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Tea (an Aconitum short story)

February 24, 2015

Aconitum passed 1000 votes on JukePop Serials! I’m so excited and grateful! To celebrate, I’m having a small contest over at my Facebook page.

I’m also going to share this short story with you. It’s very special to me. You see, it was the first thing I ever wrote about Hector and Peter (it was a small test run before I started writing the actual story). I only did minimal editing to it because I wanted to show what the original idea looked like, so a few details have changed, but overall, the world and the characters are the same. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Disclaimer: This short story contains spoilers for Chapter 13.

***

“Tea?” Hector looked enquiringly from the teapot on the table to his friend.
“Please.”
Hector retrieved two cups from the cupboard and put them on the table. They were a little worn at the edges, not dirty, but showing evidence of having spent a lot of time on the road and been knocked around quite a bit. The cups had seen better days, too. A faded pattern was just visible, and they had chipped in places. Hector poured the tea, then added milk to his friend’s and a great deal of sugar to his own.
“Thank you, Hector,” said the doctor and accepted the cup. His hands were steady as every surgeon’s needed to be, his fingers long and his nails always clean. The cup seemed to belong better in those hands than in Hector’s. None of them wore a ring. Once the doctor had. Hector never had. “What caused that?”
Hector followed his friend’s glance to the half-healed gash on his own left hand and grinned. “Who knows? No, don’t worry, it was a knife.”
“Hm. Why?” asked the doctor, suspiciously.
“Turned out to be a cattle thief. He did not want to be caught. I handed him in to the authorities afterwards,” Hector explained and lifted the tea to his lips. It was hot and bitter sweet in his mouth, a concoction, his scholarly friend had assured him, that would keep one in good health and help the muscles relax. Personally he used a few mouthfuls of brandy or whisky for that purpose. He reached across the table and picked up his pipe. “Naturally they suspected something else.”
“Yes,” said the doctor, then half changed the subject. “How long are you staying for?”
Hector lit the pipe and inhaled deeply. He knew better than to ask the doctor if he would like to smoke. “A few days at least. I will stay with you as long as I can.”
A thin, but grateful, smile crossed the doctor’s face. “Thank you.” His physique was nothing like Hector’s and probably never had been. He was a scholar first and foremost and had never had to do much manual labour. Still, he was now a distinguished and quite handsome man, and he had a calm, intelligent face.
There was a series of screams from the street below, and both men instinctively turned. Hector’s hand sought the gun holster that was currently not strapped to his waist, but had been left in his own room with the clothes that needed to see a tailor for repairs.
“What is going on?” the doctor asked.
Hector had gone to the window and peered down. It was not yet dark, but the sun would set and the moon would rise soon. “Only a broken barrel and someone who tripped on the contents,” he replied. “Hardly an emergency which requires our expertise.”
His friend laughed, but there was a clear strain in his voice.
“When?” Hector said and returned.
“Not long now,” said the doctor. He took another sip of his tea, then held out the cup for Hector to remove it. “Thank you.”
Hector took the cup and put it back on the table. “Can I do anything more for you?”
Their eyes met. “No, I don’t think so, my friend,” the doctor said. “Please stay well out of reach and forgive me. And … please check the lock once more.”
Hector nodded. “I find none of these things hard to do, as you know.” He reached out and took hold of the lock to the part of the doctor’s room which was separated from the rest by solid metal bars. He pulled at it. “All well.”
“Thank you.”
Hector gave him a smile. “I will see you again in a few days.”

***

contest

Interview by Joyce T. Strand

February 17, 2015

This isn’t a blog post … Well, it is a blog post, but it isn’t mine. You see, I’ve been interviewed by mystery fiction writer Joyce T. Strand on her blog today. So if you’re curious to hear a bit about my thoughts on heroes and villains, werewolves, writing a serial novel, future story plans, writing in a foreign language and how being a visual media translator impacts my writing, please drop by Strand’s Simply Tips.
Any questions or comments? Feel free to add them on Joyce’s site or here.

interview with m.howalt on joyce stand's blog

Dream a Little Dream …

February 4, 2015
My sleepy and not-so-organised notes.

My sleepy and not-so-organised notes.

I woke up this morning with an idea. I do that often. But this one was different.

I never know what to reply when people ask me where or how I get my ideas. I don’t know how I come across when I stare blankly at the person who asked or counter the question with, “I don’t know how not to.” But it’s true, and I think it is for a lot of writers. I don’t consciously get ideas. I don’t know exactly where they come from. Well, sometimes I can backtrack and find a source of inspiration, and now and then I’ll feel that something inspires me although I don’t really know where the inspiration is going.

What I do know is that I normally have an idea for a character (usually the main protagonist) before the story comes along. Those characters often come fully formed with a personal backstory in addition to their personality and looks, and I tend to go from there, explore their world, the people around them and finally their story. And if things look promising, I begin writing.

Occasionally, I’ll get the idea for a concept rather than a story. Those ideas are the ones I rarely turn into writing, and if I do, they tend to be short stories or flash fiction because longer stories are usually very character-driven for me. I have a few on the backburner – a world, a certain type of character, or a concept that I would like to use at some point, but haven’t found the right story for yet.

Finally, just once in a while, I get the kind of idea that I had this morning. Now, a lot of my dreams have stories and characters in them. Sometimes I wake up excited because they felt like fantastic ideas and five minutes later, they turn out not to be very good anyway, but sometimes they make sense and I can use parts of them for a story. Now and then they are additions to stories I’m already working on and make a few pieces of the puzzle come together for me.

But this one was different. It’s happened before, but it’s been ages. Today I woke up from a dream with an almost complete story. It came with a plot, a set of characters, several of them with names and backstory attached to them, a setting and even a title. I think it would fit a slightly younger audience than I usually write for. Genre-wise … Is there such a thing as “contemporary rural fantasy”? If there is, then that’s probably it.

As soon as I woke up, I jotted down the ideas. I don’t know if I’ll write the whole story. I want to, but I’m too busy editing to spend a whole lot of time on it at the moment. But it was a really nice dream, and I’m happy to have it waiting for me when and if I do get around to it.

How do you get ideas and inspiration? Do you sometimes dream a story?

Oh, on a somewhat related note: I finally decided to make an author page on Facebook and I’d really appreciate it if you drop by to say hi, like the page or just check it out if you’re in the neighbourhood.

A Novel’s Life After JukePop

January 24, 2015
The Road Presents Itself by T. Philips Holland is a refreshingly colloquial crime story set in ancient Rome. Its author is currently doing book signings.

The Road Presents Itself by T. Phillips Holland is a refreshingly colloquial crime story set in ancient Rome. Its author is currently doing book signings.

What happens to a serial once it has run its course? Just like a TV series may be released on DVD, a serial novel may be released in other formats.

No, this isn’t about my own story. I posted Chapter 22 this week (that is about half of the entire novel – the exact length depends on editing). This post is about other people’s serials and what happened to them after running on JukePop Serials.

The most voted for novel in the history of JukePop, the dark detective comedy Hobson & Choi by Nick Bryan, was self-published (with an extra short story included) a while back and can be purchased through Amazon and other sites. A sequel was published only a few days ago, and you can listen to a podcast as well.

T. Phillips Holland turned her serial into a book last year, and judging from the reviews on Amazon, it seems to be faring very well. She is currently doing events such as book signings.

Other writers crowdfund their books to finance hiring an editor, a proofreader and a cover artist and advertisng the project. One of them is Virginia McClain who ran a succesful Kickstarter campaign last year after finishing her serial on JukePop. Her book was released just a few days ago.

Virginia McClain crowdfunded Blade's Edge through Kickstarter. It is currently available for preorder.

Virginia McClain crowdfunded Blade’s Edge through Kickstarter last year. It is out now with this stunning cover.

A new feature on JukePop itself actually offers authors on the site a crowdfunding opportunity so that they can to let readers invest in turning their serials into books. Kevin A.M Lewis, whose novel was one of the first to be funded in this way along with two of Brian Guthrie‘s, has written an excellent post on how it works.

Finally, some novels that start out as serials are picked up for traditional publishing. Last year, Black Hill Press held a competition, their Summer Writing Project, specifically for JukePop stories and picked three serials for publication. In the course of the competition, they also interviewed several of the participants for their podcast.

It’s safe to say that a novel can have a life after serialisation, and if it is done right, running a story as a serial first can have its advantages. – It’s possible to get feedback as the tale progresses and establish an audience on the way. Of course, publishing companies who are only interested in first rights won’t want to publish it, but if you are aiming to crowdfund or do other things with the story, serialising can definitely be one way to start the journey.

If you want to take a closer look at the serials-turned-books mentioned above as well as a number of others which were not used as examples in this post, please take a look at my JukePop Published Pinterest board. I think there are some great novels on it.

Happy Holidays – Aconitum Style

December 24, 2014

The holidays are upon us, and I thought that it would be a good opportunity to share this little story about Hector Rothenberg, the protagonist of my serial novel, Aconitum. Some of my readers asked what happened to the character in it, so here is the answer. – With a bit of a Christmassy feel. (Contains minor spoilers for chapters 9 & 10.)

Happy holidays!

Family

Frankfurt was home. It was where his own bed was, where he met his fellow hunters and close friends. Hector lived great parts of his life on the road, and he enjoyed the freedom, was as passionate about his work as any hunter, and easily felt restless if he had to stay in one place for too long. But whenever he saw the familiar silhouettes of towers and spires rising behind the city wall, he felt that he came home.
As it was, Hector had recently had a small accident on a hunt, and although it was hardly serious enough to keep him bedridden, it would be reckless to go out again right away. And so he helped out at the headquarters to the best of his abilities. He would get restless if he didn’t.
The snow had been falling steadily for most of the night and the morning when Hector set out to run an errand for the kitchen staff. A stable hand was shovelling the courtyard, and they greeted each other with a wave of the hand. He waded through the snow and the gate separating the headquarters from the city and soon found himself in the middle of one of the busiest streets at this time of the year. The windows of the stores were decorated with shiny glass baubles and branches from fir trees, and when he passed a bakery, Hector’s nose was met with the smell of gingerbread and cinnamon. Above him, garlands hung from the houses and crossed the street.
A city the size of Frankfurt naturally had a lot of stores and groceries, but they all seemed to be out of the spices that Hector had been sent out to buy. Perhaps the time of year was to blame. Everybody was probably stocking up and getting ready for the big day tomorrow. After visiting several stores, Hector had to admit defeat. There was only one place left that was likely to have the last of the spices. He had not been in that particular store for years now. After all, Rebekka had made it quite clear that she wanted nothing to do with him, and he had respected that.
He could see the store from where he was standing now. A horse carriage passed him in a flurry of snow and jingling bells. He briefly considered paying a kid to run the errand for him, but it was silly of him to think of it. It had been years. He rarely thought of her. Why should she still think of him? He hardly had that much power over anyone. She was a grown woman who had undoubtedly married someone by now.
Hector straightened his back, adjusted the collar of his coat and combed back his hair with his left hand. She probably wasn’t even in there. Before he could change his mind, the hunter crossed the street, kicked the snow off his boots in front of the store and then pushed open the door. The sound of the bell was the same that had greeted him years ago. And the smell was the same, too. It was almost like stepping back in time, but there was not the bitter ache in the back of his mind that usually tagged along when he visited his family’s farmstead. This was a cozy reminder of the past.
At first the store looked empty. Hector looked around. Everything was the way he remembered it. Suddenly a figure appeared behind the counter. The person had been bent over to pick something up or put something under it and stood up to greet the customer now. Her face wore a kind and inquisitive smile, and locks of fair hair tumbled from the bun on her head, leaving a thin veil over her ears. She was not very tall, but her face was pretty. And she was Rebekka.
“Hector?” she said. It sounded a little like someone had punched her in the stomach. She covered her mouth with a hand.
“Rebekka,” Hector replied. Should he bow? Shake her hand? Embrace her?
Rebekka was smiling now. She stepped around the counter to better see him. “I haven’t seen you since … for years!”
“No,” he said. “That’s true. I …” He stopped himself before telling her which spices he was there to get because that seemed too impersonal. But what was he going to say otherwise? He could feel the snow in his hair melt and run down the back of his neck.
“How are you?”
Trapped in Frankfurt for Christmas because a hunt went askew. His wrist hurt annoyingly. Shaving was difficult because of it and because of a scratch on his chin. But that wasn’t what she was asking. He was a good hunter, and he had never once regretted his decision not to marry her. He would never have been happy with her. But that probably wasn’t what she was asking, either. “I’m well, thank you. Fine. And yourself?”
She shook her head. At him? His awkwardness? “I’m doing well, Hector. What happened?” She made a small gesture towards his hand.
“Just an accident. Nothing serious,” he replied and shrugged.
Rebekka nodded. “That’s good. Well, I suppose it’s redundant to ask you if you’re still a hunter. Are you … Have you found someone?”
“No,” he replied. “I’m busy with my job.”
“Ah. I see.” She still looked friendly, but also a little indulgent. What was she thinking?
Hector didn’t quite like the compassion on her face because what could there possibly be to be compassionate about? He was happy with his life, thank you very much. “And you?”
She smiled. “I’m married. I met Heinz, my husband, shortly after we went our separate ways.”
Hector nodded. He looked up at the spices on the shelf. It must be acceptable to get them and go now.
“Oh, Hector. You really haven’t changed. You only grew up a little bit,” she said, smiling.
“You too.”
“Won’t you …” She caught his glance. “It’s strange to see you again after all these years. So much has happened, to both of us. Won’t you dine with us sometime? I’m sure the children would like to meet you.”
Why in the world would they want to meet him? Had she told them about him? An if she had, then what had she said? He realised that he must have become a story. A mysterious person from her past. The hunter who protected them all from werewolves. The hunter she had almost married. “Dine?” he repeated sheepishly. “I don’t know … When?”
“Perhaps in a couple of weeks? After Christmas of course,” she said. “I’m sure you must have plans …”
She didn’t sound very sure, Hector noticed. But he did. Now that he was home, he was going to spend Christmas with the people who were his family now. “I’m afraid I won’t be in Frankfurt for long,” he replied. No, he was certainly not going to eat dinner with her family.
Before Rebekka had time to answer, the bell on the door chimed again and a young boy came running towards Rebekka.
“Samuel!” she exclaimed gave him a quick hug. The boy had thick, brown hair flecked with snow.
A portly man entered behind him. He was carrying a sack full of nuts according to the writing on it.
“Heinz!” Rebekka continued. “This is Hector Rothenberg.”
Including his surname and everything. Hector suppressed a sigh. He might as well run around with a nametag around his neck and juggle something to entertain people if he was going to be showcased like this.
Rebekka’s husband looked Hector up and down while he put the sack down. He pushed strawberry blond hair away from his forehead and smiled politely, but the grimace didn’t quite reach his light blue eyes. “Well, hello, hunter,” he said and reached out his hand.
Hector shook it with a smile that matched the other man’s. “Hello. Nice to meet you.” Not at all.
“Is he … that Hector?” the boy asked. He was staring at the customer with big, round eyes. How old was he? Six or seven at the most.
“Yes, it is,” his mother replied. “Say hello, Samuel.”
“Hello, Hector,” the boy said and offered Hector his hand.
Hector smiled. The husband seemed reserved, but the son was friendly. “Hi, Samuel.”
“Is it true that you and mum were friends before she met dad?” the boy asked.
“Samuel …” Heinz began.
“Yes, we knew each other years ago.” A long time before the boy was born. Or not that long, actually.
“Have you seen a real werewolf?”
Now he was on safe ground. Hector was much more used to talking to curious children than the husbands of former girlfriends. “Oh yes. Quite a lot of them.”
“And have you shot them? Did a werewolf break your hand?”
“Yes, that was a werewolf. But I shot it,” Hector replied.
“Samuel, I’m sure the hunter has more important things do do than to answer your questions,” Heinz said.
“I don’t mind,” Hector said. “But I did come to buy a few things.”
“Of course. What do you need?” Rebekka asked.
Hector listed the spices, and she and Heinz began taking things off the shelves.
“Why don’t you have our rifle with you?” Samuel asked.
“There aren’t many werewolves around here, but I have this one with me,” Hector replied and patted the revolver holster on his hip.
“They don’t come here because they know you look after Frankfurt, right?”
Rebekka left her husband to wrap up Hector’s spices. “It was good to see you, Hector,” she said.
“Will you be back soon?” Samuel asked.
Not if he could help it. The boy was very nice indeed, but he couldn’t just visit Rebekka’s son. That would be odd. “I travel a lot, so I am not in Frankfurt for very long at a time,” he explained.
“No, that’s how it is,” Heinz agreed and put the purchases on the counter.
Hector paid and said goodbye to Heinz and Samuel and then Rebekka who, unexpectedly, hugged him. “Think about it, Hector. You’re welcome if you want to.”
“Now, now, let the poor man get back to work,” Heinz said. Hector couldn’t quite decide whom of them he meant. “Have a good hunt.”
“Thank you,” Hector replied.
“Yes, good hunt, Hector,” said Rebekka.
Hector smiled and made a quick retreat. His wrist protested when he opened the door, but he managed to get out and briskly cross the street. It was snowing more now, and a choir made up of three women and two men was singing merrily on the next corner. One of the women was holding out a hat to those who passed by, and once in a while someone would toss a coin into it. Hector began to make his way back to the hunters’ headquarters. He could use some good company and something warm to drink after this trip. As soon as he had dropped off the spices in the kitchen, he would go see if Peter had time for a cup of tea.

[Insert witty post title]

December 9, 2014

No, I didn’t actually forget to replace the title. I just couldn’t think of anything fitting for this post since it will be a little more random than I usually let them be. So instead, I give you paragraph titles.

On NaNoWriMo 2014
As I predicted, I didn’t get to 50K this year. It felt odd because that’s what I’ve aimed for and done for the past few years, but apart from the great feeling of having written a whole lot and reached the official goal, I got everything else that I usually want out of NaNoWriMo. I let myself write a new story that I really wanted to and explore its world and the people in it. And I let it surprise me. I never really know how the voice/tone/genre will end up when I start a new story. This one turned out to be a whole lot more snarky and tongue-in-cheek than I had expected. It’s the first story I’ve written in a very long time that could be classified as a comedy. Apart from that, my critique group also had a few write-ins, which is always very nice and cozy. I managed write around 16K in November, and the story is far from over. But I’m going to continue it when I can, and I need to do a fair bit of research concerning the setting and some historical and mythical facts as well.

On Aconitum
My JukePop endeavour is going quite well. Actually, it’s going better than I’d ever dared to hope. My serial novel has made it to Top 30 for the past three months, and in November it even made it to top 10. And around a week ago, it passed 500 +votes in total. I’m flabbergasted and chuffed and grateful beyond words. The Twitter community surrounding JukePop (@JukePopSerials) is also very cool. Connecting with fellow writers there to talk about writing and reading and a lot of other things is really great. And I may even have a collaboration in the works with the author of one of my favourite serials. (More about that later.)

Right … What else have I been up to lately? Working, reading (my most recent book purchases are Krampusnacht, a short story anthology, and Ti faldgruber, a Danish book about translation) … And of course being a cat perch. Certain furry, four-legged individuals would claim that it is a very important function of mine.

NaNoWhy*Mo?

November 2, 2014

November. For the past five years, that has meant committing to writing at least 50,000 words of fiction for NaNoWriMo. I wasn’t going to participate this year, but then I changed my mind.

I know there are arguments for and against NaNoWriMo, and a lot of them are valid.Participant-2014-Twitter-Profile
I agree with two of the major naysayer arguments: You don’t have a finished novel by the end of the month. And you shouldn’t just force yourself to write a novel. But you do have a first draft that you can continue to work on for months or years to come, and while I would strongly advise against writing if you don’t have an idea or the urge to write, a project like this can be helpful to get you started (see next point).
And I agree with the yaysayer arguments as well: NaNoWriMo is fun and social. And it makes it easier to you allow yourself to commit to writing. You can try out something new and have fun with it and talk to other participants online or go to write-ins and make connections. Writing is often something (for those who don’t write full time) that isn’t allowed to be top priority or which gets trampled by self-doubt, and an endeavour like this can give you a great boost.
NaNoWriMo doesn’t work for every writer. But it does for me.

I have decided to settle for less than 50K this year because I am too busy editing Aconitum for its weekly installments to complete this new story (and I am so thrilled to be doing it that I don’t want to take a break from it). Why did I sign up, then? Because I really wanted to get started on this new idea that popped into my head this summer and still is sitting there, waiting for me to put it into words. I want to get the beginning of it typed and see where it takes me.

Before I sign off here to get some writing and editing done, here’s a short recap of what I’ve been up to in the last month:
I am super happy and grateful to be able to say that Aconitum made it to JukePop‘s monthly Top 30 again in October, this time as number 14. And I had a piece of flash fiction, Innocence, published on a new site called QuarterReads. If you like reading or writing flash fiction, I definitely reccommend taking a look at the site.

*Disclaimer: The header isn’t very funny if you’re one of those people who pronounce the event [na-no-REE-mo] and not [na-no-RYE-mo]. Just saying.

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