Tuesday, February 25, 2014

J.K. Rowling Shouldn't Take Advice From Lynn Shepherd



Lynn Shepherd recently wrote a piece the essentially told J.K. Rowling to stop writing because...I dunno. Her logic didn't make any sense to be perfectly honest. She seems to think that the publishing industry has a finite amount of money (it doesn't since it's a supply side industry), has no room to grow (it does), and that J.K. Rowling is taking it all (she isn't--otherwise I wouldn't be selling books). This is, based on basic economics, patently absurd. She apparently even had a warning from her friend not to publish the article. For one thing, Harry Potter doesn't have a ton of detractors. Most book series or movie series you can think of will have a few haters to side with you if you go after them (hate on Star Wars and you'll get some Trekkies who'll join you), but that's not really true with Harry Potter. You go after the boy wizard, and you're most likely going it alone.

I'm not going to deal with anything of Lynn Shepherd's but the blog post. I know her books have taken a hit from this, but I haven't read her books. And, unlike Lynn Shepherd, I don't think it's appropriate for an author to comment on the entire series of books and their corresponding movies from another author if I haven't 'read a word or watched a minute' as she said, although I can appreciate the irony of throwing that back in her face. Unlike Ms. Shepherd, I have read every word of the Harry Potter series and watched every minute of every movie. So I'm in a position to correct some of the errors she had in her blog. Like her assertion that Harry Potter is just a children's series that shouldn't be bothered with by adults since it supposedly wouldn't stimulate an adult mind. Let me assure you, Ms. Shepherd, you're completely mistaken in this. The story is entertaining regardless of age, but more than that, the writing is so deep that someone at age 10 will find different gems than someone at age 23 or 30 or 40 or whatever. Harry Potter has such broad based appeal BECAUSE there are so many things scattered through the book for people of all ages and life experiences. Additionally, I've always believed the series became fairly adult at the end of the fourth book. And this always made sense to me that a fan base of children growing up reading Harry Potter would continue to grow up at around the same pace as the boy wizard, so the series would need to grow up as well to something closer to YA or almost New Adult by the end. Of course, Lynn Shepherd would know this if she'd read the books.

She also mentioned J.K. Rowling's dalliance in writing mystery novels under a pen name, but she got some of the details on this wrong as well. Yes, Rowling wrote a mystery novel under a male nom de plume, and no, it didn't do particularly well at first. But Shepherd made it sound as if the internet uncovered her subterfuge, when, in fact, Rowling admitted the novel was hers, most likely at the behest of her publisher, so the sales would improve. I'm not going to fault a writer for wanting to branch out (the publishing industry will try to pigeonhole an author into one genre, making a pen name her only option) and I certainly wouldn't condemn someone for being honest for the sake of good relations with their publisher. It wasn't a nefarious plot or untoward behavior, Ms. Shepherd, it was simply business as usual in the publishing world.

Finally, I wholeheartedly disagree with Shepherd's belief that J.K. Rowling should stop writing. J.K. Rowling wrote a series that is iconic, beautiful, beloved, and timeless, which Shepherd would know if she'd actually read it. Rowling's personal story in how she struggled before being published and her difficult path to success is compelling and inspiring. And J.K. Rowling gave so much of her fortune back to help people in need because she was once in need that she bumped herself off the billionaire list. Quite frankly, anyone who could and would do these three things needs to write as much and as often as they want. Moreover, as an author, I'm appreciative to J.K. Rowling for expanding the map and creating readers out of a generation of children. She's not a wildfire sucking up all the oxygen until the rest of us suffocate. She's a pioneer who pushed out borders so we'd all have more room. She added readers to the market and encouraged existing readers to read more, and I, for one, hope she keeps doing that. It's ridiculous to assume a person would only buy J.K. Rowling books and never read anything else ever again, which would be the only scenario in which Shepherd's blog post would make sense. Reading expands to more reading. When one author does well, it benefits all authors since none of us can write at the same pace our readers can read.

If J.K. Rowling cares about writing, she shouldn't listen to people like Lynn Shepherd.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The LGBT Community Gets Two New Heroes: Michael Sam and Ellen Page


This month saw a groundbreaking announcement and one of the most beautiful coming out speeches in the history of gay men and women leaping from closets. Both were met with the expected kudos and cheering from the LGBT community and its allies (yay) and the typical bible thumping/hell fire threats and hate speech from the bigots (fuck y'all). These are normal, expected reactions to Michael Sam and Ellen Page coming out. But we've got some new middle ground folks that reacted in a few similar, but strange and insulting ways.

Firstly, let me tell you how freaking epic and important it is that Michael Sam came out. A little background on the situation. There are zero openly gay players in the NFL right now. That isn't to say there are zero gay players in the NFL, and anyone who claims this is living in a fantasy land; there aren't any OUT gay players. Statistically speaking, there are probably 1-5 gay players on every team, meaning between 32-160 gay players are probably closeted in the NFL at any given moment. That concern everyone keeps raising about "will they feel comfortable showering with a gay man?" Hate to break it to those showerphobes, but THEY ALREADY HAVE. Michael Sam isn't in the NFL yet, but he's pretty much a lock to be next season. He won the best defensive player of the SEC, a college football conference known for their defense. This means, come September, the NFL will have its first openly gay player, and that is pretty damn great!

http://images1.fanpop.com/images/photos/1300000/Ellen-ellen-page-1336371-1200-1607.jpg
This should only upset people if she steals your personal underwear

Ellen Page, an A-list celebrity and top candidate for most adorable person to ever exist, came out in one of the most beautiful coming out speeches ever shared. If you haven't heard it, you should immediately click here and do so. Don't worry. We'll wait. Cry if you have to--I sure did. Amazing, wasn't it? Ellen Page is up there with the most high profile people to ever come out. And yes, right now, that is an important distinction. More on that later.

In a lot of internet threads, articles, comment sections, etc. about these two events, I saw three insanely common new responses to someone coming out. We all expect the enlightened allies to cheer this stuff on and the hateful bigots to condemn it, but when did apathy and frustration become such commonplace reactions? On George Takei's Facebook post about Ellen Page probably half the reactions were of the "who cares?" or "It doesn't matter and I'm sick of hearing about it" types. For a little background info, George is gay and out and amazing--he's also a giant fucking internet celebrity, movie star, and a highly praised guest voice actor on Futurama so he attracts a pretty diverse following, which kind of seemed to surprise even him when many of the responses included people like...

The "I don't care" posters -- basically, they're liars. It wasn't as if George Takei individually asked all his millions of followers to personally look at an article he posted and give their opinion. If he had, then a bunch of "I don't cares" would make sense. But for someone to read an article that nobody asked them to read and post a response that nobody asked for...let's just say, someone going out of their way to post that they don't care would be ironic if it were true, but it's disingenuous because they actually do care. (There are things I actually don't care about. Do you know what they are? Nope, because I don't care about them enough to bother listing them. See how that works when the apathy is real?) For the most part, these people are just as bigoted as the ones decrying homosexuality as a sin, they simply lack the conviction. They want to deride and belittle the LGBT community by telling us how little the things we do matter to the delusional self-important people, but they want to do so in a way that doesn't leave them open for criticism. Too bad for them. I'm calling the "I don't care" response to these important events both bigoted and cowardly and in possession of an inflated sense of their opinion's value to the world.

The "I'm sick of hearing about this stuff" people -- Boo-fucking-hoo. Go back to the white heterosexual media coverage that dominates more than 90% of every movie, television show, radio station, and any other media source. This is such a whiny, narcissistic stance to have about the plight of a group that makes up more than 10% of the human population. Really? Because something doesn't directly impact or interest you, it shouldn't exist, or should only exist until you're tired of hearing about it? My answer to that is simple and universal: fuck off. I'm sick of privileged people telling me that the fight for equality shouldn't infringe on the monopoly of attention and focus given to the white heterosexual narrative. 90+% of all media isn't good enough for these whiny, self-important pricks. No, they need 100% to keep feeling special.

The "Why does it even matter?" camp -- This group is basically broken into two sides. Half of them don't understand that other people don't have the same rights and protections as them, so they don't see why coming out is even important. They're so narrow-minded that they think their own experiences and what they think is important is so universally accepted that if they don't understand why something matters then obviously it shouldn't matter to anyone. They're ignorant, thunderously ignorant at that. And, from what I've encountered, they're not all that interested in learning that their opinions don't shape the reality of every other human being on the planet--they want to be glib and they're basically just lazier versions of the "I'm sick of hearing about this stuff" people.

The other half of this group are more accurately "This SHOULDN'T matter" and that's as asinine as people who claim they don't see race. War shouldn't be an answer, puppies shouldn't be euthanized, mentally ill people shouldn't be forced to live on the streets, the impoverished elderly shouldn't have to eat cat food to survive, and gay people shouldn't be persecuted. But guess what, should doesn't have a lot to do with what actually happens. How completely worthless is a person who identifies that something shouldn't be happening, but all they do is say that it shouldn't be? Marriage equality exists in less than half the states, a majority of states offer no workplace discrimination protections for LGBT people, hate crimes are still a daily occurrence, and that's the best THIS country can offer. Don't get me started on what happens to the LGBT communities in Russia, Iran, and Uganda. It doesn't matter one bit if a person thinks something shouldn't be an issue if it directly contradicts reality. It shouldn't matter, but it damn well does.

Gather around, all you "Why does it matter?", "It shouldn't matter", "I'm sick of hearing about this", and "I don't care" folks, because I'm going to explain to why it is important. And anyone who doesn't feel like explaining this shit to them, go ahead and link to this post and add your own reasons in the comment section. For LGBT youth, hope isn't easy to come by and a pride in sense of self is even harder. A young, gay man who wants to play football doesn't have role models who know what he's going through, doesn't have heroes like himself to emulate, and is essentially told if he wants to pursue his dream, he has to hide who he is. That is why Michael Sam is important and why what he did matters. If a person can't see that it is because they lack basic human empathy for anyone who isn't exactly like them. Michael Sam broke a barrier that existed for decades so others like him wouldn't have to encounter the same level of resistance--that is as heroic now as it was when Jackie Robinson did it. Ellen Page made a marvelous case for why coming out is important so I can only assume most of the people commenting didn't actually listen to the speech and just scrolled down to the section where they got to put in their own, ignorant opinion. She was dead on--gay women, especially women who don't look like society says lesbians should look, get some of the most condescending, insulting treatment as if heterosexuality is a prize that pretty girls can win, and aren't they ungrateful or stupid if they don't want that prize. That attitude is sick, wrong, and it ties together the worst parts of bigotry and sexism. Young lesbians...yanno what? it doesn't even just apply to young lesbians since Ellen Page coming out inspired me and I'm in my twenties...need to hear that their sexuality isn't tied to their appearance. Actually, forget about it just being a good lesson for lesbians of all ages, it's a good message for women of any orientation and age. I'll repeat it: your sexuality is not dictated by your appearance and it damn sure isn't dictated by what people think you should be based on your appearance.

As for the brain dead morons who said "I didn't have to come out as straight / Tim Tebow got persecuted for being an evangelical and nobody applauded him"...the level of stupid and entitled required to post that shit, especially if its attached to your actual name and Facebook/Twitter account, is beyond help, at least from me. Someone with a crowbar and a bucket of grease might come along to manually remove their heads from their asses, but it's just not worth it to me to bother.

Does any of this directly impact straight, white, males? Nope, but it doesn't have to for it to be important. Let me repeat that for the people who are still confused--just because it doesn't cater to the majority, doesn't mean it is valueless and the LGBT community getting a few heroes and role models doesn't diminish the fact that you have all the role models and heroes you could possibly want in every field and at every level. Another group getting the same treatment you already have doesn't mean your treatment got worse. More importantly, you're not in charge of what is and isn't important to the world. I hate to be the one to break it the heteros, but you don't get to tell LGBT people what is valuable. We get to decide for ourselves who we love and we get to decide that Michael Sam and Ellen Page are fucking heroes to be proud of.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Eternal Autumn

The Eternal Autumn

Available on Kindle, Kobo, and Nook

I really like travel stories, especially through classic fantasy settings like in The Hobbit and Lord of the Ring trilogy or a science fiction/paranormal setting like in the Dark Tower series. Essentially, in the first book of this series (Divine Touched) everyone hung out in Griffon's Rock for the most part, exploring the city and dealing with everything more or less within sight of the city walls. In The Eternal Autumn everyone has hit the road!

The cover, as seen above, features the lovely, blue-eyed assassin Calista, but she's not alone in the traveling adventures. Harper, Athol, Wizardly Willard, Brandinne, and Sofea from the first book all return. New characters are added along the way, including the daughter born of two women, gifted by three goddesses. In writing this book, I wanted Vaelandria itself to become a character as the reader travels the Last Road with Sofea and explores the Valley of the Hallowed Harvest with Harper and Calista. As with the first book, I tried to balance adventure, action, humor, and romance in the largest project I've written to date.

Enjoy the prologue as a sample below, and meet up with old friends as you return to Vaelandria in the troubled times of the Eternal Autumn!

Synopsis

Time has frozen. The leaves of autumn refuse to fall, frost clings to the ground, and the last harvest took place more than a year ago. Vaelandria is gripped by the Eternal Autumn, and some say it is the end of days. Starvation and madness spread across the countryside even as corpses climb from their graves, goblins raze villages, witches fly through the darkest nights, and ghosts rise to haunt the living.

As many have come to believe the child of three Goddesses is the source of the Eternal Autumn, Calista and Harper struggle to protect their fated daughter from unseen enemies. They flee to the Valley of the Hallowed Harvest where the Eternal Autumn is celebrated as a holy sign only to find the citizens of the valley are every bit as dangerous as those they thought to escape.

In the war torn north, the Dagger Falls Company is hired to discover the source of the Eternal Autumn and hopefully end it. Led by Sofea, the former North Wind Valkyrie, the company takes to the road in hopes of gleaning answers from the Thief Queen of Griffon’s Rock, the mystical Ogre of the orchards, and a long-dead dragon. Unlikely aid for their impossible task comes from an escaped Cyclops bear, a flirtatious Brownie bandit, and a sarcastic Witch of the Nightshade Coven.

Amid the insanity sown by the Eternal Autumn, assassins skulk through the night, mask-wearing cultists roam the forests, and divine powers tear at the very fabric of reality. While the world decays under the sinister beauty of the Eternal Autumn, Calista and Harper slowly unravel the mystery to find frozen time is a harbinger of something far worse.




Prologue

The Eternal Autumn began in Vaelandria on the day the child of three Goddesses was born. And the world will burn before her, as the prophecy went.
The doula, midwives, and priestesses all agreed that Calista would not give birth until the first month of winter. Calista was growing increasingly unhappy with the lot of them. There were women who enjoyed pregnancy, who felt right, natural, beautiful, transcendent, comfortable, and Calista came to hate these women too. Calista’s personal doula, a dignified matron of sixty years from Harper’s home fishing village, stated that Calista might have more than a month left as first children were often late. Calista nearly slapped the woman at the mention of ‘first children.’ The daughter she was carrying was to be her only child—any future children their Goddesses planned to accost them with would have to be carried by Harper.
Pregnancy was a blight for Calista. She was sick for months at the outset. Allegedly, the stomach upset was to focus mainly on the dawn hours, taper off in the day, and evaporate entirely after the first few months. Calista’s pregnancy involved stomach disquiet throughout, anchored to no particular time of day. Her ankles were swollen. Her back ached. Her feet were a constant source of discomfort. She couldn’t sleep for more than a few hours at a time. The baby, her beloved, bedeviling daughter of divine origin, kicked her almost constantly. She had to pee every ten breaths it would seem. Her moods swung like a pendulum batted by a cat to the point where she didn’t know what she would be feeling from one moment to the next, but she knew she would feel it with an intensity completely inappropriate to the situation even if the emotion matched, which it seldom did. All the women surrounding her who had collected their knowledge of childbirth over decades of experience said it was one of the toughest pregnancies they’d seen.
Calista walked the cold, narrow hallways of the keep they were staying at on the furthest eastern edge of the duchy of Ovid. She was wrapped in a giant set of wool and satin robes colored royal blue and black. Her feet were left bare to absorb a soothing chill from the stones she walked upon. More than the pain, discomfort, and dawn stomach illnesses, which had only recently subsided, she was most irritated that her body no longer did as she commanded. Once upon a time, she was fast of hand, swift of foot, strong, agile, and able to do back flips while fighting. Now she struggled to simply walk down the hall without holding her back with one hand and her protruding belly with the other.
Harper meant well throughout and fawned over Calista with a devotion that was increasingly irritating. Since most things irritated Calista as of late, she’d banished Harper from the keep for the day along with all the entourage who came from the four corners of Vaelandria to attend upon the unborn fated child. Calista loved Harper, but she wished truly that her Goddess had chosen the Sword Maiden to carry the child rather than her. Calista expected Harper’s natural sweetness and caring to blossom, and it had, but she hadn’t expected the amorousness that accompanied it. Harper was tender, loving, and took remarkable care of Calista during her pregnancy, but seeing her beloved wife heavy with child also sparked a nearly insatiable lust in the Sword Maiden. Calista enjoyed the romantic wishes of her wife at first, especially since she felt like a waddling, griping, mess most of the time and greatly desired anyone telling her she wasn’t actually the waddling, griping, mess she thought she was. After a time, Calista’s own sexual needs grew, as was common during phases of pregnancy, she was told, until she and Harper did little more than make love. With around three weeks until her due date, Calista was still amorously inclined and Harper seemed even more so, but Calista simply couldn’t stand anything anymore. Warm baths were interrupted by the need to pee. Sexual contact was often spoiled by the distraction of her child kicking and rolling about in off-putting ways. Even the foot massages Harper gave weren’t tolerable anymore as Calista couldn’t find a comfortable position to sit in long enough to truly savor them. She dreamed of a time when the child would be out of her, and she could turn her body back into what it was before.
Her constant inner monologue of desiring the end of her accursed pregnancy was interrupted by the faint scent of something old and familiar. She was still an assassin trained in the lowlands and any assassin from the south could identify the faint aroma of the systemic poison known as Belly Rot. It was a sickeningly sweet fragrance like a rotting corpse, but with a peculiar undertone of cinnamon. The stone keep they inhabited on loan from a lesser noble smelled of wet stones, rain, and moldering cloth most of the time. The intrusion of Belly Rot was subtle, yet well within Calista’s powers of perception.
Calista froze and listened. As if to follow her mother’s lead, the baby within her belly ceased her kicking to listen as well. Strangled breathing trying to pass through a mangled nasal passage sounded from around the corner ahead. Calista took a soft step back and then another. She pressed her back to the wall, glanced down the corridor in the direction she’d just come, finding it dimly lit by the gray light filtering in through the arrow slit windows, but otherwise empty. She was unarmed and no longer able to run or fight as she once did. She regretted banishing Harper and everyone attending on her from the keep. Calista was several stealthy steps back down the hall before the ambusher apparently realized she wasn’t completing the circuit to the window that she’d been walking most of the morning. The assassin stepped around the corner, apparently a little surprised to find Calista staring at him even while she was sneaking in the other direction.
The assassin was tall, powerfully built, and wrapped in the muffling black wool clothing common to many orders of hired killers. His face was obscured by a black shroud. A large knife, coated in soot and poison, rested casually in his left hand.
Calista turned and ran for the end of the hall. She couldn’t hear the assassin give chase above the sound of her own robes swishing and her bare feet slapping against the stones, but she didn’t doubt for a second that he was behind her and closing fast. She cursed how slow she was and how awkward her gait had become. Before turning the corner, she snatched the lone torch from the sconce at the darkened end of the hallway. She tucked into a slide on her side, gripped the edge of the wall to pull herself around the turn, and pointed her feet at knee level. Her suspicions were immediately confirmed when her foot struck the leg of another assassin waiting around the corner. The man’s knee buckled backward under her attack, and he crumpled sideways into the wall. She sprung to her feet as sprightly as an almost nine-month pregnant woman could manage, and swung the torch at the man’s face. The burning wood and pitch made perfect contact with his black shroud at what turned out to be eye level. The man shrieked, gripped his face, and began wailing about being blinded.
She scooped up the knife the assassin dropped and began running again. The second man was an insurance policy, smaller and likely less skilled than the one still chasing her. Were she still herself, she would have used the knife she’d collected to gut the much larger assassin on her heels; pregnant and clumsy as she was, she chose fleeing.
Calista ducked into a room rather than continuing on to the next corner. No sooner was she across the threshold than a sharp, stabbing pain shot through her from groin to sternum. The harbinger pain wasn’t precisely like a knife wound, but she could see the similarities. Her labor was upon her and at the worst possible time.
“Curse you, you little shit, not now,” Calista hissed at her unborn daughter.
She collected herself after the pain subsided and ran for the window. The outer windows were arrow slits meant to defend the keep while the inner windows were more provincial glass and large enough to let in an ample amount of light as they looked in on a well fortified courtyard. She pushed open the window and hauled herself up to the sill even as the large assassin warily stepped into the room.
There was a narrow ledge running around the outside wall, no more than a couple hand-widths of stonework made slick from autumn rain. Before she was heavy with a Goddess inflicted child, Calista would have looked upon the ledge as being miles wide and more than enough to run across. In her current state, the slippery stone ledge that wasn’t long enough to accommodate her entire foot from heel to toe when placed from wall to edge, looked entirely too narrow to even stand upon. She willed herself out the window onto the ledge and pressed her back against the wall.
She was a solid dozen steps down the ledge when the next labor pain shot through her. When it became a matter of keeping her knife or keeping her grip on the wall, she relinquished the assassin’s weapon to hold on to the inner face of the keep. The blade clattered into the courtyard, but she blessedly didn’t follow it.
“You do realize if I die, you’re likely to die with me,” Calista growled at her unborn daughter.
A quick glance back revealed the assassin had already crawled onto the ledge and was following her at a pace quicker than she thought such a large man could manage. The assassin had to be divine touched. He wouldn’t have been sent otherwise, and he certainly wouldn’t have been as cavalier about killing her if he didn’t have a deity’s blessing in the world. Even if he were just a standard assassin, she would have struggled against him since her own stores of power were completely depleted as she hadn’t killed anyone since becoming pregnant.
She continued on along the ledge and around the corner. Getting her pregnant body around the outside curve of the building was enormously difficult and she didn’t want to admit, even to herself, how close she came to falling. Her balance was all off. Her center of gravity was way out in front of where it should be, and her spine wasn’t nearly as spry.
There was one window left before she rounded to the outside of the tower where there would only be arrow slits. The large man pursuing her struggled around the corner that nearly knocked her from the tower’s ledge, though not nearly as badly as she had. Her head start was spent, and she was quickly running out of options.
Before she could duck into the window, a brief waft of burned flesh, hair, and clothing carried on the wind to her. She plunged a hand into the window and pulled hard at what she found. The backup assassin she thought she’d blinded came stumbling toward the window and fell out with her aid. She ducked into the window, stumbling about in the weaving room while trying to right the wobbly ship that was her body. She barked her leg against a spinning wheel and cursed loudly. The other assassin died on the stones of the courtyard below. She felt a sudden rush of his life energy flowing to her.
The large assassin filled the window, knife not yet at the ready. She gathered the scant scraps of power she’d just received and put them behind a single strike. A labor pain shot through her mid punch, but she only let the agony fuel her attack further. The assassin braced to take the hit, clearly not expecting the added force of a Goddess’s might behind it. Her knuckles made solid contact with the bridge of his nose. The bone shattered, his neck snapped backward, and the assassin was flung from the window as if fired from a catapult.
She flexed her sore hand and began her slow, painful waddle out of the room. She’d have to search their bodies in the courtyard to find out who they were—that was the only major flaw in her plan of survival: making her way down the narrow stairwell while in the midst of labor. By the time she reached the bottom floor of the keep’s tower, she was breathing hard, gritting her teeth through every fresh grind of pain through her body, and ready to kill a few more people to vent her frustration. Her daughter was a month early and charging hard to be born far faster than expected.
Rain fell in earnest by the time she stepped into the gray courtyard. She made it several steps toward the crumpled body of the first assassin she’d pulled out of the window. Hoof beats interrupted her focus. Riders were coming toward the keep’s open gates, although they didn’t sound entirely like horses. She had the life force of the second assassin she’d killed at the ready, but from the increasing intensity of the thundering riders she assumed the force was far too formidable for her to fight. Instead, she began looking for a place to hide in the largely empty courtyard.
A labor pain ceased any further thoughts of hiding. She ended up facing the approaching riders doubled over, cursing the Goddess and her unborn child. A familiar voice bellowed across the keep as he rode through the open gates on a mighty draft horse. Calista looked up to find Athol and Caleb leading a group of a dozen Sylvan riders upon dire elk.
“What in the name of the pantheon are you doing out in the rain?” Athol demanded, reining in his horse next to the body of one of the assassins she’d killed.
The Sylvan riders spread out into the keep, never dismounting their dire elk. They were of middling height, muscular, and all had hair the color of autumn leaves in golds, reds, oranges, and browns. Their otherworldly green eyes glowed faintly in the gloom of the overcast day. Calista knew the Sylvans’ hair changed with the season, becoming black or white in the winter, pale green in the spring, dark green in the summer, and then every shade of autumn leaf in the fall. The deeper woods Sylvans’ skin also changed throughout the year to match the forest around them. The riders in the keep looked to be of a tribe from the darkest boreal forests in the northeast.
Athol rushed over to help her stand fully. She accepted his hand and powerful arm around her waist. They walked toward the household entrance on the side of the castle, passing by the assassin body in the courtyard.
“You killed a Dark Stalker while in the midst of labor pains?” Athol asked. “It would seem the rumors of pregnancy difficulties are overblown if you managed such a feat.”
Calista gripped his massive hand tightly as the next wave of contractions overtook her. She bent his thick thumb back, knocking him to his knees at her side. “Let me share the pain I’m enduring, and you tell me how bad it is,” Calista snarled.
“I’ll take your word for it if you allow me to keep my thumb,” Athol complained.
“This is the mother of the prophesized daughter?” one of the Sylvan riders asked of Caleb.
“One of them,” the Ranger replied. “The other mother is the one with the Sylvan blood.”
“Speaking of, where is Harper?” Athol asked after Calista relinquished her death-grip on his thumb.
“I sent her away to gain a moment’s peace,” Calista said.
“We will remain in the courtyard until she returns,” the Sylvan rider said.
“I’ll remain outside as well,” Caleb said.
“Perhaps I should too then,” Athol agreed.
“You’ll all come inside or there will be several more dead bodies in the courtyard to worry my wife upon her return.” Calista was pregnant, irritated, a little frightened about a second squad of assassins coming when she was even further into her labor, and she wasn’t remotely in the mood to tolerate male fear of the birthing process.
“Have you thought of a name for her yet?” Athol asked.
“Pain-in-the-ass,” Calista replied.
“That was my nickname as a child,” Athol said.
“Bianca then.”
 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Dental Damnit!



Proof safe sex can be cute!


I recently had a friend who was getting back into the lesbian life after a long hiatus ask me a safe sex question. She has a new girlfriend who disclosed having herpes, and she wanted to know how they could still have sex while reducing the risk of transmission. I've made no bones about it in the past that I think sex-ed in the U.S. is shit and the lesbian specific sex-ed is non-freaking-existent. So I'm going to throw out some of it right now.

Let me start by saying, there's a big stigma attached to herpes that doesn't make a lot of sense. And I'm not the only sexpert who feels this way. Yep, it's a virus so if you get it you'll have it forever. Yep, outbreaks are damn unpleasant. But that's really about as bad as it gets. (There's some deep down the rabbit hole stuff about if you have herpes 2 and bacterial vaginosis at the same time you can be more susceptible to some types of HIV transmission, but if you're the extraordinarily rare person that has all those things happening at once, you need to be taking your sex advice from a board certified gynecologist, not me.) Herpes won't make you sterile, it won't kill you, and it doesn't increase your risk for cancer like some types of HPV can. There's this whole "unclean" attitude, especially within the lesbian community, about herpes that is overblown. If people take precautions, they can keep it from spreading, but even if it does, it's not the end of the world.


Which day are you on?

There are relationship kudos that need to be handed out in this situation too. The partner in question knew her status on an STD and disclosed it to her girlfriend before sexual contact--that's exactly the right, respectful, and responsible thing to do. Dan Savage has GGG, and I have RRR: act right, respectful, and responsible when it comes to safe sex. My friend, when she found out her partner had an STD, didn't freak out and dump her, realized she didn't know what to do to keep it from spreading, and then asked for safe sex advice. That's all perfect RRR behavior. Good job, ladies, on communicating well and acting responsibly!

For Herps2, the biggest safe sex no-no is having sex when she's having an active breakout. That's a pretty common sense one and really, if she's having an outbreak, she's probably feeling unsexy and uncomfortable anyway. But definitely if there are sores, avoid sexual contact until it has passed. If she's on anti-viral medication, which a lot of people with Herps2 are these days, outbreaks are going to be fairly few and far between so completely avoiding sex during them may sound like a big deal on the surface, but in practice it's probably going to be an uncommon inconvenience.

This is a medical use of dental dams, but I freaked you out, didn't I?


Dental dams are always recommended for going down on someone with any STD. Herps2 can turn into Herps1 during oral sex or vice-versa. If someone has outbreaks around their mouth (aka Herps1), then she'll need to use a dental dam when going down on someone as well. It's harder for the virus to go from vagina to mouth than from mouth to vagina, but it can happen, so be safe regardless of whether its type 1 or 2. Dental dams come in cool flavors, colors, etc. OR in a pinch if you don't have one, good old plastic wrap from the kitchen can work, if you avoid the microwave safe kind. Condoms slit up the side can also turn into dental dams, especially the polyurethane kind, but this can get expensive. Go Ask Alice has the whole skinny on dental dam purchasing, but basically these days you can order them online really easy. Plastic wrap is also a pretty good route to take--it's cheap, plentiful, easily obtained without stigma, and you can size it yourself. It's also a little thinner than some dental dams to allow for more sensation. The origin of dental dams is in dentistry where they used the stretchy things during heavy duty dental work to make sure tooth stuff didn't fall down your throat (see the picture above for how) while you were all zapped out on laughing gas. They've made changes since, of course, but pleasure giving was not really a consideration in their original design.

Toy stuff, if you two are into that sort of thing and not everyone is...basically just keep a her set and a your set to avoid STD transmission, clean them thoroughly after use, try not to mix them up, use the dishwasher if they're the dishwasher safe types, and if you're really concerned still, condoms fit over most toys. Toys generally aren't great transmitters of STDs (especially the glass or metal kinds), but it's still enough of a risk to want to avoid the whole thing by simply having hers and hers sets. The cyber skin and silicon kind can get micro-abrasions that resist cleaning and can hide the Herps2 virus so for these keeping them separate is the only way to be sure. With the glass kind, you can boil them in water if you're really germ-phobic and it'll work just fine once it cools down, but if you do that with cyber skin types of toys you'll probably end up with dildo soup.

Get spruced up for your date!

For scissoring...I just don't know that I would do it. There are the plastic wrap protection steps that can be taken, although that'll kill the sensation and good luck keeping a dental dam or a piece of plastic wrap in the right place for very long doing that. This is just going to be a riskier act than others. With anti-viral medications, the transmission rate can be really, really low, but scissoring will still hold risk. My girlfriend told me she'd still want to it if I had Herps2 (because she's a total sweetheart and it's easy to promise that since I'm not infected), but it is up to the individuals in the couple to decide if that's worth it.

As for fingers, jokingly known as the true lesbian sex organ, just don't go from inside her to your mouth or inside you without washing your hands in between. This one's pretty simple. Your fingers can transmit the virus (or more specifically vaginal fluids on fingers can) in the same way touching things spreads all sorts of diseases. There's a thing called herpes whitlow where the virus spreads to areas not commonly infected like the eyes or fingers. This is easy to avoid though by not touching the sores during an outbreak and washing your hands between uses. Obviously if you have a cut on your finger, that'll seriously jump up your risk of whitlow infection, but that's also avoidable with a latex glove as needed.

The Herpes virus likes genitals, tolerates mouths, and doesn't care for much else on the human body. It's also becoming far less virulent over the years, and the anti-viral medications available for it now work really well to reduce outbreaks and transmission rates. All that being said, it can still jump without symptoms present so being cavalier about it is unwise. Dental dams (or dental dam simulacrums mentioned earlier) are really the most important aspect to safe sex in the specific case of herpes, but in general they're a good rule to avoid any STD transmission.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pay for Gay


A Bioware MMORPG based on Star Wars should have been a no brainer of a game for me. That's taking three things I like and shoving them all into one package, and then adding a free to play option, which I guess adds four things I like together since I'm kind of a cheapskate. I have fond memories of playing the Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) games when I was a kid. I like Bioware games in general. I even like MMOs. And when the game was released a couple years ago, allegedly it was going to have same sex relationship options!

That's pretty much where the excitement ends.

I'm no game reviewer, so I won't go into the particulars of what I like/dislike about the game itself. Plenty of professionals have already done that and done it well enough that they don't need me amateuring up the joint. I am going to address the same sex relationship promise that was kinda, sorta, not really delivered on this year. It seems appropriate in light of the recent DOMA and Prop 8 decisions. The news here is good, but what about long ago in a galaxy far away?

Rainbow lightsabers would go a long way with me.

Forget the promise of same sex relationship being in the game at launch. Didn't happen. Not even close. Not even a little (maybe the tiniest amount if you hunted like a Fett and have an incredible imagination). The developers were very sorry and promised to get them in later.

Years passed and nothing happened. And I don't just mean the same sex relationships didn't get put into the game, although they didn't. I mean NOBODY that worked anywhere near SWTOR would even talk about it. No updates, no comments, complete radio silence. A same gender relationship thread on the official website reached into the thousands of posts without ever being commented on by a developer.

I skipped the game at launch. I was excited about the possibilities, and then I was ticked when I was essentially left out of the only unique aspect of the game. It's an MMO, and the only real difference between it and any other MMO at launch was the inclusion of an interactive storyline and character relationships...that I wouldn't be able to participate in unless I was going to fake straight. Bioware has been pretty inclusive to LGBT gamers to this point (which I outline here in part) so it irked me enough to skip the game entirely.

Then came free to play (F2P). Apparently I wasn't the only one to skip the game. I doubt the reasons I skipped it were the predominant ones everyone else had, but whatever the reasons, people just didn't play SWTOR or if they did, they didn't play very long. Good launch subscription numbers, dwindle, dwindle, dwindle, almost gone. So then came the free-2-play option. I figured I'd try it at this point. With F2P at least I wasn't paying to be excluded. And this is when I saw the scope of what would need to be changed to include a same sex relationship after launch. The story in SWTOR is huge, entirely voice acted by some fairly notable names with recognizable voices, and that's when I gave up on the game entirely. Game designer was my original dream job before I ended up being a writer. I have a decent concept of what would be required to add a same sex relationship into the game on par with all the others and I knew they didn't have the resources or the inclination to go through with the massive undertaking.


Recently, they released an expansion called Rise of the Hutt Cartel where they added a planet with some same sex relationship content. Here's where the pay for gay comes in. It's a $9.99 expansion for subscribers and a $19.99 expansion for F2P. Yep, if you want the same sex content promised at the outset of the game, you had to wait several years and now pay extra money. There's also other complicating factors that made it unappealing for me aside from the slap in the face of the price tag. The game is split into light side and dark side, and apparently lesbian relationships would be on one side while gay relationships would be on the other. My highest level character (which matters since the content is WAY down the line from the start of the game) was on the wrong side to access the lesbian content. Pay extra, start over if you're on the wrong side, have the content remain on one tiny planet...nope, not gonna participate in that nonsense.

As a funny side note of how stupid Fox News is, they released an "article" on their official website (which looks like a poorly formatted blog) where they refer to Makeb (the planet in the expansion) as the "gay planet." And, despite the fact that there is very little evidence to support the claim, they say that the gaming populace was largely outraged at the inclusion of gay content! I guess Fox News has to take the bigot/racist/sexist side of an argument even if it doesn't exist or is a tiny minority. Oh sure, the Family Research Council (frothing at the mouth homophobic fringe group) hated that SWTOR included this tiny scrap of nothing for the LGBT community, but they aren't gamers. Really FRC? You don't like the gay content in an MMORPG? Which server do you play on? I'm looking around for a character called Bigot Fett or Sith-for-brains, but I can't seem to find you in the game.

Maybe it's the DOMA decision. Maybe it's the Prop 8 ruling. Maybe it's a matter of my time being more valuable now than when I was in middle school playing KOTOR. Whatever the reason, I'm just not interested in being treated like an afterthought as a gamer anymore.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pioneers! O Pioneers!

You'll probably recognize this poem from a jeans commercial from a few years back. I remember it from my AP English class in high school where I had a brilliant teacher who read it in a voice that I now assume is precisely what Walt Whitman sounded like. The Will Greer reading posted here is still amazing, and I couldn't convince my high school teacher to let me record his voice and post it on youtube.

With the recent inauguration and the 113th congress coming into session, I've been thinking a lot about this poem lately. Yes, we elected our first African American president in 2008, but just as importantly we re-elected him to prove it was not a fluke. The new congress also has a few remarkable instances that give hope.

O you daughters of the west!
O you young and elder daughters!
O you mothers and you wives!
Never must you be divided,
In our ranks you move united,
Pioneers! O pioneers!
These lines encompass what I mean in a way blogging really can't. The new congress has some noteworthy gains for women, but also noteworthy gains in diversity that to this point have never taken place. There is hope in here for other pioneer women in the future. Let's marvel for a moment at the strides we've made before we resume the fight. We're more than 50% of the population and yet there aren't close to 50 female senators or 50% congresswomen in the house of representatives. A long way to go still, but it's good to enjoy the victories of diversity and equality along the way.

Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is the first openly lesbian senator elected.

Mazie Hirono of Hawaii is the first Buddhist senator elected and the first Asian woman elected to the senate.

Krysten Sinema of Arizona is the lone atheist in the house of representatives right now and is the only openly bisexual person ever elected to congress.

New Hampshire is the first state in the history of our country to have an entirely female congressional delegation. Both senators and both representatives as well as the governor of the state are all women now.

Tammy Duckworth of Illinois is the first Asian woman elected to congress in Illinois, the first disabled woman elected to the house of representatives, a decorated war veteran, and the first member of congress born in Thailand. She's still serving as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Illinois National Guard despite having lost both her legs in the Iraq War.

Elizabeth Warren was elected as the first female senator Massachusetts, which is a good thing that's she's there now, but considering the state was one of the original 13 colonies, it took a little long in my opinion for them to elect their first female senator considering their state is technically older than our country.

Those were all remarkable accomplishments and shouldn't be diminished by how far we still have to go, but now I kind of have to throw some cold water on the celebration with some icky numbers and facts:
  1. The obvious one is, yes, we've elected an African American as president twice now, which is good, but we still haven't elected a woman once.
  2. While women comprise about 51% of the population of the country, we're only 20% of the senate and 16.8% of the house of representatives.
  3. There are only 6 states with female governors.
  4. More than half the states in this country have never elected a female senator. The elections in 2012 dropped it from 30 to 26. Of the 26 that still haven't, four of the states (Delaware, Iowa, Vermont, and Mississippi) have never elected a female representative either.
We need to celebrates the pioneer women listed, but we need more pioneer women to be inspired by them in the future.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Gunfighter's Gambit




 “Four things greater than all things are, - Women and Horses and Power and War” ~Rudyard Kipling

The third book in the Raven Ladies series is finally out. I’m still on the hook for the prequel/fourth book in the series and then my publisher will be looking at the long term success of the books to see if they want more. Right now, the numbers look pretty good for the series to live on, but more would always be better, and thus another promotion blog post.

In the Gunfighter’s Gambit we return to the Gieo and Fiona storyline. Even while Claudia was heading west, Fiona and Gieo were heading southeast. Normally this would be the promotion post for the blog where I talk a little about the book, throw out some teasers, and then post the first chapter for perusal. Not gonna do that this time though. What I’d really like to talk about is Maude.

The cast in the Gunfighter’s Gambit is almost entirely new. Fiona, Gieo, Alondra, Ramen, and Shrimp all made it out of Tombstone and into New Mexico, but the rest of the characters were built from the ground up and there is some serious diversity in the book as the gunfighter’s journey heads into two antiquarian societies. Where everything in the Steam-powered Sniper in the City of Broken Bridges was modernized steampunk, everything in the Gunfighter’s Gambit is heading backward in time. This required me to write an entirely different type of character: anachronists!

Maude is a grandmother, a rancher, a hunter, a lone survivor, and Fiona’s most trusted companion and advisor in the Gunfighter’s Gambit. In writing Maude, I wanted to create a character unlike anything I’d written to this point. In doing so, I also ended up writing a relationship that isn’t easily definable between Fiona and Maude. In the chain of command, Maude is Fiona’s subordinate, but in life experience terms, Maude has far more. They’re equal in survival skills for the post-apocalyptic world, but in entirely different ways. Their relationship can’t be described solely as friendship, sisterhood, mother/daughter, boss/employee, or mentor/mentored. In Maude, I wrote a character that I think you’ll love, who has absolutely no interest in being loved by you or anyone for that matter.

Maude is Fiona’s antithesis. She isn’t young, she was never beautiful, society didn’t laude her accomplishments (although they were numerous), and yet she found a comfortable place for herself within the world in a way Fiona never did. By the time the Slark invaded, Maude had built a life worth being proud of while Fiona hadn’t done anything she wanted to even put her name to. With how much Maude lost in the cataclysm and invasion, she plays her cards close the vest and takes protection of what little she has left very seriously.

Rudyard Kipling would have loved Maude. Three of Kipling’s quotes followed me while I was writing this remarkable woman into my book:

An ounce of mother is worth a pound of clergy.”

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you except the will which says to them: 'Hold on!'”

“For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack”

The book is an adventure tale about a journey to protect love in many forms. This is an excerpt from the book where Fiona and Maude are on the trail talking to reconcile their differing views of the world both old and new.


Fiona, Maude, and Shrimp were back on the trail by first light, heading southwest into the open desert with no greater goal than simply being found. They rode slow to conserve their horses and made no attempts at concealing their trail. The desert wouldn’t necessarily be kind, and Fiona didn’t know how long they would have to wander before finding some sign of the Apache, but she hoped, if they were obvious enough, Alondra’s prediction would come true and the Apache would find them.
She and Maude both kept sharp eyes to the desert around them, which was how they spotted the coyote at about the same time. The lanky animal was following along beside them at a distance of a few dozen yards, occasionally glancing over to keep the two riders in sight.
“That coyote bitch has been following us for miles now,” Maude said.
Fiona couldn’t tell the gender of a coyote on sight, but she believed Maude could. She hadn’t even considered the coyote to have a gender the night before. It was simply a strange, unknowable, wild animal. “Yep,” she said.
“Looks like you made yourself a friend,” Maude added.
“I wasn’t looking to,” Fiona replied. “I just gave her a half a lizard.”
“That’s usually how a person starts a coyote friendship.” They rode on in silence for awhile before Maude continued. “A coyote friendship is a fickle, worthless thing. She’ll be warm when you’ve got food and vanish at the first sign of trouble. They’re not dogs.”
Fiona and Maude both glanced to Shrimp trotting along beside them. He’d apparently picked up on their new companion as well, although he seemed determined to ignore the distant coyote. Shrimp glanced in the coyote’s direction, but always snapped his head back to front after only a brief glance. When Maude and Fiona looked to him, he let out a little bark to add to the conversation.
“What animals should I befriend then?” Fiona sniped.
Maude thought on the question awhile. It was asked in jest, but Maude gave it due diligence all the same. If nothing else it seemed an interesting philosophical conundrum to the old rancher woman.
“I’d say you’d do well to befriend a rattlesnake,” Maude mused. “Their friendship is hard-won and dangerous to garner, but once you’ve got it, it’s going to be solid. There’s not much a snake can do for you. Still, it’ll do what it can once it calls you friend.”
Fiona snorted at this. Even from the context of the conversation, it wasn’t clear if Maude meant herself or Fiona or both or was talking out of her ass about literal snakes. Maude certainly matched the definition of a rattlesnake and her friendship fit the description as well. So too did Fiona though, and Gieo actually referred to Fiona as a rattlesnake often. In fact, it was one of the first things Gieo had called her—she’d done it in such a loving, excited way, that Fiona couldn’t help but take it as a compliment.
“Remember Facebook?” Fiona asked.
“Nope,” Maude replied curtly.
“Oh.” Fiona had planned to make a joke about having a friend list full of desert animals by the time they were done with their desert trek. Maude’s terse response made sense though. What the fuck would a person like Maude care about something as frivolous and ultimately fleeting as social networking.
“The world did itself a big favor by getting rid of shit like that,” Maude said. “We’d just about ruined experiencing the world with cell phones and everything that went with them. Staring at a tiny screen with the whole wide world around you was just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen folks do.”
Fiona nodded her agreement to this. She’d had a cell phone, like everyone else of her generation, but she’d never liked it. It was a tether to a life she didn’t want and her phone never brought her good news. Before the cascade that destroyed technology and killed most of humanity in the process, she’d dropped her cell phone in a champagne ice bucket outside someone’s room in the hallway of a casino in Las Vegas. Not having it with her when humanity struck the epic blow to both sides probably saved her life.
“Where were you when the cataclysm ended everything?” Fiona asked. There wasn’t even true agreement on the nomenclature of the event. The egg heads in the City of Broken Bridges called it the Cascade and so too did some of the former military folks in Tombstone, as Fiona recalled. Most of the Ravens called it the cataclysm though and gave it little thought or reverence.
Maude spit. “It didn’t end everything.”
“Tell that to the billions of dead folks,” Fiona said.
“At my ranch, most likely,” Maude said, “working like a dog or doing what we’re doing right now.”
That was about the answer Fiona expected. Maude probably rode horses and shot the shit as a primary hobby for most of her long life. The world in all probability stopped making sense a long time ago and only circled back around to making sense after the cataclysm rolled all the technological clocks back. There wasn’t any way Fiona could make Maude see that the world was a better place now, not with how many children and grandchildren Maude had lost. She glanced over to the stoic old woman with the hard features and sharp eyes. No, Fiona was wrong about the world and Maude not getting along. Maude was strong and knew herself; she’d never let the world dictate to her the way Fiona had. In that way, the world likely was worse for Maude simply because it didn’t have as much family and friends as it once did. Maude was going to be who she was regardless of how many cell phones or Facebook pages there were. Fiona envied the hell out of that.
“Are you going to tell me where you were, or you going to make me guess like an idiot?” Maude sneered.
“Passed out drunk on one of those big floating air mattress things in the middle of the Bellagio’s pool.” Fiona hadn’t ever told anyone that. Nobody had asked, probably because it didn’t matter, but all the same, she’d never admitted to anyone to that point exactly how stupid and serendipitous her survival had been. It was a big pool and she was far enough away from anything electronic, insulated by the large rubber raft she was laying upon, that the electronic pulse that destroyed most of humanity and the Slark invaders hadn’t touched her despite being in the middle of one of the most electrically demanding cities in the world.
“You’ve got a dumb kind of luck watching out for you,” Maude said.
Fiona couldn’t deny that. She’d done more than her fair share of keeping herself alive and she’d certainly had others shield her, Ekaterina, Veronica, Carolyn, Gieo, and even Zeke among them, yet with all that, she knew she should be dead. Luck definitely played a large part in her survival, and most of it was aptly called dumb luck.
Maude directed Fiona’s attention to a green spot in the desert off to the northwest a quarter of a mile out. They adjusted their path and began to head toward it. It was mid afternoon when they rode up on the wellspring watering a tiny scrap of the desert. Fiona wasn’t sure exactly how far they’d gotten although she guessed they were likely south of old Jaurez by then, but probably not by much.
They dismounted and set to watering the horses in the verdant little pools. Fiona polished off the last of the hot, dusty water in her canteen and dunked it into the clearest, tiny pond to fill again. Shrimp began lapping at another, smaller pond a little ways off. Fiona glanced over to the dog that was warily eyeing something across from the little delta of streams branching from the wellspring. The coyote had snuck up on them enough to take a drink herself.
Fiona remained stock still, watching the coyote that in turn watched her even as it drank. Fiona lifted her refilled canteen to her mouth to drink as well. The coyote stopped lapping at the water momentarily at spotting the movement, but resumed as soon as she’d assured herself Fiona meant her no harm in the action. Up close and in the light of day, the coyote didn’t look like a dog at all. She was lanky and perfectly formed in ways Shrimp wasn’t. There was a certain awkwardness to the shape of the cattle dog mutt that simply didn’t exist in the coyote. She was flawlessly suited to the world and a little beautiful because of it. Her coat was the same tan of the desert, broken by tiny steaks of darker and lighter shades to mimic shadows and sun. Her head was pointed and precise for hunting small game. And her tail was bushy in a decidedly un-doglike way.
“I watched her head toward the wellspring before I even saw it,” Maude whispered from behind Fiona. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say she knew it was here and thought we might want a drink.”
“And why do you know better?” Fiona whispered back.
“Because that’s not in the nature of a coyote friendship to offer water in exchange for nothing,” Maude replied.
Fiona turned her attention back to the coyote. The coyote paused in its drinking with its mouth still hovering above the water, but without its tongue emerging again. Casual as you please, the coyote turned away, having drunk its fill, and wandered back out of range. It sat in a sandy patch beside a saguaro cactus and waited.
“Your friend there may have helped us more than just the water,” Maude said, drawing Fiona’s attention away from their desert guide.
Fiona stood slowly as not to frighten off the coyote with sudden movement. She screwed the cap back onto her full canteen and turned to see what Maude was talking about. The old rancher woman had walked a little circle around the wellspring, coming to a stop over some tracks.
“Five riders, maybe more,” Maude said. “They were riding single file, but there is enough size variation in some of the hoof prints to venture a guess.”
Fiona knelt beside the churned earth and the u-shaped hoof tracks. A spill out of water had created mud of the desert floor at one point and then dried to cast several near perfect prints. There was no way of knowing how old the tracks were since they were created in dried mud; the edges were crisp, but that could still mean a matter of several weeks or a couple hours. “Any guesses on who left them?” Fiona asked.
“Apache,” Maude replied without hesitation.
“How are you so sure?”
Maude pointed to a set of their own horses’ tracks. “See a difference?”
Fiona stood and glanced between the two sets of prints. The difference was immediately apparent. Their horses had left muddy prints as well, but there were little dots along the u-shapes where horseshoe nail heads sat. The curves of the other tracks were perfectly smooth and unbroken. “They don’t have horseshoes.”
“Yep,” Maude said. “I’m guessing the West Durango folks probably have blacksmiths since they’re stationary, but the Apache likely don’t bother with metal working.”
“I guess we follow them,” Fiona said. “Water is rare enough in the desert that we’re likely to find another wellspring again along their trail.”
“You’re finally starting to think like a tracker,” Maude said.
Fiona smirked. “If I get too good at it, you’ll be out of a job.”
“I’ll be long dead before you’re even a tenth the tracker I am.”
Fiona hauled herself back up into Molly’s saddle. “Shit, you might be long dead before I have breakfast again, old woman.”
Fiona spurred Molly into a gallop down the Apache trail, heedless of whether anyone was following. She heard Maude scrambling to keep up and Shrimp barking at the commotion well behind her. She glanced out of the corner of her eye to see the coyote easily loping along through the desert a dozen or so yards off to the right.