The woman smiled. She had conquered the Phoenix, ruler of all other birds, and forced her to masquerade as Jujak, the Vermillion Bird. The Azure Dragon, Cheongryong, had helped her capture the Phoenix and had given her the power to control it. She stood between Cheongryong and the Phoenix in front of a crowd of people. The plan was in motion.
Cheongryong had come to her as a girl, had read her heart and given her the power she desired. It corresponded with the portents that had surrounded her birth. She would rise to greatness and ruination, they had said.
She had the combined might of the East and South at her disposal. Cheongryong was dealing with the actual Jujak and would return in time, once the bird was ready to be conquered. She was free of the direct influence of the gods and was ready to move on her own.
The West was next, where the White Tiger dwelt. He was clever among the gods and his priests were clever among men, though she refused to count herself among men any longer. She was something more.
“Please,” she begged. “I must speak to him directly.” She knelt in supplication before the priest of the White Tiger.
The priest frowned at her. “He knows that your Phoenix is not the same as the Jujak of the South, though he knows not what you have done with her.”
She lay down on the ground, prostrate. “The Dragon came to me when I was a child. He said he brought my destiny. Who could spurn such an offer?”
A white tiger, Baek-ho himself, came from behind a screened panel, huffing through its lips. Twice the size of any living cat, he passed the priest and sniffed the air above the girl, drawing his lips back. “Rise,” he said, the whisper filling the room. “You speak the truth.”
She stayed on her knees, vulnerable to the god. “I come to ask for help,” she said. “His plan would have me conquer the gods, I ask instead for your help in defeating him.”
Baek-ho sniffed at her again. “What boon would you ask from me, and what would you give in return?”
“I ask half your power. I have no boon from Jujak, I have only the aid of you and the Hyeonmu to defeat the Dragon. I have nothing to give you but an oath that I will never seek to harm you.”
Baek-ho laid his head on top of hers and conferred his blessing. With it was the inability to use his own powers against himself, but her heart had spoken true. She meant him no harm.
Her meeting with the Black Turtle, Hyeonmu, was next. He was more cautious, but the fact that she already had the blessing of Baek-ho swayed him. The pieces were in play, now she had but to wait. Cheongryong would return at the end of winter. His powers would be in ascendancy. Jujak would still be weak. Until then she would learn about the powers she had gained. Hyeonmu was a wellspring of strength and protection and she learned spells that drew on this energy to keep other attacks at bay. Baek-ho was fierce but silent, waiting for the perfect moment to spring out of the grass and attack its prey.
The days were still cold when Cheongryong returned. “It is time,” he said. “We must strike now before she gains any strength. Take my power, strike her down.” He leaned down and kissed her on the forehead, imbuing her with nearly all of his power.
The Turtle within her stirred, drawing excess power to hide in its shell. The Tiger hid away, waiting to pounce and restrain the rest of the power within her. She climbed onto the dragon’s back, Phoenix at her side, and rode him to the Other Place where Jujak waited and railed against her captivity.
She stood before the bird, flanked by her immortal friends. “Why do you fight so hard?” she asked. “Is it not easier to rest? Save your strength. You will need it for when you escape.”
“You will never let me escape,” the bird screeched at her.
“I cannot live forever,” she pointed out. “Surrender. Give me your power willingly, we will save a long fight that neither of us wish to have.”
The bird puffed up and fluttered her wings before realizing the truth this girl spoke. She bowed her head and tore off one feather from a wing then passed it to the human before her. “Rule well, mortal. Pray for your death before my escape.”
She could feel the power surging in her. She turned on Cheongryong and threw him into the cage as well. He could no longer draw his power back from her.
“What are you doing?” he cried. “This wasn’t the plan!”
“This was the plan,” she said. “Your other friends will join you. You won’t be here long.” She climbed astride the Phoenix and returned to her home.
Sending the two remaining gods to the prison was simple, neither could withstand her might. She had not gone back on her word, imprisoning them caused them no harm and she only planned it as a temporary captivity.
As a child she had seen bodies lying in the streets. Murder. Rape. The world was broken. When the Azure Dragon had come, whispering in her ear of power and destiny, she embraced it. She had learned his weaknesses the same as she would for any other enemy. She had exploited him and usurped the powers offered, following her human nature. And now she would do as all other humans seemed to do: destroy.
Her reach was vast. How long it had seemed for her plans to come to this. She cared not for the power to remake the world in her image. She was of this Earth, after all, and if it burned she would burn with it. And so began the destruction.
She had been true to her word, the gods had not been mistreated or imprisoned for long. With nobody to believe in them they were weak when the bars fell from their prison. Their world had been destroyed, there was nothing left for them.
Pick a color.
Use it in a flash piece.
Less that 1000 words.
This will be due on the 11th of October and we can discuss it on the 18th.
Also, we are meeting in West Port on the 18th as well.
Pick a cliche.
Butcher it to the best of your ability in less than 1000 words.
Post it privately or publicly here before the 13th of September so we can play the game the 20th.
Edit: A little help suggested by Carolyn: http://www.westegg.com/cliche/random.cgi
Two weeks ago was a Twitter pitch contest, #Writepit. I put out four tweets to get a feel for whether my piece might be ready. Three favorites later, I was searching websites for the next step. The answer: send in a query and x amount of pages. Pages I have. A query letter, well, I’m less certain about that. Being nervous about this next step, I fell back on researching the internet. Here’s what I found.
Query Letters: Form
- Keep it short: Single page cover letter (250-300 words)
- Three to six paragraphs:
- Three paragraph form. The hook (read the back-cover-copy or flap copy of your favorite books), the mini-synopsis, and your writer’s biography
- Add ons: basic personalization for the agent, request for action
- Title and word count
- Contact information (signature block)
Query Letters: Getting into and out of them
- Start: I’ve seen letters start in two basic ways (with personalization and without): My novel x is y words long and z genre — or — I have seen x where you recently expressed interest in z. Novel x is y words long and z genre.
- End: bio (with accolades if you have them) and a signature block
Query Letter: The Hard Part
- Show us who the characters are
- Strong actions, strong ramifications, and lots of emotions tied to each
- Tone of the story
Most of the websites suggest hard work, trial and error, critquing queries, and reading lots of examples. Here is the list of websites I relied most heavily on when researching:
Rachelle Gardner, agent – http://www.rachellegardner.com/how-to-write-a-query-letter/
Jane Friedman, professor – http://janefriedman.com/2014/04/11/query-letters/
Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/09/query-letter-_n_2434095.html
Agent Query – http://www.agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx
- Writer’s Digest list of queries from published novels: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries
Query Shark – examples of query letters in process with advice http://queryshark.blogspot.com/
August’s flash challenge is this:
Create a story less than 1000 words
Content is a cute bedtime story
Princesses, castles, little red riding hood, happy endings. No gore, no horror.
Next meeting: August 16 at Hyvee (95th and Antioch) at 6:00 pm.
You’ll find Ramona first. A porcelain doll holding a maple ukulele alone in the first subway car. Skin painted and cold, the paleness will contrast the dark color of her stained red lips. The chiffon prom dress straight from the fifties will be as white as her now lifeless skin. Bloodied lips, a large belted sash, and her shoes will scream a red so fierce your ears will ring. The ringing will almost keep you from noticing the little cuts, the hundreds of little pale cuts, no longer bleeding, that made her scream for so long. I digress. This story starts earlier than what remains of Ramona’s lifeless body.
I put the dead body in the first paragraph. I was told to do it. There are rules that must be followed after all. Introductions must be made. Attention must be grabbed. Beginnings are more important than most people realize.
The urge will come upon me slowly. The desire will be masked at first. I won’t notice the little things. I’ll be easily irritated, overly emotional. New hobbies or crafts will start to appear shiny. Food, exercise, and sex won’t satisfy. The longing, a craving, I won’t be able to satisfy it without creating. And suddenly I’ll know that it is time to kill again.
Once I know it is time to to create I will start looking for ideas. I might flip through old notebooks to review past ideas or look for new ones elsewhere. I’ll hang out in interesting places and watch engaging people. I’ll read some new books or maybe see a movie. The key at this stage is keeping my mind open to any ideas that might be worth pursuing. Eventually though, an idea will grow. It will stick.
I don’t like to think of myself as having a type, but I must have one. I can’t even say that I understand what it is I’m looking for. It might be the way she smiles, a look, or maybe a particular turn of phrase that finally catches my attention. I do know that when I find her she’ll have a sparkle, an energy. She’ll be ripe with potential to change the world.
I’ll want to know all I can about the particular idea I have chosen. I’ll learn all the general and topological information. Then I’ll learn the history and patterns that led up to it, but that won’t be enough. I’ll dig deeper. I’ll want to know intimate information, sensory details that will bring the story to life when it is read.
Ramona Darling busked the dirty sidewalk of 39th and Pine just outside the entrance to the subway. She plucked and strummed that maple 6 string ukulele and sang with all she was. Lullabies, chanteys, pop songs and 80’s ballads fought the cacophony of that intersection struggling to live for just moments in the air above the noise. Dirty dollars and loose change would find their way into her case as the people walked by. They heard the music but they didn’t see her. They didn’t see the story that I saw.
Once I am satisfied with my research I start playing with the structure. I try to figure out what message I am trying to get out of my mind with this particular work. I discover the parts of the plot, the theme, and the characters and work to put them in an order that makes sense, that tell the story I can see and feel in my head.
Getting started can be tricky, but getting all the way to the end and finishing I believe is the hardest part. It wasn’t hard to get Ramona alone. When she woke in the room of the abandoned subway she was already bound and helpless. It took me days to carve the words into her flesh. Just keeping her alive long enough to get all the words carved into her skin was a challenge, but then arranging her in the subway car without anyone seeing the show too early was also trick. I worked to get everything set up exactly as I had envisioned.
You don’t have to get it exactly right the first time. This is very important to remember, especially if you are new to this. I remind myself of this often. Don’t cripple yourself with self-doubt and fear. You can tweak the process as you learn more and gain experience. You can start fresh and rework this story as often as you like. Revise and edit it until you are satisfied.
I really just wasn’t satisfied with the way Ramona’s story turned out. Something was just not right. I feel like maybe there was more to her story than her skin allowed, more than I managed to tell. Maybe it was her eyes. I think they should have been blue. I am just not sure.
Be confident in yourself. I have a long way to go in my craft before all the parts come together. I’ll find the right story and the approach that works for me someday. I’ll just keep at it until I do.
I froze on the sidewalk while Tyler kept his eyes glued to his phone, halfheartedly pulling me along. Out of a mixture of stubborn defiance and fear, I refused to move. I raised my arm and pointed but Tyler wouldn’t look up to see what I was pointing to. “There…Th” I pushed through my chattering teeth and shaking lips. A dark skinned man, puffy locks of hair covering his face, lay on the ground motionless. The air around him was cold. “Come on, it’s probably some passed out drunk” Tyler says in an annoyed tone and yanks me harder to make me follow him. Did Tyler really not think he was dead? Or did he not care?
Tyler was the type of man that didn’t like to be inconvenienced, so after working a 12 hour day, he wasn’t about to let some “passed out drunk” stop him from going home sooner. I knew this about him, hell, I even enabled this behavior, but something about it today disturbed me to my core.
I decided I wouldn’t say anything though, I never did. I knew how to behave, how to walk on eggshells, not to ask too many questions, not to express my feelings, not to ever cry out loud. I knew how to do all of this long before Tyler.
There was a night I will never be able to piece together because I was so young when it happened. Maybe 4 or 5? Screaming, yelling, broken glass, my sister and I being drug into our bedroom, door slamming shut. I remember crawling into bed, arm screaming with pain, knowing I needed to cry but had to cry silently. I remember just wanting the darkness to swallow me whole so I didn’t have to feel this pain but instead I shook violently as I choked on sobs. “Shut up!” my older sister said in a harsh whisper. She was eight and already learned how to shut her emotions down. I let out another shake and felt a foot kick me hard in the back
“Owwww” I wailed, pain and sadness spilling over. Another hard kick “SHUT. UP!” and with that, I choked back everything.
Maybe that was the first time, I don’t know. But I do know that over the years I perfected the art of crying silently, just laying on my back, letting the tears fall into my ears, without even so much of a sniffle. So by the time I started dating Tyler, it was nothing new.
Except that night when I went to sleep, there was a new feeling in me. I tried to shake it off by numbly going through the motions once we got home. He took off his jacket, I followed him in the bedroom. He motioned for me to give him head, I obeyed. It was never anything I liked to do. But I could zone out a lot easier giving head than I could with sex. So I got on my knees, and entered that state of gray, a place with no emotions, a place of minimal existence. Suddenly, he aggressively pulls my head away from him. I look up and I can tell that he’s frustrated.
“Fuck it, I’ll do it myself. God, I could have gotten better head from that dead guy” He stomps off, pushing me aside, and I hear his laptop snap open.
He knew??? He knew that guy was dead? And he didn’t care?? Swirls of emotions I had constantly been pushing down came rushing back nearly knocking me back. Though I suspected this all along, this moment brought me crashing back to reality. This man was nothing more than a fucking jerk.
That night hit me hard as I went through the motion of a silent cry that was all too familiar. As soon as the tears hit my ears, I was done. As if a string was hastily pulling me upwards, I sprung up, threw off the covers and began to grab a suitcase and stuff my clothes in it
“What the fuck? What time is it?” Tyler said in a groggy, sleepy tone but I didn’t answer. I could only concentrate on what I needed. I didn’t give a shit about leaving some clothes behind. I could buy more clothes later. Cell phone, charger, pants, shoes, all sloppily thrown in the suitcase. I wrapped my laptop in a shirt and was off.
“Wait…what…Where Are?” He said, now springing out of bed. I was almost at the door when I felt a pull at my arm.
“Hey, hey, you gonna leave me?” He gave me this enraged look that normally I’d cower in fear of, but I’ve seen it so much that in this moment it didn’t phase me.
“Well fine, fuck you, go!”
I was used to this tactic as well.
There was something about knowing, about being able to predict his moves that helped me find solid ground. With one hand clutching my suitcase, I looked deep into his eyes, wishing I could burn these words into his skin.
“Tyler, you will never find anyone to treat you as well as I did.”
And as if sealing his fate, I spun around on my heels and slammed the door behind me.
Storms from the Magic Wastes were common, Mags and Edwin didn’t pay them any mind. Storms that dropped bodies at the house, that was different. Especially when the bodies were familiar. They were dead, of course, but not as dead as they should be. Edwin’s wife Anna had been nearing eighty when she died and had been buried five years ago. The body on the ground was young. The other was Edwin’s former employer, Lord of the Hills. He and his wife were interred decades ago, and yet here he was, fully intact.
“Well,” Edwin said, “this is strange.”
After the incident last year with a Mage summoning and capturing a god, the Magic Wastes had been much more active.
“Should we send for the Kings men?”
Mags shook her head. “Can you confirm they are who they appear to be?”
He pulled the man’s shirt up. There were several scars across his torso. “This is what killed him,” he said. “It appears to have healed quite well.”
Despite her advanced age, Mags made it down to Leah’s house in record time. “We need the god,” she said as she approached.
“He lives with Bruce, further south. What happened?”
“Bodies in the storm. Fresh ones. But we buried them years ago.”
Leah scribbled a note for her apprentice. “Can you keep going? Only another half hour.”
Mags nodded and they headed out again.
“These bodies, they were friends of yours?” the god asked.
“Of Edwin’s yes. His former master and his wife. Both dead for several years. The injuries that killed his Lord seemed to have scarred and healed, yet he doesn’t look a day older. Anna is decades younger than when she died.”
He sat in quiet thought. “Were they talented in the magical arts?”
Leah answered. “Anna was one of the strongest witches around. I don’t know about Howe. It was his son who trapped you here.”
Sev shuddered at the memory. He was exiled from his home and trapped in a body that ill suited him. “Let me try to speak to my father. If it is what I fear, this may be just the beginning.”
The heavens had opened and deposited another body outside Bruce’s home while Sev meditated. He came back from his hut pale. “It is as I feared,” he said, examining the body. “My home is falling apart.” He had lived in what these people called the Magic Wastes, the source of magic. His family had ruled there for eons. Many had died or disappeared, becoming enamored of this mortal world. By the time he had been trapped here, unable to return home, the realm was unstable. “Those with a strong connection to magic, when they die, come to my realm. They are given form according to their wishes. Many of them keep the forms they had in life, though often at their prime rather than with the infirmity of age.”
“Anna,” Mags said. Sev nodded. “So it truly was her?”
“Yes. But since I was trapped here and my brother exiled for his retribution the family cannot sustain it. Some of the dead from this realm feel they can return. Their bodies survive the journey but their souls are trapped. My family is trying to rein in the free souls and keep the magic under control. That takes more who are supposed to rule over the dead. More escape which destabilizes the system further.”
“Is there nothing we can do?” Mags asked.
“Unless you can find a way to relesase me from this form, no. I must return home to do any good.”
There was a squawk outside the door. Mags stepped outside. Her familiar was there, a raven. “What is it, Daniel?” He hopped around and croaked a few more times. “Alright. Did you hear our conversation?” The bird nodded. “Good. Go tell Edwin.” Daniel flew away and she went back inside. “Bodies are piling up. It’s all the birds are discussing.”
“You speak to birds?” Sev asked.
“I speak to Daniel. He speaks to the birds.”
Bruce invited them all to stay over for the night. It was too late to return to Leah’s safely.
There was an obvious solution to the problem, Leah could see it. She understood Daniel well enough to know that he had told Mags the same thing. It seemed heartless, but Sev was easily the strongest magic user in the entire world. If he were to die it would free him from this body and send him back to his family where he could help stabilize the realm.
Mags caught her eye and shook her head. Sev was here. He was doing well here. There was no call to murder him on a possibility.
The problem hung in the air. Sev could see the silent conversation between the women. He had come to the same conclusion they had. This body must die soon. He couldn’t arrange his death, those who did so weren’t allowed into the realm. “It is as you suspect,” he said to them. “I will take a potion and sleep well tonight. I trust you to do what must be done.” He headed to his own hut.
“What’s he talking about?” Bruce asked.
“He has to die,” Leah said. “Free him from this body, send him back to his home.”
“Not in my home.”
“He has his own hut,” Mags pointed out.
It was done quickly as Sev slept. A quick slit to the throat by Mags. Before dawn she slipped away for the long walk home.
Late that afternoon she saw a golden stag following her. She stopped. “Sev?”
It approached her, bowing its head and nuzzling her neck.
“You’re welcome,” she said. “Be well, Sev.”
The stag faded from existence as she continued along the path. There would be plenty to explain to Edwin when she got home.
Jane trudged into her apartment with sore feet from a day of waitressing and headed straight for the bathroom. She wanted nothing more than a shower to rid her of the grease coating and to take her hair down. The dead gerbil lay in place of the soap, and its blood dried in the crease along the edge of the sink. Her scream filled the room and echoed off the shower tiles and rang in her head until it deafened her. She stopped because it hurt her ears and wouldn’t change poor dead Harry “the Biter” from being dead.
Three breaths later and a room away, her brain started to work. Someone killed her pet. Someone was in the apartment to kill Harry. She checked every window. All closed. She checked the front door. No damage. Someone with a key was in the apartment and killed Harry. It must have been her roommate.
Jane marched down the hallway and knocked on Chandra’s door. No one answered. She got out her cell phone and called her. No one picked up. She texted Chandra and watched the little bubble to see when the text was read, but even though she waited ten minutes, Chandra didn’t read the text or respond.
This was the last straw. Jane no longer cared that her and Chandra had been friends since elementary school. So Chandra stopped the school bullies from picking on her, that didn’t give Chandra the right to push her around. Who cared if Chandra got Jane her first job. She could have gotten the stupid dish washing job all on her own. And what had Chandra done for Jane lately. Nothing.
The free-loader roommate had to go. Chandra started it by killing Harry. Now Jane had to return the favor. Jane stomped down the hallway and slammed Chandra’s bedroom door open. She turned on the light and saw the collage wall of all their friends.
Their friends, right? Well, Jane never had a crush on Chris Hemsworth. She ripped the magazine page of actor off the wall. Katie hated her. The only things they had ever done together was hangout in the same room when Chandra was there. She stabbed Katie’s picture in the eye with a push pin. Grabbing a marker from the desk, Jane drew blobs over the faces of their best friends: Meg who stole the boy Jane crushed on, Christy who blamed Jane when their high school security found marijuana in her locker, Chrissy who only talked to Chandra, and Jessica who told Jane she was stupid and ugly any time Chandra wasn’t around.
Jane kept the picture of Tonito. Chandra was the one who stopped Tonito from hanging out with her, Tonito never did anything to hurt her. Even if Chandra bragged that Tonito and her had sex, that was Chandra’s fault. Tonito was hers. Chandra was the whore.
Jane ran back to the bedroom and grabbed the gerbil and dragged his body across the comforter tracking blood.
“Take that you stupid bitch. Whore.” Jane cleared off a big piece of wall directly across from the door and wrote “whore” in big bubble letters. She chopped up the pictures of their friends and glued them inside the letters. Using Chandra’s precious cheerleading poster supplies, she added glitter to the letters. It wasn’t enough, so she opened all Chandra’s drawers and pulled all her clothes out until she found a sparkly thong with a ribbon on front. With the push pin she stuck the underwear on the wall and then tied the gerbil up with the bow.
From the closet, Jane yanked out Chandra’s stash of weed and sprinkled it all over the floor. It still wasn’t enough. Jane stormed out of the apartment. She knew where Chandra worked. She’d find her and cut her open like a gerbil.
Chandra stopped outside her apartment. The door was open and she remembered closing it when she left. She’d checked twice. She always checked. It was part of her therapy. Mary Beth told her to make all her actions deliberate. So she checked the door twice before she left.
“Green County Sheriff’s, how may I help you?”
“Someone broke into my apartment,” she told the operator.
“Are they still there?”
“I don’t know. The door is open, so I haven’t gone in.”
“Can you see any damage or anything stolen from where you are at?”
Chandra peered around the door. “No.”
“What about the door? Is it broken? Does it look forced?”
Chandra stared at the normal door frame. “No.”
“Do you live with anyone?”
“No. I live alone.”
“Is there somewhere safe you can wait?”
Chandra glanced around. She could stay with the superintendent probably or in the complex office. “Yes.”
“We’ll send a car around.”
“Thank you.” Chandra ended the call and stepped into the apartment. Nothing looked out of place. She moved from the living room to the kitchen to her bedroom. From the hallway, she saw her room and sank down the wall. Her hand shook and her stomach heaved. Dialing the next number took more concentration and will than lifting a semi.
“Green County Mental Health. This is Angie.”
“Hi, Angie. This is Chandra Willman. Can I talk to Mary Beth?”
“Hi, Chandra. No she’s in with a patient. Can I take a message?”
“Tell her, Jane’s back, and she’s not happy.”