A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal – Azure Spark

A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal – #AtoZChallenge #ThemeReveal

This year, I am better prepared for today’s A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal day than I have been in recent years.

Initially, my thoughts had been drifting around the thoughts I scribbled down after 2017’s Challenge and kept adding to after last year’s Challenge. One ongoing possibility was to work with the list of places in North Wales that were linked to my Welsh detective series.

As many of you must know, I’ve been working on various aspects of Sparkle Anwyl’s career from the revision of her case, Fates Maelstrom, to short flash posts for WEP/IWSG. I have also been deliberating over what to do with my writing. Do I just blog more Sparkle posts? Do I focus on my Sparkle novel, Fevered Few?

Well, for the 2019 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, I will be releasing a new Sparkle Anwyl short story, called Azure Spark.


Aberdaron Beach, Gwynedd, looking towards Porth Meudwy – author: Skinsmoke https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Skinsmoke

Each day’s post will move the story forwards with the appropriate letter playing a prominent role. For instance, the letter A is for Assault as in the incident that triggers the story. This plays well with Sparkle’s idiosyncrasy of using mnemonics to help her tackle crime. You’ll have to wait to see how that ‘spells’ out.

I may add a little extra with a daily musical offering. After last year’s A to Z challenge, I began collating a musical list for this year, so at least it might survive in some form. For a taster, here – if this works – is the soundtrack for one of the games that I play. Also, an echo of my 2018 gaming theme. This is one of the pieces of music playing as I work.

That’s all for this reveal. I’m off to work on Sparkle’s current case. There are quite a few alphabetical threads left – blame it on my health not my devious mind.

Survival of the Fittest – Blog Hop

Today I am joining the Blog Hop for my writer friend, Jacqui Murray’s latest novel, Survival of the Fittest. So, first what is the story?

Short Summary:

Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind a certain life in her African homeland to search for an unknown future. She leads her People on a grueling journey through unknown and dangerous lands but an escape path laid out years before by her father as a final desperate means to survival. She is joined by other homeless tribes–from Indonesia, China, South Africa, East Africa, and the Levant—all similarly forced by timeless events to find new lives. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that this enemy doesn’t want her People’s land. He wants to destroy her.

One question among many fascinated me as I agree with Xhosa’s choice of companion:

Could Xhosa (the main character of Survival of the Fittest) really have traveled with a wolf companion?

Dogs weren’t domesticated until about 10-15,000 years ago, long after Xhosa lived 850,000 years ago. But her understanding of man and animal were not what ours is. To Xhosa, the line between man and animal was blurry. She didn’t think of animals as lesser creatures. Why would she? As far as she knew, like her, they could plan, think, problem-solve, and display emotions just as she did.

So, for Xhosa to partner with a wolf made perfect sense.

Book information:

Title and author: Survival of the Fittest

Series: Book 1 in the Crossroads series, part of the Man vs. Nature saga

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Cover by: Damonza 

Available at: Kindle US Kindle UK Kindle CA Kindle AU

Author bio:

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for TeachHUB and NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Quest for Home, Summer 2019. You can find her tech ed books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning

Social Media contacts:

http://twitter.com/worddreams

http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

https://worddreams.wordpress.com

https://jacquimurray.nethttps://jacquimurray.net

Sample:

Chapter 1

Her foot throbbed. Blood dripped from a deep gash in her leg. At some point, Xhosa had scraped her palms raw while sliding across gravel but didn’t remember when, nor did it matter. Arms pumping, heart thundering, she flew forward. When her breath went from pants to wheezing gasps, she lunged to a stop, hands pressed against her damp legs, waiting for her chest to stop heaving. She should rest but that was nothing but a passing thought, discarded as quickly as it arrived. Her mission was greater than exhaustion or pain or personal comfort.

She started again, sprinting as though chased, aching fingers wrapped around her spear. The bellows of the imaginary enemy—Big Heads this time—filled the air like an acrid stench. She flung her spear over her shoulder, aiming from memory. A thunk and it hit the tree, a stand-in for the enemy. With a growl, she pivoted to defend her People.

Which would never happen. Females weren’t warriors.

Feet spread, mouth set in a tight line, she launched her last spear, skewering an imaginary assailant, and was off again, feet light, her abundance of ebony hair streaming behind her like smoke. A scorpion crunched beneath her hardened foot. Something moved in the corner of her vision and she hurled a throwing stone, smiling as a hare toppled over. Nightshade called her reactions those of Leopard.

But that didn’t matter. Females didn’t become hunters either.

With a lurch, she gulped in the parched air. The lush green grass had long since given way to brittle stalks and desiccated scrub. Sun’s heat drove everything alive underground, underwater, or over the horizon. The males caught her attention across the field, each with a spear and warclub. Today’s hunt would be the last until the rain—and the herds—returned.

“Why haven’t they left?”

She kicked a rock and winced as pain shot through her foot. Head down, eyes shut against the memories. Even after all this time, the chilling screams still rang in her ears…

The People’s warriors had been away hunting when the assault occurred. Xhosa’s mother pushed her young daughter into a reed bed and stormed toward the invaders but too late to save the life of her young son. The killer, an Other, laughed at the enraged female armed only with a cutter. When she sliced his cheek open, the gash so deep his black teeth showed, his laughter became fury. He swung his club with such force her mother crumpled instantly, her head a shattered melon.

From the safety of the pond, Xhosa memorized the killer—nose hooked awkwardly from some earlier injury, eyes dark pools of cruelty. It was then, at least in spirit, she became a warrior. Nothing like this must ever happen again.

When her father, the People’s Leader, arrived that night with his warriors, he was greeted by the devastating scene of blood-soaked ground covered by mangled bodies, already chewed by scavengers. A dry-eyed Xhosa told him how marauders had massacred every subadult, female, and child they could find, including her father’s pairmate. Xhosa communicated this with the usual grunts, guttural sounds, hand signals, facial expressions, hisses, and chirps. The only vocalizations were call signs to identify the group members.

“If I knew how to fight, Father, Mother would be alive.” Her voice held no anger, just determination.

The tribe she described had arrived a Moon ago, drawn by the area’s rich fruit trees, large ponds, lush grazing, and bluffs with a view as far as could be traveled in a day. No other area offered such a wealth of resources. The People’s scouts had seen these Others but allowed them to forage, not knowing their goal was to destroy the People.

Her father’s body raged but his hands, when they moved, were calm.  “We will avenge our losses, daughter.”

The next morning, Xhosa’s father ordered the hunters to stay behind, protect the People. He and the warriors snuck into the enemy camp before Sun awoke and slaughtered the females and children before anyone could launch a defense. The males were pinned to the ground with stakes driven through their thighs and hands. The People cut deep wounds into their bodies and left, the blood scent calling all scavengers.

When Xhosa asked if the one with the slashed cheek had died, her father motioned, “He escaped, alone. He will not survive.”

Word spread of the savagery and no one ever again attacked the People, not their camp, their warriors, or their hunters.

While peace prevailed, Xhosa grew into a powerful but odd-looking female. Her hair was too shiny, hips too round, waist too narrow beneath breasts bigger than necessary to feed babies. Her legs were slender rather than sturdy and so long, they made her taller than every male. The fact that she could outrun even the hunters while heaving her spear and hitting whatever she aimed for didn’t matter. Females weren’t required to run that fast. Nightshade, though, didn’t care about any of that. He claimed they would pairmate, as her father wished, when he became the People’s Leader. 

Until then, all of her time was spent practicing the warrior skills no one would allow her to use.

One day, she confronted her father. “I can wield a warclub one-handed and throw a spear hard enough to kill. If I were male, you would make me a warrior.”

He smiled. “You are like a son to me, Daughter. I see your confidence and boldness. If I don’t teach you, I fear I will lose you.”

He looked away, the smile long gone from his lips. “Either you or Nightshade must lead when I can’t.”

Under her father’s tutelage, she and Nightshade learned the nuances of sparring, battling, chasing, defending, and assaulting with the shared goal that never would the People succumb to an enemy. Every one of Xhosa’s spear throws destroyed the one who killed her mother. Every swing of her warclub smashed his head as he had her mother’s. Never again would she stand by, impotent, while her world collapsed. She perfected the skills of knapping cutters and sharpening spears, and became expert at finding animal trace in bent twigs, crushed grass, and by listening to their subtle calls. She could walk without leaving tracks and match nature’s sounds well enough to be invisible.

A Moon ago, as Xhosa practiced her scouting, she came upon a lone warrior kneeling by a waterhole. His back was to her, skeletal and gaunt, his warclub chipped, but menace oozed from him like stench from dung. She melted into the redolent sedge grasses, feet sinking into the squishy mud, and observed.

His head hair was sprinkled with grey. A hooked nose canted precariously, poorly healed from a fracas he won but his nose lost. His curled lips revealed cracked and missing teeth. A cut on his upper arm festered with pus and maggots. Fever dimpled his forehead with sweat. He crouched to drink but no amount of water would appease that thirst.

What gave him away was the wide ragged scar left from the slash of her mother’s cutter.

Xhosa trembled with rage, fearing he would see the reeds shake, biting her lip until it bled to stop from howling. It hardly seemed fair to slay a dying male but fairness was not part of her plan today.

Only revenge.

A check of her surroundings indicated he traveled alone. Not that it mattered. If she must trade her life for his, so be it.  

But she didn’t intend to die.

The exhausted warrior splashed muddy water on his grimy head, hands slow, shoulders round with fatigue, oblivious to his impending death. After a quiet breath, she stepped from the sedge, spear in one hand and a large rock in the other. Exposed, arms ready but hanging, she approached. If he turned, he would see her. She tested for dry twigs and brittle grass before committing each foot. It surprised her he ignored the silence of the insects. His wounds must distract him. By the time hair raised on his neck, it was too late. He pivoted as she swung, powered by fury over her mother’s death, her father’s agony, and her own loss. Her warclub smashed into his temple with a soggy thud. Recognition flared moments before life left.

“You die too quickly!” she screamed and hit him over and over, collapsing his skull and spewing gore over her body. “I wanted you to suffer as I did!”

Her body was numb as she kicked him into the pond, feeling not joy for his death, relief that her mother was avenged, or upset at the execution of an unarmed Other. She cleaned the gore from her warclub and left. No one would know she had been blooded but the truth filled her with power.

She was now a warrior.

When she returned to homebase, Nightshade waited. Something flashed through his eyes as though for the first time, he saw her as a warrior. His chiseled face, outlined by dense blue-black hair, lit up. The corners of his full lips twitched under the broad flat nose. The finger-thick white scar emblazoned against his smooth forehead, a symbol of his courage surviving Sabertooth’s claws, pulsed. Female eyes watched him, wishing he would look at them as he did Xhosa but he barely noticed.

The next day, odd Others with long legs, skinny chests, and oversized heads arrived. The People’s scouts confronted them but they simply watched the scouts, spears down, and then trotted away, backs to the scouts. That night, for the first time, Xhosa’s father taught her and Nightshade the lessons of leading.

“Managing the lives of the People is more than winning battles. You must match individual skills to the People’s requirements be it as a warrior, hunter, scout, forager, child minder, Primary Female, or another.  All can do all jobs but one best suits each. The Leader must decide,” her father motioned.

As they finished, she asked the question she’d been thinking about all night. “Father, where do they come from?”

“They are called Big Heads,” which didn’t answer Xhosa’s question.

Nightshade motioned, “Do they want to trade females? Or children?”

Her father stared into the distance as though lost in some memory. His teeth ground together and his hands shook until he clamped them together.

He finally took a breath and motioned, “No, they don’t want mates. They want conflict.” He tilted his head forward. “Soon, we will be forced to stop them.”

Nightshade clenched his spear and his eyes glittered at the prospect of battle. It had been a long time since the People fought.

But the Big Heads vanished. Many of the People were relieved but Xhosa couldn’t shake the feeling that danger lurked only a long spear throw away. She found herself staring at the same spot her father had, thoughts blank, senses burning. At times, there was a movement or the glint of Sun off eyes, but mostly there was only the unnerving feeling of being watched. Each day felt one day closer to when the People’s time would end.

“When it does, I will confess to killing the Other. Anyone blooded must be allowed to be a warrior.”

Available at:Kindle US Kindle UKKindle CA Kindle AU

#IWSG – Hero or Villain POV?


Created and hosted by the Ninja Captain himself, Alex J. Cavanaugh, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly blog post is here again – and so am I.

It’s been another bad month and my plans to develop and focus on Fevered Few, my NaNoWriMo novel were derailed so I am no longer sure about the track to publication. I am wondering if attempting to find a publisher for my second novel is realistic or whether I would be better to merely blog my scenes over an indefinite period.

 I will be posting the opening to another Sparkle Anwyl mystery for the WEP/IWSG Challenge next month as well as a separate Sparkle Anwyl case during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge in April. Perhaps that is the way forward for my fiction writing rather than attempting to edit a novel – like Fevered Few – for submission to a small press.

What would you suggest that I do? Blog posts or publication?

Much of my writing problems are due to my health. During the last few weeks, it has become harder to type as my left hand is cramping up – like forming a claw. One of my solutions is training a dragon – Dragon Naturally Speaking. This post is my first using the dictation software. Apologies therefore for any errors in this trial run which the dogs are constantly interrupting.

Bark-bark. Woof-woof.

Anyway, on to this month’s question.

March 6 question – Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?

Most of my writing is from the hero’s point of view but I have written from the villain’s perspective a few times.

My current WIP is from the POV of Sparkle Anwyl, my Welsh detective protagonist. However, some of the chapters within other draft novels have been written either from the villain’s perspective or from the POV of a shadowy and unclear character. I haven’t yet had to get inside the mind of a darker antagonist as these characters have been more misguided or conned by their own self-belief.

What about your favourite perspective? Hero or villain?


The Welsh Dragon, Mametz Wood Memorial

**

The awesome co-hosts for the March 6 posting of the IWSG are Fundy Blue, Beverly Stowe McClure, Erika Beebe, and Lisa Buie-Collard!

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!


Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!


Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Remember, the question is optional! 

The Pearl Thief – a review

When I was compiling my list for the 2019 Cloak and Dagger Challenge, I missed off a number of books including Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief. As Wein’s Code Name Verity was my top read in 2018, I was looking forward to reading this prequel. Well listening to what was my first Audible novel, though not my first audio book.

I’m now listening to another Elizabeth Wein novel – Black Dove, White Raven – but back to the review of my sixth read for the Challenge

The Pearl Thief

(Code Name Verity 0.5)

by

Elizabeth E. Wein

Before Verity . . . there was Julie.

When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation.

Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

In the prequel to Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this exhilarating coming-of-age story returns to a beloved character just before she learned to fly.

Review 5 stars

After I was bowled over by the brilliance of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, I enjoyed re-connecting with the memorable Julia Beaufort-Stuart – albeit when she was fifteen.

This is a different genre – a mystery and coming-of-age story that my wife and I listened to engrossed. This was our first Audible book and the narration by actress Maggie Service was excellent, bringing to life the characters.

The mystery begins when Julia wakes up in hospital and realises that her injury might not have been an accident. Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to first-hand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences.

Wein artfully weaves pearl gathering in the river and a missing-person investigation into Julia’s evolving relationships. Facts are slipped into scenes in subtle ways, and the author even adds a useful addendum about Pearls and Travellers at the very end. Wein always strikes me as a writer that does her research and knows how to knit it into a tale – as she does here.

The characters were distinctive and grew over time, not just as their layers were unpeeled but also by their interactions. For instance, the complex relationship between Julia and Ellen grows from social divide to mutual understanding and deep friendship. Others grow from their shells or achieve deserved recognition in a similar way.

The Scottish setting echoed my own time there, especially along stretches of riverbank. And some of the prejudices were familiar from the class world I know.

By the end, the mysteries – yes, there I far more than one- have been solved in unexpected ways. For me, some seeds had been sown that foreshadowed Code Name Verity – subtle and poignant.

An excellent listen – and another memorable character.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – five stars

Narration – five stars

Editing – five stars