Look what just came in the mail.
So you’ve probably noticed that posts have become few and far between. Mostly, this is because I’ve spent the last year or two feeling as though I have everything to learn and nothing to teach.
In lieu of my once-common craft essays, I thought I’d post the first scene of my latest novella, Painted, which I hope to completely finish before November.
Wyrren had wondered, from time to time, if things would have turned out differently if she’d been able to smile at Sebastian. But she couldn’t, and they hadn’t, and now Wyrren stood at her stepsister’s bedroom window to watch the man she loved offer another woman his arm.
The formal greetings took place on the front steps of Sebastian’s home, the Palacia del Torlo, on a cool, sunny spring afternoon. Trees laden with violet and pink buds swayed in the wind, casting lacy shadows on the drive. Lady Kartania Reise dressed in white and wore her dark hair loose. Her people, a host of women in armor stood to one side, his elite bodyguard the other. Carriages pulled away to unload the guest’s luggage. Sebastian leaned close to Kartania, a kiss or a quiet word, Wyrren couldn’t tell which.
They filtered into the palacia; two of Sebastian’s bodyguard, then Sebastian and Kartania, splendid and regal walking arm in arm. The rest followed after, finishing with a man in a long green coat. The tall palacia doors closed slowly, but with a sense of finality.
Wyrren stared at the empty front steps for several minutes more, leaned on the wall with her forehead against the window frame. She shut her eyes, listened to the sound of her breathing and the trees below shifting with the wind.
It didn’t matter anymore.
So, my writing really suffered when my computer died mid-month. Bad Eliza. No cookie. But as I’ve been writing one thousand words a day or so since Norwescon, maybe that can make up for it?
In other news, I’ve finally gotten back the reins on my plot, I’ve broken 100k words (which means it’s much too long, but we’ll cut that down later), and I can see my planned climax coming over my metaphorical hill.
Anyone interested in beta-reading a rough-draft YA Steampunk Fantasy? The end is in sight.
I received this morning a thoughtful critique on the prologue of ‘The Artificer’s Angels’, my steampunk novel. The gentleman in question had several good things to point out: a contradictory description, some wayward sentences breaking the flow, and imagery problems, all of which I was very grateful for.
But at the end he wrote this:
I also wonder if you are trying to emulate Victorian-style prose. If so, I think you might want to reconsider. The reason is that Victorian prose is really difficult for modern Americans to slog through, unless they are reading a book that was actually written in the Victorian era – then they recognize that they have no choice. The only other time I believe American readers would tolerate flowery prose and long, long sentences is if the writer were depicting the action from the first-person POV of a Victorian.
Now, I understand that this is an opinion, and should be weighed like all critiques. But it’s also a projectory opinion. “Other people won’t like it”, and that bothers me, especially since he said nothing at all whether he thought it distracting.
I’m not even a particularly flowery writer.
Ironically, a few minutes later I read a blog post by Mister Dave Kellet, writer and artist of the Sheldon webcomic. It included this:
One of my favorite things that Victorian writers figured out was how the inclusion of scraps of letters, telegraphs, and diary entries within their larger novels could help enhance a story and fill out a world.
Call me crazy, but I wonder if I would rather err on the side of more Victorian. Unrelated short steampunk stories between parts of the novel. Nano-fiction sprinkled here and there, to go with my pen-and-ink illustrations, my omniscient camera, and my insistence on spelling out titles like ‘Mister’. I’d not considered adding more material to flesh out the setting prior, but now I find the thought exciting.
Am I just being contrary? How does that sound, slogging modern American readers?
This is a topic I’ve meant to tackle for a while now, mostly because children are so often so badly written in stories, and partly because I’ve failed to find any good advice on the matter online. Anyone with any tips, tricks, or thoughts on the topic, please, post them in the comments.
Children are… difficult.
Unapologetically selfish. Sweet. Generous. Silly. Mean. Serious. Awkward. Energetic. Lazy. Tough. Fragile. Careless. Intelligent. Foolish. Mirrors of what they see about them. Parroting, grass-stained, stuffed-animal toting, messy children. Frustrated by the difference between what they mean to say and what everyone around them understands.
Children are characters. But they’re also one-person fantasies, and it’s important to keep in mind that they do not, will not, can not have the same perspective as adults. Talk to a little kid some time. They have entire worlds buzzing around their head, and they don’t always seem to realize that these things they’ve collected from movies, from games, from dreams, from things they’ve been told are not always part of real life.
The Little Mermaid will have a girl spending her baths with her legs crossed, kicking and splashing water everywhere, and how exactly do you explain to Mom that you had to rescue the prince from the evil McDonald’s toy when she starts asking things like ‘what were you thinking?’ and ‘Molly, you know better!’?
(Because the answer, of course, was that there was simply no choice in the matter. Doesn’t mom understand that the prince was in trouble? “I had to!”. Then, maybe to get out of trouble later, “Sorry…”)
It goes on. My cousin Sean (age six) informed me that he was actually part of a secret alien race who simultaneously lives on three planets at once and that he was a spy meant to blow up the earth, but that he loves his mommy and daddy too much to finish his mission. He also informed me that his power level was a thousand million, and that he was the strongest ever. I replied that I was actually the Queen Jadis, and I was an immortal necromancer even higher than that for my royal blood. Sean became incredibly indignant, and began to tell me about his secret unlockable levels. It sounded like a bad anime.
Human thoughts. The human wish to be regarded, twisted into a completely new form. None of these are new character traits. They’re just stuck in a form of almost surrealist fantasy, brought into the real world into what would appear to be a random jumble of emotions and raw dialogue. Still difficult to understand, maybe, but along with base personality, I think anyone who want to write children characters needs to take the time to understand where they’re coming from.
Anyone with thoughts on the matter, please, add a comment. I meant to write some more thoughts on this topic, and I’d like to see what people think.
Nathan Bransford started this question, but I thought it interesting enough to relay. How did you get ‘the’ idea for whatever it is you’re writing?
Here are mine:
Why do ghosts wear clothes?
It’s not part of their soul. Neither is their face, their body… these images that represent them aren’t them, not really. They can’t be. You’re seeing a spiritual memory. And if bodies and clothes can be conjured from memory, what can’t?
The Artificer’s Angels
Resurrection is possible, but illegal. They’re going to kill him, if they can.
I wrote about two thousand words tonight, and finished up with this. (Edit: also note, it was 3am and I was sleep deprived).
This is how I think a real paladin would act.
That evening, after the rest had gone to bed, Merrily approached her mama on the sofa and took her warm, wrinkled hand. Gertrude squeezed her, and without opening her eyes said, “What’s wrong, baby girl?”
“Am I doing right, mama?” Merrily asked. “I… I feel silly, but I don’t know. No one seems to be really bad here. I mean, yes, they’ve done some wicked things, but no one’s been hurt. Mister Gennyson tried to put Leo back together, even if he was a grave robber. Uriel wants to take off the law that’ll kill him, Mister Gallows loves his son.
“The vows talk about putting the wicked and the strong to flight, defending the helpless… but I don’t see anyone like that here. I feel like I don’t know what to do. Everyone has reasons. Lots of people, all being reasonable…”
Gertrude squeezed Merrily’s hand again. “Do you think evil things are never done with reasons? Good reasons, good intentions, wonderful goals in sight?”
Merrily thought about that, and she shook her head slowly.
“The evil you fight is not the people. I told Diane we’re all bad people, and I meant it. You start thinking that you’re good and they’re bad, and you’ll be in for a world of trouble, baby. The difference between hero and villain isn’t always in what they want. And if you pay real close attention, you might just see that the bad fellows are the ones that need the most saving.
“Now you come right over here.” Gertrude kissed Merrily’s cheek when she bent down. “You listen to your mama. You were meant to be who you are, little Gamble. Made to be who you are. You keep this boy safe like you promised, and you don’t compromise. Someone’s got to hold the world in check.”
The corners of Merrily’s mouth tugged, then drew into a smile. “Thank you, mama,” she whispered.
“Silly girl. Now, it’s late. What you doing up so late anyhow? Scoot! Bedtime.”
Merrily kissed her once more, bid her a good night, and held her skirts as she took the stairs and tried to keep them from squeaking too loudly on the way to her bedroom above the front porch.
Maxwell’s goal was the very back of his laboratory, next to the drafting table. Uriel’s hibernation put him standing against the wall. For extra safety, Maxwell had had him strap himself into a set of electro-magnetic cuffs at the wrists, the waist, the neck. “This is Uriel.”
Samin looked the man up and down, more than a little disturbed.
Uriel looked human.
He was a big man, just about the same age as Samin if looks were to be any judge. His skin was tan, and because Uriel wore a worker’s undershirt Samin could see that Uriel was heavily muscled. His hair was black, pulled back into a knot behind him, his nose and jaw very strong. He looked like a beast of a fellow, someone Samin would want his axe nearby should he prove unfriendly. Samin turned back to Maxwell. “What is this?”
“He’s… we’ll call him my servant.” Maxwell reached around the back of Uriel’s head and tapped a button he’d installed there– a ‘kill’ switch, should Uriel ever become dangerous. Now Maxwell mostly used it as a way to shock him out of hibernation.
Uriel’s eyes opened. They were red, and they glowed slightly.
“So… is he human?” Samin asked. “I can’t tell.”
“He used to be,” Maxwell said. “I needed a prototype to resurrect after Leo died. I couldn’t try blind on my son.”
“He’s a dead man?”
“I didn’t kill him, if that’s what you’re asking. Filched him out of a hospital morgue. There were some problems, of course, with doing it that way. He’d been dead for at least an hour, and he’s never remembered anything about his life.” Maxwell gestured with his cane brandishing it up and down Uriel’s chest. “This man can carry over a literal ton, and yet delicate enough to reassemble eggshells. Mind like a calculator, memory like a written book. A few extra toys built in here and there. I think this is the pinnacle of my life’s work.”
Maxwell walked to a control booth well away from Uriel and flipped a lever. Uriel’s cuffs were released.
“Why do you keep him locked up?” Samin asked.
“Because he’s dangerous,” Maxwell replied. “Most great artificers are killed by their own creations, you know. I mean to see that that does not become me. Uriel…” Maxwell handed him the list he had written. “I need these things. Load up the crab and ready the hatch doors.” Uriel nodded and left to start collecting things. Maxwell frowned and turned back. “Except for Leo’s personal effects on the bottom… I’ll get those.”
Maxwell seemed to have forgotten about Samin– he left him in his laboratory alone with Uriel.
Samin was fascinated and horrified at the same time. “But…” he finally said, “What is the difference, then, between what Maxwell has done to you, and what Gennyson has done to Leo?”
He hadn’t expected an answer.
“I’ll need a detailed description of what Gennyson did to the younger Gallows before I can answer that,” Uriel said without breaking his work. “But given context and the evidence of grave robbery combined with Gennyson’s history with Maxwell Gallows, I suspect Gennyson had stolen the boy’s body?”
Samin blinked. “Stole, stored, deconstructed, cobbled together badly.”
“Then the difference is that Maxwell is better at his art than Gennyson. In matters of freedom, I have more– the difference between slavery and prison, retrospectively. In situation, his was the better, as Leo continues to have allies after his remaking.” Uriel mounted the ladder at the far side and began to pull it back and forth, taking parts and pieces from selected shelves, packing them into bags for transportation.
“You’re a slave?”
“Yes and no.” Uriel hopped down from the ladder, slammed the stone floor with both feet on landing. “The technical definition of slavery is, ‘a person that is owned by another’. Now, if that definition was expanded, all machines and devices of civilization are the slaves of men, as are all beasts, pets, livestock. The question you must ask is, ‘am I human, or not?’. What is a person? Is it a mind, or a will? Can a dead man yet retain a soul? What is the elusive quality that defines humanity?”
Samin’s mouth was dry. “Do you want out?”
For a brief moment, Uriel stopped working. His voice had such intensity that Samin stepped back. “Yes.”
Samin did not interrupt Uriel again.
I love my villains.
I have never read anything by China Mieville.
He’s been recommended to me for years, actually. I remember… three years ago a fellow I knew raved about it for several minutes. Blogs praise him, word of mouth loves him, authors that I love love him. But I have never read anything by China Mieville.
As it turned out, the Sandpoint library had a copy of Perdido Street Station. I’ll let you guys know how it goes.