Photo Prompt – Interdimensional

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Talen rubbed weary eyes, wishing he’d gone to bed with the others hours ago. He simply couldn’t rest when the solution was so close at hand, and finished entering the latest set of parameters. The Jolly Roger wasn’t the only science vessel in this region of space looking for the elusive opening in space-time that every dimensional theorist claimed was here. If it were to do them any good, it had to be located precisely, studied, and mapped before any attempt was made to use it.

An insistent chime interrupted his weary thoughts, pulling his attention back to the workstation terminal. It took a moment for his sleep-deprived brain to understand the message.

Iteration 2257 successful. Anomaly located. Display visual?

Talen’s hand shook as he activated the main viewscreen. None of the scientific models matched what he was seeing; a beautiful, fixed, star-shaped structure. Awestruck and jittery with excitement, he instructed the computers to verify and record, even as he hit the comlink. They wouldn’t mind being awakened for this!

**********

The celebration didn’t last very long. Jurri was the first to point out what everyone else should have realized immediately.

“This thing is not a natural formation. Every single theory postulates a dimensional gateway as a rip, tear, or hole in space-time. What we’re seeing is symmetrical, precise, constructed. We don’t have the ability to build something like this, but someone does – and did.”

The ramifications were staggering. How many of these gates existed? What was their purpose? Who might be waiting on the other side? Unless this was a forgotten relic of a long-dead alien civilization, they’d just stumbled on the greatest threat mankind could ever imagine. Talen acknowledged the frightening reality of their situation and punched the comlink.

“Captain, we’ve found something…”

###############

Interesting note – this image is based on a photograph of pond scum – really! At the time, I was playing around with various digital enhancement software, and this one turned out so well I decided to keep it. Cool!

 

 

 

 

Am I An Author Yet?

There is an overabundance of blog posts describing in detail what it means to be an author. I’m sure you’ve seen at least a few of them and perhaps checked out of curiosity. Unfortunately, many of them claim to have the answer, and explain in great detail what a real author is. Supposedly there are fake ones lurking about somewhere ready to fool the unsuspecting public with their fake writing.

Anyway, these helpful guru’s have some interesting, (if misguided), clues by which we may discern who qualifies:

  • Real authors have been published by industry recognized houses.
  • Real authors earn ____% of their income from writing.
  • Real authors allow only professionals to handle their editing, proofreading, marketing, etc.
  • Real authors make personal appearances and do book signings.
  • Real authors publish only real paper and ink books.
  • Real authors never look at reviews or pay any attention to what readers are saying.
  • Real authors attend workshops and conferences to hobnob with the above-mentioned guru’s.
  • Real authors charge exorbitant amounts because no one will value their work otherwise.
  • Real authors willingly sacrifice all for the sake of their craft.
  • Real authors have found and embraced their “voice”.

OK – had enough? How many of you authors have been disqualified because someone decided you weren’t real? Let’s face it – everyone and their mother has advice to dish out, whether it’s worth anything or not. I’ve grown weary of listening to the nonsense, and in fact, recently stumbled upon a helpful post for a change. In it, an author is defined by three basic traits, plus one more thing that keeps you in the game over time.

  1. Talent – the ability to come up with original stories time and time again.
  2. Craft – you’ve learned the nuts and bolts on your own or by taking classes.
  3. Passion – you LOVE to write and don’t consider it a chore.

And, the most important strategy to keep you in the game – be versatile. Markets change, tastes change, fads come and go. You don’t have to write what you hate, but be ready and willing to try new things.

I found this information most affirming, especially when (in my humble opinion) I discovered I had all three traits to my credit. Well – I’ll admit I still have a great deal to learn, so #2 is an ongoing trait! As for being versatile, I’ve already published in three genre’s and will shortly be adding a fourth. My biggest challenge is not writing, but marketing and the other business-related tasks of publishing. Not surprising for an indie author, but my passion (#3) keeps me pressing on!

2019 – A Retrospective

A few thoughts on last year, both personally and as a writer.

ME

  • Renewed a twenty year old friendship – what a blessing!
  • Welcomed another grandson (four grandchildren now)
  • Celebrated my younger son’s birthday, in person, for the first time in MANY years
  • Took on a PT job for several months to help with the bills
  • Moved to a different apartment with better amenities

WRITING

  • Celebrated my two-year publishing anniversary in August
  • Experimented with some flash fiction/photo prompts on my blog
  • Published one full length novel and almost finished a second (see below)
  • Incorporated more show and less tell in my writing
  • Got really good at low-cost book promotions (!)
  • Added yet another genre and audience to my portfolio

 

****************

My writing plans for the year fell apart! I published my second wolf shifter novel, Traitor’s Moon, in February. The idea was to keep going with book three, but I couldn’t do it. I was burned out and needed to write something different for a while. With no desire to commit myself to another long project, I decided to write a fantasy short story. This turned into a series of five novelettes spread out over the last ten months of the year!

With me so far? The initial idea was to publish them individually, thereby increasing my backlist and pull in lots of new readers with all the extra exposure. Not a bad plan – except it was too expensive. (I also tried putting the stories on my blog in serial format, but very few people read them.) There was no way I could afford to publish and promote five different titles, so what to do? The only thing I could do with a basket full of lemons – make lemonade!

RISE OF THE DRAMAN is a collection of all five books and is presently undergoing a final series of edits. I’m adding new material, replacing tell with show, and correcting mistakes. My beta readers are loving it, and I will end up with a much better novel by the time I’m done.

The cover for this one was another challenge. The designer I’ve been using all along just couldn’t come through for me on this title, so I was forced to look elsewhere. Fantasy cover art, particularly with dragons, is harder to come by and can be a lot more expensive. I finally found a few possibilities on a pre-made cover site, and with one slight change (which cost more), settled on one which will do, but just doesn’t POP the way I had hoped. Check it out here and tell me what you think! If things go as planned, I intend to publish RISE OF THE DRAMAN sometime in February or before.

Every book brings new opportunities to learn and improve, and this latest one certainly did! Overall it’s been a great experience. My biggest regret is not being able to publish the thing in 2019, as it puts me behind my goal of at least two novel-length works per year. If I work hard, maybe I can squeeze out three in 2020 to make up for it!

Thanksgiving Memories

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Dear friends,

If I had to choose one holiday as my favorite, it would be Thanksgiving.

On the face of it, everyone could use a reminder to be thankful for family, friends, possessions, health, the beauty of nature, and so on. I also appreciate the spiritual underpinnings of the holiday, as we who are particularly blessed tend to forget where it all comes from.

My warmest memories center around a large family meal which included foods we didn’t have very often such as turkey, sage dressing, black olives, and REAL mashed potatoes. What about the cranberries? I was never a fan; probably because my mother used to buy a can of gelatinous sauce and slice it like a loaf of bread. I think she was the only one who ever ate any of, yet it appeared every year like clockwork.

 

The ubiquitous pumpkin pie also made an appearance, along with apple and cherry, but I always went for the OTHER pie mom used to make only twice a year. It was called Ritz Cracker Torte, from a recipe she found somewhere years before I was born (yes, I still have it). This dietitian’s despair was made of sugar, egg whites, Ritz Cracker crumbs, and chopped walnuts, among other things. Bake, refrigerate, top with real whipping cream, and Voila! Heart attack on a plate. I loved it back then, but can’t eat foods like that any longer. My blood sugar goes up just thinking about it!

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Growing up in a large family, we gathered around an enormous dining room table for the meal, with a couple card tables for the little kids on the side. The whole thing was messy, noisy, and required a group effort to pull it off. When the kitchen was clean and leftovers divided, we would break up into smaller groups for games – usually charades, telephone, twister, or the dictionary game. Sometimes, we even did skits or songs. It was a lot of fun! As older siblings married and had kids, Mom and Dad could be found spoiling the babies, or watching sports on TV with my brother’s-in-law.

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Nowadays, I live too far from my siblings to join them for any holidays, and I miss this one the most. One of my sisters still hosts a family gathering at her house on the weekend before. Good food, laughter, games – it’s all there (except for the cranberry sauce). On a sad note, my mother passed away on Thanksgiving Day back in 2000. It doesn’t normally bother me, but I miss her just a bit more this time of year.

Whatever you have going on this Thanksgiving, take a moment to reflect on your blessings, share with others in need, and tell the special people in your life how much you love them.

Holiday Hugs,

Alex

 

The Odious Apostrophe

I’m pressed for time this week, so thought I would re-post this ditty from April 2018. I still struggle with the crazy thing from time to time, but it’s no longer my kryptonite. Who knew a teeny-tiny punctuation mark could cause so much grief? Enjoy!

 

The Odious Apostrophe

 

Apostrophe, Apostrophe,

or should I say catastrophe?

You make me nervous, angry, mean,

You’re Satan’s punctuation scheme.

I put you in and take you out,

Confusion reigns, along with doubt.

Unlike the period or comma,

You thrive on messiness and drama.

English would be much less rotten,

If you could only be forgotten.

 

Alexander Elliott

Author Update

The last few weeks have been brutal! Pre-move, move, post-move. It’s all been very moving, but at last I’m settled in my new place and can stop for a breath. Obviously, my writing has taken a back seat and I’m eager to get caught up.

Story five of Rise of the Draman is almost complete. The last of the story threads are being carefully tied, and then it’s off to my beta readers. When that’s done, it will appear on my blog in serialized format, and your anxious wait will be over! Leaving readers dangling from a cliff this long was never my intention, though be prepared for a much longer installment this time.

I received a wonderful note from a reader recently regarding my Gladstone Shifters books. The poor soul is hooked (yeah for me!) and wants to get her hands on the next in series – only it hasn’t been written yet and I have no idea when it will be. I have three new series begging to be written, and am still deciding what to do. Given my crazy work schedule and limited writing time, any novel-length project I choose to tackle means at least a nine month commitment. My tendency is to get bored and antsy to move on to something else long before I’m done!

Winter made a rude and unwelcome early start here and I’m faced with unfamiliar routes for shopping and work. I don’t mind the change of seasons, but driving on snowy/icy roads makes me tense. In 2014, I hit some black ice and found myself upside down in a snow-filled ditch. The car was totaled, and neither my back nor my nerves have fully recovered. Maybe I’ll work that into a book someday…

 

Photo Prompt – SHIFTER

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The driveway was cold and wet, but this time I wasn’t leaving until Grant came outside. He knew I was there – I could see him peeking through the wispy curtains at the kitchen window. I’d made my grand gesture days ago, revealing my true self, and he’d run away. I couldn’t blame him for being afraid. I mean, when was the last time someone turned into a fox before your eyes? Not just any someone, but the person you’d been dating, the one you wanted, the one who loved you back.

If he could overcome his fear and doubt we had a chance. If not, I’d have to let him go. Give him the freedom to start over with another. Allow my heart to break.

I could hear him moving inside before the door opened. Tentative, he stepped out, dressed warmly and carrying a red apple. The fruit distracted me for a moment until I realized he was cautiously approaching. I remained still, watching his face intently for signs of fear. His heart thudded faster than usual, but I’d seen that determined look on his face before. I followed his movements until he reached me, crouched down, and set the apple near my front paws.

I wasn’t certain if this was a peace offering or a test of some kind. I ate the fruit – watching him watch me. Licking my muzzle clean, I waited for his next move. Though trembling, he extended his hand for me to sniff, as one would do for a dog. I complied, enjoying his unique scent, and then licked the underside of his wrist – something I’d often done in human form. Startled, he snatched his hand back and stared at me; wonder mixed with confusion. Finally, he spoke.

“Babe… is it really you?”

Photo Prompt – SILENT SCREAM

Shrieking Tree

Caught.

Forever changed.

Rooted in soil,

an arbor life.

 

Leaves gone.

Naked limbs

Tremble with effort.

Bark shifts.

 

Darkness coming.

Evil stirs.

Innocents in danger,

Seeking treats.

 

Turn back,

Run away!

A silent scream,

my only warning.

**********

I’m not a fan of Halloween, but this image was perfect and I couldn’t resist sharing it with my readers! I took this photo over a decade ago, wandering through an average middle-class neighborhood with my camera. The haunting look of anguish or fear is undeniable, and this became the first of several “tree people” images in my collection. (Next time you’re walking in the woods, see how many faces you can find.) When a friend of mine saw it, he said it reminded him of a painting by Edvard Munch. Huh? I’d never heard of him or his work and had to look it up.

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“Born in 1863 in Löten, Norway, famed painter Edvard Munch established a free-flowing, psychological-themed style all his own. His painting “The Scream” (“The Cry”; 1893), is one of the most recognizable works in the history of art. His later works proved to be less intense, but his earlier, darker paintings ensured his legacy. A testament to his importance, “The Scream” sold for more than $119 million in 2012—setting a new record.” https://www.biography.com/artist/edvard-munch

“The Scream is the best known work from a powerful series of images which Munch called The Frieze of Life, first exhibited in 1893.  The actual scream, Munch claims, came from the surroundings around the person. The artist printed ‘I felt a large scream pass through nature’ in German at the bottom of his 1895 piece. Munch’s original name for the work was intended to be The Scream of Nature. The figure is trying to block out the ‘shriek’ that they hear around them (the work’s Norwegian title is actually ‘Skrik’). The figure appears featureless and un-gendered, so it is de-individualised – and is perhaps one of the reasons why it has become a universal symbol of anxiety.”  https://blog.britishmuseum.org/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-scream/

Every Author Needs A Sounding Board

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A great story begins with a fertile imagination, but developing that terrific idea into an equally terrific book involves a whole lot more. Perhaps your story lacks a whiz-bang ending or there’s an embarrassing hole in the plot. Maybe you’ve plotted yourself into a corner and can’t see a way out. Possibly, you wonder if anyone else will find the basic idea as interesting as you do.

The solution is easy – get yourself a sounding board. Several, if you can. Something magical happens when discussing ideas with another person. They see it with fresh eyes and their own unique mix of personality and experience. I’m not talking about a “professional”, simply someone who is well-read, trusted, and has a good imagination.

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Just the other day I presented a seed idea to one of my sounding boards (who happens to be a co-worker). Not only did she improve on the basic idea, she helped me nail down the major plot points, improve the ending, and gave me a lead-in to a follow up story in the series! I literally could not have done it without her help, and the story went from “cool” to “WOW” in three short conversations.

Everything I have published or am currently writing has been improved by my sounding boards. I don’t always take their advice or run with their ideas, but the simple act of discussing it opens up new paths to wander and concepts to explore. We communicate in person, on the phone, or via email and I love the way our interaction jump starts my creative juices! Since these are people I respect and trust, I feel safe sharing my struggles and new ideas. At the same time, they are happy to support my quest to improve and grow as a writer. Double win!

Don’t have any sounding boards? Ideally, you will want readers (not fellow writers) who are well-read in multiple genre’s, are supportive rather than pushy, and can be trusted to keep your wonderful ideas to themselves. They’ll save you time, improve your work, and stimulate your own creativity – so start looking!

Off the Rails – Gay Romance Gone Bad

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Gay romance is one of my favorite genres to write and read, but I’ve noticed some disturbing patterns of late. I’m not talking about fringe stuff, kinks, or dark reads – just regular M/M stories with happy endings. Apparently, a good number of authors have become complacent or are more interested in pushing their personal agenda than crafting a fine, well-balanced story. I suspect the same could be said for any popular genre, but this one caught my attention. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Overused Tropes

Honestly, how many people inherit a cabin in the woods or the estate of an absentee relative? Not all dog owners fall in love with their Vet and most enemies (boss, business rival, or High School crush) do not become the love of your life! Furthermore, hot and single millionaires are not hanging around with common folks looking for a meaningful relationship. Authors need to quit relying on tired old tropes whose time have come and gone.

Fractured Families

I can’t count the number of MC’s whose parents have died horribly or are way too old to have twenty or thirty something offspring! Are we meant to believe that all gay men face life alone or worse yet, aren’t speaking to their relatives? Do gay men always have homo-hating fathers, abused mothers, and siblings they never talk to? I understand the need to inject drama into a story, but why so often at the expense of family?

Young and Fit

Not every gay man in the world is under 35, healthy, hung, and drool-worthy. This may sell books, but it isn’t real. Enough said.

First Time Gay

This one really burns my cookies. There is an overabundance of stories about the clueless straight guy falling for his best gay friend, boss, neighbor, etc. Being gay is not a choice, and truly straight men do not suddenly realize that they are interested in sex with another man, as titillating as that idea may be! Often, authors of this type of story are married heterosexual women. Check your facts honey – it doesn’t happen this way (just ask your husband)!

Anytime Sex

Sorry, but penetrative sex can’t happen whenever the mood strikes. Not only that, many gay men don’t enjoy it at all, preferring other forms of intimacy. Again, a healthy dose of realism (not the gory details) and diversity is needed in the gay man’s bedroom.

Religion Bashing

I will be the first one to admit the church at large has treated the LGBT community horribly, and there is good reason to be angry. That said, it isn’t necessary or fair to blame the religious community for every problem in a gay man’s life, and not all people of faith are raving lunatics. Rejection and condemnation by family and clergy alike remains a significant problem, and I don’t mean to say authors should ignore it. What they need to do is avoid bludgeoning readers with it repeatedly. The horse is dead already, so give it a rest.

 

Romances will always remain popular, and there are hundreds of authors out there cranking out story after story. I understand and accept the wide diversity of readers, writers, subjects, and tropes, but would like to see more balance, realism, and thoughtful crafting. As a writer, it’s my responsibility. As a reader, I deserve better.