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
Read Part Two here.

How To Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell: A Review

Prompt #1 on the 2018 Reading Challenge is a book made into a movie you’ve already seen. Most of the time I prefer read the book before I see the movie, but once in awhile I run into a movie I had no idea was based on a book. One such book-to-movie is How to Train Your Dragon, the first book in a series of twelve.

I love the movie How to Train Your Dragon. I’ve seen it several times now with my children. When I learned it was based on a book, I knew that’s what I had to read for this challenge.

Aside from featuring a boy named Hiccup and a dragon named Toothless, the book has very little in common with the movie. The story takes place in the Viking village on the island of Berk. The boys of the village are entering initiation to gain official admission into the tribe. And so begins Hiccup’s journey to becoming a “Hero the Hard Way.”

It can be disappointing when a book isn’t the same as a movie you loved. However, this book is so much fun. The story is full of great, over-the-top action. The illustrations are simple pencil sketches that are absolutely perfect. I laughed out loud while reading this book. 

Unlock the Muse – January 10, 2018

A week into the new year, and so far, I haven’t accomplished a single thing toward my goals. This past November, NaNoWriMo took a lot out of me, and I took the month of December off to recuperate a little bit. Now that January is here, it’s really time to get back to writing.

Inspire
Here’s your writing exercise to help get the words flowing this week:

When you have an idea, write it. Sure, it might hit you in the grocery store. Write yourself a note. Plan to write about the idea for half an hour that night.

I keep a notebook handy at all times for just this purpose. In my purse, by the bed, on my desk. I even have an app on my phone. For those grocery store moments.

Your challenge this week is to write down your ideas as soon as you can. Then, at your next writing session, spend at least a half hour to flesh out the idea. Explore it and see where it might take you.

Encourage
According to Walter Mosley’s This Year You Write Your Novel, in order to push through and write your novel in a year, you’ll need to let go of all restraint. Let go of all the social niceties that makes life possible (maybe not in public, though!). Don’t let guilt stand in your way either. Release the inhibitions and fear over what your grandmother, your neighbor, your ex, might think of you or your novel. Finally, don’t get caught up in trying to model your writing style on some ideal. This is your story, write it your way.

Equip
Words are the tools writers use every day. So it never hurts to learn a little bit more about the words we use. One such word-tool that’s at the heart of this weekly post is Inspiration.

According to the oxforddictionaries.com, Inspiration (n.) is defined as follows:

1. The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something creative. The quality of being inspired, especially when evident in something. A person or thing that inspires. A sudden brilliant, creative, or timely idea.

2. The drawing in of a breath; inhalation. An act of breathing in; an inhalation.

From etymonline.com:

…the word Inspiration dates back to circa 1300 and meant “immediate influence of God or a god,” especially that under which the holy books were written. It comes to us from Old French inspiracion “inhaling, breathing in. And from Latin inspirationem, noun of action from past participle of the Latin word inspirare “blow into, breathe upon.”

The sense evolution seems to be from “breathe into” to “infuse animation or influence,” thus “affect, rouse, guide or control,” especially by divine influence. Inspire (v.) in Middle English was also used to mean “breathe or put life or spirit into the human body; impart reason to a human soul.” Literal sense “act of inhaling” attested in English from the 1560s.

Go, breathe life into your novel. Inspire!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

Sun Storm, by Åsa Larsson: A Review

In Sun Storm, Rebecka Martinsson is a tax attorney in Stockholm, Sweden. She’s made good her escape from small town Kiruna, in northern Sweden. That is, until the gruesome murder of a local celebrity pulls her back in.

I chose this book for my 2018 Reading Challenge as book #5, Nordic noir. At first, I was stumped by this category. I had no idea what Nordic noir was. So I went searching, and found it’s only a fancy way of saying dark, murder mysteries set in Scandinavia.

As a tax attorney, Rebecka seems an unlikely heroine for a crime novel. But it turned out, I kind of liked her. As the story develops, the author includes little flash back scenes, Rebecka’s memories from her past that begin to tie the pieces of the story together.

The story isn’t written entirely from Rebecka’s point of view, however. There are passages from the detective, the prosecutor, and even the bad guy. Larsson has woven these perspectives into the story is such a way to drive suspense and compel the reader forward.

The language and descriptions in the story are often stunningly beautiful. I read the English edition translated by Marlaine Delargy. While I can’t speak for the original Swedish version, Delargy’s translation is wonderful. Considering the novel won Sweden’s Best First Crime Novel award, I’m confident the original is just as good.

While it was a truly beautiful and compelling book, it did feel as though the villain was revealed too early in the story. The entire scope of the evil plot wasn’t revealed all at once, but it seems to me that the suspense would have only increased by not knowing the killer’s identity quite so soon.

I would definitely recommend this book.

Unlock the Muse – January 3, 2018

It’s the first week of 2018. What are your writing goals for this year? For myself, I have three main goals. One, finish a novel. Second, to organize my research and background materials for my two middle grade series. And finally, to improve my writing.

To this last end, I’m sharing with you this new and improved weekly writing exercise. If practice makes perfect, then let’s practice.

Inspire
Welcome to 2018! To help spur you on to complete your writing goals this year, here is your first weekly writing exercise for the year:

Think about the last time you laughed so hard you cried. Who was with you? What provoked the outburst? Journal about how a good laugh can be just what you need.

Have fun with this. Savor the details and let the memory take you where it will.

Next, take it one step further. Use the imagery from your memory to write a poem, or write a laughter scene into your novel. Let your characters enjoy the same level of mirth you once did.

Encourage
I am nearly always reading a book on the craft of writing. Currently, it is This Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosley. Somehow that seems like an especially appropriate place to start at the beginning of a new year. Chapter One of this book is titled: The General Disciplines That Every Writing Needs. It opens with classic writing advice that, if you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve no doubt heard over and over again: to be a writer, you must write.

Mosley insists that you should write every day.

The first thing you have to know about writing is that is it something you must do every day.

As the basic principle of his book is to write a novel in a year’s time, this advice certainly makes sense. Though it may seem like tired, overused advice, it’s still important. The consistency of habit will allow your unconscious mind to continue to dwell on and dream about your story even while you’re not actively working on it. Habit and routine are the first keys to unlocking the muse.

So, go on. Write. Every day.

Equip
Q: What’s the big deal about passive voice?

A: Passive voice is weaker and less direct than active voice. Using active voice whenever possible will strengthen your fiction. From The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White:

The habitual use of the active voice, however, makes for forcible writing. … Many a tame sentence or description or exposition can be made lively and emphatic by substituting a transitive in the active voice for some such perfunctory expression as ‘there is’ or ‘could be heard.’

So here’s to a new year filled with successful writing! Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask! Put it in the comments below, or send your question by email here:

Unlocking the Muse – Introducing a New Weekly Inspiration & Resource for Writers

I’ve been giving a lot of thought over the last couple of months to my weekly writing prompt post. I have never been truly happy with the name Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge. It doesn’t really convey what I hope this challenge will be for myself and other writers. And the tag #WWPChallenge sounds more like some sort of wrestling event.

The purpose of these writing prompts is two-fold. First, it should be fun. Writing is hard work, but there should always be the element of fun, or it no longer feels worth doing. Second, it is to inspire ideas. Sometimes the idea well runs slow, and prompts and exercises such as these are designed to prime the pump. It may not turn into anything. Or it could be your next big thing. It might be the key you were looking for to fill a hole in your plot. It just might be the very thing you need to unlock your muse.

Therefore, I am reinventing this weekly post. It has a new name: Unlock the Muse. A new cover photo (courtesy of Pixabay). And a new format designed to inspire, encourage and equip your writing.

Inspire:
This weekly Unlock the Muse post will have three parts. First, the usual writing prompt you’ve come to expect each week. As always, this will be a random writing exercise designed to get ideas flowing and put words on the page. Whenever possible, I’ll include some ideas on how the exercise might be valuable. Writing exercises aren’t the same for everyone, but they’re only intended to be a spark.

Encourage:
The second part of the post will include either a nugget of writing inspiration from a favorite author, or a snippet of wisdom gleaned from whatever writing craft book I’m reading at the time. I’m always reading one in hopes I might learn something worthwhile from those who’ve been in the business of writing much longer than I have. Currently, I am working on This Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosley. It seems an appropriate book to start the new year.

Equip:
I’ll conclude each post with a question and answer. I invite you to ask me a writing-related question, and I will do my best to find an answer. For now, questions should be about my specific writing process or questions about grammar and language usage (English language only, please). Keep in mind, unless the question is about a specific rule of grammar, the answer will be my opinion, and should not be taken as the absolute and only right answer.

It’s your turn now. What sort of writing exercises work best for you? Who are your favorite writers and writing craft books? Do you have a question about a tricky grammar issue, or just want to know my writing process? Leave a comment below!

Or send me your question(s) by email here:

 

2018 Reading Challenge – The Year of the Woman

It’s time once again to announce my book choices for the coming year. Sometime during this past year I began looking at my TBR pile and noticed a certain disparity. More than half of my books are by men authors. Nearly all of my favorite authors are men. Now there isn’t anything wrong with this necessarily, but I thought I should try reading more women authors.

Consequently, I’ve declared 2018 to be The Year of the Woman. For my reading list then, I’ve deliberately tipped the scale in the other direction and chosen books only by women. I may or may not be able to keep to this plan, however, as many of the books I’ve been anxious to read aren’t by women.

For my 2018 reading list, I decided to go with the 2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge. I’ve run across this challenge before, but never felt I was capable of taking on a challenge of this size. Fifty books is a lot to commit to. It’s more than I ever thought I could possibly read in a year, nearly double what I set out to read in 2017.

Here then, is my 2018 Reading Challenge list:

A book made into a movie you’ve already seen – How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell
True crime – The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy The Shocking Inside Story, by Ann Rule
The next book in a series you started – City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare
A book involving a heist – Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
Nordic noir – Sun Storm, by Åsa Larsson
A novel based on a real person – Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest
A book set in a country that fascinates you – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, by Susanna Clarke
A book with a time of day in the title – The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh
A book about a villain or antihero – Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
A book about death or grief – The Deep End of the Ocean, by Jacquelyn Mitchard
A book with a female author who uses a male pseudonym – Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by James Tiptree, Jr.
A book with a LGBTQ+ protagonist – The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
A book that is also a stage play or musical – The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou or The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
A book about feminism – Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay
A book about mental health – The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
A book you borrowed or was given to you as a gift – City of Lost Souls, by Cassandra Clare
A book by two authors – Havemercy, by Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett
A book about or involving a sport – Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand
A book by a local author – A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin
A book with your favorite color in the title – Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery
A book with alliteration in the title – Wings of Wrath, by C. S. Friedman
A book about time travel – The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
A book with a weather element in the title – Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
A book set at sea – Circle of Bones, by Christine Kling
A book with an animal in the title – Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
A book set on a different planet – Valor’s Choice, by Tanya Huff
A book with song lyrics in the title – Starcrossed, by Josephine Angelini
A book about or set on Halloween – Haunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve, by Mary Pope Osborn
A book with characters who are twins – Anne of Avonlea, by L. M. Montgomery
A book mentioned in another book – To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
A book from a celebrity book club – Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts
A childhood classic you’ve never read – Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, by Judy Blume
A book that’s published in 2018 – Sightwitch, by Susan Dennard
A past Goodreads Choice Awards winner – City of Fallen Angels, by Cassandra Clare
A book set in the decade you were born – Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
A book you meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get to – Boys Should Be Boys, by Dr. Meg Meeker
A book with an ugly cover – Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
A book that involves a bookstore or library – Voices, by Ursula K. LeGuin
Favorite prompt from Popsugar 2015, 2016 or 2017 challenge: a book based on a fairytale – Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles, by J. M. Sullivan
A bestseller from the year you graduated high school – The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
A cyberpunk book – Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
A book that was being read by a stranger in a public place – City of Heavenly Fire, by Cassandra Clare, or Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor
A book tied to your ancestry – House of Day, House of Night, by Olga Tokarczuk
A book with a fruit or vegetable in the title – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg
An allegory – The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz
A book by an author with the same first or last name as you – Grace and Fury, by Tracy Banghart
A microhistory – Breaking Into the Current, by Louise Teal
A book about a problem facing society today – This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein
A book recommended by someone else taking the Popsugar Reading Challenge – The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas