July 28, 2011

Stone Song

Stone Song is now available on kindle and Smashwords and will soon be at other outlets.
Here is a sample.

Chapter 1

Jen got out and held her arms up high and wide, like a dancer in Swan Lake. “We must go up there right away. We have to be inside the blue stones by sunrise.” She didn’t say anything about the fence, mind you. I knew it was there from some of the recent pictures, but maybe she hadn’t noticed. They often focused on the Stones close-up, used old pictures, or they just edited the nasty wire out.
Anyhoo, here we were. Couple of hours over in England and I was about to bust into a National Monument with a New Age Goddess freak. Okay, a twenty-something red headed Goddess freak who seemed to like me, had enough sense to read a map, and could do foreign exchange in her head quicker than I could count the coins out.
“Come on, Ty. Never mind all that mundane stuff on the road, they won’t bother us. The car’s parked well away from all the fuss, and we’re here! You have to think peace and joy, feel the magic in this sacred place. Hold my hand and just radiate good thoughts.”
I held her hand and radiated. Still couldn’t see much but wet dark. She pulled me onwards. Maybe she could see better in the dark than me, so I followed, sorta slid my feet forwards through the short grass, in case there were sudden bumps or holes or whatever. So far just quite smooth longish turf, though.
Lights flashed farther up the highway. Police and ambulance. One of each at least. Looked like a big transport had jackknifed and tipped across two lanes of traffic. The jam-up snaked away a couple of miles already. That must’ve happened a short while ago. I’d concentrated on my feet, on not falling in the rough grass of the slope up from the road to the fence around the great megaliths, so I didn’t notice until we stopped at the barrier
Well, this was supposed to be a real mystical place, right. Stonehenge. So far just a long slog through wet grass and sticky mud, with a nasty cold wind and drizzle. No stars or moon, just the stream of headlights and the snaking line of red on the other side of the road.
Couldn’t see much of this famous prehistoric site. Was that a moth? Something soft fluttered against my cheek, and disappeared on the wind, but something cold stuck right under my eye. I put my hand up and came away with a soggy piece of paper. Candy wrapper. Smelt like chocolate and that artificial cherry flavour. The sticky smear on my cheek transferred to my hand when I rubbed it. I almost licked my hand, in my jet-lagged state. Gross, even to think. I wiped my hand on my jeans and rubbed at my face again.
Almost morning. A few sleepy bird chirps and a fresh smell on the wind, almost covered by the hot rubber and burnt gas smells of the road behind us. I drifted into a dreamy, sleepy recap of just why I’d got myself into this. Walk up a hill in wet grass in the dark? Been there. Climb a fence? National monument? Okay, no spray paint in sight, or likelihood of anything ambitious in the excavation or ‘I wus here’ lines. Not that it seemed like a good idea, exactly, more interesting and harmless. Then too, she was going in whether I did or not.
Seat mates across the Atlantic, we’d eyed one another with a degree of, what? Mutual mistrust? Until we found we were both headed for the same little town. We’d sat next to each other on the plane for a couple of hours before I managed to get her to be more than distantly polite.
She’d eagerly agreed to swap my window seat for her aisle one. I’d paid extra, but my legs needed to stretch more than I needed to see the occasional light below. She smelt faintly of sandalwood incense and something floral, maybe rose water. Naturally the old hormones kicked in when she sat in the seat next to me.
I finally caught her attention when I told her, “I’m going to hire a car and drive down to Glastonbury. Always wanted to go to the Festival.” She frowned slightly, so I said, “I know, that was last week, but the place is still worth seeing, and I’ve got a buddy who lives near there. Chris persuaded me to come over even when I knew I’d miss the big do. Said there’s something going on he could use my help with.”
She turned in the narrow aeroplane seat and looked at me, really inspected me, and said, “You’re definitely going to drive to Glastonbury then?”
“Yep. I booked a rental car online, and the place will be open when we get in, so I want to drive there right away. I mean, London is really interesting and all, but big cities and me don’t mix too well. So I don’t want to spend much time there. Of course, before I go back I might go see some of the big sights, like the Tower, and buy something for my mum in Harrods. Well, she’d like something from there.”
She said, “You know, I want to go there too. Glastonbury, I mean. Not Harrods. I’ve on-line friends to meet, and I want to spend time there. I was going to get a bus from Victoria Coach Station, but if you’re going there by car, well,” she paused and chewed her lip. “I suppose it could be the Goddess,” she muttered. Then she looked me in the eye and smiled. “How would you feel about some company on the drive Ty?”
“You mean you want a ride to Glastonbury? Sure. I mean, definitely my pleasure.”
“Right then. So we are companions on the road, then.” She stuck her hand out and we shook on it. Her hand was soft but fairly firm, like I mean soft skin over a bit of muscle, not just a limp bag of bones like some girls.
She’d seen the sunset over the sea, with her nose pressed to the glass like a kid waiting for her dad to come home on her seventh birthday. I’d seen a lot past her shoulder too. Gold and rose pink, orange and bright, then silver moonlight on the tops of the clouds.
Coming down had been just that, a descent into a lower world in every sense. Dark, cold, drizzly, dirty. Pale people, dull clothes, narrow packed streets even long after the rush hour. Cars and buses threaded between lines of on-street parking. Most places had no garages, no other place to park. Built before cars.
My fingers ached from the chain link, and her heel had ground something into the base of my right thumb when I boosted her.
She ignored the mud on my hands. Barefoot, carried her sandals in her other hand, so her toes must be quite squidgy by now. What did they call that, way back? Grocking. Yeah, I watch old movies.
The sky glow, the lights reflected off the low clouds, was strange All that light, so much you couldn’tve seen stars even if it was clear, didn’t help much, just gave a dull yellowy hazy effect on the clouds’ bellies.
Something loomed up. Big, solid, black. Must be a stone, one of the much famed Sarsen stones, or perhaps a Blue Stone. I did my homework, read the tourist stuff while we were somewhere over Ireland. “Hey, we’re here. There’s a stone, see?”
“Of course there’s a stone, Ty. That’s the outer ring. Come on, let’s get into the power centre. I want to soak it all in. The peace and the healing this place radiates.”
She tugged my hand, and I felt a sharp twinge as she pressed on something still wedged into the flesh at the base of my thumb.
“Ow, hang on. Something’s digging into my hand.” I twisted my hand, she let go. I could feel her frown and try to think of something enlightened to say.
I felt with my awkward other hand. The second finger worked fine; just the tip gone from the index finger, and it didn’t bend all the way. There was a small chunk of stone bedded right into me, about like a bread crumb in size and shape, but of course much harder. I dug my nail in and got it between thumb and second finger. Came out quite easily, and then blood flowed. Not much, but it ran down my fingers and dripped off into the grass. I reached out and wiped my hand against the rough rock beside me, dropped the stone-crumb into my jacket pocket absentmindedly, then pressed the wound with my other thumb, to dull the sharp pain and give the blood a chance to clot.
“Okay, carry on. Here, grab my other hand.”
We carried on. She smooth, me a bit stumbly in my stiff hiking boots. They’d done better than I expected over the chain link, lucky the big cleats on the sole fitted the size of the mesh. Bit hard on the ankles and back. Don’t even think about what the wire did to fingers.
The ground shook like a buffalo stampede was headed over the hill.
“Hey! What’s that?”
We both turned back, and saw a black outline against the sky-glow. Tall as the fence. Big, and fast.
“Jump! Over here!” I leapt to get that big chunk of stone between us and the Thing.
Crash! Like a pile of scrap tipped off a truck, the fence went down.
With the squeal of a steam engine on a very bad day it tromped over the remains of the fence, then swept past us. We crouched against the stone, pressed against the rock as if it might protect us if we kept close enough.
“What the hell?”
She clapped her hand over my mouth. “Ssh. Shut up. Don’t say things like that, like that word. If you name anything here, you’re calling it. Please”
She was shaking. “Okay, okay Jesus girl, it’s just an animal. It’s not some supernatural being or whatever, you know.”
I knew it was as mundane as white bread, because a large dollop of evidence had flopped down. Generously covered my foot and a couple of square feet of turf, and lay there all warm and soggy. It smelt of fermented hay and methane gas.
“Look here, it pooped on me as it passed. Believe it or not, that’s an elephant. Somehow there’s an elephant loose in, where are we, Wiltshire is it? Maybe it was in that big pileup on the road over there, and got out of the wreck and ran off all panicked. Gotta be tame, you know, like maybe from a zoo or even a circus.”
“There are no coincidences Ty. Just as you and I were destined to meet and come here together tonight, so the Goddess has sent her great servant here too.”
“Whatever. Look you realise now we’re in shit. I mean, they’re gonna come here to catch Jumbo there, and we aren’t meant to be here, inside the fence and all, you know.”
“Oh don’t worry. Think about it, all we have to say is, we saw the elephant and followed her, and the fence was down when we got here. I mean, what are they gonna do, seriously?”
Buddy must’ve heard our voices, and came over for company right then, because suddenly we were between two big grey masses. One rooted, one restless. It shifted from one foot to the other, and I knew it was very interested in us, because hay breath blew into my face.
Jen scrambled away from it, hit hard against the standing stone, and fell over. Something metal clanked against stone, and resonated, like a struck tuning fork. Jen had a big copper and silver pendant around her neck, that swung between her tits as she bounced along, usually. Must have swung out against the stone as she scrambled onto hands and knees.
Something vibrated in a much deeper note, and a harmonic awoke in the stone. Then a third note began, so deep I could feel it through the soil I stood on and the rock against my back, but not hear it.
Jen stopped trembling. Her arm was pressed against my leg, is how I knew. Her pendant still swung, but I couldn’t hear it after the first couple of seconds. I mean it wasn’t like a bell or anything, more a “tinggg” noise. The other notes, the deeper tones, they were something else. As if the high note was a signal or a catalyst or something, you know? That starts something going.
We could both feel and hear the same, but she didn’t seem to notice anything.
Maybe I overreacted, looked for something special and different about the place, and paid more attention than most people do to slight sounds, like you do in the bush if you’re hunting, or even just in bear country.
Well, of course bears don’t make noises anything like the elephant rumbles I was picking up, but you know what I mean, right?
Jen stood up again. “Now just be quiet Ty, don’t say anything, and try to follow what I do, and be worshipful and properly reverent.” She brushed dust off her butt, and then wiped her hands quickly on my jacket. It was a tired old denim, so no problem.
She put her hands together and began to chant, “Great Mother give us of your wisdom. Ommmmmm” She nudged me with her elbow and hissed, “C’mon Ty, just say Ommmm.”
“Ommmmm,” I said. The elephant made a couple of rumbles like a big bellyache and flapped its ears, as it shuffled its feet.
I started to feel really good, deep down. Maybe this would turn out quite nicely. I’d been on a bit of a losing streak lately. You know me, the guy who got stuck in a ditch on the way to a friend’s beach cottage, so his best girl thought she’d been stood up, and went and got drunk and partied all weekend.
Come Monday early she dumped me, so I didn’t go to work all week. Had a long session of flexing the elbow, which I don’t remember, and ended up in Toronto with a winning lottery ticket in my pocket and a hangover like a wall had fallen on me. When I collected my winnings I decided to go somewhere far away, and there was an e-mail from Chris. He’d got this really great job on an island, and the photos looked so inviting, all peaceful sea and distant blue mountains, with birds nesting on the cliffs. Perfect refuge for heart healing.
All the way across the ocean I’d carried a burden of loss, a hole where there’d been an ‘us’ with a future not clear or in any detail, but definite and reassuringly inevitable. With the breakup I’d been left swinging in the wind, as they say. Now, over a minute or so, it was like light poured in to fill the hollow place.
When I looked up I saw light too. The big stone right by us had a flicker of blue radiation. Light flowed along in curling, changing lines. Now dimmer, now sparked to life again, like a fire in a gusty wind. As the last echoes of the resonant sound faded out, the way a bell chime goes, slowly so you can never quite be sure exactly when it’s gone, that blue glow went also.
Then I could see my shadow cast on the stone by something behind us.
There was a long, slightly diffused light beam reaching out from one of the cop cars several hundred yards away, on the road, and the beast was clearly visible in silhouette. Another panda car drove along the shoulder and swung up the side road towards the ticket office and official entrance.
“Shit,” muttered Jen, reverently.
Chapter 2
“Okay, now maybe we should just stay in the shadows here, out of sight. C’mon.” I took her hand again and pulled her along. We kept the big stone between us and the searchlight beam as we slipped farther into the complex. The stones are big, and easily hid us from view, especially in the dark, with just the one bright bar of light showing everything in its path, while it threw everything else into deeper obscurity. We followed a sort of spiral path, so that we had as much cover as possible from the light beam, as well as from the car approaching the gate.
“We’d better get down in cover and stay quiet until the excitement dies down.” I hunkered down behind a large chunk of rock, and pulled her hand. She resisted a bit, but settled beside me.
Someone dressed in coveralls and rubber boots walked into the enclosure, through the trampled gap in the fence. The two uniforms at the main gate (still locked, of course) shone their flashlights, and one shouted, “Hoy, stay away, this is a National Monument, no trespassing!”
“Oh don’t be silly, I have to calm Lakshmi down, and bring her out of there. Poor girl is frantic.” Came the reply.
“Here Lakshmi, here girl.” Sounded like calling a dog out of the bushes on a walk in the woods, or something.
The elephant responded much like a dog too, just turned and ambled over to the caller, and stood by him, just a bit restless but obviously familiar and comfortable with him.
The man turned and walked away again, with the great animal docile behind him. They walked over the swell of the earthworks towards the road, but didn’t appear out of the hollow again. I could see the top of her head and back as they stood in the bottom of the old boundary ditch. Nice quiet place to wait for someone else to sort out the traffic and get the rig back upright, I supposed.
The cops must’ve seen the sense of that, because they switched off their searchlight, and then you could hear the radios going back and forth for a bit in usual cops-at-the-scene style, before the doors slammed and the panda eased back away from the gates and drove back to the crash scene.
Darkness flowed in again, and the quiet. Lot of the tension drained out of me. It was so peaceful I started to doze a bit, I ‘spose.
“Don’t fall asleep! Haven’t you got any sense of the importance of this place?” hissed Jen.
She was still tense, then. “ Okay, okay, I’m with you. Yup, very mystical and umm, significant. Nice and peaceful now though. All that fuss and action down by the road just seems to be far away, somewhere else. Feels like a different place, just the wind and grass and the clouds closed over the stones and us.”
Jen had intended to do some kind of ceremony or chant or something, but she stayed hunched down beside me and shivered. The reality of almost being arrested, of cops in a strange country, hit her now. Trespassing could be serious stuff here.
“Let’s get out of here as soon as we can,” she whispered.
I laid on my back and cloud-watched for what seemed like a short time, but had to be at least an hour or so, because when I looked to the road they’d got the rig back on its wheels and the traffic moved freely again There was still lots of action, of course. Looked like they were loading Lakshmi into her trailer. We eased out of the enclosure, over the trampled chain-link, and back to the rental car, half a mile down the road from the accident scene. Fortunately we could just start up and drive on without going past the cops and all. We headed off towards our next stop. Avebury. More stones.
When we got there the day had blushed up brighter. I was bagged, but totally bagged, so I parked by the pub, and closed my eyes. “Go on then, if you want to see the sunrise from amongst the stones. I’m just gonna rest a bit, wait for someone to open up so I can get something to eat.”
Jen didn’t argue. She slipped out and crossed the road into the field where a whole bunch of stones were, like the guide book said. The wind was stronger, and brought some real rain, beyond just the mizzle that was falling earlier. Nasty. I closed my eyes.
The car door shut with a dull thunk. I looked blearily around. Daylight. A grey soft day, with rain in beads and trickles on the windscreen. Jen’s hair hung heavy, straggled and drippy, from under her knit cap. Wool didn’t keep the wet out very well. Smelt like a sheep.
“This is an incredible place, you know. You’re missing so much.”
“Right now my stomach tells me it’s past lunch time back home, even if it only just got light here. We haven’t eaten in a while, you know. When my stomach’s happy again I want to explore for sure, but just wait a bit. This pub has to open sometime soon. Or maybe we should go on to the next town and eat, then come back, you know?”
So we drove on up the A303, until we came to a little place with an open cafe, and had us an expensive breakfast. Awful coffee. Jen was smug about drinking tea. The prices would’ve been at the high end of normal if they were in dollars. The exchange rate really added a kick to the sticker shock.
There was a newspaper on the table with local news, “Jumbo invasion at Stonehenge.” Nothing about us; we hadn’t been spotted or anything, then.
The big story was about terrorists and some new plot to bomb trains, with backpack bombs and so on. The intent was to cause disruption and fear, more than physical damage. Right then I was somehow more indifferent to feelings of anxiety about the return flight in a couple of weeks than I normally would be.

July 20, 2011

Danger with a waning moon

Research in Tanzania shows that lion attacks are most successful on dark nights. Lions hunt at these times, when darkness allows a greater chance of surprising prey. Moon phase particularly affects attacks on humans.
The moon sets early when in the growing phase, but provides light in those evening hours when people are still active. Danger is moderate at these times. Full moon brings an interval of relatively little danger, but leaves lions hungry, so that as the moon rises later and smaller the evenings are a dangerous time to be out and about.
Other prey is available all night of course, but humans rarely leave safe enclosed huts or bomas after 10pm.
This pattern must be very old, and extend worldwide wherever predators and humans lived together. Surely a lot of the mystique associated with the phases of the moon muststem from such observations.
Our ancestors must have dreaded the time of the shrinking moon, the darkness outside the firelight more intense and more dangerous than at any other time.

July 7, 2011

Stone Song published

Big step around 2AM this morning. Finished one more edit/run through of Stone Song, tried out the hyper-linked Table of Contents, and uploaded it to Smashwords. So my first ever published novel is now available.
Priced it at $2.99, classified it as a scifi/adventure/thriller/romance. Let's see what happens.
Perhaps a little short for a traditional novel at 48,000 words. The trend for ereaders, and especially for those who read on their phones, is for shorter works.
I will hold off on Amazon for a few days, in case there is some sort of booboo I've missed, but it should be there by next week.
I do have a web-presence, lots of Twitter & Facebook contacts, as recommended. Many of them are also writers. Not sure how much weight those contacts may have in getting book sales, but can't harm anything.
I haven't done a buildup to a preplanned Launch, or sent review copies or anything similar. I shall possibly get a Smashwords Coupon, to give copies away.

July 6, 2011

Book Covers for ebooks

Book covers for ebooks? Actually an image which draws possible readers to take look at the title, the blurb, and perhaps to read at least a sample of the writing.
When deciding on mine, so far I've tried to get distinctive, even evocative images. Bright clear colours with not too much clutter.
They are viewed onscreen as thumbnails, so writing has to be easily legible.
The other aspect which occurs to me is what happens on the ereader screen? Those colours are useless on a Kindle or Kobo or whatever, because everything is black and white. These images have be distinctive in grayscale.
Few indies seem to have realised this.
Readers looking for books on Kindle or Chapters etc do so with their ereaders. They can't see those fancy colours. Ok there are people browsing with their iphones, colour Nooks etc, but let us try to have images that work on all screens.

July 4, 2011

Stone Song

Stone Song is complete at 47,000 words. Should it be longer? Should I get someone to edit it? Cost is an issue, for a doubtful return. Will people buy it, edited or as is ? No way to know beforehand.
I think there will be a few typos, and probably a good editor could improve things, but I am very wary of 'improvements' which just might not actually help the story. I'm tired of messing around with it. Once published I can get stuck into the next big project, which might be one more go at Eland Dances, or might be something completely new. Stone Song is not Great, I just hope it is entertaining.Then too, I must finish the next Sherlock story, S. Holmes and Lady Chatterley's Voodoo Dolls.
I have added a bit more motivation/tension by way of the death of a character; however we never actually meet the guy, everything is at a remove & hearsay. To be a real thriller all the action should be up close and happen in front of readers. Also, the protagonists need to be directly endangered, which is not the case. There is tension, but not really direct threat or danger. Should there be? Should i write in another couple of thousand words with Hancock, the Baddie, gunning for Ty, perhaps running the car off the road with his van?