Tree repair – split limb damage

by Richard Perkins

01 Fallen LimbA few weeks ago, while taking a lunch break from writing on our back patio, I discovered that our poor persimmon tree had suffered massive limb trauma. I’m not sure what caused the damage, but as you can see in the picture to the left, it was severe. More than half the crown of the tree is lying on the ground to the left of the trunk. Some quick online research suggested that a tree with this much crown loss would be considered a lost cause by most tree surgeons. That’s a real shame, since this tree was a prodigious fruit producer last season, and it’s probably only about 5 years old. (I’m guessing on this front, since we started renting this place a little over a year ago.)

04 Split DamageNow I’m not a huge fan of persimmons. I actually had never seen one before we moved to San Jose, and wasn’t prepared to handle the bushels of fruit we harvested from this one tree last year. In fact, we nipped 2/3 of the buds from the tree this spring to decrease the fruit production to more manageable levels.

That being said, I’m a big fan of trees, and hate to see one cut down in it’s prime. I decided to try to save the tree, and avoid both the hassle to me and the cost to the homeowner of bringing in a tree removal service. Online recommendations were mixed, but some folks reported success using glue to repair split trunk storm damage. Since our persimmon tree had suffered a major split but still had plenty of healthy bark that might close around the injury, it seemed worthwhile to give it a shot.

06 After PruningMy first step was to prune the heck out of the fallen limb. The limb had split because it couldn’t support it’s own weight. Much of that weight was from fruit, all of which I removed. Some of it was from overextended limb and dense shoot growth. I cut as much of it off as I could, while trying to maintain enough green leaves to support that side of the tree through the rest of the summer. If the tree lives until the fall, I’ll prune the left side back even further for the winter dormant season. But for now, the tree needs as many leaves as possible to feed itself. Notice the dog house emerging from beneath the now pruned branch in the picture to the left.

07 Split RepairMy next step was to coat the inside of the split liberally with an indoor/outdoor wood glue that would help hold restore the joint’s structural integrity. Note that I didn’t go look for a wood sealant compound. These tar-like sealants used to be the industry standard for protecting tree wounds from critters, but they’ve evidently fallen out of vogue. I used the wood glue I had in my workshop, with the goal of repairing the joint, not sealing it up.

08 Support BracesAnyone who has worked with wood glue before knows that it needs support and pressure while it cures. Once cured properly, wood glue joints are often stronger than the wood surrounding them. 11 Support WiresIf you subject a repaired joint to the same stresses that damaged it in the first place, you shouldn’t be surprised to see a second crack tear through the wood parallel but offset from the original failure. I knew I had to support this joint during the glue curing stage and beyond if the tree is ever going to recover. The braces to the left are meant to be temporary. I’ll remove them next spring if all goes well. The tension wires to the right, however, are not temporary. They’ll be with the tree for the rest of its life, however long that turns out to be.

Call it my tendency to over-engineer, but I wasn’t satisfied with a belt and suspenders approach. I wasn’t too thrilled about the small diameter branches I used for the permanent cable supports. I wanted another permanent support that would clamp the split together and prevent formation of a secondary crack in the years ahead. Call it a belt, suspenders, and garters approach, for lack of a better term. So I drilled two pilot holes through the center of the limb, added some carriage bolts, nuts, neoprene cushions and washers, and voila.

09 Bolt Holes10 Support Bolts

The finished result? Three weeks later the damaged tree limb is back in place, and the glue is as cured as it’s likely to get. The bark closed up around the injury when I tightened the support bolts and hasn’t shown signs of cracking or falling off. There hasn’t been any severe leaf drop that would indicate the limb is dying, but it’s too soon to know whether I saved the tree. That may take a year or more. In the mean time, the tree looks a lot better than it did before I performed the emergency surgery. The whole operation cost me $35, most of which was for the bypass cutters I used to prune the branches from the fallen limbs. If I ignore the cost of the tools I’ll be able to re-use, the total cost was less than $10. It would have cost an order of magnitude more to have a tree removal service come in, and then I’d have a nothing but a hole in the ground where our cute little tree once stood. I think it looks better this way, bandages and all, don’t you?

12 Repaired Tree

JulNoWriMo – a fight to the finish

by Richard Perkins

JulNo winnerSomewhere in the middle of writing chapter 20 out of 30, I realized that my outline just didn’t have enough material to reach my personal 90,000 word goal. My motivation dropped visibly once I hit that snag, but I did finish the story before August 1st. The final word of the ending brought the count to just over 69,000 words, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. In addition, it was more than enough to get me across the 50,000 word line as a JulNoWriMo winner. Congratulations to everyone who participated. Special kudos to all the aspiring authors who passed the 50k mark.

Now it’s time for me to let the manuscript rest for a few weeks before I start tearing it apart in my first revision. I’ve already got one excellent beta reader lined up for this new novel (and you know who you are ;-) ). I will be looking for a second reader soon, though. I’ll outline the characteristics I’m hoping to find in the next few days. If you’re interested, watch this space. (I’ll also have to think of a better title than Eliza’s Story at some point… I really thought it would have come to me by now… hmm.)

Meanwhile, I’ll be sending Renegade out to potential agents to see if anyone will bite. Wish me luck. My final chart for first draft word count tracking is included below for the nerds among my readers.

JulNo Stats

Rejection #2

by Richard Perkins

DAW RejectionRenegade is officially off the slush pile and into the circular file. The date on DAW’s rejection letter was only 6 days after the post mark on the reply card. Guess it didn’t take the reader long to decide this new author wouldn’t be a commercial success for them.

I can’t say the thought that other companies have published books they rejected did much to soften the blow. And their suggestion to submit to them again in the future might have been more convincing if this didn’t look like a photocopied form rejection letter.

At least they were courteous, prompt, and professional. Still no feedback on the manuscript, or their specific reasons for rejection. As with Tor, I didn’t really expect feedback from a house this big. I’ve run out of large publishing houses that accept unsolicited submissions at this point . I’m at a crossroads.

On the one hand, I could keep looking for a publisher on my own. This would entail sifting through about a million medium to small press houses to determine which ones are legit and which are shady. All that effort would be time I couldn’t spend writing or searching for a paying job, so that’s a definite trade-off.

On the other hand, I could look for an agent to represent the book. That search could require just as much or more sifting and background checking, but a good agent would open doors at publishers that wouldn’t consider me otherwise. There are a lot of online resources to help, like AgentQuery, and AbsoluteWrite forum threads like this one on agents who represent science fiction and fantasy.

Are you an author, published or otherwise, with an opinion on this question? Drop me a comment, and I promise to respond. If you’ve worked with an agent or a medium to small press publisher willing to consider a first time fantasy author, feel free to plug them here.

Slush pile blues

by Richard Perkins

DAW Reply CardYep, I’ve got the old slush pile waiting game blues. I received a reply card from DAW books recently, the second publisher I have sent the manuscript for The Renegade’s Door.

So DAW has the book sitting on their slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts. Now I have to wait for them to decide whether they’re interested or not, which could take another three months or more.

The DAW submission package was a little different than the one TOR outlined in their submission guidelines. Instead of a cover letter, a synopsis of the book, and the first three chapters of the manuscript, DAW editors want the author to send along the entire manuscript and a cover letter.

Honestly, I like DAW’s approach better. I had trouble condensing my novel into a couple of pages of synopsis without it sounding like a very dry and uninteresting history. And since there was no feedback with the rejection that TOR sent me, I’ll never know whether it was poor synopsis writing, or some other factor that tanked my chances with them.

As you can see from the reply card picture above, I sent out this second submission through WordHustler. So far their service has been pretty straightforward. Their market listings lack quite a few of the entries I can find in my 2009 Writer’s Market, especially for literary agents. But they do have options for adding other markets manually, which I may end up using when I decide where to send Renegade next.

I’ve pretty much exhausted the major publisher imprints that accept unsolicited manuscripts. If DAW rejects Renegade like TOR did, my next target will have to be an agent or a smaller publishing house that works in fantasy. If all else fails, Renegade is ready and waiting at CreateSpace if I decide to go the self-promotion and distribution route.

Driven to distraction

by Richard Perkins

Here’s a testament to the danger of distraction for a writer on a deadline. The chart below shows my word count progress on my current project, the sequel to the Renegade’s Door. The blue dotted line shows the target word count over time. The green, square data points show my actual daily word totals (on the left axis), while the red triangle data points show my words per hour writing rate for each writing session (on the right axis).

Missing my word count

As you can see, I did pretty well meeting my daily writing goals right up until July 4th. Then my progress practically flat-lined for nearly a week before starting to inch back up toward the trendline in the last day or two.

What happened in the circled area from July 4th through July 10th, you might ask? I went on vacation. I visited my family at the lake house in Charlotte, dutifully lugging my laptop along with me under the sad delusion that I would be able to make time to write while I was visiting. Stupid, stupid writer.

As you can see from the data, my words per hour rate dropped a bit, but not enough to completely explain the stagnation in word count progress. Which means that in addition to writing slower while I was away, I just plain didn’t spend enough time writing. That’s real BICHOK time. (writer-ese for “Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard”)

Don’t me wrong. I love my family and enjoy the time I get to spend with all of them. But even the most well-meaning, well-intentioned of distractions is still a distraction. And for a slow writer like me… distractions are a death sentence for deadlines. Now I have to work that much harder to make it to the end of the novel by midnight on July 31st. Sigh.

Wish me luck!

Tired fingers

by Richard Perkins

It’s been a while since my last update, mostly because I’ve been flat out working on the new novel. July has officially started, which means JulNoWriMo is officially underway. My fingers have been flying across the keys. My official JulNo word count was about 2500 words at the end of July 1st, but I actually started Eliza’s story two weeks early so I could finish the whole novel by the end of July.

My goal was to write the first 30,000 words before the WriMo started (which I did… just). That leaves me with 50,000 – 60,000 words to write this month to reach this novel’s dramatic conclusion. I gave you a sneak peek at the opening scene in one of my previous posts. Read on for the continuation of the first scene (still just an unedited draft at this point, warts and all.) Enjoy!

“All-Mother? Are you… all right?” Kenbo’s voice cracked, the sound echoing inside the chimney of stone that belched a faint plume of acrid smoke high into the sky above.
Her laughter subsided slowly. But the victorious feeling of being out under the open sky once more remained. “I’m fine Kenbo. Just fine. We made it!” She drummed her heels against the wind-sculpted stone behind her as she stared out over the unfamiliar dune scape of the northern desert. The sense of elation faded as she realized that she couldn’t recognize a single landmark. Every feature of the desert was foreign to her as far as the eye see. How far had they stumbled through those hellish tunnels? How long had it been since she had seen the sky? One night? Two?
“Mother Eliza?”
“I’m coming. Stay where you are. I’m climbing back up to the hole.” Weariness gripped her as she forced her leaden limbs into motion once more. Her legs protested, stiff and cramped with fatigue. Her palms stung from countless cuts inflicted by the sharp-edged stones and fractured crystals embedded inside the volcanic steam vent. Her borrowed ceremonial robes were torn in a dozen places, blackened with soot and smelled of burning sulfur. Throbbing blisters on the fingers of one hand summoned only a vague memory of searing heat.
She pushed the distractions aside, finding handhold after handhold and foothold after foothold. She reached the crumbling lip of the hole she had accidentally made in the wall of the stone chimney. She found broad ledge beside the hole and shifted her weight onto it, relaxing her body into the stone support with relief. Sasha had found her own path down onto the ledge and licked at Eliza’s face eagerly. Eliza threw her arms around the pack goat’s neck as Sasha wagged her stubby tail and nibbled at Eliza’s earlobe. “Good to see you too, love.”
Eliza looped the slack length of her tether over a small stone outcropping and leaned back into the ragged hole in the chimney wall. Noxious smoke swirled in her face, bringing stinging tears to her eyes. How had she ever managed to climb out of the caverns below while breathing such fumes?
A bout of coughing drifted up to her from the pitiful figures clinging weakly to the narrow ledge below where she had left them. “Kenbo, Kenji!”
A dark-skinned face turned upward at the sound of her voice. Only one feature reflected the weak light from above, the luminous whites of his eyes flashing in the tribesman’s dark silhouette. It was Kenji, the younger of the brothers, though Eliza couldn’t explain how she could distinguish the two young men in that darkness.
“All-Mother-” Kenji’s face disappeared as a rasping cough rattled through him.
“Are you two ready to get out of there?”
Kenji’s cough subsided slowly. “It’s Kenbo. He’s not… he’s shaking, All-Mother. He won’t stop.”
Eliza’s breath caught in her throat. “Kenbo! Kenbo, can you hear me?”
“He’s… he’s not answering All-Mother!”
Eliza wiped her hands across her streaming eyes and sent her fingers questing for the tether that snaked down into the darkness toward the tribesmen. “Kenji! We have to get him out of that smoke!”
“Help me All-Mother! I don’t know what to do!”
“Stay calm Kenji. Your brother needs you. Can you find his tether, the line tied to his harness?”
Eliza heard stones dislodge and skitter down the well as the tribesmen fumbled at his brother’s waist. What was taking him so long? “I have it!”
Eliza submerged her voice in calm, rational tones, ignoring her racing heart. “Good. There should be a loop tied in the line half a span above his waist. Can you find that?”
There was more fumbling in the darkness below as precious time slipped away. “Yes! I found it Mother Eliza!”
Eliza’s fingers closed around the slick tether that connected her harness to Kenbo’s. “Good. Now I need you to tuck Kenbo’s right hand through that loop for me. Tell me when you’ve done it, Kenji!”
She shimmied back out of the gap onto the ledge, holding the tether in her hand as she traced it back to the outcropping where she had secured it. She freed it with one hand. “Sasha, come!”
The mountain goat stepped nimbly across the ledge toward the gap in the chimney, then turned her back toward the hole as though already knowing what Eliza had in mind.
“All-Mother, it’s done!”
Eliza hauled up the tether quickly until she felt tension on the line. “All right Kenji. We need to get your brother out of there now. I need you to climb behind him and push, while I pull. Can you do that?”
“I’m… I don’t think I can…”
“Yes you can Kenji!” Time was running out. Kenji’s voice was getting weaker.
Eliza pulled the tether tight and lashed it to a eyelet on Sasha’s pack harness. She scratched her faithful companion’s black face, rubbing the sensitive spot between her curving horns gently. “Just a little help here girl. You know what to do.”
Eliza turned back and leaned into the ragged hole. The two figures below her had changed position. Kenbo’s lanky frame was stretched upward by the hand tied into the climbing loop above him. His head lolled back limply as the smaller shadow struggled to hold him upright. Eliza swallowed her fear as the red-rimmed whites of Kenbo’s eyes rolled into the weak light, blind and senseless. “Kenji! I’m right above you! It’s not far. We can do this. Are you ready?”
A spasm of coughing wracked the younger tribesman again. “Hurry Mother Eliza.”
That was all the signal Eliza needed. She gripped the tether in hands already blistered and bloodied. She pulled upward with all the strength she could muster as Kenji pushed feebly from below. Even their combined effort probably would not have been enough to lift Kenbo far. Kenji, as weak as he currently was, normally towered over Eliza’s diminutive stature, and Kenbo was a head again taller than his brother. Fortunately, Eliza had some help. She turned her head back over her shoulder and shouted. “Hya!”
Sasha strained forward as Eliza pulled up. The tether surged upward and Eliza heard the cascade of dislodged stones ricochet down through the vent into the depths. She walked her hand back down the line to get a new grip. She cried out a second time. “Hya!”
Once more the tether surged upward under their combined efforts. The repeated the process, hauling the line up span by span until Kenbo’s dark skinned hand rose like a dark ghost into the sunlight streaming in from the desert sky.
Eliza grabbed the tribesman’s wrist, reassured to feel Kenbo’s hand squeeze weakly as his fingers encircled her pale forearm. With the next pull she looped her hand through his harness. She dragged Kenbo upward toward the lip of the opening, watching now as Kenji’s soot-stained face broke into the light. Misfortune struck just as she was preparing to breath a sigh of relief.
Kenji squinted up into Eliza’s face for a moment and she heard a splintering crack. The younger tribesman’s eyes opened in shock as one of his footholds sheared away under his weight. Eliza watched his face drop back into the inky darkness beneath the sun’s reach. One of his hands scrabbled and clawed for purchase as his arm was pulled into the darkness after him.
“Sasha! Pull now! Go!” Eliza didn’t have time to think. With her right hand still entwined in Kenbo’s harness, Eliza bent her knees, dug in her heels and slapped her left hand into Kenji’s palm. Galvanized by fear, Kenji crushed her small hand in his grip. The contact stunned her and darkness swept across her vision. She felt a brief flash of unfamiliar flames dancing along her skin. One in her left hand. One in her right. One burned hot and bright. The other smoldered cold and dark. They were heavy, so incredibly heavy. She jerked back, her hands clenching the two ethereal flames that were so alike yet so different.
Sasha charged to the far end of the ledge as Eliza threw herself backward in shock. She felt a tug on the harness in her right hand as she fell backward onto the ledge, senseless. A heavy weight fall across her legs as her head bounced painfully against the rough stone. Stars danced in her eyes and then receded. Eliza blinked as the blue sky bled back into view above her. Sasha’s face swam into focus slowly as she lay on the stone ledge, winded.
She heard a rattling cough and felt the weight on her legs shift. She looked down to see Kenji crawl as far back from the ledge as he could to retch. Kenbo was stretched full length on the stone at her side, panting erratically. Eliza sat up and peered at his face. The midnight black of his skin was scored with pale swirls of white, the ritual tattoos of one destined to be Shaman of Kilns. His bloodshot eyes, rich brown laced with streaks of purple, stared sightlessly. White salt caked on cracked lips that trembled faintly with is troubled breathing.
As Eliza watched, his breathing slowed and the lanky tribesman blinked. She retrieved a waterskin from Sasha’s pack and soaked the hem of her sleeve with it. She carefully wiped away the salt that had dried on Kenbo’s skin and moistened his cracked lips. His eyes finally focused on the petite healer as the water touched his lips.
“Moth… Mother Eliza?”
“Easy Kenbo, easy now. Can you sit up?”
“I think so… yes.”
Eliza helped Kenbo sit up and slide back against the wall. She left him with the waterskin while she checked on his brother.
“Kenji?”
The younger tribesman peered at Eliza uncertainly. The ragged red bands of his once golden ceremonial robes, were torn and stained, much like hers. “All-Mother… I don’t know what… your strength humbles us. Thank you.”
Eliza summoned a lopsided grin for the strange young man, much too earnest for his scant twenty-odd seasonturns. The likeness to his older brother was uncanny, though the ritual tattoos that lined Kenji’s clean-shaven head were much simpler. Unlike Kenbo, Kenji would never rise above the rank of Acolyte among the Stoneburner Tribe. “Are you all right?”
Kenji bowed his head. “I’ll live Mother Eliza.”
Eliza nodded. “Good. We should catch our breath here before climbing down.”

Epic title quest!

by Richard Perkins

After completing my first writing week on my second novel, I turn my thoughts to that all-important element of novel development: the title! Because calling it WIP, or Eliza’s Story somehow lacks the attention-grabbing zing an epic fantasy title requires. And there’s no way I’m calling it Renegade’s Door 2: The Sequel. ;-)

Any suggestions from my readers, humorous or otherwise? Here’s the thumbnail sketch:

Eliza, our gutsy medicine woman on the go, struggles to come to grips with a budding power over the energy that divides life from death, while coping with the loss of her lover, an conflicted man she only knew for a short time before he was stripped away from her by his own vengeful order of elemental mages. Left alone to bear and raise the child of their brief union, she must face the unfamiliar world of political intrigue, brewing rebellion, and shifting alliances, while protecting herself and her son from misguided powers that seek to control his destiny.

Catchy, no? Too long for a title though. The right tag line will come to me… eventually. In the mean time, drop your own suggestions in the comment box.

My first week of writing has gone well. I’ve managed to stick to my words per day target, by and large. Which means that I should be on track to reach 90,000 words and the end of my outline by midnight on July 31st. I had about 15,000 words and five scenes completed last night. Here’s the trend chart, for those of you who, like me, prefer your numbers in picture form. Cheers from the wannabe author!

julno-statsPS – After getting rejected by Tor, my Renegade’s Door manuscript is on its way to DAW Books. Submission Editor Peter Stampfel is likely to reject it also, but who knows? Wish me luck!

Any cartoonists in the audience?

by Richard Perkins

ShellyT over at Futurism Now has posted a sobering article on the key findings of the Global Climate Change Impacts Report released this week. In her discussion she compares the stubborn but influential group of climate change deniers to the three wise monkeys, Mizaru, Kikazaru, and Iwazaru. Or as they are more commonly known to us westerners, see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil.

I suggested that if climate change deniers would only cover their mouths as much as they cover their eyes and ears, the rest of us might finally be able to make some progress averting the coming catastrophe. Which would be a great topic for an editorial cartoon, if only I was a better artist.

I imagine a scene with the monkeys in business suits, with Big Coal name badges or hats. See No and Hear No could be ignoring an expert presentation of climate change impacts, while Speak No could be interrupting with suggestions of clean coal. He would of course, be covering his own butt instead of his mouth.

How about it? Are any of my readers cartoonists? Why not sketch up your idea and attach it in a comment?

Back in the saddle

by Richard Perkins

Eliza OutlineI’m back in the thick of it again. Eliza just couldn’t wait for JulNoWriMo to start. Protagonists can be so pushy sometimes, can’t they? So with the outline, character descriptions, and scene mapping for the sequel to the Renegade’s Door, I started writing again yesterday.

The picture to the left is the plot scene tree for the new story, much like the one I did for Renegade’s Door last October. This one is a bit more evolved than my first attempt. Renegade started out with an outline of only 10-15 scenes, but by the time I finished revisions for scene flow and continuity there were 24 scenes in the first novel.

I added a lot of material after the first draft. Throughout the revisions I felt like I was just padding the word count to get the novel up to a marketable length. So for this second novel I’m targeting a 90,000 word first draft. Then during the revision process I can focus on trimming the fat, tightening up the prose, and dumping the fluff that doesn’t moving the story along. Steven King advises that a second draft should be a lot like a first draft told with 10% fewer words in his autobiography, On Writing. If I can manage that, Eliza’s story should weigh in at 80,000 words after revision, which is just a little bit longer than Mikel’s story from Renegade.

Aiming for a 90,000 word draft for a month long novel writing contest like JulNo seemed like a tall order. To get there, I increased my daily word count target from 1667 (NaNoWriMo levels) to 1915 words per day and started writing two week ahead of the official contest start date. This way I’ll finish the last 63,000 words of the new novel during JulNo (which still qualifies as a win accordign to JulNo rules).

Of course writing over 1900 words a day for 47 straight days will be a challenge. I maintained that pace for NaNo for only 27 days last November. Wish me luck!

Looking for a sneak peek? Here’s a rough (extremely rough) look at the opening scene. Enjoy! :-)

Sand Dragon Dance

18th of the 3rd moon of Spring, 283 SC

Eliza tumbled forward as the stone beneath her outstretched hand crumbled beneath her weight. A fissure of light stabbed painfully at her eyes, widening as the wall of the soot-stained vent she had been climbing disintegrated. Helpless to stop herself, she pitched out into the glaring desert sunlight, blind to the sands that rushed to stop her skidding descent.

She felt a wrenching jolt across her hips and jerked to a halt. She felt strangely reassured that the stars had returned as her vision went dark again. Then the pinpricks of light faded and her eyes started to adjust to the harsh, desert light. Bands of dark and light appeared first, and then color seeped back into the world around her. She almost wept with relief as she recognized the rusty red of stone outcroppings, the sweeping gold of windswept sands above her, and theĀ  vivid blue of cloudless sky beneath her.

Wait, that wasn’t right. And what was that tension gripping her hips like the jaws of a mother wolf on the scruff of a wayward cub? Eliza marshaled her scattered thoughts with an effort.

“All-Mother! Mother Eliza, can you hear me! Are you all right?” Kenbo’s gravelly voice, hoarse and ragged, finally broke through the ringing in Eliza’s ears.

She blinked to clear the tears from her eyes, looking toward her waist. A stout length of rope was looped low around her hips, doubled back around each leg just above the thigh and tied in a strong knot below her navel. Right. Her harness. She vaguely remembered tying it but why?

The harness was cinched tight, straining against a tether that stretched into the sky beneath her feet. Eliza’s head spun as she realized the sky wasn’t beneath her. She was hanging upside down on the face of a ragged stone outcropping that reared many spans above the surrounding desert. The tether ran from her harness back through the ragged hole she had punched through the face of the stone chimney during her fall.

“All-Mother! Eliza! Kenji, hold the line while I go after the All-Mother!”

That wasn’t good. The lanky tribesman was sincere and well intentioned, but he wasn’t a climber. Nor was his brother, Kenji. “Ken-”

Her voice failed. Her throat was scraped raw and burned with every word. She coughed wetly and forced herself to be heard. “Stay where you are!”

“Mother Eliza?” Kenji cried out and Eliza heard the scrabble of loose stones cascading down inside the vent as the brothers re-oriented toward her voice.

“I said, stay put!” Eliza reached up to her harness, put one hand on the tether and righted herself in a single, dizzying motion. She waited for her vision to clear again, trying to remember something, something important. She had been climbing blindly for so long, scrambling over stone ledges stained black with foul soot and slicked with glassy nodules of fused crystal. She had wanted to give up more times than she could count, but always she had been pulled upward. She had been led toward the distant light, and she had followed, but followed who… she should know.

A bleat tugged at her awareness and she looked up to find a familiar black, triangular face peering down from a ledge just above the hole she had tumbled through. Eliza breathed a sigh of relief. “Sasha.”

The goat flicked her long ears and bleated as she cocked her head to one side.

“Well, you could have warned me, now couldn’t you?”

Sasha blinked and flicked her ears again as she regarded the bedraggled medicine woman dangling on the wall beneath her. Eliza had never felt happier to see the pack goat’s face, framed as it was by the dazzling blue sky. She chuckled, and suddenly found herself laughing like a mad woman.

“All-Mother? Are you… all right?” Kenbo’s voice cracked, the sound echoing inside the chimney of stone that belched a faint plume of acrid smoke high into the sky above.

Her laughter subsided slowly. But the victorious feeling of being out under the open sky once more remained. “I’m fine Kenbo. Just fine. We made it!” She drummed her heels against the wind-sculpted stone behind her as she stared out over the unfamiliar dune scape of the northern desert. The sense of elation faded as she realized that she couldn’t recognize a single landmark. Every feature of the desert was foreign to her as far as the eye see. How far had they stumbled through those hellish tunnels? How long had it been since she had seen the sky? One night? Two?

Good news and bad news

by Richard Perkins

Ah, the long awaited Dear Author letter. Or not so long awaited in this case.

First the good news: TOR fantasy responded to my submission of The Renegade’s Door two months ahead of schedule. I wasn’t expecting to hear anything until August, so imagine my surprise when I found the SASE from Tom Doherty Associates in my mailbox today. That was, however, the only good news.

Now for the bad news: Remember how you could tell whether your college application had been accepted or rejected, just by feeling by the thickness of the response envelope? This envelope was, sadly, thin.

tor-rejection

I’m surprised only by the speed and efficiency of my rejection. (The phrase turboflush comes to mind…) TOR was always a longshot for me anyway.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t any useful feedback in this rejection. I wasn’t really expecting any from such a large and busy publisher, but a guy can dream, right? I have little idea what specifically torpedoed the novel for them. Did the story outlined in my synopsis seem too cliche or predictable? Was it in a style or genre that’s backlogged or overbooked in their current catalog? Or was the writing in the first few sample chapters just so horribly unreadable that I should stop wasting their time and my own with the whole idea?

I’ll probably never know. But this is an experience that brings me one step closer to being a bone fide author. Every published author has been rejected many times. No matter how successful, most probably will be rejected again at some point in their career. I might as well get used to it now.

And I might as well submit the manuscript to another publisher or two (as well as an agent or three). This time, maybe I’ll find someone willing to pen a few constructive comments with their rejection.

And I suppose there was one other bit of good news: Someone from Tom Doherty Associates actually called me an author. I have it in writing! ;-)