Now available as a DRM-free, stand-alone story on Amazon as well as in print (regular and large).
*Originally appeared in To Be Men: Stories Celebrating Masculinity
Baen books released the eARC* (electronic advance reader copy) for Tom Kratman’s Carreraverse anthology, Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation, yesterday.
This anthology includes stories by Kacey Ezell, Mike Massa, Rob Hampson. Chris Smith (Christopher L. Smith), Peter Grant, Chris Nutall, Justin Watson
Monalisa Foster, Alex Macris, Lawrence Railey, and Tom Kratman.
Here’s the opening to my story, “Bellona’s Gift,” about Mitzi Carrera, the rebel Belisario Carrera’s daughter. Readers of the series will remember the crucial moment when Mitzi delivers much-needed arms and ammunition to her father. This is the story behind that crucial moment.
It was an honor and a privilege to write in this universe. Thank you, Tom.
Mitzi stood on the lookout’s cliff, right up against the ledge, sandaled feet solidly set atop the rock. Her boonie hat, with its broad, drooping brim and dark green, military mottling eased the late afternoon glare as she kept watch.
Hundreds of meters below, the crash of the waves wasn’t quite right. Even after more than a decade, she could hear the difference of rhythm, like a song played on a piano with a missing key. Terra Nova’s three moons rivaled Earth’s only when they were properly aligned. Even then, the tides weren’t as strong, and for some reason, it was the wrongness of those crashing waves that still stood out. Not the color. Not the smell. Her memories of those things had faded enough that these colors, these scents now had the familiarity of home.
Insidious progressivines had crept right up to the ledge. Like giant snakes or the tentacles of some vile monster, they would eventually choke out everything around them. An odd species, more parasite and man-trap than weed, the result was always the same: a slow blight of destruction in need of constant pruning. She stomped a vine into the soil. Within moments, her feet and ankles were stained with an oozing, oily green-black. Taking a deep, cleansing breath she cast her gaze back out over the Shimmering Sea.
The breeze shifted with the clouds darkening the horizon. The line separating water and sky blurred. It hardly seemed worth making the climb, but there was something about all that unbroken water, that ever-changing sky, that beckoning vastness that made her volunteer to make the climb twice a day. She blinked the wind- sourced moisture from her lashes. Out there, a white speck separated the seam of water and sky.
She raised the binoculars to her eyes and adjusted one eyepiece and then the other. The speck was still a speck, albeit several times bigger. Shaped like a megalodon’s fin, it rose peacefully from beneath the horizon rather than slicing through the water.
A mast and the hint of a sail. Definitely not a meg. Nevertheless, her stomach hardened, and the hairs on the back of her neck rose.
Calm down. They swoop in from the sky.
“They” being the enemy. The UN cowards. The thieves, murderers and rapists that had uprooted her family and sentenced them to “transportation.”
Such an innocent word. Much better than exile or deportation or being forever torn from everything and everyone you’ve ever known, profound loss the only certainty in your life. Much better than being shoved into a coffin and frozen, not knowing if you’d ever wake up, your life now in the hands of the same people that took your lands, your home, and your innocence. Much better than being a troublesome piece of meat.
Even after all these years, memories of waking up on the Amerigo Vespucci colonization ship made an arctic chill seep into her soul. Despite the tropical heat, goosebumps rose on her body.
It had been years since anything good had come to Cochea. Uprooted once again, her people had fled the tiny settlement they’d come to call home: the women, children and elderly to the caves; the men to the jungle. Mitzi’s father, Belisario Carrera, and his men were now scattered across two hundred square kilometers on the other side of the isthmus, their numbers dwindling by the day, but not as fast as the ammo for their captured guns. For lack of ammunition to feed them, their best fighters had resorted to burying even their prized sniper rifles.
Her father had been known to say, “The war goes on until we are, all of us, free.”
The dead are free, aren’t they?
The binoculars quivered for a moment, then steadied. The main mast was joined by two others. At the bow, four-stacked sails swelled and billowed with the wind.
There was no flag, at least not that she could see.
She shoved the binoculars into her knapsack, and carefully looked down. Nine-year-old Diego had climbed down onto a sliver of an outcropping about ten meters down the cliff-face. The boy was like a mountain goat, spry, sure-footed, and fearless, whereas it took all her will to just stand there. She called down, describing what she’d seen and told him to warn the others. He nodded and jumped to another ledge.
Mitzi took a step back, no longer able to bear the vertigo. She drank the last of her water from the battered canteen at her waist, and resumed her watch. It was nearly sundown when she left the cliff and headed down the trail. A cooling westerly breeze tugged the boonie hat off her head, sending her hair down in a tumble. She gathered and twisted it back into a sweat-soaked bun, reseated the hat and tightened the chin strap.
The muddy, well-worn footpath snaked into the perpetual twilight of the jungle’s triple canopy. The vegetation intertwined so closely that by the time light reached the jungled floor, it lost to darkness.
Sandals sloshing, she raced past pools of fading light. She turned at a fork marked by the rusting, crumpled remains of an enemy vehicle. The cowards had abandoned it to the jungle.
Covered in slime and moss, it was slowly blending into its surroundings. The not-so-native trixies had claimed it as their own. One of the red-and-gold flying reptiles, its bony tail swishing back and forth, preened atop the barrel of the vehicle’s roof-mounted mini-gun. The trixie screeched, revealing razor-sharp teeth.
“I know, I know.”
Mitzi wasn’t exactly small, or old, or weak, but she was alone, and the venom-less, septic-mouthed moonbats that came out at night could still take a bite out of her. Unarmed, she couldn’t fight them off, and even one bite would debilitate her enough to allow the vile creatures to feed on her at their leisure.
They’d take their time too, the nasty things. They preferred the taste of still-living prey, and barring rescue by a flock of ravenous trixies—the moonbats’ natural predators—well, it’d be a long, unpleasant death. She quickened her pace.
As much as she liked running, it hurt to keep up any sort of momentum for very long, even if she crossed her arms. And how well can anyone be expected to run with her arms across her chest?
Back on Earth there might have been a chance to do something about the stupid things that had sprouted from her chest, but here . . . Not that it was all bad here, or at least hadn’t been until Kotek Annan and his thugs had decided that young Balboan women and boys made desirable slaves.
Maybe one day she’d look back and laugh at the irony of it all. Had one Robert Nyere, UN bureaucrat and maricón, not suggested that “something can be worked out” to her father—that something being Mitzi herself in lieu of taking their ancestral land for redistribution— they might have never been “transported” to Terra Nova in the first place. She wasn’t supposed to know that it was Nyere’s death—it wasn’t murder to defend the life or freedom or safety or chastity of one’s child—that had landed them here. Even at thirteen, men had found her sexy. Well, the assets on her chest at least. And those assets had only grown in the years since. Not that there’d been anyone to appreciate them. That was the downside to being el jefe’s daughter.
By the time Mitzi made it to the beach, Hecate, the largest of Terra Nova’s three moons, bathed the cove in silver light, giving everything a ghostly cast.
Even the jungle canopy—so green it had hurt her eyes when they’d first landed here—looked gray.
The ship—a caravel, she was sure now—had anchored in the cove, its sails stowed. A dinghy sat on the beach, rocking slowly with the paltry tide, almost in time with the sway of the black palms.
Two unarmed gringos—those light of skin, eyes, and, frequently, hair—knelt on the sand, their fingers laced behind their heads. Sweat stained the fine, if wrinkled, fabric of their shirts. Beads of moisture pooled to run down their faces, and tensing muscles strained with the rigid postures. They sported short hair darkened by perspiration.
Even in Hecate’s light, one was still identifiable as blond. The other had dark hair like her own.
These weren’t the big, strong men with red cloths around their heads that had come to Cochea with their curved knives, their tanks, and the reek of never-washed bodies. These men were little more than boys, clean-shaven and soft under their unusual clothes. She’d seen such well-made clothing before, in the big cities. The kind of stuff rich and leisurely UN personnel—or transportees who’d sold their souls—wore to be comfortable in the unforgiving heat and humidity of the Balboa Colony.
Mitzi’s mother, Helen, had mounted her escopeta, and had it squarely aimed at the leader’s head. Rather, it was aimed squarely at the young man who was at the front. Whether or not he was the leader appeared to be in question. They didn’t seem to notice Mitzi as she trudged across the beach, kicking sand in her wake. Two cholo boys—Felix, aged ten, and Rafael, who had just turned eleven—both still too young to join the fighting men in the jungle, stood off to her right, bows drawn and arrows nocked. Their loincloth-clad grandfathers covered the kneeling men from the other side.
Would the gringos be so scared if they’d known that the muzzle loaders the old men had on them were probably loaded with too-wet powder? Or that her mother’s shotgun likely held her last two shells? At least the boys were good with their arrows, as a number of wild turkeys and other tasty birds could attest.
“We’re here to help,” Golden Boy said.
“Sure you are,” her mother said, leading with the escopeta. “We’ve heard that before.”
Golden Boy stared into the double barrels. Whatever he was about to say caught in his throat.
“Mostly from those who say they come to do good,” her mother continued, her voice full of menace. “Somehow they’re the only ones who come out doing well, and it’s by helping themselves.”
For an overlong moment, only the sound of pounding surf, stirring wind, and the occasional hoot of a distant monkey could be heard.
“Ma’am,” the tall, dark-haired gringo said. “We’re from Desperation Bay. The Lansing Colony. Let me show you.” His hand drifted from behind his head.
Her mother took a step back, placing herself out of Golden Boy’s reach, and swung the escopeta toward Tall and Dark. His hand shot right back, lacing itself tight.
Without taking her gaze off him, her mother said, “Mitzi. Check the boat.”
Mitzi circled wide, keeping her distance. She caught her mother’s gaze as she crossed into the surf. And I thought Mom was scary when she was pissed at me.
Froth and a frond of Terra Novan seaweed tugged at Mitzi’s feet as she pushed an oar aside and cautiously leaned over to get a better look. A single wooden crate rested within.
“The crate’s not locked,” Tall and Dark said. “I can—”
“Shut up, Juan,” Golden Boy said.
Mitzi grabbed the hull and vaulted into the boat, landing with a thud that barely rocked it. Two metal latches held the crate’s lid in place. She popped them both and lifted.
The scent of gun oil billowed upward, overpowering the saltiness of the sea, the stench of fear, the earthiness of the jungle. Six bolt action rifles—honest-to-God-as-far-as-she-could-tell modern arms—rested on carved wooden supports. With trembling hands she touched one. Small boxes lined the crate. She pulled one up and fumbled it open.
Ammunition. Thousands of rounds by the look of it.
A treasure trove. Life. Freedom. Liberty.
“We have more,” Juan said. “Dozens of crates. A thousand rounds for each rifle.” Eager blue eyes and the hint of a smile sent a wave of heat right into her face. She said a quick prayer, thanking God not just for the crate and its contents, but for masking her blush with Hecate’s silver light.
“Mitzi, what is it?”
“Umm, Mom, you’re going to want to see this for yourself.”
Excerpt, “Bellona’s Gift” by Monalisa Foster, Terra Nova: The Wars of Liberation ed. by Tom Kratman, Baen Books, Available 8/6/19
*eARC are advanced copies, issued before the final round of copyediting. They are not full versions of the final product.
There are three things that an author must absolutely do:
1. Write a great story people will want to read.
2. Pair it with a great cover that radiates genre and doesn’t give the story away.
3. Write a blurb that makes the reader want to look inside the book AND doesn’t give away the plot.
The order here is very important. It reveals the steps in sequence, but the truth is that #2 (a great cover) probably has more to do with whether or not someone will read the blurb and #3 (a great blurb) has more to do with whether or not someone will look inside and ultimately decide to hit the “Buy” button AND proceed to actually read the book. While “Buy” may seem like the end-all and be-all of the process, it’s not, because if the reader doesn’t finish the book, how likely are they to buy another?
Enter the poison pill of our times, the “review.” Now, I’m not talking about editorial reviews, which are a whole different animal. I’m talking about the “reader” review.
I blame my new fascination with German musical theatre for re-kindling my interest in the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle, and as with all things that resonate with me, I binge on it and you, dear reader, get to hear about it. On the upside, it’s not been a full binge (like going back to re-read the Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart or any of the huge academic tomes on the subject) so I’ll keep it light.
It’s been awhile since I enjoyed Mary Stewart’s 5-Book Saga, so it has gone back on the re-read list. It was one of the more memorable fictionalizations of this myth, if not my hands-down favorite.
For this comparison, we have three movies (or rather, two movies and a play).
Let me start by disclosing that I absolutely loathe the Bechdel-Wallace Test. The fact that someone thought this was a concept we needed speaks more of their own neuroses than anything else, but it keeps coming up.
Basically, the Bechdel Test attempts to measure how women in fiction are portrayed. If a work features at least two (as opposed to one; smirk) [named] women talking to each other about “something” other than a man, then it passes.
I despise the identity politics behind it, but also the disregard of genre and the needs of the story. It seeks to impose a politically motivated, self-serving radical feminist agenda on Story. The Bechdel test has been incorporated into submission mechanisms and into screenwriting software. So, basically it’s not just some ivory-tower gender-warrior’s academic rants.
I first ran into the Bechdel test a few years back when I was on a writer’s critique site and one of the people giving me feedback suggested I revamp a major portion of my story in service to the Bechdel test, because otherwise “no women were going to read it.”
Was there a poll, I missed? I’d been reading for decades and NOT once did I think to myself, “Where is the checkbox that tells me whether or not, as a woman, I’m allowed to read this because it passes the Bechdel test.”
Therefore, I propose the Foster Test. A work passes the Foster Test if it features a woman who succeeds at whatever her goal is without weakening the man/men in the story or eliminating them from her life altogether.
Yesterday I got a message from an acquaintance asking me if I had any good exercises that I could suggest since he was getting back into writing after a two-year hiatus. I didn’t really have an answer for him, although I did point him to The Other Side of the Page.
But then, this morning, I ran across this video (don’t turn the volume on yet) and it makes a brilliant point but also sparks an interesting question: How do you put the music in your prose?
Sound muted: A report listing the details of the scene does not convey anything other than physical details. So imagine a paragraph or so from the imperial officer’s viewpoint, telling us where he is, i.e. describing the surroundings. And it makes for pretty dry, thin writing. I’d say a majority of new writers write like this (dry and thin). That’s what you’re seeing with the sound muted. Actually, to be fair, you’re seeing far more on the screen because the camera angle gives you his facial expression, but even that is ambiguous, as you’re about to find out by turning the sound on. In order to convey just how thin and dry a mere description would come across to a reader you’d have to change the camera angle by placing it behind the officer’s eyes, so we could only see what he sees. As readers we would not get his facial expression or any other body language at all, much less what he’s thinking. This is what I call “outside-in” writing because your prose is a movie camera.
Sound on: The melody suggests happy feelings. We kinda get that he’s about to meet someone, but not whom. The music makes a big difference. Then we are shown Darth Vader and we get a chuckle, because it doesn’t fit the music. Which was the point.
The Point: But now that you’ve had your chuckle, think about it as a writer. How do you convey the trepidation (rather than the happy feeling the music suggests) to your reader, when you have neither the happy song nor the original score to flavor the experience, nor a shot of the viewpoint character’s face? How do you SHOW rather than tell us that “Officer-so-and-so felt a great deal of trepidation as he approached Darth Vader’s shuttle?” Remember, your camera is behind the character’s eyes, not outside the character. You only have access to his thoughts on the matter. You cannot see what he does not see. Cannot know what he does not. This is what I call “inside-out” writing because your prose is entirely from the character’s viewpoint. No head-hops. No authorial intrusion.
Ready, set, write.
I recently attended the LTUE Symposium in Provo, and one of my favorite panels was the one on getting your firearms right.
Now, you may not be a gun nut, and you may not care, but I can practically guarantee that just about every author who’s written about guns has gotten some–ahem!–feedback on what they got wrong.
So let me lay it out as (a) a gun-nut, (b) a writer, and (c) a reader. These states of mind are not separate. They overlap.
Let me take off my shooting hat (yes, I have one to keep the brass out of my cleavage) and put on my writer hat (let’s say it looks a bit like a crown).
Just because I know the difference between a magazine and a clip doesn’t mean that every character I write does. Just because I know the difference between an auto-loader (semi-automatic) and full-auto doesn’t mean that every character I write does. Got that?
Our Kickstarter for Intellectual Property Tracker ends in less than 48 hours.
We would like to thank all our backers for making our campaign a success and remind everyone that there are less than two days to go until the deadline.
Pledge/reward level pricing are Kickstarter specials, so if you’ve been thinking of upgrading, please consider doing so before the deadline.
Thank you for your support.
I’d like to thank Jamie Ferguson for giving our Kickstarter a boost with this interview. Time is running out. Our Kickstarter ends on Feb. 13th. Make your pledge now in order to save money and unlock bonuses available only while the Kickstarter is running.
The Kickstarter has met its funding goal, so what’s the advantage of someone supporting the Kickstarter at this point?
There are three advantages:
1. saving money; the pledge levels offer you the plans at a savings.
2. Dean Wesley Smith’s Magic Bakery Workshop on copyright and intellectual property is a $150 value on its own; you’re going to learn so many amazing things about copyright and how important it is to manage your rights in this class. Honestly, if you don’t know why stories are intellectual property and the value that intellectual property (IP) has to your success as a writer, you absolutely NEED this class, even if you’ve never published anything or if you’ve just had your first story accepted.
3. for those that already have a few (or a dozen or a hundred) titles out and know about copyright and IP, the $500 Lifetime Plan is a Kickstarter special.
Earlier this month I was introduced to the most successful German-language musical of all time, Elisabeth das Musical.
This fictionalized account of the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria has been translated into seven languages and seen by over ten million, although apparently never in the United States. It made me wonder why, since it has been successful not just in Germany, but Hungary, Russia, South Korea, and Japan. In fact, the cross-cultural adaptations are worth a study in themselves. Here is a multi-language compilation of the prologue. I’m particularly fond of the Japanese costuming. And here is the international trailer with an English introduction.
Personally, I love a good anti-hero and in this case that would be Death, not Elisabeth, the heroine of this story.
Having grown up in a culture similar to the one that Elisabeth grew up in, I’d like to share my take on this story.
Know then, that for most of history, people did not marry for romantic love. Most of those who ruled didn’t (I’m sure there were exceptions). The peasants, shop keepers, and nobles didn’t either, although they had, perhaps more freedom in that regard, depending on the time period, etc.
Today, we live in a culture rich enough to allow us to casually enter into marriage based on romantic love, with less thought given to the economics involved, than in the past. All it takes in most places in the US, is a drive down to City Hall or a Justice of the Peace, the payment of a fee, and you are married. Most people are free to fall in love and marry just for that. Whether it lasts or not is another matter. So, go into this knowing, that that was not the case in Elisabeth’s time, and it is not the case in most of the world even today.
My parents’ and grandparents’ generation in Communist Romania certainly thought of marriage in terms of economics, despite it being the 20th Century. Nobody cared about love. What did they care about?
Does he have a good, stable job?
Will he be able to support a wife?
Will he be able to support a family?
Is he husband material in other ways?
Is she wife material?
Can she have children?
What kind of mother will she be?
Do undesirable traits and behavior run in his or her family?
Can the families get along?
Living as part of an extended family that were always in your business, did not allow an unmarried man or woman the freedom to just fall for someone and call it done. Even if the respective families couldn’t stop you from marrying, they could certainly withdraw and refuse support, and often did. It was also not that unusual for the older generation (the grandparents’) to be responsible for child-rearing, and for younger cousins and sisters to be involved as well (as nannies and baby-sitters for girls must learn how to be mothers themselves some day), since the concept of a nuclear family was unknown.
And I can tell you without a doubt that the idea of living only for oneself, for one’s own selfish desire was not praiseworthy, was not encouraged, much less celebrated. In contrast, today, there are plenty of young men and women who pursue “their bliss” well into their thirties, often as a result of parental generosity.
Elisabeth (as portrayed in this musical) is in many ways a contemporary embodiment of what we so often see today. She is raised in an ideal environment, which, while desirable, does not reflect the reality of the world. One moment she swears off marriage for the freedom to do whatever she wants. The next, she’s fallen in love (at first sight no less) with the Emperor of Austria (a man intended for her older sister).
Then when she does have children, they are taken away from her to be raised by her mother-in-law. She fights to get them back, but then abandons them in retaliation for her husband’s unfaithfulness. Now, I realize that some of this is being done for story reasons, and that’s fine. Conflict, shattered expectations, and a character arc all demand it. Otherwise we’d have no Story, or at least not this story, and it is THIS story that is compelling.
Elisabeth sacrifices everyone (including her beloved son) for her own freedom, while at the same time enjoying an unearned material wealth. Audiences are drawn in and cheer on her declaration that she belongs only to herself.
While it’s interesting, and entertaining to watch the character arc, the love triangle between Elisabeth, her husband, and Death personified (and yes, I enjoyed the heck out of this play–I watched the German and Hungarian versions–and it’s in the “watch again” bin) there were so many times when I wanted to reach out and strangle her and shout “You are such a selfish, silly <insert expletive>!” Then I take a deep breath and remind myself that it’s a Story, it’s meant to be entertainment, and I should just enjoy it.
Which leads to “Why am I willing to watch this again, when I don’t particularly like Elisabeth as a person?” Yes, Mark Seibert as Death makes up for a lot, but he’s not on the stage that long. And it’s not just Seibert’s portrayal of Death, even though I’d jump at the chance to go see him on stage even if that meant actually going back to Europe. Kim Junsu’s portrayal of Death in the Korean version is just as good, if not better.
It’s the characters, stupid! Plot, logic, and inconsistencies matter not when the characters have you in their grip, just like with a book you read again and again, even though you know not just the ending, but every plot point along the way. It’s why I’m on a mission to watch the Japanese and Russian versions as well, provided I can find them.
Even the language barrier was not enough to dampen my enjoyment and I’m not a fan of theater in general. The fact that it was in a foreign language made it more interesting. I really admire the translators since they had to translate not just the words, but make the syllables fit, and oh, by the way, some of it still rhymes. Think of it this way. In English, “I” is one syllable; same in German, Hungarian, and Russian. But in Japanese, “I” is “watashi(-wa)” which is three or four, in Korean it’s “naneun” also three. From what I saw of the subtitles, they did it while preserving context in most cases. It’s shown particularly well here, in a multi-language compilation featuring several of the actresses portraying Elisabeth during the 20th Anniversary Tribute. Notice how the song smoothly flows from one language to the other (I identified German, Dutch, Korean, and Japanese. Finnish might also have been in there, although I didn’t verify it).
As a writer, I also appreciate how well the Story (not the plot) delivered a highly satisfying ending.
When it was all over, I asked myself, was this a romance (i.e. it had a happy ending) or was it a tragedy? And the answer is, it was both. The climax was a tragedy, but the denouement was a happily ever after. Yeah, that’s right. THIS and the compelling characters is why Elisabeth das Musical is such a hit.
Now I’m off to add “learn more about the Habsburg Empire” to my ever-growing list of stuff I’ll probably never get around to. I really do wish they’d have spent more time on this part of history when I was going to school.
One final thing. The story shows the rising nationalism of the time period. I believe it is historically accurate. If you’re going to get offended by the appearance of National Socialism and its anti-semitism (slogans, symbols, etc), despite their portrayal as the bad guys, you might want to skip this.