Home Alone . . . or Characters – Don’t Leave Home Without Them (being securely locked in an inescapable cage)

Home Alone . . . or Characters – Don’t Leave Home Without Them (being securely locked in an inescapable cage)

The Cleric scurried down the stairs and burst into the family room. “Is the Mistress here?”

“Who?” The Dragon, comfortably stretched out on the couch, glanced up from blowing smoke rings.

“The Mistress,” the Cleric repeated. She received a blank look in response.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake! The Writer.” The Cleric glared at the Dragon.

“Oh, her. Would I be on the furniture if her nibs were at home?” The Dragon puffed another smoke ring toward a tiny Calico kitten, who swatted at it ferociously.

“Oh, dear.” The Cleric bit her lower lip and wrung her hands.

“What seems to be the problem?” The kitten faded, leaving a small spray of sparks behind, and the Sorceress appeared next to the bookshelf, amid a similar cascade of sparks.

“Well, the Gypsy is hungry. He decided to cook something for himself, but he does not know how to operate the equipment in the kitchen. He said he was going to build a cook fire.”

“Oh, dear!” the Sorceress echoed the Cleric.

“Why didn’t you stop him?” the Dragon asked, staring incredulously at the Cleric.

“I tried to tell him that was not the way it is done. He would not listen. When have any of us been able to stop the Gypsy from doing something foolish?”

The Sorceress darted toward the stairs, with the Dragon and the Cleric close on her heels. As the three companions sprinted up the steps, the smoke alarm started blaring.

“What do you think you are doing?” the Sorceress demanded. Flames rose from the middle of the kitchen floor.

“I was making some dinner,” the Gypsy replied, swatting ineffectively at the flames with his cloak.

“Fire is my domain,” the Dragon reminded him, her reptilian eyes narrowed in agitation.Dragon

“Quickly, get some water,” the Sorceress instructed.

It took the Cleric and the Dragon several minutes to figure out how to operate the faucet in the kitchen sink, but the fire was soon quenched. However, black smoke continued to billow toward the smoke alarm.

“We must silence that thing!” the Cleric yelled over the sounding of the claxon.

“No problem.” The Dragon took a huge breath, inhaling the column of smoke.

“Just look at this place!” the Sorceress scolded, once the alarm had stopped.

The Gypsy hung his head. “I just wanted to cook a steak,” he mumbled, holding his arm, which was beginning to blister.

Elf facing right

“You have been burned!” the Cleric exclaimed, reaching into her pouch for her healing herbs. She hastily mumbled some prayers and administered the herbs. “Thank the goddess it was not more serious.”

 

“I just wanted to cook a steak,” the Gypsy muttered again.

Before anyone could reply, an urgent cry came from downstairs. The companions quickly raced down the steps. There, they found the Arrogant One struggling to contain a river of soap bubbles that was pouring out of the laundry room.

“What on earth have you done?” the Cleric demanded.

“I was trying to wash some garments. I have watched the Writer do it countless times. The machine looked so easy to operate!”

“You must have done something wrong!” the Sorceress exclaimed.

“No! You think so?” The Arrogant One snorted in disdain.

“Well, we need turn off the machine and find some mops,” the Cleric directed.

Before the group could start cleaning the mess, the Dwarf came running down the stairs. “All o ye better come wit me, right quick-like! There be a burglar tryin’ ta break in!”

“What? How do you know it is a burglar, Small One?” the Dragon demanded.

The Dwarf gave the Dragon a scornful look. “Well, who da ye think would be tryin’ ta break in ta the house?” he bellowed. “The milk maid?”

The six characters piled up the stairs and out the back door.Dwarf

“There he be!” The Dwarf threw an axe at a figure rounding the corner of the house. The man yelped, as the weapon missed him by mere inches.

“I’ll take care of him.” The Dragon loosed a blast of fire at the rapidly retreating figure, who screamed and redoubled his speed, racing for the safety of his gas-company truck.

* * * * *

“Honey, is that a police car in our driveway?” I asked Miles as we drove toward our house.

“It looks like it,” he replied. “along with a gas-company truck. And half the neighborhood seems to be on our front lawn. I wonder what could have happened. You don’t suppose there’s been a gas leak?”

Nope, no gas leak. But what a tale everyone had for us! My husband and I spent the rest of the afternoon convincing the cops, our neighbors, and the nice gas company meter-reader, that they never saw what they swore they saw. We were finally able to persuade them that such a fantastic occurrence must have been some form of mass hysteria. After all, there was no evidence. No axe was found on the lawn, and not a single blade of grass was singed. At length, the police officers returned to their car, looking completely bewildered and arguing over what to put in their report. The gas company employee, not entirely convinced the hair-raising incident was imagined, promised us we would be hearing from his superiors and maybe some lawyers. Our neighbors left slowly, never taking their wary eyes off us as they returned to their homes.

At last, hours after arriving home, Miles and I finally parked the car in the garage and entered the house. There was not a single character to be found anywhere, not even in the conference room, but evidence of their mishaps was everywhere.

My wonderful, kind, understanding husband went to bed, shaking his head and muttering incoherently. I imagine he was wondering why he ever married a writer.

I will be spending the evening cleaning and repairing the fire-damaged kitchen and water-logged laundry room. Then, I suppose I should write a letter of apology to the gas company. Maybe they won’t find a reason to cut off our service.

If you’d like to keep me company, feel free to stop by. I’ll leave the porch light on for you, if my characters haven’t destroyed that, too. Oh, and it would be really great if you’d bring a shop vac with you.

*Disclaimer – This blog post is a work of fiction. No structures were damaged, and no people (or characters) were harmed, or even frightened (too much), during the making of this story.

Dragon…or green-eyed monster?

Dragon…or green-eyed monster?

I walked into my office and came to an abrupt stop. I sniffed the air. What was that odor? Pew! It smelled as if someone had spent the last hour lighting matches; an acrid scent of sulfur hung heavy in the air.

I looked around, but couldn’t locate the source of the stench. I wrinkled my nose in disgust. It was too cold to open the window and air out the office. I would just have to live with it. I sat down at my computer and got to work, typing a rough draft of a story from some notes I had made earlier.

I was absorbed in my story when I slowly became aware of another presence in the room. I glance up, and saw my cleric standing there, watching me. She had a peculiar look on her face.

“What’s up?” I inquired.Elf facing right

She looked around the top ledge of my bookshelf, and started to reply. I cut her off. “I mean,” I quickly clarified, “what’s up with you? What do you want? Why are you here?”

“Oh. Oh, nothing. I just thought I would…what is the phrase you use? I thought I would just hang out here for a while.”

My eyes narrowed suspiciously. I had never known my cleric to favor modern idioms. “Okay,” I replied cautiously. “But I am a bit busy right now.”

“Okay. I will just sit here and be quiet.” Less than five seconds later, “What are you working on?”

“A story,” I snapped, as my mind lost the sentence I had been about to type.

“A story about what?”

“A story about a dragon.” Did I detect a scowl on my cleric’s face?

I sighed and tried to marshal my thoughts once more. I returned to my typing, and when I looked up a few minutes later, my cleric was gone. In her place was the half-dwarf hero of the first two books in my series.

“Long time, no see,” I greeted him. Was it my imagination, or was he wearing a scowl identical to the one I had just seen on my cleric’s face?

“Why are you writing about a dragon?”

“How did you know I was writing about a dragon? Have you been talking to the cleric?”

He ignored my question and glowered. “Well?”

“Well, I’m writing about a dragon because he…”

He?” The word sounded more like an accusation than a question. “Our dragon is female.”

I began to smell the odor of sulfur again.

“What’s going on here? Why do you care what I am writing about?”

In response, he shapeshifted into a small dragon, a small female dragon, about the size of a cocker spaniel.

I chuckled. She grew. Labrador Retriever size, then Great Dane size, then English Mastiff size. I stopped chuckling about the time she swelled to the size of a full-grown lion.

Fierce Dragon

“Okay! Stop! What’s your problem?”

“Problem?” She assumed an air of innocence, daintily inspecting her claws.

“Yes, problem. You are definitely upset about something.”

Her reptilian eyes narrowed, and she snorted a puff of acrid smoke. “Why would you think I am upset?”

I quirked an eyebrow and folded my arms over my chest. “Talk,” I demanded.

“I have nothing to say. If you want conversation, why do you not talk to your new dragon?” She sneered.

“Is that what this is all about? You’re upset because I’m writing a new story about a dragon?”

“No,” she responded with a deep growl. “I am not upset because you are writing a new story about a dragon. I am upset because you are writing a story about a new dragon.”

The lightbulb went on in my brain. How could I have missed this?

“I needed a different type of dragon for this story,” I attempted to placate her.

“Why? What is wrong with me?”

I looked at her with great affection. “There is nothing wrong with you,” I replied gently. “You are a beautiful dragon. You are noble and curious and faithful and helpful and adventurous and extremely playful. You are powerful, gentle, wise and wonderful. And you have a conscience. You are the dragon I needed to help my heroes in book two of the series. They never could have accomplished all they did without you. And the book would have been ever so dull if you were not part of it.”

She looked slightly appeased. Still, her voice held a note of petulance as she asked, “Then why do I sit within the words of that book instead of playing in your new story?”

“Because you are not right for the part, my friend. You are too noble, too experienced, too good, too playful. My new dragon does not have your knowledge, your compassion, your sense of fair-play, or your humor.”

She looked at me for a long time. It was the kind of intense stare that delves deep into one’s soul. Finally, she acquiesced. “Will I ever get to meet this humorless dragon?”

Dragon

 

I nodded. “Someday. Right now, I think you would be a good influence on him, which would be bad for my story…his story.”

Slowly, the corners of her reptilian mouth stretched into a toothy dragon smile. Gradually, she shrank back to spaniel size. “I think I’ll go find the Gypsy,” she decided. “I found a new recipe.” She winked at me, and skipped out of the room, giggling.

I sat there, shaking my head. Who knew a dragon could be jealous?

I returned to my story, and a new dragon started forming on the computer screen. He was much larger and darker and more sinister than my previous dragon, and not nearly as nice. Slowly, the corners of his reptilian mouth stretched into a toothy dragon grimace. He would never giggle. He was perfect.

Another dragon

If you like to see if the two dragons ever get together, feel free to stop by. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.

They is…

They is…

“What are you reading?”

I didn’t even jump at the voice at my elbow, in spite of the fact I had thought myself to be alone in the room. These interruptions were far too common of late, and I was becoming conditioned to them. I barely glanced up to see which of my characters was speaking.

“I’m reading about they,” I replied.

“You mean,” my arrogant elf corrected me, “you are reading about them.” He arched an eyebrow smugly.

“Nope. I meant what I said. I’m reading about they.”

The elf snickered. “And you call yourself a writer! You don’t even know proper grammar!”

“Actually, I know more than you think.”

“Of course you do.” He gave me a condescending look, and took a seat next to me at the desk. “So, who is it you are reading about?”

“I’m not reading about anyone. I’m reading about they.”

“Them,” he corrected me again.

“No, I’m not reading about them. I’m not reading about anyone. I’m reading about they.” I was getting annoyed.

“Okay,” he said with a sneer. “So what are they doing?”

“They is…”

“They are,” he corrected, his haughty voice severely grating my nerves.

“They is the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year for 2015.” I shot him a superior look, which he answered with a blank stare.

“In its 26th annual Words of the Year vote,” I read aloud from the article on the computer screen, “the American Dialect Society voted for they, used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, as the Word of the Year for 2015.”

They

Still the blank stare.

I offered an example. “Someone has been calling staff meetings without my approval, and they had better stop it.”

The arrogant one didn’t even have the grace to look guilty, as he pounced on the sentence and argued, “You mean he had better stop it.”

“I mean you had better stop it,” I retorted, skewering him with a sharp look. “But what if I wasn’t sure it was you? It might be the cleric. Rather than the cumbersome he or she had better stop it, I would simply use they in the gender-neutral singular – they had better stop it.”

“Illogical. You know it was not the cleric.”

I glared at him. “Are you being intentionally obtuse?”

“Hey, that’s my line!” he objected, jumping from the chair.

Someone behind us snickered. “Yes,” a melodious voice replied. “A line you use on me more than once in the pages of book 3.”

I expanded my glare to include the cleric as she walked into the room.

Elf

“Do you two think you can take this conversation elsewhere? I really need to do more research on they.”

“On them,” the cleric chided, gently, having missed the first part of the conversation.

The arrogant one snickered again.

“No, on they,” I insisted.

“If the pronoun is the subject of the sentence, the proper form is they; however, if you are conducting research on these people, you would use the objective form. You are conducting research on them.”

“I’m not conducting research on anyone. I’m conducting research on a word.”

The cleric stared, her brow knitted in confusion.

The arrogant one elucidated, “Some group named that word as its word of the year last year, when used as a…how did you put it? A gender-neutral singular pronoun?”

“Yes. They has long been used in informal conversation to mean a single individual when the gender of that person was unknown. It’s less awkward than saying he or she. For example, someone raided the refrigerator last night and they ate my last piece of chocolate cake. Simpler than saying he or she ate it.”

“Well, last week, you said you were on a diet. Someone was just trying to be helpful.”

“You needn’t say someone, as if you didn’t know who ate the cake,” the arrogant one snapped at the cleric.

“I was hungry,” she replied, her cheeks burning.

“The identity of the person who ate the cake isn’t the point,” I replied testily. “The use of the pronoun they is the point. It is frequently used as singular in casual conversation.”

“Okay, so they is an acceptable substitute for the phrase he or she when the gender of the person about whom you are speaking is unknown,” the arrogant one conceded. “If you already know this, why must you engage in additional research?”

“Because, in spite of its acceptance in conversational speech, the gender-neutral singular they might not be correct to use in writing. For many years, in formal speech, as well as in most writing – journalism, essays, fiction and non-fiction stories and books – the singular they has not been acceptable. Now that its use has been spotlighted by the American Dialect Society, and given some legitimacy, I have to check various style manuals to see if it can be used in writing. I need to check The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, The Associated Press Stylebook, The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, and The Chicago Manual of Style, among others, to see if any of them are accepting it.”

ChicagoManualOfStyle

“Why is that so important?” the arrogant one asked.

“A writer has to stay current on what is being accepted in areas of spelling, grammar and word usage,” I explained. “I need to know whether to use he or she, he/she, or (s)he when I am writing…or if the singular they is acceptable.”

I turned back to the computer screen. “Hmmm…here’s one. The Washington Post Style Guide now accepts the singular they.” I continued searching through various websites. “It does not appear that the Chicago Manual of Style agrees. And I can’t seem to find a definitive answer for the other major style manuals.”

“They don’t all agree?” the two elves seemed shocked.

“Nope.”

“How do you know which manual to follow?”

“It would depend on the market for which I was writing and which style manual they require their writers to use.”

“So, more research?” the cleric asked, nodding toward the computer screen.

“Yup.”

“I find it all rather confusing,” the cleric admitted. The arrogant one nodded in agreement.

“Really?” I tried to sound sympathetic. “Well, I hate see my favorite characters so confused. Why don’t the three of us forget about this research for right now, and watch something on the internet?”

I found a clip of the classic Abbott and Costello skit “Who’s on First?” and settled back to watch my characters’ heads explode.

Feel free to stop back from time to time. If anyone cares to discuss evolving grammar and style manuals, I’ll keep the porch light on for them.

Stunt double auditions coming soon

Stunt double auditions coming soon

I decided this week to share some quotes:

Aerobics: a series of strenuous exercises that help convert fats, sugars, and starches into aches, pains, and cramps. ~ Author Unknown

I have to exercise early in the morning, before my brain figures out what I am doing. ~ Daniel L. Worona

I am not overweight. I am a nutritional overachiever! ~ Anon.

There is nothing better than a good friend…except a good friend with chocolate. ~ Daniel L. Worona

The 12-step chocoholics program: never be more than 12 steps away from chocolate! ~ Daniel L. Worona

I am not overweight. I am chocolate-enriched. ~ Daniel L. Worona

Inside some of us is a thin person struggling to get out, but they can usually be sedated with a few pieces of chocolate cake. ~ Author Unknown

CHOC CAKE

Relish today. Catchup tomorrow. ~ Daniel L. Worona

STRESSED is just DESSERTS spelled backwards. ~ Daniel L. Worona

Caution: Hungry dieter…may bite if provoked. . ~ Daniel L. Worona

How can I go on a diet? The refrigerator is still full! ~ Daniel L. Worona

I gave up desserts. It was the worst twenty minutes of my life! ~ Daniel L. Worona

I keep trying to lose weight, but it keeps finding me! ~ Daniel L. Worona

Whenever I feel like exercise, I lie down until the feeling passes. ~ Robert M. Hutchins

exercise

I am pushing sixty. That is enough exercise for me. ~ Mark Twain

A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand. ~ Author Unknown

You’ve reached middle age when all you exercise is caution. ~ Unknown

I’m on a seefood diet. I see food and I eat it. ~ Unknown

I’ve been on diets before. The only thing I’ve ever lost is my mind. ~ Unknown

 
So, has anyone guessed yet who started the New Year with a diet and exercise regime? Well, while you try to figure it out, let me just stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, stand up, and go over here and gnaw on a table leg.

Oh, did I hear someone guess that yours truly is the one with a new diet and exercise regime? Ding ding ding ding ding ding! We have a winner! Let’s tell the contestant what they won! Actually, you didn’t win a thing. So there!

Yeah, sorry about that. I don’t get along with diets, and I’m allergic to exercise. I get all cranky and snarky when I overuse my muscles and deprive my taste buds. And I have found that is not very conducive to my writing. None of my characters want to be around me. Not that I blame them. I don’t want to be around me.

So, I’ve decided to take a page from the movie industry. This week, I will be holding interviews to find a stunt double for myself. Whenever it is time to exercise or graze on some rabbit food, I’ll just have my stunt double take over.

Works for me!

Feel free to stop back from time to time and see the new thinner, healthier me. Or the new thinner, healthier stunt double. One of us will be here. I’ll keep the porch light on for you.

Worldbuilding

Worldbuilding

“What are you doing?” a voice at my elbow asked.

I jumped. “Whaaa? Where did you come from?”

The elven cleric considered the question. “I believe you created me,” she stated, smiling sweetly.

I glowered at her. “I don’t mean originally. I mean right now.”

“Oh. From that place I stay when you are not writing my story.”

“Well, what are you doing here?”

“I was bored.”

I grunted and turned back to my desk.

“So, what are you doing?” she repeated, as she looked over the notes, charts, spreadsheets and maps covering every inch of my desk.

“If you must know, I am worldbuilding.”

“Worldbuilding?” Her brow wrinkled.

“Yes, worldbuilding. I am creating a setting for a story I am planning.”

Her expression did not change.

I sighed. “A story has to take place somewhere, right?” I asked.

The elf gave a tentative nod. “I suppose so. I never really thought about it.”

“Look,” I said, irritable at the interruption, “Every novel or short story is set in a specific place. Many authors of books set in the real world spend considerable time doing extensive research on locations for their stories. They may even visit the place they plan to use as the setting for their novel, to get a feel for the local history, people, and unique ‘flavor’ of a location. Authors who set their stories in the real world’s past have to research the history of the era in which they set their stories. Authors who write science fiction and fantasy may choose to place their stories in the real world, or they may choose to create a new world in which their stories take place. I am creating a new world.”

Fantasy worldbuilding

My cleric considered this, while I turned back to my desk. Just as I was becoming immersed in my work, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Now what?” I winced at the impatience in my own voice.

“If fantasy writers can set their stories in what you term the real world, why did you choose to create a new world for your stories?”

“Because the level of technology in the real world would be incompatible with the level of magic and mythic beings that inhabit my story.”

“I see,” she replied. She plainly didn’t.

“What do you think would happen to our friend the dragon if she was seen flying around in the real world?” I asked.

Dragon“I don’t know. I know little about your real world.”

“Well, I can tell you, there are weapons in my world that would reduce the dragon to ashes in mere seconds.”

“So you had to create a world where the dragon would be a most powerful and fearsome creature?”

“Yes, and a world where people can change shapes through the use of magic or the blessing of a deity…or who can magically spy on people many days’ travel away.”

“I see.” The cleric replied, but she still looked confused. She gestured to the mess on my desk. “But all these charts and maps and…what have I heard you call these things? Bedspreads?”

“Spreadsheets,” I corrected her.

spreadsheet

“Right. Spreadsheets.” Her expression told me she felt this name no less informative than what she had termed them. “For what purpose do you employ these devices?”

I struggled to explain. “Because I have to know everything about the world before I can start placing characters and plots in it. For example, I have to know how large it is, how many moons it has, what climate can be found in the various parts of the world, the location of mountains, plains, rivers, seas, and cities. I also have to know the length of a year, what constellations can be seen at different times of the year in different spots in the sky, what sorts of creatures inhabit the various ecosystems, and how many of those creatures are sentient. I have to know the level of technology and the system of magic, the religions and the cultures of the various races of humanoids, the economic systems, and the languages, the food, the history, etc. And I have to keep track of all this through the entire novel or series of novels.”

“For what purpose do you need so much information?”

“So I know what is possible in my new world, and who can do what. I don’t want a character being killed with a gun in a world that is generations away from that level of technology, for example.”

“A gun?”

“A weapon that utilizes explosive powder to propel small metal projectiles.”

My cleric looked at me as if I was speaking Gnomish.

“Okay, never mind the gun. I need the information because I don’t want to end up writing about a character doing something that is impossible for him or her. For example, if a certain race in my world – say dwarves or goblins or gnomes – can not perform any magic, then I certainly could not have a member of that race being one of the premier wizards of that world. Or if a certain area of that world is desert, and only gets a few inches of rain per year, I can not have a group of adventurers in that area slogging through the growing puddles on day 5 of a rainstorm. And if horses are the only way to travel in my world, I can not have my adventurers travel halfway across the world in mere hours. Unless, of course, I want to write about something that goes against the rules of my world, because that is the story…how a dwarf became a wizard or an adventuring party drowned in the desert when the gods changed the weather patterns or one of my characters has a ring of teleportation.”

“Now I understand!” The cleric graced me with a huge smile. “That is a lot of work!”

“Yes it is. But it is essential work. Do you remember the discussion I had with our visitor, Ollie, last week? We discussed suspended disbelief. It is necessary for a reader to suspend their disbelief and accept as real the elements of the story they are reading.”

“I remember. I overheard you and Ollie discussing that.”

“Well, the worst thing I could do is make a mistake that would cause the reader to disbelieve. So, I carefully create a world, keep track of all the rules, the customs, the food, the geography, etc., and I make certain everything that happens in the book actually could happen within those parameters.”

Elf

The elf looked at me, as if trying to figure something out. “You do all this work in order to give voice to our stories…my story and that of the other characters?”

I nodded.

She looked impressed. “Then we owe you many thanks!”

I smiled. “You know, if you really want to thank me, stop calling staff meetings in the middle of the night!”

“You must to talk to the arrogant one about that.” The elf laughed gaily as she skipped out of the room.

I shook my head and turned back to creating a new world. This is going to take a long time. If you think you would like to see how my new world is progressing, feel free to stop back from time to time. I’ll keep the porch light on for you.