Things have changed since I started working at Domino's about six weeks ago. I'm lucky--I've never worked past 11:00, and I have my mornings free to do school. Not everyone who works here is as lucky as I am--some of them work two jobs, and others have families to support. Understanding a few things really helps you appreciate the people you love most in life--that is, the people who make your pizzas. Who doesn't love them?
Give me a battle. Give me a weapon. Give me anything but a ship. But if you give me a ship, let me row until the oar breaks, for I need something to distract me from the waves.
The sea holds power. It hides Jormungund, the Serpent of Midgard. It breaks boats and takes lives, and it churns the stomach of the strongest of men. Even I, Einar Shattersword, am subdued by its power. We have sailed for a day and part of the night, and I have taken nothing but ale. With wet clothes and an empty stomach I ply the oars.
"Give Grettir a turn," says the man behind me.
"We draw near to Diaparn," I said. "Let him sleep until we get there."
"We've an hour yet, Einar. You are slowing."
I pull faster on my oar. "Do you call me weak, Sturla? Take your place at the prow and see if you can spot land."
Like a goat on the mountains, Sturla stands and walks to the prow. A sword fits better in my hands than an oar, and I am more at home on land than at sea. But I will stand by my countrymen and row, for even the best swordsman of Hrafney is nothing if he does not help others.
"The gods grant us favor!" Sturla calls. "A quarter hour to land, brothers!"
If the gods wanted to favor us, they would not have put waves on the water. With tired eyes and slowing arms I row, for I have rowed more than my share. I pray I will be able to fight tomorrow. Much I have practiced since last year's Althing, and I will further seal my name as the name of the greatest swordsman in Orkney.
Sturla wakes Steinbjorn, our chief and the captain of our Longship. He stands at the prow and calls directions. I continue to row, though my shoulders ache and my left hand grows raw. My right is used to holding my sword; only a blade can chafe it.
We do not go ashore tonight; rather, we cast anchor in the harbor and wait for sunrise. It is unwise to enter a man's house at night; how much more a man's island! But Hrafney is allied with Diaparn, and though they are a small tribe, they are strong. It is on Diaparn that the first Althing was performed, and now, seven years later, we meet again.
When the anchor is cast from the ship, I lay with a bundle of clothes as a pillow. My stomach rolls with the ship as waves toss it, but I am weary from rowing. There is a battle between sleep and nausea to determine whether I will spend this night in Valhalla or Niflheim
.My sword Neckbiter is at my side. It is precious to me. In my first battle--a raid on an English town--I broke my sword on a man who wore chainmail under his tunic. It is that day that earned me my name Shattersword, and it was that day I vowed to own the strongest sword in the North. I paid good money for Neckbiter, and it never leaves my side. I have also a spear, and a bearded axe, but spears and axes are not given names. I glance to make sure their metal glitters in the moonlight beside me; no one has stolen them. Good. A slow and certain death will meet he who steals from Einar Shattersword.
Sleep wins my battle; I rest in Valhalla tonight.
--A note for the reader from Lukas McCamden.
There are those who say that spring is the season of new life, and I quite agree with them. But logically, if spring brings life, then autumn (the antithesis of spring) should bring death, and with that I disagree.
I enjoyed autumn as a lad. After a summer of books and rote studies, I was glad to venture to the fields with my father and aid him with the harvest of oats and barley. One of the grandest feelings in the world is to look at a shock of barley, or a sack of oats, and know that you accomplished it jointly with those you love. I have fainter memories of being particularly small--perhaps five or six--and digging for beets during a rainstorm. Whether I found more joy in playing in the mud or unearthing another vegetable I do not know, but I remember our herbalist Brother Nolan scolding me for my untidiness.
Now that I am an old man, the harvest is harder on me than it once was. The sickle grows heavier faster than it did once, and I have learned to make use of shovels to spare my back. And yet I face it with the same joy I did when I was first let loose in them, for harvest means food, and did not Solomon list food as one of the joys of life?
My days in the fields have taught me much, but chief of its lessons are patience and hard work. And indeed, the two go hand in hand. Tilling the soil is hard work, and manuring the fields more difficult still. As the days grow warmer, the new growth must be hoed. All this means work, aye, but patience also. For if I were to lose patience with the fields (as I nearly have many a time), I would dig up the seeds I had planted, and my work would come to naught.
Summer passes. The seeds become plants, and the plants bear their own seeds, but they are green and unripe. And then, as the days begin to grow shorter, and the wind blows brisk even at noon, I take my sickle and shovel. More work, aye, but a work well rewarded.
It is the same in many areas of life. We work hard, and yet unless we add patience to our work, it will come to nothing. Well does Paul tell us in Galatians that we will only reap if we faint not! And when we persevere and receive the reward due to us, it is only fitting that we rejoice and give thanks. And then, as a farmer in winter, we rest, but only until spring. Then, we set our sights on a new task, on a new prize, and we pursue it with vigor and patience.
Now that I have Alynn with me, I will have to plant twice what I am used to. Twice the work, but an infinite reward; I am hard-pressed to find something in this temporal world better than sharing a meal with a kindred spirit. Perhaps, though, I will teach her how to reap a field, so that I will once again look upon a shock of barley, or a bag of wheat, and know that I had the aid of my family in its production.
Today is my first day as a full-time college student. I'm screaming internally.
I'll find a short story for you. But I have to take a moment and sort out my mental bookshelf. And, since Mondays are going to be busy for me for a while, I might start posting short stories on Tuesdays instead of Mondays. I need to see what a typical Monday is going to look like first. Because, since today is the first day of school, nothing is normal.
And please, I only have so many plot ideas inside me. If there's a short story you want to read, let me know, and I'll try to write it for you. At the moment, I'm running low on ideas and will start writing fan fiction if nothing else comes to mind. Not fan fiction of my own work, mind you. It will probably have something to do with How to Train Your Dragon, because I've a college student, and I'm allowed to be in a fandom.
I'm sorry. My brain doesn't want to get back in the swing of things.
Several people have asked me what I want to do with my life if my writing doesn't work out. Besides the obvious answer--keep writing until it does work out--I tell them I want to be a historical reenactor, and they look at me like I'm some sort of naïve Disney character.
But I just found the perfect place to work as a historical reenactor: Silver Dollar City. Everyone from the shopkeepers to the ticket-sellers to the people who run the rides and sweep the pavement is wearing clothes from the 1880s.
I've been on tons of vacations, most of them to tropical places. We've used our timeshare to go to Mexico and Florida and all other sorts of hot places. But now that we live in Texas, Mom and Dad would rather go someplace cooler, and I can't blame them. So we traded our timeshare for a trip to Branson, and I had a blast.
We went to Silver Dollar City our first day there. This place is the self-proclaimed Home of American Craftsmanship, and whoever dubbed that term was right! They have everything there--a blacksmith, a glass-blower, a chandler, a woodcarver, a seamstress....
And everything they sold was expensive. I understand the prices! I'm a craftsman myself. I wouldn't sell a full-sized crocheted afghan for any less than $100, yet I wouldn't pay $100 for one. But $60 for a hand-carved wooden ladle?
"It's probably half a day's work," the guy who was trying to sell it said. "It'll last forever."
I spent three weeks working on a baby afghan that I ended up selling for $55, but I decided not to argue. I contented myself with a spaghetti spoon and three wooden plaques that I glued together into a Jacob's Ladder-type arrangement and hung on my wall.
I appreciated a lot more than the few deals I was able to get. Immediately, I fell in love with the cooler temperatures and the Culver's. We don't have Culver's in Texas. I guess Braum's is the closest thing we have to it, but it's not the same--they sell shakes, not frozen custards, and they don't have Flavor of the Day.
My mom made sure we were busy in Branson. We spent two days at Silver Dollar City and one at White Rapids, the much smaller waterpark owned by the same people. I went on rides that I never thought I'd go on, like the water ride where the floor drops out from under you. I kept meaning to shout "Pull the lever, Kronk!" but it never happened. I was too busy holding my nose.
My favorite day was probably the day Dad took my sister and me back to Silver Dollar City. I only went on two rides and spent the rest of the day perusing the shops. I came home with a cookie the size of my face. Then, after a dinner of smoked chicken we brought with from home, we went to see a show. Two of the performers were from the part of Texas I live in, and one of them has relatives who run the store we get our pool serviced at. It's crazy how small the world is.
What was your favorite vacation? Where did you go, and what did you do there? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to Like us on Facebook!
I surveyed my options. First, I could try to move the bookshelf off myself, but that would result in more books falling, and I doubted I was strong enough to do much. Second, I could wait here until Nick stopped screaming so that Mom would hear me when I called for help. Or I could just weasel my way out of my predicament. That seemed easiest.
Carefully, I moved the copy of Baby Animal Stories that had struck my head. I realized how badly my head hurt. I felt like I'd just smacked it on pavement, like I'd fallen off my bike or tripped while rollerblading. I'd be fine once I got the ice pack. My whole body was sore when I moved, and my left foot was asleep. I realized it was being crushed by one of the shelves of the bookcase.
Shoving books out of the way, I wormed my way back into the land of the living.
I lay still for a bit. My head stopped hurting, and my foot began to buzz. Everyone else called it 'pins and needles,' but I thought it felt more like my foot was as fizzy as the sparkling grape juice we got on Thanksgiving. A painful fizzy. I didn't want to move it, and since my head didn't hurt anymore, I decided just to relax for a bit.
My Polly Pockets were still waiting for me on the other side of my bed. I didn't feel like playing with them anymore. I just wanted to rest. Maybe I could curl up on my bed with one of the books that was scattered here on the floor. Anne of Green Gables caught my eye. I'd just finished the Little House series, and Mom said it was similar. I'd try it, but the next time we went to the library, I wanted to read another Boxcar Children mystery, or maybe a Geronimo Stilton--if I could find one I hadn't already read, and if there were no ghosts in it. Mom didn't like ghosts.
Besides, Anne of Green Gables was a very soft-looking book, an old softcover with fluffy, yellowed pages and words that looked like they'd been printed on a typewriter. I didn't want to read a pointy-edged hardcover, not right after being crushed by them.
I stood up, wincing as my foot fizzed and tickled and hurt all at once, and crawled onto my bed. The cushy pink comforter with flowers seemed to swallow me as I wrapped myself up in it, even though I wasn't cold. I turned on my lamp, but before I opened Anne of Green Gables, I summoned Kida. She appeared, relaxed in the bed next to me, cuddling with my army of stuffed animals.
"Thanks for your help back there," I said.
"I should be thanking you for your help." Kida handed me Dee, my favorite teddy bear, and I snuggled with her. "You vanquished Minoru and brought peace to my world. How, exactly, have I helped you?"
I fluffed up the pillows behind me. "You taught me that I belong in my world, not yours. I might be invisible here, too, but at least people can see me, even if they don't."
Kida smiled. "You are wise, Mandy, more than you know." She disappeared, and I was left with my thoughts and my books and the sound of silence as Nick finally stopped screaming.
I opened Anne of Green Gables and started reading. My books were still strewn all over the floor, and my Polly Pockets still needed to be put away, but I wouldn't worry about them for now. Maybe Kida would help me clean everything up tomorrow.
If it's okay, I'm going to go ahead and ruin The Leper of St. Giles for you. It's not like you're going to read a medieval murder mystery novel from the 1980s just because your favorite writer recommended it. Right? If I'm wrong, I advise you to skip this week's blog.
I'm bringing up The Leper of St. Giles because it has one of the greatest plot twists I've ever witnessed. Towards the beginning of the book, we're introduced to a mysterious, masked leper. We learn that he is called Lazarus, and that he never stays in one place for long, but rather roams throughout England. He doesn't come into the story much, but he ends up helping someone hide from the authorities--which, in this case, is a good thing.
It's not until the very end of the story when we learn that Lazarus is actually Guimar de Massard. He fought alongside protagonist Cadfael in the Crusades, but contracted leprosy in the Holy Land. He sent word to his family saying that he had been killed in combat. When he learned he had a granddaughter, he returned to England and actually had a greater hand in the plot than we first realized.
I wasn't expecting that at all.
Plot twists are joys to write. They're like gems--you don't get to write them often, maybe one or two per book if you're lucky. But you feel a certain sense of sadistic joy. You know how it feels to read a plot twist. You're shocked, maybe a bit betrayed, and you can't put the book down before you find the answers to all your questions. And knowing that you've just put all those emotions in your readers is one of the best feelings in the world.
But if a plot twist isn't done well, it's not worth writing at all.
There are a couple of guidelines for writing plot twists. First, your plot twist can't come out of thin air. Your character can't be in perfect health throughout the story and suddenly be diagnosed with stage four cancer. A character who's dedicated their entire life to a certain cause won't suddenly turn evil overnight. And having the character wake up in Chapter 10 and realize that chapters one through nine were all a dream is plain wrong. Unless they were in a coma or you're writing some sort of psych thriller.
For example, in Cressida Cowell's How to Cheat a Dragon's Curse (more spoilers ahead), protagonist Hiccup spends the entire book thinking that his best friend Fishlegs has been stung by a poisonous dragon and is dying. And Fishlegs is, indeed, very ill. But the second-to-last chapter, we find out that Fishlegs is fine right before Hiccup nearly faints from what is revealed in the last chapter to be--you guessed it--the sting of the poisonous dragon. He was fine for the entire book, with the exception of a single reference to a sore throat.
In this example, we learn why the second guideline--foreshadowing--is important. Now, you need to be careful with foreshadowing. It's easy to give away too much, but as demonstrated by Cressida Cowell, it's also easy to give nothing away at all. Is it a stretch to believe that Fishlegs's illness is caused by anything other than a dragon's poison? Not at all. But asking us to believe that Hiccup is dying while he's quite obviously in good health is another thing altogether. Maybe, though, if we'd have had another reference or two to Hiccup not feeling well, we'd be more inclined to believe in the twist ending.
What's your favorite plot twist in a book, movie, or TV series? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
Kida drew her Samurai sword. "Leave for the forest!" she shouted to the villagers. "They come for me, not you. But their poor-aimed bows and weak eyes might find a target in anyone."
The three government officials surrounded us. They didn't see me--one of them nearly walked through me--but they all had weapons drawn as they approached Kida. The two henchmen, Tashi and Kyoshi, had loaded crossbows. Minoru the leader had a sword.
"You are outnumbered," Minoru said. "Surrender your sword and follow me, and your life might possibly be spared. Otherwise, your loyal friends here will watch you die a violent and painful death. If any of them lift a hand to aid you, they and their families will be shot."
Kida smiled. "Behind you is the hand of man, but aligned with me is a power unfathomable. This power caused the fields you burned to regrow. This power made a house appear from thin air, and this power will defeat you."
I shook my head. "Don't say that, Kida," I said. "I can only make things. I can't use my imagination to kill people."
Kida knitted her brows. "At the very least, this power will protect me."
I grinned. First, though, I had to see if I could use my imagination to make things disappear. Closing my eyes, I imagined that Minoru's clothes disappeared and that he was standing there in his underwear. I heard someone laugh, and I grinned.
Minoru turned to glare at whoever had just laughed, then looked down at his embroidered underpants. His face turned red. "Fire your arrows!" he shouted at his henchmen.
The first two arrows were launched. One of them disappeared in midair, and Kida cut the second one in half with her sword. I quickly imagined that Tashi's and Kyoshi's quivers were empty.
"How many arrows did you bring?" Tashi asked.
Kyoshi's eyes were wide as he dropped his crossbow and ran. Tashi followed him. The villagers cheered, but Minoru scowled and lashed out at Kida with his sword. She looked at me desperately as she parried.
I smiled at her. "You've got this, Kida! It's a fair fight now!"
Kida held her form impeccably. She moved like water flowing, her sword meeting each of Minoru's blows. He struck at her head, then her stomach, then her neck, but nothing got through.
Then Kida took a step forward and aimed three quick blows at Minoru's head. He blocked all of them, then swung at Kida's chest. She dropped to the ground, used her legs to knock Minoru to the ground, and knelt atop him. She tossed his sword aside and held her own at his throat.
"You have no power," Kida whispered. "You may burn cities and destroy lives, but you hold no power over hope, or the human will to live. You cannot break them! And so long as I draw breath, I will strengthen the hope you try and fail to extinguish."
Kida took something from her pack. It looked like a thread or a wire, and she used it to tightly tie Minoru's hands together. "What is that?" he asked. "My hands are asleep."
"They are not asleep," Kida said. "They are dead. Never again will you hold anything, from a sword to a spoon. Never again will you burn and destroy. You are at the mercy of others, and I pray they treat you as you have treated them." She stood, still pointing her sword at him. "Begone from my sight. The day you seek me out is the day you die."
I grinned as Minoru ran away. My work here was done. Waving goodbye at Kida, I closed my eyes and willed myself back into my world.
When I got there, I was still trapped under my bookshelf, and Nick was still screaming.
I'd handle this myself.
It's not always possible to follow the age-old advice to "write what you know." What if I want to write a book where the protagonist is a guy? I've never been a guy! What do men think about all the time? Is it true that all teenage boys are always hungry, all the time? I don't know such things. Fortunately for me, however, I live in a world that is comprised of about 50% males, so if I have a question about how men work, I'll always have someone to ask.
I'm not always that lucky.
For example, I'm pretty sure that no one who lived in the middle ages ever sat and thought, "I'll bet someone is going to write a book set in this era. I'd better make a time capsule for them. I'll include clothing, recipes, musical instruments, farm implements...."
No. They were very selfish and didn't think of the future. Now I'm in a quandary.
See, there's a particular Irish instrument called a timpan. No, not a timpani, a timpan. Historians agree on exactly one thing about it: it had strings. We don't even know how many.
Most people agree that, after the timpan died out and Irish people started immigrating to America, they picked up an Appalachian instrument known as a dulcimer and started playing it instead. A dulcimer, therefore, is a modern timpan. But we still don't know a thing about the original.
Historians disagree about what a historical timpan looked like. Some say it was a form of lyre, or something similar to a Welsh crwth (pronounced cru-ith). Others say it was a rectangular board with strings, and that it was played with hammers. Still others look at the etymology of the word and say that the timpan was a drum of skin stretched across a wooden frame with strings running across it, making it something like a short-necked banjo.
We don't even know how the darn thing was played, thanks to the Irish language. It might have been strummed, plucked, picked, hammered, or bowed. Or any combination of the five.
And old Irish instruments aren't the only thing we aren't sure about. We still aren't entirely sure what medieval people wore, or how they styled their hair. I, for one, am pretty miffed. But I suppose that the imagination picks up where history leaves off, and I get to fill in the gaps to my own pleasure.
However, I did find a local dulcimer store. I'm going there to pick their brains about the link between dulcimers and timpans. Let's see if they've found more historical sources than I have.
Have you ever had a difficult time researching something? If you were to make a time capsule, what would you put in it? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.