Tuesday, December 27, 2011

An Early Birthday/Christmas Present...

My husband gave me a special present for Christmas:

Wacom Bamboo Tablet

I've been eyeing a tablet for quite a while, especially now that I'm exploring new art possibilities. I've been more of a traditional artist instead of a graphic artist, but I've been curious about doing some things with Photoshop, Corel Painter, Autodesk Sketchbook or other programs. I had fiddled with GIMP a little bit, but found it somewhat of a headache.

Now I'm running myself through the Corel Painter 4 essentials and the Animation app from Bamboo Dock. Gotta start somewhere, right? :-D At least I have a day to experiment before traveling to visit family in Va. Beach.

Graphic artists: any advice on what programs and how to improve my skills? Much appreciated.

Holiday Photos!

Here are some holiday pics from my sister's house, featuring my daughters Christina and Sarah and two adorable miniature schnauzers named Fenny and Lucy...

The link is here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2824626222016.2143104.1449827396&type=3

Christina spends time with Grandma and Grandpa, while Sarah adores the dogs and loves her new Pillow Pet...

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to everyone! I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday with family, friends and special ones. Stay safe and don't drink too much eggnog!

We're going to my sister's for food (lots of food...a Filipino party ALWAYS has lots of food), social stuff and presents. Hopefully things will go well. 

Until later...

Anne

Friday, December 16, 2011

Random titles (for stories, I suppose)...

I have a whole page of story titles in my notebook. Usually they come to me out of nowhere, and I have to write them down before I forget them. These particular ones are completely random and I've never used them. Some come to me with full-blown plots, others are just strays that wander in and I end up wondering where they came from.

 

"Faking It: Act Like a Star, They'll Think You're a Star."

"Origami First Drafts"

"A Lot of Plot on a Plot of Lot's"

"Invisible Ink"

"The Generous Miser"

"The Literal Elephant."

"The Dog Fit in Her Purse"

"Engraved"

"Tell Me a Lie, Tell Me a Truth"

"The Underpainting"

"Done for Good or Done for Now?"

"When I Stopped Being Happy"

"The Tiger, The Sorcerer, and the Stinky Closet"

"Family's Medicine"

"Stars, Rectangles, Squares and Circles"

"The Arsenic is Behind the Wafers"

"So Many Sins...Where Do You Want to Start?"

"House Blend Colored Blue"

"Cook's Illustrated"

"The Typist's Apprentice"

"Blazing Demons, Humble Angels"

"An Entire Tour of the Cosmos"

"The In-Reach Outreach Program"

"Anna's Lowest Prices"

"That Basement isn't a Bargain"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Art: House of Beef Noodle Soup

House_of_beef_noodles

House of Beef Noodle Soup

(Jia de niuroumian)

charcoal, chalk pastel, pastel pencil

 © 2011 by A. Dameron

 

The shop proprietor invites you over for lunch.

The sign over the door reads "House of Beef Noodle Soup" in Chinese.

The white-painted sign to the to the left of the door what utensils the shop provides, from top to bottom:

wan (bowl)

beizi (cup, glass)

panzi (dish)

tangchi (spoon)

daozi (knife)

and

kuaizi (chopsticks)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Admin Post: My Zazzle art stores have holiday gifts available!

My two #Zazzle stores are redecorated for the holidays! "Phoenix Fire Arts" here
at http://t.co/kgjYaqyl. "E-Art by Annie Dameron", paintings and drawings
featured in my e-books on #Smashwords. http://t.co/jtx5V90l 

Both stores have a sale that ends Friday. 15% all orders Free ship $50+! Code:
WISHCAMETRUE. Stop on by and say hello! Thanks, and Merry Christmas, Happy
Chanukah, and Happy Kwanzaa to all!

New Art: Domenico the Vintner

Domenico_the_vintner

Domenico The Vintner

chalk pastel, pastel pencil

 © 2011 by A. Dameron

(Vintner: a person who grows grapes for wine)

Found a very good reference book for my projects...

You never know what you'll find on the clearance shelves in bookstores, and how much they'll be discounted. I found this for $5: Spirit of China: A Photographic Journey of the People, Culture and History, text by Gill Davies It's packed with full-sized photos of beautiful scenery and cultural icons, like statues of the Buddha. The book itself is divided into five chapters, based on the Wu Xing, the Theory of Five Elements.

1) Earth   (tu): the contrasting landscapes of China

2) Water:   (shui): lakes, rivers and waterfalls

3) Fire:   (huo): art, calligraphy, cuisine and everything creative, including the kiln fires that bake the blue/white Chinese porcelain

4) Wood:  (mu): trees, bamboo forests, and how the Chinese use wood for their temples, pagodas, instruments, and paper.

5) Metal:  (jin): engineering, construction, and tools to build things.

 

The Wu Xing shows how all these elements are interdependent of each other. Wood is fuel for Fire, Fire burns Earth for new life, Earth produces metal, Metal carries water (like in a pail), and Water nourishes Wood in the form of rain for trees. Just like creation, the elements can also destroy each other. Wood prevents Earth from eroding, Earth muddies water as silt in rivers, water puts out Fire, Fire melts metal in smelting, and metal chops Wood with axes. 

This describes China: its people can use the land and nature to be great, or destroy itself. 

My latest work-in-progress involves an ancient land similar to China and similar motifs have shown up in my drawings and paintings. When I found this book, I took it as a sign that I've found my current creative path and to continue on it. It's part of my heritage and family...and important to the future.

 

 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Fiction Excerpt: Tales from the Republic

Here is an excerpt from "Tales of the Republic", a short story collection set in the Earth Republic, a possible future where appearances are deceiving. A school field trip is not as innocent as it seems.

Fiction copyright 2011 by A. Dameron.

 

A single shuttle came up the crest of the hill overlooking the Homeworld Senate. The three floors of durasteel and concrete curved around a plaza, and its spires towered over the nearby river. The reflections cast dark reflections on the expansive windows. Thirty children gazed upon the dazzling view below, chattered to each other and pointed to the marble spires of the Senate.

Do the Senators really live there, Miss Nina?” asked Dulcie. Her eyes widened in shock. “But it’s so big!”

Nina Cabral made her way to Dulcie’s side. The movement of the shuttle only enhanced her natural dancer’s grace. She bent and laid a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “That’s the seat of government for the entire Republic,” she reminded Dulcie.

Dulcie nodded, but she was still dumbfounded at the sheer size of the Senate. “Someday I want a house like that.”

Nina laughed. “Maybe you will.” She straightened and raised her hands for attention. The noise dwindled as the older students whispered, “Sssh! Quiet! The teacher’s speaking!” Their eyes snapped towards the front, hands in their laps. Nina looked over them with a smile. Even at this young age, her Morality and Ethics class was well behaved. She paused and nodded at the green-garbed officer who sat at the back of the shuttle. The officer nodded back in approval.

As you can see, we’re getting close to the Republic Honor Memorial. Take a good look and tell me what’s the first thing that comes to your mind.” Nina glanced over her shoulder as the entry ramp drew nearer. The charter ascended with a gentle bump and the warning lights flashed.

It’s…scary-looking,” said Tom. The hint of doubt in his voice brought snickers from the others, and he blushed.

Nina shook her head once, and the titters ceased. Her gaze touched each of the students, and they murmured their apologies. Again, the officer smiled his approval of her handling of the situation. “It can be intimidating from the outside, Tom, but wait until you see the inside.”

The school shuttle stopped just inside the entrance gate. “Republic Honor Memorial,” announced the shuttle driver. “There are our tour guides.” He opened the doors to allow two Academy cadets onto the shuttle. One of them looked up from his datapad and smiled.

McIntire Primary?”

Nina went forward. “That’s us. I’m Nina Cabral. You must be Mister Davis.”

The cadet hid his surprise under a bright smile. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, madam. I hope you and your students will enjoy our tour.” He turned towards the students. “Did you all see the Senate on the way up?”

Yes!” Their enthusiastic shouts were deafening, and Davis winced and covered his ears. Nina exchanged bemused glances with the blonde lady sitting in the middle of the shuttle.

Well, someday, we’ll have to give you a tour of that too. Today we’re going to visit the Honor Memorial. Make sure you’ve got your datapads and recorders because we’re going to ask you plenty of questions.” Davis nodded at his companion. “I’m Senior Cadet Andrew Davis and this is Senior Cadet Michael O’Brien. Follow closely so we won’t lose you. Do I make myself clear?”

Yes, sir!” the children thundered.

Davis winced again. Cadet O’Brien gave Nina a wry look. Unlike his outgoing companion, O’Brien’s voice was soft and low. “You’ve got them pretty well trained, madam. Looks like we’re going to have a new batch of Academy cadets in a few years.”

Nina grinned. She always tried to maintain some sort of discipline, but the children’s enthusiasm came out in other ways. She made sure to channel it into proper Republic behavior: courtesy, obedience and respect to their elders. As long as they weren’t disruptive, it was fine with her.

Let’s go,” Nina said.

The group clambered out of the shuttle. Davis and O’Brien led the way; Nina and Gracie brought up the rear. Visitors from all over the Homeworld wandered across the marble courtyard. A ten-foot fountain sprayed water in the air; other children played in the shallows. The fall breeze came through and spun the golden leaves off their boughs. Elderly citizens spotted the children and waved; the students dutifully waved back.

The greenshirted officer drew close to Nina. “Very impressive, Mistress Cabral,” he said in a quiet tone, “but aren’t the children a bit too loud?”

The children must use some of that energy, Lieutenant Carlyle, or they will be unruly. Better for it to come out in harmless ways, don’t you agree?”

Carlyle did not respond. He hurried off the shuttle and onto the platform. Gracie glared at his back, but Nina only shook her head. Politico Officers always tried to ruin things. It was her job not to let Carlyle destroy their trip. “Now, let’s get into line, children. Let’s show the cadets how well behaved we can be…”

The cadets led the school group through the security checkpoints. They were crammed with tourists and visitors, but the Security personnel swiftly got to their place in line. "Groups of five, please," called a sweet-faced, grandmotherly woman in gold. "Do we have any students with Triangles?"

There was an awkward silence, then a handful of children raised their hands. Silently, they fell out of line. The guard smiled and beckoned them to her. "Now, now, I won't eat you all. Come over here, and I'll make sure you're taken care of."

The tight knot of students shared a nervous giggle, but did as the guard asked. Nina gave them an encouraging smile as the guard checked their rucksacks. She also examined the emerald Triangle pin that each child wore on the collar of the school uniform.

Nina wore no such pin; only Colonials and Outworlders did so, to distinguish them from native Homeworlders. She didn't give the fact another thought, for it was for the Colonials' protection. Another guard extended a hand to Nina. “Your indenticard, madam,” he said. “Sorry for the extra security, but-“

-It’s necessary. I know, Sergeant.” Nina sighed and handed him the card. He passed it into the slot and Nina watched the information scroll onto the screen.

 

Name: Nina Cabral. Age: 24. Profession: Morality and Ethics Teacher, McIntire Primary, McIntire Air Base. Parents: Eduardo Cabral and Mariela Quartez, deceased. Siblings: Three: Josephine Cabral. Senior Diplomat with Diplomatic Corps. Fernando Cabral, Security Consultant, Kaufman Limited. Iliana Cabral, Assistant Minister (Education Bureau)

 

A column of numbers followed it. The guard scrutinized it, then nodded. He swiped the card into his reader and another number appeared at the end of the column. Anyone who scanned her card could trace her whereabouts of the day. The guard handed the card back to her. “Info checks out okay, madam. Thanks.”

Nina pocketed the card without a single word. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the guard wave Lieutenant Carlyle through without hesitation.

The sunlight bounced off the white marble walls of the entrance chamber. Nina gazed at the elaborate designs on the friezes and the columns. Gracie pointed out the inscriptions on the walls, all taken from the Republic Charter, and the children noted them on their notepads. Large hi-vid screens occupied a prominent place in each corner of the room. They seemed out of place with the Memorial’s traditional appearance, but the screens flashed information about current events around the Republic. Nina frowned at the distraction, but her students’ eyes were glued to their tour guide.

We’re now in the Entrance Forum,” announced Cadet Davis, as he smartly adjusted the white uniform hat under his arm. “Mistress Thompson’s class will follow Cadet O’Brien through the exhibits. I’ll take Mistress Cabral’s class. After the tour, we’ll meet in the Visitor’s Chamber for lunch and you’ll be able to visit the Gift Shop. All right?”

The children nodded and broke off into their assigned groups. Before she left, Gracie reached over and squeezed Nina’s wrist. “I’ll see you later,” she said with a wink. “Don’t let Carlyle get you down.”

Nina relaxed at her friend’s warmth. “Don’t worry. I’ve handled him before.” She ignored the Politico’s stony glare from the back of the Forum.

Davis cleared his throat and summoned up another smile. The children had to move up close to him to hear his voice over the chaos. “Take a look around you. Many of the Republic’s leaders have walked on this floor, from the most loyal soldiers to the Presidents themselves…”

Nina settled back to watch the young man conduct his tour. For the past four years, she had brought students to the Honor Memorial to learn about the Republic’s proud and noble history. Yet she never tired of the Memorial Tour, no matter which cadet conducted it. She smiled up at the image of the angel above the main entranceway. The statue’s inscription read “First in Peace, First in War. The Republic endures.”

“…Now let’s walk through the entranceway, and we’re going to see how the Republic has kept its strength for more than a hundred years.” Davis extended his arm. “This way.”

The children followed in a huge mass. Nina felt Carlyle’s disapproving stare even as she reminded them, “Groups of two, please. We’ll all get in.”

The exhibits were mounted on pedestals, locked away by triple layers of Plexiglas and security fields. there were cries of, “Don’t step on my feet!” and “Watch where you’re going!” as they tried to walk in the dim light. Bright spotlights focused their attention on the museum pieces. Time frame and branch of military service neatly arranged all of the articles. Cadet Davis talked about how all Republic citizens, both civilian and military, made the Republic strong.

My daddy helps a lot,” piped up Micah. “He makes stuff for the airplanes.”

Davis glanced at Nina in askance. Nina explained, “Her father is a contractor for the Flight Forces, Cadet Davis.”

He laughed and nodded at the earnest young girl. “In that case, your father does help us quite a bit.”

Dulcie and Patrick tiptoed at the steel railing. “Why can’t we touch the pieces, Cadet Davis?” asked Dulcie.

Davis’s smile was frozen. “Some of them are pretty old, Mistress Dulcie. We don’t want them to fall apart.” He quickly directed their attention to the military pilots’ exhibit. His gloved hand pointed at the names inscribed in gold.

My daddy’s a pilot,” said Julia Greer. The brown-haired girl smiled up at Davis. “He’s with Task Force Thirteen.”

Davis whistled. “He’s in an important group, then. I’m sure you’re very proud of him.”

He addressed the rest of the students. “How many of you want to be pilots?” Many hands shot up. He chuckled and continued, “Well, you’d have to go through a lot of training. Not everyone makes it through, but the ones who do have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders.”

He proceeded to describe some of that training. The class was riveted by his calm and steady tone. Davis made no attempt to deny the triumphs and the dangers, but he still made it sound easy. Nina heard the pride in the young man’s tone and raised her hand.

You’re a pilot candidate, aren’t you, Mister Davis? I saw the gold wings on your uniform.”

He grinned and pointed to the wings on his collar. The children oohed and aahed. “I hope to add my name to the ones who served, madam. Every name on this exhibit carried out that tradition in all of Earth’s military campaigns. Maybe some of your students will be here someday too.”

The tour went on. True to his word, Cadet Davis asked plenty of questions about Republic history and ethics. Nina smiled with pride as her students gave a correct answer every time. She was content to let Davis run the tour and only had the rare comment or question.

Nina felt eyes watching her. She glanced out of the corner of her eye to find a pair of Security officers behind them. Their attention sent chills down her spine, and she fought to keep from trembling. Was she doing anything wrong? Did they notice the students’ unruliness in the Visitors’ Chamber? Did she forget some obscure detail in the Rules and Procedures vidbook? She told herself, I have done nothing wrong, and the children are the models of good behavior. There is nothing to worry about, Nina. Pretend you don’t see them, or you’ll alarm your students. Of course, it was easier said than done.

They came to a huge board depicting the various military campaigns in the Republic’s history, and the shadows followed them. This time, Cadet Davis gave her a questioning look. She glanced at the reflection of the Securitymen in his uniform visor and returned a slight nod. Davis continued his lecture as Nina helped her students work the touchpads. Every serviceperson’s record was listed, which included their campaigns and awards. A few of the children proudly pointed out the names of their illustrious ancestors.

Davis talked about the Confederation Wars that helped give birth to the Republic up to the Vidirian campaign in the beginning of the twenty-first century. Micah’s eyes glowed. “My great-grandpa fought in that! He said it helped us be what we are now!”

You’re right. It was a turning point in Republic history.” Davis motioned the group forward. “We honor all of our servicemen and women, past and present.”

Julia Greer raised her hand. “Yes, Julia?” Nina said.

I wanted to ask Cadet Davis if he’s ever seen any battles,” Julia replied. She dropped her eyes to her datapad. “I didn’t want to be rude.”

Lieutenant Carlyle’s head snapped up at the girl’s words. Nina saw the gesture and flashed a warning to the cadet. He gave her another small nod.

A few small ones,” he said. “Nothing very interesting, Mistress Julia.” Davis turned towards the lightened corridor. “The next room is the Room of Infamy.”

Nina took a deep breath as he led the class past the marble wall. Etched in bronze were the names of all the known traitors to the Republic. The children were silent as they walked past. They knew what that monument meant; it was a warning to every citizen. None of the children wanted their names engraved on it. Many of those names were marked with the green Triangles. A Colonial name, an Outworlder name. The few Colonial students shuffled past with lowered eyes.

Our next stop will be the Visitors Chamber, where you can rest and eat. I’ll answer any other questions you may have.” Davis glanced over his shoulder. “Let me warn you…the light’s bright outside, so be prepared.”

As the group crossed into the Visitors Chamber, Gracie’s class sat in the afternoon glare and munched on their sandwiches. Cadet O’Brien looked up from the small group gathered around him. “Cadet Davis is our flight expert,” he said. “Maybe you can ask him.” O’Brien grinned and said, “Andy, you’ve got a bunch of questions waiting for you over here.”

I’m all ears.” He looked over at Nina and nodded, then joined O’Brien’s group. Nina gathered her group around her to assign lunch partners. Gracie came up to her when she was finished.

The cadets are very informative,” Gracie said, nodding in O’Brien’s direction. He was talking with Lieutenant Carlyle. “I guess the Academy’s making sure their people know their stuff.”

It wouldn’t be good if they didn’t know their own history.” Nina squinted in the sunlight. The huge windows led directly to the shuttle ramp, and the New Fairfax shuttles arrived and departed according to schedule. The bright blue sky had no clouds, and was clear. The perfect day for a school trip.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Over-the-Shoulder Pose

Over_the_shoulder_pose

Over-The-Shoulder-Pose

colored pencil, Prismacolor blender

 © 2011 by A. Dameron

 

This was actually sketching practice, for different body positions. Here, the female warrior is looking over her right shoulder.

New Art: Optical Shades

Optical_shades

Optical Shades

colored pencil, Prismacolor blender

 © 2011 by A. Dameron

Touch of the Flu and some Catch-Up...

Sorry for my relative absence last week...it's flu season and guess who got bitten by the bug?

On the good side, I managed to get some writing and art done. On the bad side, this means I have a LOT of catch-up to do. I'll be back-posting a few things, and try to get back on the daily posting run this week.

A few housekeeping things:

Here is a list of various sites related to my writing and art.

Anne Dameron, Writer: http://writermum1.yolasite.com/

My Smashwords page: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/mamajava1 My e-books are all available for download here.

Check out Annie's Zazzle Art Store: http://www.zazzle.com/anniesart1 (featuring artwork seen in my e-books). Christmas gifts available here!

I Gotta Write! on Blogger: http://igottawrite1.blogspot.com/ and Facebook Page http://www.facebook.com/pages/I-Gotta-Write-Art-and-Writing/105285786193450

My page on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/anne-dameron/34/a82/24

MamaJava on tumblr: http://mamajava.tumblr.com/

ART:

Phoenix Fire Arts: http://ladyr1218.blogspot.com/

USS Sarasvati: http://usssarasvati.blogspot.com/ (Star Trek fan art)

LadyR1218 on Deviant Art: http://ladyr1218.deviantart.com/

Monday, December 5, 2011

Admin Post: New art e-book now available from Smashwords.com

"Women in Color" celebrates women in paint, pen, and pastel. I collected some of my favorite paintings and drawings of strong heroines. Soldiers, mothers, dancers...girls can grow up to be anyone they want, no matter what color, creed or race they are. Each piece of artwork is accompanied by a short commentary outlining the creative processes behind it. 

Here's the link: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/109808 and it's $1.25 to download.

Annie

Thursday, December 1, 2011

New Art: Water Spirit

Water_spirit

Water Spirit

chalk pastel

 © 2011 by A. Dameron

I drew this last night, not expecting what would turn up on the pastel paper! Dragon? Serpent? You decided what it is.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Making Art from "The Legacy of the Triple Lotus" (Nanowrimo 2011)

Here is the first piece of art based on my WIP "The Legacy of the Triple Lotus". The beginning part of the novel is set in Shinwa, a land based on Ancient China. Here is a temple, part of the Bell Temple complex in the Tong Mountains. Read the excerpt here

 

Shinwa_temple

Shinwa Temple

"The Legacy of the Triple Lotus"

oil 20x16

© 2011 by A. Dameron 

 

I used many references for this painting, including Rob Alexander's How to Draw and Paint Fantasy Architecture and John Chinnery's Treasures of China: The Glories of the Kingdom of the Dragon.

My younger daughter decided to 'help' me with the painting. (This was while I was photographing it, and Sarah decided to pick up a dry brush and pretend to paint).

Sarah_the_artist

Sarah the Artist

digital photo, 2011

 ©2011 by A. Dameron

Like mother, like daughter! :-D

Monday, November 28, 2011

I made it through Nanowrimo 2011!!

Winner_180_180_white

 

As of this morning, my Nanowrimo word count is 51,705 words, and the story isn't finished yet. It looks like it might end up a LOT longer than I was expecting. For something that was a hodgepodge of scenes and stuff, it's starting to gell into an actual plot (gasp!). I've also gotten back into the habit of writing every day, even if it's just jotting a few notes or character quirks.

Now that to pressure of making 50K words before November 30 is off, I can return to some of my projects I put on hold to do this. My newest e-book "Women in Color" is planned for the first week of December, with art products on Zazzle in time for Christmas. I also have a few short stories and fanfic that I need to get back to sometime...leaving plots on indefinite cliffhanger makes for unhappy readers indeed.

Back to work...and stay tuned for more writing and art posts to come!

 

 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An extremely busy week...and it'll only get busier

Nanowrimo stands at 40,567, two days before the Thanksgiving holiday. I'm going to try to squeeze in a few thousand before traveling on Thursday, but let's see how that pans out. We're going up to Roanoke, VA to visit Hubs's parents, aunt and grandmother. 

I've also finished an oil painting based on the abovementioned Nano novel. Part of the story takes place in a land similar to Ancient China (around the Han dynasty somewhere, sort of) and I painted a temple loosely based on pictures of Chinese temples of that period. It's a fantasy piece, and not to be completely realistic, but I think it turned out pretty well. It took me 3 weeks to get it done, in between everything else. Now working on another oil painting of a building in the Nano story, this time a cross between Middle Eastern/Persian/Egyptian architecture. This book by Rob Alexander has been a big help, especially with the specific architectural details for each area of the world.

Speaking of art, the digital camera has died, and I'm usually ending up using my cell phone to take pics. It can be a real pain in the tucus, but the absence of recent photos of my art will soon be remedied. Hopefully.

Back to typing on my Nano novel...and hopefully I'll get that 10,000 words to 50,000 before November 30 rolls around.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Nanowrimo Confession: An Unorthodox Strategy to 50,000

2011 marks the second time I've done Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month). The first time was in 2006 and I barely sneaked over the 50,000 word goal...by exactly 18 words. I divided the entire piece in 'writing sessions' instead of chapters. That way I could see my progress from day to day and keep daily word counts straight. Each day, I picked up where I left off and just wrote what came to me. "The Silk Dragon" turned out to be a lot more coherent than I expected, especially at the end when I was grabbing at anything to keep going. That included kids' shows, mythology, and fuzzy yaks. Don't ask.

This year is a bit different. I have a starting point and an ending point, and the goal is to get from point A to point B. Yes, there is a (gasp!) plan. Like 2006, I've begun each day with a new OpenOffice document...so today's would be "Legacy of the Pearl Dragon 15.odt", with 14 other docs before it. Granted, the way that the story's progressed, that title will change in the next draft in December, but I stuck with it.

I'd planned a fantasy series several months ago, outlining it on Writer's Blocks, version 3. It was a grand plan, encompassing four fantasy lands based on real-life ancient civilizations, and a massive hero's journey and war. Of course, it got buried in the chaos of real life. At the beginning of November, it fit my ideas perfectly, so...

I write in 'snippets', scenes that jump around in time and place, so each day's writing is a hodgepodge of scenes that may/may not follow each other in sequence. That habit came out of jotting down ideas for scenes as they came to me, so I wouldn't lose them. The story also has a 'master document' where I cut and paste scenes in rough chronological order, so I can see where the novel's going and where it's been. 

Granted, there are some contradictory details, time goofs, wonky characterization, etc., but Nano is for writing, not editing. My inner editor has been in a padded room since November 1, ranting and raving, despite the luxurious accomodations. She'll be free on December 1, when I'm sure she'll return with a vengeance. I'll need an editor during that time, not during this time. So, Inner Editor will have to sit and cool her heels while the Muse decides to put in some overtime.

And I'm about 3,000 words shy of 30,000 as of today, November 15. I'm hoping to finally get this story told...then the process of paring and editing begins in December.

 

New Art: Ameiko

Ameiko

Ameiko

pencil, colored pencil, Sakura pen 0.6 and 0.3, chalk pastel, prismacolor blender

 © 2011 by A. Dameron

Poetry: Academia

Academia


Ivory tower

holds the power

over life and death.

 

Watching eyes

all realize

each time you take a breath.

 

Red ink pens

stroke again

a raucous symphony.

 

Tearing hearts

reforming parts

To what they hear and see.

 

New ideas

are anathemas

choked before they bloom.

 

And don't you dare

while they all stare

From 'cross a deep dark room.

 

One mistake

is all it takes

to offend their theories.

 

And one harsh word

Your doom insure--

Their smug philosophy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Poetry: Rhiannon

Rhiannon

 

Dark webs of silver

through midnight black hair.

Skin a-glow with starlight

from another world.

Eyes blue orbs of 

a very hot flame.

Clothed in the shadow

of Midwinter's night.

A crown of holly on her brow

and berries on her lips.

The sky is her home,

The earth her playground,

the water her sustanence,

the fire her spirit.

Life hums all around her

as she raises her arms.

Quiet reigns; she looks,

then the real symphony

begins.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Poetry: Judas

 

Judas

 

Counting silver dollars

that melt in your hands

and runs through your fingers.

It repools at your feet

and freeze solid.

Tears flow like rain in

velvet drops and they fall

to wash your hands clean.

Your soul is deep in the

burial plot,

with only coins for company.

 

Monday, November 7, 2011

First attempts at writing..with the manual typewriter (pictures)

Remember a little while back I wrote about my old Olympia Carina 1 Manual typewriter. 

Recently I unearthed my first attempts to write with it. Keep in mind that I was in my early teens when I wrote this on lined paper. The first one is a collection of science fiction stories, the second is a mystery noir story about a private investigator.

Story_handmade_1a

A friend of mine offered to bind my loose pages into an actual book. Until that time, I kept it in a huge 3-ring binder. The cover says 'by R.A. Copon', my maiden name.

 

Sf_type_example1

Here is the book opened to a random page. Note the stout string through the holes to bind the pages together. And yes, that's wide-ruled paper, blue ink, and cross-outs. I also typed on both sides of the paper so it could be bound. (Yes, ouch, wince).

 

A closer look at the left hand page.

 

Pi_cover_1

Here is the homemade cover of my P.I. short story. My sister did the binding.

 

Jdarestory1

And a sample of the writing. Black ink, and typing on one side of unlined paper. Yes, I was learning. >.< This was during my 'Sam Spade' phase of writing, with a hard-boiled P.I who lived in a rough and tumble city a la Gotham City, which was controlled by the Mob. Yes, he also used to be cop, but got kicked off the force due to corrupt forces.

 

Why share these first attempts at writing? I was willing to write anywhere, using any means necessary. Once you get bitten by the bug, it never really leaves you, even twenty-five years later.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Legacy of the Pearl Dragon (Session 2, 3631 words, Nanowrimo 2011)

This is part 2 of my Nanowrimo 2011 excerpts. Each writing session is unedited. I'll post the rest of this novel at the end of November, whether or not I manage to make it to 50,000 words or more.

 

The Temple of the Silver Bells stood high on Tong Mountain, its shining citadels visible for miles around. Nine delicate spires extended through the air, each one painted a different color, according to the Four Directions and Five Elements. East, South, West and North. Earth, Fire, Air, Water, Spirit. The soft chime of bells echoed over the valleys in a strangely wonderful nine-part harmony.

“How do they do that?” Li Ying-Ying marveled. She closed her eyes and savored the otherwordly sound. It seemed to reach out and touch her, making her tremble in its wake. The walls of the carriage vibrated in time.

“No one knows. It is one of the secrets of the Priestesses, I suppose,” answered her mother. Li Wai kept her gaze riveted to the view beyond the window curtains. She shivered at the damp chill and tightened her brocade robe around her slender form. Li Wai blew out a relieved sigh at the enraptured expression on her daughter's face: mouth open, head tilted to one side to hear the bells, eyes closed.

Yes, her eyes are closed. Li Wai felt the familiar stab of guilt at the thought. It was easier to look at Li Ying-Ying when those eyes were closed. Those weird, colorless eyes, so unlike Li Wai's own velvety brown. It gave Ying-Ying an exotic look, accented by high cheekbones, glossy black hair and perfect porcelain skin.

She is Goddess-touched. It will be better if she serves at the Temple, instead of being groomed as an administrator's wife. Again, Li Wai tried not to feel the relief as she remembered the soothsayer's words. She had glanced at Won Jia, the prospective bridegroom at nine years old, and nearly smiled at his shaky sigh of thanksgiving.

His father, Won Chu, had hid his disappointment well, but a match with the clear-eyed beauty of Tong Mountain would have enhanced his reputation. After all, Won Chu was the Emperor's Minister of Antiquities, and such an unusual addition to his family would bring curious academics to his door.

Li Wai thanked the Goddess for Her intervention. Ying-Ying was no precious artifact to be paraded around the Empire. The girl wouldn't last more than a month under envious eyes. The Goddess's Chosen dwelled within Her Temple, safe behind walls, protected from the greedy eyes of Man.

Ying-Ying opened her eyes. Li Wai flinched internally at the steady gaze; could her daughter read her mind and the tumultuous emotions within? The innocence in that gaze made Li Wai's throat tighten in pure dread.

“Mother...will they approve of me? Will they like me? Will they accept me as one of their own?”

“I don't know, my child. It is up to the Goddess herself, whether or not She finds you worthy to dwell within Her temple.” Li Wai wanted to stroke Ying-Ying's hair, like when she was a girl, but Li Wai kept her hands clenched within her lap. “I certainly have high hopes, but of course, that is a mother talking.”

Ying-Ying sighed as the deep vibrato of the bells resonated in the small carriage. “I hope so as well. I do love the sound of the bells. It's as if they have their own melody.”

Despite herself, Li Wai smiled a little. “Don't tell me that they speak directly to you.”

Those strange eyes regarded her with honest bewilderment. “Not in words, Mother, but they comfort me nonetheless.”

Li Wai shivered again, but still didn't extend a hand for comfort. “Then perhaps the Bells will choose you, then.”

The road turned from hard-packed dirt to stone and the wheels rattled in its wake. A pair of silver gates parted to allow the carriage through. The driver stopped at the guard house and exchanged words with the captain in low tones.

“Identification,” the captain said brusquely.

Li Wai reached into the beaded purse at her side and pulled out a bundle of elegant ivory slats, linked together with strong woven cord. She parted the curtain and passed the bundle into the captain's impatient hands. The soldier's eyes skimmed over the characters, blood red against the hard white, paying particular attention to the words outlined in gold leaf. After several tense minutes, the captain nodded to himself and pressed the slats back into Li Wai's hands.

“My apologies for the delay, Lady.” He turned and snapped an order to the phalanx of soldiers directly in front of the carriage's path. The men parted like leaves in the wake of the wind. The driver nicked softly at his horses and the carriage continued forward into the city.

Li Wai drew the curtain back over the window, but Ying-Ying peeked around the edge of the fabric on her side. “It is curious, Mother...the way you described the Temple grounds, I thought it would be less crowded than this.”

Li Wai chuckled and shook her head. “Tell me what you see with your clear eyes, Daughter.”

Ying-Ying inclined her head as she gazed at the tightly packed crowds. Li Wai didn't have to look out her own window to imagine the chaos outside. Goats bleated as they were herded to market. Sellers argued with buyers, musicians strummed their instruments, and military officers patrolled the streets. The smells overwhelmed Li Wai's sensitive nose: roasting meat, animal dung, fresh-cut flowers from the garden stands. She wrinkled her forehead, but Ying-Ying stared and drank in the hustle and bustle.

“I see all sorts of people: the young and the old, the strong and the weak. Ordinary people living extraordinary lives within the city walls. Has it always been so?”

“For eternities before, and most likely, for eternities to come.” Li Wai said. “Some lives are quite ordinary, my daughter. With any luck, yours may be.”

Ying-Ying regarded her mother again. “What if I do not want just 'an ordinary life'?”

“That is the Will of the Goddess, not yours,” Li Wai reminded her. “Being extraordinary brings misfortune and unwanted attention. There is peace in anonymity.”

“As one of the Chosen in the Temple? Is this the best place for me?”

Li Wai wasn't sure how to answer such complicated questions. She only said, “We shall see.”

 

Finally, the carriage began ascending at a steep angle, as it left the city behind in the mountain valley and headed up to the Temple proper. Ying-Ying gave in to tempation and pushed the curtain aside. She marveled at the narrow, paved road as it spiraled up the ridges of the Tong, and it wound tighter and tighter into itself. The sound of the busy city died away, and soon the clamor of the Bells surrounded them as completely as the mists. Ying-Ying watched as the wind snapped through the evergreens and skittered through babbling brooks. The view was indeed breathtaking.

She was very aware of her mother's intense scrutiny. There is peace in anonymity, Li Wai had told her. Of course, when one's eyes differed from the other girls in the family, being anonymous wasn't an option. Ying-Ying endured the rude stares and whispered titters for as long as she could remember. She told herself it didn't matter at all; what mattered was what she Saw on the inside.

The Sight was both a blessing and a curse. It warned her about potential dangers from unscrupulous people. It showed her what lurked deep under a false facade. It also set her apart from ones who considered her talent as unnatural. She avoided mistakes and dodged danger, so much that the gossips wondered if the Gods had cast her from a perfectly golden mold.

She was not infallable or invulnerable. It wasn't her fault that she paid attention to details that others ignored or missed,

Ying-Ying shook her head to herself. The mantra of the Shinwa maidens repeated itself in her mind. Be brave, but not boastful. Be gentle, not ghastly. Be precise, but not proud. Be dutiful, not daring. This is the code of the Shinwa people.

“Be ordinary, not extraordinary,” she murmured under her breath. There were men like Minister Won Chu, who saw her as nothing more than an exotic toy to be possessed, not cherished. If it weren't for her blue-gray eyes, the color of mountain mist, she would be ordinary indeed.

Again, she wished the Goddess would have made her a plain, homespun village girl. Her life would have been more difficult, but at least she would have been ordinary, as far as the world was concerned.

A painful pressure made her ears ache; she swallowed hard to relieve it. The nine separate chimes of the Temple Bells blended into a harmonious symphony, nine individual melodies contributing to the whole. Ying-Ying yearned to lose herself within that overwhelming sound.

And out of the mist rose the final gates leading to the Temple of the Bells. A cadre of guardians kept diligent watch at the entrance. As the carriage made its final approach, a sole shadow walked forward to greet it. Ying-Ying stared at the slight, muscular form that was meeting them. The gray armor was adorned with an elaborately carved breastplate of some sort of red metal. Two swords were slung behind the guardian's back, and the front baldric held a row of wicked-looking knives.

The guardian halted at her window. The cool, composed gaze weighed and measured Ying-Ying in one fell swoop. Before Ying-Ying had time to panic, the rosy red lips quirked upward in a dry smile.

“Be welcome, my Lady,” the guardian said in a soprano tone that carried across the path. “I am Captain Jiang Xia. I will accompany you the rest of the way to the Temple.”

Ying-Ying struggled to keep her jaw from dropping. Captain Jiang was a woman and a Temple guardian. She looked across to her mother, but Li Wai had a pleasantly neutral expression on her face. It hid her distaste at the fact that a Shinwa woman would dare defy the usual conventions. Ying-Ying, of course, wasn't fooled by Li Wai's polite demeanor.

Neither was Captain Jiang. The guardian's black eyes crinkled in wry humor, as if she had encountered such a reaction before. Ying-Ying found herself matching the wry smile; so much for being ordinary. If Captain Jiang served the Goddess, then She had a very funny sense of irony.

“Of course, Captain,” Li Wai said. Her mouth pursed as if she'd eaten an overly sour peach. “We are grateful of your protection.”

“My cadre protects the Temple grounds, Lady. No harm will come to you or your child, I swear it.” Captain Jiang nodded, then walked to the front of the carriage, where she swung herself onto the platform beside the driver. The carriage continued forward through the gates and into the courtyard.

Ying-Ying couldn't speak; not only was the captain's behavior unladylike, but had she winked at Ying-Ying before she moved out of sight? This encounter was nothing like she'd ever had before in her short life.

And then she saw the Temple of the Bells in all its glory, behind the mists that kept it hidden.

And it was beautiful. Blue and white stone, with steep green roofs inlaid with jade tile. The porches and railings were carved out of some sort of reddish wood, with emerald dragons twining over the surfaces. Round windows decorated with delicate latticework to match the large round door portals. Unlike the chaos of the city at the foot of the mountain, each detail stood out in pristine calm.

The bells finally tolled their customary greeting and fell silent. The quiet was louder than the noise, and Ying-Ying suddenly missed the chorus of the bells. Every soft footfall was magnified a thousandfold, every burble of water and sigh of the wind. The horses neighed softly as they halted in front of a steep stone staircase. It led directly to an elegantly wrought iron portal.

“We are here,” Li Wai whispered, as if raising her voice was tantamount to sacrilege on these sacred grounds.

The carriage door opened and Captain Jiang extended a hand to her. Li Wai took it with the same caution as if she was handling a poisonous viper. The captain assisted her to the cold stones of the pavilion, then offered the same courtesy to Ying-Ying. Ying-Ying accepted that courtesy; Captain Jiang's grip was sure but strong, respectful yet protective. When she was safely out of the carriage, Captain Jiang squeezed her hand briefly before letting go.

“Make sure the horses are groomed and wel-fed in the stables. I'll escort our honorable guests myself.” Jiang bowed her head to the ladies and added, “Please, follow me.”

They slowly climbed the steps to the iron portal. Ying-Ying held the hem of her robe up to keep it out of her way. Captain Jiang had no trouble keeping up; she could probably have leaped up the stairs without a care, heavy armor and all. Ying-Ying envied her, in a way.

She paused briefly at the threshhold of the portal, then took a deep breath and stepped over it. As soon as her feet touched the marble within, a current of warm air rose up and enfolded her. The abrupt change startled her...how was that possible? The heavy curtain of mist evaporated and gave way to bright sunlight.

Sunlight...and the scent of flowers in bloom. Ying-Ying tiptoed forward like a girl in a dream, eyes wide to take in the view in front of her. It was as if she had stepped into another world, one different from the cold reality outside.

“This is the Orchid Pavilion,” said Captain Jiang, as she removed her helmet. “The Temple Priestess know we have arrived; she will come momentarily.”

“How can this be?” Ying-Ying whispered, as she ran a finger down a trumpet-shaped lily. “Is this a dream?”

“It's whatever you wish it to be,” Jiang answered. “Your surprise is understandable. I reacted the same way, forty years ago, as a little girl newly arrived.”

“Forty years ago?” Li Wai raised her eyebrows at the white streaks through the captain's hair. Jiang's carefully braided crown ended in a topknot high on her head, with the remainder of her hair spilling out over her shoulders. Ying-Ying took a closer look at the laugh lines etched at the corners of Jiang's eyes and the lustrous glow within them.

“I've been in the service of the Goddess for most of my forty-six years,” Jiang confirmed in a matter of fact tone. “She decided to lay Her hand on me as a Temple guardian. I've had no regrets in Her choice.”

Ying-Ying marveled at the older woman's steadiness. “Perhaps I may become a guardian as well?”

“It is for the Goddess to decide, not for we mortals,” Jiang reminded her. “If that is your fate, then so be it. I think She may have other plans for you, little one.”

Li Wei shifted uncomfortably at the words. “As long as Ying-Ying lives without fear or shame, I will be content with whatever She decides.”

“We shall find out what Her intentions are, my Lady.”

An unexpected voice echoed in the pavilion. “Ah, Captain Jiang, these are our visitors? Be welcome, Lady Li Wai and Lady Li Ying. The Goddess smiles upon you both on this auspicious day.”

Ying-Ying glanced over her shoulder to see a woman in the ivory robes of a Priestess. The shimmery material floated like clouds around her tiny frame. As the Priestess glided forward, Ying-Ying saw that she was barely taller than her mother Li Wei. The Priestess raised her hands and dropped the hood to reveal her face.

She appeared to be perhaps fifteen years old, her skin like flawless cream, but her eyes were completely black, with tiny, diamond-like pinpricks of light, like heavenly stars.

Ying-Ying stifled a scream and took a step backwards. She tripped over the hem of her robe and landed hard on her back. Mortified, she tried to scramble back up, but her muscles froze on her. All she could do was stare, terrified, at those eyes that were windows to the cosmos. That one look paralyzed her vocal cords; not a squeak escaped her throat.

And the sound of bells rose up around her, the nine-part harmony of the Four Directions and the Five Elements, nine separate strands woven into one. Stars blossomed and died, galaxies whirled around in a cosmic dance, and planets spun in their orbits. It was deafening, it was overwhelming.

It was beautiful, with colors vibrating in time, fighting and surrendering at once.

Then Ying-Ying was plunged into a blue ocean, underneath an even bluer sky. The scream of sea birds filled her hearing, punctuated by the steady rhythm of the bells. An oddly detached part of her mind marveled, The ocean, the sky, are shades of the orbs I see in the mirror each day.

With a stomach-churning lurch, she found herself sitting up in the middle of the Orchid Pavilion. Li Wei knelt on one side of her, Captain Jiang on the other. A man with the green robes of a Healer hovered above her, his brow wrinkled in concern. The Priestess gazed down on her from her left...

Ying-Ying stared up into a pair of honey-brown eyes, set in a face that was old and young at the same time. There were no stars, no galaxies, no oceans hidden deep within. Did I imagine it?Was I overcome with fatigue and overexcitement? Lady Goddess, have I shamed myself in front of Your Priestess?

“No, you haven't,” the Priestess answered softly. “No, my child, you are not at fault. It is completely understandable.”

“What happened to me? I don't understand--”

“Every person who is touched by the Goddess receives a message. Nearly all do not understand it at the time, but when the future comes, all will be clear. You are so painfully young, Li Ying. You may not divine its meaning for years to come.” The Priestess gave her a reassuring smile. “We have not been properly introduced, child. I am Wang Sui Hei, and I am remiss in my duties as a hostess. Can you stand?”

“I think so.” The Healer and Li Wei supported her as she shakily got to her feet. Ying-Ying caught a look of utter dread on her mother's face and wondered at it.

“Healer Song, Captain Jiang, we will take her to the Lightning Hut. Li Wei, please come with me. We must talk.” Wang Sui Hei's voice remained soft, but there was a hint of steel through it that brooked no opposition.

Li Weil bowed low in obeisance and replied, “As you wish, my Lady.”

Captain Jiang also bowed her head, then turned to Ying-Ying with a reassuring smile. “Come. Lightning Hut serves the best tea and crackers. When was the last time you ate?”

“I had some noodles and a bit of wine for lunch--”

“--which was hours ago, I'm sure. Little wonder you felt faint.” Healer Song's words were blunt and kind at the same time. “A growing child needs sustenance. Captain Jiang is correct about the food and drink...we could all use some.”

Ying-Ying managed a nod, but said nothing more.

 

'Lightning Hut' reminded Ying-Ying of an elegant tea shop, with dark lacquered wood tables and padded cushions arranged in pleasing patterns. The sharp smell of black and green teas filled the air, a complement to the clean, astringent smoke from the braziers. The proprietor ushered them to a private room near the private gardens. Ying-Ying sat cross-legged on a huge cushion, as the proprietor mixed the tea and served it herself.

“Please, eat as much as you want,” she urged Ying-Ying. “A growing child is like a vine. It needs much sunlight and sustenance to grow strong and healthy.”

Ying-Ying tried not to roll her eyes at how fussy the proprietor seemed to be. The only thing that made it tolerable was the fact that the woman genuinely meant well. It wasn't like Li Wei's family, who mistook politeness for deceit. The sense of goodwill was welcome, but ingrained habits were difficult to break.

Healer Song pressed his hands around his tea cup and studied her from across the table. Ying-Ying tried to convince herself that this round-faced, gray-bearded man had the most honorable intentions. He seemed to pick up her unease and made no move to touch her.

“You know, hearing your accent brought me back to my own childhood,” he commented. “You sound like you're from the south...Siang Plateau or so?”

She snapped her eyes to him. “The Lis own land along the eastern edge of the Siang Plateau.”

“I know. My maternal ancestors include the Hukans, directly opposite you in the west.” Healer Song chuckled and smiled, revealing cheery dimples in his ample cheeks. “Don't worry; I'm a Healer and not a warrior. The best I can do is break bottles over stubborn heads.”

Ying-Ying's mouth twitched despite herself. The Hukans loved conflict; they were regarded as skilled fighters. Of course, not every one of them was in love with war. At first glance, she wouldn't have guessed he came from Hukan stock. In fact, he appeared very much the opposite.

“Then I should consider myself quite fortunate in your presence, sir.”

“Make no mistake: being a pacifist doesn't mean I'm passive. I'm a warrior for life, not death.” Healer Song sipped at his tea.

 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Legacy of the Pearl Dragon (Session 1, 1327 words, Nanowrimo 2011)

Session 1: 11/1/11, 1327 words, unedited

 

Legacy of the Pearl Dragon

 

Clouds poured over Tong Mountain like sticky rice candy. It flowed into every nook and cranny, wrapping al in a cold mist. It sank deep into the bones and belly of man and beast and dripped from noses and eyelashes to soak into icy ground. Such was the winter in Sangou Valley.

Li Ying-Ying stirred the soup over the fire with wrinkled fingers. The delicious aroma rose with the smoke, filling the tent with hunger. Ying-Ying's stomach rumbled in response, but she told it to be patient.

 

Her voice rose and fell in time with the bubbling stew:

Soup from stone, soup from fire

Keep up all from hunger dire

Fill us all with warm desire

And the dragon stays away

Let him come another day

Clad in black and gold attire.


Another rumble shook the tent. Li Ying-Ying glanced up as raindrops fell through the smoke hole. She signed and murmured thanks to the Water Elemental for His timely intervention. With one jerk of her hand, she pulled the flap to the smoke hole closed and banked the fire.

"Nai-Nai! Nai-Nai!"  A cacophony of laughter erupted outside the tent. Ying-Ying smiled as a group of miniature whriwinds burst into the tent. Five in all, three girls and two boys, their cheeks rosy with chill. Five sets of eyes looked at her with glorious adoration. Brown eyes, brown eyes, brown eyes, brown eyes...and blue, blue like Ying-Ying's own.

It was this blue-eyed girl who spoke first. "Guess what we did today, Nai-Nai?"

"Yes, guess, guess guess," chorused the children.

Ying-Ying shook her head. "What did you do today, Shu Ling?"

"We found a pearl in the river and kept it for you! Show her, Ming Kuo!"

The youngest brother reached into his yakka-skin jacket and brought out a bundle wrapped in silk. He knelt in front of Ying-Ying and raised the gift over his head. The other children fell to their knees and touched their foreheads to the floor of the tent.

"Thank you, Meng Kuo." Ying-Ying accepted the bundle with trembling hands. The folds fell away to reveal a single, snow-white pearl, perfectly round and perfectly lustrous. As the embers of the cooking fire danced across its surface, they gave the pearl a bluish tint.

Ying-Ying gazed at it, her own gray-blue eyes soft and focused. Her full lips twitched like a landed fish, as if stifling a laugh or a cry, or both.

"So it continues, my children," she said softly. "How curious that this pearl should make its way back to me."

Shu Ling did not raise her head, but her voice betrayed her curiosity. "What do you mean, Nai-Nai?"

"It happened a long time ago, on the other side of Tong Mountain, when I--" Ying-Ying shook her head and laughed. "Forgive me, my children. I grow old. Here I am, telling stories while your bellies grumble! Get up, you all, and make warm by the fire."

The children unfolded themselves and shook feeling back into their limbs. As Shu Ling assisted the younger ones out of their fur-lined, waterproof coats, Ying-Ying ladled the stew into bowls. In moments, they were sitting around the fire, eating and sharing the events of the day.

"Chu Rao, tell Nai-Nai about the hare that got away from us today," said Meng Kuo.

"The hare was this big," Chu Rao mumbled through a mouthful of stew. He waved his spoon in an approximation of something the height of a caribou. "And it had a long neck and droopy ears, and puffy tail. And feet. Really big feet."

"And breathed fire," added Liu Bai in a breathy voice. "And had sharp teeth. Didn't it, Chou Mei?"

THe fifth child nodded in agreement. "But it still looked like a hare. I mean, it was still a hare. I think."

Ying-Ying smiled as the children jumped up and re-enacted their fantastic tale. Chu Ruo showed how they followed the hare across the valley. Liu Bai leaped and bounced and tumbled head over heels, eluding Meng Kuo's grasp. Little Chou Mei added her commentary, correcting her siblings' mistakes.

"Then it stopped at the river, took one big leap and splash!" Liu Bai made one final enthusiastic leap. "It landed in the water and swam away."

"Hares don't swim," Chou Mei said primly. "I think it floated away."

Meng Kuo tried to follow it, but the water was too cold," said Chu Ruo helpfully.

His brother glared at him. "I'm not that stupid. Besides, I can't swim."

"And that's when we found the pearl," chirped Chou Mei. "We had to come and show you, Nai-Nai."

"So that's how you ended up at the river," Ying Ying said, "by following the long-necked, fire-breathing, big-footed, sharp-toothed hare."

THere was a pause, then the storytellers burst out, "Dai!"

"And let me guess. The hare wore the pearl on a silver chain on its back right foot, and as it dove into the water, the chain broke, and the pearl landed in the mud."

Meng Kuo shrugged. "It was cold and icky mud, Nai-Nai."

Ying-Ying exchanged smiles with Shu-Ling. The blue-eyed girl said nothing, but her eyes lit up with amusement at her younger siblings' tale.

Ying-Ying sat back among the cushions. "Well, since you have told me such an entertaining story, I will tell you one. A tale from long ago, when I was a girl about Chou Mei's age."

She got to her feet and went to the back of the tent. A pile of newly-tanned hides lay in a corner. She pushed them aside to reveal a small box, the size of her hand. As she ran her fingers over the lid, the lock opened with a soft click.

"What is that, Nai-Nai?" asked Shu Ling, as Ying-Ying rejoined them around the fire.

"A Gift from the Pearl Dragon." Ying-Ying opened the box. Multicolored silk lined the inside of it and cushioned a velvet panel in the middle. The panel held three perfectly round pears. A Yellow Pearl of the East, A Red Pearl of the SOurth, and a Black Pearl of the West. The Northern Place still lay empty.

"The circle is complete, the story is near its end. But the ending is the beginning once more, my children."

Ying-Ying took the white pearl and gently set it within the velvet panel The Four WInds and the Four Directions. She murmured a single word and the fire burst from its embers into a warm, glowing blanket. The children jumped and Chou Mei whimpered in fear. Shu Ling wrapped her arms around the little girl while Meng Kuo, Chu Ruo and Liu Bai clung to each other.

"It's all right. There's nothing to be afraid of," Ying-Ying reassured them. "See?"

She held the box out to the light and an image formed on the inside of the lid. A long, snake-like creature with claws at the end of its toes and horns on its head. Its scales shimmered with bright color, matching its full, elegant mane. Two tendrils drooped from each side of its nose, like a long mustache. They all watched as the pictured ebbed and flowed like liquid glass.

"Is that the Pearl Dragon?" Shu Li whispered.

"Yes," Ying-Ying whispered back. "My greatest friend and my greatest protector. One of the Messengers of the Gods Themselves." Her smile was gentle, but sad. "Would you like to hear my story?"

The children glanced at each other. "Is it scary, Nai-Nai?" Chu Ruo asked.

"Some, but it is also happy and sad, too."

"May we hear it, Nai-Nai?" asked Shu Li.

The others, encouraged by Shu Li's enthusiasm, echoed the question. Ying-Ying coaxed them close to her in a tight knot, then wrapped a warm woolen blanket around them all. She held the Pearl Dragon's Gift between her hands.

"It happened a long time ago, on the other side of the Tong Mountain, when I was a young Maiden of the Li clan..."