Sunday, 5 April 2015

Reconnaissance - Rabbits, Writers, & Readings

Tee Morris & Pip Ballantine in steampunk style

Easter weekend was the time of Reconnaissance, the NZ National Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Convention - with an emphasis on steampunk.  Even the Easter Bunny made an appearance with the occasional chocolate egg.  Lots of fun!

Pippa Ballantine and Tee Morris, the husband and wife duo responsible for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series were there and, aside from speaking hilariously of their adventures in publishing, ran a writing workshop on Friday, which I was fortunate enough to attend.  Sneakily, they assigned us each a character to write with and now I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to write a proper story with my superhero whose powers are failing.  Darn it!  Too many story ideas and not enough time to write them!  I'll find a way somehow.  (For a sneak peak at some of what I produced during the workshop, see below.)
Another highlight for me was discovering Atlantis Books, the fabulous bookstore that hosted a book reading event including myself and some of the other authors in attendance.  If you're ever in Rotorua, I definitely recommend checking out this store - and not just for the lovely display of Currents of Change they currently have there!  It's the kind of bookstore that loves books.  A great atmosphere and friendly, helpful staff.

Elizabeth Heritage took a fantastic session on publicity for books in NZ, guest of honour, Gail Garriger showed off her dancing skills and discussed corsets for beginners,  and there were many other fantastic events. 

I can't wait for next year's con!

Me & Debbie Cowens, ready to read our novels at Atlantis Books

Sneak peek
Here are some snippets I produced during the writers' workshop with Pippa and Tee.  This first one is to establish the character, show who they are, and some of their vulnerability.  I was given "a superhero whose powers are failing." 

The smell of a church has always been a comfort to me, even as a child.  For forty years, there’s always been something about the oiled wood of the pews and old incense that pulls peace into the world.  The dim light from stained glass windows, the old stone of the walls.  Almost all churches have that feeling.  That connection to God.
Almost all.
I’ve always felt it here before, but not today.  I finger the cross at my throat and stare up at the figure of Christ.  “Is this how You felt in those last moments?” I wonder.  The words spoken from the cross are seared into my mind:  “My God, why have you forsaken me?” 
A chill runs over my skin.  Goosebumps.  I’m feeling the cold.  How is that possible?  Why is it happening now?  I quickly unroll the sleeves of my shirt.  A lifetime hiding invulnerability and now I’m covering goosebumps.
I press my knuckles against the hard edge of the pew in front of me.  The sharp corner of wood where it hasn’t been worn smooth by years of parishioners hauling themselves up for hymns.  It hurts.  I stare at the indentation it makes in my skin, a red groove in the pale flesh. 
Simple wood can hurt me now.  Wood, for Christ’s sake!  How do I protect a city that depends on me now?  Friends complain of grey hairs as they age.  Mine were earned with hours spent a suit and a mask, defending the innocent.  I don’t mind the grey, but it won’t be enough to save Isobelle or put a stop to the drug dealer’s plans.  I need my powers for that.  And my powers are failing.

The next section was an exercise in dialogue.  The same character (3rd person, this time) but being offered help by another character.  Then, the second character changes their mind about helping and our hero must convince them by offering something they want.  See how it turned out:

“Jamieson.”  Mother Superior’s voice lassoed him with soft authority.
He stopped.  The shade of the oak gave a certain privacy to the convent’s yard.  “Yes?”
“I can help you.”
Rick licked his lips.  They felt dry and cracked.  “Help me?”
 “With your…problem.”
He blinked.  “What problem is that?”
Her grey eyes narrowed beneath the habit she wore, turning the lines on her face into deep creases.  “You don’t have time to play coy, young man.  You think we haven’t noticed?  You need an intervention with the Almighty.  And you need it soon.”
“Your prayers are always welcome, Mother, but…”
“Pish!  I don’t mean prayer.  Prayer won’t help you now.  You need your powers back and that requires action.”
“My powers.”  He swallowed.  “How much do you know?”
She chuckled, a dry rasping sound.  “More than you, I’d wager.  But if you want my help, we have to act now.  Easter is the time our Lord spent in the grave.  God’s attention on this world is less during the time before the resurrection.”
“Is that why…?”  He floundered, waving a hand in small, ineffectual motions.  “Is that why my powers are gone?  They came from God and He’s…mourning?”
She shook her head.  “No, child.  But it gives us a chance to summon someone who can bring them back.  The fallen angel, Azadriel.  Your father.”
 Rick felt the weight of her words settle in his chest.  It was hard to breathe.  “No.  That…that’s nonsense.  What are you talking about?”
“Your father wasn’t human, Mr Jamieson.  There’s a reason you got the powers you have.”  She shrugged.  “That you used to have.”
He frowned.  “No.  You’re tempting me.  You’re the devil in the wilderness.  Even if this were true, why would you have anything to do with a fallen angel?  That’s evil incarnate.”
Her lips pressed tight and her jaw hardened beneath her crumpled paper skin.  “I’ve run this convent for 30 years, Rick Jamieson.  I’ve watched you grow up and watched you do good with the gifts you were given and never once turned on you or your mother for what was done all those years ago.  Now you call me the devil?  Me.  With the blood of a fallen angel running through your veins!”  Her fingers clutched at the rosary hanging at her side.  “Solve your own problems, you ungrateful boy.  And I’ll solve mine.  There will be other ways to get that girl to safety.  You’re not the only powerful contact I have in this city.”  She turned and strode away.
Rick hesitated.  What else did she know?  “Wait!” he called. 
She stopped.  Her head lifted, the fabric of the habit sliding an inch further down her back.  She did not face him.  “What?”
He took a few steps closer, out of the shade and the sun felt suddenly hot on his skin.  “Who’s the girl you’re trying to save?  Is it…?”
“Isobelle,” she said.  “Yes.  But there’s a better way.”
“I’ll give them what they want.  A place on the convent grounds to store their drugs.”
“But you know what that will do to the city.  If we don’t stand up to them, they’ll control everything.”
“And if we do, we lose Isobelle or maybe our souls.  You’re right.  Whether he’s your father or not, dealing with a fallen angel is a fool’s business.”
He rested a hand on her shoulder.  “Please.  Let me try.”

And that concludes our taste of this particular story.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Thank you to Pippa and Tee for their workshop.  If you'd like to hear more of this story, keep your eyes open and maybe sign up to my newsletter. I'll be finishing it and making the full story available in the future.

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