“Strike Breaker,” part 4

Thanks for following along on my serialization of “Strike Breaker,” a story about a princess whose elf-staff has gone on strike. Here is part 4!

Strike Breaker, Part 4

Part 1 here.
Part 2 here.
Part 3 here.

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As the smoke cleared a strange figure stood in the kitchen.

Periwinkle came to Princess Amadea’s side, and they both gazed at the figure. He was all skinny legs and arms, and he stood a bit taller than one would expect for a resident of this kingdom. He wore a scarlet morning coat, a blue silk tie, dark blue trousers, and on his head, a gleaming top hat. When he saw the two women staring at him, he removed the hat and held it in his hands.

Periwinkle gave a little gasp. Amadea, too, was surprised to see his ears were long and pointed.

Periwinkle crossed herself superstitiously.

“Good-day,” he said. “Have I the pleasure of addressing her Royal Highness Princess Amadea?”

Amadea nodded, still coughing slightly at the smoke. “And you are –?” she asked.

“My card,” he replied. With a flourish, the odd creature took out his card and offered it to Amadea. It read, “Ezriel, Goblin Master.”

Periwinkle gave a sharp intake of breath. “Not goblins!” she exclaimed.

Amadea had only a vague notion of what goblins were. She had never seen any, nor could she remember her father mentioning them to her as a child. She had an impression they weren’t the most trustworthy of creatures, but she didn’t think that was reason enough to fear them, as Periwinkle seemed to. But then Periwinkle had always been superstitious.

Ezriel’s smile never wavered. “Oh, there’s been bad talk about goblins for ages,” he said. “But I’ve found through my work that goblins are in fact most easily trainable and highly well-adjusted creatures. I think you’ll find their services can be quite satisfactory, especially on an emergency basis –”

“Goblins are trouble!” Periwinkle broke in. She gave Ezriel a look of pure revulsion.

“There has always been a lot of nasty prejudice against goblins,” he said.

“Prejudice! What a lot of nonsense!” Periwinkle went on. “They’ll rob you. Steal the children –”

Ezriel sighed. ” – curdle the milk, make your livestock go barren –” He shook his head, an indulgent smile on his face. “It’s sad, really, that the old stereotypes continue to be perpetuated.”

“What do you want from me?” Amadea asked.

Ezriel bowed again. He said, “I understand you’ve got a bit of a situation here. The Banquet of Lords is to be held here tonight, and your union of elves has inconveniently gone on strike . . .” His smile was sympathetic.

“We’ll manage,” Amadea asserted, just as she’d said to Mitchell.

“I believe I can be of service,” Ezriel continued. “I can arrange it so your guests will not notice anything out of the ordinary, so that everything goes perfectly –”

“You could get rid of the elves?” she asked.

“Not remove them. I could mask their disturbance, however. Not only that, my goblins could provide the palace service that is normally done by your elves.”

“And what would be the cost for such a service?”

“Well,” Ezriel said smoothly, “normally I do charge a premium for such service. But, in this case, I am willing to forego my usual charge in exchange for certain considerations.”

“Such as?”

“That you consider replacing the elves with my goblins . . . permanently.”

“Your highness!” hissed Periwinkle. “Not . . . goblins!”

Amadea considered the situation. She hated to go against Periwinkle’s judgment, but she couldn’t afford to settle with Mitchell. Perhaps it would work out. What choice did she have?

“How soon can your goblins be here?” she asked Ezriel, ignoring Periwinkle’s gasp.

Ezriel smiled even wider. “Everything will be arranged immediately,” he said.

“And you’ll do something about the picket lines out there?”

He nodded. “It’s as good as done, your highness.”

A sense of relief swept over Amadea. Soon everything would be taken care of. It would all work out.

She had a momentary concern that Periwinkle might abandon her, given her loathing of goblins. But after a long silence, Periwinkle said, “Well, you’ll need someone to protect you, with those dirty devils about. Let the heavens protect us now!”

(To be continued!)

Happy writing!

Lessons learned from other bloggers & “Strike Breaker”

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When you’ve been blogging for a few years, you learn quite a lot from other bloggers. There are all sorts of blogs out there, travel blogs to lifestyle blogs, cooking blogs to parenting blogs, and, my favorite, writing and artsits’ blogs. Blogging gives you a chance to put your own writing out for an audience to read, and to feel that your work has an impact.

Part of that impact is finding other bloggers that become your own community. In the six years I’ve been blogging I have been delighted to learn from, and to get to know, many other WordPress.com bloggers. My experience reading their blogs have helped me reflect on what I think are the best practices for blogging, at least in a way that engages someone like me.

Here are some things I admire and enjoy in blogs that I read:

  1. Consistent posting frequency. Whether it’s every Monday, 2-3 times a week, or only once a month, you can count on a consistent frequency for the blogger’s new posts.
  2. Inclusion of thoughtful images. I like it when text is broken up with images that illustrate or enhance information in the blog post.
  3. Providing new information I can use. Good hiking trails in my area, tasty and reliable recipes, how-tos on photography or writing poems or traveling on a budget.
  4. A peek into who the blogger is. Are they taking on any creative challenges? Do they have favorite travel locations? Any interesting family traditions or stories to share? Not that they need to divulge their entire life story or personal details, but learning a bit more about their journey helps me feel like I know then better over time.
  5. Thoughtful and relevant responses, even if brief, to comments I leave on their blog indicating I enjoyed a post or describing how their work impacted me. By responding to my comment it’s clear that they’ve noticed my effort to connect and to be impacted by their work.

Do you do any of these things? I would love to hear your thoughts in comments on this post. What do you appreciate in a blog? How often do you blog, and how do you get to know your readers? What advice might you have for a beginning blogger? I’m looking forward to hearing more!

While I’m working on my “blog re-do,” I’m serializing a fantasy story about a princess whose elf-staff has gone on strike. Here is part 3 below.

Strike Breaker, Part 3

Part 1 here.
Part 2 here.

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“Ah, yes –” Mitchell cleared his throat. “I wouldn’t mind something stronger to drink, if you get my meaning –”

He dared a wink. Amadea suppressed a shudder. Old Master Elf Bernard would never have permitted such liberties. Did she really need to curry favor with this Philistine? She glanced at Mistress Periwinkle, who frowned at his impertinence.

“You’d better get back to the table preparations, Periwinkle,” Amadea said. Perhaps this could be settled quickly if Mitchell were provided with a small cup of wine.

“I’ll be in the dining hall if you need me, your highness,” announced Periwinkle. She scurried out, indignation in her manner.

Amadea took out the boysenberry wine from last season. Not the best vintage, thankfully. The fact that she poured it herself was evidently not lost on Mitchell, who had the audacity to grin widely when she offered the cup to him. She drew back and waited. Mitchell gulped down the sweet wine in a single draught, then stared balefully into the empty cup, as if wishing more wine would appear.

“You were saying?” Amadea tried to keep the impatience out of her voice.

“Ah, yes. Now, my constituents and I feel that a significant wage increase would be in order, along with half-staff, for time off, on holidays, and a fowl allowance on all major feast days –”

“How much of an increase?”

Mitchell’s eyes darted to the pantry door, the ovens, the kitchen stove, then back to Amadea. “Double wages, your highness. We think that is suitable, considering –”

“Double wages!” Amadea burst out. Immediately she regretted the show of emotion. Mitchell’s grin returned. He rocked back on his heels. She added, “I cannot agree to such an outrageous proposal.”

“Suit yourself,” Mitchell replied, in a voice with a more than a hint of insolence in it. “You seem to have things well in hand here. All ready for the banquet tonight, I see.”

Amadea held her head high. “We’ll manage.”

“Just say the words, and my constituents – ah, the palace staff – can be back in their usual places in no time,” he said smugly.

“At double wages? I think not,” she said. Then she added, “You should be ashamed of yourself. If old Master Elf Bernard were here –”

“But he’s not, is he?” Mitchell gave one last look at the empty cup before setting it down on the scullery table. “We’ll be just outside if you change your mind, your highness. Near the moat.”

After Mitchell had shut the door behind him, Amadea fumed. Perhaps her father had been right about the need for sternness with the elves. Still, with Master Bernard here, there had been no need for it. Everything had run so smoothly.

Should she call for the ogre squad, as her father would have done? Perhaps she was being too weak. But she shuddered again at the memory of the brutal violence with which they’d crushed the elf strike when she was a child. Even now, she felt sickened at the thought of monstrous ogre arms smashing elf heads with their massive clubs.

Her only option might be to call off the banquet for this evening. No; if she cancelled the Banquet of Lords on such short notice, the nobility would see this entire situation as evidence of her incompetence. She’d be forced to marry the dreadful Prince Edgar. And to produce an heir.

Not that she was disinclined to marriage. In fact, one day she hoped to marry, but why rush things? Besides, there had to be a better prospect in the world than Edgar. There just had to be. At least someone with a little intelligence, and somewhat pleasing to look at. Edgar, with his warty nose and dull intellect, was at the bottom of her list of potential suitors.

Unfortunately, Edgar did happen to be heir to a large highly fertile and productive kingdom, which the nobility of her own land desired. She’d been told repeatedly of the wealth and providence of Edgar’s kingdom by the huntsmen who had brought her back to the castle on her father’s death. Clearly the nobles wanted it that way, especially Lord Harrington, who had paid her a visit that morning to emphasize the attraction of a royal marriage between herself and the neighboring Prince Edgar. “Never,” she’d muttered under her breath, though she had smiled accordingly and said, “We’ll see after tonight.” She could not abide the thought of being wedded to such a person as Prince Edgar.

Something would have to be done about the strike. She had been over the books; there wasn’t enough money in the kingdom’s treasury to afford the kind of wage increase Mitchell was demanding. Yet she could see no other way than surrender.

She called to Mistress Periwinkle, intending to ask her to summon Mitchell.

Periwinkle had just appeared in the scullery when a cloud of smoke appeared in the vicinity of the oven and the nasty smell of sulfur filled the kitchen. Amadea coughed, and covered her nose with a kitchen cloth. As the smoke cleared a strange figure stood in the kitchen. (To be continued!)

Happy writing!

Serialization – “Strike Breaker” story II

I’m still working on new ideas for the blog. In the meantime, I’m continuing the serialized story that I started last week, about a princess whose elf-staff is on strike. Enjoy!

Strike Breaker, Part 2

Part 1 here.

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Mistress Periwinkle opened the heavy door. There stood Mitchell, the leader of the strike. He was dressed in the customary palace livery of blue and gold tunic and knickers, black boots.

His face held a smug grin. “I’ve come to see about a settlement,” he said. His grin widened as he took in the sight of Amadea in the scullery maid’s apron standing by the stacks of washed china.

Amadea held her head high. “What kind of settlement?” she asked.

“If I may come in . . . it’s so public out here on the step,” Mitchell said.

Amadea nodded to Periwinkle, who opened the door wider to admit Mitchell. She could hear the chants of the other elves on the picket line outside: “Unfair to Elves!” and “Up with small people!”

“Just what did you have in mind?” Amadea asked, when the door had been shut against the shouts outside.

“If I could but have a small drink,” Mitchell said. His eyes darted to the cellar where the wine was kept.

“Water for the union leader,” Amadea told Periwinkle, who bustled to pour it, muttering under her breath. Mitchell gave the drink a cross look before taking a few sips.

While he drank, she took off her apron and folded it, then drew herself up to her full height. At five feet six inches, she was a good foot taller than the elf, and she could tell he knew it.

“Now, what’s this about a settlement?” Amadea demanded.

“Well, your highness, my constituency has authorized me to –” His eyes darted around the kitchen again. “If I could but have a small something to nibble on –”

Amadea rolled her eyes and commanded Periwinkle to get out a little bread and a small chunk of cheese for the elf. He sniffed at it first, then gobbled it down.

Mitchell was not the Lead Elf in the palace, thankfully, only the leader of the elves union, and Amadea surmised he didn’t get much access to royal provisions in his customary job in the laundry. She had been disappointed this whole trouble had started. If only the old Master Elf Bernard were still alive, all this might not have happened. But he was dead, a month now. And she had no choice but to deal with this upstart Mitchell.

Amadea wrinkled her nose at the odor of musty livery that seemed to accompany Mitchell’s presence. She tried not to show her distaste. If she could get the strike settled, the elves could be back at their posts within thirty minutes, perhaps an hour . . . and everything would be back to normal, just in time for tonight’s banquet.

“You did mention a settlement?” she prompted the elf, when he had finished the bread and cheese.

“Ah, yes –” Mitchell cleared his throat. “I wouldn’t mind something stronger to drink, if you get my meaning –” (To be continued!)

Happy writing!

In which Theresa talks about a possible new direction for the blog

#amwriting, #writinglife, #writingcommunity
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I’m sitting at my desk this morning thinking about the immense thunderstorm that happened here in Seattle last night. Seattle rarely had electrical storms when I was a kid. In fact on TV last night the weather meteorologist said, “This is Midwest weather!” According to the national weather service there were over 1200 lightning strikes in the Seattle area last night. I believe it! They had to postpone our local college football game over two hours for safety from lightning strikes, for the first time ever. At one point my spouse and I threw open the front door, looked south, and the entire sky was white with lightning flashes. So odd for Seattle! Exciting!

What’s coming up

#amwriting, #dailywriting, #writingcommunity
Photo by Theresa Barker

I’m excited to mention that last month was my six-year-anniversary writing the Lab Notes blog. In the past several weeks I’ve been reviewing my blog and going over my thoughts and feelings about it. When I started the blog, I would write a very short flash fiction piece and post it daily. It was a great feeling to put out my work and let the world take a look at it, no matter how small the audience. Gradually I started reading more blogs, loved hearing more about the writers and their own lives, and I added some updates on my own writing and on the process of writing itself.

Lately, however, I’ve been sensing a possible shift in the focus for the blog. Recently I did some research on blogging, tips and best practices, that kind of thing. I’m mulling over some possible new directions for the blog that will engage my interest and readers who have been part of my community.

I still love the series that I’ve written for this blog, like the Haunted Wedding Dresses story, and – going way back – the #productivewriter and #beingthemoment articles. Reader feedback has been such a great part of this blog. I’m looking forward to continuing those fun aspects of my blog and to make them even better.

Writing excerpt

This is a story that I wrote quite a while ago, and it’s never found a home, though it did win an Honorary Mention in a writing contest. I think you may enjoy it!

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Strike Breaker (Part 1)

Princess Amadea stood at the scullery sink up to her elbows in soap suds. As the princess of the realm she should never have washed dishes herself. But with the elves on strike, there was no one to do the servants’ work in the castle. She had to host the Banquet of Lords this evening to take her rightful place as sovereign of the realm. Thirty-six sets of china, silver, and glasses had to be clean and ready for setting by six p.m. Food furnished by wood fairies would served to each of the thirty-five royally-appointed nobles of the kingdom. The entire event must be carried off without a hitch, or she’d be the laughing-stock of the realm by this time tomorrow.

But the elf-staff were on strike. Had her father the king, been alive, he wouldn’t have stood for a strike. He would have brought in ogre troops, just as he had when she was a girl. She shuddered at the memory. Ogres vs. elves was not a pretty sight. She still recalled the sight of elves, still dressed in palace livery, scattering before the violent clubbing by the ogres. Bloodied heads and crushed limbs, with more than a few casualties. The old king had kept his palace staff in line ever since.

But the old king was dead. In his absence, Elf Leader Mitchell had called a palace strike almost immediately, leaving Amadea scrambling to meet her obligations, as Crown Princess and prospective ruler of the kingdom, the first of which was to host the Banquet of Lords.

Amadea rinsed the plates and stacked them in columns on the counter beside her. “This is the last of them, your highness,” came a raspy voice from the doorway. Mistress Periwinkle, Amadea’s longtime companion and maidservant, appeared through the doorway to the china cellar, her arms full with a load of china. “I’ll start laying out the linen.”

The princess took the china from the older woman and placed it in the sink. As Mistress Periwinkle headed for the dining hall, Amadea dropped her arms into the soapy water again.

If she had been raised in the palace, she might have known what to do. But she’d been sent away from the palace when she was ten, just after her mother’s death, to live in a hunting lodge with a contingent of her father’s woodsmen, chaperoned by Mistress Periwinkle. She knew nothing of court manners, of how to handle the staffing of royal functions. She had to rely now almost exclusively on Mistress Periwinkle’s knowledge, which may not have been as up-to-date as possible. Still, it would have to do.

Thankfully, if she and Periwinkle could set the table and prepare the banquet hall, that would be sufficient. Food would be catered, by tradition, by the fairies of the wood. If she’d have to prepare the food as well . . . she shuddered to think of it.

Mistress Periwinkle came into the scullery and picked up a load of newly washed china. “The linen’s all laid out, your highness,” she commented. She did a half-curtsy and bowed her head toward Amadea.

“Oh, Periwinkle, no need to curtsy when it’s just the two of us,” the princess said. After all their years together in the forest as companions, Periwinkle had now started this annoying habit now of curtseying and bowing to her.

“Yes, your highness,” Periwinkle said. And she did another half-curtsy.

Amadea sighed. Just then, there was a knock at the scullery door. In panic, Amadea looked over at Periwinkle. The wood fairies! Could they be early? Surely not!

The knock came again.

Periwinkle opened the heavy door. There stood Mitchell, the leader of the strike. He was dressed in the customary palace livery of blue and gold tunic and knickers, black boots. . . .

(To be continued!)

Happy writing!

On rejection

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Well, here we are in the last part of the summer, post-August 15th, at the time when you really start feeling the curve of the sunlight dropping slowly slowly slowly toward the golden autumn crispiness that leads again into winter. At my latitude we get about fourteen hours of sunlight in a day this time of year, down from almost fifteen hours at the start of the month, and by October 1st we will have passed the equinox, and it will be less than 12 hours of light in the day. Such a gradual process, losing the length of daylight, that one hardly notices. But there is a feel in the light this time of year that seems to suggest the passing away of time, even before autumn arrives.

Lately I have been thinking about rejections I’ve received on my work. I have been fortunate to receive a number of acceptances and to have my work published in some small fiction journals over the past three years. But the acceptances still fail to take the sting out of rejection. People say putting one’s work out there is one of the hardest things to do, and I always tell other writers that they should give themselves credit simply for being willing to take the chance to submit their work, even though it is difficult to take the rejections that inevitably come back from submissions. Even if one is confident in the value of their work, even if one braces themselves against the possibility of rejection, though, it can still be discouraging and frustrating to get back rejections.

When the rejection includes an indication, however small, that you might have some acknowledgment of the value of the work, it feels much less bruising. This week I got a rejection email from a flash fiction market on a story that I submitted, which is a bit of a quirky piece, but which I still like very much as a work of art. In this rejection they sent me the feedback from their 5 slush readers. While most of the five readers obviously did not like the premise at all, asking questions that indicated they didn’t get what I was trying for in the piece, one of the readers completely understood it, and they said they liked it. It was wonderful just to see that.

Today I would like to share a piece that is a one-sentence story of about 400 words, which did get rejected from the market I intended it for, but which I still like very much, and in that spirit I wanted to share it with you. By putting it out here on my blog I am choosing to publish it myself, so I will not be sending it out for first-publication rights to any other markets. But I have a feeling you will enjoy it, and that makes me happy to know.

About this piece: I wrote this in response to a one-sentence piece published in monkeybicycle some time ago. If you click on the link here, scroll down to Prelude Op. 02 No. 21 by Dean Liao, you will see the piece that inspired this one. I wanted a more upbeat tone in my piece, since that one is fairly dark in its ending.

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Prelude in B-Flat Major

(After Dean Liao)

She sat on the windowsill in a hotel room on the 25th floor, a wide and deep sill from the 1930s when the hotel was built, a windowsill on which you could eat a five-course meal or play a game of checkers with your grandfather or make love to your most cunning crush from work, looking over Central Park like in the movies, freshly full from room service’s delicate poached eggs and tartly shredded hash browns, sesame-grain wheat toast with sweet jam from a tiny jar made for elves, a jar kept company on the room service tray by matching doll-sized salt and pepper shakers, all encased in a slate-steel protective heat cover that indicated her meal was crafted only for her, even though it was not, it was just one more meal in the kitchen for a guest on the twenty-fifth floor overlooking the park, but she liked to imagine herself as unique and worthy of attention, if only from the staff of room service in a hotel across the street from Central Park, because, as her therapist had told her, it is in the connections to one another that we can hold back the specter, the temptation, the impulse to take one’s life, and of course she did not wish to disappoint her therapist, Ms. Ramsay, who wore reindeer sweaters at Christmas and Fourth of July fireworks earrings in the summer, Ms. Ramsay who suggested this little holiday after their recent check-in session in which the therapist had pronounced much progress had been made, and wouldn’t this be the perfect time to take a break from your demanding job, to take care of yourself for a change with a stay at a New York hotel, yet in the back of her thoughts, hovering like a pack of jackals in the Serengeti, there it is, the thought you don’t deserve this, all this, that you cannot be happy while you know your son has died in a distant dry land and will never be back, will never cross the threshold of your home again, the thought that led you to see Ms. Ramsay last year, and how could she have known two celebrity suicides would be in the news this weekend, but for now you breathe, breathe, you savor this moment of not-knowing, and you smile at your flat reflection in the window, so familiar and so distant, so calm.

Happy writing!