Thursday, 26 March 2015

Story: Stacey's World

Author's Note: What? Two posts in one week? Yes, indeedy! Don't get used to it, though. This is just an extra-special bonus story for you to enjoy, but in reality it serves as my entry into The Short Story and Flash Fiction Society's "Short Story #6". Please head on over there and tell them in the comments how much you want me to win!

On to the story. I hope you enjoy it!

“How dare you talk to Mistress Stacey that way!”

Cap'n Stacey held her arm out across Jack's chest. “Easy there, Jack,” she said. Her First Mate was loyal to a fault, but he could also be impulsive and stupid sometimes. “I'll handle this.”

Turning to the old crone, she continued, “Now, old woman, if you will just give us what we came here for, we shall be off this island, and on our way. The sword, if you please.”

The old woman threw her head back and cackled. “You mean my island, lass,” she said. “And as I told you, the price for the sword is five hundred gold pieces.”

Stacey drew her sword, and lunged towards the woman, but was stopped dead in her tracks when she heard a loud bang to her right, where Jack was standing. She spun around to see what it was, only to discover that Jack had disappeared.

The captain's face went blood red, and her fist tightened on her sword. “You old crone,” she said, “what have you done to my first mate?”

Ribbit.

Stacey looked down. Sitting there on the floor of the old crone's cave was a large bullfrog. The frog looked up at her and blinked, and the miniature cocked hat sitting on its head cocked just a little further to the left.

“Jack?” said Stacey, and her eyes went wide with incredulity. “Is that you?”

The crone cackled once more. “As I said, dearie,” she said, “this is my island, and the price for the sword is five hundred gold... oh, and that adorable little frog.”

“I don't know what you've done,” said the captain, “and I don't really want to know. We're getting the hell off this island!”

“Not so fast!” boomed a loud voice, previously unheard. “It looks as though you're now in need of a First Mate, my dear.”

As Stacey watched, it became obvious from whence this new voice came, for the sword in question began to levitate off the stone table it had been lying on. Once it had reached a suitable height, it rotated, and hung in the air, pommel facing the floor, blade pointing towards the ceiling.

This was all getting a little too strange for Stacey, and she began to back away slowly towards the open doorway to the cave.

The sword moved, so fast that it seemed to disappear, and re-appeared behind Stacey's back. She spun around to face it, and it waved menacingly at her in the air.

“That was not a suggestion. Pay the woman.”

Stacey's jaw dropped. Her hand opened and the sword she was holding fell to the floor with a clank. She turned around and removed the pouch of gold from her belt. Not even bothering to count out the money, she tossed it on the table in front of the old woman. Then she turned and moved swiftly out of the cave, with the talking, levitating sword flying closely behind her.

***

Waiting patiently on the beach beside the landing boat, Otto and Terry were casually chatting away, waiting for their captain to return. Hearing a rustle in the jungle, both sprang alert, expecting to see Stacey and her First Mate, Jack, emerge.

Stacey came rushing out of the trees, her ample bosom bouncing pleasantly up and down in her bodice. The two men stared at her, little drops of saliva beginning to form on their lips.

They were snapped out of it no more than a second later, when their captain began shouting to “Get it off me!” The two looked at each other quizzically, before they saw a disembodied sword floating behind her.

“What's this, Cap'n?” asked Otto. “And where is Jack?”

“Never you mind,” snapped their leader. “Take this sword down, now!”

Unsure how they were going to fight a sword with no wielder, Otto and Terry nonetheless drew their own swords and leapt forward. Each of them took a swing, but the disembodied sword deftly dodged both attacks. Stacy drew a knife from her belt and joined the fray, but her attacks were also easily avoided.

“Where's... your... sword?” huffed Terry.

“Lost it,” grunted the Captain, as she took another lunge towards the floating weapon.

“Mistress, please,” came a voice from the direction of the sword.

Otto and Terry immediately stopped.

“Can it talk?” asked Otto.

Stacey also stopped fighting, as she realised it would do no good. “Apparently so,” she said.

“Please,” continued the sword. “It is not my wish to hurt anyone. I only wanted to get away from the clutches of Miss Martha. She is an evil, evil woman.”

Stacey spoke up. “You seemed pretty intent on harming me back at the cave.”

“I had to put up a show,” said the sword. “If she had let you take me without payment, or without a fight, who knows what she would have done. Probably destroyed me, at the very least. She can do that, you know.”

“I see,” said Stacey. “And just what am I supposed to do with you?”

“My name is Promo,” replied the sword. “I am a very capable fighter, strategist, and tactician. And I wasn't joking when I observed that you were in need of a First Mate. If the position is available, it would be my honour.”

With that, Promo gave a deep bow by bringing his point almost level with Stacey's chest.

Stacey considered this a moment. “Very well,” she said, after a long pause. “I suppose it could be useful, having a magic sword around. And besides,” she gestured to the empty scabbard at her belt, “I seem to be short a sword, as well.”

When the unlikely group of Captain Stacey, her men Otto and Terry, and her magic sword cum First Mate Promo, were in the boat, about ready to shove off, another rustling could be heard coming from the jungle. As they looked up, they heard a voice:

“Wait for me!”

A moment later, a large ginger tabby-cat came bounding out of the trees. It did not stop running until it reached the boat, whereupon it hopped aboard.

“Oh please, mistress,” said the cat. It's mouth moved comically as it spoke, much to the surprise of Stacey and her men. But, she reasoned, if there are talking swords in this world, then a talking cat isn't very far fetched.

“Let me come with you,” continued the cat. “My name is Spice, and I've been trying to get away from old Martha for the longest time. I'll be very good, I promise.”

Stacey looked at Promo, who gave the closest approximation to a shrug that a disembodied weapon could possibly give.

“Might as well,” he said. “Martha doesn't treat her animals too well, and I shudder to think what might come of old Spice, now that I'm not around to protect him.”

Stacey sighed. “Very well,” she said, “As long as you don't make a nuisance of yourself.”

***

Over the next several days, Stacey, her First Mate Promo, and Spice the cat, sailed the Seven Seas along with their motley crew. As Spice had predicted, they heard nothing from the old witch, Martha, who never really liked her cat anyway, and was in fact quite pleased to see him go. Spice did express, with some sadness for Stacey's part, his concern for how the witch would be treating Jack, the cock hat wearing bullfrog, and Stacey's former first mate.

It didn't take long, though, for it to become apparent to Stacey why Martha hadn't minded the loss of her cat. Spice was a nuisance. Aside from lamenting Jack's likely fate, he insisted on complaining about absolutely everything.

He complained that there wasn't enough to eat. When he caught a rat, he complained that it was tough and scrawny, and not succulent and juicy like the rats he used to catch back in the jungle. When he was ignored, he complained that he was not given enough attention. When Stacey would reach down from her favourite chair to stroke Spice, he would complain that she was smothering him.

Promo suggested on more than one occasion that they throw Spice overboard, or slaughter him, and on more than one occasion, Stacey was inclined to agree with him. However, she simply could not bring herself to get rid of the wonderful talking cat.

One evening, during a terrible storm, Otto was running around the deck, shouting orders on behalf of his captain, and supervising the reefing of sails and the battening down of hatches. In his haste to run to one of the men to explain to him how to do it properly, he accidentally kicked poor old Spice, who was cowering against the mast.

The cat went flying through the air, over the edge of the ship, and into the water. Realising immediately what he had done, he raced to the railing in time to see Spice treading water in the choppy sea. Lightning flashed in the distance, and Otto didn't know what to do.

He called for the captain, who arrived just in time to see a massive whale ascend from the deep and swallow Spice whole.

***


The captain had been livid that day, but overall she was pleased at how well they had weathered the storm. That evening, she had sat in her armchair, sipping a healthy glass of rum, enjoying the silence, and quietly saying goodbye to the cat who wouldn't stop complaining.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Crossword Puzzle - February 2015 Answers

Phew! It's that time of the month again... and what a month it's been! It was my birthday last Friday, and my wife treated me to a wonderful weekend getaway, at a beautiful luxury tented camp just outside Pretoria. I didn't suspect a thing, and had an amazing weekend!

But enough about me, let's get on with the point of this post: the answers to the February 2015 crossword puzzle. How did you find it? Too difficult, or perhaps too easy? Well, if you've been waiting with bated breath for the answers, wait no more:


Answers

Across

3 Indian conference (6) powwow 
9 backbone (5) spine 
12 evil (6) unholy 
13 having muscle definition (5) toned 
14 The Isle of Death (6) Thanet 
15 old (3) eld 
16 almond (8) amygdale 
17 god of strife (3) Tyr 
19 capture (3) nab 
22 he causes consternation (8) agitator 
25 account (3) tab 
26 she died for love of Pyramus (6) Thisbe 
29 tobacco cylinder (5) cigar 
32 Gretel's brother (6) Hansel 
33 paradise in the desert (5) oasis 
34 envelop (6) engirt 

Down

1 upon (3) upo'
2 denoting an inhabitant (3) ene 
3 throwing the shot (3) put 
4 receptive for mating (6) on heat
5 a silly person (6) whally 
6 panaceas (11) wonder drugs
7 old (3) ole 
8 departing (6) wyting 
9 crazy (4) stir 
10 representing God in human form (11) incarnating 
11 writing that pushes the boundaries (4) edgy 
18 cut teeth (6) teethe 
20 tennis player Andre (6) Agassi 
21 regular drinker of wine (6) bibber 
23 folded tortilla dish (4) taco 
24 on either side of your head (4) ears 
27 Solo (3) Han 
28 Extract, Load, Transform (3) ELT 
30 Ian (3) Ian
31 aim (3) aim

30 and 31 Down were just to see if you were paying attention: the question was the answer. Did you get those?

See you next week, for the March 2015 puzzle.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Smashwords E-Books: A New Book Recommendation Site for Readers

Readers: Are you tired of book recommendation sites that focus almost exclusively on Amazon? Do you buy and read books from Smashwords?

What about book recommendations where it's clear that the authors of those books paid a premium to get their books listed, but you have no idea if they're actually any good?

I have started a new initiative to solve these problems. It's called Smashwords E-Books. Three times a week, I tweet links to great books available on Smashwords.com, from the official Smashwords E-Books Twitter Account. Once a week, I post those links, with covers and descriptions to the Smashwords E-Books blog. Then I send out an e-mail to all my subscribers with those links. This is a separate e-mail to my monthly newsletter, so even if you're already subscribed to that, you'll have to subscribe separately to the other list (click here).

The beauty of this system is that authors have no say whatsoever in what books get featured on Smashwords E-Books. Only books that I have personally read and vetted get posted there.

I make my money exclusively off of affiliate income at Smashwords, when people click on those links and buy books. If you'd also like to earn money in this way, you can, by the way. See this blog post, from back in February, for more information.

Sound like something you as a reader might be interested in? Then please, go check out the blog, and see what I've got. Then sign up for the mailing list, and finally, don't forget to follow the dedicated account on Twitter!

What do you think of this idea? Will you make use of it? Why or why not? Feel free to comment below, and let me know.

Note: The new service is not in any way endorsed by Smashwords.

To see the official press release about Smashwords E-Books, click here.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Tales from Virdura: At the Queen's Command

Author's Note: The events in this story take place immediately prior to those in APetition to Magic. If you'd like to know what happens next after reading this, then please consider purchasing a copy of that book.

Queen Tricia sat opposite her Royal Wizard Solon, in the castle dining hall. It was late afternoon, and harsh sun was streaming through the huge bay window. Solon watched motes of dust dancing in the light.

“Solon,” she said, “I am getting on in years, and Princess Celeste has come of age. The time will soon come when she will have to take over as queen of Virdura. I cannot bear the thought of the kingdom falling into ruin after I am gone, and I therefore need you to divine the future for me. Tell me, great wizard, will my darling daughter make a favourable queen?”

“Your Majesty,” replied Solon, “young Celeste is a wonderful girl, with a good head on her shoulders. I don't need a spell to tell me that she will make a fine queen, one day!”

The queen smiled, and waved her hand. “Thank you for your kind words. Just the same, I would like to be sure, so that if there are any problems, they can be addressed sooner rather than later.”

Solon sighed. “Yes, Your Highness. But you are aware of how risky magic can be, and I would never be able to forgive myself if something happened to your only daughter. So I must ask you, are you certain that you would like me to do this?”

“Yes, dear wizard, I am aware of the risks,” replied the queen. “You will just have to make sure that nothing does happen to my darling daughter. Please, retire to your tower, and don't come back until you know the truth.”

***

Solon stood in his tower, considering the strangely coloured liquids in strangely shaped receptacles. The great tome sat on his table, open to the page of the spell he was to cast. He read the first few lines from the spell, then reached up and took two full jars off the shelf, along with an empty one. Taking a deep breath, he began to chant, while slowly pouring the contents of the two jars into the third.

After thirty minutes of chanting, a sweat was beginning to break out on Solon's forehead. The concentration required of him was massive. Suddenly, he stopped. In his chanting, he had just pronounced one of the syllables of his spell incorrectly!

For a second, there was silence. Then, a scream could be heard from somewhere in the castle grounds–Solon thought it was the throne room.

Fearing the worst, he threw open the door to his tower, and stormed down the stairs towards the throne room.

***

Solon arrived in the throne room to see a group of people huddled over the throne, talking heatedly to each other. When they saw him, they parted to make way for him.

There, sitting on the throne, was Queen Tricia. Her head slumped forward, her hand lying limply over the arm rest.

Solon raced to her side, and grabbed her wrist.

“What is he doing?” muttered someone.

“Something magical,” replied another. “Let him work.”

After holding her wrist for a few seconds, Solon stepped away. His voice was breaking, and he was shaking, when he announced, “Our beloved Queen Tricia has passed on. I believe that she has suffered a heart attack.”

The crowd gasped. Some people fainted. Others began to sob and wail inconsolably, tears streaming down their cheeks.

Solon, who knew the truth, turned and slank away. Never again, he thought to himself. I will never cast another spell, as long as I live.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Do you buy books off Twitter promotions?

Okay, so it's a little more complicated than that. It's actually two questions in one:
  1. Do you follow accounts on Twitter, who do nothing but tweet links to books (their own, or other people's)?
  2. Do you actually click the links in those tweets, and buy the books?
I ask because, over the past few weeks, I've been involved in a rather heated discussion in one of the author marketing groups I belong to, about how authors (especially independent authors) use Twitter.

It seems that many of my author colleagues use Twitter in exactly the same way as I describe in question one, almost always automating those tweets, and sometimes making sure to tweet no less than once every five to seven minutes!

Personally, I don't use Twitter like that, and my first reaction was that I abhor people who do. I feel that it completely contradicts the purpose of Twitter, which in my mind is to be social, be useful, and be yourself. Obviously, as an author, I would love for people to buy and read my books, but I wouldn't have thought this strategy would be the way to get people to do that.

Some of these authors, however, have been experimenting, and many have found that when they stop tweeting in this way, sales of their books drop dramatically. It obviously works for some people, then, but personally I find it... scaly, slimy, dirty. It goes against some deep seated moral conviction in me. I unfollow people (or decline to follow them in the first place) if I look at their profile and see that the past five or so tweets have been tweets or retweets of products for sale.

On my own Twitter account, I strive to always be useful, interesting or entertaining. I do share mostly links to articles, but they're all articles that I've read myself, and which I think that my target audience (hopefully readers of my fiction) will find interesting. Of course, I post the occasional more personal tidbit, because I want people to realise that they're following a real human being and not some robot. Finally, I do tweet links to my books, and other self-promotional stuff, but I try to keep that to no more than about twenty percent of my total tweets.

I'm looking for answers from two different types of people, who use Twitter:

  1. Authors, which way do you use Twitter, what are your goals for using Twitter, and do you think it helps you achieve those goals?
  2. Readers and book lovers, which kinds of people do you prefer to follow on Twitter? Do you want people who tell you about books, and only people who tell you about books, or are you looking for an actual connection on Twitter?
I know that this blog post may make it sound like I'm biased, and it's true that I am. But I'm not looking for people who I can berate and judge, so I promise I won't be doing any of that. I'm genuinely interested in how different authors use Twitter, and how readers prefer to engage with authors on Twitter.

Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Crossword Puzzle - February 2015

Okay, everyone, it should be an easy crossword puzzle this month. There are lots of intersecting words. Feel like giving it a go?

Clues


Across

3 Indian conference (6)
9 backbone (5)
12 evil (6)
13 having muscle definition (5)
14 The Isle of Death (6)
15 old (3)
16 almond (8)
17 god of strife (3)
19 capture (3)
22 he causes consternation (8)
25 account (3)
26 she died for love of Pyramus (6)
29 tobacco cylinder (5)
32 Gretel's brother (6)
33 paradise in the desert (5)
34 envelop (6)

Down

1 upon (3)
2 denoting an inhabitant (3)
3 throwing the shot (3)
4 receptive for mating (6)
5 a silly person (6)
6 panaceas (11)
7 old; (3)
8 departing (6)
9 crazy (4)
10 representing God in human form (11)
11 writing that pushes the boundries (4)
18 cut teeth (6)
20 tennis player Andre (6)
21 regular drinker of wine (6)
23 folded tortilla dish (4)
24 on either side of your head (4)
27 Solo (3)
28 Extract, Load, Transform (3)
30 Ian (3)
31 aim (3)

So here's how it works: be the first to solve this puzzle before 24 March 2015. E-mail me your answers. If you're right, I'll mention you on this blog, along with any link you'd like me to use (such as a link to your professional website, or perhaps your Twitter account). Your name will also be mentioned in the March 2015 issue of my monthly newsletter. You'll be immortalised for all eternity!

Sound like a plan? Well, what are you waiting for? Read... steady... go!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Crossword Puzzle - January 2015 Answers

It's that time of the month already, folks. 2015 is well under way, and it feels like we were never on leave. Most people have finally stopped writing/typing 2014 in dates, and are desperately looking forward to the next public holiday (21 March, in South Africa).

So how did you get on with the January 2015 crossword puzzle? Let's take a look at the answers:

Clues

Across

1 Go in a specific direction (4) move
5 Cry feebly (4) mewl
9 Never-ending (7) eternal
11 Shaped like an egg (4) oval
12 Garment worn by Hindu women (4) sari
13 Single-celled animal (6) amoeba
14 Danish King (4) Eric
15 American equivilant of Matric Fairwell (4) prom
16 Solutions of NaOH (4) lyes
17 Roofed colonade (4) stoa
18 By means of (3) via
21 Leaves boiled in water (3) tea
23 Not stiff (4) limp
26 Horse-back game (4) polo
29 Frankenstein's assistant (4) Igor
30 Rear-opening (4) anus
31 Lunatic (6) maniac
32 Of abundant vegetation (4) lush
33 Plant used as herbal medicine (4) aloe
34 Canadian province (7) Alberta
35 Make a hissing sound (4) siss
36 Old English for "ash" (4) aesc

Down

1 Leprous (5) mesel
2 Eared seal (5) otary
3 More very (6) verier
4 Fines paid to a victim's family (5) erics
5 Nibbles (5) moops
6 Turns inside-out (5) evert
7 Type of protea (6) waboom
8 Animal, related to camel (5) llama
10 Between eggs and pupae (6) larvae
19 Greek island (6) Ithaca
20 Rwandan city (6) Kigali
22 South American parakeet (6) conure
23 Beans (5) limas
24 Monochrome pictures (5) monos
25 Inquires too inquisitively (5) pries
26 Upper bract of floret (5) palea
27 Has strong sexual desire for (5) lusts
28 Gum plant, smells of ammonia (5) oshac

See you next week, for the February 2015 puzzle!