  4. Never fall in love because that will inevitably be used against you.  If not your lover then children, so celibacy is a good idea as well.  (I know of one famous spy who would really disagree on that last one.  Why doesn’t that guy have kids on every continent?)
  5. When sending messages, you must write in code to protect your secrets.  It is best to have multiple code systems and randomly cycle through them.  Only one person should know the locations of the scrolls needed to decipher them.  It helps to put two spells on the messages as well.  One is to share the information with your employer if you and the translator are dead.  The other is to curse or kill anyone who manages to get even one word correct.  (Wow.  That’s actually a good one.)
  6. Never agree to appear on a blog to share secrets.  It doesn’t matter how much the author pathetically begs.  (And we’re back to the sass.)
  7. Uh . . . This one is in code and I don’t want to risk anything.  I mean, he did give me a warning in #5.  Oh, it’s just messy penmanship since I guess he was in a rush to get out of here.  The tip is: Don’t bring attention to yourself, but don’t try to hide from society.  You need to find something in the middle because blending in and understanding human nature are essential tools of the trade.  (I think that was cursed . . . No, just the Taco Bell I ate, which is basically the same thing.)

—–

See? Spies can be handy -you know, when they’re not stabbing you in the back or whatnot.

Be sure to check out Charles’ books for more adventures. He writes unique stories where vampires are the main characters, and not because they sparkle.

What is the Beat of YOUR Creation?

After delving into lighthearted topics like Life After Death, I thought it might be time to hit a heavier subject today. Let’s discuss music.

Do you like music? Do you listen to music when you write? How about if you do other creative things; like painting, sewing, singing, dancing, acting, etc? I feel like creation comes in so many forms and even tried to capture that idea with poetry. I, myself, delve into other arts besides writing. I sing, play, paper-craft, paint, draw, and do not dance.

And I need music.

A friend of mine told me she doesn’t listen to music much because it affects her. That is precisely why I listen. Yes, with the mental and emotional issues I deal with, I am affected as well. I am moved to tears, anger, fear, resolve, sadness, or elation. Not only that, but I am moved beyond the slip of a shadow those two-dimensional words convey in print.

Take this angry piece I’ve listened to today:

I have played it fifty times because, when music influences me, I have to hear it over and over and over …till whatever feeling it ignited within is appeased and I can move on.

That’s not to say I’m a grunge rock groupie. Before Blackbriar, I swam the soporific currents of Chopin. This piece, in particular, was on repeat for a few days:

I haven’t talked to my husband much about my Chopin infatuation because he’s already a little sensitive about how much into The Awakening I was in high school. Chopin has brought me to new heights, however, even 169 years after his death.

In my defense, I am not the only author who has attributed inspiration to music, nor even to specific tracks. Stephenie Meyer, who wrote some sort of romance book you may have heard of, even lists the songs she “hear(s) in (her) head while reading the book.”

I’ve written two or three blog posts with a certain song playing. One of my favorites, Let’s Stay in Bed Today I wrote while listening to “Defcon 5,” by Book on Tape Worm:

And, another of Blackbriar’s songs, “Preserved Roses,” plus Faith Marie’s “Antidote” were responsible for depressive works like It’s All in Your Head, Are You In There?, and It’s All a Lie.

I hate to end on a downer, so you’ll be happy to know that Wilhelmina Winters is often fueled by The Piano Guys:

So, is music your muse? What are some of your favorite jams?

—–

Here’s what transpired this past week:
Wednesday, December 5: Should I Stay or Should I Go?, just my pondering on what comes after death.
Thursday, December 6: Skinwalkers, XLIV
Friday, December 7: Winner of The Fourth Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest announced. Congratulations, Michael B. Fishman.
I also re-blogged Susanna Leonard Hill’s children’s story contest. She does another around Valentine’s Day, so try again then.
Saturday, December 8: Beginning of The Fifth Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest (Enter it!).
Also, The Little Shepherd’s LullabyI wrote part of this as new lyrics to a song the children our local church ward (parish) are singing. I added, tweaked, re-worked, and submitted it to the contest with a minute to spare.
Sunday, December 9: Livelihood, a flash fiction entry for Carrot Ranch Literary Community. I put on my angry music, thought of the theme, and pictured paint gushing like blood onto a brick wall.
Monday, December 10: Inspirational Quote by e. e. cummings.
Tuesday, December 11: Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-Five,
and The Bedtime Routine over at my motherhood site. My second son’s picture is in that article, though I generally prefer to use stock photos.
Wednesday, December 12: This post.

The Eye of the Beholder

Good day, fellow art-lovers. On this fine morning, as you are all well aware, we gather to consider the latest artistic offerings one might find in his local market. Our pieces this day are all found in a curious shop named KSL Classifieds.

Without further ado, then, ladies and gentlemen, let us begin.

Our first sample is titled “Orange.”

Orange

Yes, yes it is. ‘Twould seem the artist felt no other explanation was necessary, and the seller as well. For $45, this… erm, orange, may be yours for the picking. (So sorry; it was too tempting.)

 

If obvious statements are your cachet, then our second item (for a mere $10) will leave you feeling …fabulous.

Fabulous

No, madame, I will not pronounce it as written. Anyone who cannot spell, nor include a photograph instead of a screen shot deserves to be shot. What’s that, sir? No, no. I was simply mumbling about the weather. Terribly hot day, this.

 

Of course, we are not simply purveyors of paltry paintings at this establishment. Those who wish to open their pocketbooks slightly wider may appreciate an original …print of an artwork, crafted by a man known as The Painter of Light.

Kinkade

I can’t help but feel the vendor did little to forward that reputation, by want of a clear lens for photographing. Ah, well, perhaps you may all picture its beauty, and thereby feel compelled to pay the $250 price tag.

 

Although I have studied and promoted creative works for many years, I’ll admit that some popular items still elude my personal preferences. Therefore, if any here express interest in Colombian paintings for their bathroom (as suggested by the seller), I’ll do my best to back them up.

Bottom

I’d say to move quickly on this $135 oil painting, but I imagine she’s not going anywhere in a hurry.

 

Our organizers thought this wall “art” might do well to follow the woman at her toilette; I can’t imagine why.

Moon

 

But really, what better place to rid oneself of an entire paycheck than on secondhand art? Take this print, for example, at $300:

Urn

“(B)eautifully framed urn artwork in pristine condition” advertises the owner. I agree. Tai Pan Trading did an excellent job purchasing framed and glassed-in Chinese merchandise, selling them to willing buyers, then closing down once said buyers could pick up their own through Amazon dealers.

 

Esteemed collectors such as you fine people know the value of a good piece. You know, for example, that a Renoit or Rembrandt is worth its sticker -provided one may prove its authenticity.

Therefore, you also know that a piece by an up-and-coming artist no one has heard of (and a name the vendor himself will not list) is most certainly worth $7,000.

Expensive

Since it is also un-titled, we will refer it is as Bird Merchant with an Extra Hand in the Shadow of Random Nudity. Don’t be shy, now; step up and part with the minor sum post-haste.

 

All you fine patrons who have held out for true genius, this final artwork will not disappoint:

Twilight

Twenty-five dollars, ladies and gentlemen. Twenty-five United States currency is all that separates you from artistic perfection.

 

As our session draws to a close, I wish to thank you all for your kind patronage and generous manner. Please feel free to join us in future, whenever we may have material enough to promote once again.

Sundown Stroll

Humidity cushioned their sunset movements. Emiline sensed it, always, in the dense Jamaican air.

“I feel like something’s pressing on my arms and legs,” Mark said, though with a smile.

Emiline answered with her own, with a light hand pulling wisps of beach-blown blonde from her eyes. Their aimless ambling soon led them within the resort gardens.

Each breathed deeply in. Clusters of pinkish blossoms blushed boldly against darker green. Snow-white Oleander winked from wall bushes. Their gaze drew skyward to admire a riot of orange.

“Nature’s bouquet,” she whispered. Speechless, he followed her through a tropic twilight.

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Carrot Ranch Writing Prompt

Aoede’s Influence

My mind feels nothing lately. I sit here, at a computer desk, fingers poised over keys, typing emptiness.

“Ah, you have writer’s block,” you may observe. I love to disagree, but I feel the word block indicates that there was some flow previously.

In considering my lack of creative energy or inspiration, I reflect on Muses. I’ve been reflecting since reading over Mike Allegra’s and D. Wallace Peach’s characterizations of Muses. The former described his as an ice cream-stealing rat (an intelligent, domesticated one), the latter claiming hers hired a mercenary.

Mine, in the meantime, is beyond fashionably late.

She or he or it is not entirely necessary for writing. However, I need something to create what lays before you, or what fills the space between pictures of my content-writing job.

I try. I do.

The ceremony to call upon a Muse can be much like a séance, conjuring, or sacrificial ceremony. “Here, take my children,” I say to the television screen. “And, here are the five pounds I managed to lose last month,” I tell our chocolate stash. I light the computer’s candelabra and pray.

Despite my best movie marathons or sugar-splurges, my efforts usually summon Muse’s distantly-related cousin’s best friend’s significant other: Motivation.

And even she often shows up hungover. It’s time for something stronger.

Before turning to literal flames or pentagrams, I turn to my gym bag. Inside, twisted in on itself, rests my mP3 player and headphones. Besides the creative gifts we enjoy, headphones are the greatest blessing a distracted artist may ever receive.

Properly attired, I may focus on the influence of Aoede instead of the distractions of everything.

Stephenie Meyer, that author who wrote something a few years back, was one of my favorites to read. No, not her actual published works (at least, not openly.) I am referring to her honest descriptions of writing, publishing, creation, etc.

I can relate to her, since both of us have at least three boys. Did you know she also used music? That she has a playlist posted?

As mentioned at the end of the lame, rambling autobiography (nobody got that far, did they?), I can’t write without music. This, combined with the fact that writing Twilight was a very visual, movie-like experience, prompted me to collect my favorite Twilight songs into a sort of soundtrack for the book. This list is not chiseled in granite; it transforms now and again. But, for the moment, here’s the music I hear in my head while reading the book. (stepheniemeyer.com)

Her website has songs for Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn.

We’ll need to talk more about tempting Muses in other fashions. Perhaps you even know a secret incantation.

In the meantime, what are your favorite tracks to play for inspiration?

Writing Prompt: Badlands

Write a short story and it must contain the following words somewhere: downtown, graveyard, passenger, decoder, suave, badlands.

Photo

It was a typical late afternoon for K. Jones: dusty, dry, barren. Even when she wasn’t standing as she was then –hands folded across her chest surveying the badlands– K. never shook the feeling of orange. Bits and pieces of windblown world caught at the edges of her tied handkerchief and protective sunglasses. She’d find them in every crevice of her equipment later.

*Jones* her left hip crackled. *Jones, Bwishda gurb donet!*

Quickly unfolding from her stoic stance, K. grabbed at the radio hanging to her side. She deftly activated its decoder switch in time to translate the end of the garbled message to “…Station 5 at Sundown, over.” She waited for the message to repeat, and was rewarded with silence. K. rolled her eyes. How difficult did her team find simple tasks, exactly? –Tasks like following certain protocol so a person had time to grab her radio and get the whole message, for example?

K. brought the mouthpiece near her face, squeezed her thick gloves over Respond, and enunciated, “Jones here.” She waited the required five seconds before continuing, “Repeat full command, over.”

Static. Then, she heard an impatient, “Smith here.” Roughly three seconds followed, if K. counted generously. “Assigned rounds completed. Will meet at Station 5 at Sundown, over.”

The setting sun pierced through a cloudbreak and caught K.’s glasses at an annoying angle. She squinted, repositioned. Shading her eyes, she peered off toward the general direction of the station referenced. It was either past the butte, down the dirt path, and near a distant mountain; or she was experiencing miragelike imagery.

Shifting the radio from one bundled hand to another, she applied the Respond button once again. “Jones here.” Five seconds. “Request transport en route. Will wait at Camp Point One near butte, over.”

K. used her right boot to shift adobe-colored sand over the top of her left boot as she waited for an answer. “Smith here.” K. mentally counted to two before Smith immediately continued, “Will meet as requested. Watch your back. Over and out.”

Though no one could see her expressions, K. smiled a wry, experienced look. She wasn’t novice enough to laugh aloud at Smith’s suggestions, however. Confident and skilled she might be, but anything could change on the swirling sunset landscape of these uninhabited zones. –Of these usually uninhabited zones, K. mentally amended.

She glanced right, left, behind, up, down, forward. She carefully deactivated the decoder option on the radio and returned it, swinging, to the side of her ocher pant leg. Following protocol, she checked the readings on her instruments. They were set to alert her if any anomaly appeared. As such, K. would have to remember to tone her tracker down a bit once she reached Camp One. She didn’t want to impulsively vaporize her ride just because of nerves.

She hefted straps, instruments, and packs from one sore area to another and began walking. Fingers of moving sand sank in a circular divot around each of her carefully-placed footfalls. The oranged sky outlined her bulky frame as airborne copper dust pushed and pulled at her tired body. She was regretting the rash, confident decision she’d made to patrol on foot.

A shape suddenly shadowed the glaring natural light and K. automatically reacted. In less than a second, laden as she was, she’d assumed a fighting crouch facing the unknown risk from the West. She breathed heavily beneath the kerchief, fogging her vision with each exhalation.

It was only a landform. Her heartbeat slowed in much less time than it had accelerated.

In fact, she knew this rock. It was a sort of gateway to an area they’d nicknamed The Graveyard. Beyond the tall Stele lay a carefully silent sort of valley decorated with small, oddly-placed stones. When K. and her team had first encountered the area, outlining its features by swinging desert-dusted beams, they’d all been struck by a creepy cemetery familiarity.

Cutting through The Graveyard also shaved five minutes off her trek to the rendezvous butte. K. looked at its shady entrance, then glanced toward the area she could go in order to intentionally not walk through there. Up a scrambling red-rock slope and down through a very wide, open area of squat, wide rocks they’d named Downtown ran her longer option.

The sun seemed to sink more quickly. Graveyard it was.
Readjusting straps once again to cover for the unaccountable fluttering in her stomach, K. stalked determinedly into the tiny valley.

Red-yellow motes magically suspended among the headstone dirt and stoneforms K. suddenly remembered. The whole valley reminded her of an old toy her grandfather had let her play with decades ago. Whenever she had shaken the glass ball in a pudgy hand, swirling white pieces had danced and then floated slowly back down upon a small, smiling child on a sled.

The badlands were no winterscape, however. K. felt she was tiptoeing through the polar opposite of a cheerful, safe sledding holiday. The dead, hot air was oddly still in The Graveyard, but still omnipresent. The particles may have been suspended in this sudden wind shelter, but they never disappeared either.

K. felt a small pulse from her chest-mounted sensor. Her heartbeat increased once again as natural terror primed her body for action. That sensor could only activate when it sensed movement of a living thing –other than her and her team members. K. increased her pace, sweeping her view around and attempting to keep her back to the randomly-placed rocks.

The pulse grew stronger as she neared the center of The Graveyard. K. tried desperately to see what was triggering it. She peered from one shadow to another in the dimming evening red-orange that barely penetrated her current location. Her mind constantly tricked her in the unfamiliar crowd of stones and sweeping sands. Imagination aside, everything appeared empty.

She continued her slow, hyper-sensitive, circular tread to the opposite side of The Graveyard. The pulse grew faint, and died. If nighttime and her ride were not so imminent, K. would be required to search until the source had been found. Fortunately, she thought, the rules clearly stated that no parties were to be on The Badlands after sundown. She could thank P. Brown for that, if he had still been around to thank.

K. stalked up the sandy incline exit, trying to keep everywhere in sight –especially the area she’d just left. She still saw no movement. Another sensor, one near her wrist, began to vibrate instead. Looking up, she saw the butte just ahead and to the right. Her wrist sensor indicated that a vehicle was nearby, hopefully the one carrying J. Smith.

Despite the landscape and unnatural gravity, K. increased her pace. She came out into the buffeting wind and tinted sunlight once again. The sun really was dropping quickly, as it always did when teetering on the edge of night. She could hear an offroad motor rumbling, even over the overpowering shrillness of moving air.

The pulse on her chest began again, very faintly. Stumbling in surprise, K. turned back to The Graveyard. No, she told herself and her trained senses. No, she did not see light in that vale. And yet, something that was not orange, not the setting sun, and not just a rock was moving. In fact, it was moving nearer. Quickly.

Like dreams where she tried to run and felt instead like she was slogging through mud, K. tried desperately to sprint the few hundred feet to where she knew Smith was waiting. Sunset sand particles flew from her muted, skittering footsteps. Her view was again fogged and unfogged with her heavy breathing. The jeeplike transport was there around the bend; Smith turned her direction.

He stood suddenly; yelled in surprise. She knew better than to look behind, but real or imagined noises pursuing told her she wasn’t going to make it to that passenger seat.

She looked up at Smith again, noting his suave, steady figure. He was the only one she knew who didn’t resemble a rambling, bloated marshmallow in his desert suit. Tiredly, she saw he had raised something. She was nearly to the rear tire when she realized he held their one allowable defense since Command had limited firearms to lower ranks two years previously.

K. heard the small *fzzzz* noise of the tiny laser pistol and watched, distantly, from some other place, as it floated over her left shoulder and made contact with something directly behind her.

“Aiiieargghhhhhgggggguuggh!” Something inhuman reacted.

K. reached the side of the transport. Smith dropped his gun to drag her panting form onto the seat, then immediately sat and gunned the engine. They shot forward in the dying twilight, scattering badland sand and rock sharply outward from the squealing tires.

Bracing herself unsteadily against the jouncing framework, K. realized she’d made it. Still breathing heavily, she turned to the dark outline of her teammate. He stared ahead, his face determined.

“Thank you, Jim,” she said, though first names were against protocol. Rules were irrelevant now.