Friday, December 21, 2018

Stuck in Manistique -- Dennis Cuesta

Celestial Eyes Press
Perfect 10
ISBN: 978-1-7324-1090-9
November 2018
General Fiction

Manistique, Michigan – The Present

Mark (last name never revealed), who lives in Chicago and is a financial advisor, learns his Aunt Vivian has died and left him her estate, a Victorian house in Manistique, Michigan, a small community in the Upper Peninsula near Lake Michigan. His aunt, Dr. Vivian Peregrine, had been a humanitarian doctor who served in the world’s troubled areas for most of her life. He can only remember meeting her once and losing touch with her years ago, but couldn’t locate her. After talking to his aunt’s lawyer in Petoskey, Michigan, he travels to the UP. The problem is he has gephyrophobia or fear of bridges, and the five-mile-long Mackinac (pronounced Mack-in-awe) Bridge lies between him and Manistique. Luckily, the bridge personnel are prepared for such occasions and have assistance drivers to help people across the bridge. On his first night in his aunt’s house, which he plans to sell, a woman knocks on the door and asks for a room for the night. It seems his Aunt Vivian operated a B&B.

Dr. Emily Davis was driving north, on her way to Mackinac Island to meet her mentor, another doctor who is married, for a romantic commitment. Suffering doubts, she goes to the Upper Peninsula to catch the ferry to the island, but ultimately takes U.S. Highway 2 west and away from her temptation. Near Manistique a deer leaps into the car’s windshield, smashing it to bits. The repair will take at least one day and all the local hotels and motels are filled with an elderly group on a casino tour of the UP. One motel owner gives her the name of the Manistique Victorian, a local B&B.

Mark’s generosity to Emily soon expands to other unexpected guests. From that point unanticipated events continually take place. The newly acquainted characters share quippy talk and camaraderie, which leads to confidences laced with allusions. Trouble abounds. While the story is overall humorous in tone, serious matters underlie the content. The story revolves around personal loss, secrets revealing extraordinary truths, local mysticism, friendship, incipient romance, and family relationships. Yes, it earns a Perfect 10, but mostly for those who enjoy quirky people and crazy, surprising events, and because I learned some interesting things about my home state.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

An Excerpt from Crewkin--a holiday in unknown space

This round robin is about the spirit of the season, which everyone knows can be wonderful or painful or an odd combination of both.

This 'holiday' excerpt comes from Crewkin, a sci-fi story set in a space-time warp where a beleaguered ship, the Vagrant Spirit, meant only for short hauls, now travels. The crew knows little about what is happening or how it happened except for the engine they were hauling to reclamation, which has come online in an extraordinary way to take control of the Vagrant Spirit. The new crewman who came aboard at the start of this trip, Renna, is what the crew calls a podder or crewkin--bred, raised, and indoctrinated from birth into certain behaviors by the Markham Company to serve on long-haul spaceships that spend years in space. Renna knows she doesn't fit in with the short-haul crew and leaves them to celebrate their New Years' Eve celebration without her disturbing presence, but she is interrupted by Jake, someone the rogue engine has injured in some inexplicable way.

~ Excerpt from Crewkin ~
A subdued snick from the hatch announced someone entering. Renna quickly switched the file off where she learned of her creation for the first. She rose when Jake entered the flight deck, grabbed the container plate, allowing him to sink into the command seat. His hands grasped the wide armrest in support as he lowered himself.
“Thanks.” He spoke in breathless rasps. He looked aged, off-color with lines of exhaustion graphing his face. A week’s worth of stubble covered his face. It was strange to see him scruffy after he had been so neat. At least he is nothing like Dukan. [Her hated captain aboard her crew-kin ship.] 

“Are you here to relieve me?” She regretted the disbelief in her voice.

“No, just brought you dinner.” He grinned, panting his answer. His crooked smile disappeared when he noticed her face. “Why are you crying?”

“I’m not. Emotion on duty is forbidden.” She placed the plate on the broad flat service arm of the co-pilot’s chair, wiped her face the best she could, and amended her answer. “I am crying over what is lost and unrecoverable. I told Lock I was not hungry.”

Jake’s smile appeared weak and askew as he caught his breath. “Not true—you’re always hungry.”

“Today is Kin Day.” They were all dead. An unexpected, painful gasp broke from her throat, and Renna sobbed in an uncontrolled manner. Calmness, professionalism, duty. The harder she tried to control herself, the louder the harsh sounds grew, and the more rampant her tears fell, both deafening and blinding her. Jake rose and wrapped his arms around her. She hid her face against his chest.

“Hush, it’s okay,” he said.

She knew it was not.

“I’ve tried so hard. Now I know Markham tried to kill you, because they wanted the engine destroyed. They want me dead. Today is a crewkin traditional celebration. I have no kin left, and I don’t belong here, so maybe I should be dead. I failed you, failed the Vagrant Spirit. Even Zak named me Markham when he renamed the CS9 [the engine].”

He gave her a gentle shake, saying in an uneven breath, “Hush...Ren. I’m sorry. I have to sit down.” He sank back into the roomy chair, sliding to one side, pulling her down with him, and letting her rest against his chest.

“I’m sorry for my unprofessional display,” she said when the spasms stopped, leaving her empty and ashamed.

“Not unprofessional. Cried a few times myself lately.”

The small tinks and whirs of the flightdeck somehow soothed her along with Jake’s breathing and warmth. She took a deep calming breath.

“You belong here whether by the manipulation of Markham Company or by pure chance. Tell me what Zak said.”

She explained about the priority change, Zak giving the CS9 Vagrant Spirit status. “I understand. I am Markham, although I don’t wish to be, and I will always be Markham. Your kin believe me capable of betraying the ship, of endangering you and the Vagrant Spirit. Crewkin would have the same doubts.”

“You’re wrong. You’re part of this crew.”

“Part of the crew, yes, only temporarily. Not like Ezry, Lock, and Ship Dog, never kin, but I swear to you, I wouldn’t cause harm to the Vagrant Spirit or to anyone on her.” 

“I know, Ren. Maybe stress affects norms more than Crewkin, makes us irrational.” He patted her arm. “Don't fret. You’ve helped us in ways you don’t even know.”
Please visit the following authors for their posts:  

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Writing's Outlay

You have to love writing to write, and this obsession probably started because you loved to read.
Writing means spending hours lost in concentration, immersed in your mind’s story, often frustrating or emotionally involved time. Time not spent with family or friends but with only mental ones. Time not spent doing household projects needing completion, but struggling with plot and characters. 

Of course, digital means you can write on work breaks or while vacationing, or even while traveling if you are not driving a vehicle--every cloud has its silver lining! Yet again, you ignore the driver and the ever-changing views.

Writing means you have to plan time to communicate with family and friends, time to keep the boat of your life stable and floating ahead. Yet, it is the frustration of not moving a story along in the time you have allotted that disappoints the most.

Other frustrations occur.

Frustrations over what to name a character. Have you used that name in a previous story? Is the name similar to already famous names in fiction or other media that might make readers think you are borrowing that fame? Is the name too close to someone you know, like a friend or family member? Is your new character too much like a previous character?

Frustration over dialogue. Does the talk between characters sound like what might actually occur in such a situation and in the reality being described in the story? Does it sound too obvious to the viewpoint being put forth, or is it more subtle, giving the reader hints of what is to come without revealing it? Both can be correct in the right situation, or it can sometimes hinder the reader's interest in continuing with the story.

Frustration with the plot. It’s stalled and you don’t have a clue on how to move it where you want it to go. Frustration when you realize that what you’ve written isn’t the least logical. Of course, logic doesn’t always play out in life, either, but will the reader believe and accept the irrational?

Frustration with the setting. Have you described it adequately or over-describe it? 

Frustration with style. Is it consistent or is your style constantly changing? Is the wording lush and lyrical in the description, or is it dramatic and straight forward?

Frustrations with editing. You could have sworn you corrected that misspelling, that sentence, that bit of dialogue, on your third or fourth or fifth go through. Where is that scene you know you wrote? Didn’t you save it? Why did you use three characters whose names start with the same letter and sound so much alike? What can you rename them now that they seem like real people to you?

This list goes on. If you want to write you persevere until you reach a point of ending where the story has what you think is a reader catching beginning with an interesting progression of incidents leading to a satisfying ending. You’ve edited it repeatedly, and now a publisher has accepted it. Satisfaction alleviates all you've spent in creating it.

Skye Taylor
Judith Copek
Beverley Bateman
A.J. Maguire 
Fiona McGier
Dr. Bob Rich  
Connie Vines 
Diane Bator
Victoria Chatham 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

A Fifth and Final Excerpt from Home World Reax

In this excerpt, the two protagonists final meet as the ship's second officer introduces Jencet's delegation (really a capture & return team) to the crew.

“Here we are,” the second officer said as they reached an enclosed ramp leading to the vessel’s main hatch. Monitors in the walkway showed images of the ship’s exterior. Jencet stopped briefly to look. The exterior view showed the gigantic tethers holding the ship in the port’s assigned berth.

He looked around the docking area. Large plasmetal overhead supports secured the interior docking area with obvious strength. Kinem’s elbow in his side caught his attention. His brother-in-law nodded at the hatch and gave him a warning look. It was unnecessary, for he had observed the cameras. Lloyds never noticed his preoccupation.

The smile he offered Kinem answered the man’s doubts. Even if assigned to Raven House, a former Eagle knew how to handle not only this ship, but how to take over command if it became necessary. Once through the ship’s main portal, the second officer noticed the crew awaited their arrival.
Lloyds spoke in a buoyant voice. “Oh good, you’re here. Let me introduce our crew. This is Les Fordel… he serves as our chief engineer. He served in the Rangers with the captain.”

Jencet noted the crews’ name tags which he guessed also served as communication devices, before he sized Fordel up as a shorter version of a very muscular Eagle type. Darker haired than most Eagles, Fordel had a similar piercing gaze. The man obviously sized up the impending passengers, too.

Lloyds moved on to introduce a woman, Reed Syznet, the technical and life support officer. As tall and muscular as Fordel, the comely but not beautiful brunette’s pale blue-green eyes held suspicion. The last crewmember Lloyds introduced as Nemil Korkran, the maintenance officer. The man’s dark face held a deep scar running from ear to ear across his face disfiguring his nose. A second scar forked down across the edge of his mouth. Even with obvious reconstruction, scarring still covered the face. He looked threatening.

While the second officer looked defenseless, the rest all showed hard muscle and blank-faced assessment of their passengers as Lloyds introduced the delegation members.

Lloyds ended his introductions saying, “Our Bridge Officer, Boone Adler, of course, presently works on the flight deck, along with Yates Turner, our communications officer.” He turned to the crew. “Have you secured their luggage?”

“Hotel said it’s on its way,” Korkran said.

Jencet judged Korkran’s glance at his superior officer lacked respect. If Lloyds noticed, he ignored the slight. Just then the hatch they had just passed through unlocked and opened.
“Ah, Captain Lacklan,” Lloyds said in a pleased voice.

Jencet adjusted his facial muscles into a neutral, even pleasant regard, while Lloyds introduced the Falcon renegade. Her name tag of Maera Lacklan touched his temper, but not for long. Familiar with how she appeared from his investigation, he felt unprepared for the force of her intense regard and personality, and knew as certain as he stood close enough to grab her that she sensed his purpose and recognized him. Her attractiveness without straggly hair, a bruised face or tattered clothing, startled him as much as the stark silver eyes judging him.

As the second officer introduced them to the captain, Kinem gave her his thanks, and the delegation’s thanks to the Alliance for their help, extending his hand to her in Alliance custom. A motion that angered Jencet. Kinem should not touch his target. He mentally rebuked himself while she took Kinem’s hand and smiled in greeting, an expression Jencet had never seen in any image of her. The expression further increased her allure.

“I’m glad to offer our assistance,” she said in a calm but pleasant voice. “The Endurance’s mission requires we see you safely back to Reax. Show our guests to their cabins, Abbot, while we prepare to leave port.”

He felt her watching his team as the delegation walked away.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Developing Tension in Stories

While make-believe stories are meant to entertain, I think they have more important purposes. I believe fiction helps readers grapple with their own dilemmas and grow as individuals even when they are not aware of it. I believe the tension of 'what if' helps give readers knowledge of themselves and others. I think overall, fiction helps readers relieve the stresses of their daily lives and understand them better. Even fairy tails, folktales, and mythology have strong doses of tension because it keeps the reader reading and wondering about what happens next.
Vladimir Propp and Dr. Carl Jung have already described how the psychological aspects of fiction hold true in folktales, and I think the process goes on in all fiction writing.

When I read it is the tension within a story that keeps me reading, although I do not like a top-level constant dose of violence and endangerment. Sometimes it feels like I have, and have had, enough of that, thank you. (Not cliff hangers, just life's daily dose.)

Tension can also be of the contemplative type, of making an important choice and then having to live with the results. And it is not just about a character's goal and how they accomplish or fail to achieve their heart's desire or the violence or danger they fall into. Tension can develop from a character's weaknesses and how they test themselves, or two or more characters head-butting one another until they come to an agreement or part ways. Mostly it’s about emotion, plans that go amuck, and a character overcoming their failures and falls from grace. The joy is that there are millions of stories with more coming every day, and all with their own interesting tension.

From my own reading experiences, I know that the more visceral the description of a character's emotions and their physical reactions, or their relationship interactions or integration with their environmental as shown in a story, the more my mind and body react to the reading. These tensions also help me identify with the character. 

I think readers nearly always identify with these and feel what the character feels. This does not necessarily mean trauma or extreme violence, although as previously discussed in Danger and Sometimes Violence in Writing, these can come into developing a story's tension. I think most readers identify the characters when these reactions are well described and this draws them into the story.

Please visit the following authors and see their opinions on tension in stories. 
Beverley Bateman
Anne Stenhouse  
Skye Taylor
A.J. Maguire 
Dr. Bob Rich
Helena Fairfax
Diane Bator
Judith Copek

Saturday, October 13, 2018

A Fourth Excerpt from Home World - Reax

Falcon House Leader on Reax isn't the only one facing turmoil.

Weeks later, back at Celeste, Maera’s superior requested she come to his office as some allegations had come to his desk concerning her last assignment. Maera clarified the issues and told of the events that took place on the ground at Salvation Colony, information already available in her report.

Her superior nodded after viewing verification videos from Nemil’s suit vid. He remained unhappy but finally signed off on the file and sent it to legal.

She briefly wondered why his report remained uncompleted before he called her into the office.

“I wanted to see you, that’s why you’re here,” he said, almost as if he’d read her mind. He gave her what she called his ‘assessing’ gaze. “I have another unusual mission for you.”

“That’s a rather quick turn-around,” Maera responded as the new orders appeared on the wall screen.

“I know, but this shouldn’t be too hard. We have a request for help from Reax. They want our help in picking up some stranded citizens and delivering them back to Reax, a most unusual request from such a reclusive colony. They have their own fleet, don’t they?” He gazed at her with his assessing gaze in full force.  

From her records, he knew where she came from, so why the sly look? “They do.”

“Not now, it seems.”

Long practice let her control her own expression. “What happened?”

“Our intelligence says they’ve had an inter-colony civil war over the last four or five years that has decimated their fleet. The population also suffered from a devastating plague—of their own making.” He huffed a laugh, shaking his head in disbelief. “Enough of their fleet remains to protect the colony, but not to return those tourists. It doesn’t sound like too extensive or difficult a mission.”

“May I ask why I’m getting this assignment? Shouldn’t a carrier undertake the mission? My crew expected some leave time after this last mission.”
He gave her a calculating but dismissive look, not knowing how much experience she had in recognizing such contemptuous expressions.

“Leave’s not going to happen; it’s been canceled. Since the war, our own fleet’s number of transport ships took a hit even while they remain in great demand. All the other ships currently work on extended missions. Those transports with you at Sovereign Colony won’t arrive for weeks and even then, need downtime before embarking on another mission.”

He gave her a gruff look as if she should know this information. She did but knew he played a game with her. Other UPA transport crews could have handled this, and she knew several of them currently docked at this station. If he noticed her skepticism, he ignored it, continuing with his orders.

“This assignment lists three colonies in that sector with approximately twelve Reaxans the colony’s government has requested need transport to Reax. Your ship can handle the number of citizens requested for pick up. However, higher-level offices request you not go groundside on Reax, which they thought might create diplomatic problems.

“While we want to increase the Reaxan obligation and goodwill toward the United Planets Alliance, they have strange customs, and we don’t want to engender trouble. Matter of fact, many in power want the colony to align with the Alliance. We’re hoping this mission will create goodwill, which might lead to negotiations. The head office will send the mission parameters and pick-up locations to your ship. You’re dismissed.” He waved his hand toward the door. He dismissed her like a Ranger, except her superior officers never used such a disrespectful shooing-away manner.

Once outside the office, Maera took stiff, swift steps down the corridor before finally uttering her visceral reaction in a sotto voice. Knowing the interior hallways recorded, she kept control of her business demeanor. 

Once outside the headquarters office complex, she let the speed of her walk diminish her anger while she vented. She earned a few stares but continued moving. 

“Strange customs—no shit—don’t want trouble, ha! Reax means trouble.” Why assign me? Her files clearly stated where she came from. Did they plan to use her? Reax’s position made it both an Alliance and a Khajari problem, and both wanted to cement an Alliance and have free access to that sector of space. What did the Alliance want, or does my boss think he’s found a good way to get rid of me? Taking a deep breath, she smiled. I’ve faced worse assignments than this. On my previous returns to Reax no one except Sareen ever noticed me. If they have as much turmoil as mentioned, they have more problems than discovering escapees. No one will look for runaways. The problems her home planet faced somehow failed to surprise her.

Twenty-five government employees, thirty-two visitors, seven hatches, three hallways, awareness of her habit sank in as she started counting tiles. She forced herself to stop and take a deep breath. Once controlled, she headed back to the port side of the station and her shuttle, wanting back on her ship.

Once inside the Endurance, she calmed herself and her counting fixation in the usual manner, playing with numbers. Pulling up market reports, she adjusted her sells and buys, far easier and a more regular habit than when she was in the Rangers.