L Is for Griffin

I have had a fascination with birds for a looooong time, especially parrots because they’re so goofy and birds of prey because they just look interesting. Add to that a fascination with mythical critters and is it any wonder I’m fond of griffins?

Griffins have now made an appearance in my writing. Lines of Succession has a griffin named Tiercel for a character, and he is quite a character! That’s why L is for Griffin.

When coming up with Tiercel’s character, I originally had the idea of telling scenes from the griffin’s perspective. I wanted him to be intelligent but distinctly not human and not exactly sentient. That made him an unreliable narrator, a skill I still don’t have nailed down too well, so I reset his character and came up with a different approach.

In the current form, Tiercel is pretty smart and fiercely protective of his rider, Elaina. If you take a smart parrot and cross it with a well-trained, large dog, you’ll get pretty close to his personality. He listens to her, usually, but he does have a mind of his own.

Here, check out this excerpt starring Tiercel (no spoilers. It’s from very early on in the book):

A much closer griffin screech drew his attention to the bridge connecting the aerie to the launch area on the castle’s roof. Princess Elaina walked her griffin over. The feathered, raptorial forequarters and wings were black with tan flecks gradually transforming to black and tan speckled feline hindquarters.

The griffin towered a foot and a half over the princess, who barely stood five feet even with riding boots on, but then her mother had been petite too.

Looking at the princess now, Alexander felt an urge to add his protest to the growing list of people of all ranks who opposed the king’s plans. Such a spirited girl wouldn’t last a full week in Toshiroan society without emerging a dull, lifeless shell of her real self. Even if they set aside the religious concerns, that alone should have killed the deal.

Her male griffin whistled and said, “Fly, Tiercel! Fly! Fly! Fly!”

Elaina preened her griffin’s neck as they walked. “Not yet, you big goof. We have to wait for Errol.”

“Favwit twin, Eh’ol. Yeah.” The griffin nudged her with his beak.

Alexander found the nearest guardsman by the white eagle on the tabard. “Guardsman Roderick, take the telescope please.”

Jerrell Roderick whipped around and jogged over to the platform.

Alexander hopped down and walked to the eastern half of the roof where griffins launched and landed. He approached the princess and moved to bend his knee.

Elaina caught his arm and pulled him back up. “I don’t need any of that.”

Tiercel’s huge, yellow eyes narrowed and his head lowered until Alexander found he was looking beak to nose with a four-hundred-pound griffin. With the big, hooked beak so close to his face, Alexander hoped this beast was in a better mood than Lint. He rubbed the fingers the pigeon had pecked at.

“Who you?” Tiercel asked.

Alexander stepped back. “He’s a talker.”

Elaina hugged the griffin’s neck. “My favorite chatterbox.”

Tiercel tipped his head to one side and leaned closer, forcing Alexander back up another step. “Who you?”

Elaina rubbed the feather tufts on Tiercel’s head. “It’s okay, Tiercel. This is Sergeant, um, Sergeant… I’m sorry. I should know this.”

“Sergeant Alexander Richmond, Your Highness.”

She pointed her finger at him. “Right, right. From Dovecote.”

“Good gerfin?” Tiercel tilted his head to the other way. “Good gerfin?”

“Good griffin.” Elaina stroked Tiercel’s neck.

Tiercel straightened up and chirped. “Good gerfin, yeah. He’s a talker!”

Terry and Sam Pray did excellent work on the cover art!

Terry and Sam Pray did excellent work on the cover art!

In addition to Lines of Succession, there’s a sequel planned and a passel of short stories and novellas related to the novel in the works.

Your next prompt? M is for Telepath

Setting up The City of Refuge: An Interactive Tale

The Agile Publishing Model

A couple years ago, I took part in a writing contest called JukePop Serials. JukePop used a concept called “agile publishing” in a contest between writers who wrote their stories in episodes, kinda like the old serials of the 1930s-1950s. The idea was that the writer would come up with the first episode, and then the readers would comment on which way the story was supposed to go. The writer would then use that feedback to do the next part.

Neat idea, huh?

I enjoy the old movie serials, so I came up with the basic idea for The Condemned Courier, submitted it, and away we went!

With my school work out of the way, I decided to try it again here.

The Logistics

Here’s how it’ll work.

      1. In 2 weeks, I’ll post Episode 1 of City of Refuge.

      2. The episode will end with the character at a decision point, and then I’ll stop and ask you a question with a couple options.

      3. You comment either here in the blog or on the link that will show up on my Facebook page with your choice.

      4. I’ll post the next episode.

      5. Lather, rinse, repeat (from Step 2)


What if no one responds? What if there’s a tie? Then I’ll use some manner of random number generator (an app, dice, coin, whatever’s handy) to break the tie or make the decision.

If I have an idea I like better than your suggestions, can I suggest it? Sure, and if it gets votes and I approve of the option, I’ll even go for it.

With some answers on your FB page and some here, how will I know what the final decision is for the next episode? Oh, I may leave a comment the day after the voting closes.

How often will you post? I plan to post an episode on Wednesday, then leave comments open until the next Wednesday, then write the next episode to post on the following Wednesday … so new episodes will post every 2 weeks in a perfect world when all goes well.

How will I know you posted a new episode? Well, if you’re following my blog, it’ll tell you. If you follow my writer page on Facebook, the links will post there. I’ll try to remember to post the links to my personal page, too, so if we’re pals, you might see it show up in your newsfeed that way. If you look at the previous episode’s date, you can skip the following Wednesday and the one after that will be the next episode.

How long will the episodes be? Long enough to get to the next point. JukePop required 1500-2000 words per episode (except the first which could be up to 5000ish, IIRC). Sometimes I found that too short. Sometimes that was excruciatingly too long and I had to pass up a good cliffhanger and keep going to the next one. Ultimately? I expect most to fall into the 1000-2000 word range again, but there will very likely be some much shorter or somewhat longer. It’ll depend on where I find a good decision point. That could be much longer than my Sunday blog posts, which I tend to go for about 600-1000 words.

What if I miss a week? No worries. The posts shouldn’t be going anywhere. You may not get to comment, but you can catch up.

What happens when you’re done with it? Well, on an ideal planet, I’ll compile it into a novel like I did with The Condemned Courier and find it a publisher. (Actually, with Condemned Courier, I found it a publisher after the JukePop contract was fulfilled, and the publisher said, “Hey! Make it a novel!” … so I did.) I think I know a couple who would be amused with the basic premise of the tale I have in mind.

Speaking of which…

The Story Premise

For the basis, go read Numbers 35. No worries. I picked a translation that isn’t too hard to sift through.

Short version (based on a lecture series I listened to a looooong time ago): Ancient Israel was pretty stern about how to deal with most crimes. The Torah (first 5 books of the Bible, basically) goes into major detail about what to do with criminals of many sorts. Numbers 35 explains what to do if someone kills a person by accident. The default answer is “kill the murderer.” This was to be done by the nearest kinsman, the “Goel,” who was the Avenger of Blood (and the Kinsman Redeemer in other circumstances, but anyway…).

In this case, the murder was not intentional, what the US calls “manslaughter.” Because it wasn’t intentional, the murderer can run quick like a bunny to outrace the Avenger to go to a City of Refuge. There he had to convince the judges that he did not kill the other guy on purpose. If he convinced the judge, he was homefree, BUT … he had to stay in the City of Refuge until the high priest in Jerusalem died. If he left the City of Refuge before the high priest died, the Avenger could legally kill him.

Now, we’re doing speculative fiction here, so we can take some liberties with the historical details, but that’s the basis for this adventure.

The First Questions

I don’t plan to let you off the hook too easily this time. You get to help me set up the first episode. Answer these in the comments or on my FB writer page if you want to play.

      1. What genre? Science fiction or fantasy? (You can specify a subgenre if you want).

      2. Setting (time)? Medieval, Renaissance, Wild West, Victorian, Early 20th, Modern, Near Future, Distant Future?

      3. Setting (place)? Real Earth, Earth-like, Colony on another planet, Space

Okay? You have a week to think about it and post your answers.

Ready … Steady … GO!!!

K Is for Sneeze

There was a time when I could go visit a friend of mine who had a handful of cats, including a long-haired one. I could spend the day there with them, and as long as none of the cats came too close, I was okay.

Several years ago, I started developing allergies to most of the planet. I’m allergic to anything that even looks like a mold or grass, half the trees in Texas, five dozen “foods,” some dogs, and even cats. Now, even the cutest little kitten in my space causes me to start sneezing brain cells. That’s why K is for Sneeze. Unfortunately, there’s no “just take an antihistamine” solution. I’m allergic to the inactive ingredients that appear in most OTC products.

Back when I could be in the vicinity of a cat without sneezing my fool head off, I would go over to my friends’ house and do stuff with them. Most of their cats were outgoing and friendly sorts, but they had one that was a little skittish … in the same way that an ocean can be described as slightly damp. She usually hid when anyone was over.

(c) 2015 Eric Jude used by permission, unchanged

(c) 2015 Eric Jude used by permission, unchanged

One afternoon, I was sitting on the couch watching a movie. In my peripheral vision, a dark-colored cat came across the back of the couch to where I was sitting. My friends had 4 dark-colored cats, including the really skittish one, and the approaching cat was too small to be the long-hair and even too small to be the other two. That left the skittish one. I turned toward the cat and said, “Hi.” She took one look at me and bolted back down the hall.

Apparently, I was not the one she was expecting.

This was not the only time I disappointed a critter by being the wrong person.

Your next prompt: L is for Griffins.

J Is for Funny

From time to time during the last 2 years, I found I needed to take study breaks … often … especially on days when the task was reading up to 120 pages of dull, boring academic texts that could have used a few Far Side cartoons to liven them up. I took my comedy breaks by checking out Muppets or Victor Borge or Animaniacs or … something goofy on YouTube then posting my discoveries on my Facebook page for everyone else to enjoy. The jokes broke the academic monotony with a burst of funny antics, so J is for Funny.

I’ve been fond of jokes of different sorts for much longer than 2 years. As a teacher, I put all kinds of jokes to good use. I tossed puns around in class to see who would get it. Math problems would star characters like Rex Karz and Jim Nasium. My favorite books to read to my class during restroom breaks were Bruce Hale’s Chet Gecko series. Editing prompts to practice grammar involved hokey kid jokes like…

What do you call a sleeping bull?

 A bull dozer.  :D

Using jokes for editing prompts started out as a goofy way to get kids interested in doing DOLs (Daily Oral Language … or editing grammatically messed up text), but a few years into my career, I discovered another great use for them. Unlike a lot of teachers, I speak some Spanish. I’m not half proficient enough to teach in Spanish, but I could give basic commands, and I could understand notes from parents and write notes back, plus or minus some monkeyed up grammar. So, frequently, the principal would assign kids to my class who were not entirely English-proficient, but proficient enough that they didn’t belong in the bilingual class any more.

One year, I had a student who loved jokes. He was a joker extraordinaire, but his jokes didn’t work as well in English because the puns and plays on words didn’t translate well. Every morning, when he came into class, he would read the editing prompt on his desk and try to puzzle out what it meant and why it was funny. For more than half a year, he didn’t quite get it figured out, but when it was time to go over the prompt as a group, he never failed to ask for clarification on why the joke worked.

He also checked out every English-language joke book the library had, and sometimes he’d bring it to lunch and have his friends explain the jokes to him. If they couldn’t, he’d find me on the recess field and ask me.

Then one morning, he came in, unpacked, and started puzzling out the joke. He smiled and jumped up. “Miss! Miss! I get it! I get why it’s funny!” Then he explained it to me and spent the rest of the day telling every other teacher we came across the joke.

(c) 2012 Denish C // Used unchanged on this date under Flickr Creative Commons

(c) 2012 Denish C // Used unchanged on this date under Flickr Creative Commons

By the end of the year, he was much more proficient in idiomatic language.

For your next clue… K is for Sneeze.

Book Spotlight: Medieval Mars edited by Travis Perry

My friend Travis often comes up with interesting ideas for science fiction stories, often much faster than he can get them written. So, from time to time, he collaborates with one of the other writers he knows. For Medieval Mars, he collaborated with 8 of us to create an anthology. Mine, “The Dragon’s Bane,” is a western … sorta.  :D

Medieval Mars Anthology ebook cover

A future terraformed Mars, where civilization crashed back into a Medieval Era. Christian Knights called “riders” patrol the Pilgrim Road from Olympus to New San Diego, on the Chryse Sea. The technological past is known as the “Age of Magic” and only a handful of people understand how the remaining ancient devices really work. Lighter gravity in dense air makes flying dragons and bird riders a reality; alloys of the past make “magic” swords; and masters of ancient knowledge wield wizard-like power.

Nine authors spin tales in this unique story world, one which combines elements of science fiction and high fantasy.

… and westerns. Don’t forget westerns.  ;)

Book Spotlight: Forged Steel by H. A. Titus

Before I got buried under schoolwork, I was in a critique group with Heather and a couple other interesting characters. Forged Steel was a work in progress at that point, and it’s now ready to see the world!

Forged Steel cover

Downton. Coffee shop. 2 AM.

One minute, Josh is firing off sarcastic remarks at his best friend Marc – the next, they’re running from shape-shifters. Apparently, even best friends don’t share all their secrets.

Now Josh is in danger. He can see the monsters among the humans.

When Marc is kidnapped, Josh finds himself pulled into the schemes of the fae courts, and throws in his lot with Marc’s allies: the lovely Larae, a human named David, and the fighter, Eliaster. But what began as a rescue mission becomes something much more involved…

And all Josh wants to do is get out before it’s too late.

Forged Steel is a new adult urban fantasy by H. A. Titus, releasing on July 17th. It will be available in print (Amazon) and ebook (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, and Scribd) If you’d like a chance to win free books, ask questions, and hear trivia about the writing/publishing of Forged Steel, there will be a Facebook event party on July 17th from 7-9 pm eastern time on the author’s page, H. A. Titus Author.

The first five chapters are vailable for preview on Wattpad.

I Is for Cold

The part of Texas I live in does not see snow very often. Shoot, we don’t see cold for half as long as most northern places. Sure, a chilly week or two in each of November and December, and it does start getting mighty cold in January and February, but by the end of March, we’re headed back into what most parts of the country consider “summer temperatures.” By the middle of May? Full blast heat wave.

In those rare years when we do get snow, the whole region shuts down for a half-inch or so because Texas is not ready for this stuff. We have really high “flyover” bridges all over the place, and they ice up if anyone sneezes wrong during the winter months. Then it’s bumper cars at 120 feet in the air. Not a good scene. More commonly, though, we do get ice storms that leave roads, trees, and power lines coated in sheets of ice. That’s why I is for Cold.

(c) 2013 Doug Kerr // Used without changes on this date from Flickr Creative Commons

(c) 2013 Doug Kerr // Used without changes on this date from Flickr Creative Commons

When I was teaching, school closures were determined by the superintendent. Most superintendents were on top of things. If the weather forecast included a high likelihood of ice storms, the superintendent would close the district down. One school district where I worked, however, had a superintendent who slipped up one year.

An ice storm was expected to come through and most districts had already shut down for the day, but not the one I worked for. I got up earlier than usual because I lived half an hour away from the school and had to cross through construction that lengthened that commute to about an hour on a good day. Potential ice storm? I was going to need more time.

I had the news on while I was getting ready and kept watching for the announcement that the district I worked for had closed down. By the time I finished getting ready, there was no announcement, so I gathered my stuff and walked out to my car. The roads in front of my house were slushy but not frozen, so I started off. I didn’t get very far.

As I approached a turn at the beginning of a construction area, where traffic was diverted onto a side road because the main road was a disaster, I hit a patch of black ice. My car whipped around 630 degrees (1.75 full turns). I’d swear I pulled fighter-pilot-worthy Gs before I landed in the middle of an ice-and-dirt median.

Once I remembered how that breathing thing worked again, I fished my cell phone out of my purse to call my principal and let her know that I would not be making it in that day. Before I started dialing the number, the phone rang. It was my mother. School had been cancelled for the day, and when the school’s phone tree failed to find me at home, the principal called my mother (listed in my emergency contacts) to see if I had a cell phone. (This was at a time when cell phones were not ubiquitous. Mine was the size of big stapler).

When the weather cleared two days later and the roads were safe to travel, the superintendent caught an earful. Most of the staff did not live in the district. Many of us came from more than 45 minutes away (This is Texas. Distance is measured in the number of minutes of travel time), so waiting that long to declare a school closure had actually put a number of teachers at risk. Some had called in “sick” and took a personal day, but others didn’t have personal days left, and those who were very north (like me) were in an area that wasn’t as bad as the local area of the district.

The next time there was a predicted ice storm, the superintendent cancelled school sooner.

Next time… J is for Funny.