Story Editing Services for Hire!

EditingGlasses682My brand new editing website is now live and I’m accepting clients for story editing, proofreading and general editing services. I’ve decided to take my 17 years as a writer, editor and teacher and put them to good use helping other people make their fiction the best it can be. I love telling stories, and I love helping other people tell stories too, so it’s a great new direction.

If you or someone you know is in need of an editor, please send them my way. My rates are reasonable, my fingers are fast, and my red pen is always sharp!

Rob

 

Ghost Hunt

I just finished watching Ghost Hunt on Netflix, and I have to say I’m really sad there’s only one season. In addition to having one of the coolest opening songs of any anime (see above video) it’s a really unique series- a semi-realistic ghost hunting TV series. This is likely because it wasn’t conceived as an anime, but a light novel series by author Fuyumi Ono, and as a result it’s more grounded than most anime. (With the exceptions of File #4 and File #5, which are radically out of place with the rest of the series, and were likely written as filler episodes by the anime production staff.)

For those not familiar with the series, Ghost Hunt is a supernatural thriller anime about an extremely mixed group of spiritualists who are united by their employer, a science-based spiritual researcher who goes by the nickname Naru. Each story is a multi-part supernatural mystery (a novel broken into parts) with twists and turns and unexpected surprises. You can never be quite sure what the real culprit is, and this gives the series a fresh and creepy feeling that most supernatural shows lack, much less anime. The combination of reading on actual psychic research the author has obviously done while mixing it with just the right amount of fantasy helps heighten the realism of the show and makes it feel more solid. This, in turn, makes the whole thing creepier and more thrilling at certain points, and I have to say that it’s one of the very few anime that have ever given me chills.

Anyhow, if you get the chance to watch it, it’s highly recommended. It has its silly points, but they’re really outweighed by the quality of the series. It’s too bad the author didn’t put out enough books for them to do a second season (although rumor has it she might be returning to it soon), especially since the mystery of psychic dreams of the viewpoint character, Mai, isn’t answered during the run of the series. I had to read the comic adaptations of the further novels to learn the answer to that particular mystery.

Give it a look, it’s the perfect Anime for Halloween!

Rob

Rob Takes Up Freelance Editing- My Eye and Quill for Hire!

I’ve decided to make myself available for freelance editing jobs, starting with an ad on Fiverr.com offering 999 words edited for just $5! What a steal! In addition, if anyone has any other editing jobs they’d like done, please feel free to contact me directly as rob_paterson@hotmail.com and put “Editing” in the Subject line. For eBooks, I’ll edit a single chapter for free as a sample before we discuss prices.

Rob

Star Wars Rebels Premiers!

This past weekend, the new CGI animated series Star Wars:REBELS premiered on the Disney XD app with the first two episodes strung together into a “movie” (which is all of 43 minutes long…). It’s basically the story of how Aladdin comes to join the crew of The Firefly and…err…I mean how EZRA comes to join the crew of the GHOST and fight against the evil oppressive Empire. I wish I was joking, but ever since someone online referred to Ezra as Aladdin, I can’t not see him as Aladdin in space, they even refer to him as a “street rat” during the episode, like they want us to make the connection or something.

As first episode stories go, it’s a confused mess of bad tactics and jumps in logic mixed with lots of action, which means it’s pretty typical and not bad. I’d actually say it’s a better first episode than Clone Wars had, and Clone Wars turned out to be pretty fun series, so I have some hopes for this one. (Having the same creative team from Clone Wars mixed with the creative team for Young Justice gives me extra hope.) On the downside, the core story looks to be another Jedi-Padawan training story, but that can’t be helped since Jedi sell toys and without the Jedi the Star Wars universe is pretty a pretty generic Sci-Fi setting.

I’ll keep watching to see where this one goes. It has real potential, and I trust the people in charge, so it could be a good ride. Rebels premiers on regular TV next week, and with this and the final season of Legend of Korra starting next weekend (officially) it looks like I’m going to have some good weekend TV to look forward to each week!

Rob

Why I Hate Football Plots

I hate Football Plots.

I hate them with the passion of a thousand suns.

What are Football Plots?

Football Plots are when the whole story centers around a piece of information (or item), and the story is basically about the characters trying to get that “Football” to the other end of the “field” while avoiding the people trying to stop them.

Now when you read that, the first thing that might come to mind (if you’re a geek) is Lord of the Rings (Frodo tries to get a ring to Mount Doom while dodging Orcs) or perhaps even Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Luke tries to get the plans to the Death Star to the Rebels) and while yes, those do fit the criteria I list above, real Football Plots take it to a whole other level.

I first noticed Football Plots when I was watching Korean Historical Dramas, and they are masters of the Football Plot. In a typical Korean Historical Drama, very often a character will find out a piece of information (say X is a spy for the enemy) and then the moment they find out that piece of information the whole world turns against them. Why does the world turn against them? Because if the character were able to say a single sentence to the right person, then the whole plot would end there and then. So, as a result, anything and everything has to happen to keep that character from being able to give that piece of information to the right person until the appointed time (or page count) in the plot.

This commonly includes:

  • Being interrupted before they can speak.
  • People falling sick at bad times.
  • Old enemies being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Friends (temporarily) turning against them for plot-convenient reasons.
  • Family members who have known them their whole lives suddenly not trusting them.
  • The people they need being in hard to reach locations at just that moment.
  • The people they need being distracted by something else at just that moment.
  • Nobody believing them.
  • Doing things that they’d know they shouldn’t do if they just stopped and thought about it for a moment.
  • Accidents happening at just the wrong time.
  • Everything they’ve ever done wrong in their life coming back to haunt them at just that time.
  • Amnesia.
  • Being Kidnapped.
  • Misunderstandings with almost everyone around them.
  • Just missing the people they need to see.
  • And every other possible coincidence you can imagine that would prevent them from being able to pass that one piece of information along.

Now, while a few of these in a story is hardly a cause for annoyance (they’re tricks for building drama, and they work) if you use too many of them, it can quickly turn a dramatic and thrilling plot into a silly soap opera where the audience feels strung along, and when it reaches this level I call it a Football Plot because that’s all it is, an endless series of plays and interceptions as Character B tries to stop Character A from talking to Character C. Of course, in a real Football game, a single goal doesn’t decide the whole game, but here it does, which is part of the problem.

Football Plots are inherently weak, because they’re dependent on a single action. To give an example, I’ve seen Korean Dramas where twenty or more episodes of plot could literally have been skipped or avoided if Character A said “I’m sorry” to Character C. Literally skipped, as in it would have made no difference to the story whatsoever overall, and wouldn’t have changed the characters or their relationships. That was twenty episodes (20 HOURS, give or take) of time and events which didn’t need to happen, but did because the writers wanted to pad the show out, thus a Football Plot was used to fill time and create fake drama.

And this is one of my main problems with them, most of the time they’re used there’s no reason to use them at all, except to create fake drama where it feels like something exciting is happening, but in reality there’s nothing important going on. They just serve as filler to keep a story moving that otherwise should have ended a long time ago. Of course, sometimes they really do have consequences, but even then they can run off the rails and into “Why Does God Hate Me?” territory.

“Why Does God Hate Me?” is a type of Football Plot where the main characters are trying to accomplish a goal that is important to everyone involved, but literally everything that can go wrong goes wrong to ridiculous levels, as though God has a hate-on for the main character(s) and is betting on their opposition to win. This is usually the result of the writer taking the old writer’s adage “Put your characters in trees and throw rocks at them” and turning it into “Put your characters in trees and shoot at them with a 50 calibre minigun”.

And, lest you’re thinking “Oh ho! Those silly Koreans and their crazy Dramas” this whole post was inspired by one of the most beloved of American speculative fiction writers- Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files and Codex Alera series. For at the moment I’m reading his almost 700 page novel The Furies of Calderon (Book One of Codex Alera), and it is one of the most maddening examples of a “Why Does God Hate Me?” Football Plot I’ve ever seen. One that would make the Korean drama writers point fingers and laugh ironically.

How bad it is?

Well, you see that list up there. The list of crazy weekday afternoon soap-opera plot twists that you were probably mocking a moment ago as you read it? Well, Butcher does ALL of those twists in the first 400 pages of the book, and we’ve still got another 300 to go.

Go back and look at that list.

Then think- ALL of it, to the main characters, in 400 pages.

All because if the main characters spoke to the wrong person for five seconds, the whole story would come to a screeching halt and the heroes would win. So he’s pulling out every single trick he can think of to keep that from happening, while at the same time giving his villains every bit of good luck they can handle.

Actual condensed (non-spoiler) scene from the story:

Villain: This sucks. I’m randomly lost in the middle of nowhere, the heroes will win and have no shoes.
(A messenger carrying the information the villain can’t have get out happens to pass that exact spot out of the whole valley at that moment, and the villain kills him.)
Villain: Hurray! Now I have stopped my enemies, know where I am, and have gained shoes!

This is sandwiched next to a scene where the heroes almost reach their goal, and a literal random act of god knocks them back halfway across the story field for no reason except to keep the plot from stopping there and then.

I swear, I nearly threw the book at the wall at that point. But I like my wall.

It’s a decently written book, with interesting characters and ideas, but my god is it one of the most maddening things I have read in a long time. The heroes get almost no breaks (except in ways which don’t threaten to prematurely end the plot), and the villains get all the breaks they need to keep the plot going and people running around. A good story should have a balance between successes and failures that keep the reader interested and make them believe that what they’re reading is there for a reason, not just to keep a weak plot alive.

Which I guess is why I hate Football Plots so much. They’re usually more flash than substance, and aren’t really giving the reader anything new, just stringing them along until the writer can get their payoff. They’re the opposite of creativity, and a cheat.

Now, as I said before, there’s nothing wrong with using some dramatic twists to keep the reader interested and make the main character’s life interesting, in fact you need to throw a few in, but like a good chef, you need to know just the right amount of spice to use to make the dish nourishing and tasty at the same time. A Football Plot is all icing and no cake, and that makes Rob an unhappy boy.

Rob

Reading for Better Writing

Occasionally, I get asked by students who want to write fiction what they should read to become better writers. My immediate answer to this question is always the same- On Writing by Stephen King. It’s THE book by one of the greatest literary craftsmen of the last hundred years, and in itself almost functions as a perfect introduction to the art of writing fiction.

However, what about once you’re ready for something a little more advanced than King’s essential starter?

Until recently, my answer was to recommend people read Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder, it’s a book on scriptwriting, but much of what’s in that book applies to writers of fiction just as well. Snyder’s unique Genres are a great tool for focusing your story, and his master plot outline can bring a story into clear (if formulaic) shape. However, it’s a book of structure and tips, not so much about the nuts and bolts of writing fiction, and that always left a bit of a gap.

Well, now I have something to fill that gap- advice that will take an author’s writing to the next level, or at least give them piles of tips from the hands of another master writer.

36 Writing Essays by Chuck Palahniuk

As the name suggests, this is a collection of writing essays by Chuck Palahniuk originally done for the writing site Litreactor.com. They were done between 2005 and 2007 on a monthly basis. Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, is the writing teacher you wish you had, and the advice he gives as he pulls back the curtain in those essays is invaluable to anyone who wants to write fiction. He’s the graduate class to Stephen King’s undergraduate class, and I cannot overstate what an effect reading those essays had on my own approach to writing.

I highly recommend anyone who has started writing, and perhaps finished a few stories, to go and find a copy of that essay collection. The official collection is only available on Litreactor.com as part of a paid membership, which I recommend you go for, however if you’re lacking in cash there are a number of bootleg collections floating around if you do a simple search. These essays will be most helpful to people who have written a bit already, and are meant for people who are serious about writing, but if you are they’re worth every second you spend reading them.

Palahniuk also starting writing occasional new essays for Litreactor.com, such as this gem about thought verbs, and it will give you an idea of what to expect. It was the reason I sought out more of his writing advice in the first place.

Happy Writing!

Rob

 

Crocodile Princess Excerpt 3/3- The Happy Ox Inn

For these three days, I’ll be posting three chapters as an excerpt from my newly released novel Little Gou and the Crocodile Princess, available now wherever eBooks are sold!

Crocodile Princess  Front-med

——-

Chapter 18- The Happy Ox Inn

It was late afternoon when it happened.

Baking under the mid-day sun, most of the crew had retreated under the shade offered by the sail and superstructure as the ship cut through the green waters of the canal. Meiyu had let herself doze in the heat, but the Lin clan members were still up and awake around her, watching for trouble. They were an extremely careful lot. With only a few exceptions she had noticed that they ate only their own dried rations to make sure no-one could poison them, and there were always two of them awake at any given time.

At the moment, Madam Lin was the one sleeping, while Dancing Blade watched Meiyu and Dancing Cloud ate. The dried meat and pickled vegetables had a strong, pungent odor to them that made most of the people around her move far away.

Then, without warning, one of the four horses tied in the center suddenly let out a cry and started thrashing around. Everyone who had been asleep was instantly awake, and the crew erupted into worried shouts as the animal began to kick and try to pull itself free. This also upset the other horses, who began to react by pulling away and trying to escape from their panicked brother.

Four large, upset animals anywhere is a problem, but on a boat only five arm-spans wide it could be a disaster. So, the Lin clan members leapt into immediate action, with Dancing Blade rushing for the horse which had started the problem, while Dancing Cloud and Madam Lin rushed into try and separate the other three horses from their disturbed brother.

As this happened, Meiyu was watching in fascination, but then felt a hand on her shoulder. Looking up, she saw one of the boatmen, who laid a finger in front of his lips.

“You have a beautiful voice songbird, but moreso, you have a clever way with verses. Child of the great Crocodile of White Fox Town, is it? We have great respect for him, and would do anything to help his child stuck in a time of need.” He produced a small knife that he used to cut her bonds. “Fly, little songbird. While you have the chance.”

In an instant, she was free, and she did the first thing that came to mind- she jumped up, ran to the edge of the boat and jumped off.

Hitting the cool water, she took a moment to kick off her shoes, and then swam up to the surface. The boat had already sailed past her, but there was no sign any of the Lins had noticed she was gone- yet. Seizing the moment, she began to swim as fast as she could for a clump of bushes near the shore. Once there, she used the plants as cover while she crept out of the murky canal and headed into the forest beyond.

Being Northerners from the dry plains, she considered it likely that her former captors couldn’t swim, which meant they would have to get the boat to shore to follow her. That would buy her time, but even more importantly, they wouldn’t know which side of the canal she was on. With just three of them, it would be hard for them to pursue her on both sides, and that gave her odds she could work with.

They would have horses, but they were also strangers to the central plains, which meant that the locals wouldn’t be as inclined to help them as they would her. If she could just find a large enough town, she could get help from some of her family’s allies.

For now, Meiyu just focused on running as fast as her bare feet could carry her.

***

Last Brother Shou had seen everything.

Sitting atop a horse on a nearby hilltop that looked down on the canal, he and his two companions had watched as the girl jumped from the boat and fled into the forest beyond.

They had tracked the Lin clan members to the place where they’d gotten passage on the riverboat, and spent most of the day following the boat’s slow passage along the canal. It wasn’t hard for their horses to overtake the boat, and they’d been content with pacing it and waiting for it to make landfall so they could make their move.

Now that was in the past, and their quarry was again escaping them on the other side of the canal.

Shou frowned. “Is there a crossing near here?”

He looked at Xiao, and Xiao looked at Mah.

Mah said nothing.

“Then we find one.” Shou said, bringing his horse around and gesturing ahead of them along the road. “She’ll head for the nearest town, we’ll catch her there.”

***

“This’ll do. Thank you.”

Meiyu hopped from the cart and bowed a more formal thank you to the old farmer who’d been kind enough to give her a ride into town. Then she turned and looked about. It wasn’t a large town, perhaps fifty or sixty families, but Willow Garden was on the caravan routes, so there was a chance she might find some of her family’s allies here.

The market square was mostly empty, with the majority of the businesses having closed for the day. All that remained open were a few lantern-lit outdoor wine gardens and a couple street food sellers. A scattering of people wandered about- people strolling to enjoy the cooling early evening breeze as the sun set in the west.

Picking an older couple, Meiyu approached them cautiously and politely, brushing her hair back and arranging herself to try to make up for her disheveled, barefoot appearance. While the husband recoiled at her approach, the wife seemed more sympathetic, and after a brief conversation Meiyu learned what she needed to know. There were three large inns in the town, each of them just off the market square a short distance. The roughest was a place called the Happy Ox Inn, and it was also the largest of the three, which made it her best choice.

Making her way down the side street, she located the Happy Ox fairly easily by following the sounds of laughter and singing. It had an extensive wine garden patio, and as Meiyu passed she could see it was filled with tough looking drunken travelers and overly painted women enjoying themselves under newly lit lanterns.

To most, that sight alone would have been enough to turn them around and send them in another direction, lest the revelers took notice of them. But Mao Meiyu was a resident of White Fox Town, and the daughter of an armed escort agency headman. To her, this wasn’t dangerous, it was a small touch of home.

Meiyu wandered into the inn’s central hall and looked around. It was a typically laid-out country Inn, with a two level central hall and little in the way of decoration. A bit stuffy from the lanterns and back ovens, it was not as full as outside, and the smells of food that filled the place pulled hard at her empty stomach.

As the Lins had taken her money purse, there was little she could do about that. So, she steeled herself and hoped for the best as she headed straight for the bar along the wall to her right.

A soot and cobweb encrusted placard reading “The Happy Ox” hung above the bar along with a small mounted box containing the customary shrine to the Seven Lucky Gods. She tossed a silent prayer to them herself as she eased up to the bar and caught the innkeeper’s attention.

He gave a yellow-toothed smile, looking her up and down, and letting his gaze linger on her chest for just a bit too long.

“Yes? Can I help you?”

“I’m trying to find someone from the Mao Family Armed Escort Agency, or someone who knows them. Is there anyone like that around here?”

The innkeeper’s smile faded to almost a frown, then he indicated the stairs at the back with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“Go the second floor, blue trimmed door on your right.” He said, and then wandered off to tend to another customer.

Meiyu blinked. She hadn’t hoped, but now she was so close! Her heart leapt as she turned around to head for the stairs.

And, that’s when she saw Dancing Cloud.

The unhappy looking Lin clan fighter was coming around the tables to her right, between her and the stairs. And a quick look showed Dancing Blade was there as well, coming at her from the main entrance to her left.

She was surrounded!

What could she do? She was so close! She just had to find a way to get across the room to the staircase and up to her father’s people on the second floor. If she got there, they could help her fend off these her pursuers- but how?

Then it occurred to her- the people upstairs weren’t her only source of help.

Her eyes darted around the room, and she spotted the person she was looking for. Across the hall was the biggest, toughest looking man in the room- a hairy mountain of muscle clad in animal furs and surrounded by other rough looking fighters. They looked like a bunch of bandits in to spend their ill-gotten gains.

Perfect.

Snatching a half-empty wine flask from the top of the bar, Meiyu wound up and threw it with all her might at the lead bandit’s bald head.

Out of the corner of her eye, Meiyu caught a flash of panic on Dancing Cloud’s face, and the Lin girl started to move to intercept the bottle, but it was much too late. There was a resounding “crack!” as the bottle hit, and then the crash of ceramic shattering as it hit the floor.

In an instant, the whole inn was filled with the sound of chairs flying as a whole table of bandits leapt to their feet, weapons at the ready. They scanned the room, looking about for whoever had just signed their grave marker, and their eyes all fell on Mao Meiyu.

At first, they seemed a bit confused, but then at a barked order from their still cursing, wine-soaked leader they rapidly began to advance at her, throwing tables and people out of the way as they charged across the room like an advancing horde.

Meiyu looked at Dancing Cloud.

Dancing Cloud looked at Meiyu.

“I hate you.” Said the Lin girl’s eyes.

Then she and her brother both leapt to put themselves between Meiyu and the bandits, their jian swords drawn as both took up a side-by-side battle stance.

The appearance of the green and black clad Twin Dancers of the Nine Trees Armed Escort Agency may have caused a hesitation in the bandits, but it was nothing significant. No-one here knew who they were, and all they saw was a pair of finely dressed young adults with swords. Nothing to be concerned about.

As a result, the charge continued, and in seconds the first of the bandits reached the Lin fighters, axe held high and wailing from the top of his lungs. At least, until Dancing Blade’s swordtip carved out most of his throat. He hit the ground in a gurgling mess.

But, even though he was down, the rest of them already had momentum, and so where he fell, five more took his place to surround the pair.

Meiyu watched as the twin combatants, clearly experienced at dealing with situations such as these, fell into a series of practiced moves. At first, one would defend while the other attacked, and then at an unknown signal, they would switch positions without losing a beat. This created an almost unbreachable wall of death that the bandits threw themselves against, and as a result, the second wave went down mere moments after the first bandit had hit the floor.

Meiyu had known the pair were good, but she hadn’t realized how good, and she now knew that this distraction wasn’t going to last much longer. So, leaving them to fight off the remaining bandits, Meiyu dashed around the fight and made an arc right for the back stairs- almost reaching them when something in the back of her head told her to duck.

Instinctively, she dropped and rolled, hearing the whoosh of the hand axe pass over her head and the deep “thunk!” of it burying itself into the wooden pillar beside her.

Spinning around, she saw the bandit leader coming at her, a second larger axe in his grip. Screaming obscenities, he brought the axe down at her head, forcing her to roll out of the way and dive beneath a nearby table in an effort to stay away from him.

On and on he came, flipping the tables as she scrambled this way and that, trying to avoid the axe that just kept coming. In the back of her head, it occurred to her that perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea after all, and she cursed herself for underestimating the potential downside of her strategy.

Spotting a saber lying on the floor nearby, she seriously considered fighting back, but that idea died a quick death when she realized that it wouldn’t be much use against the power of the axe that she was facing. She was out-classed, out-powered, and- as she dove to avoid another attack- quickly running out of places to hide.

Then she saw her opening.

The axe had become stuck in the floor after that last strike, and the bandit leader was having trouble freeing it. In that fraction of a second, she dove past the bandit in a roll and came up on the other side running. With all her effort, she bolted to the stairs and bounded up them three steps at a time.

Behind her, Meiyu could hear the thunderous steps as the bandit leader followed, and as she hit the corner on the stairs she saw him charging up the steps right after her. There was blood on his face and murder in his eyes.

But she was faster, and she continued up the stairs and out into the hall balcony. It was filled with inn girls and their clients leaning over the railing to watch the fight. Seeing the bandit come up behind her, they began to scream and scatter, which suited her fine since she needed the way clear.

Sprinting forward, she searched frantically for the blue trimmed door- finally seeing it just ahead at the end of the corridor. With her chest heaving, she prayed that there would be some of her father’s fighters inside, or at least someone who could help her escape from the giant looming up at her rear.

However, just as she was about to reach the door there was a whistling sound and pain screamed from her back as something hard and heavy struck her. She was thrown forward, slamming into the floor and everything went black for a brief moment as the world became a spinning mess.

As soon as she could even try to think, she was moving again, forcing herself to try and get up. Twisting around, she saw the bandit leader’s oversized hand lift up the heavy axe from where it had struck her and stride forward. He had thrown the blunt end to bring her down, but now the gleaming blade was hanging above her as she scrambled backwards as fast as she could- her body screaming when she slammed against the door.

“You little witch.” He growled. “I’m going to skin you alive.”

“W-wait,” she said, raising hand in feeble defense and yelling as loudly as she could. “If you harm me, you’ll regret it, my father is Crocodile Mao!”

But the giant shook his bloody head, “Don’t know him, but if he wants your skin he can pay me for it.”

The axe went up, preparing for a killing blow.

But, just as it did, Meiyu felt the door behind her open, and she fell onto her back, looking up at the ceiling.

From the room with the blue trimmed door, a man Meiyu had never seen before ducked and stepped into the corridor. A handsome face with sad eyes looked down at her, framed by a flowing mass of long black hair that ran down over the shoulders of red armor. Almost as big as the bandit leader, he was clad in the dress of a military man and carried a halberd.

“Crocodile Mao’s daughter?” He said, looking down at her.

“Y-yes!” She gasped. “Help me!”

He nodded once, and shifted his gaze to the bandit leader. The barbarian had been so shocked by this soldier’s appearance that he’d not only stopped his attack, but stared at the new arrival in wonder.

“Leave her,” said the armored man.

Not quite willing to give up, the bandit leader brought his axe to the ready. “This one owes me. Are you going to pay her debt?”

But, just as he finished those words, his eyes went wide with shock, and he looked down to see the blade of the soldier’s halberd embedded deep in his chest. It had happened so fast he hadn’t even seen the man move, it was like it had just appeared there on its own.

Just as quickly, the halberd was gone, and the bandit leader collapsed to the floor- his huge body a twitching lifeless mass.

Meiyu stared at the dead bandit, shocked by the sudden violence. Even she, who had been right there, hadn’t seen the attack until it was finished.

Who was this soldier?

She had never seen anyone like him before, and certainly would have known if her father employed such an incredibly skilled fighter.

The soldier leaned down, offering his hand to help her up.

“Come.”

Hesitating, Meiyu began to reach out to take it, but then another voice called out.

“Stop!”

Both Meiyu and the soldier turned to see the battered pair of Dancing Blade and Dancing Cloud rushing along the corridor at them. It was Dancing Blade who had shouted, and both had their bloodied weapons at the ready.

“She’s ours!” The Lin brother called out as the pair drew close. “Leave her be if you value your life!”

———————

What to know what happens next? Check out Amazon, Smashwords, or your favorite eBook seller. (Printed copies coming soon!)

Alternatively, if you’re interested in a free Review Copy, then email me at rob_paterson@hotmail.com and I’d be happy to give you one in the format of your choice in trade for a review if you like it.

Crocodile Princess Excerpt 2/3- The Lin Family

For these three days, I’ll be posting three chapters as an excerpt from my newly released novel Little Gou and the Crocodile Princess, available now wherever eBooks are sold!

Crocodile Princess  Front-med

——-

Chapter 17- The Lin Family

“…His daughter’s life for the box.”

Meiyu stared at the scene in shock- her maid, her closest friend, Little Jing was only a thin silver blade away from death. She couldn’t believe that the Lin family could be so ruthless or underhanded as to do something like this. Didn’t they know what this would do their family reputation?

And what was this box she was talking about? What could be so important?

But Meiyu pushed aside such questions as she heard her uncle finally begin to speak below.

“Madam Lin!” Gan gasped. “This is outrageous!”

The prune faced old woman merely looked at him curiously. “Clearly you are unaware of the stakes involved. Nothing is too outrageous in times such as these.”

At this, the assembled Mao family escorts wanted to lunge forward and attack, but Gan held them back with a gesture.

“Madam Lin…” He said, his voice showing the great effort it was taking to remain calm. “Whatever grievances you have with our master, the girl is no part of this. Don’t sully the names of your family or shame your ancestors by engaging in such low acts as kidnapping.”

“She is a member of your clan, that is enough.” Said the elder. “Now, lay down your blades.”

Meiyu watched as her Uncle Gan gave a deep sigh and shrugged. “Fine, if you wish there to be blood, then that’s how it will be.” Then at a whistle from their leader, the nine warriors of the Mao Armed Escort Agency who stood with Gan moved in a flash to surround the old woman and her grandson with their blades.

“Even with your skill, madam.” Gan said in an intimidating voice that Meiyu had never heard before, “You and your grandson will not escape us alive.” Then he looked up menacingly at Dancing Cloud. “The girl will not escape us either, when we are done with you. So I offer you a trade, your lives for those of your hostage.”

It was a standoff. And, Meiyu watched in rapt fascination as each side faced down the other, neither saying a word as a war of wills took place. She knew her uncle was the veteran of over a hundred caravans, and had no doubts had been in this situation many times before. However, she also knew that Madam Lin was long experienced in these manoeuvers of deceit and treachery that often took place within the martial underworld.

Against another opponent, each would likely win, but against such fearsome opposition, who would be victorious was anyone’s guess. Either way, the outcome was likely to be short, fast and brutal if one did not back away from the challenge…

And then it happened.

One of her uncle’s fighters gave a loud groan, and doubled over.

Everyone looked at the man in shock, but then, another man did the same!

Gan gave Madam Lin a sharp look, “We checked the food for poison.”

The crone smiled. “Do you know why my grandchildren are called the Twin Dancers? Because two things which are good when apart can be most deadly when they are brought together.”

“No!” Gan shouted, and lunged at her with his sword, but the poison was already starting to affect him as well, and she easily avoided his clumsy attack. Then she counterattacked with her small hands in a burst of moves that left Gan, and the two nearest Mao men lying crumpled on the floor. Her grandson finished the others with equal speed, not leaving a single member of the Mao escorts standing.

Meiyu then watched as Madam Lin stood over the barely conscious Gan.

“I apologize for the methods, but we cannot have you following us. The poison is not lethal, and you will recover…in a few weeks.”

Then she turned and stabbed a finger at the innkeeper.

“You.”

The short, chubby man bowed nervously. “Yes, my lady?”

“Their servants, fetch them.”

While the innkeeper sent a boy to do so, Meiyu considered her options. There wasn’t much she was going to be able to do against this old witch, and it sounded like if she kept still these devils would be gone soon. On the other hand, if they left they would take Little Jing, and when they learned she wasn’t Meiyu they would likely kill her.

There had to be a way out of this, and Meiyu struggled to think what it was as she watched Dancing Cloud escort Jing down the stairs to join the others below. What would Little Gou do in a situation like this, she found herself thinking. If only she’d paid more attention to those ridiculous stories he always told while trying to impress her. Perhaps there would have been something there she could use.

But no, she wasn’t Little Gou, she was Mao Meiyu, her father’s daughter.

And she knew what had to be done.

Meiyu waited until the lead servants appeared, and then made her move.

While Madam Lin instructed the servants to take the poisoned men to their master and pass along the message of her hostage, Meiyu got from her seat and walked down the stairs.

Dancing Blade saw her coming, and perhaps concerned she might be fighter or escort he let his hand fall on his sword hilt as he fixed her with his sharp gaze.

“Begone,” he said, watching her approach.

His need to speak caused the others to turn and look at her, and Meiyu saw the shock in Little Jing’s eyes as her friend saw her approach. She could see the pleading look in Jing’s expression, not for help, but for Meiyu to leave her be! But, this attempt at sacrifice only made Meiyu’s determination to carry through even stronger.

“You have the wrong girl,” Meiyu said, pulling off her black cap to let her long hair flow free. “I’m the one you want.”

For the first time in the evening, even Madam Lin looked confused.

“What is this?”

“I’m Mao Meiyu,” she said, standing before them. “That girl is my servant who was taking my place while I ate out here.”

The elder Lin looked her over with care, then had Dancing Cloud bring Jing closer so she could be examined. Finally, the old fighter looked at the servants from the caravan she had summoned.

“Is that one,” she said, pointing at Meiyu. “Your master’s daughter?”

No, the three servants assured her, Jing was in fact their master’s daughter, not this stranger.

Satisfied, the old woman made her decision, and at a nod from her, Jing was released and Dancing Sword grabbed Meiyu’s arm.

“You resemble your mother,” Madam Lin commented. “But, I needed their lies to be sure.”

***

“Hold.”

When Last Brother Shou raised his hand, his two companions brought their horses to a stop. It had been almost a full day and a half since they had stolen these mounts after setting the barge on fire and fleeing from Green Rapids Town. Now, they were searching from inn to inn, looking for any sign or trace of the Mao bridal caravan.

Having stopped for dinner, their questions had borne fruit- some merchants had seen the very caravan they were looking for to the west earlier in the day. They didn’t even stay to finish their meals before they were on their hard-worn mounts again and riding, following directions to the most likely place where such a caravan would spend the night.

Now, just before midnight, they had found the Inn in question.

The three dismounted, and Shou sent Xiao to look in the stable yard.

He came back a few minutes later to indicate that there was indeed a large caravan here, including a bridal palanquin.
They had found the right place, at last.

Forming up with Shou at the lead, the three headed straight for the front gate of the Inn. It was quiet inside, but that wasn’t unusual for this hour. Only a few lanterns were lit, which meant most of the people would probably be asleep.

All the better for them. [Author’s Note: Shou, Xiao and Mah are not the good guys. ]

Pushing open the gate, they walked inside. The main hall of the inn was quiet, as expected, and the only occupants of the many tables were a chubby, balding man and what looked to be two servants sitting and talking over wine. The chubby man, who Shou took to be the innkeeper, jumped up and scurried to greet them.

“Gracious guests,” he said, bowing slightly, “Welcome. Welcome. Do you need a room for the night?”

Shou kept his voice low, glancing about.

“I’m looking for a bridal caravan owned by the Mao family. Are they staying here?”

The innkeeper froze, his smile fading.

“Ahh…Yes…” He finally said, and something about his tone and odd expression made Shou pause.
“Have they not all come?”

The Innkeeper hesitated, and then explained…

***

The sun had just crested the horizon to the east and the air was still filled with the light mists of morning when the horse Meiyu was riding came to an abrupt stop and jolted her out of the half-sleep fatigue had pushed her into.

Looking up, she saw they were now on the bank of what looked to be a long but extremely straight river. Dancing Cloud was beside her, looking as tired as Meiyu felt, and the elder Lin had gone forward with the girl’s brother to a very small port along the waterway. There, she could see them bargaining with some dark-skinned merchant from the South who was using his hands a lot.

“Where are we?” Meiyu asked, hoping the sister was feeling talkative.

The girl gave her a sharp look for talking, but then her face softened. She was too tired to play the captor. “It’s a canal,” she said in her thick Northern accent. “We’re going to travel by boat to prevent them from finding us.”

Meiyu nodded, but didn’t say anything. Weary as she was, even she knew that wasn’t correct. Maybe to Northerners, who lived in a dryer climate, water and river travel represented a way to lose their pursuers, but here in central China travel on the canals was anything but private. Not only would everyone in this village know the way they had gone, but everyone along the canal who they passed (and there would be many) would also take note of them.

Her father, Crocodile Mao, had earned his nickname because of his fondness for escorting people and goods on the rivers and canals of the central plains. The Empire was built on its ancient canals, and there was always trade passing along these busy networks of waterways. While it was not the majority of his business anymore, many of the tales Meiyu had grown up on were of jobs done on the water.

She knew the tricks of the trade here, but wondered if the Lin family did.

After a time, Madam Lin returned to the horses and ordered the girls to dismount. They untied Meiyu’s hands from the saddle horn, but kept her hands tied together and Dancing Cloud led her along like a horse. The whole group and their horses were escorted to the dock, which at the moment was empty of boats, barges, or anything else resembling transportation.

Dancing Cloud put her on a stone bench and told her to sit quietly, trying the end of the rope to nearby post, and then left Meiyu alone while she walked a short distance away to see to the horses. Not that this gave Meiyu a chance to escape, for Dancing Sword was still near her, seeing to his grandmother’s needs.

It seemed they were going to have to wait for the next barge. This suited Meiyu fine, as it meant she wouldn’t be on a moving animal. After the night before, even the bruises on her backside had bruises, and she enjoyed sitting on something flat and stable. She leaned back against the wall behind her and closed her eyes to enjoy the moment.

She must have dozed, because the next thing she was aware of was Dancing Cloud talking to her and shoving a steamed bun into her hands. As she accepted it, the other girl sat down beside her and began to eat. Meiyu watched as the desperately hungry girl, who wasn’t much older than herself, tried to find a way to eat the still too hot bun by blowing on it and taking small bites. It was all very childlike, and she began to feel that Dancing Cloud was actually a bit immature for her age, despite her stern manner.

Maybe, she thought, under other circumstances she and this girl might have been friends. They really weren’t so different, not at all. Well, except for this girl having the manners of a wolf cub.

Then the Lin girl, perhaps realizing that she was being watched, looked at her crossly and gestured toward Meiyu’s own bun.

“Eat.”

Meiyu nodded and began to nibble, then she said. “Can I ask you something?”

The Lin girl looked at her suspiciously, but didn’t say no, so Meiyu continued. “Your grandmother said she wanted to trade me to my father for a box. What kind of box?”

“It is important, that is all I know.” The girl said. “Grandmother says we need it to get justice for my grandfather.”

Meiyu leaned in. “Master Lin was murdered?”

Dancing Cloud gave a sad nod of her head.

“Who did it?”

“We do not know. We sent letters to the council, but they refused to help us. If we have the box, grandmother says they will listen.”

“Wuyun,” Meiyu pleased. “This is wrong. Kidnapping me isn’t going to help bring justice for your grandfather.”

“You are the one who is wrong, child.” Came a voice, and Meiyu turned to look up into the angry eyes of Madam Lin. “The only thing those ***** sons of the council care about is power, so we will take their precious box from them and use it to make them help us. My late husband’s spirit will not rest until the blood of his enemy is poured on his grave.”

A fire burned brightly in the old woman’s eyes, one that Meiyu had seen many times in her short life as a member of the Jianghu martial arts underworld. It was the flame of vengeance, and it made a person sacrifice anyone and anything in order to achieve their bloody dreams. Seeing it in Madam Lin, Meiyu realized at that moment that there would be no reasoning with this woman or her grandchildren.

Talking her way out of this situation would be useless.

She was going to have to find another way.

***

It was well into the morning when the boat they were waiting for finally came. Manned by thin, bronze skinned men wearing broad-rimmed straw hats, the flat bottomed riverboat coasted up to the dock. Almost as soon as it was tied up, the men were scampering to take down the single white sail and transfer the wide boat’s cargo to the merchant’s men. Busy as ants, the bags of grain and boxes of vegetables they carried were unloaded onto carts that were driven up, and then left once they were full.

Once that was done, the dark-skinned merchant she had seen Madam Lin talk to earlier motioned for them to approach, and Meiyu saw him take Madam Lin’s money. The horses were taken aboard first, carefully tied in the middle of the boat, and then Meiyu and the family boarded and were given seats near the front.

The boatmen eyed Meiyu curiously as she was led aboard, but were smart enough to keep their questions to themselves in light of her armed escorts. She was again placed on a bench with Dancing Cloud as her guard, and after the boatmen loaded some other smaller cargo the ship cast off, heading south along the busy canal.

Meiyu drifted back to sleep for a time, the rocking of the boat soothing her, and was only awakened when she became conscious of the singing. Craning her neck around, she saw it was the boatman at the rudder. He had a strong, hearty voice for so thin a man, and the song was a familiar tune in one of the Southern dialects that Meiyu had heard many times. It wasn’t long before the other boatmen joined in as well, and soon the whole ship was filled with harmony.

Dancing Cloud looked around at them in wonder.

“Do you want to know what they’re singing?” Meiyu asked.

The Northern girl nodded.

“It’s a homecoming song,” Meiyu said, and then began to translate. “A husband has traveled far to make money for his family and braved many storms and bandits. Now he’s coming home, and they’re listing off the things he’s bringing for his wife and children. The chorus is the list of things he’s bringing back for them. ‘A jade for my wife, pure as the sky. A dress for my daughter, to bring a tear to her eye. A peach for my mother, as round as can be. A pole for my son, to be strong like me.'”

Dancing Cloud listened for a time, then said. “The caravan men of the North sing something like that when we travel with them. But, the lyrics are different.”

“There are many different versions of this song too, it changes depending on the singer and what they can come up with. Each singer will take his turn singing the chorus and add his own words to suit his song.”

As they listened, one of the men at the prow sang his version of the chorus, changing it to say what he’d be bringing back for each of his three sons while the others listened and laughed at his bawdy humor.

The verse done, the rest of the crew joined in the Chorus again, and this time Meiyu joined them. Her high soprano rose up to counterpoint their baritones in a way that made everyone sit up and listen.

When it came around to her turn for a verse, her voice raised into a beautiful tremolo, the words woven with imagery steeped in an archaic dialect from her ancestors.

The boatmen hummed quietly to her melody, smiling languidly as if this were a daily occurrence, and carried on with poling the barge. They were happy to have new voice in their old song, and listened with great intent. Despite themselves, the Lin family had to admire this beautiful melody echoing like a flock of songbirds hidden the surrounding trees.

Finally, her verse done, her voice drifted off and the crew once again picked up the rhythmic bass tones of the chorus.

“You sing very well.” Said an appreciative Dancing Cloud and Meiyu nodded her thanks. The Mao girl felt more relaxed now, much of her stress having been drained away by the effort of singing. She couldn’t help but smile that she’d finally put her hated singing coach’s long efforts to use.

The cicadas ringing in the distance, the afternoon wore on.

 

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Continued tomorrow!

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