Mindstorm: Parley at Ologo — The Excerpt

Time for a bit of shameless self-promotion.

front sanserif

Grace Bridges designed the lovely abstract cover, which actually represents what Calla sees when she goes into someone’s mind.

An excerpt for you…


Angela reeled back as if she had been kicked in the head. Thomas tried to catch her, but his fingers brushed past the sleeve of her shirt. She hit the ground hard and stayed still.


The garden’s gate burst open a second later under the weight of several Cordilians. The first hit on his mental shield came a second after the gate fell. His protection wobbled but held. Gunshots echoed off the garden’s wall. Bits of rock from a planter struck his thigh.

He yelped and dove under the table, even though the thin wood would never stop a bullet or a blaster bolt. He clapped his hand over the wound. If he were lucky, the snipers wouldn’t see him.

Shrill screams split the air. The sense of pain and terror from the delegates sickened him. He could do nothing to help them directly, but if he could reach Angela, he could teleport them both home, get her to a doctor, and send back more experienced help for the delegations.

As he inched toward her, a female presence shoved against his shields. Thomas bolstered his defense and pushed her back.

The second attempt battered at his mental shield and bored through. Before he could reset his guard, his attacker thrust into his mind like a spear. Thomas clenched his eyes and focused inward.

You want a fight? You got one.

A dark, curvaceous image bearing a pair of fiery knives appeared in his mental perception. Her hand covered her mouth. “Ooo. That didn’t hurt, did it?”

Thomas mustered every scrap of power and focus he could pull together. “Not half as much as this will.”

His own personal image formed in the shape of a huge wolf. He launched himself at the shadow woman and tackled her, tearing into her with a mouth full of sharp teeth.


Find Mindstorm: Parley at Ologo here.


M Is for Telepath

My folks tell me I’ve been writing stories since I was in 2nd grade. Do I remember that? No, but the first stories I do remember writing were fanfic (really, really amateur fanfic) set in comic book universes, mostly X-Men. My friends and I read lots of those and made up our own tales and then I wrote about them or came up with my own stories.

The characters that interested me the most were the telepathic ones and the ones who could teleport. Why? Because people didn’t make sense to me, and I hate long roadtrips. If I were telepathic, maybe people would’ve make more sense. If I could teleport, I could avoid roadtrips. What a deal, eh?

When I wrote Mindstorm: Parley at Ologo, I made the main characters telepathic. That’s why M is for Telepath.

Grace Bridges designed the lovely abstract cover, which actually represents what Calla sees when she goes into someone's mind.

Grace Bridges designed the lovely abstract cover, which actually represents what Calla sees when she goes into someone’s mind.

In science fiction, especially the superhero genre, telepathy is as common as breathing. I wanted my telepathic characters to be unique in some way. Giving the normal ones the ability to teleport, too, was not all that unique. Anyone remember the 1970s TV series Tomorrow People? (I understand there’s been a reboot, but I haven’t seen that one).

Calla, one of the main characters in Mindstorm: Parley at Ologo, is a doctor who specializes in psionic medicine. I decided to use that to make my telepathic characters different. How does she perceive the mind? Here, check out this excerpt. (No spoilers.)

Nikk aimed a portable scanner at one of the bullet holes. “Two patients, both in their twenties. Appeared in the waiting room unconscious. Female was shot twice in the chest with an old-style projectile gun. Both patients have psionic injuries, but I’m not sure how severe. Check the male first.”

I’m on it.” Calla hurried to the male patient and perched on a stool next to a portable vat of pseudo-amoebic growth accelerator.

She reached into his mind. Visualizing his mind as a maze of glass panes, she took a moment to survey the mental landscape. Areas of blackened, broken panes stood out against the others near them.

For such a young man, he’d had a troubled life. Discounting the obvious damage, years’ worth of panes bore witness to endless tribulation.

Childhood, usually marked with brilliantly colored support poles and almost cartoon-like images, looked oddly muted. An illness couldn’t have caused the problem. The panes would have been thin and brittle if that were the case.

Calla had seen the dull, lifeless color scheme associated with feelings of isolation, often from absent parents or a perceived lack of security. The boy she mentored had a similar run in his maze between the time his mother had left and a month later when Calla had met him and taken him under her wing.

Adolescence showed a dramatic change to a blindingly bright scheme marking fear and hypersensitivity. More reds and oranges appeared, and the supports now bristled with spikes to keep people at a distance. Some of that could be normal, but Calla rarely saw such an intense anger.

That span lasted a short distance before the real tragedy reared up. In the space of a few weeks, the maze changed from garish to monotone. Images were blurred and warped, and the frames were twisted and frail. Some pictures were too grayed out to discern. Chemical dependence. Judging from the severe degradation, she supposed drugs rather than alcohol had been his poison of choice.

Then, some seven or eight years ago, there had been a gradual change. Colors returned, first the hot colors of anger and fear, and then in time the cooler colors of happier times until the images looked like photos in an album. The supports showed the change by becoming straighter and melding their colors and materials to provide a pleasing match to the images they held.

He’d righted his life again, and the depressing monochromatic drug addiction hadn’t returned even once. An admirable achievement, given how many patients she’d seen who had never made the journey or had tried, only to lapse back into the old, destructive ways.

She completed her general overview in less than a minute, and then she returned to what damage there was.

Calla shifted her attention. A sense of pain and weakness from teleporting with injuries stood out in her perception. Her natural sympathetic reaction threatened to pull her down, but she kept her focus on the patient.

Two collections of the glass walls lay in black pieces, one in the monotone addict phase of his life and the other more recent. Scorched or cracked single frames and short runs were scattered about.

One of the cracked panes in his drab childhood broke apart and fell. A nearby one darkened and splintered moments later. The floor in this area looked uneven, marking damage to a deeper level of his mind.

Although the male patient’s condition would slowly decline, Calla could afford to leave him for now and come back later, provided she didn’t wait too long. From the other bed, the pain and instability in the woman’s mind demanded more immediate attention. Calla hated to leave her current patient, but the woman’s physical and mental injuries might compound each other.

With a promise to return, Calla pulled away from the young man and spun one hundred eighty degrees to the other victim.

There are other levels of the mind. If you want to check out how Calla sees them, you’ll have to read the tale.

Your next prompt: N is for Jitters

On Hugos and Nebulas, Part 15: Dialects and Accents

In my writing adventures, I often play around with accents (pronunciation differences) and dialects (changes in word choice or cadence). Most of my stories have one or more characters with some kind of weird speech quirk. I’ve even written a couple with accented narration. The tricky bit is getting that to appear on paper to match what I hear in my head.

While reading the 10 Hugos and Nebulas for a challenge, I was surprised to find that very few of them had dialects or accents. Does that mean that we should not write with accents?

No, but you do need to be careful with them. This is one of those cases where a little is good but a lot won’t be better.

When I’m writing a rough draft, I’ll write the accented character exactly as I hear him in my head. This usually results in an accent or dialect that is far too dense, and I have to tone it back. I often use feedback from beta readers to help me determine if my accent is a little too stiff. Reading it aloud can help in some cases, too, particularly if you’re totally making up the accent instead of copying a common one.

Here’s an example from Remnant in the Stars. This is an early version of that scene, after I had already toned down the accent once. Sora is speaking to Derek about an event that happened years ago. The rules I decided on for his accent were these: no pronouns, no To Be verbs, no contractions, and no past or future tenses.

“Derek needs to understand that Sora’s condition resembles nothing like normal. Sora’s parents served on a scout ship run by the Hadesha Household. Sora ages fifty years by the time the scout ship finds Earth. Normally, little ones remain with the fleet, but Sora’s telepathy develops at the time of the event. Sora’s parents bring Sora on the scout when the fleet reads Earth on the scanners. League mechs shoot down the scout. The League and Coalition fight over the wreckage. When the Coalition’s rescue team arrives, only two on the scout survive. One survivor sits in the room with Derek. The other dies soon after the rescue. Sora’s telepathy develops very far before the fleet catches up. When Sora’s aunt and uncle and Sora’s grandfather try to teach Sora control, Sora learns too little. Too much time goes by.”

What rule did I kick out from the first effort? No complex or compound sentences. Can you imagine someone’s dialogue being all noun-verb-object? Wow. This version’s better than the original version, but not by a whole lot. Reading it, especially out loud, was tough to do without tripping.   Here’s the published version. The final rules I decided upon were no contractions and no past or future tense verbs.

He checked that line of thought before it could devolve into harsher self-deprecation. “Derek, you need to understand that I am unusual even for my kind. My parents are part of a scout ship run by the Hadesha Household. I am a boy of fifty years when our ship finds Earth.”

“Now hold on. That’s two hundred years ago.”

He grimaced. Why did humans always round their numbers? Had they no sense of precision? “Two hundred fourteen. I am two hundred sixty-four now. Normally, little ones remain with the fleet, but my telepathy develops at this time, and parents must be near at hand to give the early instruction. Other relations, even close ones, cannot reach into those deep parts of the mind to give the correct guidance.”

Derek’s posture relaxed some, and the sense of loathing abated. “I know the first contact story. The Aolanian scout was intercepted by the League and shot down. The League and Coalition fought over the wreckage. When the Coalition’s rescue team arrived, there were two survivors, and one died later. The other was a kid. You?”

Even two hundred fourteen years, five months and twelve days later, Sora recalled waking up in an unfamiliar place with a human female watching over him. What had panicked him more? All the tubes and wires or the hard cast wrapped around his arm?

“Yes, yes. I am that child. My telepathy develops very far before the fleet catches up. When my aunt and uncle and my grandfather try to teach me control, I do not learn as much as I should. It is too late for me.”

Better, yes?

When you write an accent or dialect for a character, you need enough of it in there to provide the flavor of it, but like seasoning your dinner, you don’t want to dump in the whole jar of spices. Most of the time — because there are always exceptions — I try to pick one or two quirks and stick with those. Too many and you get a mess. Not enough and what’s there looks like a mistake.  Just be careful what you pick. In Mindstorm: Parley at Ologo, one of the alien races trills on the letter r.  Just one quirk, right? Shouldn’t be too bad, right?  Welllll… check out the original version of this dialogue.

“Don’t be rrridiculous.” Brachi rose to his full height and stalked closer to Patina. “Why would Patina rrrequest forrr you to arrrange such inapprrroprrriate quarrrterrrs when she had alrrready told us to make a place of honorrr for ourrr guests.”

I had a critique partner tell me she hated it when that guy talked because she had to slow way down to make sure she was reading it right.  That’s bad. So, I toned it back some and arrived at this version:

“Don’t be rridiculous.” Brachi rose to his full height and stalked closer to Patina. “Why would Patina ask you to set aside such inappropriate quarters when she had already told us to make a place of honor for our guests.”

*Phew* More readable now, but just enough weirdness to provide the general idea, especially as you read on and discover that he only trills the r when it’s in front of the word..

Another thing to keep an eye on is making sure the accent is consistent for a character all the way through. In Lines of Succession, I use an accent to differentiate between the nobility and peasantry in the story. Here, check this out from the published version. Baldwin, a guard who’s part of Princess Elaina’s escort, is helping her figure out a cryptic letter she received from a prophet:

When he finished [reading the letter], he started again. “This path none would go alone. If ‘e’s meanin’ a real one, the only one I c’n think of is Kalinda Rift. It’s north o’ here, and there’s a path right through themountains. And see, there’s this weird  rock at the Sonjikstani side. They call it The Needle. It’s tall and straight, and it ‘as this ‘ole at the top.”

She looked way up at him. “You actually pass through that hole?”

“Nay, Yer ‘Ighness. Far too small for a real griffin.”

“I see. Most of the rest is pretty easy.” Elaina pointed to the next few lines. “Whatever the path is, someone joins me. I fight Toshiroans and win at some expense. Then I’m Zane’s regent for some bizarre reason.”

“Could be all manner of reasons for that.”

She turned toward the north. “If we took the Rift, we’d be home by nightfall tomorrow.”

Baldwin shook his head. “Not with the slow old ‘ens we’re flying. ‘Cept my young’un, we must’ve gotten the oldest, slowest ‘ens in the ‘ole aerie. The sergeant says we been making poor time every step of the way.”

On an earlier draft, I found that his accent shifted around some as he appeared in later scenes. That happened when, after the initial accent was way too dense, I had to back up and ease up some. Here’s a second draft with the same guy in a later scene.

“What seems to be the trouble?” He beckoned Baldwin closer, and they met halfway. “Not hurt, are we?”

Baldwin shook his head. “No, Yo’ Grace. Jus’ a rough turn o’ events is all.”

Uncle Grady scowled. “Speak plainly, man.”

“Fo’give me, Yo’ Grace.” Baldwin cast a glance at Oswald. “Master Aquilane, he–”

Michael twisted around and stared hard at Oswald. “Me and Baldwin made a fort, and Oswald rode his horse right through it!”

Uncle Grady’s scowl grew. “You weren’t in it, were you?”

“No, Yo’ Grace. When I saw wha’ Master Aquilane’s meant t’ be doin’, ‘Is ‘Ighness and I hid b’hind a tree.”

Notice how it doesn’t quite match?  To deal with this, I went through the manuscript and every time Baldwin opened his mouth and spewed forth words, I copied them into another document so I had all his dialogue in one place without extraneous verbiage to distract me. After deciding what quirks I wanted in his speech, I went through the entire pile of his lines and made them all match that standard. Now he sounds consistent throughout.

Dialects and accents are fun to play with in writing, but remember one key thing to their usage: Clarity must triumph over authenticity.  No matter how cool or realistic the accent is, anything that ejects your reader from the story or makes them slow down to figure out what in the universe you’re trying to do … is bad. You want the reader to sit down with the intention of reading a chapter or two and look up to find a few hours have gone by because they were so engrossed in what you wrote. That won’t happen if you make it hard for them.