This is not the post I’d planned, but I’m utterly taken with this music and just had to share. It’s another one of Lucas King’s piano compositions, and it’s called The Silent Place. It also happens to be perfect for a scene I just wrote about Death [Vokhtah 2].
I think we all know by now that 2021 is not going to become a good year any time soon. Despite the rollout of vaccines in most countries, it will take a long time before enough people are vaccinated to provide herd immunity* to those who aren’t. For most diseases, that means at least 70% of a population have to be vaccinated before herd immunity can kick in. With Covid-19, no one’s sure how much of the population has to be immune. There’s also a great big question mark around what the current vaccines will actually accomplish. Will they simply stop the disease? Or will they also stop infected people from passing it on?
So…. 2021 is likely to get a lot worse before it gets better. For the Offspring and I, that means we’ll be in self-isolation for a long time yet. Because of that, I thought there was no point setting any goals for the coming year. I was wrong. There are things I can do, both for myself and for others; it just took a while for me to see it.
One thing I’ve always been bad at is marketing, but marketing these days is mostly digital, so I’ve decided that my goal for 2021 is to get one more review for Miira and Vokhtah. Both are sitting on 19 reviews, and I’d love to see that number change to 20. Not a big goal, I know, but it’s an achievable goal if I pull my finger out and actually do some marketing!
“But I hate marketing!”
I’m probably the world’s worst salesperson, but I discovered a long time ago that when I believe in a product, my enthusiasm accomplishes what my lack of skill cannot – I can make others want to see what has me so excited.
“But I hate marketing my own stuff!”
Sadly, women of my vintage were brought up to believe that ‘showing off’ was the worst thing a woman could do short of flashing her boobs in public. I recognize the conditioning. I acknowledge that it’s incredibly unfair – why should men be able to blow their own trumpet while we have to be demure and self-effacing? But this fear of being seen as a show-off is so deeply ingrained that I cannot shift it.
But I can trick it into shutting up. 🙂 And this is where my light bulb moment kicked in. If I give my books away for free, I’ll be getting eyes on my work AND I’ll be providing some escapism for those who are still in limbo. And that is exactly what I plan to do.
The first step of this grand plan is to drop the price of all my books to 0.99 cents. Then, once every two weeks, I’ll put one of the books up for free on Amazon. The book will remain free for 5 consecutive days before returning to the 0.99 cent price point. When the last book has had its turn at free, I’ll put all the books back to their original price points.
This is what my books cost now:
I’m not sure how long it will take for the price change to register on Amazon, but I’ll post an update when the new prices are available.
So that’s my grand plan. If I achieve the two extra reviews I’ll be happy. If I don’t, I can still hope that my stories ease the strain of this weird point in time, at least a little, and…I’ve got a plan for the next twelve weeks.
much love, Meeks
…*… herd immunity works by surrounding infectious people with people who are already immune. To survive, the bacterium or virus needs new hosts to infect. With no new hosts available, the bacterium or virus runs its course and dies. Eventually, every infected person recovers and bingo, no more virus. To get to that point though, an awful lot of people have to be immunised at the same time, otherwise the virus just keeps ticking along.
Remember that post about info dumps? Well, I’ve just cut two, and it’s breaking my heart. One of them was a cute little scene that I really enjoyed writing, but even as I wrote it I knew what it’s ultimate fate would be.
The other though…the other was about how Kaati picked a primitive lock with the claw of its little finger. I spent well over a week refining the description, trimming it, massaging it, loving it. But this morning I finally admitted the truth: describing the lock and how it was picked had absolutely nothing to do with the story. It may have added a little unnecessary background to the story, but nothing substantial. Nothing necessary.
So I killed it with those bloody great shears. But as the pieces lay twitching on the cutting room floor, I realised that I could write a post about them. Just in case anyone ever needed to know how an ancient lock worked…mwahahahaha!
Okay, ahem, way back in the mists of time, the Egyptians invented a lock that looked something like this:
The yellow bar is the locking bar. It goes through the door and into the doorframe. At the top of the locking bar are three holes and a long slot. When the locking bar is lined up correctly, the three pins inside the lock drop down into the holes in the locking bar and stop it from pulling out of the doorframe. Effectively this keeps the door ‘locked’.
As you can see from the diagram, the pins do not extend all the way down into the locking bar. This is so that a key can be pushed through the slot. The key has three teeth, each of which lines up with one of the ‘pins’.
When you want to unlock the door, you insert the key and push it up so the pins pop out of the locking bar, allowing it to move. You can then pull the locking bar out of the doorframe with the key:
To make the lock work for Kaati, however, I had to simplify the design at bit. This is what the iVokh lock looks like:
Instead of three pins, the Vokh lock only has one. When Kaati sticks its small finger in the keyhole, the tip of its claw fits underneath the pin. When it pushes its claw up, the pin slips out of the locking bar and unlocks the door.
I’ve been writing this damn sequel for years now, yet the beginning has never satisfied me. Or perhaps I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t right, that one of its hearts was missing. Sorry, small pun there.
Anyway…after the umpteenth rewrite of the beginning, I gave up trying to massage the existing story into shape and sat down for a rethink, another one. I knew that Kaati [the Apprentice from book 1] had to meet a character called Death in book 2, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t work out why Death would be at that location.
Everything I tried felt contrived. Either the social constraints didn’t quite work, or the internal motivation of the characters didn’t gel. I knew I was on the right track, but for my internal bullshit-o-meter to be satisfied, everything had to slot into place with a sense of ‘oh…of course.’ But it wasn’t. And then…
I remembered something I’d written ages ago, and suddenly I felt as if a key had turned in my head, a key that made everything else slot into place. And this, with a slight change of emphasis, is that key:
The Master of Acolytes stared at the closed door in dismay. The Assistant had promised to speak to the Yellow, but something about its response had not rung true. Its expression had been too polite, too controlled…
As if just humouring self, the Master thought with an unaccustomed spurt of anger. Its hand rose, but the anger faded before it could knock again.
Surely the Assistant wouldn’t dare ignore the request of a Master?
Of course not. The Yellow would never allow its Assistant to overstep the bounds like that.
Nevertheless, as the Master of Acolytes headed back towards its own quarters, it decided to check back in a day or two, just in case. Because whatever the Yellow’s Assistant might think, finding a healer-seneschal was important. Very important.
The Master did not hate the Traders. It did not even object to sharing the Settlement with them, however it did fear another Great Unrest and knew the Guild would never be truly safe while all communication with the outside had to go through the Quartermaster.
All the eyries had to communicate through the Trader Quartermasters, but at least they had Seneschals of their own and were not forced to share an eyrie with the Traders.
The Settlement, however, had never had a seneschal of its own. Ever since the Great Unrest, the Guild of Healers had debated the value of employing a non-healer as their seneschal, but the move had always been stymied by the need for secrecy, and trust. Out in the eyries, Seneschals bonded with their Vokh, so their loyalty was unassailable. In the Settlement however, the Guild could only form such a relationship if its seneschal were also a healer, and so far they had not found any.
They had tried and failed, for two hundred years, because the two talents seemed to be mutually exclusive. An iVokh could either heal, or speak mind-to-mind, never both.
Or so the common wisdom said. The Master, however, had never been completely convinced by the common wisdom. Despite past failures, including its own, it still believed a healer-seneschal was possible, but only if the iVokh possessed both talents in sufficient measure before the Quickening.
Finding iVokh with the mindspeech was relatively easy as the talent tended to manifest itself at a young age. The talent for healing, however, was much less straightforward and seemed to need the shock of the Quickening to reveal itself. Thus, creating new healers was always a hit or miss affair. Often those who seemed to have the most potential turned into the worst disasters. However the records showed there had been exceptions, even to this rule.
Before the devastation wrought by the Rogue, healers had always arisen naturally, but their numbers had been few, and only the most powerful Vokh could claim them. After the death of the Rogue and the Great Nine, however, the new Nine had decreed that the remaining healers had to be shared by all the surviving Vokh. That was how the Settlement, and the Guild had begun.
In the hundreds of years since then, the Guild had perfected the Quickening to the point where most candidates survived the process. Picking good candidates, however, still involved a great deal of guesswork as very few displayed clear signs of talent before hand.
Of course wild talents did crop up, even now. In fact, the former Blue had been one such talent. Sadly, it had never shown the slightest ability to mindspeak. The young Tanner though…
A shiver ran down the Master’s spine as it remembered how close it had come to dismissing the claims of the Senior from Deepwater. How could a Tanner’s apprentice possess even one of the great talents much less two?
Yet, right from the start, the young Tanner had demonstrated an uncanny ability to soothe the newborns placed in its care. When asked how it did what it did, it said that the newborn were simply uncomfortable; once their needs were met they settled down easily. What it could not explain was how it always seemed to know which particular discomfort to ease.
But the Master knew. Despite the young Tanner’s small stature, and the lingering stench of the Tanning pits, it possessed the ability to feel the newborn’s discomfort. It was something all Healers had, at least to some extent.
Of course, feel alone did not guarantee that the Quickening would trigger the full range of healer talents. Some could feel but not control the ability enough to actually heal. Others, like the Messengers, could feel but were not distressed by another’s pain.
Nevertheless, the Master was convinced that a natural ability to feel was the best indicator of latent talent. That was why it had arranged for the young Tanner to take the position of Acolyte at Needlepoint. The Triad assigned to the Needlepoint eyrie was lead by a Raised Senior of exceptional ability. If anyone could bring out the youngling’s latent abilities it was that Senior…
Who could guessing? the Master thought as it entered its own quarters and closed the door behind it.
Needlepoint was one of the best hidden eyries in the north, yet the Seven of Five Rocks had taken it anyway. Neither the young Tanner nor the Triad were harmed, but in raids, anything could happen, especially if the Triad attempted to save its Vokh. And now the Challenger was heading north as well. It seemed to attack eyries at random, but those it chose were destroyed utterly. If the Nine did not rise soon, the Challenger would decimate the north as it had the south.
Something had to be done. The Guild’s one chance of securing a line of healer-seneschals could not be left to chance. Returning the young Tanner to the Settlement was vital, no matter what the Assistant to the Yellow might think!
Apologies for the long excerpt, but I just had to share.
I was checking my emails after dinner when something made me open my spam folder. The first few items were genuine spam, but then I found an email from Chris Graham [aka The Story Reading Ape] alerting me to a brilliant review of Vokhtah. If this were fiction, you wouldn’t believe it!
“They were now just two frail iVokh pitting themselves against the might of the wild.”
Vokhtah is a difficult but rewarding book. If you like unusual conceptions of extraterrestrials, this is for you. Once you’ve read about half of it, the complexities begin to clarify themselves, but two readings are needed for complete understanding. For example, it took me quite a while to grasp that the Blue and the Messenger were the same individual, and I also didn’t realize that there were two traders’ caravans wending their way to Needlepoint – I thought the Junior and the Messenger were in the same caravan and I got confused. Part of the problem is that the characters don’t have names, only titles. In her end matter, the author addresses this – it seems there is a taboo in this culture about enunciating your real name.
Vokhtah is a grim and forbidding planet; it has two suns, one a hot white star and the other a red dwarf. Sometimes they both shine at once, creating a climate of extremes. The planet is populated with an assortment of mostly vicious and predatory lifeforms and that includes the intelligent ones, who prefer to consume their food animals live. It’s a tribute to the author that she can take these basically repulsive intelligent lifeforms and make them sympathetic. And I would recommend that any human ship of exploration steer clear of the planet Vokhtah – humans would probably be seen as prey animals!
My guess would be that the Vokh evolved from bat-like creatures – their ability to echo-locate is mentioned briefly. They have wings (which contain their lungs), so most of them can fly. They have two hearts. And they are telepathic hermaphrodites with seemingly magical inner powers, like mind-healing and also mind-killing (their Healers are also trained as assassins). There are two variant species – the Vokh (large and dominant) and the iVokh (meaning literally “small Vokh”). The Vokh have a serious flaw – breeding is consummated by means of violent rape; nobody wants to bear an offspring because the “female” always dies in childbirth (this doesn’t occur with the iVokh).
However, the people have a strong sense of honor and obligation – if you accept help from someone, you incur an obligation and if you don’t fulfill it, you are ostracized. In the second half of the book, after the episode at the Little Blue River, the main characters – the Messenger and the Apprentice – are shown developing a sense rare in these people – empathy, an ability to relate to and care about others with whom one has a relationship, beyond the obligations of the code of honor.
All this just scratches the surface of the author’s astonishing creation. I should also mention that the book is a cliff hanger, and no second volume has yet appeared.
I must say a few words about the language. Unfortunately, the Kindle version has no Table of Contents and so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the author provided a brief treatment of the language in the end matter. It seems to have no pronouns, and verbs are consistently rendered only with the present participle form, all of which helps to create the alien language effect. Certain words used in the text are self-explanatory, like “ki” for “no” and “s’so” for “yes.”
There is one etymological gaffe that I can’t help commenting on – the explanation of the word “boot” (a foot-covering). The character doesn’t know what the word “boot” means and it’s explained as a contraction of “bucket for foot.” And yet that derivation would be impossible since the iVokh aren’t speaking English. You have to assume that the Vokhtah words reflect a similar construction, which the author could have fabricated.
But that’s only a quibble – don’t be deterred! This really is an amazing book and while the culture may not be palatable to everyone (you need a strong stomach sometimes), I definitely recommend it to any serious reader of science fiction.
The review was written by Lorinda Taylor, also known as The Termite Writer. Some days just get better and better.
I’ve known that some meteorites contain iron for a long time – the starrock of Vokhtah is metal made from ‘found’ meteorites. But I was just guessing when I imagined that the gems worn by the Council of Seven [including the Blue], also came from meteorites. I’ve just learned that I was right, about some of them at least. God, I love research!
Have a look at this:
This is a peridot cut from the Jepara meteorite. A green gem for The Green. 🙂
“Very rarely, meteorites will contain facetable mineral material large enough to actually cut a gemstone, since the heat and impact of the fall can easily destroy most gemmy material or shatter it into tiny fragments. For example, the olivine material in stony and stony-iron meteorites can sometimes yield beautiful peridots.”
Green is more rare than yellow, which works perfectly for me as there are three Councillors in the Yellow faction but only one Green. I haven’t found anything about a blue gem but a little fantasy is okay, right?
While I’m prepared to do a bit of hand-waving [fudging the science] over the colour of the gems, my tolerance does have its limits, so it was wonderful to learn that these gems can ‘fall out’ of the metal matrix due to the presence of water in the environment – i.e. the water makes the iron corrode away leaving the gems behind:
“This Brenham piece was found in a damp, muddy part of the strewnfield and much of the iron-nickel has terrestrialized, while the olivine crystals remain intact. Corroded specimens such as this are unofficially called meteorodes.” [Under the picture of the meteorite].
This is important as the iVokh Smiths have barely made it into Iron Age technology; they needed some way of extracting the gems from the starrock. Plus, it so happens that Vokhtah goes through a season of torrential rain every year [Kohoh].
-pats self on the back-
And to prove that meteorites were used to make jewellery right here on Earth, here’s a picture of a bead found in an Egyptian tomb. It dates back about 5,000 years:
That bead may not look like much, but it is most definitely made from a meteorite. You can find the whole article at the following link:
If anyone is interested in extraterrestrial metals and jewels, the link to geology.com will take you to a brilliant article that gives a very detailed, in-depth explanation of these beautiful visitors to Earth.
But wait, there’s more. 😀 I wasn’t actually researching gems today, I was researching the metal in meteorites to see if I could find some property of meteorites to ‘identify’ a Healer’s chain that is becoming pivotal to the story of Kaati [Vokhtah book 2].
Iron and Stony-iron meteorites contain both iron and nickel. Earth does have some iron-nickel but it’s rare. Meteorites have it in abundance [one way of identifying them]. For my purposes, the following is of great interest:
“Iron-nickel (terrestrial or extraterrestrial) develops a coating of rust if washed or if kept in a humid area. If a specimen must be washed with water, it should be thoroughly dried.”
I knew that terrestrial iron would rust if not protected, but its nice to know that I was right about starrock as well :
“Left alone in the empty bathing cavern, the Voice sighed as it picked up the discarded cloth and dried the large starrock medallion that hung from its neck. Starrock did not like water. It hoped the na-Seneschal would remember that, but suspected the young iVokh would not. There were still a great many things the na-Seneschal did not know about being a Voice. Foremost among them was knowing when to bend and when to stand firm.”
[Vokhtah, book 1]
Getting back to the Healer’s chain, however, I think I may have found what I’m looking for in a type of meteorite called ataxite. It has an exceptionally high nickel content which gives the metal a strange, almost white colour:
“Today, modern blacksmiths are still following the tradition: a blacksmith from historical re-enactment group ASBL Lucilinburhuc created a sword incorporating a chunk of ataxite — a type of meteorite with an unusually high proportion of nickel, at least 18 percent.”
The red emphasis is mine. If you’re interested in the process, this is the video made of the creation of the sword:
The truly interesting thing is that the meteorite wasn’t melted. It was heated and then hammered to gradually remove the impurities. This is called forging and is a technique that my iVokh Smiths could have mastered quite easily!
The following is a screenshot taken from the very end of the video. It shows the amazing colour [almost white] and the patterning left behind after the ‘etching’ process [an acid bath to bring out the folds]:
The video includes other techniques that the iVokh probably wouldn’t have had access to, but then they weren’t making a sword, just the links for a simple chain. An unusual chain that fits my plot perfectly.
Soundcloud is getting to know me too well. Caratacus was one of the tracks it recommended for me this morning. I listened and fell in love!
Caratacus was composed by Dirk Ehlert. He may become a new favourite composer too. Still listening to some of his other tracks.
Soundcloud also recommended an epic but disjointed track that immediately made me think of ‘The Seven’. I can’t say I like it, but I know precisely where it fits so I had to create a new playlist in which to save it.
If you’ve never given Soundcloud a try, please do. It’s free [although I believe there is a paid version?] and only interrupts with a commercial maybe once in an hour. Not bad at all. And its recommendations are eerily accurate, at least for me.
Well, I’m off to do some volunteering. Have a great day. 🙂
Music has always been a vital part of my writing because it speaks directly to the emotional and creative side of my brain. In a very real sense, it puts the logical side to ‘sleep’. For me, that is a necessity because technical writing comes so much easier.
But finding the right music for the right story has never been easy. Until today.
I give you, ‘The Journey of a Scarecrow’, by Indie composer – Jean-Gabriel Raynaud:
The instant the Scarecrow track began to play [on Soundcloud], I knew precisely who it was for. The quirky playfulness screamed ‘Acolyte’!
For those few brave souls who read my scifi/fantasy novel, ‘Vokhtah’, you may remember the small iVokh who worked for the Healers in Needlepoint. The Scarecrow is its signature song.
For everyone else, here’s a short excerpt from the book that introduces the reader to the Acolyte:
The Female was fast asleep when the steady drip, drip of the timepiece was joined by the scrape of wood across sand.
It was a small sound, as was the gap that appeared between the edge of the door and its frame. The gap was just wide enough to admit two twiggy fingers tipped with blunted claws. The fingers strained at the wood to no avail.
A dull thump sounded from the other side of the door as something heavy hit the sand. Two more fingers appeared and four blunted claws dug into the wood as the fingers jerked at the door. Each jerk widened the gap a little further until persistence finally triumphed, and the opening became wide enough for a small black face to appear.
Everything about that face was small, except for the eyes, which glowed huge and golden in the soft, blue light of the chamber’s single glow-worm.
After darting a timid glance from left to right, the face disappeared only to be replaced a moment later by a small black rump. Over-sized, jet black wings swept the sand as the hunched shape of the small iVokh backed into the chamber, dragging a sloshing leather bota. The water sack was almost as tall as the iVokh itself.
Diminutive by any standard, the healers’ acolyte looked more like an iVokhti than a fully-grown iVokh. In fact, the only parts of its anatomy close to normal size were its wings, and they seemed far too large for its small frame.
The Acolyte’s lack of stature was accompanied by a corresponding lack of strength. The Junior mocked its weakness at every opportunity, but the young iVokh prided itself on never failing in its duty. Clever and resourceful, it compensated for the weakness of its body by using the power of its wings. Only rarely did it have to rely on brute strength as it did now.
Bent over the bota, struggling to regain its breath, it stiffened as derisive hoots sounded from the outer cavern.
The Acolyte’s hide took on a hot, yellowish tinge. It did not like being closed in with the female, but it liked listening to the Junior’s oh-so-witty barbs even less. Pulling itself upright with a jerk, it grabbed the leather handle of the door with both hands and pulled. Embarrassment was a powerful motivator, and the door closed quickly.
The Acolyte features in Book 3 of The Suns of Vokhtah. Unfortunately, I’m still on book 2. That means I mustn’t allow myself to listen to this new music until I’m ready to write the Acolyte’s story… -cries quietly-
I hate these games I have to play with my subconscious, but my muse is temperamental at the best of times. At least now, I have a lot to look forward to.
Musical tastes vary, I know, and mine may not match yours, but if it does…hi new friend! 🙂
Today I want to introduce you to my new favourite composer. His name is Peter Milinkovic, he hails from Serbia, and his company is called Talekeeper Music. What could be more perfect?
I found Milinkovic on Soundcloud which is an extraordinary website that showcases the work of new and not so new composers. The link below is for ‘Unbroken’, a track with a haunting melody and uplifting ‘pace’, very Kaati-ish :
The next one is called ‘Sun’ and the graphic is soooo Vokhtah! :