Flash Fiction: Storming the Castle

Castle

Castle

Another quick Flash Fiction story, inspired by three words: „Comfort, Computer, Castle“.

Check out what my brain came up with:

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It was now or never. Ragnar was the first to climb the ladder they had leaned against the high castle wall. He was the first to jump over the parapet and cut down an enemy warrior on the walkway. Moments later, he was joined by his battle buddy Willard who had been right behind him.

In a flurry of slashes and parries, they cleared the walkway, making way for more and more of their own warriors to join the fight.

Ragnar dashed down the stairs to the courtyard and opened the massive wooden gate, Willard guarding his back. As more of their fighters flooded in, they ran ahead to storm the tower, ducking arrows on the way. Resistance was fierce, but Ragnar and Willard overcame all enemies. Moments later, they entered the sunroom where the princess was kept prisoner.

After dispatching her guards, Ragnar gallantly sank to one knee and bowed his head before gently taking the princess‘ hand and leading her to safety. Willard once again guarded his back and slew one wily fighter who crept out of a side room.

The siege was over, the battle was won. The princess had been delivered to her father’s hands.

Ragnar finally sat down with Willard to enjoy the hard-earned victory feast. He had just lifted his tankard of ale, when a loud voice reached his ear.

David, dinner is ready!”

I’m coming, Mom! Just need to save and log out!”

Willard watched in desperation as Ragnar and the great hall melted away before his very eyes. Once again, they were denied their feast… as he was dissolved himself and the pixels were lost in cyberspace.

******************

I would appreciate your thoughts on this piece.

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Flash Fiction: „Dad’s Helping Hand“

graveyard

Graveyard

I wrote this last week, but it’s the perfect Halloween story. Enjoy!

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Leonie decided to go to her father’s grave, to ask for his help. She always did that when stuck in a difficult spot, and it was almost as if he were still alive and she could sit on a stool next to his armchair and just talk.

Except, of course, the grave was in the graveyard, which severely lacked an armchair. But she never failed to bring her stool, and sit on it, pretending she could smell the smoke from his pipe and hear his deep voice.

Dad, I need your help,” she said, perched on her stool. She closed her eyes listening for his answer.

Again? Another rabbit ate your salad? Another hawk got one of your chicken? What is it this time?

I think Gellenia has put a curse against me.” Leonie held on to the indignation she felt, despite the hint of impatience in her father’s voice.

Really? Are you sure?

Yes, I am.” Of course, Gellenia had cursed her.

And what do you want me to do about it?

Punish her! Kill her.”

I shall take care of it. There was a certain finality in her father’s voice.

Thank you.” Leonie sent a wave of gratitude and mimed kisses. Then she got up, picked up her stool and walked home.

She knew the problem would be solved within the hour.

With a little grin on her face, she put away the stool, changed into her better clothes and packed a basket of food. Under it lay the will she had forged, making her the heir. Then she walked over to Gellenia’s cottage.

To her inner eye, a dark cloud hovered over the thatched roof. Her smile got bigger before she quickly erased it.

Yes, soon that lovely cottage would be hers, as well as that fabulous, brown, soft-eyed cow. And the flourishing garden. And her life would finally be good.

She knocked on the door and stepped in without waiting for an answer.

Gellenia was writhing on the floor, to Leonie’s delight.

You!” the stricken woman gasped. “What have I ever done to you?”

Leonie smirked. “You were always better than I was. You won at the village fair all the time. You always took what should have been mine.”

I worked for it,” Gellinia managed to say. “For the memory of my mother.”

Leonie put her basket on the table and knelt next to the middle-aged woman. “Liar,” she hissed. “You did it to spite my father and me. You couldn’t bear he became mayor after your father died, and you lost all the privilege.”

Gellinia simply shook her head and closed her eyes, forcing the words out. “The Goddess knows that isn’t true. See that you don’t lose everything you think to gain.”

You dare to threaten me?” Leonie reached out, intending to throttle the women, then thought better of it. Why hasten her death? She might as well enjoy her father’s work. She sat back and watched Gellinia writhe in her death throes.

What curse did she set on you?

Leonie looked up, not expecting her father to still linger around after sealing her enemy’s fate. “Everything I touch withers and dies,” she said, allowing her anger to show. “It must be her. She has been sucking the life out of everything I ever did.”

It wasn’t her.

Leonie stared. “Who else?”

You did it yourself. Your petty jealousy and spite blighted your life. Her father’s voice sounded harsher than ever in life.

What?” Leonie jumped to her feet. “I? How dare you blame me!”

I watched you. I helped you, hoping you’d be grateful. Hoping you’d change. But instead you got worse, and now you’ve tried to use me to murder Gellinia.

Her heart twisted inside her chest, and she sank to her knees.

This is intolerable.

A moment later, it was Leonie who was writhing on the floor, her chest on fire, her breath ragged.

Gellinia, on the other hand, suddenly took a deep breath and sat up, looking stunned.

Leonie, I’m not your father.

As Leonie’s senses faded, she heard the disembodied voice once more.

I am the Guardian of this village.

The END

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Finale for Harp and Voice – a teaser

Here be Dragons

Here be Dragons

Today, I’d like to offer you a couple of paragraphs of my short story „Finale for Harp and Voice“. It’s part of my short story collection „Here be Dragons“.

It was first printed in its German incarnation in a little anthology called „Diebe Drachen und Dämonen“. I then translated it into English and published it myself.

The main character of the tale is Lirandal, centaur and bard. Sadly, he can tell that his best days are already behind him. His greatest wish is to write one more ballad to dazzle his audience with. This is what he gets… not knowing the price he will pay.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Taking one deep breath, Lirandal concentrated on his ballad […], With a sudden movement, he raised his head and struck the first chord.

The low murmor of conversation died away. Lirandal noticed it with satisfaction. A little later he was completely enthralled in his ballad, being only peripherally aware of the great hall. His fingers danced across the strings, his voice was as full and strong as he had always wanted it to be.

He sang about a dare-devil princess who went out into the world to live through many great adventures. She had to pass several tests, use dozens of tricks and overcome countless enemies before winning the love of her life and returning home with him. Lirandal gathered all his might for the brilliant finale, her wedding. He took a deep breath, then he lifted his voice up into the rafters of the roof. He held the final, happy note for a long time, only gradually letting it dwindle to a whisper before finally silencing the strings of his harp.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Of course, much happens before Lirandal can step onto the stage for this, and more happens after he finishes the ballad…

You can read the whole story in my collection „Here be Dragons“, which is available on Amazon as ebook and print, as well as Nook, iBooks, Kobo and Tolino (Books2Read).

Plus here are seven more stories in that collection for you to enjoy.

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How to Find your Title

Goldener Drachenkopf

Just a Dragon.

So yesterday, I finished writing a little short story. It takes place in the Cloud Lands Saga world, and is about a side character. In fact, it’s a little adventure in his youth, which does help to understand how he became the man he is in the series.

And now the little story needs a title.

Which made me think about titles and how I go about them. And maybe you’re interested in the thought process. So these are things I tend to think of when mulling title ideas.

1. The title needs to be connected to the story

This is not quite as idiotic as it seems. I’ve seen titles that had nothing to do with the story. They were just meant to catch attention. Of course, that can really mislead readers and lead to disappointment, if not anger.

So the title needs to have a connection to the story, and it needs to express something of the story. In my case, it gets the main character’s name.

2. The title must not give away the solution

My little story is about a rescue. But if I put that word into the title, it totally gives away the solution. In fact, making the rescue possible is the whole challenge for the main character. If I put „rescue“ into the title, I take away the challenge, at least for the reader.

The story would become boring. And that’s why the story won’t be called „Dragon Rescue“.

3. The title should create interest or curiousity

Now, in this story, I assume that my readers have read the series and are aware of one of the biggest longings of the main character, and how far it is out of his reach. Just to make sure, it is expressed in the story, as well.

But in fact, the title I have in mind states something that should not be normal for that particular character. And that’s why it should generate curiosity at least for the people familiar with the world and the series, because the person’s title is „wrong“ for the one they got to know in the series.

Which is also why I put the the character’s name in the title I have in mind.

4. The title needs to be short and to the point

There are exceptions. One that comes to mind is „The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime“. Of course, that title works especially well in combination with the main character of that novel, and it’s certainly unusual enough to draw attention to it.

The same goes for „The Martian“, on the other hand, because as far as we know, there are no Martians. And this one is definitely short, catchy and interesting.

In addition, a short and catchy title helps people remember the book and the story.

I got the name of „The Curious Incident…“ wrong when tried to remember it and had to google it to give you the correct version. This is important because you want your readers to recommend your book to their friends, and if the title is too difficult to remember, that’s a problem.

5. The title should be unique

This is not easy at all. There are billions of books out there, and there is no way to check them all. But it’s a good idea to google your intended title. I did that for a German novel I wrote („Finderlohn“), and discovered there is a book with that title out there written by Stephen King.

*sigh*

So my book gained a subtitle. Because while it’s nice to have your book high up in search results, the potential for confusion is just as high. And you don’t want confused or angry readers.

So what is the title of the story I wrote?

„Prince Elsen’s Ride“

And I’ll let you know how you can get it as soon as I have it formatted and all that.

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Kraken War

When my friend Ashley showed me her draft for the cover of „Kraken War“, I stared.

You see, I thought we’d see Prince Orlen on the cover, since he is getting quite a part in the book. And because he matters so much for Dorelle.

But that wan, worn person on the cover was NOT how I had seen Orlen in my mind.

I liked the feel of the cover. Dramatic, mysterious, dangerous… it goes well with what happens in Kraken War.

But that guy…

I spent hours digging through Shutterstock, looking for my Prince. Looking for a picture that would stir my blood like Orlen does for Dorelle.

Nothing.

And finally, it dawned on me.

That guy on the cover is not Prince Orlen. Never was. Didn’t even try to be.

Because that man is Debesh.

Originally, I thought Debesh a little taller, but definitely thin. Or slender (much nicer word).

And then I thought about what I do to Debesh in the book. How much I hurt him. And how much I admire his tenacity, he sheer pig-headedness, his… loyalty, through everything I throw at him. He may not be imposing physically, not at first sight.

Yet Debesh is tough. Resilitent. Doing what must be done – very much like Dorelle, really. I love that guy. (That’s why he got to live, too. I just couldn’t kill him.)

Seeing him draw his sword like that while being weary and tired of fighting – that spoke to my heart.

And so I fell in love with the cover, and yes, I changed the story a little so the guy on the cover matches my description of Debesh.

And here you are:

Kraken War Cover

„Kraken War“

What do you think?

Let me know in a comment.

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The New Look of „Dorelle’s Journey“

Today, I want to talk a little about the new cover and the new interior design of „Dorelle’s Journey“.

You see, I liked the original cover. I wasn’t that thrilled with the interior graphics, but the whole book looked nice and cool with all of the chapter headers and break graphics. I had hired people to do that for me, and I got what I paid for.

I still don’t regret that choice. I made it from where I was then, and it was okay. It was the best I could do then.

But there were hints that maybe the cover and design weren’t as good as they could have been. That maybe they didn’t quite fit the story.

You see, I got one review on a big, influential review site where the reviewer thought my characters were young teenagers. Granted, part of that was because the site categorized my story as „children’s“ since it doesn’t contain much swearing or sex.

Young teenagers. Soldiers. Commanders. Fighters. Really?

It totally shocked me. My books are fantasy adventures, the series does move on to contain some sex and mild swearing (I invented new swear words), and it certainly wasn’t intended for children. And Dorelle is in her mid-twenties, and Ferren, her Wing Commander is in his mid-thirties, at least in my imagination.

And I started to wonder why someone would have that impression (aside from reading the Hunger Games…). Seriously. Teenagers? Kid Lit? My tale?

Enter the cover and the cute, swirly interior graphics.

Stuff you find in children’s books.

And you don’t find these things in serious, epic or classic fantasy for adults. In fact, the cover was just too sweet, as well. No real drama. Nothing to draw a reader in, despite the mysterious castle and the swooping dragons. I did like the sailing ship because it does show up in the story. But there just isn’t much drama with that bland background.

Now, in the meantime, designing an ebook or the interior of a print book has become much, much easier with the advent of Jutoh and reasonable CreateSpace templates. And let me mention the integrated PDF function of LibreOffice, which makes it even easier. Yes, it embeds the fonts you’re using. Yes, CreateSpace is happy with the PDF.

When I found someone to create new covers, the decision was clear.

The entire dragon series would get a facelift.

I wrote about that about a month ago. The facelift is practically done, and I’m working hard to get the fourth and final part of the series ready for publication.

Over the course of a few days, Ashley, my cover designer, and I put together the new cover for „Dorelle’s Journey“. I scoured Shutterstock for a picture of an archer who fit my sense of Dorelle – a clear-headed, no-nonsense, dragon-loving independet fighter. Ashley offered a cute, pouty girl, a fairy-type archer, and I just couldn’t see her as Dorelle. „My“ Dorelle isn’t cute. She’s tough and does what she has to do.

So I picked the archer who is now on the cover (not that there was much choice, mind you). Ashely removed the ugly orange glove she’s wearing in the original, but the bow is still a tad too modern (like I said, little choice so this is a compromise). And I think Ashley created a fantastic atmosphere of drama and tension for the cover, including that dragon winging across it. I’m still fascinated by the complex background, too.

Now, I also picked the font myself, and it will be the signature font for Hannah Steenbock (love how that name comes out in it!). Yet I’m not entirely happy with the all-caps title since the swirly capital letters don’t work that well in all-caps. For now, however, it’ll stand. And Ashley did an amazing silver effect on the letters that I utterly love.

So here I proudly present the new cover for Dorelle’s Journey:

Title Picture for "Dorelle's Journey"

„Dorelle’s Journey“

 

I did all the work on the ebook and the print interior myself. And of course, with print, you want a clean, readable font and no nonsense. For an ebook, choices are even less, since most eReaders pick a font for you. Basically, with an ebook, you can choose either serif or non-serif, and that’s about it.

So the ebook is plain Times New Roman. Very simple. Nothing to take attention away from the story itself. No graphics that blow up file size…

And for the print, I used the title font for the chapter headers, and plain, old boring Times New Roman for the text. The Chapter Headers are the only fancy stuff in it. Here’s a pic:

Chapter Header Chapter One

Chapter Header of the print version

 

And that’s how I like it. Simple, a little elegant, and definitely Fantasy.

So that’s what I’ve been up to with my dragon books. I hope you’ll get interested enough to check them out.

Here’s a link that’ll take you to your Amazon store: „Dorelle’s Journey“. And if you have read and enjoyed the tale – let me know! Any questions, too! (Same goes for any typos, errors and mistakes, of course.)

I’m looking forward to your comments.

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The Cloud Lands Saga Month

Exciting times lie ahead:

The Cloud Lands Saga books are getting a face-lift.

In fact, I’m completely re-formatting them, and my wonderful friend Ashley Fontainne is creating new covers for them. (And I’m fixing some typos, ahem.)

I can’t wait to show off those covers. I think they are amazing – and I will devote a blog post to each cover when the books go live.

I’m releasing one per week this month.

But – I hear you say – there are four weeks in the month of March.

Indeed.

And that’s why in week four, I will release the latest and final part of The Cloud Lands Saga: „Betrayal“

Watch Dorelle and Debesh deal with exile in the Cloud Lands. And watch Ferren spin evil plans and wander into full treason…

Soon.

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Some Thoughts on Sex

Love

Love

You don’t know me – Joanna Steenen – yet, but I write erotic Romance, and I’m about to self-publish my first couple of stories. Now „erotic“ means explicit, so yes, I describe clearly what’s happening in bed in those stories. And I describe the feelings during the act.

Which is often considered „dirty“ or „disgusting“ or even „taboo“.

Part of me wonders if that’s because it can be so wonderful? I mean, isn’t orgasm wonderful? Delightful? Pure joy?

Medically, it’s good for you, too. It brings down blood pressure, for example.

So why is it considered dirty?

I believe it is the very level of enjoyment that causes this reaction. You see, Protestants and Calvinists believed that the world is a sad place by design. A dreadful place, intended to teach us humility and obedience to God. A lifelong test of our virtue.

And anything fun, beautiful or joyful thus must come from Satan, the enemy of God. So sex, arguably one of the most enjoyable things in the world, must have come from the devil. And thus it must be dirty, sinful and avoided, because that is what Satan is.

And the only way it can ever be allowed is as a joyless duty with the single purpose of procreation.

But what if they got it completely wrong?

What if sex, if orgasm is actually a gift of God?

A gift helping us to enjoy our physical shape while we’re down here on Earth. Maybe life down here isn’t about suffering at all. Maybe it is about love, being together, creating life together, in all possible manners.

Because here’s another aspect of sex: It is most delightful when both are enjoying it. Trusting each other, opening to each other. Then you can get the kind of mindmeld and bodymeld that is only possible through sex.

This is sacred connection.

And the only sin with sex – if we take this point of view – is to be disconnected from each other. Is to ignore the other, their feelings, their desire, their needs, and just taking pleasure for yourself.

Taking this thought to the extreme, rape is the ultimate sin, taking sacred sex and turning it into an egotrip.

What would happen if we consider sex to be sacred?

Something to be shared, created on purpose and enjoyed?

Prostitution would be a sin, too, because there is no mutual commitment. Rapists would be considered immature, egoistical criminals, and punishment would be severe. It could no longer be seen as „boys will be boys“ on a slightly bigger scale. It would be seen as betrayal of something sacred. (Which it should be even now!)

It might even change our society. If sex is no longer dirty and something to hide away, if gentle, caring connections with others were something to be absolutely desired – how would people change?

How would life be if we value our intimate connection to others above all?

I have no idea. I haven’t gotten that far, but I would certainly like to explore such a world.

What do you think?

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Finderlohn – Ein Konrad Zarezky Roman

Finderlohn

Finderlohn

Entstanden ist der erste Entwurf für dieses Buch im November 2006, während NaNoWriMo. Ich habe es dann ein paar Monate später fertiggestellt, überarbeitet und schließlich meiner Agentur gezeigt.

Die hielt es für nicht vermarktbar.

Dann lag es etliche Jahre in der Schublade, auch nachdem ich den Vertrag mit der Agentur aufgelöst hatte.

Den entscheidenden Impuls, jetzt doch endlich dranzugehen und den Roman zu veröffentlichen, gab mir übrigens mein Vater. Er war es, der mit mir losfuhr, um den Ort des großen Showdowns am Kyffhäuer zu inspizieren. Geschrieben hatte ich die Szenen nämlich nur anhand von Bildern aus Google Earth. (Die Seite ist eine großartige Quelle für Landschaftsszenen).

Und als wir dann im Nieselregen zurück zum Auto gingen – das übrigens genau dort geparkt war, wo auch Konrad im Roman sein Auto parkt – nahm mir mein Vater das Versprechen ab, das Buch im nächsten Jahr (2016) zu veröffentlichen. Das habe ich nicht ganz geschafft, aber immerhin, jetzt ist es als eBuch erschienen.

Viel Spaß damit.

Amazon DE
Amazon US

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Musings – What can an Author do?

Flying to the Stars

Flying to the Stars

Like most of us, I expected the 21st century to be good. I thought a lot of the amazing things from Star Trek and other SF would come true, or be closer to becoming reality.

And we dreamed about all of it.

I thought we’d make amazing technological progress as well as getting better as a society. Equal rights. Eliminate hunger. Educate all children. And of course, all of this:

Flying cars.
Clean, limitless energy.
A society that is inclusive and caring.
Space explorations.
A Moon colony.
And possibly, maybe, clear steps towards peace on Earth.

And we truely do have amazing things:

Pocket computers
Free video phone calls
Self-driving cars (they are coming)
Solar energy
Private space companies
Indie publishing

And yet, 17 years into this brilliant, bright, exciting new century… the world looks dark and threatening.

This year is starting out much, much darker than I ever expected.

Authoritarianism on the rise.
Populist parties everywhere.
Democracies losing fundamental elements.
Hungaria, Turkey, Egypt, Poland.
Wars. Syria still tearing itself apart.
ISIS
Brexit.
Russia, which never really was much of a democracy… working to destabilize the West
And now the big elephant in the room: America.

It seems the American people elected (in the way the system works) an archeype of American society: A con man. A gangster boss. A dye-in-the-wool, brutal, selfish capitalist who will recklessly plunder his own land and as much of others as he can, and pocket the dollars himself.

Suddenly, this bright, new century looks like a repetition of the ones before.

Dark beginnings.

1814/15 Congress of Vienna, the attempt to resore order after the devastating Napoleonic Wars
1914-18 First World War, with horrible casualties and the first use of chemical warfare
2017… we don’t know yet, but I’m scared of an almost casual use of nuclear weapons – worst case scenario… imagine a single, strategic nuke dropped on Beijing, eliminating China’s government… someone might get away with it… blackmail the rest of the world for a while. Until we have an all-out war.

Dark times.

So what can an author do?

What can I do?

I know that people usually don’t want to read dark stories in dark times.

Which means I should spend my time writing fun adventures with happy endings. Stories that help my readers escape the fear of what is going on in the world right now.

But shouldn’t I do more? Isn’t there a responsibility to teach? To encourage? To motivate?

To stand up for my values and convictions, but how?

How can I make it matter?

What do you do, fellow authors?

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