Shattered: Part One

JANA

The universe doesn’t always warn you when your time is up. If it did, though, would anyone listen? Do things differently? Make different choices?

I am Jana, an Empath. Bonded since birth to my Empath brother, our minds work in unison. But as often as not, we are at odds with one another in our struggle to be separate but together.

I emerged from the overgrown brush beneath the trees and into a small clearing. The mid-morning sun sparked on dust motes scattered through the air. A grasshopper flew sharply away at my approach. At the center of the open space, I stopped. The new fruit on the trees behind me lent a sweet aroma to the air. I closed my eyes and turned my attention on my brother.

All the way out here, Marcel’s anxiety was like a swarm of bees in my head. Indeed, the whole of the campus was humming with the news from the war front. As I stood still, just breathing, I focused all my energy on my brother.

Marcel.”

I spoke his name aloud as if I stood before him and not on the other side of the compound. It had little effect. His anxious pacing continued unabated. I could feel it rising in me as well, the need to move, to do something. It’s what had driven me here in the first place. If I didn’t gain some control of this, and soon, his anxiety would swallow us both.

Frustrated, I let go the way Marcel never could. I screamed at the morning sun, as loud and as long as I could manage. In the near silence that followed my outburst, an unseen eagle cried out as if in sympathy.

Pointing my body toward the north where the White River flowed out of the foothills, I drew my sword. Slowly at first, then increasing my speed with each rotation, I went through the forms Master Chen had taught me. Again and again I completed each motion, letting my body work while my mind remained focused on Marcel. I pushed him as hard as I pushed my body.

Marcel’s pacing slowed and finally stopped. He pushed back against my mind. The reports from the war front had him agitated, leaving my mind in chaos as well. On days like this, my connection with my brother was almost more than I could stand.

Enough, Marcel.’ I pushed the words along the bond, the way we’d communicated for as long as I could remember. ‘It’s time to stop.’

I let the sword drop from my hand in frustration. I leaned over, hands resting on my knees as I gulped in air. Sweat ran from my face and dripped onto the blade at my feet. The blade glinted dully in the sunlight. It was in need of cleaning. The idle thought was swept from my mind by another, and another. Marcel’s mind was never still.

With a sigh, I stood to my full height, taking in a deep breath as I did so. I brought my arms together in front of me, one hand poised over the other as if I held a small ball. I let go my breath in a long exhale.

I stood that way for several moments, breathing in and out. I focused on calm, sending it outward to Marcel.

At last my mind found some measure of peace, and I began to move through the meditative forms I’d learned long ago. I closed my eyes, breathing in and out as I moved in rhythm with the earth. I let the wind direct my body as I focused only on the peace of the hilltop.

Move, inhale, step, exhale. Turn, and start again.

I was so focused on Marcel, on trying to calm the chaos he lived in, I didn’t notice right away I that I was no longer alone.

Here you are.”

I opened my eyes at Andreú’s words, hiding my startled response.

What are you doing here?” I asked.

Andreú pulled me into an embrace, spinning me around in circles. His joy was infectious and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

Put me down!”

He stopped spinning and let my feet back down to the ground, but didn’t release me.

I’ve been looking all over for you.”

That was a waste of your time. You should have known I’d be out here.”

And I would know that, of course, because certainly you’re not supposed to be in Elder Harlan’s philosophy lecture right now.”

Ugh! That man is insufferable. I don’t know why he insists we continue to sit through his boring lectures when we should be learning something far more practical. What with the war going on.

Right.” Andreú looked down at me, his eyes twinkling with mischief. “Then, of course I should have known you would be beating up some poor lout on the training yard. Because what is more practical than that?”

Andreú!” I slapped at his shoulder, trying to push myself away, but he held me even tighter. “I don’t beat anyone up.”

Of course not. Still, you were not there.”

Master Chen has his hands full with all the new recruits. I wouldn’t be able to get a real workout. And I didn’t feel much like getting beat up myself by a bunch of clumsy farm boys with sticks.”

Fair enough.” Andreú pulled me down to sit on the ground beside the tree, keeping his arm wrapped around my shoulders almost as if he feared I might flee. “But then I should have known by your absence at the yard that you would naturally be with Marcel.”

I’m not my brother’s keeper, Andreú.”

Aren’t you?”

That’s not fair. I look out for him, is all.”

He’s a grown man, Jana.”

I know that—.”

Shh.” Andreú put a finger on my lips to forestall my words. “I’m sorry. Let’s not fight.”

When I would have protested further, he leaned in close and kissed me. I had come to like these stolen kisses perhaps more than I should. But I let it continue. And didn’t resist when he pulled me onto his lap so that I straddled his legs with mine, knowing he did it deliberately.

Andreú pulled away first. When he did, he kept his hands on my face, leaving me nowhere to look but at him. His eyes held passion, and I could see he very much wanted to continue our little kissing game. As much as I did. But when I leaned in to do just that, his hands held me back.

When I looked back into his eyes, I noticed something I had missed. Besides the physical hunger was something deeper, a more intense longing. Almost a desperation.

What is it?” I asked, suddenly worried about his answer. Andreú dropped his hands from my face, moving them instead to wrap around behind my lower back. I felt a sudden, unexplainable urge to flee from him. But his arms held me in place. “Andreú?”

Jana, you know how I feel about you.”

A sensation akin to worms wriggling inside my chest made me squirm on his lap, trying to pull away. I knew now where he was going with this, and I simply couldn’t sit still and let it happen. Not again.

And I know you care for me too,” he continued in a rush of words. “Would you stop?” His hands shifted to my hips, trying to keep me still.

Andreú, please don’t do this.”

No, Jana. I will do this. Marry me. I love you.”

The words had been spoken. I quit fighting against him as the worms became instead a block of ice. I couldn’t breathe. Didn’t dare meet his gaze. I couldn’t bear to witness his pain when I refused him again.

Nothing has changed, Andreú.” I didn’t dare speak above a whisper for fear I would choke and begin to cry.

But don’t you see? Everything has changed.”

What? What has changed?”

The war, Jana.”

The war!” I said in disgust. I pushed away from him, but moved only so far as to settle on back on his knees. “Is that all anyone can talk about?”

It’s worse than they’re telling us. They will send us all out.”

Send us? To war? What are you talking about? We’re all that’s left here. They can’t send everyone.”

If we don’t go there, the war will come to us. It’s only a matter of time.”

When I’d pushed away, Andreú’s hands had remained, resting lightly on my knees. He moved them away now, rubbing his face before dropping them into his lap. He looked away too, so that he no longer held my gaze. I could see the tension in his jawline. I wanted to reach out to him, to touch his face and somehow soften the hardness that I saw there. But fear for my brother held me back.

Marcel can’t go to war. It would destroy him.”

He’s a capable Empath. You need to give him room to do what he’s capable of. He’s your brother, Jana, not—.”

Yes, my brother. And he needs me.”

He’s a grown man. Why do still protect him? Why does he need you so badly you can’t find your own happiness?”

You don’t understand. Marcel is different. He can’t… He’s not…” I fumbled for the right words and failed. “He is not like you, Andreú. He’s different.” My words sounded harsh even in my own ears. “I’m the only one who can help him.”

Then help me understand.”

I stared back at him, trying to read what I saw in his eyes. All I saw was pain. I pushed to my feet and stepped away. I needed the space as I tried to rein in my wild thoughts and emotions. I turned my back on Andreú, looking up the river toward the hills. It was hard to believe that war and death and ugliness waited just beyond this peaceful scene.

Marcel had picked up on my distress despite how I’d tried to keep it from him. He was pacing again. I needed to end this. Quickly. Before things got out of control once more. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly before turning back toward Andreú.

You and my brother were friends once,” I said. “I just wish it could be that way again.”

I’ve tried, Jana,” he said with a weary voice. “He hates me.”

He doesn’t hate you, Andreú. He’s afraid…”

Afraid? Of what?”

Of what you mean to me.”

And do I? Mean something to you?”

How can you even ask that? You know you do.”

Do I?” Andreú clambered to his feet and held his hands out to me, but I refused to take them. He stood an arm’s length away, his gaze holding mine with an intensity I found difficult to return. “How can I know that, Jana? You’ve never said anything.”

I always thought there’d be more time.” I looked away, unable to hold his gaze any longer. I even went so far as to turn my back and walk a few steps away. He was quiet for so long, I nearly turned back to be sure he was still there.

There is no more time, Jana. The war, it’s coming.”

I didn’t turn around. I wasn’t ready to let him see the emotions I knew were plain on my face. After a few moments of silence, Andreú came and stood beside me. Together we stared down into the valley. The sun was now high in the sky.

From below came the sound of bells. We stood together, our hands not quite touching. His body sagged, and I could hear the resignation in his voice.

It begins,” he said. “We’re already too late.”

__

©2016 T. A. Hampton
Part 2, coming soon

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Chasing a Dream: A Year in Review

My little baby blog is closing in on a year. Where has the time gone?

I started this blog for two reasons. One, to begin building a platform for promoting my writing. Eventually. The second reason, and perhaps the most important reason, is to practice and hopefully improve my writing. Becoming a writer has long been a dream of mine, and in starting this blog I made the decision to pursue that dream more aggressively.

I began with a confession of my fears and insecurities. Writing in itself is not a scary endeavor but being a writer is terrifying. Being a writer means sharing one’s soul with the world. It means opening up one’s most vulnerable places to a harsh, cruel world.

Why would I choose to do this? I write because the words call to me. I write for those moments when everything suddenly becomes clear and a story comes to life. I write because those most vulnerable moments can also be the most exciting.

I’m still trying to determine in which direction to take this blog. My focus has been on becoming a better writer. As such, I’ve tried to pursue the things I’m told are what it takes to succeed as a writer. The top things that I need to do is to write and read. So that is what I chose as the focus for my blog. Writing and reading. In a nutshell, it was to be a blog celebrating words.

As I worked to find things to write about I stumbled across this reading challenge. This became the perfect opportunity to begin writing book reviews. With twelve books, it gave me something of a plan for the entire year, the goal being to post a new review each month. I discovered authors I’d never read before, like Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch. And authors I’ve long wanted to read, like Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I’m down to the last two books on the list now, and I’m going to need a new challenge for 2017. Any suggestions?

Through the year, there have been times when finding time to read has become challenging. Particularly during the months when there is a NaNoWriMo event going on. In April and July I was participating in Camp NaNoWriMo. I had some fun sharing bits of what I was working on during those months.

In April I worked on my middle grade novels, The Silver Compass Adventures. I felt like these posts were well received. I’m excited to see more progress on these as well as the sister series, The Golden Locket Adventures. They have been a lot of fun to research, plan and write.

I launched a new project in July, a series of short stories based out of novel world I’m already working on. My goal was to use these stories to explore questions raised in writing the novel. Back stories, histories, legends and the like that would both build on and enhance the novel itself.

I made a promise to my readers that I would publish one of these stories. Since July I have been working to perfect this story into something I could share with you. The process has taken longer than I had hoped, but it is still moving forward. I’ve shared the story with some beta readers, and I received some very insightful feedback on how I might improve it. I am aggressively rewriting this story, and plan to have it ready for publication very soon.

I have also tried my hand at writing about the writing process itself. These posts have been the most difficult for me. I’m still new at this business, and I don’t feel like I have much to offer that hasn’t already been said a thousand times. My favorite of this type of post was where I compared writing to another favorite past time of mine, baking cheesecakes. It was a fun, playful post that I think has brought me closer to my true voice.

While I work on trying to figure out this blogging adventure, a couple of months ago I began responding to the WordPress daily prompts with this post about motherhood. Some days I have nothing to say about the chosen word, other days the word surprises me in where it takes me. I’ve had some fun with these posts, and they have led me to some new connections with other bloggers.

So, in the past few months my fledgling blog has seen a little growth. While I continue to have fun with it, I also continue to struggle with what to write. Finding a balance between my various writing projects and full-time life is an ongoing battle, and likely will continue to be.

What happens next? Next comes November, which is National Novel Writing Month. I will be off the grid for thirty days making the attempt to finish writing a novel. I will be eating, sleeping and breathing words. I plan to get to “the end” after far too many years working on this same novel. I intend to finish it and move on at long last to other novels, other stories.

After that comes December. Christmas. New Year. And this baby blog turns a year old. I need to decide what I’ll do with it next. Because I do plan to do more. I’ll continue reading and writing reviews. I’ll continue my research on my various projects, and I’ll share what I learn.

I’ll write about writing and reading and about life in general. My blog will grow a little more. My writing will improve. I’ll finish more of what I’ve started. Every day is a choice. And today, I choose to chase my dream.

A Promise Delayed

Back in July, I made a promise to you, my readers, that I would write and share a new short story. You helped me decide which story to write first by telling me which one you most wanted to read.

I wrote the story in July. I rewrote it in August, filling in holes I’d left in the plot and working on character inconsistencies. In September, I sent the story to a handful of beta readers and anxiously awaited their input.

Now, here it is October, and I still have not shared the story with you. My promise remains unfulfilled. I assure you, however, it is merely delayed, not broken. I appreciate your patience as I learn my way through this process of writing, rewriting, reading, more rewriting, editing and ultimately publishing a story.

The process has been harder than I expected in some ways. The hardest part has been to come up with a reasonable time line and consistently work my way through it. All while trying to maintain forward momentum on my other projects as well.

Just like my short story, I am a work in progress. I’m learning as I go, and each day presents a new challenge to overcome. But I am learning, I will overcome, and next time, things will be a little easier.

I have not forgotten my promise to you. October is my birthday month. I can’t think of a better time to officially become a published fiction writer. I’m working very hard to make this story the best it can be. Shattered will be arriving soon. I promise!

In the Beginning There Was the Blank Page…

Borders are nothing more than lines on a map. They have no meaning or value except that which we give to them.

That said, what makes a border? How are they determined?

Most borders are naturally defined such as coastlines, rivers and mountain ranges. Others are completely arbitrary political devices such as the one between the United States and Canada.

My interest in this right now is that I am creating a map for my fictional world. I am creating those natural borders out of nothing by building those rivers, oceans and mountains – geological features that have to make sense. The placement of cities and fortresses, farms and villages, all have to have a reason to be where they are.

I have a general idea how I think my world should look. There’s a north and a south. There’s the western hills and the central plains. Several large cities, islands and another land across the sea.

Add to all this, there are the political boundaries. Political boundaries separate people groups. People groups have histories, cultures, religious traditions and so much more. And unlike natural boundaries, political boundaries have a way of shifting. War and conflict seem to be an inevitable part of human interaction.

World building is a difficult, time consuming process. But at the same time, it’s fascinating and exciting. It’s a process worth taking the time to do well. I’ve been spending a lot of time in this world, I may as well do it right.

Working To Completion: Celebrating a Work-in-Progress

September has been a month long celebration of my current work-in-progress through the Twitter #hashtag game, #WIPjoy. There is a prompt for each day to share a bit about the novel I’m working on. The month is over, but that doesn’t mean the celebration needs to end.

First, let me say a huge thank you to Bethany Jennings (@simmeringmind) for hosting this event. She has put together a great list of prompts that get me and other writers thinking about our current work and allows us to get excited about what others are working on. There are a lot of really exciting projects going on right now! Apparently there were over 400 writers participating in the event this month.

WIPjoy has been incredible fun, and more importantly, has renewed my excitement for this story. NaNo is approaching rapidly, and I’ve been in full-on prep mode. It can be too easy to lose sight of the fun.

In the spirit of sharing this fun, here is a compilation of my September 2016 WIPjoy lines. I hope you enjoy it. And don’t forget to check out all the amazing writers on Twitter! #WIPjoy

Intro Week
1. Tell us about your WIP!
#WIPjoy D1 – With the empire on the brink of war, it falls to Cypriano, a bard, to uncover the true enemy and restore peace to the realm.

Here’s my “official” blurb as it currently stands:

The empire is on the edge of civil war. A foreign army stands poised to invade. The Prince has been assassinated and the Princess kidnapped. It falls to Cypriano, a simple bard, to guard the realm’s most treasured secret, uncover a hidden traitor and restore peaceful rule to the realm.

2. What stage are you at with this project?
#WIPjoy D2 – My WIP is in first draft stage. It’s at 72k + about 75k that needs to be completely rewritten. I’m within 30-50k of “the end.”

You can read more about the history of this project in my post, Unfinished.

3. Describe your WIP with 5 verbs.
#WIPjoy D3 – My WIP in 5 verbs: Betray, redeem, sing, protect, restore.

Background Week – Settings and Backstories
4. What emotions do you evoke with your setting?
#WIPjoy D4 Setting is still a work in progress. Opening scenes should evoke a sense of despair & determination. #amwriting

5. Share a line with a detail about your protagonist’s past.
#WIPjoy D5

“Were we ever that innocent?” Tomas asked with a wry grin as they watched the boy play.

Innocent? Don’t you remember? By the time I was his age, I was already plotting against your grandfather.”

“Ah, right. Cypriano, the evil traitor.”

6. What does your antagonist love deeply?
#WIPjoy D6 – Duke Cyril has a deep attachment to his family heritage, to what he believes is his by birthright – power, wealth, immortality.

7. Which two characters have the most interesting history?
#WIPjoy D7 – Besides my protag: Darla, war refugee turned lady-in-waiting. And Kel, a blacksmith with a dark secret.

8. Name something experienced with each sense in your WIP.
#WIPjoy D8 Kel’s forge. Sweat glistens on thick arms. Heavy hammers clang on anvils. Coal smoke so thick in the air you can taste it.

9. Is any part of the backstory inspired by your own life?
#WIPjoy D9 – That would be a no. Unless you count reading books by Tolkein, Brooks, Williams, Jordan (and more!) as inspiration?

10. Share a line you love about a setting.
#WIPjoy D10
bard_wipjoy10-setting

Protagonist Takeover Week! (All answers must be in your character’s words!)
This week was so much fun. Both tweeting from my characters voice and reading those of other writers.

Bonus Question: Introduce your protagonist for Character Take Over Week:
#WIPjoy Bonus: Cypriano, bard. Exiled from the imperial city, he’s been living a dual life for too long. It’s time to take back his city.

11. Share a deep regret.
#WIPjoy D11 – I regret that I never told my father the truth of that night.

12. How do you really feel about a character closest to you?
#WIPjoy D12 – The boy? No, I don’t like the boy. He’s- He’s too much like his father. Good and brave, and… Well, I just don’t like him.

13. Weapon of choice?
#WIPjoy D13 – Weapon of choice? My lute. I’m a lover, not a fighter. I do keep a few daggers close at hand though.

14. How do you feel about romance?
#WIPjoy D14 – Romance? What a ridiculous question. How does one feel about breathing? Romance is just as natural and necessary.

15. How do you feel about your author?
#WIPjoy D15 Author? She killed my best friend. Forced me into this mess. Ripped away from me the only woman I’ve ever loved. Need I go on?

16. Any words for future fans of yours?
#WIPjoy 16 Future fans means I will have at least some success turning this disaster around. So, thank you. Thank you for believing in me.

17. When alone, do you make faces in the mirror? ‘Fess up.
#WIPjoy D17 – Any orator worth anything at all practices his delivery before the glass now and again.

Deep Stuff Week
18. Share a line that hints at your theme.
#WIPjoy D18 Theme is still in development. But I have this line from a recent “interview” with my character that has potential.

themequote

19. What’s one big reason you’re writing this story?
Reason #1:

mayaangelou_quote

Reason #2:

franzkafka_quote

#WIPjoy D19 – Why write this story reason 3: The character, Cypriano, came to me and won’t let me rest until I tell his story.

20. What kind of reader desperately needs this book?
#WIPjoy D20 – The reader who needs this book is the one who prefers her epic fantasy a little on the dark and roguish side.

21. What’s been your biggest challenge with this WIP?
#WIPjoy D21 – My biggest challenge with this WIP thus far has been to simply finish it! Only then will I be free to move on to the next one.

22. Represent your WIP with a single image.
This one was really hard. I spent an entire day distracted with searching for an appropriate image. I wish I could draw. Ultimately I chose to share this picture. Here is My MC, Cypriano:

cypriano_portrait
Artwork by: bisart.deviantart.com

23. What aspect of the book is the most unique?
#WIPjoy D23 – The most unique aspect of this book is that I’m writing it. No one else can tell this story the way I can.

24. Share a line that’s a fantastic example of your writing voice.
#WIPjoy D24 I don’t know if it’s fantastic, or even an example of my writing voice, but I’ll go with it.

bardvoicequote
Community Fun Week
25. If you could choose any other book to mashup with your own, which would it be?
I started to answer this prompt thus:

#WIPjoy D25 If I could absorb some of the richness and incredible detail of the #RobertJordan #WoT books into mine, that would be awesome.

I’m no where close to this level #worldbuilding, but a girl can dream.

But I ended up writing The Great Literary Mash-up instead.

26. Shout out to this WIP’s most encouraging fan!
#WIPjoy D26 My sisters are my best fans! Without them, this book would’ve fallen by the wayside long ago. @seekingredress @tlynnejohni1122

Seriously. They keep pestering me to work on this book. All the time. They get a little pushy sometimes when I get distracted with other ideas. Thank you, sisters! Oh, and get to work on your own books, would you?!

27. Does your WIP contain any inside jokes?
#WIPjoy D27 There are no deliberate inside jokes in this WIP. Though I don’t think that means it will be humorless.

28. Share a line that made someone feel FEELS.
#WIPjoy D28 It took me way to long to find the perfect line. I don’t know about perfect, but this will have to do:

bard_wipjoy28feels

29. Shout out to writer friends who inspire you.
#WIPjoy D29 Who inspires me? My local writer’s circle – they keep me pressing forward. And the amazing Twitter writing community! #amwriting

Again, I found this one harder than it should be. There are so many writers on Twitter that have shared their amazing stories. I am alternately inspired and terrified by their talent. I’m still trying to find my place in this Twitter community, and I’m hugely grateful for everyone’s support.

30. Remind us all what your WIP is about. Now everyone RT/share your favorites and state why you love them!
#WIPjoy D30 To all appearances, Cyp is an ordinary bard. Selfish, womanizer, lazy. Why then, does the fate of the empire rest on him alone?

I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey with me at least a little bit. I’m excited again about this story and my characters. I’m anxious to finish their stories.

I’m super grateful to @simmeringmind for hosting this event. And to the online writing community, thank you for your interest and support.