Thursday, January 9, 2020

#120 Inside the Emotion of Fiction "BRIMSTONE AND LILY" by Terry Kroenung

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****Terry Kroenung’s  Brimstone and Lily is #120 in a never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction?
end of December 2007/ July, 2008 

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?  And please describe in detail.  And can you please include a photo? in my library/writing nook in Loveland, Colorado; a fold-out writing desk with a laptop, in a corner near the window; very cold and drafty, usually wrapped my legs in a blanket and put a space heater between my feet; shelves of books all around me. We've since moved to a new house in a new town up the road, so now I have a better room with all-new furniture.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? On a laptop, MS Word, cup of tea at hand; can't listen to music when I write, it distracts me; usually a night writer, always have been, though I sometimes squeeze in a page during my planning period at school where I teach; aim for 1000 words a day normally; have done more ('won' NaNoWriMo twice)


What is the summary of this specific fiction work? Brimstone and Lily turns Huck Finn into a girl. Barefoot tomboy Verity spends most of her time at Ford’s Theatre, where her ma works. It’s 1862 and the Civil War is raging. She plays at swordfighting and acting with her only friend, Eddie. Life is good, other than having lost her pa the day she was born. All she has of him is the piece of carved jasper he hung around her neck that day. She calls it her legacy stone. Things change forever when she falls through the basement of the theatre and discovers a magical sword. Fueled by her stone, it can change shape at will and can bestow great powers to her. It also insults her. The spirit of a wisecracking boy her own age inhabits it, and he’s a telepathic handful. Verity names him Jasper and then has to flee a small army of demonic pursuers who want her stone and the sword for their own evil ends. She discovers that a single evil corporation uses black magic to control the world. Even worse, a tragic sorcery error has placed every nation in a different war-torn or fantastic time (Shakespeare lives in England, Napoleon still rules France, literary characters are alive and kicking in Ireland). Along the way there are kidnappings, pirates, zombies, ninjas, combat pelicans, foul-mouthed seagulls, swimming trees, really big bugs, a gazillion swordfights, Roman Legionary rats with speech impediments, Civil War battles, corrupted sorcerers, John Wilkes Booth, and giant poop monsters (really). Oh, and Jasper turns out to be a LOT of trouble. To gain access to his magic, Verity must do him favors. Really inappropriate ones, like drinking whiskey or smoking cigars. That’s apart from the non-stop wisecracks and puns (don’t worry, Verity gives as good as she gets).

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt?  12-year-old Verity has fallen through the floor of the basement of Ford's Theatre (Right) in 1862, into an ancient sub-chamber where's found an equally-ancient magic sword that speaks to her telepathically. The sword is a shape-shifter and can assume almost any form. It holds the snarky spirit of a boy her age, who manipulates her into accepting the weapon and her quest.

Please include the excerpt and include page numbers as reference.  The excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer. 

Chapter 4—Jasper 

    A giant mouse squeaked and the sword clattered across the tiles. Mouse? Where’s the mouse? Is it Ernie? No, Ernie could never be that loud. Must be me. I skittered backward into a dark corner. Dark? Yep, couldn’t see a thing. But a second ago I had eyes like a cat. And now…

     Shivering, my mouth as dry as sand, I huddled into a little ball, feeling even younger and more scared than I really was. This ain’t real. I hit my head fallin’ into this hole. Just a horrible dream as my brain swells. I’ve had worse. Pretty soon I’ll wake up and---or maybe not. Maybe they’ll find me dead down here after the rehearsal. “Poor Verity. What a tragedy. But there’s a war on. Thousands dyin’ on battlefields every day. Life goes on.”

     I felt my heart calming and my breath slowing. Not a sound was audible except that. No actors’ voices filled my ears now. The wonder senses that I’d had when holding the sword had left me. When holding the sword… Sword. Where did it go? Don’t see a talking sword every day. Get movin’, Verity. If this is a dream, time to enjoy it. Life goes on.

     The Legacy Stone still glowed faintly in my fist, as did the letters on the wall. By the Stone’s dim light I crawled toward the middle of the room, groping along the tiles. It took quite a while, but eventually my fingers bumped into the big pommel and felt for the hilt. With a nervous swallow I grabbed the sword and lifted it, still on my knees. Well, to tell the truth, it grabbed me. Honestly. I felt a hand grip mine. Good thing, too, because I squeaked again and tried to throw it away. This time the sword was having none of that. Warm dry fingers clung to mine, squeezing tight. Now I could see in the dark again. Looking at the handle of the sword, I only saw my own fist. No other hand was to be seen. But I could still feel it.

     “Pleased to meetcha!” the ghostly sword voice said. The weapon rose and fell as my hand was shook hard, as if by one of the enthusiastic salesmen who would come to the theatre to hawk their wares. 

     “I’ve been waitin’ for you forever. Really forever, I think. No watch or calendar, but I’m pretty sure ‘forever’ fits the bill.” The voice filled my head but not my ears, somehow.

     “Uhh…,” I said, if that counts as saying anything.

     The sword giggled. It sounded like a kid, a boy about my age. That made it even weirder, but also calming at the same time. 

     “That’s great. Verity Sauveur, ordained savior of the world, can’t put a simple sentence together. Got my work cut out for me, I do.” 

     The voice adopted a snooty Britannic accent. “Here, try ‘Hello, I am enchanted to make your acquaintance.’ It’s easy. Just put your lips together and---”

     “Uhh…,” I cleverly repeated.

     The sword heaved a disgusted sigh. “I thought you got top grades in school! Your teacher thinks you’re so smart you’re unnatural. What would Mr. Ford say if he were here to see you stammerin’ like a drunk?”

     That started to wake me up. “How do you know---?”

     “Hey!” The blade tip sort of melted until it looked like a steely finger. Pointing back at itself it howled, ‘Magick sword!’ Yep, I can read your mind. You can accept that I’m talking to you but the mind-readin’ is where you draw the line?” With that it snapped back to its former shape.


     “OK, let’s try charades. Sometimes we have to take baby steps before we can run. First word. How many syllables?”

     That was the point where it struck me that: 1) I was being made fun of by a talking sword that sounded like the class clown at my school; 2) I stood in some old religious shrine underneath a Baptist church that had been turned into a successful theatre; 3) just above me they performed a Shakespeare play about witchcraft. Call me a sissy, but I just broke down and started sniffling. “Where’s my ma?” I blubbered. “I wanna go home! Help! Get me outta here!”

     My new sword’s blade wrapped around my mouth and shut me up. It wasn’t cold, like steel, but warm and moist like someone’s palm. “Hush!” it whispered. “They’ll hear you.”

     The thought ran through my panicked mind that that had been my intent. How else could I be rescued from this dungeon if no one heard my cries? Boy-sword seemed to hear that without my being able to speak it. “I can get you out of here without their help. In fact, it’s better that way. There are …people…up there who don’t really want to help you.” He said ‘people’ in a way that made me feel cold as a January swim.

     Peeling the obstruction away from my face I asked, “What is all this? It can’t be real. These things don’t happen.”

     “These things happen all the time. People just explain ‘em away as coincidences, dreams, or fantasies. Or else they look the other way and convince themselves that they saw nothin’ out of the ordinary. People are stupid. I know. I used to be one of them.”

     Clever sword. Get me curious and nothing else matters. Wiping my nose on my shirt sleeve, I said, “Used to be?”

     “A long time ago, maybe forever, like I said before.”

     “Do you have a name? Can’t just call you ‘Sword’.”

     “How about Blade of Destiny?’

     “Excuse me?”

     “Too showy? Cleaver of Retribution, then?”

     “I don’t think so.”

     “Edge of Vengeance?”

     “Get serious.”

     “Dread Hand of Reprisal? Bitter Steel of Punishment? Savage Sword of Sorrow?”

     Now I was laughing despite myself. “Maybe somethin’ without a preposition?”

     “Oh, sure. Stifle my creative urges. Crush my artistic aspirations. Trammel my hopes of literary fame into the heartless dust of cruelty.”

     I gave the sword a frown. “Have you been readin’ dime novels down here?”

     “No!” The blade drooped, as if hanging its head in shame. “Wrote a couple, though.”

     I snorted. “Did not!”

     “Okay, you caught me. But I could if I wanted to.”

     “Jasper!” I blurted, inspired.

     “Say again?”

     “I’ll call you Jasper. It suits you, somehow.”

     My Legacy Stone flared up into its full glory at that. “The Stone approves,” said Jasper the Magick Talking Sword. As he spoke the letters on the wall where I’d found him brightened until they filled the whole chamber with their orangey light. “As does my Master.”

     “Who’s that?”

     The wall runes shifted again, like bugs scampering across the stony surface. As they flowed amongst one another, rearranging into a new pattern, more letters sprang to fiery life on all of the other walls. It was like I’d been dropped into the middle of a blast furnace, except that I felt no heat, just…love, somehow. That warm vibration I’d felt when the letters and sword had first appeared filled the chamber again and hugged me like a grandfather. I thought I could smell bread baking and hear puppies yelping. If this was still a dream, then don’t wake me up.

     “You aren’t dreamin’, Verity Sauveur,” said Jasper. “You know you aren’t. Because the dreams you’ve been havin’ are awful.”

     It was true. While the letters continued their journey around me, I saw flashes in my dizzy head of the dream I’d been having off-an-on for a year. I would fall forever down a long hole, like a well, and land in a dark place. Unnaturally beautiful children, all with pale faces and blonde hair, clutched at me with skeletal fingers. They were led by a seemingly-sweet old lady who tried to eat me with her shark’s mouth. A golden-skinned man and an enormous floppy-jowled black dog came to my rescue, fighting them off as I made my escape to the sea. At that point I always woke up.

     Just that brief reliving of the nightmare made me shiver. Jasper wrapped his warm blade around my shoulders until I stopped shaking. By then the letters had stopped moving and taken their final positions. They filled every inch of wall space, starting with the place where I’d removed Jasper and wrapping around clockwise. I stood in the center of the room, constantly turning to my right, and read.

     It was a contract. In Britannic, too.

     Mostly it was Latiny lawyer-babble about the Rights and Responsibilities of the Stone-Warden (me, I figured), who shalt blah-blah-blah until such time as she wilt yap-yap-yap or unless both parties agree to jabber-jabber-jabber… It seemed to be an agreement that I would undertake a quest to use the sword of the Grand Mage (whoever the heck he was) in order to lead the Equity (ditto) against the Lords of the Honourable Company (double-ditto) and return the world to its state of Accord and Harmony. All it required was a drop of my blood as a signature and the Great Battle Against the Shadows could commence.

     Uh-huh. Who did they think they were kidding?

     Me. I was the only kid in the room.

     “Are you crazy?!” I shouted, which only made Jasper cover my mouth again. I had to think the rest at him. “First off, I don’t what any of this is about. Who are all these people? I live in the capital city of America and have never heard a word about any of this stuff. Second, this sure sounds to me like you want me to fight a war and kill people for real. I don’t think so. Third, I’m only twelve years old! Can’t you get some general to do this? Washington’s crawlin’ with ‘em. Can’t swing a cat without hittin’ a dozen. And Fourth, I’m getting’ outta here and goin’ back to Ma and Eddie.”

     I dropped the sword and ran toward the hole where I’d fallen into the chamber. No unseen hand clung to mine to prevent it. Jasper’s voice didn’t invade my head to try to talk me out of leaving. Strange mystical forces didn’t take over my soul and imprison me. My downfall was much simpler than that. I fell down.

     To this day Jasper won’t admit it, but I know he tripped me. I swear I felt a foot stub my toe. Crashing hard onto the tiles, I broke my fall with outstretched hands. The russet stones scuffed up my hands and I winced. Not because of the pain, but because of what I felt in the palm of my right hand.

     Blood. The wound was not so deep as a well…but ‘tis enough. ‘Twill serve.

     A hot wind swirled around me, peeling the letters from the wall and making the cavern look like it was filled with angry fireflies. Far-off voices chanted in a harsh language I’d never heard. Brimstone. Brimstone and lily filled my nose. Swallowing, I tasted something hot and coppery. The sparking letters fluttered around my head like innumerable little bats, then flew straight into Jasper’s wall, which sucked them up into blackness. While that happened I spasmed with what felt like an electric jolt, then fell panting onto the floor.

     Total silence. Total darkness. Total despair.

     Had I just made a deal with the Devil? Or with something else?

     Oh, I felt more alone at that moment than I ever had before or have since. With the sword out of my hand I couldn’t see or hear anything. It was just me lying in the gloom with the feeling that the happy life I’d had up to that point was about to end. I still hoped that the whole experience was only my hallucinating while unconscious from the fall. But that wish began to feel like a scared kid’s vain delusion. Curled up in a ball like a wood louse (feeling like one, too), I cried till my throat hurt and I choked on the tears.

     They say that having a good cry makes you feel better. Maybe, but that night all it did was make me mad. If this wasn’t a dream then it was a nasty joke to play on a little girl and this little girl wasn’t laughing. Aching from the fall into the chamber, the scuffing tumble onto the tiles, the magical jolt, and the bawling, I felt around for that miserable sword. When I finally found it I grabbed the hilt in both quivering hands and cursed at the blade for what seemed like three solid minutes, using every awful term I’d ever heard a soldier or sailor use. When I had run out of breath and swear words I stopped, panting.

     Nothing. No Jasper. No chatty wiseacre talking sword. Is this really a dream after all?

     Growling, I stomped over to the hole in the basement floor where I’d fallen through. I squinted up at it. The opening was too high for me to jump up to and the walls were too smooth to climb. My ‘sword senses’ let me see that the chamber was as empty as a banker’s heart. There was nothing at all that I could stand on to get up there. I blew frustrated air through my lips and considered what to do. Far above, the distant sound of the rehearsal reached me loud and clear. It was one of the murderers of Banquo, explaining that he lay in a ditch with ‘twenty trenched gashes in his head.’

     “Ain’t that a lovely thing to hear while you’re stuck in a dark hole?” I muttered.

     Should I yell for help again? Jasper had said that that was a bad idea, that there were harmful folks up there. But what did he know? Those were my friends up there, or at least friends of friends. Nobody dangerous. Stupid sword. Probably just a figment of my imagination anyway. And even if he wasn’t, did I plan to let a talking sword that sounded like a bratty twelve year-old tell me what to do? If I’m the contracted savior of humanity then I need to start makin’ my own decisions. Jaw set, I opened my mouth to scream so all of Washington City could hear me, if that’s what it took.

     Before any sound could come out I went blind and deaf again. But I’m still holdin’ the sword. What happened to my cat’s eyes? It was hot and stuffy. My breathing echoed in my ears as if I was in a suit of armor. What the---? Did somebody drop a bathtub on my head? With my left hand I reached up to touch my face. I couldn’t. There was metal in the way.

     Turned out I was in a suit of armor…the helmet, anyway. Someone had slipped what felt like a medieval helmet from Ivanhoe onto my shoulders. And they’d done it in the blink of an eye without my knowing it. Now who did I know who could have done that?

     “Jasper!” I snapped, wincing as the sound deafened me. I lowered my volume. “Jasper!” Yanking on the helmet got me nowhere. I stamped my foot. “Jasper! Get this thing off me. I can’t breathe.”

     “I don’t know,” the boyish voice said, sounding pouty. “You called me a lot of horrible names just now. Fairly rude, if you ask me. Were you brought up in a barn?”

     “Next to one, if you must know. On our farm. Come on, let me out of this miserable helmet. It’s hot.”

     “Are you gonna scream? Can’t have that. Alert the nasties.”

     “What nasties?!”

     He took on an elevated hurt tone. “I won’t talk to you if you’re gonna take a hostile attitude.”

     “I’m not hostile! I’m way past bein’---!” I caught myself, took a gulp of air, counted to five. “Jasper,” I went on as if sitting in a library, clipping my words between my teeth, “won’t you please be a dear and kindly remove this lovely example of a twelfth century great helm from my poor little face?”

     “Delighted, my beloved Verity.” Fresh air—as fresh as could be had down in the sub-basement—cooled my nose. That awful helmet vanished. It wasn’t removed, it wasn’t lifted from my shoulders, it just ceased to exist. This magick thing will take some getting’ used to.  Now I could see through the gloom once more. The helmet was melting away into Jasper’s blade, like water running back down a drain. My sword took on its normal shape again and the headgear was just a bad memory. Gonna have a lot more of those, at this rate.

     “Thanks,” I said, rolling my shoulders to unkink them.

     “Not at all.”

     There was a long silence in the underground room. Sighing at last, I said,” I don’t think I can do this.”

     Jasper’s voice was gentler than it had been before. “No one ever does, kid.” 

     “That’s just it. I’m a kid. Twelve years old!”

     “So you keep sayin’. How old do you think I was when they put me in here?”


     “Yep. Say hi to a fellow youngun. Three weeks shy of my thirteenth birthday.”

     Funny how shared misery really does make you feel a little bit better. “How’d that happen?”

     I heard a sad laugh inside my head. “Someday I’ll tell you. No time now. You only have a few minutes to learn the ground rules, I expect. The Stone has probably tingled every Company agent for ten miles.”

     That made me frown. “Ground rules?”

     “The fine print in the contract. You didn’t exactly read it careful-like, I noticed. Magick has limitations and responsibilities, just like everything else.”

     “Is this gonna be like those stories where the genie grants wishes but there’s always a horrible catch? Will I turn into a giraffe later on?”

     Jasper chuckled. “No.”

     “That’s good. ‘Cause if I turn into a giraffe and start bumpin’ my head on doorways, you’re in big trouble, mister.”

     The blade reared up like a horse. There was a strange pause, as if my sword was sniffing the air. “We’re already in big trouble.”

     “Really? What?” I had hoped that those ground rules would’ve been explained before I had to start saving the world from whatever was supposed to be wrecking it. This magick stuff was fun but so far it’d been awful vague on the why’s and wherefore’s.

     Jasper’s voice interrupted my thoughts. It now sounded ancient and weary. “The Bullies have found you. And Venoma is with them.”

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you?  And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? This was the chapter that proved to me that I could write a novel. I'd only written stories and one-act plays before. Until this chapter flowed out of my hands and onto the page, I'd assumed that I had no ideas they could fill a whole book. I laughed out loud writing it, which is not a common thing with me. (Right:  Terry in January 2010)

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. I don't believe I kept any alternate versions of this. I don't work that way. What comes out in the first draft gets reworked on the screen and I don't mark up pages. It gets done in my head.

Other works you have published? Books 2 and 3 of the series, Jasper's Foul Tongue (2010) and Jasper's Magick Corset (2013). Book 4 isn't begun yet. I've literally cranked out 5 unrelated books since then, all in various stages of editing. I have stories in the anthologies Found (2017 Colorado Book Award winner) and Broken Links, Mended Lives (Colorado Book Award finalist) and essays in Customs, Castles, and Kings, Volume 2. There are several plays and play anthologies out, too.

Terry Kroenung Biography

     After having been an Army infantry officer leaping out of perfectly-functioning aircraft, a teacher of Crips & Bloods on a wagon train, and Chuck E. Cheese, adding 'author' to the list is almost anti-climactic. Yet here we are. (Above Left:  Terry In October 2014)     A native of dead-flat Illinois and now a permanent fixture in the Rocky Mountains (there's some culture-shock for you), I write mostly fantasy and sci-fi, despite making my high school English students scribble non-fiction essays until their brains bleed. Do as I say, not as I do.  
     Sitting alone in my library writing is about as splendid an activity as someone with Asperger Syndrome could wish. My beloved and long-suffering wife
(Right) gets stuck in the living room with the basset hounds more often than she'd wish, but at least the TV talks to her more than I do.     Brimstone and Lily, Jasper's Foul Tongue, and Jasper's Magick Corset are the first 3 books in my Legacy Stone series. They are snarky serio-comic YA takes on traditional quest-lit. The idea started as 'swords-and-sorcery Huck Finn' and took off from there. They include a mind-bogglingly bizarre collection of things: shape-shifting swords, Civil War battles, magic cannonballs, combat pelicans, Captain Nemo's sub, kindly Arab terrorists, swimming trees, cyclopean ogres, zombies, lady ninjas, and poop monsters. Brimstone and Lily won the Bronze Medal in Sci-Fi/Fantasy at the 2010 Independent Publishers Book Awards.     I began as a playwright (have to make use of that theatre degree somehow), so I also have several books of plays out there. They've been produced in the U.S. and Europe. Nearly all of them are history-based: American Civil War, 17th century France, and 19th century American west. I cleverly managed to put a fight scene into every one of them.      My present addiction is Steampunk, both as author and performer. I teach Bartitsu (Sherlock Holmes' martial art, an actual Victorian discipline) at conventions. Paragon of the Eccentric, my prequel to Wells' War of the Worlds, won the 2013 Colorado Gold writing contest.Website:
Amazon Author page:
Twitter: @tkroenung

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