Saturday, April 30, 2011

#SampleSunday - A Kingdom's Cost -- Now Out On Amazon

Chapter One

Stirling, Scotland: July 1304

Bishop William de Lamberton grasped his squire by a shoulder, pushing him towards the open doors at the end of the long, high-arched hall. James twisted out of Lamberton's grasp and whirled to face him. A youth of sixteen, dark-eyed and slender as a knife, James flushed with anger.

"I won’t swear fealty to him."

Lamberton sighed. James was being unusually difficult. "Do you want your lands back? Your father's title?"

James drew himself up. "You know I do. I must have them." He shoved shaking fingers through the black tumble of his hair. "My people need me, and it's where I belong. I've sworn to get back what was stolen from my father--a sacred oath."

"Then you must bend a knee to King Edward."

The lad stared past him to a hole that gaped in the far wall of Stirling Castle, captured only two days ago by the English king. The air reeked of smoke. Overhead, beams were blackened from fire.

"They tried to surrender, and the king wouldn’t let them. He kept bombarding the castle with his siege engines, on and on." James's voice was ragged with anger. "I was in Berwick-upon-Tweed when the town was butchered, my father's page. I saw... My lord, from the walls of the castle, I saw what the English king did in the town. The thousands he put to the sword. The screams--all the night and all the next day until there was no one left to scream. They starved him to death in a dungeon. How can I swear fealty to him?"

Lamberton grabbed the lad's shoulders and gave him a shake. "You can because you must."

James' dark cheeks flamed red. "I can't. I want what they stole, but I can't." He tried to jerk free but Lamberton clamped his hands on James's shoulders with a jerk.

Never since returning from France where his father had hidden him had James defied Lamberton. But always underneath his obedience, James had a flame that burned, barely tamped down.

Lamberton gave James another shake. "You’re going to obey me." By the cross, he understood the lad's anger, but against the stakes of freeing Scotland, he couldn't let that sway him. James having the power of his father's barony would be too useful not to try for.

His whole body stiff and his wide mouth pressed into a grim line, James stared into the shadows before he bowed his head. "I'll do it, my lord, but only because you command me." But his voice was stiff with protest.

"Then let us get this finished and behind us."

Lamberton released him, trusting him to follow through the wide double-doors of the great hall. The noise of men's voices and the color of their fine robes filled the room. Liveried servants hurried to place platters of food on the table that stretched the length of the hall. Under the stench of smoke, a scent of roast venison and onions drifted on the air. Around the table clustered men cutting dripping slices from a haunch of meat.

At one end of the room, dressed in a rich velvet tunic with a leopard sewn in rubies on the front, King Edward Longshanks sat in a massive, high-backed chair. Nearby, Sir Robert de Clifford stood, still in dark armor, talking to the sharp-featured young Aymer Valence, Earl of Pembroke. A page poured wine into a goblet the king held. Even seated, Edward Longshanks towered over him. He was Longshanks indeed, even taller than William Wallace. Past his sixtieth year, Edward of England was as lean as a man twenty years younger, even handsome in a regal way. A short gray beard covered his cheeks and chin, framing a hawk nose, a stern mouth and piercing blue eyes. They stabbed Lamberton with a suspicious look as he bowed deeply.

The king motioned him forward. "Bishop Lamberton," he said in a voice that could carry across a battlefield, "what have you? I did not call you to my presence."

Again, Lamberton bowed. At the best, he had to work to keep the king sweet. He was sure King Edward never forgot that the hated Wallace had raised him to the bishopric of St. Andrews. "I bring you my squire who would swear fealty to you, Sire. He'll serve your grace well as he has me."

Lamberton stepped aside with another half bow to the king, since James had lagged behind him. The lad had his eyes cast stubbornly down, but that might be as well. Best the king didn't see that wild look and it made him appear humble enough even for Edward.

"Your squire, eh?"

Lamberton motioned James closer. "I ask you to grant him his inheritance as his father is dead, Sire."

"What's this inheritance he claims?"

"The lands of Douglasdale, Your Grace."

"Douglas." The king jumped up from his seat. "You dare bring me the son of that traitor?" Edward Longshanks hurled the goblet at Lamberton. It hit his chest, wine soaking his robe and splashing across his face.

In the sudden silence, Lamberton heard James gasp.

Wine dripped down Lamberton's cheeks but he dared not wipe them. "Sire, surely the sins of the father. . ."

"Silence! Douglas died in my dungeon and I am his heir." The king thrust his jaw towards Lord Robert Clifford.

"I gifted the lands to one who has served me well. No traitor shall have them."

"Surely, Sire, the son is no traitor."

The king's face empurpled with rage. "His father was always my enemy--always. A friend of the outlaw, William Wallace. I'll not have the boy. Get out. Out! Before he takes Wallace's place on the scaffold."

Lamberton bowed deep before he turned. Blaming James for his father was harsh even for King Edward. He'd forgiven men who'd been in open rebellion, but now the only choice was to get the lad out of the king's sight.

Another plan ruined, but a small one.

With a hand on James's shoulder, Lamberton urged him towards the door, the lad with a ramrod spine of indignation. No one spoke. No one else moved. Lamberton barely breathed until they reached the shattered stone rubble of the gatehouse. He took a deep breath. They'd live yet another day.

James untied Lamberton's gray palfrey. His hands shook and his lips were white, they were so tightly clenched.

For a moment, Lamberton got James's full stare, black, wide-eyed, and fuming. After a moment, he removed his gaze to scatter it over the shadowy reach of the valley.

Lamberton took the reins from his hand. "Don't take it so hard, lad. I'll find a solution." He swung into the saddle.

James gave a jerky nod. "I know you mean to, my lord." James jumped into his saddle, settled his feet in the stirrups and gathered the reins. "But I fear this I must solve for myself."

Lamberton sighed and then nodded down the rutted road towards town, its watchtowers and church spires dark against the gathering dusk. Stirling town had surrendered with no fight. Now it was full of English soldiery, but there were yet places a bishop could be secret. "I have someone to meet. After dark."


A Kingdom's Cost, only $2.99 -- Now available on Amazon and Smashwords.

To celebrate the release of A Kingdom's Cost the price of Freedom's Sword is reduced to 99 Cents through May 14! Take advantage of the low price now!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Review -- Dark Quarry by David H. Fears

Dark Quarry is the first of a series of hard-boiled mysteries featuring investigator Mike Angel by author David H. Fears. I happen to like the hard-boiled genre, so I was happy to take a look at this novel.

I must admit that I found it a bit hard to get into. The author was trying to tell too much, too soon, and he was doing a bit too much telling without letting me get into the story.

As is so often the case, the story was about a murderous woman and Mike Angel falling for her. I thought it was a bit of a problem that Angel had already started the investigation and fallen for her when the novel started. Without having gotten to know the characters at all, the reader has to believe that he would cover up her murder of her husband quite so readily. This involves piling quite a lot of backstory in the first chapter.

As I said, this makes the mystery a bit hard to get into, and while metphors and similes are traditional to the hard-boiled genre, the author also piles those on a little heavily in the first chapter. Unfortunately, I suspect a lot of readers may not get past those initial problems, because Dark Quarry is a good mystery and very well written.

Once the author slows down and relaxes into his writing, in chapter two the story starts getting interested as the author gets away from backstory and starts showing the character of Mike Angel in action. The plot took some twists that surprised me, a good thing in a mystery. The writing is solid and the pacing, after that first chapter, nice and brisk.

The dead body in Chapter one might be a little too soon, and I questioned whether Mike Angel really would have covered up for Kimbra. But in the next chapter as the author brings in more characters and you start to understand Mike more, it starts to make sense and, of course, as expected, Kimbra isn't someone he necessarily should have helped. Soon she has taken off, and so has a lot of money.

The plot, which then brings in a mobster gang known as the Purple gang, gets a lot more complicated than you would first expect with Mike convicted of murder, an escape from prison and more I'd rather you read about in the novel. I also started to like the Mike Angel character once I had time to get to know him. He had an interesting voice and background. I also enjoyed that this was set in Chicago rather than LA or the West Coast as is so typical. It had a great feel for that city and the corruption so rife there.

So while I can't say this novel is without faults, the good definitely outweighs the bad. If you're a fan of the hard-boiled genre, Dark Quarry is a fun read.

You can buy Dark Quarry on Amazon and Smashwords.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

#SampleSunday -- Prologue of A Kingdom's Cost (Second half)

When he came back, it was quiet. He didn't know where he was, except that he was lying face down in stinking mud. His hair lay in dripping, black strings across his face. He dug his fingers into the muck. In a dim way, he wondered if he should be attending his father.

He drifted off again.

No, the letter said my lord father died in a dungeon.

Nothing hurt. Shouldn't it hurt? Mayhap something had broken inside. He tried to move to find out. Dire mistake. His belly cramped and bent him like a bow. He gasped with the crushing agony of it. Holy Virgin Mary, what did he do to me?

After a long time the cramp passed, and he lay in the sunlight, too weak to do anything but pant in relief. He was too shattered to move. Thoughts drifted like blowing leaves. That he'd seen thieves die from such beatings. That mayhap he was so hurt he'd never be able to move.

He lay still in the mud as the shadows lengthened in the waning afternoon. His face felt like a pillow stuffed with lumps of coal. He managed to breathe through his mouth, his nose clogged with blood.

Ages passed.

Eventually, he lifted his head and took heart that his body didn't cramp. He wasn't getting worse.

He knew from the practice yard that the best way to deal with being knocked flat was to take your time. The daylight had dimmed as shadows crawled towards the riverbank. A breeze chilled him and he shivered. Dark was good. It would hide him. Mayhap if he moved carefully, cautiously, he could get to his feet.

He tried moving, dreading the pain. He moved his arms, his legs, tried to sit up. Couldn't do it. His muscles trembled. Lifting his head, he considered a huge chestnut tree a few feet from the riverbank. He crept across the ground, crawling, as far as the trunk and propped himself against it, panting.

He rested there for a while, hurting but alive. Increasingly, he thought he would stay that way. Strength returned, no longer a distant memory. He could stand if he tried. He grasped the rough trunk of the tree and pulled himself upright.

Tottery, he held onto a drooping branch. It wasn't so bad. He ached all over but he could move.

Limping through the dark streets, he kept to the shadows against the buildings, using the slimy walls to stay on his feet. He hid in the dark whenever anyone walked his way.

The half-moon hung high in the black velvet sky when he stood propped in the kitchen doorway of the Auberge du Grand Cerf. Heat from the roaring fire in the hearth bathed his face. The serving girl, Ysabeau, turned from the tun of wine with a full pitcher in her hand. Her mouth dropped open. "Mon dieu! Your face..."

He held up a hand.

"Madame Jehannette," she yelled for her mistress. She banged the pitcher down on a table.

He was trembling and feared he might spew all over the floor.

"Did they catch you hunting in the king's forest?"

He shook his head no and pain shot through his head. The room revolved. Legs wobbling, he leaned against the wall.

"Sit. You're about to fall over." She grabbed him around the waist and lowered him to the ground. He wanted to tell her that he'd hardly managed to get up, but the words didn't seem to come.

"Why are you bawling, girl?" Madame Jehannette stalked in, hands on her ample hips, her skirts swishing.

"He's hurt. I'll get water and a cloth." She left him propped against the whitewashed wall as she leapt to her feet and scurried away.

"Someone beat him." Madame pursed her lips. "I told you not to take up with un Écossois." She pulled a cloth from her sleeve and dropped it next to James's hand. "Don't get blood on my clean floor, boy."

"I'm sorry, Madame," he mumbled around his stiff tongue. He wiped at the crusted blood on his face.

She shook her head. "Eh, well... You've been a good boy selling me meat for the stew pot. I won't complain as long as you don't make a mess."

Ysabeau squatted beside him. She dipped a cloth in water and, pushing his hand away, stroked the wet cloth across his cheek. Her breath caught with a little sob. "Shhhh..." she said although he hadn't made a sound. He closed his eyes over gray mists that floated around him, sparkling with diamond-bright pin stars.

A warm stream ran down his chin. He wasn't sure if it was water or blood and didn't much care. Ysabeau stroked back his hair.

He would have liked to put his arms around her and rest his head on her small breasts as he had the times she'd let him lie with her. She'd said he was too young, even though she was only a little older, but he hadn't been. The memory helped. He was grateful she was there--that she would help him. He tried to tell her but what came out was her name.

Madame clicked her tongue against her teeth. "I suppose he may have a cup of wine."

Wine sizzled when Madame put a poker in the flagon to warm it. Even through his stuffed nose, he smelled the pinch of cloves she added.

"You don't want to get his blood on your gown," Ysabeau said. "Let me do it, Madame." Ysabeau pressed the cup to his lips and he took a sip. "Who did this to you? I've never known you beaten in a fight."

James shook his head and rainbows sparkled behind his eyes, red and purple and green. "It wasn't a fight. I knocked fruit off his stand. He hit me from behind." He shut his eyes to stop the sparks. "The Abbot gave me a letter. From England. That no more money would come for my schooling. The money my father sent is long since used. He said to go."

"They never even fed you proper." She made a sound in her throat. "If there was money, they never used it for you."

He wanted to tell her what else had been in the letter but his head was too muzzy. He heard Madame talking about foolish boys who knock into a merchant's stall and cause damage. That it was his own fault he was hurt, but she took the cup and was refilling it. He had to agree with her that it was his own fault. He'd run crying for his father like a bairn, not watching where he was going.

"Anyway," said Madame, "why is there no more money? Your father's a baron, no?"

"He's dead." The short sentence was all he could manage.

"Ah, your wars with the English King. That Edward! He thinks to take part of our kingdom, too."

He gave a quick nod that made the room spin. "He took everything."

"Let him stay, Madame," Ysabeau said. "He can sleep by the fire. He's strong. He'll hunt and work."

Madame shook her head. "No, there's not work for another. My Pierre and you are enough. He'd cost too much to feed, still growing the way he is."

After Ysabeau finished cleaning his face and the split in the back of his head, Madame said he could rest for an hour or two beside the hearth. What am I going to do? As he tried to decide, the kitchen faded into gray half-sleep. He ran through the forest with a brace of rabbits, dodging the French king's huntsmen. If they caught him, they'd hang him of a certainty. A shout made him open his eyes and he tried to decide if it was real.

Voices came from the other side of the kitchen. Madame saying again: No, he couldn't stay. Ysabeau worrying that the merchant who'd beaten him might be looking for him.

His face throbbed with heat. He moved his arms, stretched his legs. Stiff. Nothing was broken even though his shoulder was too sore for him to use his left arm. He could manage.

"You don't look so bad," Madame said as he walked gingerly towards them.

"Thank you for helping me." He tried to speak clearly through his swollen mouth. "I'll be on my way."

Madame smiled, pleased that he wouldn't beg. "Where will you go?"

"You're too hurt." Ysabeau looked at her mistress. "Madame, let him stay for the night."

"I'll get back to Scotland, somehow." His voice was muffled from his nose being stopped with blood. He gently felt the bridge. It was fat but seemed straight. With his hawk nose, he had to be glad. If it were crooked as well, it would be hideous.

Ysabeau looked pained, but he knew she couldn't contradict her mistress. "You don't have money for a horse--or a ship once you get to the sea."

"I can work my way. Once, I get to Scotland." He narrowed his eyes. He'd have to think about that. What then when he got back? But it was his home. The only one he had and somewhere was the king who had killed his father and stolen everything.

Madame took out her purse. She put a single coin into James's hand. "You've brought me many rabbits for the pot and that haunch of venison. And you'll fight the horrible English king." She sighed. "Ysabeau, get Pierre's old cloak. He can't take to the road without one."

Ysabeau turned and went to get it from the hallway. She sniffled, crying.

James flexed his shoulders. Every inch of him hurt, but not as badly as it would tomorrow. At least he would be on the road, and no one would know he didn't usually limp along like a beggar. He fastened the wool cloak around his shoulders. "Merci, Madame. Ysabeau, je tu reverrai un jour, je l'espère." But would he ever return? Only God knew.

Ysabeau kissed his cheek and he tried not to wince.

"Bonne chance," Madame said.

He went back out into the night. He'd work his way to the sea, but first he had to find MacAilpín. The thought that the dog might lay suffering, waiting for James to come help him was like a rock in his belly.

He'd been running blind when he'd run into the merchant's table. It took an hour of wandering in the dark to find the edge of the market where he'd been beaten. In a corner, he stumbled over the hound's body. His legs were stretched out stiff and his rough coat still sticky with blood. "Devil take them," James said through gritted teeth. "God damn them to hell."

For a long time, James squatted next to the body. His father's steward had bound up the stairs, the pup in his hands, yelling that he had something for James. Years ago... A lifetime ago...

James cradled his pounding head in his hands. He owed his father... something. Not vengeance. There wasn't enough vengeance in the world for what the English had done. But he'd at least get back what they'd stolen. Somehow, he'd do that. "I swear it," he whispered. He couldn't even begin to think how. First, he'd have to get to Scotland. A long, weary walk to Calais and then take a ship, working his way. Mayhap, he could find Bishop Lamberton, who'd been his father's friend.

James' eyes stung. He clenched his jaw and swallowed to suck back the tears. He wouldn't weep. Never again.

Please check out my historical novel, Freedom's Sword, available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Review -- Look Away Silence by Edward C Patterson

I've decided to start posting blog reviews on Fridays. I am going to review indie authors, and decided to start with a novel I own already. I was not gifted this although I may later accept novels to review. This just happens to be one of my favorites of all my indie titles.

Look Away Silence by Edward C. Patterson

I bought this novel with a lot of doubt. I had already read part of the sample and knew where it was going. I lost friends during the plague years and cried enough tears. Did I really want to read about it? But I wanted to know what happened to Martin Powers. Edward Patterson did a marvelous job of making the reader like this vulnerable young man, so I had to read it.

Look Away Silence is the story of Martin Powers who works at the men's wear counter of a large New Jersey department store. He's a bit frivolous and flighty, changing lovers not lightly but regularly. Then he meets Matthew, a Texan who steals his heart when he agrees to buy the ugliest and most expensive tie in the store as a Christmas gift. But for Martin, the real gift is Matthew.

They build a circle of friends and a life filled with travel and mutual joy. Written with acerbic, rather raunchy wit, the novel has a wonderful cast of varied supporting characters from Matthew's tough but loving parents, to lesbian friends, to Russ whose lightheartedness turns to bitterness. Their romance is sweet, but from the first, there are signs of trouble as Matthew grieves for his lover who died--apparently from a gay bashing. However, the problems go deeper than a dead lover, and Martin has to deal with Matthew's dishonesty and his own very real fears for himself.

What makes this book special isn't so much the plot as the love between Martin and Matthew and between the two of them and their respective families and friends. This love grows and changes over time as they work their way through joy and even more pain and eventually to the theme of the novel: that love is a not a Christmas gift wrapped in striped paper and a bow, but a journey of self-discovery and the courage to face loss.

I could not put the book down until I finished it. Yes, it made me cry which is something that I can say about few novels.

I recommend it highly.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Editing a Novel -- The How of the Thing

Editing, how to do it and do it effectively? That is a good question. I'll give you my opinion. I won't keep saying in every sentence that it is. Some people will disagree. That's fine. This is how I feel it should be done.

A lot of people will tell you to set aside a novel for six months or some insane (to me) amount of time so that you can look at it with "fresh eyes". Well, this doesn't work. Believe me. You will never ever have truly fresh eyes for your own work. It will always be yours. It's like saying if you haven't seen your own child for a few months, they won't be your child. Setting it aside for a short time isn't a bad idea, but don't think that will make you truly see it as though you haven't seen it before. You wrote the sucker. Let's be real here.

However, there are a few tricks that help you really see it. Assuming you write on a computer, first change your font and font size and then print it out. Just looking at it in a new medium with a new appearance helps it seem different. In fact, it helps a lot, well worth the expense of all that ink.

For the first edit, try not to worry about typos. Ok, correct them when you notice them, but there is no point in concentrating on typos that might be edited out anyway, because what you need to concentrate on first is a story-level edit.

Doing this there are several things you need to look at, and I look at them all in the same edit rather than going over the novel once for each issure.

  1. Conflict. Does at least some conflict start in the first chapter. It doesn't have to be the main conflict, but just telling a reader how cute and charming the main character is or telling their life story from first grade won't likely keep them reading. So present some problem, even a minor one. And bring in at least part of the main conflict soon. And I happen to agree with some people that even in chapters where the conflict is not the main point, the conflict should never be far away. If there is no conflict, what is the story doing? Never lose sight of your conflict.
  2. Pacing. This is a very tough one for an author to judge because you're probably interested in the most mundane things your character does, but if the story drags the reader is going to notice. Does the conflict get repetitive, for example, with the character solving very similar problems over and over? Does the same situation drag out too long? Or is it too rushed? Oh, this is hard to judge, but an author has to try to see it. (And pacing is one of the reasons I think an editor is essential)
  3. Character development. Some types of novels and genres tend towards more character development than others, but if your character doesn't change and grow in the course of your story, then you have a problem--a serious one. Many readers will forgive a lot if you have good character development. If your character doesn't develop at all, try to think of them as a real person who needs a little prodding to grow up.
  4. Point of view. Make sure it is consistent. Keep an eye out for inadvertent head-hops where you suddenly tell what someone is thinking when your PoV character couldn't possibly know.

Once you have the story level edit done, I suggest another read for a copyedit. For this, I read it out loud. That way I have to look at every word. I do this on the computer screen rather than a print copy, so I can immediately make corrections. Once again, I change font and font size to alter the appearance.

I look at this stage for inadvertently repeated words. I tend to suddenly decide to use a certain word several times in a couple of paragraphs. I look for awkward phrasing. Obviously, I look for typos and misspellings.

I don't think that editing over and over is productive use of one's time, and I know a lot of writers who do this. I suspect most authors who do this (my opinion) don't really know at what point they stop making improvements and start changing for the sake of changing something. I'm also not sure they know at what point they start editing out their own voice. Of course, I also edit as I go, so perhaps I cheat a bit. My own opinion is that after you've done the kind of edit I describe, you really need someone else to look at it for you.

Once I've done the editing I described, I send it to an editor. It is extremely difficult for an author to see everything in their own work, and I think a professional set of eyes is required. However, this kind of editing process will send you a long way along the road to a finished manuscript.


Please check out my historical novel, Freedom's Sword, available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

#SampleSunday -- Agathon's Daughter by Suzanne Tyrpak

Suzanne Tyrpak joins me today to share a sample of her upcoming historical novel, Agathon's Daughter. First, Suzanne, could you tell us a little about it?

Agathon’s Daughter is suspense set in the Golden Age of Athens at the time of Pericles. I began researching the book about seven years ago, and even traveled to Athens and Delphi, but I got side-tracked by my novel Vestal Virgin. Now I’m back to writing Agathon’s Daughter, and loving it.

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient Greece due to my love of theater and mythology. Ancient Greece is full of drama, and yet a favorite saying from that time is, “moderation in all things.” The Greeks strived for balance, and yet their drama and mythology is rife with larger-than-life conflict.

Here is an excerpt from Agathon’s Daughter which I plan to release late this year:

Chapter One

Wind swept down from the Acropolis, driving dust along the narrow lanes past sleeping houses, slipping through the bolted doors, shivering the bedchamber. Hestia drew her shawl close. On this moonless night, even the stone edifice of the House of Agathon offered no barrier against Thanatos, the winged god of death.

The oil lamp sputtered, casting shadows on the ceiling, and darkness crept across the old man’s face.

“Hestia,” he called out, clutching at the bedcovers, struggling to lift his head. “Come closer—” A rasping cough strangled his voice. He stared at her as if witnessing an apparition.

“Rest, Master,” she said.

“I have wronged you.”


Hestia dipped a cloth into a bowl of water, infused with thyme to stem fever, and mopped her master’s brow. Since the onset of his illness, the furrows in Agathon’s brow had grown more pronounced, and lines wrought by years of laughter sagged into a frown. The battle-worn face she loved so well, craggy as the hills of Athens, seemed possessed by a secret grief.

He regarded her with stark intensity. “If I should die this night—”

“Don’t speak of death.”

Groaning, he rolled onto his side. “Do you hear them howling?”


“The hounds of Hades. I hear the splash of Charon’s oars; the icy waters of the Styx lap at my feet.”

Despite the late hour, Hestia considered sending for the physician; the remedy he’d prescribed didn’t seem to be working. She headed for the doorway.

“Where are you going?”

“To get your wife.”

“No.” Agathon struggled to sit. “Don’t wake Melaina.”

Hestia turned to look at him. In truth, she felt relief. The prospect of waking Agathon’s wife held all the charm of opening Pandora’s box—except no hope lay hidden at the bottom. Only wrath. But, the feverish glitter of Agathon’s eyes made her uneasy. She walked back to the bed and touched his forehead. Heat rushed through her fingers, the pulse of life escaping him.

“You’re burning up.”

“If only I could sleep.” Agathon closed his eyes, but he looked far from peaceful.

Hestia blinked away tears.

Melaina claimed it was disrespectful for a slave to show emotion. Slaves, Melaina said, were meant to blend into the furnishings, stay hidden in corners, like a piss-pot ready to receive its master’s slops. Despite her effort, tears escaped her eyes. How could she prevent herself from crying for the one person in this world who had shown her kindness? The person who had saved her life. Pain shot through her ankle, waking the injury she’d received as an infant, and she moaned.

Agathon opened his eyes, and the soul she knew so well peered out. “Get some sleep,” he said.

“If I sleep who will care for you?”

“You’re a good girl, Hestia. Faithful, honest.”

His kind words brought more tears.

“The rains are over,” she said, attempting to compose herself. “As soon as you regain your strength we’ll visit the Acropolis, make an offering at the Pantheon.”

“Pour me some wine.”

“Perhaps you need another dose of the physician’s tonic.” Diodorus, Agathon’s son, had braved the night and gone to the physician’s house to procure the remedy.

“No more. It tastes bitter.”

“I’ll mix a little in your wine and add some honey; you won’t notice it.”

“Don’t treat me like a woman—”

She knew better than to argue.

Pain bit her ankle and, hoping to relieve it, she favored her right foot. At the sideboard, she poured wine from an earthen amphora into a drinking cup then added water and a dollop of honey—the last of the supply she and Diodorus had gathered last autumn. Soon it would be time to reopen the hives and discover if the bees had survived the winter. She glanced at her master, made certain he wasn’t watching, before reaching for the vial of tonic. She dosed the wine liberally. Limping toward the bed, she offered Agathon the cup.

“Your ankle pains you,” he said. She busied herself straightening the bedcovers. “Hestia, look at me.”

His face was blotchy, ravaged by fever. Though the physician insisted his illness wasn’t plague, the servants whispered otherwise. Day and night they lit fires and made offerings to the household gods, mumbling excuses why they couldn’t sit with him: laundry needed to be done, bread had to be baked, spring cleaning was past due. Even Melaina kept her distance. But Hestia saw no lesions, no swollen glands, no sign of plague—and yet, his condition worsened.

“Drink,” she said, “and you’ll feel better.”

“Stop fussing. Sit.”

She drew a goatskin stool close to the bed and sat, hands folded in her lap.

Agathon sipped the wine, made a sour face, then set the cup on the bedside table. He reached for her hand, small within his sturdy paw. He squeezed her fingers. “Remember the day we climbed the Hill of Nymphs?”

Not long ago, after a wet morning, she and Agathon had ventured out to wander through the sacred olive grove. Sunlight danced through rain-drenched leaves.

“I asked you what Socrates says of love.”

“And I told you you’re too young to ponder that subject.”

“Seventeen is hardly young, Master.”

“Time passes swiftly.” A frown tugged at Agathon’s mouth. He reached for the cup of wine, but didn’t drink. “According to Socrates, there are two varieties of love—the higher leads to harmony, the lower to destruction.”

“How can you tell the difference?”

“If you can answer that, my dear, you’re wiser than Socrates.” He studied her, his eyes troubled. “Can you find it in your heart to love an old warhorse like me?”

Hestia stared at her lap, unsure of what he wanted. Unsure of how to answer.

“My question upsets you.” He grabbed the cup of wine and drank. His eyes peered at her above the cup’s rim. “Give me your honest opinion—at this late hour of my life, can my soul be purified?”

“Your soul is pure. Your life has been exemplary—”


She interlocked her fingers, observing their redness, observing how the knuckles blanched. Weighing her words, she said, “I believe all souls to be eternal. Therefore, the hour can never be too late for a soul’s redemption.”

“By the gods,” he said softly, “you’re a match for any man, any philosopher—even Socrates.”

“You flatter me.”

“I speak the truth. You take after your mother, dark curls and fire in your eyes. Skin pale as alabaster—”

“My mother preferred me dead.”

“Who told you that?”

“My Mistress.”

“Melaina?” Agathon shook his head.

“She says my mother chained me to a hill—left me, as an infant, to die of exposure.”

Agathon took a gulp of wine, his hand shaking. A cough took hold, deep and guttural. He tried to hand the cup to Hestia, but the wine spilled. A crimson stain crept across the bedcover—not only wine, but blood.

Hestia removed the cup from his trembling hand and her hand trembled too. Her eyes met Agathon’s and reached into his heart. The cup slipped from her hand, crashed on the granite floor and shattered.

“You knew my mother, didn’t you?” Her gaze reached deeper, unlocking his secrets, exploring hidden chambers. “You loved her.”

“Yes.” He stared at her with stricken eyes.

“Tell me,” she said.

“Tell you what?”

She released him from her gaze.

Bending to collect pieces of the broken cup, she sorted through disparate emotions—sorrow for her master’s illness, anger at his reticence, loneliness. As she stood, she felt light-headed, as if she were falling into a dark well. Who would find her? Who would notice she had gone?

His voice came from far away, calling her back.

“I’ll get another cup,” she said.

She moved toward the sideboard, felt his eyes follow her, but in truth she was a shade. Invisible. The amphora felt slick against her palms. Her back to him, she poured tonic into the wine, added a large spoon of honey. She wanted him to sleep, wanted him to close his eyes—so she couldn’t see his heart. She needed to think.

She handed him the cup, and Agathon drank deeply, his face flushing bright red as the medicine took its course.

He wiped his mouth, settled into his cushions.

“Her name was Olympia.”

“Olympia,” Hestia said, the named forming on her tongue, swelling like a wave, crashing in her gut.

“Come closer.” Mustering his strength, Agathon twisted a ring from his little finger. Gold flashed in the oil lamp’s light, blinding Hestia, sending shivers through her soul. He pressed the ring into her palm.

She stared at the gold band, worth more than a slave could hope to earn in a lifetime, marveling at the ring’s fine workmanship—twin serpents intertwined to form a figure eight, the symbol of eternity.

“There’s an inscription.”

“To Olympia from Agathon,” Hestia read. And then a month, “Boedromion.”

“A golden day in autumn, the day of your conception.”

“How would you know—”

“Have you not guessed?”

She stared into his eyes, afraid to speak the truth she saw.

Agathon reached for her hand, but she recoiled.

The room seemed to be spinning, her thoughts and feelings churning. When she spoke, her voice came out as a whisper. “I am your—”

“My daughter.”

“And my mother?”

“Died giving birth to you. I was here, in Athens, when I received the news.” Agathon sank into the cushions.

Hestia stared at the ring, turning it over in her palm, feeling the weight of the gold, the weight of what Agathon said. Of course, she’d been abandoned, a bastard and a girl. Unwanted children were often left to die out in the elements.

“Why didn’t I die?”

“I sought you out, plucked you from your chains.”

“And kept me as your slave.”

“I couldn’t claim you as my own. Melaina—”

Her eyes met his. His face seemed to be melting, like a wax mask left out in the sun. His mouth moved, but his words were drowned in the roar of questions rushing through her mind. She wasn’t the first bastard to be born to a wealthy master, not the first child to be unclaimed. It was a common story. But she had trusted Agathon. Gorge rose to her mouth, molten rage that stung her throat. She swallowed, forcing down her anger.

“Forgive me,” he said. “Forgive an old man.”

She turned her gaze on Agathon. Blue veins lined his hands, carrying his blood. Her blood. The blood she had been denied.

“Who was she, my mother? Your slave?”

“A goddess. She belonged to no man.” Agathon sighed heavily, closed his eyes.

Hestia stared at his ravaged face and saw her own. She reached for his shoulder, shook him. “Olympia who? From where?”

He mumbled something.

The shutters clattered. The wind had ripped them open. She glanced at the high window. Clouds drifted over the moon, smothering its light.

She turned back to Agathon, knelt beside his bed. Tears streaming down her face, she pressed her cheek against his chest, listened for his heartbeat, and heard only the rattle of the shutters.


Suzanne Tyrpak's suspense novel Vestal Virgin set in ancient Rome is available for Kindle and in Paperback from Amazon.

I want to thank Suzanne for stopping by and sharing her wonderful story.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rule 4 of Writing Historical Fiction - Leave out 75% of what you've learned

Now I come to the contradictory part and my final rule for writing historical fiction.

You have to know the details; you should know them so well that you could walk down a street in your time-period and fit right in. You have to show the customs, which means you have to know them. You have to be able to tell your reader the details they need to know and use them to give the reader a feel that they're there. You have to leave out the ones that don't.

Probably 75% of what you've learned you should leave out. But how do you know you can leave it out if you don't learn it in the first place? It's rather like fantasy worldbuilding, in which most of the worldbuilding should give a feel that there is more to the world than is ever being told--because there is. There had better be more to our historical world than we're telling the reader, or the reader will sense it.

It's a difficult balancing act. I honestly know the name, weight and purpose of every piece of armor including horse armor. Occasionally, I lose the hard-fought battle to stay 'on the wagon' and not tell my reader what they are. Classic, old-fashioned weapon porn.

My editor for Freedom's Sword had to slap me not long ago for using the correct names of horse armor. Why was I doing it? Showing off really. "See what I know!" It added nothing to the story or the sense of place. It just showed that I'd done a lot of research. Well, whoop-de-f*ing-doo. That is my job. It's nothing to show off about.

The reader wants to smell the shit in the street as your character rides through, if shit there is. Hear the creak of the dray. Smell the hay. Feel the scrape of the armor as he prepares for battle. Hear the vendor in the street crying his wares. Taste the food in his mouth at the banquet or at the campfire on the road.

What we have to try to do is leave out the details that don't do any of that. And put in all of the ones that do.


Please check out my historical novel, Freedom's Sword, available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sample of A Kingdom's Cost -- Out May 1


September, 1300

"Putain de merde!"

Dazed, knocked to his knees by the merchant's blow, James Douglas leaned against the brick wall. He turned his head toward the River Seine. He might escape in that direction.

Blood ran down the back of James' neck. He grabbed the merchant's club as the man took another swing at him. "I'm no thief! It was an accident."

The barrel-chested man ripped his weapon loose from James' hand. "Look at what you did!" The merchant kicked one of the pears that had fallen from his stall.

James slid forward on his knees trying to get far enough to make a dash for the river. His old deerhound, MacAilpín, barked at the merchant's side. Snarling, he snapped at the man's leg.

"Estienne, get this dog off me." The merchant backed up a step.

The merchant's friend ran up and kicked James' hound to send it flying.

Oh, St. Bride, he's all I have left. James gathered his legs and flung himself at Estienne's knees. The man stumbled back. Across the market, MacAilpín whined. The merchant's friend clouted James on the side of the head, making his ears ring. The man kicked him in the belly. He landed flat on the stone cobbles. His head bounced with a thud.

A woman yelled that she needed to buy a melon for her mistress's dinner.

"Almost made me miss a customer, boy," the merchant said. He stomped a few feet away, grumbling. "They're in that basket. All fresh this morning."

James clenched his teeth. He rolled once toward the river. "MacAilpín, come," he called. A whine answered. Blood from the back of James' head plopped onto the cobbles.

"Where do you think you're going?" the merchant shouted. "Knocking down my fruit. Losing me money. You'll pay."

The man ran toward him. James gave himself a desperate shove against the ground. As he rolled, the merchant's foot connected with his face. Blood gushed from his nose. Across the square, his hound yelped.

"Mange du merde, pute," the merchant growled.

The ground disappeared from under James. He plunged into a dark cold as the Seine enveloped him. Rank water filled his nose and mouth. Now you've done it. He drifted off altogether.

# # #

When he came back, it was quiet. He didn't know where he was, except that he was lying face down in stinking mud. His hair lay in dripping, black strings across his face. He dug his fingers into the muck. In a dim way, he wondered if he should be attending his father.

He drifted off again.

No, the letter said my lord father died in a dungeon.

Nothing hurt. Shouldn't it hurt? Mayhap something had broken inside. He tried to move to find out. Dire mistake. His belly cramped and bent him like a bow. He gasped with the crushing agony of it. Holy Virgin Mary, what did he do to me?

After a long time the cramp passed, and he lay in the sunlight, too weak to do anything but pant in relief. He was too shattered to move. Thoughts drifted like blowing leaves. That he'd seen thieves die from such beatings. That mayhap he was so hurt he'd never be able to move.

He lay still in the mud as the shadows lengthened in the waning afternoon. His face felt like a pillow stuffed with lumps of coal. He managed to breathe through his mouth, his nose clogged with blood.

Ages passed.

Eventually, he lifted his head and took heart that his body didn't cramp. He wasn't getting worse.

He knew from the practice yard that the best way to deal with being knocked flat was to take your time. The daylight had dimmed as shadows crawled toward the riverbank. A breeze chilled him and he shivered. Dark was good. It would hide him. If he moved carefully, cautiously, he could get to his feet.

He tried, dreading the pain. He moved his arms, his legs, tried to sit up. Couldn't do it. His muscles trembled. Lifting his head, he considered a huge chestnut tree a few feet from the riverbank. He crept across the ground, crawling, as far as the trunk and propped himself against it, panting.

He rested there for a while, hurting but alive. Increasingly, he thought he would stay that way. Strength returned, no longer a distant memory. He could stand if he tried. He grasped the rough trunk of the tree and pulled himself upright.

Tottery, he held onto a drooping branch. It wasn't so bad. He ached all over, but he could move.

Limping through the dark streets, he kept to the shadows against the buildings, using the slimy walls to stay on his feet.


Please check out my historical novel, Freedom's Sword, available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Sample Sunday - Treacle and Ashes

For SampleSunday a flash story that is really just a bit of fun fluff.

Treacle and Ashes
By: J. R. Tomlin

Lavidia smoothed the skirt of her dress and checked to see if her sword showed under the folds. No, it couldn’t be seen.

Moonlight glinted through the scurrying clouds to light the pathway to the keep at the top of the hill. Trees barren of leaves creaked in a chill wind. What kind of idiot would go up to such a grim place late at night? Well, one like her--and perhaps one other. Her lips curved in a smile.

The dead leaves crunched under her feet as she wended her way up the path. The doors of the keep were weathered by decades of wind and rain. She shoved against them and they creaked their way open. The darkness formed a vault above her head.

She crossed the room to climb the three steps that led to an seat of honor, tall-backed and solemn. The place smelled of mold. The back of her neck prickled.
A flutter of wings rustled somewhere in the darkness. Motionless, she barely allowed herself to breathe. Her heart pounded. In spite of her efforts, her fingers twitched.

The hint of pressure behind her made her shiver. At last, he was here.

She turned, allowing her eyes to widen. His blond hair gleamed as he bent his head. She yelped at the prick of his teeth puncturing her skin. She felt his lips caress her neck as he sucked.

He released her, whirling to spit a mouthful of blood on the floor. “Damn it,” he shouted. “You're a paladin.” He gagged as he spit again. “That was foul. It's like treacle and ashes.”

Lavidia slid the gleaming sword out from where it was hidden under a slit in the side of her skirt and smiled. “I've been told vampires find the taste most distressing.”

He jerked his head up when she touched the point of her sword to his chest. Oh, he was handsome. His face had an ascetic touch, a bit thin and pale. He tried to draw her gaze, to catch her with those intense blue eyes.

“No, I know all about a vampire’s gaze. And I mean you no harm. I only have a little experiment to make then I'll let you go.”

A frown creased his brow. “Experiment? Cutting my heart out to see if it keeps beating, I suppose.”

“Don't be silly. This is a silver sword as I’m sure you know. Your heart would stop the second it was pierced. Besides, I have nothing so violent in mind. I'll simply let you bite me.”

“Oh, no. There’s no way I'm doing that again.”

Lavidia pressed the point of her sword against his chest. A drop of blood spotted the white of his shirt.

“It's your choice. If you won't cooperate, I'm sure I can find another vampire who will--after I do the cutting your heart out business.”

“You'd just kill me anyway. I've heard all about you vampire-hunting paladins. You have no mercy. Why would I believe you'd let me go?”

“It's true that vampire slaying is my duty, but in this case I'll swear to spare you. I'm not allowed to break such an oath--not even to a vampire.” Lavidia smiled again. “Come. It won't be so bad.”

“Easy for you to say.” He scowled, but pushed her dark hair back with one hand as he bent his head to her neck. Again, she felt his teeth pierce her skin. His lips against her made her skin tingle, and she was almost disappointed when, after about a minute, he fell writhing at her feet.

Her knees felt weak. She sat down, resting her sword across her knees.

He clutched his belly, moaning. “What have you done?”

Oh, dear. She did hope this was going to work. “That remains to be seen. I've never tried this before.”

He moaned again as his entire body shook.

She stood and bent over him to touch her hand to his forehead. It was warm and moist, and sweat ran down his face. A vampire never sweats. She nodded in satisfaction.

“I do believe it worked. You are cured of your curse. I hoped my blood was poisonous enough to vampires to destroy that part of you and return your humanity. Now there is a chance I won't have to kill every vampire I meet. Some can be saved. I’m not so blood-thirsty, you know.”

A look of despair flooded his face. “Curse? You've made me mortal. You fiend.”

“But I'm only doing my duty.”

The former vampire lurched, swaying, to his knees. “Better you had killed me.”

“It won't be so bad once you get used to it. Come along, and I'll buy you a meal in town.”

She looked the man up and down for a moment as he forced himself to his feet. His face was pallid, but he smoothed his hair back with a steady hand.

“I’m told there are vampires needing my attention in the town of Gartian. Perhaps you can aid me in hunting them.”

“There are vampires there?”

She shook her head. “Don’t even think of it. Besides, you'll enjoy being mortal again--really.”

She walked toward the doors. Halfway there, she looked back over her shoulder. She wasn’t sure what to make of the half-smile on his lips as he followed.