Acceptance, Book One of the Acceptance Series

For more than two thousand years, a small community of humans has lived in harmony with vampires, giving their blood and obedience in exchange for protection. And for all that time, it’s been a peaceful occupation.

When Kalyn Reid comes of age and pledges herself to the vampires, she has no reason to worry. She’s paired with Anselm for her training, and she couldn’t ask for a kinder, more patient mentor. She also couldn’t ask for anyone better-looking.

But before she has a chance to learn her new responsibilities–or get a date–her idyllic life goes up in flames. Without warning, the humans and vampires in her group are murdered by a strange new type of vampire and the few survivors are forced to flee.

Anselm and his brother, Micah, vow to hunt down the murderer, and they take Kalyn with them–thinking they can keep her safe. But when the killer finds them first, it’s they who must rely on her if any of them are to survive.

It reminded me of Game of Thrones, except with less incest and more vampires. Author Michelle Proulx

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The Bloodsuckers, Episode 43: We Are Family… Sort Of

Michael and Ariel’s house looked rather plain when Scott and Josie pulled into the driveway—as plain as a million dollar house could look, that is. The floodlights were on outside and there was an electric menorah in the living room window with two bulbs burning, but there were no other lights or decoration. After seeing the house decked-out for Halloween, Scott expected more umpf: blue and white lights, silvery tinsel, a giant inflatable dreidel… something.

“Is… Hanukkah not a very big holiday?” Scott asked, as he looked up at the house.

“No. And don’t even think of calling it ‘Jewish Christmas,’” Josie added, pointing an accusing finger at him.

“It never entered my mind.”

“It’s very gauche to call it that,” she insisted.

“You know me: I’m the antithesis of gauche.”

She suddenly chuckled. “We sound like we swallowed a Word-A-Day calendar.”

“I got one last year for Jewish Christmas.”

She looked at him sternly, then broke into laughter. Scott took her hand and they walked to the front door. Scott hardly noticed the cold wind blowing across his bald head as he stood on the front step and rang the doorbell, but Josie shivered and huddled deeper into her wool coat.

A moment later, Michael opened the door. He smiled tightly. “Welcome to the lion’s den,” he whispered.

Josie grimaced. “Have they already started in?” she whispered in reply.

“You know how you used to call me ‘ramrod?’” he asked, as he took their coats.

“Yes.”

“I have nothing on our parents. Nothing. I was only ever an amateur compared to them. They’re sitting in there, waiting to do battle,” he said, gesturing to the French doors which led to the living room.

Josie sighed wearily, then took Scott’s hand. “Are you ready to face the judges, Counselor?”

“Ready as I ever am,” Scott said, trying to sound braver than he felt. Despite mentally preparing for this day for months, he still felt a little sick to his stomach. He tried to tell himself that there was no reason to feel that way; Josie had sworn to stay with him—and that was before she got pregnant. Now she had even more incentive not to cut him out of her life.

But even though he told himself that, he didn’t feel one bit better. Scott had never liked conflict. He could have an intellectual argument all day long in the courthouse—he found that stimulating—but throw personal junk into the argument and he wanted to flee.

They went into the living room and found Josie’s sister, Becca, along with Mr. and Mrs. Fein. Michael was right: they were sitting up primly on the edge of couch like they had ramrods up their asses. Even Becca—who had been rather disdainful of social convention at Halloween—looked uncomfortable.

Mr. and Mrs. Fein’s eyes narrowed in unison when they saw Josie and Scott.

“Happy Hanukkah,” Josie said in a falsely cheerful voice.

“We already lit the menorah,” Mrs. Fein replied, her voice dropping the temperature in the already-frosty room by about ten degrees. “It has to be lit before sundown on the Sabbath.”

“I know,” Josie said. “We got here as soon as we could.”

“Oh, yes, the vampire can’t be out in the sunlight,” she said, turning her dark, accusing eyes on Scott. They said that he was the reason why their family holiday get-together was ruined.

“The vampire,” Josie said, her voice dripping acid, “is Scott Cunningham. Scott, this is my mother, Debra Fein, and my father, Steve Fein.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” he said, trying to be pleasant and pretend nothing ugly had been said. Neither of them offered to stand or shake his hand, so he didn’t extend it.

“And you remember my sister,” Josie said, gesturing to Becca.

“Yes, of course. It’s nice to see you again,” he said with a more genuine smile.

Becca thrust out her hand. “I’ll shake hands with you, Scott. I’m not afraid.”

Scott was a little taken aback. He hadn’t been sure how to take Josie’s sister before. He found her to be, frankly, a little odd—almost abrasive. As Josie said, she had no tact and, furthermore, didn’t care that she didn’t have any; she said whatever was on her mind and to hell with the consequences.

It hadn’t occurred to Scott that trait could be used as a righteous weapon.

He shook Becca’s hand. “How have you been doing?” he asked her.

“Good.”

“That’s good.”

Ariel came through the kitchen door a moment later. “Oh, hey, Scott, Josie. I thought I heard ya’ll come in. You have perfect timing; I’m just taking dinner out of the oven.”

“Can we help you with anything?” Josie asked.

“No, Michael and I’ve got it. Why doesn’t everyone go ahead and take a seat in the dining room?”

Scott didn’t fail to notice that everyone was ignoring Mr. and Mrs. Fein, and he made it a point to do the same. If he could get through the rest of the night by ignoring them, then it wouldn’t be too awful an experience. Not pleasant, by any means, but not awful.

He followed Josie into the dining room and found the table elaborately set—like something out of a Southern Living magazine. The table was covered with a white linen table cloth embroidered around the edges in blue. In the center was an elaborate arrangement of blue and silver and gold… things; Scott really didn’t know what to call them. Some were round, like huge ornaments, and there were sprays like something out of the end of a firework, and spirally-twisty things that didn’t represent anything at all, as far as Scott could tell. It was pretty, if abstract.

At each seat were sparkly silver and blue woven placemats, real silver silverware, china dishes rimmed with gold and delicately ornamented with a blue filigree border and tiny gold stars of David, blue linen napkins, and crystal stemware.

One place setting was conspicuously absent, though. Instead of dishes, there was a placemat, napkin, and an opaque black champagne flute. Scott knew, without looking at the name on the place card, which seat was his. Josie was seated to his left and Becca sat beyond her, at the end of the table. Mr. and Mrs. Fein were directly across from him and Josie.

Scott wasn’t sure which option was worse: sitting across from them, or sitting next to one of them.

Michael and Ariel came in a moment after everyone sat down and began setting out platters of food. While Michael went back for another load, Ariel went around the table, filling everyone’s water glass.

She took Scott’s black champagne flute with her back into the kitchen, then brought it out again as Michael put the last of the food on the table. She sat the glass in front of Scott as if it was a perfectly everyday occurrence to serve someone a glass of blood at the dinner table. “What would everyone else like to drink?” she asked. “Wine?”

“I’ll just have water,” Josie said.

“No wine?” Ariel asked, looking a little surprised.

Josie shook her head.

“One of us has to be the designated driver,” Scott said with a smile, remembering their last holiday at Michael and Ariel’s house.

Then something struck him. He began counting days on a mental calendar in his mind. He didn’t even notice Mrs. Fein’s snarky, “Well, I hope you don’t need a designated driver too often.”

He checked his math twice, but came up with the same answer both times.

He was pretty sure he and Josie had conceived the baby on Halloween when they had secretly—and rather drunkenly—done the deed in her brother’s spare guest room.

Something about that made Scott grin—almost to the point of laughing—even as he felt a little embarrassed.

Josie looked at him curiously—as if she was trying to puzzle out why Scott was silently grinning while her mother was trying to imply that he was some sort of alcoholic.

Scott just shook his head a little; he’d have to tell her later. But in the meantime, he couldn’t seem to wipe the smile from his face, and Mr. and Mrs. Fein’s looks of outright loathing began to turn to confusion mixed with repulsion, as if they were looking at someone who wasn’t in his right mind and ought not be sitting at the dinner table with normal people.

Michael and Ariel quickly filled everyone’s drink glasses, then took their seats. Scott was surprised to find Michael sitting to his right and Ariel sitting at the end of the table, opposite Becca.

It seemed an odd seating arrangement for such a formal dinner. Scott would have expected Ariel and Michael to sit at either end, since it was their table, or maybe even to have put Mr. and Mrs. Fein at the ends as a sign of respect.

But when Scott glanced around the table, he noticed a very different kind of arrangement. He was in the middle, flanked by Josie on one side and Michael on the other. Becca and Ariel further added to the feeling that he was surrounded by his supporters. By contrast, Mr. and Mrs. Fein looked rather solitary on the other side of the table.

The battlefield had been drawn up in advance and Scott’s forces had arrayed themselves in a strong defensive front.

It made him start smiling all over again.

Michael said a short blessing, then he began passing plates of food. Scott would have expected this to be the beginning of lively conversation—as it would have been at his family’s house—but the icy silence continued, unabated except by the clink of serving utensils on china.

When the last platter was put back in its place on the table, everyone began to quietly eat. Scott cautiously sipped the liquid in his glass and found it to be non-alcoholic blood. It was the regular commercial stuff, which wasn’t nearly as good as what Scott got from Gus, but it was tolerable. The knowledge that Michael and Ariel had gone to the trouble to buy some just for him, heat it up, and serve it at the table like he was a normal person seemed to make it taste better, though.

“So,” Michael said, obviously trying to break the uncomfortable silence, “what’s everyone been up to lately? What’s happening?”

“Scott and I are going to have a baby,” Josie said baldly.

Scott spewed a mouthful of blood all over Ariel’s expensive thingamabob centerpiece.

“Oh, my God!” Mrs. Fein said, covering her mouth with her napkin, as if she might be sick. “That’s disgusting!” She turned to look at her husband. “I’ve never seen anything more disgusting in my life.”

“Drinking blood in a Jewish house on Hanukkah,” Mr. Fein grumbled. “My father is rolling in his grave.”

Scott didn’t pay any attention to them; he was busy trying to mop up the blood on his face and all over the white tablecloth and centerpiece.

“You need to warn me before you say things like that,” Scott told Josie under his breath.

“Sorry.”

“I don’t think I heard you correctly,” Becca said, interrupting both couples. “It sounded like you said you were going to have a baby.”

“That’s what I said.”

Scott discovered in that moment that silence, like wine, came in many flavors—some quite subtle. The silence in the house before had been cold, and it was quite different from the silent shock brought on by Josie’s announcement. Scott was pretty sure an unexpected announcement of pregnancy created a unique vintage of silence that was like no other.

“I… I don’t understand,” Ariel finally said, helplessly.

“What’s to understand?” Josie replied. “Scott and I are going to have a baby.”

“You mean… like adopt?” Becca said, grasping for something she could understand.

“No, I mean like have a baby,” Josie retorted, her voice growing more forceful. “As in: there is a small person growing inside my uterus at this very moment.”

“…Scott’s baby?” Michael said, looking—and sounding—highly skeptical.

“Yes, Scott’s baby,” Josie said, her face growing dark. “I wish people would quit thinking I’ve been sleeping around on him.”

Scott squirmed with embarrassment. But at the same time, he could hardly blame her family for being skeptical. He still felt that there must be some sort of mistake.

“Michael, tell me this isn’t true,” Mrs. Fein said desperately.

“I… have to say I’ve never heard of a vampire being able to have a child. Medically, they ought to be sterile. I mean, their body temperature is too low for live sperm.”

“Oh, God, she doesn’t have a tumor or something does she?” Mrs. Fein gasped. “My Aunt Sarah on my mother’s side died from breast cancer. Maybe we’ve got that gene.”

“Would you quit talking to him like I’m not here,” Josie said, her annoyance increasing. “I’ve been to the doctor, okay? He’s quite sure I’m pregnant. He was just as skeptical and he did extra tests and stuff to be sure. And I have all the symptoms of pregnancy—morning sickness and all that.”

“Boy, do I know some people at the hospital who would love to talk to you guys,” Michael said.

“I’m not one of Becca’s lab rats,” Josie snapped.

“No, but you’re not exactly a normal expectant mother, either. Did your doctor classify you as high risk?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Hm,” Michael said with a disapproving frown.

“What does that mean?” Mrs. Fein asked anxiously. “Should he have? Does she need a better doctor? Michael, you better look at her.”

“I’m not an obstetrician, Mother.”

She looked at her husband, but he threw up his hands. “Unless she’s got something wrong with her heart, I’m as clueless as anyone else.”

“What good is having a bunch of doctors in the family when no one can save Josie?!” she demanded.

“Mother, you’re being hysterical,” Josie said.

“I am not hysterical!”

“There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m pregnant—just like millions of other women. It’s no big deal.”

“What if your baby is a vampire like him?” she said in horror. “What if it sucks the life out of you? What if it tries to eat its way out of you? I’ve seen it before!”

“Mother, this isn’t a Twilight movie; that wasn’t real.”

“It’s still a valid possibility!” she said, before turning to Michael, as if looking for him to back her up.

“I don’t think that Josie will be in any danger,” Michael said slowly. “I’m more concerned about the baby. I mean, Scott’s a vampire because of radiation exposure. And we still don’t understand how vampires can even exist; they defy all medical knowledge. So the likelihood he passes on some or all of his condition, or that the baby is in some other way deformed or abnormal, would seem to be pretty high.”

“So… she shouldn’t keep it?”

“I am not aborting my baby,” Josie said hotly. “Especially when we don’t even know that there’s anything wrong with it. It could turn out perfectly healthy.”

“That’s a possibility,” Michael allowed.

“And it might turn into some sort of monster that tries to kill you,” their mother argued.

“Or it might be your very first—and possibly only—grandchild,” Josie retorted. “You might want to rethink your position on this.”

That seemed to bring Mrs. Fein up short. Clearly the desire to protect her daughter warred with her desire to be a bubbe.

“There are some diseases that might mimic pregnancy,” Michael said hesitantly, as if still trying to wrap his doctor’s brain around something that should be medically impossible. “I wonder if your doctor checked for them?”

“I assume so. He ran a bunch of tests and said he was absolutely sure I was pregnant.”

“An ultrasound will prove it once and for all, won’t it?” Scott asked Michael.

“Yes. How far along are you?” he asked his sister.

“About five weeks.”

He nodded. “You should have one soon, then.”

“Michael, I wish you would do it,” his mother pleaded.

“Mother, I told you—”

“Get one of your doctor friends to do it, then—one that you trust.”

Michael sighed wearily, then looked at his sister in a “are you willing to humor her?” sort of way.

She perked a brow, as if to ask, “do I really have to?”

“I must admit,” he said, rather reluctantly, “I would feel better if you were seeing someone who deals with high-risk pregnancies—not so much for your sake,” he hurried to add, “but for the baby’s.”

“It’s not like anyone has any experience with this sort of thing, since everyone is sure a vampire can’t father a child,” Josie argued. “One doctor operating blind is as good as another.”

“A specialist might be better at detecting problems, though,” Michael argued.

“I don’t want to have to drive to Nashville constantly, though.”

“Well it might be that you see your regular doctor for frequent checkups and only see the specialist at certain milestones or if your doctor reports a problem. They may work in concert. I don’t know,” he said, spreading his hands. “I’m not entirely sure how obstetrics works. But I know with cancer patients who live out of town, they usually see their local GP for monitoring and only come see me at certain times, or if their GP finds something out of the ordinary.

“You won’t know until you talk to someone. And I think you should at least talk to some,” he added.

Josie looked questioningly at Scott. “It’s your call,” he said hastily. “You should do whatever you think is best for you. I’ll drive you up here every week myself, if that’s what you want or need.”

She sighed, sounding defeated. “Alright, I’ll talk to a specialist. But if I think he’s just as clueless as my regular doctor, then I won’t see him anymore. Clueless at home is cheaper and less time-consuming than clueless in Nashville.”

Michael nodded his approval. “I’ll ask around at work and get a name of someone for you.”

“And don’t you not go to the doctor because you don’t have money,” Mrs. Fein said fiercely. “We’ll pay for you to go.”

“I am capable of taking care of Josie myself,” Scott said frostily. “We’re not exactly impoverished.”

“Yes, we see how well you’ve taken care of her so far,” Mrs. Fein spit back. “Pregnant with some half-vampire monster out of wedlock. You’ve done a real fine job of taking care of her.”

Scott leapt to his feet, slamming his hand on the table, making all the china and crystal rattle. But when he opened his mouth to say something, nothing came out.

He couldn’t deny Josie was pregnant with his bastard child. And that shamed him. Furthermore, he couldn’t deny that he was worried about her, too, and he blamed himself for putting her in that situation.

Good God, could he possibly be siding with Josie’s parents against himself?

“Yes, he has taken care of me,” Josie responded instead. “He’s worried with me and nursed me through my morning sickness. He’s made it clear that whatever decision I make, he’ll support it. And I’ve seen him with his daughter; he’s a good father. And he’ll be a good father to this child, too.”

Scott sat back down. Under the tablecloth, he found Josie’s hand and gave it a squeeze. Despite the fact that they hadn’t been together very long, she had a way of summing up and expressing his emotions better than he did. She understood what he felt and wanted to say better than his ex-wife—who had been with him for more than a decade—ever did.

“You do realize this child will be Jewish when it’s born, don’t you?” Mrs. Fein said, switching her attack.

“Yes,” Scott replied.

“It needs to be raised Jewish,” she said, almost threateningly.

“I’ve already told Josie I don’t have a problem with that,” Scott said calmly.

Mrs. Fein looked confused and a bit put out—as if she had been spoiling for a fight, only to find her opponent had suddenly become a pacifist.

“Well… good,” she said rather awkwardly.

“I think,” Michael said, interrupting before his mother could regroup and launch another offensive, “that we need to take this thing one step at a time. Before we start worrying about how to raise the baby, it needs to be born first. And that could be a long, dangerous eight months down the road. Or it could be a quick, easy eight months,” he hurried to add, as if afraid of worrying Josie and Scott. “But, regardless, that’s eight months down the road. And easy or hard, a lot is still going to happen between now and then.”

“Agreed,” Becca said. “Right now the only thing that we should be concerned about is keeping Josie healthy and making sure the baby has the best chance possible to be born healthy and normal. And stressing Josie out by attacking Scott isn’t going to help in either regard. So I think we need to call a truce and focus on what’s important—which isn’t that Scott’s a vampire or a Gentile, but the fact that, God-willing, we’ll have a new baby in the family next year.”

“I agree with Becca wholeheartedly,” Ariel chimed in. “Fighting over things that don’t matter while ignoring the important issue is stupid. We ought to be above that as adults and as a family.”

Mr. and Mrs. Fein had the good taste to look at least a little abashed.

Michael looked at Josie. “I’ll see if I can’t get some information for you when I go back to work tomorrow.”

“Thank you.”

Slowly, everyone resumed their meal. It was silent again, but this time it was full of awkwardness, not hostility. Josie’s parents didn’t make so much as one snide remark throughout the remainder of dinner, and as soon as dessert was finished, they excused themselves for the evening, pleading that they had an early day tomorrow.

“I’m not sure if I would want to be a fly on the wall during that car ride back home or not,” Michael said once they were gone.

“I wonder if they’ll really mend their ways, or if they’re just momentarily stunned and will regroup?” Ariel said aloud.

Becca, Josie, and Michael all looked at one another. “They’ll regroup,” all three siblings said simultaneously.

“Well, then, I suppose we should enjoy the interlude while we can,” Scott said.

“Yes, you should,” Michael said. Then he laughed. “I just had a thought,” he said, looking at his wife: “this should keep Mom and Dad from hounding us to have kids—at least for a little while.”

“True,” she said, brightening.

Scott had to chuckle. “Glad we could help you out.”

Michael clapped him on the back. “We’re a family; we always help each other out.”

Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee

A-Viking We A-Went

I don’t think I ever put the results of my first Viking clothing experiment up. (One busy month faded into another, into three.)

Of course, it was finished at the last possible minute and my sewing machine (my really expensive one) died in the process. (That’ll be $100, minimum, to get adjusted.) But, even though it could still use a few tweaks, it looks great.

DSCN0406 These are the pants. Pleating the legs into the band was the hardest part (but, surprisingly, not that terrible).

I almost forgot to get pictures of the final product. I only thought about it when it got late and people started to leave. And, since we had forgotten our camera, we had a friend take a few pictures with his iPad.

Here’s Stuart, doing his best Viking impression: taking the Anglo-Saxon woman hostage.

John's Memorial 2John's MemorialHere we are, reconciled. (Or maybe I’m just pretending to be happy and really plan on killing him in his sleep. You never know.)

I made the colored bands to go across the chest of the coat, but he decided, at the last minute, that he didn’t want them (leaving them off saved time, so I really didn’t complain). Underneath the coat is a plain gold tunic (I didn’t have time to sew embroidery onto it because my machine broke). The collar on the coat came directly off the original fur coat. I cut it off in one piece, put it on the Viking coat, we agreed we liked it, so I just stitched it on. That was a lot faster and easier than cutting a collar out myself.

On the whole, I really like the way it looks. Early-period isn’t a time frame we’re terribly interested in playing in, but it’s nice to have something we can wear when there’s a themed event. Eventually, I’d like to have one outfit from every major clothing epoch, so I’m covered no matter what the theme.

And speaking of making clothes, I’m making myself a new dress. I went to Sir’s a couple of months ago and loaded up on some of their wool remnants ($7.99/yd, with 20% off!). I got enough for me two dresses and Stuart a cotehardie (plus some linen for Stuart another cotehardie). Coming back from Gulf Wars always makes me feel inspired and crafty, and we’re looking at doing some stuff with some other reenactors in the next year or two that’s a step up in historical authenticity. My ultimate goal is to get my clothing looking as authentic as what the reenactors in Europe are wearing. (My sources of inspiration: Katafalk, Medieval Silkwork, and Neulakko)

Gulf Wars 24

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I went on our annual trip (annual when we can afford it, that is; we’ve missed the past two) to Gulf Wars, a week-long SCA event just south of Hattiesburg, MS.

I had every intention of taking lots of pictures and some video, but between taking classes, teaching classes, and getting a cold partway through the week, I took almost none. (We were not with it this War. It’s like, after missing two years in a row, we forgot what we were doing. We waited until the absolute last minute to pack and did a half-assed job with stuff we normally take more seriously.)

But, we did manage to get a few pictures (and I’ll add in some old ones, so you can see a little more).

HomeSo, to start with, here is our home away from home. We’re still in the process of setting up, so there’s no furniture in it yet, but when it’s fully set up, we have a full-size bed (with a real mattress), a clothes rack, pantry shelves, and a dressing table and stool. Oh, and we also use a propane heater when it’s cold (we only used it the first night to burn off the damp; the rest of the week it was plenty warm–even hot, during the day).

While setting up, Stuart managed to pull an entire water spigot out of the ground. Hitting water lines/sprinkler systems with tent stakes, backing over spigots, etc. is so common in the SCA, we jokingly refer to these incidents as finding a “miraculous spring.” Stuart might have a first for ripping up a spigot with his bare hands, though.

Holy Well

The Miraculous Well of the Blessed St. Stuart

 

DSCF0019

The Miraculous Well of St. Martin. Note the sacred pick-ax (painted gold) and the reliquary box (which contains broken pieces of PVC pipe).

Some folks down the road built a shrine to their miraculous spring (although it wasn’t out this year; I guess they couldn’t make it to War).

While almost everyone camps in tents, a few enterprising people have built themselves houses (this is next on mine and Stuart’s to-do list).

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(Not being the carpenter/constructor types, we plan on buying a pre-built storage building and altering it to appear medieval.)

Some encampments have fancy gates.

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There are even a couple of large, public buildings on site:

DSCF0039

The Viking longhouse. (It’s very neat on the inside. In the evenings, they build a fire in the central hearth and there are seat/bed platforms around the walls where you can hang out and chat with people.)

The Green Dragon. This is a semi-functioning pub (alcoholic beverages aren’t sold). They have different performances every evening–sometimes two per evening. (Inside is also very neat. They have a tiny musician’s loft above the bar. The doors have medieval counterweights to make them self-closing, and when it’s cold, they’ll light a fire in the big cauldron in the middle of the floor.)

We eventually want to put a gate up on our land, but our house will probably end up happening first. (Again, no carpentry skills–not to mention, it’s an 8+ hour drive for everyone in our camp, which means we can’t just run down there for a work weekend and throw up a gate.)

But, that being said, we did have one work weekend year-before-last, when we built ourselves a fire pit.

Child Labor

Hmm… maybe this is why we can’t get anything built in a timely fashion. …We need more child labor!

 

Pit

The finished fire pit.

So, now that you’ve seen how we live, let me show you what we do.

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But, it’s not all fighting. There are massive amounts of classes, Arts & Sciences displays and workshops, dancing, parties, fencing, hound coursing, and equestrian (to name a few things).

There is also archery and thrown weapons. Stuart bought a new longbow at War and went to the archery range to try it out.

ArcheryWe also spent some time at the falconry tent

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I had assumed that people hunted with birds for food–that the birds would get you a rabbit for your dinner. But, in reality, you end up feeding them pretty much everything they catch, and then some (they don’t hunt with them at certain times of the year). The owners actually raise pigeons to feed the birds when they’re not hunting with them (pigeons and doves were commonly raised in the middle ages, too, and no doubt some of them went to the birds). If they catch anything big, like a rabbit, then that gets put into the freezer to be fed to them a piece at a time.

The purpose of hawking in the middle ages, then, wasn’t to use birds to catch yourself dinner, but just to watch them hunt and kill something. Part of the reason why only nobles could have birds (besides sumptuary laws, which strictly relegated who could own what kind of bird) was that they were expensive to maintain. Not only did you have to feed it when it couldn’t feed itself, but you pretty well had to have a full-time falconer to take care of your birds.

And these birds are not really tame–not like your cat or dog or even a domesticated bird. One of the falconers explained that they kept bells on the birds’ feet so that they could hear them if they flew away. She said that at a previous War, one man let his loose and the bird never came back. And she said she had one to get away from her when she was hunting with it. It got a squirrel and then decided that it needed to hide and eat, so he flew off into the brush. She was only able to track him down by listening to his bells when he moved his feet.

The only reason why any of them stay with their human handlers is because they know they can always get a free and easy meal. I seem to recall, from a conversation I had with one of the falconers several years ago, that they were only allowed to keep some of the endangered ones for a few years, while they were juveniles (because juveniles have a high rate of mortality in the wild). After that, they had to release them. And, in fact, barring age or injury, any of these birds could go back to the wild at any time–unlike truly domesticated animals.

I asked the falconer one year how they managed to gentle the birds, and he said that after wild-catching one, he would sit in a recliner in his basement, take the bird out of its box, and hold it until it quit beating its wings (while watching TV–because it could take a while). When it had tired itself out and calmed down, then he would feed it. After that, he would feed it and handle it regularly and it would quickly come to associate people with food, so it wouldn’t fight when it was taken out of its box. When it was pretty well-behaved, they could leave it out on a perch in the house, where it would spend additional time around other people and around the other birds. (The smaller birds are naturally afraid of the larger ones, but after a while, when they figure out that the large ones can’t get to them, they calm down around them.)

Unfortunately, after we got home from War, we found out that the people who owned all the birds, save the male hawk, had a car fire on their way back home. They managed to get out of the car in time, but all of their birds died. A couple of different groups of people are working on raising money to help them replace their birds. (They are licensed to wild-catch some species, but some of the ones pictured are not native to their part of the U.S. and have to be bought or traded for.)

The Bloodsuckers, Episode 42: Road to the Lion’s Den

Scott idly watched the western sky while Josie drove them to Nashville for her family’s Hanukkah gathering. The sky was dark, save for a deep pinky-purple on the horizon. He had always thought sunsets were more beautiful in the winter—maybe because the sun was at a lower angle relative to the earth, making its rays diffuse through the atmosphere instead of coming directly at the viewer.

He wasn’t sure if that was factual or not, but it sounded impressive—probable, even.

What was it that Mark’s book on lying had said?—if a person believes something strongly enough, it won’t register as a lie on a lie-detector test. Repeat a lie enough times, and the brain will simply reconstruct the memory to accommodate the lie and it will become truth.

It was one of the reasons why witnesses could be unreliable—especially if something happened suddenly or was shockingly violent. The older the memory, the more likely it was to end up altered—not because the witnesses intentionally altered it, but because they internalized other people’s narratives, news reports—hell, even dreams of the incident could introduce things that weren’t there in reality, and those things would get stuck in the actual memory.

That didn’t mean that a person was incapable of remembering something correctly—and some people admittedly had better memories than others—but it did mean that you should be cautious. Two witnesses saying the same thing were better than one—especially if they weren’t in contact. If they were close—family members, friends, or neighbors—then, as they talked about the incident and shared their version of it, their narratives would start to meld until they were more or less telling the same story—even if they had originally remembered two different things. That’s why interviewing witnesses separately and quickly was crucial; the mind did funny things with memories; it corrupted them even as it attempted to save them.

It gradually dawned on Scott that his thoughts had been wandering randomly for nearly a half hour—namely because neither he nor Josie were talking.

He didn’t like the silence; it was foreboding. It could just be because they were heading into the lion’s den, but Scott feared it was because of Josie’s pregnancy. He worried—perhaps justly, perhaps only out of paranoia—that a rift was growing between them. Did Josie blame him? After all, he was the one who was supposed to be sterile. He had put her in this situation.

The appropriate thing to do would be voice his concerns. He ought to ask her, point-blank, if she harbored any resentment towards him and if she was contemplating leaving him.

Instead, he broke the very pregnant silence—no pun intended—with: “Clarice’s birthday is right the corner and I don’t have anything picked out for her. What do you think I should get?”

“She’s going to be ten, right?”

“Yeah.” Just thinking about that made him depressed. He kept telling himself that it didn’t matter to him, since he wasn’t actually getting any older, but it still seemed sad that his daughter’s childhood was flying past. Before he knew it, she’d be grown and probably moved away.

Josie pressed her lips together, looking thoughtful. “She might like makeup.”

Scott shuddered. “She’s too young for that.”

“She’s too young to wear it out, but that doesn’t mean she can’t play with it. Most girls like playing with makeup—like dressing up.”

“I don’t think her mother would appreciate me getting her makeup.”

“Does Maggie not wear any?”

“Not much.” Saying so surprised Scott. He hadn’t ever thought about it before, but Maggie had worn very little makeup. Josie, on the other hand, was always nicely made up. It wasn’t that he felt makeup was a necessity—Josie was still pretty, even when she wasn’t wearing it—but it just further reinforced the difference between her and his ex.

“Is that because she doesn’t want to, or doesn’t believe in it?” Josie asked.

“I’m not sure. That’s why I don’t really want to test it.”

“Of course, Clarice could keep it at your house and Maggie need never know,” she offered.

Scott waved his hands. “I don’t want to get her any,” he said. “It’s a short jump from wearing makeup to being interested in boys.”

Josie laughed.

“What?” Scott demanded.

“I think you’ve got that backwards.”

“What… boys come first, then the makeup?”

“Yep.”

“Are… you just speaking in general, or do you know something I don’t?”

“Both.”

Scott felt a little sick to his stomach. “Who is he?”

“Some boy named Jeremy. He’s a grade older.” Josie said this with great emphasis, as if it was very significant.

“I don’t like the sound of that.”

Josie laughed. “Don’t worry; apparently he doesn’t know she exists. That’s why she was asking me what she could do to get his attention.”

“Definitely no make-up. I don’t want her to have his attention.”

“Scott, little girls get crushes on little boys; it’s normal.”

“At ten years old?” he asked incredulously.

She laughed at him again. “Hell, Scott, my first great love was in kindergarten. Actually, come to think of it,” she said thoughtfully, “I think I had two. I had a crush on David—a boy in my synagogue class—and Ian, a boy at school.”

“Both at once?”

“Yeah. That way, I never had to go too long without seeing one or the other.” She grinned. “David was my first kiss. Somehow, we ended up in the synagogue library together—it was dark because the lights were out—and I told him he should kiss me, and he did. Then I ran out, because I was suddenly bashful.”

“Your first kiss was in kindergarten?” he said, appalled. But Josie’s tone was more blissful; for her, it was a sweet memory.

“Yeah. I seem to recall I told him our parents had arranged our marriage when we were born, so we might as well start acting like a married couple.” She laughed at her own boldness. “I have no idea where I came up with that. I think I might have just lied to get him to kiss me.”

“So, what you’re saying is you lied to seduce a boy in synagogue? And here I was worried about what the boy might do. You’re obviously ten times worse.”

She just laughed unapologetically.

He shook his head. “I can’t imagine what my Sunday School teacher would have said if I had done that. Condemned me to hell, I’m sure.”

“Welcome to the differences between Jew and Gentile.”

Scott looked out over the dark road, the white line reflectors flashing in the headlights. “I have a feeling I’m going to get schooled in those differences a lot tonight.”

Read the entire series–The Bloodsuckers: Vampire Lawyers of Middle Tennessee

One Writing Project Down, Eleven More to Go

Alright, time for me to peek in on my blog again. This is starting to become a monthly tradition… or maybe that’s quarterly.

Even if I’m not writing on my blog, though, I am doing some writing.

A couple of weeks ago, I finally finished my fan fiction. Mind you, this was just something I was playing around with while I was in the process of moving and couldn’t devote myself to my regular work. My motivation was to see if I could write a game—complete with background story, character development, weapons, dungeons, bosses, etc.

Conclusion? Why yes, I can write a game (provided said game broke the mold and was a two-player interface instead of a solo player).

Things I learned in the process:

  1. Writing an entire game by yourself is harder than you would think. I didn’t have a problem with developing a storyline, but coming up with different weapons and bosses was hard. And we won’t even get into how to make mazes. I stand in awe of the maze developers.
  2. You have to plot adventures. This is really important, as you need to know what people and things you will need later. For example, weapons are often introduced before they’re needed—or they might be needed multiple times.
  3. Even when I have a plot, I still “pants.” I found writing just to a plot was rather restricting (suffocating, even)—especially as I came up with good ideas along the way. So, what happened in actuality, was that I pantsed between (and sometimes in the middle of) plotted chapters.
  4. When you simultaneously pants and plot, you end up with twice as much product as you intended.

How much product, you ask?

Originally, I plotted 50 chapters—certainly a respectable amount when you consider that my shortest chapters were around 1,200 words, and major chapters—dungeons and bosses—could have as many as 8,000-12,000 words.

The reality? This story clocks in at 114 chapters and 459,339 words.

Let that sink in for a minute. Acceptance, which is, according to industry standards, a bit on the long side for a first novel—even one that’s urban fantasy—has approximately 109,000 words.

My fanfic is a little longer than four Acceptance novels—or, in other words, as long as the entire planned series.

The Flames of Prague, which is long even to historical fiction standards, is roughly 80,000 words. It would take nearly six of those to equal this one fan fiction.

It took me right at a year and a half to write it. That means I averaged 25,519 words per month—or roughly half the speed you work during a NaNo month—only this lasted 18 consecutive months.

I’m not disappointed by those figures. If I applied that same work ethic to my new stuff, then I could turn out a historical fiction novel roughly every three months. (Of course it’s not the writing part that’s really time-consuming; it’s the editing. Editing takes two or three times longer than the initial writing, I’ve found.)

Maybe one of these days I can afford to hire an editor/proofreader to do that heavy lifting and I can put more of my effort into writing new stuff. Just in the last year, I’ve come up with two more ideas for historical novels (I’m loathe to call one a romance, since the lovers will die at the end). That makes a grand total of three historical romance novels waiting in the production line, not counting the sequel to Flames, a potential sequel to the sequel, or any of the Acceptance series (of which there are three more to go, plus an estimated 3 prequels).

I don’t have to worry about widespread writer’s block any time soon; I have enough to keep me busy for some years.

Now that my fanfic is done, I plan on turning back to The Flames of Prague. It’s had a major edit already, and I’ve handwritten the secondary edit; I just need to get those corrections typed up. Then it will need to undergo several rounds of proofreading. I’m hopeful that I can get it out by the end of the year.

I also plan on picking up The Bloodsuckers again. I’m not sure if I want to commit to one episode a week again. That has its benefits—in that it prevents procrastination, and desperation can shake all sorts of things loose—but it also its drawbacks in that it forces smaller episodes and more filler. My fan fiction was written as a serial novel, but I rarely did one chapter a week; it was more like one chapter every 2-3 weeks. This allowed me to make longer chapters (something a lot of people have complained about with Bloodsuckers). Another thing is that the quality of writing seems better in my fanfic. This could be because practice makes perfect (if you’ve got one million words of crap in you, then I just sloughed about half of that; including the other stuff I’ve written, I’ve passed the one million word mark), but it could also be that I took more time with my fanfic; I didn’t feel the need to hurry things along until the very end, when I just got tired of it and was ready to move on to other things.

I think I might try plotting some of The Bloodsuckers, too, because I want it to take a darker and more adventurous turn. Plotting will allow me to set up some situations and characters that will come into play in the future. It will also help me avoid sitting at a blank computer screen and wondering what in the world I’m going to do next. When in doubt, follow the plot. But if I want to go off-script a little, too, there’s room for that.

Just as my fan fiction started with a challenge—to see if I could write a video game—The Bloodsuckers originally started with a challenge, too: to see if I could write a serial novel of equivalent size and scope as Varney the Vampire. My fan fiction has proven that I can lay down some serious wordage when I want to (although it’s still nearly 200,000 words short of old Varney), so it’s not a matter of if, but of when.

And, to that end, expect to see a new episode shortly.

Guardians of the Galaxy: This Was the Best You Could Do?

GOTG-posterSo, the hubby and I watched Guardians of the Galaxy last night—mainly because so many of our friends said it was great, with a sugary coating of awesome-sauce on top. Normally, we’re not big fans of comic book movies, but there have been some we’ve liked.

This would not be one of them.

I didn’t even make it through the entire movie before I got bored and decided that playing some Candy Crush would be more entertaining. Hubby made it through all of it, but it got a one-shrug rating from him. The best he could say of it was, “It was mildly entertaining.”

Problems I had with it:

I had absolutely no idea who the bad guy was. There seemed to be two bad guys: Bad Guy A and Bad Guy B. Bad Guy B was working for Bad Guy A—I think—but I never established which person on the screen was A and which was B. Or if they were the same species. Or why they were working together in the first place. Or even what made them Badass #1 and #2 in the galaxy. I mean, everyone said they were afraid of at least one of them, but I didn’t see much that made them fearful (of course, that could be because the movie was so damn dark, I could barely see anything on the screen at all).

imagesOne of these bad buys wanted to wipe out an entire planet because of some long-standing feud, but I’m not sure which one. (Or maybe it was both of them.) And when one of them eventually acquires Magical Item 1 that blew up a human-looking girl, but which doesn’t blow him up, he appears to become Badass #1. Maybe. I didn’t last long enough to see if they had a showdown for the Badass of the Galaxy Championship Belt.

And one of them had two daughters—who looked nothing alike. We find out that green daughter was actually forcibly made part of the family and had to do daddy’s dirty work. And, in fact, her daddy lent her out to the other one to help steal Magical Item 1. But I was never clear if she was the “daughter” of Bad Guy A or B, and whether she was working for A or B or both or neither. Were they both her enemies? I don’t know. And the blue girl identified as her “sister”—was she the actual child of the bad buy, or another orphan pressed into this Greek tragedy of a family? I have no idea.

So green girl has this long rap sheet of killing people for her “father.” But, when she tells Good Guy that her father (and maybe other Bad Guy) sent her to get Magical Item 1, but she’s going to double-cross both of them (despite the fact that they are Badass #1 and #2 and everyone else is afraid of them), he instantly believes her and decides that he, too, needs to get in on challenging Badass #1 and #2. Because… Green Bitch.

320x240 Yes, I know Captain Kirk established the Rule of Green Bitches, but are we even in the same galaxy? Maybe the Rule doesn’t apply to Green Bitches in different galaxies. And certainly we’re in a different time period; Kirk operates several hundred years into the future. Maybe Green Bitches have not yet established themselves as the harmless vixens that they will later become.

In short, there’s no reason to trust this particular Green Bitch. But Good Guy does immediately.

How does he manage to stay alive as a petty thief and smuggler if he’s trusting random Green Bitches at the drop of a hat—especially if it also means taking on Badass #1 and #2?

indexNot only that, but he immediately falls in love with her. And not the kind of “love” that he’s felt for all the other colorful floozies he’s had from one end of the galaxy to the other (really, is that the best we can do for aliens? Different-colored humanoids?)—no, we’re talking True Love™.

The problem with that is that I don’t see any reason why he should fall in love with her. She doesn’t seem to be any different than the pink girl (or was she orange?) that he had earlier. He doesn’t even spend any time waxing eloquent on her ability to beat up a lot of people—including him—and kick her leg over her head. I can see how such abilities would be appealing to a man like him, but apparently he doesn’t, because he never spends any time talking about them—not even an open-mouth, bug-eyed stare, coupled with a little drool of longing.

No, he just decides to save her—multiple times—for no particular reason. He doesn’t even seem to be motivated by greed (which is a plausible reason to do it to start with; True Love™ can develop over the course of the movie).

peter-quill-chris-prattFrom the set up at the beginning of the movie, I was expecting him to be an anti-hero—a thief who is really a good guy deep down, but who needs something (or someone) to motivate him to choose his good side over his bad. But that would involve character development, and the writers gave that idea the middle finger.

Why make interesting characters when you can just have a lot of CGI stuff and a Green Bitch that can kick her leg up so high, she hits the guy behind her in the face? That sells tickets!

DSC_5876075_1024x1024

You’re having a good day when you can drop an Alice’s Restaurant’s quote like a boss.

The same thing’s true for the rest of the team members. So the raccoon and the tree (Groot—I got his name, at least) are bounty hunters and they try to hunt down Good Guy. Apparently bounty hunting in Peaceful City gets you put in jail. Or maybe they had outstanding warrants; I don’t know. Regardless, everyone ends up in jail together (they don’t even believe in sex segregation at this particular jail; Green Bitch goes in with everyone else). Even before the raccoon and Groot can work out a profitable deal with Good Guy, they’re trying to help him survive the mean world of father rapers, mother stabbers, litterbugs, and other nasty criminal types who create a public nuisance.

Shouldn’t they at least be mad that he caused him so much trouble? He was supposed to be an easy meal ticket, but instead they ended up in the slammer with him. They should have hard feelings about that—at least until their greed overcomes their dislike.

But no, they’re instant partners. And even the addition of Green Bitch and Pointless Blue Guy to the team barely elicit a raised eyebrow.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-star-lord-top-100609

Lame-ass beard you’ve got there, boy.

Sure, we’ve always been a two-beast bounty-hunting operation, but what the hell? Let’s add on a Good Guy who can’t grow a real beard, a Green Bitch who was formerly Badass #3 in the galaxy and belongs to/has been working for Badasses #1 and #2, and a Pointless Blue Guy.

As Dr. Evil says about not even watching during overly-elaborate and easily-escapable executions, “I’ll just assume it went according to plan.” Rocket the Raccoon is Dr. Evil: he’ll team up with some retched scum and villainy and just assume it will go according to plan. They’ll never double-cross him or anything—despite the fact that they have death sentences in twelve star systems. They’re, like, totally trustworthy.

Drax_GotG

Why do I care about this guy? What does he do? When will he ever see a doctor about that monster shingles rash?

This movie would have worked a LOT better if it did what it appeared to do in trailers, which is make fun of sci-fi hero movies. It desperately tries to do that—what with the oddly-placed 60’s and 70’s music (played on a magical cassette tape that never wears out and breaks!) and awkward attempts at humor by Good Guy—but overall, it takes itself seriously, which means those funny bits thrown in at random seem stilted and out of place.

It either needs to be serious or funny; it can’t do both successfully.

Of course, the movie might make a lot of sense to people who have followed the comics. But as a movie it fails because it can’t be understood without reading the source material first. I watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hunger Games, and Divergent before reading the books and they all made sense. Movies should be capable of standing alone. This one isn’t.

Maybe, in the end, Green Bitch betrayed all of them. Or maybe the raccoon took the money and ran. That would be entertaining—and in keeping with these people who are supposedly thieves and bounty hunters and assassins. But from the way things were going more than halfway through the movie, that didn’t even look like an outside possibility. And with boring, unmotivated (and sometimes pointless) characters, there was nothing to look forward to but a typical fantasy plot: misfits form a team, beat Bad Guys A and B, and recover Magical Item 1.

maxresdefaultYawn. I think I’ll just be over here, trying to make a candy bomb.