Saturday, April 30, 2011

Weekend Writer's Retreat - 53

Day 25 and 26 of the A to Z Challenge brings us to the latest chapter in my serialized dark fantasy story.

Y is for Yellow

Z is for Zest

For the first twelve scenes posted for the Weekend Writer's Retreat, we followed Scorpius as a seven-year-old, fetched from the nursery by a falconer to become his apprentice.

The next twelve scenes followed ten-year-old Scorpius as he discovered the dangers of serving the nobles he'd once imagined were family.

The third set of twelve scenes gave us a thirteen-year-old Scorpius, who discovered the true extent of his master's attempts to shield him from the cruelties of life outside their falconer's cottage.

We rejoin him at age sixteen.

You can follow the progress of this story arc by clicking on the Works in Progress link just under the blog header.

Scene 53

Scorpius stood in the kitchen with his master, watching carefully as the apothecary’s apprentice grated the fruit zest finely into the mortar. Raising one unimpressed eyebrow as he glanced up, checking to be sure they followed his instructions, the young man grabbed a pinch of forest herb from an open pouch on the counter, added a long list of ingredients and finally began crushing them all with the pestle.

Of course there was a particular technique that was vital to the success of the mixture. It was hard to take these edicts seriously, as there were so many of them, and so detailed. But Scorpius noted that Richolf paid very close attention and did not shoot him any sideways glances.

So Scorpius forced himself to do likewise as the occasional moan drifted up from Lord Thibault, who rested in Richolf’s shuttered room. The wound was deep and now festered, poison or no poison.

The young noble was too weak to be moved from the falconer’s cottage. It was up to his master and himself to nurse the noble back to health. Lord Thibault’s family could not afford to have their enemies track the comings and goings of healers to the falconer’s cottage. One visit of this apothecary’s apprentice was all that could be risked without arousing suspicion.

Granted, two of Lord Thibault’s guard remained behind until their master could recover himself. They were stashed out of sight but within earshot, in the closest falcon mews behind the cottage.

His master had no need to tell Scorpius that the guard stationed behind to protect Lord Thibault was also meant to tidy up any loose ends if he succumbed to his wounds. No matter how revolting the apothecary apprentice’s thick yellow paste looked and smelled, Scorpius memorized all of the ingredients used by the insufferable young man, his exacting methods in preparing them and in applying them.

For four days, his master cared for Lord Thibault. On the fifth day, a small group of nobles arrived at the cottage for a hunt.

Richolf took them onto the field while Scorpius sat with Lord Thibault, a damp cloth for the noble’s forehead in one hand, a concealed knife in the other.

And right outside the cottage window, he heard the stealthy approach of one of the guard, who stationed himself along the cottage’s stone wall. Scorpius looked down at the knife in his clammy hand.

What could he do against one of the hardened men who had disarmed Lord Thibault’s would-be assassins? And what about his master, alone with a hunting party who could be slitting the falconer’s throat instead of watching the hawks take down their dinner?

© Julia Smith, 2011


This brings us to the end of the A to Z Challenge.

What an incredible month! I've enjoyed myself immensely. Hope to see you all next year.

Friday, April 29, 2011

5 on Friday - Set 64

Day 24 of the A to Z Challenge!

One more day left - I'll be combining Y and Z for the final posting tomorrow.

But for today - we come to X.

For 5 on Friday, here are five songs that start with X.

For more tunes, visit Travis at Trav's Thoughts.

1 - Xanax and Wine - U2

2 - X & Y - Coldplay

3 - Xerces - Deftones

4 - X Offender - Blondie

5 - Xanadu - Olivia Newton John and ELO

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thursday Thirteen - 208 - 13 Things About Prince William's Westminster Wedding

Day 23 brings us to W.

And what better way to celebrate W than by joining the well-wishers for the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton on Friday?

1 - Westminster Abbey, where William and Kate will be married on Friday, has been the choice for royal weddings for centuries, although there was a 600-year gap between the 14th and 20th centuries when high profile brides and grooms tied the knot at various Chapels Royal.

2 - St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle was a very popular choice during the 19th century, including the wedding of Albert, the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark.

3 - St. Paul's Cathedral hosted the wedding of William's parents, Charles the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer.

4 - Prince William follows recent family tradition by marrying at Westminster Abbey as his grandparents and great-grandparents did. In fact, it was his great-grandmother, the Queen Mother who began the tradition of laying her bridal bouquet upon the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, which has been observed by every royal bride since.

5 - William has his own rose named for him - the Royal William Rose. I wonder if these will be a part of Kate's bouquet?

6 - William met Kate while both were students at Scotland's University of St. Andrew's, when he played for the water polo team.

7 - William has been wild about Kate for 8 years.

8 - William presented his fiancee with his mother's signature sapphire engagement ring, made of 18-carat white gold.

9 - The bridal route will pass along The Mall, past Horse Guards and Whitehall to the abbey.

10 - Traditionally, the Archbishop of Canterbury conducts the marriage ceremonies of England's future monarchs, so the current archbiship, Rowan Williams, will do the honors for William.

11 - Besides royalty and foreign heads of state, several wing commanders will be on the guest list due to William's service with search and rescue.

12 - Also attending will be Sir Clive Woodward, former rugby player and coach of the 2003 World Cup winners.

13 - With all my best wishes to Prince William and Kate Middleton - may you never run out of things to talk about.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Through the Opera Glasses - 78 - 10 of My Favorite Vampires

Day 22 of the A to Z Challenge brings us to a type of character for which I have a definite weakness.

V is for Vampire

I'm currently preparing to shoot the book trailer for my vampire book, which is now ready to start final revisions before I head to the writers' conference this summer.

If I'm writing about vampires, I must have some favorite vampires from films and television that inspire me - don't I?

Of course I do! Here are my top ten:

1 - Blade from the film series of the same name

2 - Viktor from the Underworld film series

3 - Professor Dracula from the 70's TV series Cliffhangers

4 - Louis from Interview With the Vampire

5 - Count Dracula from Bram Stoker's Dracula

6 - Count Dracula from Dracula 2000

7 - Dean Winchester for one episode of Supernatural

8 - Bill Compton from True Blood

9 - Eric Northman from True Blood

10 - Godric from True Blood

Poetry Train Monday - 188 - The Undiscovered Scream

Day 21 of the A to Z Challenge brings us to the letter U.

This is a found poem, taken from one of my works in progress. It's a scene from my gardener story, which you can check out in my Fiction Excerpt Archives.

I tightened the language of the scene for the poem. Otherwise it reads as it does in the story, which follows this little laundry maid and a gardener from a Victorian country house when they're shipped to Van Diemen's Land as convicts.

The Undiscovered Scream

Helen stood before the gaol
Barred wagon trundled
Towards her

Three more prisoners
Waiting to

How she had longed
To be taken
Last summer

The days since then had
Crawled on famished hands
Exhausted knees

Horses' hooves clapped
On cobblestones
It seemed she

Stepped outside herself
Watching as she moved
Through the hours

Fatigue helped
To blur the moments.
The women beside her

Held hands
The man jumped down
Opened the latch

But Helen felt.
Tendril of fear creeping

How certain she'd been
No more feelings
Left at all

She looked down
Worn fabric
Draft curled around

Her ankles. One woman cried.
The other kept patting her.
Near the harbour

Sea birds cried
Reality entered the
Box like a fourth

Waterfront hurly burly
Men called orders

Cargo nets hoisted.
Jagged masts
Sky clutter

Draped with shrouds
Monstrous webs
Of rope

Helen shivered on the
Wharf, the rough men
On deck stared back

The numbness was gone.
An undiscovered scream
That no one seemed to hear

- Julia Smith, 2009

For more poetry, Ride the Poetry Train!

As we head into the final week of this month-long challenge, I'd like to say thank you to all of my new followers and I look forward to getting to know you, as well as everyone I've followed during this event. The sheer scope of this over-1000-participant blog carnival makes it impossible to visit and comment the way I'd hoped, but it gives me something wonderful to look forward to.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Weekend Writer's Retreat - 52! - One Year Anniversary

Day 20 of the A to Z Challenge brings us to the latest chapter in my serialized dark fantasy story.

It also brings me to the one-year anniversary of delving into Scorpius' childhood backstory for this Weekend Writer's Retreat. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who have stuck with this story for a whole year.

Thank you!

T is for Trial

For the first twelve scenes posted for the Weekend Writer's Retreat, we followed Scorpius as a seven-year-old, fetched from the nursery by a falconer to become his apprentice.

The next twelve scenes followed ten-year-old Scorpius as he discovered the dangers of serving the nobles he'd once imagined were family.

The third set of twelve scenes gave us a thirteen-year-old Scorpius, who discovered the true extent of his master's attempts to shield him from the cruelties of life outside their falconer's cottage.

We rejoin him at age sixteen.

You can follow the progress of this story arc by clicking on the Works in Progress link just under the blog header.

Scene 52

The detachment of guards thundered around the bend, their horses just as fierce-looking as the men who dismounted to spread quickly across the clearing. The bound courtiers were made to regret their choices of loyalties, even with their trial some days away.

Richolf motioned for Scorpius to stick close as the commanding officer strode across the cottage’s stone floor. Scorpius’ gut twisted with dread for Lord Thibault, who lay on their table still drenched in sweat from his ordeal.

The commander poked and prodded the noble, who answered in moans. “Looks clean,” the officer said. “No poison.”

He carried himself like a prince, or at least what Scorpius imagined a prince might look like. If he ignored the scars and the uniform, Scorpius would have wondered if this wasn’t another royal sibling concealing his true purpose as Lord Nizhnii had done, years ago.

“Just the arrow, sir,” the guard who’d removed it said.

“Was there anyone with Lord Thibault when he was attacked?”

Scorpius’ heart stopped in mid-beat. Richolf stepped ever so slightly ahead of him.

Gesturing towards him, the guard said, “The falconer’s boy, sir.”

The officer glanced across the kitchen to hold Scorpius in his piercing gaze. Everything inside of Scorpius shriveled to nothing.

At first he took a step back as the officer walked towards him. But he forced himself to stand straight, reminding himself that he had in fact saved the young lord’s life. The sight of Richolf’s bowed head from the corner of his eye reminded him to do likewise, just in time.

“How did it happen?” the officer said.

Glancing up at Lord Thibault’s sprawled form and bloodied shoulder, Scorpius took a deep breath and explained how the hunting party had turned on itself, describing his flight with the noble into the forest and their concealment beneath the rock ledge. At the end, he dared to look up into the commander’s eyes.

The officer stepped even closer, nose to nose. Scorpius was forced to look down or be insubordinate.

For a long moment, the officer didn’t speak. He merely stood there, too close, his gaze raking Scorpius from top to bottom, delving beneath his skin like a cruel knife looking for arrowheads or poison.

Swallowing hard, Scorpius stood as still as he could, his mouth dry, his palms sweaty.

“How did you know to run?” the officer asked, finally.

With every part of his being, Scorpius wanted to leave his master out of this, just in case there might be more questions to make Richolf suffer. But Lord Thibault would tell his own version of the event, and the falconer was the one who’d alerted them to the danger. So that is what Scorpius told him.

Turning towards his master, the commander fired off a series of questions meant to trip up liars. But Richolf answered everything calmly and simply, with the right amount of deference and the dignity of having nothing to hide.

The officer signaled for the guard to follow him outside. Without another word, they were gone.

Scorpius and Richolf exchanged pale glances. But they were not as pale as the young lord, who at least moaned to reassure them he lived.

© Julia Smith, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

5 on Friday - Set 63

Day 19 of the A to Z Challenge brings us to Travis' latest version of 5 Degrees of Musical Progression - and to the letter S.

For this game, all of those participating in his musical meme begin with an idea and then create a musical set that meanders from one leap-frogging aspect to another - but keeps the selections connected.

Travis wanted us all to start with Gordon Lightfoot's Sundown. Here's where I went with it.

First of all, it's Easter weekend, and my mind naturally leans toward this rather intense holy holiday. Particularly since I'm just about to head into the latest major revisions for my vampire novel (thanks, Travis! for your part in this momentous job.)

Now, you may ask - what do vampire story revisions and The Lord's resurrection have to do with one another?

There's a clue in my Sidebar Art Gallery this month. Scroll down past the Followers section to view.

If I told you that my vampire story is basically a superhero origin story, it will be a little clearer. So, I've taken the idea of a sundown being the Dark Moment we writers put our characters through, and filter it through the ordeal and transformation which all superheroes endure.

So for this week's 5 on Friday, and for the A to Z Challenge, here are five Saviour showtunes that start with S.

1 - Save the People - Godspell

When wilt thou save the people?
Oh God of mercy, when?
Not kings and lords, but nations
Not thrones and crowns
But men

- Schwartz / Tebelak

2 - Simon Zealotes - Jesus Christ Superstar

Christ, you know I love you
Did you see I waved?
I believe in you and God
So tell me that I'm saved

- Lloyd Webber / Rice

3 - Seven Deadly Virtues - Camelot

You'll never find a virtue
Unstatus-ing my quo
Or making my Beelzebubble burst

Let others take the high road
I will take the low
I cannot wait to rush in
Where angels fear to go

With all those seven deadly virtues
Free and happy little me
Has not been cursed

- Lerner / Loewe

4 - Stars - Les Miserables

He knows his way in the dark
Mine is the way of the Lord
And those who follow the path of the righteous
Shall have their reward
And if they fall
As Lucifer fell
The flame
The sword!

- Boublil / Kretzmer / Schonberg

5 - Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat - Guys and Dolls

The people all said sit down
Sit down, you're rockin' the boat

And the devil will drag you under
By the sharp lapel of your checkered coat
Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down
Sit down, you're rockin' the boat

- Frank Loesser

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thursday Thirteen - 207 - 13 More Ways to Admire Richard Armitage

Day 18 of the A to Z Challenge at A Piece of My Mind Falls on Thursday Thirteen day.

That means thirteen ways to explore or contemplate something - which, in this case, means thirteen fabulous facts about Richard Armitage.

Because R is definitely for Richard Armitage.

1 - In fact, R has been for Richard Armitage three times previously on Thursday Thirteen day:

13 Truly Marvellous Things About Richard Armitage

13 Characters Played by Richard Armitage

13 Ways to Admire Richard Armitage

I'm allowed to be obsessed with him, because he's the muse for my Scorpius character who appears on Saturdays in my serialized fiction feature.

2 - Richard Armitage - most recently appearing as John Porter in Strike Back depending on air dates in different countries.

6' 2"

Eyes - Blue

Hair - Dark brown

Type - Athletic / Turning 40 this year

He works as an actor / Extensive voiceover work

Works in television / Film / Stage

3 - Richard grew up just outside of Leicester in the East Midlands of England, the son of John, an engineer and Margaret, a secretary.

His family recognized his aptitude for the arts and enrolled him at Pattison College, a performing arts boarding school.

Once graduated, he joined a physical theatre troupe, The Second Generation.

Performed in Nachtcircus in Budapest, Hungary

Appeared in West End productions of:

42nd Street
My One and Only
Mr. Wonderful
Annie Get your Gun

Next photo is straying into Not Safe For Work territory...

4 - Richard has kept up his tiptop dance form for his stunt-heavy roles, such as Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood, shown above.

5 - Mr. Delicious is not strictly eye candy, ladies - if you can find some time in his schedule, perhaps you could meet up...

6 - If you have yet to discover Richard Armitage, might I suggest beginning with this sublime British miniseries about class differences in Victorian England?

In North & South, he plays a mill owner - read, loathsome merchant - who develops feelings for a gentlewoman from the south of England.

My Guarantee: This series has the most romantic kiss ever.


7 - The next character you should not miss if you're going to dive into Richard's work is Guy of Gisborne from Robin Hood.

Richard pretty much specializes in The Gray Character - and this enforcer for the Sheriff of Nottingham makes you somehow care deeply about a truly ruthless person.

8 - More Gray Character exploration in Spooks / MI-5 - Richard played British spy Lucas North for three seasons, where his identity issues and loyalties were presented and reworked in kaleidoscopic fashion.

9 - Remember my soft spot for a man in chains?


Richard never fails to disappoint. He's given us numerous reasons to tune in for some prime Prometheus Bound, particularly with Robin Hood, Spooks/MI-5, George Gently and above in Strike Back.

10 - One of my favorites of Richard's roles is young painter Claude Monet in The Impressionists. If you can find this one, it will fill you with admiration for this revolutionary group of artists.

11 - Another role where Richard really shines is the incredibly shy Yorkshire farmhand John Standring in Sparkhouse. Here he's gets to play a less gray, though just as complicated man who forms a third of a love triangle (my favorite!)

12 - And Richard is an awesome crier.

CLICK HERE to watch clip

13 - Richard is currently shooting Peter Jackson's The Hobbit in New Zealand.

Go, Richard!

Nearly Wordless Wednesday - 195

Day 17 of the A to Z Challenge brings us back to my photography feature, hosted by Wordless Wednesday.

Normally, Wordless Wednesday is exactly that - a posting of an image that speaks for itself. But sometimes a few words are required.

Like today - since Q is for Quilts, and these are the two quilts I received for my wedding.

This one was made for us by Brad's Aunt Carol.


This one was made for us by my grandmother - not the one who lived here in Cole Harbour with us, but my dad's mom. She's 88 years young, and lives in Michigan.

This shot was taken 12 years ago in our Toronto apartment. That's my husband with our little cousin Emily (she's now much taller...)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Poetry Train - 187 - Playground Politics Grade 4

Day 16 - the A to Z Challenge continues!

For new visitors, Monday is usually poetry day, but I had a special interview for the launch of my good friend Kelly Boyce's debut western historical romance - The Outlaw Bride.

So, for this week, Tuesday will be poetry day. This is a reposting of an older poem I wrote in my 20's.

P is for Playground Politics

Playground Politics Grade 4

The insurgents
No longer requiring their
Already regrouped
Taking new positions from
This morning's skirmish
I'd even rushed home
Inhaled my Kraft dinner
And stepped onto the playground
Half an hour early
To find my troops
Already kicking away

The huddled group of boys
Shoved each other toward
The hob-nailed harridans
Seeking to prove their own endurance
A primal quest toward manhood
While all we wanted
Was an excuse
To maim and bloody
Before the bell rang

Inexperienced colonel
I didn't hear the whispers
Ricochet off the walls
A coup erupted from the giggles
I hung from all fours
The girls were gone
And they dragged me
To be their
Signature victim

I couldn't face
My own invention
Far more chilling
The absence of outraged mobs
Defending the founder of their movement

I hoped their lack of action
Was due to perceived shame
I felt the snowy wool
Congeal on my skin
As I bumped along the ground

The procession halted
Mere paces from the slaughter
Unceremonious and sprawling

I saw the boys scatter
Two fists
Two feet
A wild mane of hair

My champion dispersed them

As if on cue
Every girl on the playground
Pursued the enemy
I scrambled to my feet
The urge to reclaim The Corner
Swelling in my chest like fear
My previous horror
At what I'd created
Dashed to a pulpy splat
On the asphalt

In the comfort of my desk
As we copied from the board
I stared at this class of deserters
Connie wrote behind me
We never talked
And so were not separated
As all best friends must be
I turned
And wordlessly
I picked up her eraser
Her gaze turned to me

How could her shining armour
Lay so unobtrusively
Beneath a polyester turtleneck
And Levi forest green cords?

Copyright - Julia Smith, 1987