Created Equal

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It is generally understood that when Thomas Jefferson (he was the designated scribe of the committee of five that came up with this document) put quill to parchment, the word “men” meant land-owing white males.

Many of us are familiar with the heroic exploits of our Founding Fathers, but many of the equally heroic tales of brave women are much less well known.

Who could forget the tale of sixteen year-old Sybil Ludington’s forty mile ride (twice as far as Paul Revere’s) to muster the local militia to fend off a British raid on Danbury, CT? You can read about her in Sybil’s Night Ride, Sybil Ludington’s Midnight Ride, and Women Heroes of the American Revolution.

Cokie Roberts wrote Founding Mothers about the challenges of the wives and other female family members faced while their men were away.

If intrigue, espionage, and cross-dressing are more your cup of tea, you might check out Vicki Leon’s Uppity Women of the New World.

Whatever your Independence Day plans, fresh and novel tales of derring-do make them better!

 

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That’s the Breaks, Kid

 

Sam greets visitors to Huntsville, Texas

Spring break! That fabulous time of year in southeastern Texas when spring has sprung, flowers are flowering, and it is still cool enough to go outside past 9:00 AM. But what does this have to do with writing?

I’m glad you asked. Are you looking for a fresh idea to get out of the dull winter doldrums? Go on a road trip. Museums hold many a mystery and interesting artifact for non-fiction writers, and story prompts about for novelists and short story writers. Mystery Domino

 

Why did Sam Houston’s first wife leave him after a mere eleven weeks of marriage? He took that secret to his grave, but it could make an interesting historical fiction. Who left the mysterious double five domino, stamped with the Huntsville State Prison logo in a holding cell in Harris WP_20160319_051County? What, if anything, did it mean? Secret message, or simple Rawr!mistake? Dinosaur tracks, right here in Texas? Indeed. How were they formed, and who found them? Young readers love dinosaurs! Who were some of the colorful characters during the heyday of the Ft. Worth Stockyards? Maybe you could borrow one or two for the hero or villain in your wild west romance. Did you know there was such an adorable thing as a tree kangaroo? Picture book! Was there really a mysterious character on the grassy knoll? The Sixth Floor Museum may spark some ideas for an alternative history novel.

Tree Kangaroo

Grassy KnollSpring break has passed? No worries. Stay local – there’s bound to be something nearby that you haven’t seen before. Take pictures. Take notes. And limber up your typing fingers!

Another One Bites the Dust

by Artemis Greenleaf

We are in the dark of the year, listening to the death rattle of 2015. Many people are hard at work on shiny New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions that most of them won’t keep for more than a month. So I’m not going to bother. No, this most benighted time of year, the time of the Winter Solstice, is tailor made for reflection. What did I accomplish last year? What do I need to do in the coming year? Instead of resolutions that will fade by February, I’m doing a post-mortem of 2015, and a plan, complete with timeline and schedule for 2016. Looking back on what worked (and what didn’t), it’s easier to refine the plan into something both actionable and achievable. So if you’re among the 8% who actually keep their NYRs, congratulations! It’s working for you, so keep it up. If not, consider making a specific plan with goals and dates. I’m installing project management software (there are a number of free/open source options out there – I’m still researching). This year, be the (wo)man with the plan! And prepare for a fabulous 2016!

 

Showers

by Artemis Greenleaf

Had a camping weekend, so I wrote a flash fiction piece…

 

Showers

“Alright, campers,” Counselor River said, “we’re going on a special night hike this evening. The Perseid Meteor showers are peaking tonight, so we’ll take a walk up to Stoneheart Hill after dinner. Counselors Morgan and Pat will have telescopes set up to we can get a good view. Be sure to bring your bug spray.”

“Cool!” Sam said.

“I just wish they’d let us go to bed,” Ryder replied. “I did most of the rowing when we went canoeing, and my arms are killing me.”

“This has got to be more interesting than sitting around in the woods listening to owls hoot like we did last week,” Sage added.

* * *

The campfire-roasted hot dog and Dutch oven cobbler dinner came and went. Campfire songs, while they waited for it to get dark, were sung and faded into sunset. Finally, Counselor River led the campers, armed with bug spray and flashlights, toward Stoneheart Hill. Counselor Bailey brought up the rear.

The hill was actually the exposed top of a granite dome. Dirt and grass mostly covered the sides, offering a long, gentle slope to the summit. However, there was a section, perhaps as much as a third of the dome, that was bare rock and ended in a drop of about twenty feet straight over the edge. The camp used this cliff face to teach rock climbing skills, and there was a large pavilion with shaded picnic tables, storage for gear, and a small stage for educational presentations near the bottom of the cliff. There was also a handwashing station and a latrine near the trail.

Stoneheart Hill offered the best view on the property – the topsoil was too thin for any trees to grow on it, and it rose above all but the tallest ones nearby. It would have been a great place for a signal fire, if not for the inconvenience of having to hoist the firewood up the sheer cliff face or pack it up from the far side of the trail. The stars brightened as the daylight faded and faint streaks and flashes just above the horizon soon had the campers happy and eager to reach the telescopes.

Something dark hulked just off the path.

“I’ve heard that latrine is haunted,” Sam whispered. “By the ghost of a camper who fell off of Stoneheart and died.”

“Really?” Ryder asked.

“Don’t be dumb,” Sage grumbled. “There’s no such thing as ghosts. It’s just camp lore made up to scare noobs.”

They continued in silence up the long trail to the top of Stoneheart. When they reached the summit, they found Counselors Morgan and Pat, who had set up five telescopes for them. Each camper got several six-minute turns, and they rotated through the short lines.

After about an hour and a half, Sam said, “Wow! That one’s huge!”

Counselor Pat looked up. “Almost looks like it’s coming this way.”

“It is coming this way!” Ryder shouted.

The meteor got bigger, and the glow gradually changed from white to yellow.

“We have to get off this hill!” Counselor Morgan yelled.

“To me! To me!” called Counselor River.

The other counselors wrangled the campers into line as the meteor glow changed from yellow to orange. The group started quickly down the hill, with Counselor Bailey bringing up the rear. They sheltered against the rocky cliff face, waiting for the meteor to pass. The red glow reflected off the metal roof of the pavilion as it neared. The sonic boom that followed it shook small rocks and dirt off the edge of Stoneheart and rained them down on the campers. They barely heard the whistling sound before the glowing rock crashed into the earth just in front of the latrines. It was so hot it melted its way into the native rock and very nearly disappeared below the surface of the impact crater.

“Cool! Let’s go see!” yelled Sam.

“No!” said Counselor River. “It might be dangerous.”

“How?” asked Ryder.

“Well, it is extremely hot. I can feel it all the way over here,” said Counselor Pat.

“And it could be radioactive,” added Counselor Morgan.

“If it’s radioactive, we’re already dead,” said Sage.

The campers could hear the crackling of the meteor as it started to cool. But then they noticed another sound…like a teakettle or a pot of hot water.

“It must be boiling the liquid in the latrine,” gasped Counselor River.

“It’s going to blow!” yelled Counselor Pat.

Three of the four latrine house doors popped open, and an awful geyser welled out of each squat hole. A terrible howling came from the fourth door. The campers and counselors alike froze in terror. Slowly, the door opened. A tall bipedal creature with dark, slimy skin raised its arms and stepped out of the latrine, toward the campers. “Aaauugh!” it groaned.

“It’s the ghost!” screamed Sam.

“It’s an alien!” yelled Riley.

“Run!” shouted the counselors.

Only Sage noticed that Counselor Bailey wasn’t bringing up the rear.

Carl, the Vegetarian Vampire

by Artemis Greenleaf

Click here to see me in the Kindle store!

Click here to see me in the Kindle store!

No, he doesn’t sparkle.

Carl is a friendly vampire – he only drinks the synthetic blood (“synth”) invented by his hero, scientist Dr. Theo Tamas (Extra Iron flavor is his favorite!). But Carl has a problem. His dad desperately wants to be a real estate agent, but he can’t, because people don’t shop for houses at night. So he works at a warehouse job he hates, just to keep his family in synth. If he quits his job, there will be no more synth, and Carl will be forced to become a scary vampire, and lose his best friend, human Alex, forever. But not to worry – Carl has a plan.

In addition to Carl’s tale, I added his bat friends, Dari (short for tadarida braziliensis, or Mexican free-tailed bat) and Foxy (macrobats, or fruit bats, are commonly called flying foxes) on each page. If you double tap Dari or Foxy, they’ll share a fun bat fact with you. I thought I knew a lot about bats, but I learned so much more about them doing this research!

If you would like to read some of the amazing bat articles and resources that I found, visit my Pinterest page. There are a few other things there, as well.

 

Inside the Palisade – an Interview with K.C. Maguire

by Artemis Greenleaf

InsidePalisadeHello! It’s my turn to post, and I have the honor of interviewing our own fabulous K.C. Maguire.

Thanks for interviewing me this week.

Congratulations, K.C., on your upcoming release, Inside the Palisade. Your latest novel is a YA sci-fi dystopia about a teen named Omega who has been raised in an all-female community, and one day happens on a boy who is absolutely, positively not supposed to be there. Would you tell us a little bit about Omega? What is her life like inside the Palisade?

 Omega actually leads a pretty bland life until she meets Ghent (the hidden boy) and starts to learn the truth about her cloistered society. She lives alone with her mother and works in a clothes factory. She has always suspected she’s a little different from everyone else, partly because of her weird eyes in a society where everyone else is genetically engineered to be perfect, and partly because she’s always thought there must be more to life than what she’s seen so far. She discovers that she’s right, but it’s a dangerous journey.

The best journeys always are! Your protagonist is named Omega. The Omega symbol (Ω) was used in Vietnam War draft protests. In computer science, it refers to a missing (null) or inapplicable value. Is there a symbolic connection to her name?

 Partly. I decided to use Greek letters for all the women’s names as a way of “ordering” the society. Women are given Greek letters as first names which they often shorten or change to nicknames. I picked Omega for my protagonist because I wanted to be able to shorten it to “Meg” as an homage to my youngest daughter who was just born when I started the book.

What is the reasoning behind banning men from the community, and how was it accomplished?

 This is a dystopian society where war and violence has ravaged the world outside the palisade. Over the years, a mythology has developed among the women that the men were to blame for all the violence (which, of course, isn’t true, but it comes to be accepted). Men weren’t initially banned, but gradually died out and weren’t replaced as women figured out how to genetically engineer babies to be girls.

 What inspired this story?

In my other life I work in a very male dominated profession and I often leave meetings thinking things like “it would be so much better if women were in charge.” Of course, I don’t really believe this, but it was a thought experiment as to what *might* happen if women actually were in charge. I’m not the first author to experiment with this idea, but many YA sci-fi books have large male character presences even if the protagonist is a woman. I thought it might be fun to turn the idea on its head and see what happens.

My 7th grader is attending an all-girls school this year. What advice would Omega give her?

I went to an all girls school for a while myself and I didn’t like it much. Girls on their own can be very catty and bitchy, although they can also be wonderful and I made some great friends at that school. My advice to anyone starting any school or new social situation is to just be yourself. If you’re honest about who you are and what you want, you’ll never be disappointed in yourself. And if other folks can’t accept that, they’re probably not the best friends for you anyway.

 You’ve created a rich sci-fi world inside the Palisade, where women depend on technology for the survival of their community. What impact has this technology had on their evolution as a species?

 In many ways these women have over-relied on technology while resources and personnel have dwindled. If they’d had less technology and had to work on new ways to move forward as a society, they might have done better in the long run.

 You’ve gotten some rave reviews on Amazon. Is this book the first in a series, or will you leave readers guessing about what happens to Omega?

 I didn’t necessarily plan it as the first in a series but I always knew it had “series potential” in the sense that there’s a lot more that is likely to happen to the young protagonists after the story closes. I’ve actually toyed with an idea for a sequel based on another character’s perspective. In many ways, Omega has fulfilled her character arc in this book, but there’s a lot of room for growth for a number of the supporting cast featured in this book.

I know that you write across several genres, but focusing on sci-fi, who are the top five authors who have inspired you the most?

 I love so many authors that it’s hard to narrow it down to five. Of the more classic sci-fi writers, I love Ray Bradbury and enjoy Robert Heinlein and Philip K. Dick. Of the more contemporary writers, I love Karen Lord, A.M. Dellamonica, and Nalo Hopkinson. There’s also a short story writer (Ray Vukcevich) who is kind of like the Salvador Dali of sci-fi short stories.

There are so many genres because people enjoy different kinds of stories. What kind of reader will love this book

I really think the audience for this book is people who like a fast-paced action story and tend to enjoy “what if” scenarios. There’s a touch of adventure and romance, but it’s mainly a thought experiment about what an all-gal society would look like with past pacing, lots of twists and turns and (hopefully) unexpected reveals.

Finally, would you share an excerpt from the book with us?

 Here’s a little snippet from the middle of the book when Omega and Ghent are arguing about why the women use Greek letters for names and what the options used to be…

“Why the name Ghent? Where did it come from?”

He shakes his head, causing his matted hair to flutter around his ears. “My mothers never liked the Greek letters.”

“And I guess it would be weird for a boy”—I stumble over the unfamiliar word—“to be called Alpha or Beta or something.”

“You don’t think it’s weird for girls to have those names?” He seems upset. I turn away, not knowing what I said wrong.

There’s a rustle of blankets and in a moment he’s on his knees in front of me. The intensity of his gaze makes me feel weak. “Don’t

you see? It’s another way the society controls you. Forces you to conform.” He reaches for me, but I jerk away.

He massages his neck as if in pain. Then he looks over at the bookcase. “Hold on,” he says as he rushes to it and traces his

fingers along the cardboard edges that jut out along the shelves. Obviously searching for something. With a rush of breath, he

pulls out an object. An antique book with a tattered cover. He flips it open. I can’t hide my curiosity. I’ve never seen a paper

book before. I move over to him and kneel by his side. He’s not handling the object with the care I would expect. Instead, he flips

through the pages with his thumb. The paper makes a crackling sound. I lean across until I can see the words, printed in real ink.

“Here it is. Listen to this.” He looks up at me before turning his attention to the object in his lap.

He’s going to read to me. A thrill of anticipation shoots through me. In a melodic voice, he begins, and it’s as if a

thousand butterflies have been released in my stomach.

“My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing

longer or more explicit than Pip. So I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip. I gave Pirrip as my family’s name, on the

authority of his tombstone and my sister – Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith.”

My eyes close as the ancient words fill me, rolling from the deman’s tongue like silk. I’ve never heard anything this strange

before, at least not from a book.

“Do you like it?” he asks.

My eyes fly open when I realize he’s speaking to me.

“What is it?” I ask.

“It’s called Great Expectations.”

“I don’t understand. What does it mean?”

“This part”—he taps his finger over the paragraph he read— “means that people didn’t always use Greek letters for names.

They were able to choose names for themselves. Even make up nicknames, like Pip did.”

“That’s not such a big deal. We use nicknames now. You call your mothers Del and Epsie,” I say, but the words ring hollow.

Nicknames don’t seem like such a great innovation when we only have twenty-four names to choose from.

 

A Picture May Spark a Thousand Words

by Artemis Greenleaf

Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees. – Marcel Proust

Jenny_wireframe_071315

What happens when your imaginary friends stop talking to you?

If you’re a writer, it is the dreaded “writer’s block,” that feeling of looking at a blank sheet – paper or screen – and finding that the only thing that comes to mind is the item you forgot when you were at the grocery store yesterday, or perhaps that song that you haven’t heard in years, and never liked anyway, that’s been stuck in your head for the past three days.

Of course, you can get up and take a walk, do yoga, or make another cup of coffee. Those things might help. Sometimes taking a hot shower is all that is needed to wash away the blockages and get the creative juices flowing.

But here’s another suggestion. If you really want to get into your characters and get them talking to you again, draw them. Draw things in their world. Paint the villains they face. What does your main character’s bedroom look like? What color is her kitchen? What kind of music does your main character listen to when he’s working out? Does he go to the gym or do it at home? What does that look like? It’s okay if the drawings aren’t perfect. It’s fine if the paintings are so cringe-worthy that you’d never show them to anyone. But the more you do, the better you will get at it. If you spend some time making a trailer for your book, it means you will spend a lot of time looking at (or creating) images/videos that you find evocative of the feelings and situations your characters are in. You will also be looking for music that sets the tone of at least the current scene, if not the entire work. Listen to it. Listen to it while you’re drawing/painting/sculpting.

Sometimes I draw with pencils, but mostly, I use a 3D modelling and rendering package called Blender and PhotoShop (I have a Creative Cloud subscription). Blender does have quite a steep learning curve (but there are tons of video tutorials out there to get you going). If PhotoShop CC or even Elements isn’t in your budget, Gimp or Paint.Net might work for you. Besides getting you back on track with your characters, there are added benefits to learning a new skill: 1) you have a new skill! Congratulations; and 2) it keeps your brain sharp, and may help ward off dementia as you get older.

Jenny_closeup_071315

ComicPalooza 2015

by Artemis Greenleaf

WP_20150523_001_smallI am no longer a virgin. Well, a ComicPalooza virgin – those of you who know I have two kids might have been confused by that announcement. Since I have both Sthenno and Euryale (the two immortal gorgons) appearing in Exit Point, I decided to dress as a gorgon. I also wore my holographic reptile eye sunglasses that I got at Ripley’s Believe it or Not NYC. If you want to see how I created my headpiece, you can read the details at my blog. I sat with some of the wonderful people of the Houston Writer’s Guild and Skipjack Publishing. It was a huge event, with 40,000 people turning up, many in costume, some of which were amazing. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to attend any of the panels, but it looked like they had some great content. There was a dizzying array of vendors – books, comics, jewelry, art, dragon pets and much, much more. Next year, it’s scheduled for mid-June instead of late May, which works out so much better for me. It seems like half the people I know attended and had a blast. The people-watching alone was worth the price of admission. It was wonderful to see so many creative folks in one place.

Skipjack Publishing has recently released two anthologies of Houston Writer’s Guild writers. One is Tides of Possibility (Space City Scribes’ own Mandy Broughton is in this one), and the other is Tides of Impossibility (both Mandy and I have stories in this collection). After sitting around chatting with my fellow authors and seeing all of the costumed conference attendees walking by, I was inspired to make a trailer for my story in Tides of Impossibility. Those who have read Cheval Bayard or The Hanged Man’s Wife might recognize one of the characters in The Thirteenth Summer.

I’m already thinking about what I’m going to wear to the con next year. Hope to see you there!

Spooky Space City

Gargoyle_HeadThe next time someone tells you that Houston is simply a generic urban sprawl, you can gently shake your head, smile knowingly, and pat them on the hand as you disabuse them of their misapprehensions. I have been working on the third book in the Marti Keller Mysteries series, The Devil’s Advocate, and I’ve been looking into the spooky side of the Bayou City. Some of these things I knew about, and some were news to me.

Did you know that Houston has an active vampire community? Houston Press did the legwork here, so if you or someone you know is so inclined, perhaps you can go hang out at Numbers on lower Westheimer (I used to go there in the 80s – had no idea it was still around) and you might meet a few of the city’s vampire set. Or you can just like them on Facebook.

Seems like reality TV is crawling with ghost hunting shows, but did you know that ghost hunting groups abound in Houston? Houston Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters of Houston, Paranormal Houston, West Houston Paranormal Society, Lone Star Spirits, and G.H.O.S.T. Houston are just a few of them. Can’t decide on a group? Try going to a meet up.

You can take ghost tours with Ghost Tours Texas, Houston Historical Tours, or Houston Ghost Tour. Spring, Galveston, and Kemah also have spooky tours.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Houston Bat Man? No? On June 18, 1953 witnesses in the Heights saw an approximately 6’6″ humanoid with bat-like-wings that leaped into a tree, crouched there a few minutes, then apparently flew away over the treetops at high speed. A similar creature was sighted on multiple occasions at the Johnson Space Center in 1986. But that creature running across your roof at night? It’s just a raccoon. Probably.

Remember the movie Poltergeist? It was inspired by a true story. The Black Hope Cemetery in Crosby, Texas (just a little northeast of Houston) was turned into a subdivision, but the graves were never moved. Some homeowners reported strange activity.

But there’s plenty of creepy stuff, even if you don’t believe in ghosts. You can take a crack at solving the infamous Ice Box Murders, where an elderly couple was found dismembered, pieces neatly wrapped in butcher paper, and stacked in their refrigerator. Or, maybe take a stab at The Killing Fields, where the bodies more than twenty young women were found. One killer was brought to justice, but he was only responsible for a handful of the victims. But don’t worry – you’re much more likely to be struck by lightning than be murdered by a serial killer.

Sleep tight, y’all.

Dragon Killer Trailer

Belinda Tate is at it again. As The Devil’s Advocate (the third installment of the Marti Keller Mysteries) opens, she is planning to launch the second book in her Dragonfire series (under her pen name, Coda Sterling) during the Space City Sizzlin’ Summer Literary Conference at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Dragon Killer picks up right where Dragon by Knight left off.  Tristan and Lisabeth are on the deliciously tropical Island of the Dragon Council, preparing to return to Galveston. When a meeting with Tristan’s adolescent son goes bad, things quickly spiral out of control, fueled by treachery and political infighting, and leaving Lisabeth wondering if she and Tristan will live long enough to make it to the alter.

And it’s a good thing Belinda likes mystery and suspense, because she herself finds a target painted squarely on her back during the convention. She’s counting on Marti to solve the mystery before Belinda’s number is up.