Friday 22 June 2012

#FridayFlash - If I Only Had A Heart

A small black dog bounded along the grass verge towards a small wooden shack. Bushes crowded its four sides, and knee-high weeds clustered around the door. Dorothy hurried after the dog.

“Toto, what have you found there?”

The dog barked and sniffed at something just beyond the foliage. Dorothy looked at the thick bushes - sunlight glinted on metal behind the leaves. She parted the branches, and gasped. A man made entirely of metal stood before her, frozen in position. Dorothy thought the metal might be tin.

“Oh my gosh, hello? Can you hear me?” She resisted the urge to rap her knuckles on his chest.

The man’s eyes swivelled towards Dorothy. He winked once, and rolled his eyes downwards. Dorothy spotted an oil can a few feet away near the path, not far from a discarded axe. She seized the can and pumped oil between the plates that made up the man's head.

“Oh praise the stars, I sure did need that.” The man worked his jaw, gurning as he eased life back into his face.

“What happened to you?” asked Dorothy.

Dorothy poked the nozzle of the oil can into his shoulders. She worked the plunger several times, and the man wrenched his arms downwards, the joints squealing in protest. Dorothy squirted more oil. The man swung his arms back and forth, the screeching of metal on metal growing quiet as the oil worked its magic.

“I got caught in the rain. Seems water and tin don’t mix. No, no, not at all. But that's magnificent. I don't suppose you'd be able to do my legs as well? My hips are awfully stiff.” The man flexed his fingers and stared down at his legs.

Dorothy squirted more oil into his hip joints. The man tried to raise his left leg, but too much rust clogged the mechanism. Dorothy shook the can, but it sounded hollow.

“It’s so sad. You must have been stuck like that for a long time.” Dorothy peered into the oil can. Only a few drops remained – certainly not enough to get his legs working properly.

“I don’t know if it’s sad or not. I don’t have a heart, so I can’t feel.”

“You don’t have a heart? Oh that’s terrible!” Dorothy’s hand flew to her chest. She had a vague notion that the heart didn’t really control emotions, but it was a nice idea. Not to have a heart seemed awfully barbaric.

"It’s alright. I’m sure I shall find another. In fact...I think yours will do!"

The Tin Man swung a metal fist towards her chest, his fingers grasping at empty air. Dorothy squealed and leapt backwards, almost tripping over Toto. The Tin Man’s eyes glowed and his mouth curved in a demonic grin. He leered at her, taking another swing.

"But I helped you!" Dorothy backed away from the wild metal man.

"More fool you, girlie."

The Tin Man lunged towards her. Dorothy scooped her little black dog into her arms, and broke into a run. She crossed the grass in several strides and her red sequinned shoes beat out a panicked rhythm on the yellow brick road.

"You'll get tired, girlie. Don't make this hard on yourself," called the Tin Man. He clanked and rattled along the road behind her.

Dorothy ran as fast as she could, careening headlong down the road. Clutching the shivering Toto to her chest, she fought back tears. First the Scarecrow and his terrorising ways, until the ravens tore him apart, and now a metallic man was out for her heart. What kind of place was this?

A piercing screech accompanied the slowing thuds behind her. Dorothy risked a glance over her shoulder. The Tin Man fought against the rust in his knees, forcing himself forwards in uneven strides. Dorothy paused to watch him haul his right leg in front of his left just as his hips seized solid. He roared, a howl full of anger and frustration, and toppled over. The Tin Man crashed into the Yellow Brick Road face-first.

“Help me!”

“After you tried to rip out my heart?” Dorothy scowled at the Tin Man.

Hugging Toto tight, she set off at a brisk pace. The Tin Man’s apologies and pleas fell on deaf ears, and she was too far away by the time the pleas turned into savage threats. She made her way along the Road, throwing nervous glances in every direction.

In the distance, a lion roared.

Thursday 21 June 2012

[Book Review] Miles to Little Ridge

Anyone familiar with my blog will know I have a fondness for Westerns - hardly surprising, given my first published book, The Guns of Retribution, falls into the bracket of pulp Westerns. I came across the two Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles collections on Amazon (reviewed here and here), and being a big fan of Edward A. Grainger, gave them top marks. However, as much as I enjoyed reading about US Marshal Cash Laramie, I always enjoyed the stories featuring his partner, Gideon Miles, so I was rather pleased to see that in Miles to Little Ridge, he gets his own story.

Told by the exceptionally talented Heath Lowrance, Miles to Little Ridge follows the Marshal as he heads to Little Ridge to pick up a man wanted for armed robbery. While in town, he runs into a pair of fairly inept outlaws - unfortunately for Miles, one of them quite literally has an axe to grind after Miles shot one of his party in a bank raid gone wrong. The story follows Miles' attempts to do his job, while hampered by a ill-thought-out plan for revenge.

I can honestly say I loved this story. Lowrance's writing is sharp and vivid, and I actually read the novella in one sitting. The action flows smoothly and 'plays out' like a mental movie, while the dialogue is very crisp and feels authentic. It's wonderful to see more of Gideon Miles, and with any luck, we'll read more stories about him in the future. It's certainly a bold movie to explore the racial tensions surrounding a black man in a position of authority, and it lends the series a slightly more serious air.

For anyone who's enjoyed the two Cash Laramie volumes, Miles to Little Ridge is the perfect accompaniment to 'flesh out' Gideon's character, but for those who want a quick pick-me-up, you would do well to try it out. Plus, at $1.18 / 77p, what do you really have to lose? Available from Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Five blunt pencils out of five!

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Guest Post - Nerine Dorman

I like to promote authors whose work I enjoy, and it's even better when I can get them to talk about it, so it's with great pleasure that I throw open the doors of the Blunt Pencil to my very dear friend, and exceptionally talented author, Nerine Dorman. She's currently promoting her latest release, Inkarna, which I reviewed here, and here she is to tell you more about it...

Inkarna - in Nerine Dorman's words...

Your House is your Home

It’s a bit of a dog-eat-dog world for my Inkarna—a race of reincarnating body-thieving magicians who are often in conflict with different cabals among their kind. That’s why there’s safety in numbers, and it’s rare that one will find lone Inkarna in the material world, as well as in their conception of the afterlife, or Tuat, as it is known.

They have existed since Pre-Dynastic times in ancient Egypt and, over the eons, strive for mastery in their society where it’s quite possible to make oneself eternal, implacable enemies.

It’s often said: keep your friends close and your enemies closer, which is true for my Inkarna. Rivalries that span centuries are bitter, and those who would seize immortality do so at a price which is often higher than anticipated. So, while my Inkarna will cluster in Houses that have a particular focus in their work, the internecine squabbling can have more devastating effects on individuals than the conflict arising between the Houses.

Inkarna the novel is the story of a woman—and a man—or rather a person who learns to make do with the limited resources at hand. Despite every setback, the Inkarna that is Lizzie/Ash fights hard to stay true to House Adamastor, a small grouping of Inkarna who have remained in hiding at the very tip of Africa for centuries.

What Lizzie/Ash doesn’t know is that her House has been protecting a dangerous secret—hence the reason why House Adamastor has remained under the magical radar for so long. All that changes when circumstances surrounding Lizzie’s return go horribly wrong.

How does it work? The Inkarna have means to keep watch over the world of the living, and when they detect a person who is about to go through a near-death experience, they summon the energy to punch through one of their own to displace the target’s soul. The Inkarna take over the body and the departed sinks into the primordial chaos that is the Sea of Nun. I agree that what they do is not very nice, and it’s often that the Inkarna will justify their actions by stating that the individual whose body they have stolen would have died anyway.

While House Adamastor’s Inkarna are considered “immortal librarians” by the others; their specialities lie in information-gathering and sneaking about. The other Houses have far more sinister powers.

What’s eternity without an overambitious enemy? House Montu (named for the falcon-headed Egyptian god of war) seems set to take over the world, with fingers in many pies but mostly involved with the production of arms and the support of warfare. To put it mildly, they kick ass in combat, as Lizzie/Ash soon discovers.

Other houses that are mentioned, but not featured, include House Alba, Malkuth and Thanatos. This is where it gets fun for future instalments. Alba are British imperialists who trace their origins to the time of King Arthur. Malkuth are concerned with worldly matters and business, and messing around with politicians. Thanatos are possibly the ones I’ll play with next. They’re necromancers and I’ll leave it up to your imagination for now when it comes to some of the activities they engage in.

So, if vampires, angels and ghosts have outstayed their welcome on your bookshelves, and you’re looking for a fresh supernatural departure, I offer you my Inkarna. Even better, I don’t think I’ll be running out of stories anytime soon. And yes, I do plan to follow up with more instalments.

Bio: An editor and multi-published author, Nerine Dorman currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa, with her visual artist husband. Some of the publishers with whom she works include Lyrical Press, Dark Continents Publishing and eKhaya (an imprint of Random House Struik). She has been involved in the media industry for more than a decade, with a background in magazine and newspaper publishing, commercial fiction, and print production management within a below-the-line marketing environment. Her book reviews, as well as travel, entertainment and lifestyle editorial regularly appear in national newspapers. A few of her interests include music travel, history (with emphasis on Egypt), psychology, philosophy, magic and the natural world.

Follow Nerine on Twitter @nerinedorman, like her Facebook author page, visit her blog, or see her website.
Buy Inkarna in print here.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

#15Habits - Latest Update

Latest update on my progress following Jeff Goins' 15 Habits for Great Writers series. You can find my previous update here.

Day Seven (Wednesday) was all about "starting ugly". This is no great mystery for anyone who's written for a while - in other words, your first draft will always suck. It almost has to - there's no way that the words can get from your head to the page and be perfect first time. Now, I disagree with the sentiment to MAKE it ugly first - why would you purposefully make it bad just to improve it later? No, I think it's far more useful to simply do it, and be aware of the fact that it's going to need work, and then work on it when you're done. The challenge was to "make something ugly" but as I'm already writing a first draft, I figured I'd just keep working on that. If you read my last update post, you'll see a pattern emerging.

Day Eight (Thursday) was all about building, with the idea being that it's all very well starting something, but you have to finish it in order for it to mean anything. Therefore the exercise of the day was to finish something - an essay, a book, pretty much anything outstanding. Unfortunately my day was way too hectic to even get to my emails so I didn't read it until the day after, so I decided to make sure I finished a clutch of blog posts that I've started.

Day Nine (Friday) was about connecting. Jeff wanted people to go looking for potential fans, friends and patrons, but networking is already a fairly large part of my writing life, so I figured I'd just focus on those connections I already have - it's just as important to maintain the connections you have. I like talking to people on my Twitter list and finding out how their day went, even if they never buy one of my books. If I like them, I want to talk to them - and that's the thing. These are people I connect with, NOT fans. I cannot stand writers who refer to their followers or friends as 'fans'. Don't be so presumptuous.

Day Ten (Monday) was Share. Jeff counselled everyone to share their platforms - as it happens, I regularly retweet blog posts, or share them using my platforms, and I like using my blog to post book reviews and guest posts. As it happens, last Wednesday saw my review of Nerine Dorman's Inkarna, and tomorrow will be her guest post about the book! Sharing is an integral part to creativity anyway and it makes sense that it would also help promotion. After all, I can tell you about my book but wouldn't you rather hear from someone else who enjoyed it?

Day Eleven (Today) was Declutter, and Jeff advised that people both tidy their spaces where they work, and ditch the unnecessary crap from their writing. Um, problem. I don't have one place where I work - I don't have the luxury of a writing desk, or somewhere permanent to pitch camp. I either write at my desk at work over lunch, or I find a flat surface at home on which to plonk my laptop. So it's a bit difficult to tidy something I don't have. As for decluttering my writing, I work pretty hard at eliminating the fluff at the best of times - I know you're not supposed to, but I very much edit as I go, and I'm always disappointed in myself when I use an adverb or a clunky line of prose. So...yeah. Beginning to wonder how useful this series really is for me!

Monday 18 June 2012

Photo Prompt 90

New prompt available!

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The 90th prompt is Dinner Party.

Dinner at Bowes

All photo prompts are my own photography - you can find more of it on Flickr. You can also buy my prints from Deviantart. 20% of all proceeds go to charity - the other 80% go towards my PhD fees!