Not sure if it’s science fiction or fantasy yet. Don’t have the plot sufficiently figured out to tell.

A young woman learns of a plot by a neighboring village to destroy her village, and she will do anything to stop it from happening.


Flores sunk into the roots of the Mangrove tree, unsure why she was fearful, but knowing there was a dark cloud hanging over the river. She could see the bright full moon hanging over the river, almost red in colour. She waited, watching, wondering. Then she saw the quiet stealth of the canoes and the dark shapes rowing, not her own people, for they would be wearing ceremonial costumes, and they would be coming from the opposite direction.

This must be what I sensed, she thought. She watched the dark people soundlessly approach the shore, getting out of their canoes, and hide in near the shore. She dared not move, giving herself away, but watched helplessly, wondering what evil they had planned.

Oh, it was evil, alright, otherwise, why hide in the smelly roots of the Mangrove? No one did that, well, almost no one, just her. She then saw the ceremonial boats, her people, singing as they paddled down the river, approaching the narrowest part.

She opened her mouth, screaming, but no sound came from her throat. Why can’t they see? Why can’t they sense the danger? And then she saw her own people being slaughtered, trying to fight back. But there was no manoeuvrability, and besides, they didn’t have their fighting weapons with them. Tonight was a night of celebration in honor of the god Ra, who had been good to them with plentiful crops and much prosperity this season, and these were the priests to lead the ceremonies.

She watched, still as the night, as the slaughterers undressed the dead, deposited the bodies on the bank behind the mangroves where they would probably not be noticed for days, and then dressed themselves in the priests’ garb. Normally, the dead would have been left in the river to float downstream, serving as a warning that this tribe was more powerful. Something unusual was afoot.

The men, resuming the singing of the priests, climbed into the ceremonial canoes and resumed paddling downstream, in place of the dead. Flores, feeling herself shaking uncontrollably, opened her eyes, and saw her mother standing over her.

“Flores, dear, wake up. It’s just a bad dream. Come on, out of bed, there’s a load of work to be done today. We have to prepare for solstice celebrations tonight. No, no complaining, there is much to be done, and you need to watch the babies.”

Flores groaned as she climbed out of her hammock, picked up her youngest brother and played with him as she brought him to the kitchen table. “How am I going to warn them?” she thought to herself, half speaking out loud. “They’ll never believe me. I don’t know if I believe me.” She groaned, unsure of what to do next.

“Was it just a dream, or was it really a vision?” she wondered to herself. This was not the first time she’d had such a dream, so vivid she felt like she’d actually been there, smelling the mangroves, feeling the water on her body, feeling the mosquitoes bite her incessantly. She scratched her arm, thinking about the dream, and felt her hair being pulled. “No, Raulo, let go,” she said, laughingly, and turned back to her task of feeding her brother.

It was late afternoon, and the celebrations were officially starting. There had been an air of expectation all day, excitement buzzing. Voices were higher, everyone moved a little faster, hurrying to get their chores done early. The boars roasting at the communal fire pits near the ball court, Jaeffa carefully placing corn cobs still in their husks into the glowing coals. This was looking to be the best and biggest celebration her people had had in years.

True, there was much to celebrate. There had been peace for the space of fifty years now with their neighbors, and that meant everyone was free to expand their crops beyond the gates of the city. Tikumsal was expanding, and held a population far greater than it ever had in its history.

This was truly a prosperous city, with much gold, silver, and fine linens. The people were happy, and there were few who were poor, but even they were taken care of by the community. They were a prosperous people, and had much happiness.

Flores knew there were rumblings in the community, rumblings of darkness, but she was unaware of what caused it. Was it because the people were returning to the pagan gods instead of remaining loyal to the new gods? The new gods were very jealous, she sensed. She noticed some of the pagan idols every know and then, hidden in the folds of a skirt or a pocket, barely peeking out, but she knew what they were, and she knew the gods were jealous and displeased. She wasn’t sure what to do about it. After all, she was just a girl, and a puny one at that. Who would listen to her?

The smell of the roast pork was pervading the air, and excitement was mounting. Dusk was settling, and now people were scurrying with hot dishes of food to the ball court. Her mother, Jaenna, had her bringing her younger siblings.

The feasting lasted for hours, and there was dancing, and the warriors played ball by torchlight. The play was swifter and fiercer than usual, befitting an important celebration such as this. Quelcot played his game with his usual shining glory.

After the ball playing was over, people milled about, eating their food while talking with their neighbours and friends. They were awaiting the risen moon for their priests to perform their ceremonies. Eagerly, they watched it approaching ascension, and as it seemed to hang right over top them, the priests, singly jubilantly, came out of the jungle, approaching the temple. Flores glanced at her mother, seeing the expectant face shining with joy, then stole a look at her father, also eagerly anticipating the ceremony.

“Why can’t they hear this? The key is off. The priests are fumbling their steps. Why can no one notice?” she wondered, looking around at the rest of the crowd. They’re all mesmerized, she realized, thinking that she would have been caught up in the excitement too, if only she was like everyone else. Why did she have to have those stupid dreams of hers? She hated the teasing, being called a daydreamer.

Her father, an advisor to the King, was close to the priests and his hips gyrated madly as he got caught up in the frenzy of the dancing, as were others. The tallest priest, Gomlach, by the looks of it, slowed down slightly as he reached to his side and brought out the ceremonial machete, ready to slaughter the pig for sacrifice. The sword was brought high over his head, and then he swung, but not down towards the pig as everyone expected, but towards the king. King Tikumr gasped, his eyes bulged in terror, and his head rolled to the ground, his body still on the throne. Blood spewed from his neck, splattering on those closest to him, his most trusted advisors. Flores watched, unable to move, as the other priests reached for their swords, definitely not ceremonial, and slaughtered the men surrounding the king. Her mother screamed and ran towards her husband, never making it.

Writing Software

Since my husband, Fahim, is a programmer as well as a writer, he writes software for me. 🙂 I use the following:

PlotCraft – keeps track of all the story ideas you get. Free.

WriteTrack – submission tracking software.  Free.

Amanuensis – word processing with tree view structure for organizing scenes, chapters, notes, etc. Free.

Agents / Publishers List – an online database of agents & publishers.  Searchable, filterable, plus anyone can add agents/publishers and add comments to existing ones to update information.  Free.

Word Counters – progress bar you can put on your blog or website.  You can set the units to words, hours, scenes, chapters, etc.  Free.

Word macro – marks adverbs, frequently used words, passive verbs, clichés, trouble words as you input, and so on.  Free.

As for software the husband didn’t write…

There’s yWriter written by Simon Haynes, Australian programmer and science fiction author.  yWriter is so worth checking out – it’s logical and intuitive and easy to use, as well as also being free.  It’s an excellent piece of software that’s happily used by a lot of writers.  🙂  Free.

I tried out Liquid Story Binder and hated it.  There’s a fairly steep learning curve to it, it’s not at all intuitive, and the various building blocks don’t work together.  It’s kind of like having one Lego piece, one Mechanix piece, a child’s hammer, a Pyrex dish, and a Raggedy Andy doll.  All useful in their own way, but they don’t work together to create anything useful, yet they’re put into one program that claims it can do everything.  From where I sit, it’s a piece of software written by programmers who’ve never actually written anything themselves, other than code, who think they know what the writing process is like, but are actually quite clueless.  But I really really hate it.  🙂 Not free.

I also use Microsoft Word.  With all the scenes/chapters properly labelled with heading 1, heading 2, and so on, with document map turned on, it’s easy to find what I’m looking for.  But more than that, I tag-team edit with my husband, so we use Track Changes so we can see what the other person changed, then accept or reject.  We use Track Changes extensively – we’re also editors for a local geek & gadget magazine – so Track Changes gets a huge workout from us. Not free, of course. 🙂

And if you’re into collaborative writing at all and need to share documents, I’d suggest Microsoft Groove.  Create a workspace, invite participants, and everyone who’s a member of that workspace can access the documents on it.  When one person makes changes to the document, it’s updated in everyone else’s space, too.  We use this extensively and it works beautifully. Also not free.

If you want a full-feature word processing program, go with OpenOffice Writer.  It’s a pretty useable and decent piece of software.  Free.

Then there’s KeyNote which is much more than a word processing program.  It’s really a knowledge management tool with a treeview structure.  Doesn’t have live spell checking, though.  Worth checking out. Free. 

What works for one writer doesn’t work for every other writer, so it really is a case of figuring out what works for the writer in question. Try these and other programs out and see what you think.

Please, let me know of any other writing software you know about. And one of these days, I’ll do a full review of as many of them as I can. Not all on the same day, of course. 🙂

My First 500 Words

I posted the first 500 words of Basement of the Universe as I submitted them to Nathan Bransford’s contest in this entry. Happily, I’ve received some comments there, critiquing my piece. Thank you, critiquers. 🙂 I also submitted my piece to two other people who offered to do critiques in Nathan’s comments.

JJ DeBenedictis has critiqued mine on her blog. Here’s what she has to say:

434. Basement of the Universe – The nifty mystery of people simply disappearing is your story’s hook, and I do like how you dramatize Peter forcing himself to accept the truth he doesn’t want to acknowledge; you get us into his emotions well. In fact, given that you dramatize it well in the second scene, I think the first scene should be deleted–you’re just “telling” what you’re about to “show”. I did think the piece could be improved by getting the fact that there have been other disappearances into the narrative sooner. Also, the piece is slightly overwritten in places; for example, you don’t need to say “he repeated” when it’s clear to the reader that Peter just repeated himself. Perhaps try to streamline the prose so that you have nothing except what’s absolutely necessary?

Chro hasn’t done mine yet – as soon as it’s posted, I’ll add that here, too, provided Chro doesn’t mind.

What have I learned from all of this?

To start with, let me add a simpering explanation and whinge. I found out about the contest less than 12 hours before it was scheduled to end. Considering the last eight hours of that time was when I normally sleep, that really only gave me four hours. Discount the time needed for getting dinner, eating, and, um, I don’t know what else (was that American Idol night?), I really only had an hour or two to work with my existing first couple of pages.

And I immediately disliked what I had for the opening. So I ditched it. I’ll probably add at least portions of it back in somewhere else, perhaps in flashbacks. But that gave me one or two hours to edit the first 500 words. And that gave me no time to let it sit and let me change my mind later before I entered it.

And I can now see a whole bunch of stuff that I’d rather change about the first 500 words that I entered. As in, the entire first paragraph would be deleted in its entirety. Gone. The rest, I would get rid of the repetitive stuff and work in more ways to show his emotions, specifically about how he feels about his now-missing wife. Perhaps find a way to work in more nuances of the world they’re in – this is not contemporary Earth, after all, and I don’t think there’s anything to even hint at that.

The bottom line is that this contest, reading through other entries, reading through many of the excellent comments, some by Nathan himself, others by other readers of his blog, and reading through the critiques of my entry, has taught me a lot about how to compose the first five hundred words.

The next question is, is it enough for me to improve my first 500 words to land me an agent and publisher? Ah, time will tell. 🙂

If you haven’t already read through Nathan Bransford’s blog and the contest entries, do. It’s quite educational. And I’m also including the comments in there. While you’re at it, there are several conversations about all of this over at the Absolute Write forums, too, and are also worth checking out and reading.

The First 500 Words – Finalist List is Up.

If you haven’t checked it out already, read through the six finalist entries in Nathan Bransford’s The Surprisingly Essential First 500 Words contest and vote on your favourite.

While you’re doing that, read Nathan and Holly’s comments – they can be quite educational, especially if you want to learn how to improve your own first 500 words. Because, let’s be honest, many, if not most, agents and publishers, won’t bother reading past your first 500 words if they don’t immediately grab their attention. And I don’t mean that in a searing-flesh kind of way. 🙂

Basement of the Universe, the first 500 words

Nathan Bransford, an agent for Curtis Brown Ltd., is insanely running a contest for writers. Submit your first 500 words and he’ll… Well, his blog entry doesn’t exactly spell out whether he’ll critique each one or what, but the finalists win some pretty nifty – for writers – prizes, including a query critique, partial critique, and so on.

When I last checked, he had 649 comments, mostly entries. I feel sorry for the guy. 🙂

Because I’m insane, I entered.

And, because my first 500 words are now showing up on the Internet, I figured I might as well put those same first 500 words here, too. So you can read them. And hopefully not weep, but rather enjoy them. I hope…

Feel free to comment. Tell me what you like, tell me what you don’t, tell me what does or does not work for you.


Basement of the Universe (science fiction) by L. M. Ashton

She was gone. He stared at the empty kitchen where Tracy had stood not a minute before.  Alarms on and unbreached, doors and windows still locked, and no sign of how she might have left.

Peter’s heart sank as he wondered with panic what had happened to her.

Just five minutes ago, they were drinking their morning coffee in the bright kitchen, Tracy still in her nightgown.


He yelled back at her. “What do you want to do in the evening? Game for some black market stuff?” His coat pocket yielded nothing but an old candy wrapper. He muttered under his breath, cursed those elusive keys, then checked the pockets in the pants he wore yesterday. “Not here, either. Hey, Trace, what do you want to do?” he repeated, a little bit louder. He glanced over the crowded dresser top with Trace’s arsenal of beauty products. No keys.

“Tracy?” He reached into the pockets of the pants he wore, and found his keys in the right pocket. “Ah, here all the time.” He walked back into the kitchen.

“Tracy? Where are you?” Nothing. “Tracy, this is no time for painting.” He walked into her studio, a tiny room crammed with her painting paraphernalia and easel. The huge windows had been an incentive, at least for Tracy, for them to get the apartment. Not for the view – it looked over the soot-stained city walls on the bare, pock-marked terrain outside – but Tracy had been adamant that the lighting was absolutely perfect for her work.

“Tracy?” He felt uneasy. The apartment was so small that there was no way she couldn’t hear him or he’d miss her. He went quickly through the bedroom, the kitchen, living room, and bathroom again. No Tracy.

He checked the doors. Still bolted on the inside. The windows were closed as well, not that she’d jump from a second-story apartment on to the crowded streets, but where else could she have gone? He felt his mind race around like a cat gone crazy trying to unravel a ball of string. No, no, she couldn’t have disappeared like the others. He couldn’t believe it.

He raced back into the kitchen, half-hoping that perhaps she was playing a joke on him and would spring out from some hidey-hole that he’d missed. But no, even her coffee mug was gone.

He checked the bedroom again, thinking she could be lying unconscious behind the bed. At this point, he would have taken even that rather than Tracy just disappearing. His heart hammered away like a race-horse galloping towards the winning post and his brain felt as if it was trying to claw its way through thick sticky mush. The world crawled to a black standstill while his thoughts went round and round, shying away from the one possibility that remained.

His mind finally capitulated. There was no explanation but the one he didn’t want to think about. His heart sank.

She was gone. Disappeared. Just like the others.

Self-Published Author Signs 7-Figure Book Deal

Auria Cortes mentioned a news story about an author who initially self-published a book and then went on to sign a two book deal for more than $2 million.

In the publishing world, this is not a common sight. While it’s true that some self-published authors later get signed on by publishing houses, it’s rare and it’s pretty much always preceded by the author’s book succeeding on its own merits and/or through publicity campaigns.

In this case, the author, Brunonia Barry, and her husband started their own small publishing company, Flap Jacket Press. They even test-marketed the manuscript, then set up a website, hired a publicist, a jacket designer, and marketed the book using the usual tactics of publishing houses. All told, they spent around $50,000. And that doesn’t include the time the author spent editing and revising her manuscript or running it past an editor and readers to see how it read, and then revising some more.

This also wasn’t the first thing Barry wrote – she’d been writing screenplays for years.

Some will read this as a fairy tale ending for those who self-publish and a reason to not bother trying for publication with a traditional publishing house. It should be noted, however, that most self-published authors don’t have $50,000 laying around to spend on marketing, nor do most self-published authors spend as much time in editing and revising the manuscript as Barry did.

Arts Festival in India

I recently learned about an arts festival taking place in India from the 2nd – 10th February 2008 called the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. It’s been taking place since 1999 and is named after the area in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) where it’s taking place.

Sadly, I can’t find any current festival information on their site, although prior years are there. Luckily, there is info at the Caferati blog, although that seems mainly limited to the contests – flash fiction, for example, although there are others including poetry, photography, and more. There’s also an open book pitch, complete with talent scouts from publishing houses and a few agents.

Sadly, the URLs that lead to where a person would actually submit their entry are still not there, and information is rather scant. Hopefully that will be corrected soon.

Check it out!

Editing Basement of the Universe and synopsis and back-cover blurbs

As I mentioned in a previous post, Fahim and I are tandem-editing my novel, Basement of the Universe.

I’m not fond of editing, so Fahim helping me out with this is a huge benefit to me. I’ll be following in his footsteps, editing today the scenes he’s just finished editing yesterday. Because of the way we’re doing this and because he’s doing some of the editing himself, editing Basement is a lot less daunting to me. Which is a good thing, of course.

And while I’m at it, I’ll also write a synopsis, one scene at a time. Also a lot less daunting, especially as I haven’t done a synopsis before.

Yes, I do have an outline, and a fairly detailed one at that, but the way I write my outlines, I can’t just translate it directly into a synopsis, although I will consider changing my outlining methods for the future to make this easier.

In my outlines, I add details, like cultural details, that never make their way directly into the novel. They’re there to remind me of the essence of the scene, things to mention and allude to, foreshadowing needed. Then add in any scenes where either I deviated, even slightly, from the outline, or the scene was changed from the outline during editing, and it becomes even more apparent that the synopsis needs to be written from scratch.

And since I’m doing all this, I thought I’d do back-cover blurbs at the same time. I haven’t done those before, either, so this should be fun and interesting. And if I do it right, the back-cover blurb becomes the perfect insert into the query letter.

Wish me luck. 🙂

Do you have any tips and tricks?

Basement of the Universe in editing

Yesterday, Fahim took over the task of editing Basement of the Universe. I hadn’t even finished rewriting the opening scenes that were needed since I’d deleted the old ones – we’d changed our minds over where the opening scenes took place, and that location change changed everything else in those opening scenes along with it.

At any rate, Fahim will deal with that now, since it’s his city – Kabul City – that we’re setting it in. 🙂

The word count when I gave it over to him was 50,929. Yes, very short for a novel that should ideally be between 80 to 100k words. My first drafts tend to be spare on details and description – I tend to gloss over it in an effort to get the basic story down quickly. So, Fahim will have a bit of a job to do there, but he’s up for the task. 😀

At the end of his editing shift yesterday, Fahim tossed the file into the Groove space and asked me to read it. He’d edited the first two pages or so.

I read it over, and said, “What changes? This is exactly how I gave it you. Where are the changes?” He laughed his maniacal laugh and pointed them out. He’d kept my voice so intact that, short of comparing this document to my original, I didn’t have a clue. And his version read better, too.

Ah, yes. I think this will work very well. Very well, indeed. 🙂

Vijitha Yapa’s has a website?

How sad is this that I didn’t know that? Vijitha Yapa‘s is the bookstore Fahim and I prefer to shop at – they have the widest selection of English-language books, and while not a huge selection of fantasy and science fiction, it’s better than anywhere else. Here.

If you’re looking for books on Sri Lanka or by Sri Lankan authors, check it out – they ship worldwide, too.