Free book — Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb

Here in New Brunswick we are enjoying a gentle fall – nice days and cool temperatures. but the howling winds and bone-chill will soon begin.

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wintercrop

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So, how do the folks on other planets prepare for winter? Find out – the third book in the Meniscus science-fiction series – Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb – follows the characters as they get ready for the chilly season.

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To help you get ready for a winter on planet Meniscus, I am running a free book promotion with Amazon Kindle. Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb will be free in Kindle edition from October 22 to October 25, 2017.

To order, just click here.

Although this is a series, Book Three can be read stand-alone. I hope you will enjoy the read!!!!

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Meniscus Winter by the Water-climb

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Winter on the planet Meniscus is brutal — the plenty of other seasons gives way to scarcity and desperation. Unprepared for the months ahead, Odymn and the Slain find shelter with the generous Argenops, furry, friendly creatures. When Odymn has to survive without the help of the Slain, she must depend on her own wits and her skill at parkour to survive the alien landscape of the Themble. But she is not prepared for new arrivals in the Themble Wood, a group of survivors, freed from slavery when their transport crashes in the Darn’el Desert. On a planet where Human relationships are not allowed, ten people and an alien child take the first steps toward building a community.

 

In the third book first of the Meniscus series, Winter by the Water-climb follows Odymn and the Slain as they try to survive a winter apart from one another’s help and protection.

 

Even in the dead of winter, you can build another home.

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All my best

Alexandra Tims

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Six steps to map-making in fantasy and science fiction

Recently I read an insightful post about map making in fiction. In his blog post, Alex Acks discusses the impossible geology behind Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth. http://www.tor.com/2017/08/01/tolkiens-map-and-the-messed-up-mountains-of-middle-earth/

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Maps are a welcome addition to almost any book. In science fiction or fantasy, maps are part of world-building, a tool for the writer as well as the reader. But a map is much more than a river here, a town there. To be believable and to ‘work’ when the story is told, the creator of a map should think about six components of a workable landscape map.

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geology 2
an outcrop of rock reveals the local geology

1. Basic Geology

Geology is the study of the hard structure of the earth, of the component rocks and sediments and the processes forming and changing them. Geology provides the basic bones of the landscape. Geological features such as mountains are formed when tectonic plates collide or slide beneath one another, causing big wrinkles in the landscape. Deciding the locations of these wrinkles is the first step in making a realistic map.

geology
basic geology of an area showing a mountain range, sloping to north and south

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geology 3
a hilly landscape

 

2. Geomorphology

Geomorphology is the study of the elements of landscape and how those elements are created and changed. When the basic bones of the earth are modified by movements of air and water, landscape elements such as hills, river valleys, deserts, and cliffs are formed.  Thinking about the origin, evolution, form, and distribution of landforms will help create realistic landscapes and maps. For example, if you want a desert on your map, imagine how years of erosion might have worked to create it at the base of a mountain range. Look at maps of actual terrain and see how rivers snake across the landscape, and how tributaries join the main stem in patterns.

geomorphology
geomorphology of an area, showing a mountain range, a hill, rivers, a desert, a coastal plain and an ocean

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vegetation 3
two communities of vegetation: a field of blueberries (in autumn red) and a woodland of various kinds of trees

 

3. Ecology

Once you have built the geomorphological elements of your landscape, you can arrange the living components, the plants and animals. Keep in mind concepts of diversity (how many different kinds of plants and animals there are) and habitat preference (for example, some plants and animals prefer wet environments, some dry). Plants and animals needing the same conditions tend to group together in communities (forest, wetland and desert, for example). To make your world consistent and predictable, create profiles for the plants and animals in your world, just as you would for the sentient characters. Of course you world may not have the same ecology as earth … instead of plants and animals, you may have gootangs and elastiboes!

vegetation
two vegetation types: green for woodland and brown for lowland shrubs

 

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land use 2
a city on a peaceful river

 

4. Settlements

If you have sentient characters in your world, they need somewhere to live. Your map can contain individual dwellings or settlements and villages, towns and cities. When you locate these settlement features on your map, consider how sentiments beings choose where to live. They need the basics – food and water; rivers and coastal areas provide some of this. They may also need a way to transport goods, another reason many communities are situated along rivers. They may be located strategically, on a ridge or in a protected valley. Sometimes there are spiritual reasons for choosing a village site – in full view of a mountain for example.

towns
three settlements: villages to the west and east, and a hamlet to the south

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details
roads and paths: details to make the landscape accessible

5. Details

Once the landscape of your map is decided, and it is populated by vegetation, animal life and settlements, you can add details for realism. Roads, trails, picnic sites, crossroads, monuments, sacred sites, cemeteries, gathering places … the possibility are endless. You can also add a scale and a compass to the map (if there is a magnetic north in your fantasy world).

details
details added: a red road connecting the villages and a shrine marked with a star

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6. Places

Place names help your reader situate the action in your story. Some of these names will be set when your story is first conceived. Others may need additional thought. A couple of ideas: unless you have a world where every place begins with the letter ‘m’, diversify the names as you would for your characters. Consider using words from geology and biology when looking for names – cauldera, drumlin, marl … copse, thallus, meristem.

names.jpg
some names put to places, including the towns of Pildran and Jet

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In general

Of course, for science fiction and fantasy, processes may not work as they do on Earth. On my planet of Meniscus, for example, water flows up rather than down and water features such as rivers and their tributaries are not a component of the landscape. Your maps should reflect the ‘realities’ of your fantasy world!

The actual drawing of a map is a subject for a different post. I usually draft my maps first with pencil and paper. Then I refine the details in layers using GIMP.

For more information on making fantasy maps, have a look at Lauren Davis’s pointers at http://io9.gizmodo.com/10-rules-for-making-better-fantasy-maps-1680429159

Have fun with your map-making!

Alexandra

 

Six reasons to write narrative in poetry

Almost every day I wonder if I should have written my science-fiction story in prose, as is usual with fiction. Instead I wrote all three books as free verse, in a long narrative poem. Many people do not like to read poetry — too complicated, too intense, too much like high school. Poetry books, even those that tell stories, do not sell well. There is not even a category in Amazon books for ‘Poetry, Science Fiction’. Poetry is boring.

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I could have written my books as prose. I have written four books (unpublished) of fiction, so I know a bit about the process. If I was given the choice of reading a tale in poetry or prose, which would I choose? I only know, the story of Odymn and the Slain, set on the planet Meniscus, was made for poetry.

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Meniscus Crossing The Churn cover painting (3)

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1. The strange world of Meniscus needs strange description. This is a world where all is viewed through a purple mist.  The smell of cinnamon dominates. Water flows upward not down, and floats in droplets in the air. The alien language spoken on Meniscus is itself filled with alliteration and strange sounds. The word choices of poetry help the reader take the journey to Meniscus.

Bubbles rise, meet surface,

swell to domes, stretch and burst.

Disperse in elastic, floating drops.

 

Droplets hover

above the sheen of mosses,

between emerald and velvet ferns,

fronds flat and freckled.

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2. Poetry allows terse story-telling. A lot of information can be packed into a few lines. Description is sometimes sacrificed, but the reader, embedded in the story, can fill in the detail. Sometimes the world created by the dual effort of writer and reader is more complex and complete.

A slear-snake, trolling for prey.

Nostrils expel viscous breath, visible

in the light of the rising moons.

 

Putrid exhalation,

sulphides and zootoxins,

evolved to paralyse prey.

Three eyes, oozing.

 

Her muscles respond,

propel her forward.

Side-wind and a claw

rakes her back.

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3. The brevity of poetry suits the communications of the characters. The Slain, a genetically modified human with nictitating eyelids and the ability to channel energy to his armour, speaks rarely and briefly. Odymn sometimes jabbers she talks so much. The gaps and rhythms of poetry allow spaces in their conversation, the way white space on the page relieves our eyes.

“Odymn,” she says.

“Named by my father.

 

“Now you,” and points at his chest.

 

Blue sparks snap to the tip of her finger.

Faint vibration through hand, along arm,

deep into torso.

 

Penetrating stare.

Lazy double blink.

Membrane and lashes close and open.

 

“OK. I’ll choose a name for you.

Daniel. Or James.

Not quite right, too common.

 

“You need an alien name.

Something deep from Dock-winder mythology.

Amblyn, god of fire. Or De-al, water-weld.”

 

Steady stare. Double blink.

One hand lifts. One finger raised to lips.

Be silent.

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4. Odymn, the main female character, has a skill to help her survive on Meniscus — she is a practitioner of parkour. Parkour is a way of moving through the landscape with running, jumping and climbing. The flow of poetry helps with the description of the fluid movements of parkour.

Dismount from the tree.

Trunk to trunk and flip forward.

Leap and struggle to stick the jump.

Vault and pivot.

 

Loves the silence,

quiet impact of feet, slap of fingers.

Ballerina toes thumping the stage.

Hands touching the surface of planet.

'parkour through the wood'test

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5. When I write in free verse, I leave out most of the little words, the, and, a …  There is not much room for adverbs or unnecessary adjectives. The nouns and verbs tell the story. Actions read as more immediate, fast-paced and urgent.

Fingers ripping fabric.

Knee on her throat.

Violated by mouths and teeth,

dragged backwards over cobblestones.

Rising mist of red.

Fabric and legs splayed.

Skull-cracking fist.

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6. Love scenes are fun to write in poetry. The reader uses every word to suggest a hundred more. Even a word like ‘peel’ becomes sensuous, embedded with meaning.

He lifts her, removes

every barrier between them.

Cold copper and silken ribbons

peeled away.

 

His skin a brief pause

before muscles

and movement.

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'uneasy sleep'.jpg

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I have considered writing other books in the series in prose. But when I do, I remember what is sacrificed. Brevity, depth, intensity, strangeness and urgency are components I want to keep in the story of Odymn and the Slain. Occasionally, I can relax the poetry to write dialogue, for example. But I always want to return to a place where the reader can walk through a village on Meniscus and experience the surroundings in brief impressions, as we do in reality.

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Narrow streets.

Smooth stucco, mossy stairs.

Aroma of brewing zed.

Passageways exhale

solace, comfort, repose.

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All my best,

Alexandra

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book give-away

Greetings earthlings. Would you like to know more about the planet where I live?

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One way is to read any of the Meniscus Series by Alexandra Tims.

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On Meniscus we have:

three-eyed snakes, twelve feet long;

crawling carpets of carnivorous vegetation;

genetically altered humans with nictitating amethyst eyes.

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You could buy the book … OR … You could win one! I am giving away four copies of Meniscus: South from Sintha at Goodreads from August 6, 2017 to August 14, 2017. No down-side … if you win (selection made by Goodreads), I’ll mail you, free of charge, a signed copy of my book. See the details below. Best of luck.

And stay away from carpets of moss.

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'attack of club-mosses' both halves

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

 

Meniscus

by Alexandra Tims

            Giveaway ends August 14, 2017.

See the giveaway details

at Goodreads.

 

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best always,

Alexandra

Seven sources for story … where do writing ideas come from?

 

 

Where do ideas for writing come from?

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Last November, 2016, while I was busy working on a manuscript of poems about one room school houses, another idea intruded. Within a few days, I was writing a science fiction long poem about two characters adventuring on an alien planet. The sudden urge to write this story surprised even me.

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'horizon' Nov 10 2016 (2016_12_30 00_28_35 UTC)
‘horizon’ November 10, 2016 … one of the first drawings I did to accompany the story. The date says how early my ideas about Meniscus began to gel.

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Looking back, I can identify several precipitating factors:

  • For the previous three or four months, I had been thinking, off and on, with no intention of ever writing it down, about how humans might survive on an alien planet.
  • I have always been interested in science fiction; first on TV with series like Star Trek and Firefly; then in reading of the various Star Trek series, and books by Douglas Adams, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King and many others.
  • I keep a file of older writing – including a few pages of my scribbles from the 1990s about character encounters on an alien planet.
  • My writing group, Fictional Friends, planned to hold a Saturday workshop in sci-fi and fantasy and I had nothing new to present.
  • The weekend before, for the first time in a decade, I participated in a Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game.

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With this background, I wrote the first chapter of Meniscus:Crossing The Churn and read it at the Saturday writing workshop. I think my friends thought I had lost my mind. Three weeks later I had completed most of the first draft of Crossing The Churn.

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Some of my own interests and knowledge became basic to the story:

  • my knowledge about edible wild plants.
  • my interest in parkour; I have arthritic knees but I have watched practitioners of parkour in Halifax and I have never forgotten the impressive way that they move through the landscape.
  • my interest in geomorphology and landforms. One of the first things I did was create a map of Meniscus and much of the plotting and writing was done with the map in front of me.

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meniscus march 2017
Map of the part of the planet where the story unfolds

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Now, eight months and three published books later, other writing demands are tugging at me. So I will take a break from the Meniscus Series for a few months (four more books are in draft form and I intend Book Four to go live in January 2018).

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Writers are inspired in different ways, but my experience tells me that ideas flow from six places:

  • Keep the ideas that float around in your head; jot them down.
  • Keep older bits of writing you have done; someday they may become part of something bigger.
  • Keep having new experiences; you are never beyond learning something new.
  • Join a writing group; their encouragement or incredulity may urge you onward.
  • Mine your own skills, experience and interests.
  • Read, read, read, in a variety of genres.

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These six points only scratch the surface of where stories come from.  I think there is an important seventh point.

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In each of us are basic principles and beliefs we hold important. On the surface, my Meniscus stories are fanciful adventures on alien landscapes. But deeper motivators are at work: the desire to build strong, independent female characters; concern and respect for the human condition; the need to champion diversity; and distain for those who would enslave people and minimize their importance as individuals. I would like to think that these ideals and others like them are the basis of all stories. They are certainly the underlying motivations behind my writing of the Meniscus Series.

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Best always,

Alexandra

building a character for science fiction

When I first began to write my books about the planet Meniscus, I had my main male character firmly in my mind. I knew I wanted a character who would be strong and attractive, but one who would be very quiet. I wanted his motivations to be difficult to understand. And, I wanted him to look like this:

'Eu-hom' Nov 11 2016 (2016_12_30 00_28_35 UTC)

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The idea for my book came from a piece of writing I did in 1990.  The protagonist was a biologist, responsible for cataloguing plant species on an alien planet. One of the characters she encounters is Niober, a genetically-modified human, part man, part energy.

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Scan_20170731 (5).jpg

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When I returned to the writing in the fall of 2016, the name of the biologist (Odymn) and the modified human were all that I kept of that early writing (oh and the last line about being Odymn’s lover and friend). Niober’s name and the planet Kara and the energy beings all went to the bin.

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When I started writing in November 2016 and drew the image above, I was still calling my character ‘Eu-hom’, a very terrible name. That went to the bin as well.

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If I look at other books in the category science-fiction/romance, most covers have an image of a broad-shouldered, bare-chested man wooing a woman with long flowing hair. I immediately did Odymn’s hair up in a braid and covered the Slain’s chest in armour.

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The genetic manipulation idea gives me a lot of scope for making the Slain a bit strange. What really helped was providing some background for the process of genetic manipulation, in the description of another character in my book, Garg, a Doc-winder (tall, long neck, ruthless) (see here to learn more about Dock-winders):

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Garg – A Dock-winder; Head Geneticist at the Human Property Grow-up Facility in Sintha; most of the 49 tattoos on his neck were earned for Human genetic innovations, including energy armour, the nictitating eyelid, metabolic slow-down, thermal-imaging night vision, smooth-muscle vibration and disarticulating thumb and forefinger.

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The Slain’s motivation continues to be a bit of mystery in my books. When he is first introduced, he is a trader in sentient beings, kind but single-minded (take the Human from Point A to Point B). He is the product of his background, brought to Meniscus from Earth when he was eight years old and genetically manipulated to become ‘the Slain’.

I think of him, without home or family, invincible and independent, roaming back and forth across the woodlands and deserts of Meniscus, taking life as it comes his way. And, as a writer, it is easy to decide what he would do in any particular circumstance.

And then, one day, he intercepts a young woman, fleeing from a slear-snake.

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Meniscus Crossing The Churn cover painting (2)

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So, there you have him. The Slain.  A trader in sentient beings. A shrewd negotiator who is sparing with words. Fit, strong, silent in conversation. Not very flexible. A little calculating. Bare-chested except for his armour (and in winter when he wears a tunic). Critical of Odymn’s impulsive nature. Hard to figure.

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All the best,

Alexandra

winter on Meniscus

It’s winter on the planet Meniscus. Snow and bitter cold. Food is scarce and foraging is a poor strategy when everything is deep in winter sleep. All you can do is huddle together and hope for spring.

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wintercrop

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And then, your boyfriend declares he is going on his version of ‘walkabout’. And seven strangers, survivors of a spaceship crash, arrive on your doorstep. Winter survival just went from challenging to impossible!

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survivors crop

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Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb, the third book of the Meniscus Series, follows the continuing story of Odymn and the silent Slain. If you enjoyed Crossing The Churn (the story of the meeting of Odymn and the Slain) and South from Sintha (the story of the Slain’s attempt at redemption), you will love the third story. There are lots of new characters and Odymn’s parkour and foraging skills are put to the test. The book includes new drawings, a map, a glossary, a list of characters and a guide to Gel-speak.

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Meniscus: Winter by the Water-climb is now available in paperback and ebook at Amazon.com.  A quick read, written as a narrative poem. The paperback is $11.99 (US) here and the Kindle version is $4.96 (US) here .

Meniscus Winter by the Water-climb.jpg

 

The third book of the Meniscus series, Winter by the Water-climb, follows Odymn as she tries to survive a winter apart from the Slain’s help and protection.

Copyright Alexandra Tims 2017