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Love, Simeon Posts

Working on the Craft: Journalism

Continuing with the exercises from The 3 A.M. Epiphany , today’s pick is Exercise 5, titled Journalism. The idea is to tell a short story through journal entries and try to convey important parts of it in the gaps between what is written. A play on the writer’s perceptions and the reader’s expectations. Which, of course, made me think of Gene Wolfe, and his Seven American Nights, which to this day is one of the best short stories I have ever read. So, without further ado, here is my mediocre tribute to Gene Wolfe.

January 7: I arrived in Reprobation at sunset. It’s a small, shitty place, way out of any trade route that still exists in this blasted wasteland. One of those townships where prospectors gathered back when everyone thought they would strike crystal if they only dug deep enough. And once it was clear this asswipe of a land would rather swallow them up than give anything of value, the dregs remained, too obstinate or too desperate to move.

I got a room in what passes for an inn around here. Too expensive for what it is. But I think the guy saw the hand cannon and decided I would want to do this question-free style. He is right.

Everyone is weird. They act almost like normal folk, but then give me these long looks, like they measure me for a coffin. Doesn’t matter. If anybody is moron enough to try something, my gun loves making examples.

Moonless night. Reprobation is too quiet. Maybe it’s such a depressing town that even those whiny murder lizards  from the wilds don’t want to be nearby and make noise. I miss the moons. That was a dumb war.

He is here. And if he isn’t, he sure as fuck passed through, and someone knows where he went.

January 9: This town has fewer than a 300 people, only one purifier station, no means of long-range communication, and so little high technology that it might as well be from before the diaspora. Yet, some-forsaken-how, it has a church! Because obviously it would. People who stay in places like Reprobation tend to find gods. Or worse – a God, singular. Still, made sense to go there first thing yesterday.

Why do religions with just one dude – and it’s always a dude – in charge suck so much more ass than those with a merry crowd of drunks and sex abusers?

This one had three gods, maybe. Or four. Barely any finery. No icons, just a drab alter and some carvings on the walls. Creepy stuff. Tentacles and fangs, and big bulging eyes. What fucking religion is this?

A single woman taking care of the whole thing. Priestess. Or High Bishop, Supreme Wizard, whatever. I guess she told me, but who cares. Weird like the rest of the township. Stared at me like she wanted to mate with me and feed my body to her young. And she knew nothing. Which is bad, because it seems most of this glorified latrine passes through her hovel on whichever day service is. So either he is hiding better than I thought he could, or she is lying to me.

Or he passed by so quietly, that nobody noticed.

But he didn’t. Not his style. And a place this small will notice the corpses.

Still, the day wasn’t a total waste of life. Inn has a bar. Reprobation has drunks. Drunks love talking. When they don’t love talking, a hand cannon in the face makes them talk. And mine is fancy. Exo-tech. It whispers to them, so they get extra scared.

They still looked at me funny, but I guess alcohol loosens their buttholes a bit. Got some information there. Someone did pass through, a week ago. They didn’t want to tell me, and I doubt they knew much. I don’t know if they’re secretive, or unobservant. Perhaps both.

But why would the Grand Hierophantess not want me to know?

Going to check the nearby caves today. Mine didn’t work out, but tunnels still make great hidey holes. They say people go in there sometimes, to avoid trouble. If he is still around, that’s where he would go.

Innkeeper looks like he will try to go through my things while I’m gone. If he hasn’t already. Doesn’t matter, everything I care about is in the holster at my hip.

And maybe the nearby caves.

January ???: I don’t know

Woke up in room how did I get here

Hurts so much but only when I breathe should stop breathing

I can barely move. Don’t know how I got back to the inn. I am not sure what happened in the mine. Got shot. Maybe stabbed.

Bitten? Why would that be an option?

I remember noise. Loud. And then something was on me, and I think I fell. I remember the pain, but nothing after. Was there bulging eyes?

Don’t know how long I was out, or what day it is. Panicked real good when I could think straight. No pants and no shirt is fine, but if they took my hand cannon, I am fucked.

It was fine. Gun was in its holster on the chair. Not fucked.

Maybe a bit fucked. My side is all bandaged up. Wasn’t me. Inkeeper guy? The Archpopetress? Fresh bandage too, so they changed it at least once. Hurts when I breathe. But manageable.

Thank you for the memories, Reprobation, you lizard nutsack.

But also, no memories. What happened in the mine? My thoughts keep going back to the church for some reason. Who in the endless starless void worships things with tentacles? This is some fifty-million-years-ago shit.

Must go back to tunnels, but hurts too much. Gotta gather my strength. Should rest now. Maybe getting feverish.

January 12: I woke up and felt wonderful. The bandages were such a great relief, and I was thankful to the kind soul who had taken such good care of me, nurturing me to good health so quickly. If I ever find who they are, they shall have my love.

I endeavor to leave this place now, for what I seek was not here. Perhaps I shall abandon this journey and settle down elsewhere. Certainly far from here, even if Reprobation has proven a worthy township.

This will be my last entry. I leave this journal here, as a memorial to the life I leave behind, and a promise for a bright, beautiful future in a distant land.

Do not look for me.

C2E2 Panel Report

Last year was the first time I actually went to a panel on writing. Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo is a comic-con, rather than a professional one, but they had acquired some impressive names, such as Mary Robinette Kowal and Cory Doctorow, among others (both of whom are absolute rock stars by the way). This time around the stable was even larger, with people such as John Scalzi, Terry Brooks, and Sam Sykes, as well as a number of first-time authors like K.M. Szpara and Chris Kluwe, and a serious presence of the Horror and Young Adult variety, spearheaded by Joe Hill and Rainbow Rowell respectively.

I focused on the SFF panels, which took the biggest chunk of my convention weekend, and it was an energizing (and a tiny bit frustrating) experience. Despite the well thought out panel topics, the actual result seemed to always amount to “writers talking about writering”, which I totally loved. And listening to people you admire share their experiences in the field you ascribe to, helps tremendously to humanize and demystify said field.

On the other hand, having people talk about living your life’s dream when you sometimes feel so far away from achieving it, can be a bit depressing (beer helps with that, by the way). More than anything though, it paints in stark colors the simple fact that the steps to traditional publishing are very simple, very accessible, and each one requires tremendous amounts of work, patience, and determination. There are no short cuts. But in its own way, this is motivating as well.

Some highlights:

K.M. Szpara and the importance of being earnest. Even among a group as diverse as the panels at C2E2 offered, Szpara stood out to me, and not only because I had practically just finished his book (or because, I was somehow the fanboy who got to be his first signee). He approached both of his appearances (“Tor Presents: Chaos and Cosmos” and “The Devil You Know”) with a mixture of thoughtfulness and passion that really resonated with me. An awareness of the current field, mixed with an impish attitude that I, in my rigid glory, can only admire from a distance. Plus, raising awareness of the important issue of whether Dolores Umbridge would make a good dom.

One thing that stuck with me was his advice on approaching fiction writing with the abandon of a fanfic writer. No fear of censorship, no need to worry about market or reception. It is a constant struggle and a subject of endless second-guessing for me, trying to determine whether I write a certain way because I want to, or because I think that’s how it’s “supposed” to be written. It was refreshing to hear someone who has achieved success vouch for the former. And though of course one can’t just ignore all external factors when pursuing traditional publishing, it is a nice reminder all the same that ultimately you write better when your primary drive isn’t worry about what the market might expect.

Zack Jordan and the value of showmanship. Zack appeared on only one panel – “Authors on ‘The Best Advice I Ever Got’” – which makes sense, considering his first book, The Last Human, is not even out yet (it is scheduled for late March). That particular panel quickly became a conversation about editing and author reaction thereof, and Jordan made the very important point that if you are trying to get published and sell your work for moneys, then you are no longer writing just “for yourself”. And the editor is the person whose job is to champion the book, not stifle the author, provided of course that the two are a good fit.

What was interesting to me about him though, was not the panel, but rather his booth on the main floor, glued to the Del Rey stand. Jordan, who has background in tech (one assumes) startups had set up a whole performance installation where he and a couple of other dudes in jumpsuits were “scanning” the crowd for potential humans, and issuing honest-to-Cthulhu, printed on the spot ID cards of your actual race, with picture and everything. Beyond the fourth wall, he was also handing out advance reading copies of The Last Human, and when I questioned him about the whole thing, he told me that Del Rey had provided the booth space, and he had set up everything else, from his helpers, to the card printers, the scanning app, all of it.

Moral of the story? For obvious market reasons, first time SFF writers are nobody’s budget priority. But if you are good at selling yourself, you can make a big impression with limited resources. Now if only I could in any way leverage classical violin training for PR…

John Scalzi and the JOHN FUCKING SCALZI!!! Perhaps a little context is necessary. I am sure I will end up writing about this in a bit more detail in the future, but suffice to say that The Collapsing Empire was the book that made me decide I was going to get off (on?) my ass and actually write a damn novel. Later that same year, You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop To A Coffee Shop: Scalzi on Writing was the collection of blog posts that made me decide I was going to pursue a writing career like a real boy.

So, while I wouldn’t credit Scalzi’s work with the inspiration for my own writing, his personality has definitely been directly responsible for my believing I can do this. And meeting him in person was such an amazing experience. He is a smug dork in the best possible way, and despite having the second largest autograph line after Terry Brooks, he spent a lot of time chatting with everyone and being friendly as hell. In the end, he told me to “keep writing, and don’t dare stopping”, and in my head canon, he is greatly invested in my success.

This is by no means the extent of my impressions of the convention or the writers I met there, but most of my other experiences boil down to small anecdotes, reinforcements of personal feelings, and some truly encouraging advice and raw emotion from Sam Sykes, who I shamefully had not read a word by until the very morning of C2E2 — a mistake I am currently fixing with enthusiasm. Also worth mentioning is Chris Kluwe , who was insanely charming and showed me that just because I am a bigot who thinks sportsball is dumb, doesn’t mean sportsball people can’t be thoughtful or have meaningful contributions outside of hoops, or whatever it is you do in the NFL.

Overall, after nearly a decade of walking around booths of comic books, artwork, and toys, standing in lines for autographs and photo ops with cast members of Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I am discovering that my inner diligent student likes sitting in panels discussing the craft and business of writing more than pretty much anything else a con might offer. So I am definitely ready to test this theory at a professional lit-con. Hopefully, I get a chance later in the year.

Reading Update: 03/04/20 – Post-Convention Shameposting

C2E2 was very much a success (in the sense that I got to listen to people who are living out my life’s dream talk about living out my life’s dream, which is simultaneously its own punishment and its own reward), but my book acquisition rate continued its upward trajectory. There is a reality show somewhere, waiting to have me on an episode, and I do not know if I should be proud, or deeply ashamed. But either way, here is the boon — some of it purchased, some freely given, most of it autographed — for accountability purposes. Not featured — Chris Kluwe’s Otaku, which I forgot to put in the shot, and which gives me just the right kind of Ready Player One vibes.

Now if I can be strong enough to keep to my previously established reading plans…

Working on the Craft: Three First Lines

Today’s exercise comes courtesy of a recent Writing Excuses episode, in which literary agent DongWon Song suggests rewriting drastically the first sentence of a work in progress three different ways. The result is, by necessity, short, but it actually took me a while to get the different versions to be anything I would want to start a story with. Funnily enough, I am now considering changing the original.

Disclaimer: the opening paragraph this is taken from is an establishing shot of a very non-terrestrial world. As such, it features some terms that are defined through context and might not make sense to readers in isolation. Hopefully, this won’t make the entire exercise unreadable for people who are not currently writing my book.

Original: Valen stood at the edge of the world and looked down upon the mists beyond.

Version 1: A world with no horizon greeted me when I reached the mouth of the cave, all distances drowned in the glowing mists of Ocean.

Version 2: An endless blue swirl of mist spreads before you as you reach the end of the tunnel, the dance of color at once calming and dizzying, making you put a hand on the stone wall so as not to fall into the abyss below.

Version 3: The Arc in the night sky bathed Ocean in its golden glow when Valen came out of the cave, and he needed a moment to orient himself, his sense of proportion dwarfed by the immense vista.

Review: Docile

I first heard about K. M. Szpara’s Docile on an Our Opinions Are Correct episode titled “The New Anti-Capitalist Science Fiction”. My speculative passions tend to go in a different direction from the exploration of social justice themes, so I was initially only mildly interested. Then, as I listened to the interview and Szpara’s passion in describing his work, I became more and more interested. And when I was lucky enough to get an ARC of Docile, I jumped on the chance to read it early.

The story takes place in a maybe-future, maybe-alternative reality, where debt cannot be negated by bankruptcy or death, but is instead inherited throughout generations. The United States have been separated into trillionaires, the people who work for trillionaires, and the destitute, who are bent under backbreaking debt. A new system allows those to sell part or all of their debt to corporations or rich individuals in exchange for a portion of their life. They become a “Docile” — read, indentured servant — and retain only seven rights, most of which do them little good, since almost everyone opts to take Dociline. The drug makes one into an obedient blob of blandness, perfectly able to follow commands, but otherwise oblivious and unable to retain memories of the time when they are on it.

However, Elisha Wilder knows that Dociline is not as harmless as advertised. His mother once sold ten years of her life to chip away at the family’s debt, and the drug never left her system. So, when he decides to sell his entire life away to absolve his father and sister of what’s left, he uses one of his seven rights to refuse the drug. The problem? His new patron is heir to the pharmaceutical empire that makes Dociline. And once Alex Bishop realizes what he has inadvertently gotten himself into with Elisha, he sets on a mission to house-break his new Docile through a system of rules, punishments, and rewards. But this leads to effects neither of them could have anticipated.

Docile is a work of dystopian fiction. It is also, in a certain sense, a romance. But at its core, it is a story about agency, consent, and power dynamics. With a lot of butt stuff! The tag line on the front cover reads “There is no consent under capitalism”, and that theme permeates every page of the story. The relationship between Elisha and Alex is so unbalanced from the get go, that any argument pertaining to consent is blown out of the water. For Elisha, the “choice” is between signing his body autonomy away (and he is well aware the transaction will involve sex), or allowing his parents to go to debtor prison, or his 13-year old sister to take his place. It is a false choice.

However, Szpara does us dirty and makes us sympathize with Alex as well. Docile is written in the first person, present tense, alternating chapters between its two main characters. Were the story only told from Elisha’s point of view, it would be easy to think of his young patron as the villain. But we get to be in Alex’ head so often that it becomes impossible not to understand what forces have shaped him. And that’s where the tag line shows its brilliance. Because Alex has no more real freedom than Elisha does. He has to own a Docile to satisfy his family and board of directors, or he risks losing everything he has worked so hard to build. To him, this is just as much a “choice” as it is to the person whose life he has purchased.

Docile however treads delicately around this dynamic. Szpara never quite “excuses” what Alex does to Elisha, even if he helps us understand him. While he is not a full on “villain”, he is certainly in the wrong for a large portion of the story. And once the dynamic is broken — in a development that I found not only unexpected, but tremendously satisfying — there are no easy answers to the predicaments both characters have found themselves into.

Docile does its best to explore the complex layers of consent honestly, but Szpara does something that I have already seen criticized — he makes the sex scenes arousing. Like, really arousing. He is good at writing sex. Not the alluded, romantic, or symbolic type of sex either, but the smutty, borderline pornographic, things-are-called-what-they-are type of sex, with some kink as the cherry on top. However (and this is where Docile should probably come with some content warning), as the book makes it clear that Elisha’s “consent” is anything but, what Alex does to him is… well, rape. Should rape be “sexy” then?

No, it should not. But things are not as simple as that. As Szpara keeps us so close to the characters that we can taste their sweat, he allows them to experience what happens to them through their own senses. Elisha experiences his own breaking in a fog of confused arousal, and so I appreciate the author’s ability to convey that in the description of the act. Now, does this explanation work for everyone? No. Should it? Maybe not. But it did work for me and in a certain way, it heightened the experience of reading the story.

In the end, Docile is very clear about what its goals are, but it goes beyond the call of duty. I expected some exploration of late stage capitalism, some romance (though I was surprised at how complex Szpara’s approach to that was), perhaps a whiff of slave-fic. What I did not expect, was how well the book would be written. The nearly 500 pages flow with ease, the voice of each character so engaging, the plot so well paced, that I could not put the damn thing down. The book delivers on its promises, but more than that, it is entertaining as all fuck, smart, just the right amount of sexy, and both brutally, and tenderly honest. It is a big recommendation from me, and I cannot wait to see what Szpara does next.

Reading Update: 02/26/20 – State of the Reading Update

If you’ve been with me in all three seconds of this blog’s existence, you will remember the very first Reading Update and the shameful admission that followed. ‘Tis true, I suck at planning and adhering to plans once I make them. BUT! Things happen — ARCs, and Cons, and I-Saw-Something-Else-In-A-Bookstore-And-Had-To-Read-That-Instead. Anyway, I am happy to report that despite my many failures as a human being, I have now covered half of the books I set out to read back in that first post, despite the process being interrupted by reading a ton of other stuff. This blog has already fulfilled one of its purposes, which is to keep me accountable. Even if I end up being the only one reading the account.

Working on the Craft: Omniscient Out of Sync

As I am listening to the entirety of Writing Excuses for the 3rd (I think) time, I decided to actually try and do some of their prompts this time around. In S07E12, titled Writing the Omniscient Viewpoint, the exercise in the end asks us to write a dialogue from an omniscient third person, in which the characters are out of sync with each other. Now, I am relatively certain that the goal here was to achieve this through mostly/exclusively dialogue. But once I started, I found myself enjoying the scene, so this is what happened. I think, objectively speaking, I may have only paid lip service to the actual prompt. But it was still fun to be in the heads of two people not understanding each other, so I don’t consider my time wasted.

Villem felt hot all over. He wished it were as simple as a fever but knew better. His hand twitched, wanting to scratch the bandaged wound under the sleeve of his shirt. He stopped it. Scratching only made the itch worse. And the waves of heat radiating from the bite.

‘Something happened to me,’ he said, his throat dry. ‘I was… attacked. In the forest.’

Linea felt the words like slaps on her cheeks. Her little brother’s face was red with anxious flush, his entire body seemed to tremble. She had known something was awfully wrong the moment he slammed the door of her hut open. She wanted to reach out and comfort him. But it seemed that it was too late for comfort. And this was her fault.

‘I am so sorry, Villem,’ she said. ‘Did they hurt you?’

How could he deny it? His sister had always been on his side, even when he had grown up different from other boys. She stood by him and defended him when the others made him an outcast in the village. Would she turn away from him now? ‘N-no. Not a lot. I bandaged it, and…’ His hand went to the hidden wound now, rubbing at the place over the sleeve. The shivers the touch sent through his entire body were almost pleasurable. ‘I am sorry.’

‘Bandaged it? Let me see!’ She reached forward, but her brother pulled back as if burned.

She felt the beginnings of true anger. The other youths could be cruel. Their parents thought Villen morally bankrupt, and had taught their sons to fear his attentions, and their daughters to mock his manliness. She knew they teased and insulted him. But to draw blood? This was an outrage. He was different, but he was still part of this community.

‘I need to teach them a lesson,’ Linea said through gritted teeth. ‘The village healer’s family is off limits to these monsters.’

‘A lesson?’ Villen stared at her in disbelief, the feverish heat in his body almost forgotten. Was she deranged? He had always looked up to his sister, but the things that had attacked him in the forest were beyond even her ire. ‘You cannot teach them a lesson! They will tear you apart!’

She was baffled, then felt her heart break. Had it become this bad? Did he really fear the other villagers this much? A decision formed then, one that was both sudden, and – she realized – the result of months of buildup. ‘We are going to leave this place,’ she said.

‘Our home?’

‘It has not felt like a home since father’s death. And I think things will only be getting more… compicated.’

‘Complicated.’ Villen repeated the word. ‘Complicated.’ It felt strange in his mouth. Like trying to fit a ball in a square hole. His sister thought going away from the village would help him? Or was she just trying to save the villagers? He couldn’t blame her. Already, his nose assaulted him with smells he had never experienced before. His ears throbbed with too much sound, as if the hut was full of people whispering, feet shuffling, cloth rustling, wood scraping on wood. It was driving him mad. ‘Where would we go?’

‘There is another village a day upstream into the mountains,’ Linea said with more confidence than she felt, and turned her back to him, already making lists in her head, looking at the shelves on the wall. ‘I need to pack a few things, leave some notes for the elder, and we could be gone by morning.

‘And you think they could help me there?’

Her hand froze as she reached for a book. She wanted to lie and say yes. But she could not. As a woman of healing, she knew that there was no helping her brother. He was not broken or sick. He was just born different. It angered her to see him this distraught. Perhaps the new place would be kinder, see that he was a gentle soul. She wished he didn’t have to hide his desires from others, for they harmed no one. But could he? And if not, how long before things in the new place were just as bad as here?

Still, Linea forced a smile as she looked at him over her shoulder. ‘I can help you. I will help you. But not here. We must leave.’

Villen felt relief flood him. His sister could help. She knew herbs and medicine. Maybe she could stop this curse. He opened his mouth to thank her, but a wave of nausea overcame him. A horrifying itch spread from the bandaged wound under his shirt, and the skin on his hand grew darker before his horrified eyes, tiny black hairs sprouting from his skin. He looked up, but his sister had her back to him. He felt a sudden urge to jump on her back, to tear and bite, and smash.

‘Oh, Villen?’ Linea said, turning to find her brother with his back to her, about to leave through the already open door. He stopped. In his hunched back and stooped shoulders, she read so much tension that it scared her. He was like an animal about to pounce. Tears threatened to well in her eyes at the thought of how threatened the villagers had made him feel. ‘Pack light. We will have a long walk and little time to rest, if we want to reach the village by nightfall.’

He stood still, his shoulders rising and falling with his ragged breaths. Linea made to go and put a hand on his back to make him relax, but as she stepped forward, he just grunted and went out the door.

And as Villen walked outside in the cool night air, he knew there would be no leaving. Not with his sister at least, who only wanted to help him, but who would not survive a day’s travel with him. He knew it was too late. A soft buzz fogged his thoughts, made it hard to focus. His chest swelled, skin stretching over muscles and bones that were growing bigger than they had ever been. He felt his shirt ripping in several places. The smells and sounds of the village assaulted him from all sides.

‘Oh hey, look, it’s Villen, looking for victims in the night,’ a mocking voice said. He looked up, his vision suddenly tinted red. Two boys stood across the little square. One pointed at him. The other laughed. For some reason, he could not recall their names.

He started walking toward them.

The Unbearable Lightness of Drafts

Back when I started this journey of “You know what, Imma do this for realz!”, I began reading and listening to people who knew more than I did about the craft of writing. Everyone had their quirks of process, different things they were better or worse at, varying ways of approaching it. I am happy to have seemingly reached a point, where it doesn’t all feel abstract and I can start figuring out how those experiences apply to me, rather than stumbling completely in the dark.

But one thing that none of the books and podcasts prepared me for, was drafts.

As I have said before, my current writing is a mutated form of obsessive-compulsive discovery. I completed the initial draft of a novel some time ago, after a fairly pants-y process of figuring out what the story was, and how to get it to go where it seemed to want to go. I went back constantly to rewrite, adding or removing passages, lines, or entire chapters. Then I gave it some time to ferment, while jotting down thoughts as they came to me, about what the second draft should be like.

Now, over halfway through said second draft, I feel incredibly overwhelmed. Happily, this is not preventing me from working on it, but it is so much more difficult than I expected it to be. The book is… not small, and I have introduced some significant changes after I had time to think about it. But my brain helpfully dredges up a constant stream of loose ends, things that have suddenly become inconsistent or nonsensical after the new alterations, or simply “better” ideas of how events and characters are to evolve.

This is not my first novel, but it is the first I mean to push through a querying stage. As such, it is the first time I am faced with such a level of complexity in editing, and I was surprised at how difficult it was. (This is not to be taken as me claiming that I am doing a good job of it…)

The conversations by professional writers regarding drafts, that I have encountered so far, are mostly about the spectrum of outlining and discovery. Whether people favor one, the other, or a mixture of the two, the focus tends to go into the different approaches, with multiple drafts taken as a given when the process is closer to the discovery end. I had expected that, of course, since my fledgling attempts at outlining started way after I was finished with my the first pass on this work.

But the sheer chaos of it, and the daunting awareness that for every change I make, I might be creating three new problems? Or that I might be losing the structure of the novel? Or realizing that for all the time this draft is taking, the novel will require at least a couple more? I mean, seriously, can you have an impostor syndrome before you’re published, or is this just over-the-counter anxiety?

Either way, the challenge is still about 5% more inspiring than it is depressing, so I am muscling through and learning from it. But It goes to show just how surprising certain obstacles can be, despite thinking you have anticipated them. Apparently – just like in literally every other field known to the human species – no amount of preparation can make up for the real experience. Who knew?

Reading Update: 02/19/20 – Pre-Convention Edition

It may have already become evident from the Reading Updates so far, that I tend to change plans mid-stride. My reading habits are not entirely chaotic, and if anything, the act of putting them down on this blog has helped tremendously in keeping me on track. But sometimes one encounters extenuating circumstances. Getting ARCs of books I’ve been anticipating, is one such. Another, are conventions. Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (or C2E2) is happening soon, and there are several panels with science fiction and fantasy writers. Some of them I have never heard of. A few have been on my to-read list for a while.

And a couple have changed my life and inspired me to pursue writing as a career.

But either way, this means catching up on some books I had not planned to read yet. Not that I am complaining, it’s always great to become acquainted with a new author. Now I only have to find the balance between excitement at specific titles, guilt from not not following my plans, and the urgency of reading books before the convention comes, so I am not a total idiot if I interact with people I admire.

In the end, I get to read a ton. So I still win ^_^

Working on the Craft: Unreliable Third

Continuing my journey through Brian Kiteley ‘s The 3 A.M. Epiphany, and Exercise 3 is both simple, and infuriating: Write a fragment of a story from the perspective of an unreliable narrator in tight third person. We are so used to unreliability being the realm of first person, that it was a really exciting thought process to tell a story I knew was wrong, but through the perspective of a more detached, supposedly less subjective point of view. Kiteley’s idea is that in this way, the author can play within the edges of unreliability, and actually coax more trust from the reader. And unlike a first person, where you understand the thought processes of your character and know how to use them to mislead, it seems that if you use third limited, you have to believe your own lie to a greater extent. Or at least that was my experience.

Waking up was a burst of joy. He arose and contemplated his reflection in the mirror.

That he was alive at all, was a miracle to his parents. When the terrifying illness had taken hold of their precious beautiful newborn, they had wailed. Oh how they had wailed! Matronly nursemaids had ran from the castle screaming in terror. Healers had fainted, too weak to comprehend what had befallen the Duke’s family.

His mother and father had wept for joy, he knew, when the illness had simply gone away one day. He woke every night, basking not in dreaded sunlight, but in the feeling that radiated through his home – of a family that cherished and loved him, of servants that rejoiced in his existence, saw him not as master, but as kin.

He opened the door and left the shadowed cave of his chambers, as he did every night. He enjoyed roaming the corridors upon waking, once the harsh dayglow he only faintly remembered was gone from the world. The hallways would echo with his footsteps, hushed voices drifting from far away. Those usually dwindled further as he approached. He wondered now, as he sometimes did, at the coincidence. He was the beloved master, the shining liege, and as he grew fat with joy, so did his servants and parents grow to love him even more. But yet there was rarely a soul nearby when he began his nightly strolls.

No matter. Should he wish for something, he knew he had to only call out.

There was much to do in the castle at night, much to experience. His pale skin glistened. The light from the lanterns that lined the walls painted oily colors across the length of his arm when he raised it before his face. He laughed, turned it around to see the play of crystalline reflections, as it danced up his lean triceps. The skin of his neck stretched and he felt the familiar click inside as he moved his head to chase the pattern further, over his shoulder and down his ribbed back…

A soft gasp brought him out of his reverie and he allowed his neck to return to its usual position, to look upon a young servant boy, standing frozen at the entrance of a side chamber. The boy’s eyes were wide with awe and a bead of sweat traced a line down the side of his face. The servant dare not breathe for fear that his beautiful lord would avert his countenance away.

He laughed. The boy need not fear. He moved forward, crossing the distance with a single glide, and reached with long fingers to caress the servant’s face, taking the bead of sweat with the tip of a nail. The boy trembled with adoration. He laughed and made to turn away and heard a gasp behind him.

He got confused for a moment. It happened sometimes. He was used to it and did not let it worry him.

As he continued roaming the corridors, screams sounded somewhere behind him. They made him wince. The castle was a happy place. His very presence brought delight to all who lived there. And yet, on occasion during his nightly strolls, there would be such dreadful tumult! It made him angry, but he was as merciful as he was beautiful. The bounty of his joy was big enough for all to partake, even if at times they would refuse to be content.

His very mother had wailed and screamed at him once, the tears so striking on her normally smiling face. She knew how much he loved her smile, and so she always smiled for him. But that time she had not smiled, even when he told her to. She had been the one confused then, his mother. Her voice shrill with accusations, yelling something about a brother, calling him – him! – a monster. Her distress had been tiring, and unnecessary as well.

He had never had a brother, he told her, and all the monsters had gone away once he had come through his illness as an infant. He had hugged her tight to console her, and her screams had turned into rasping sobs. She fell on the floor when he let her go, twisted strangely, but when he had made to help her stand, she had screamed that there was no need. She smiled then, the way she knew he liked, and so had his father, when he had turned around to see him standing at the doorframe.

His mother only sat in a chair now, with wheels. He giggled as he thought about the silly contraption, but she was so attached to it. And she never yelled at him anymore, so of course he indulged her in her game, even if it must be uncomfortable at times.

The last vestiges of his confusion were now gone, and he found himself alone once again, in the hallways of his ancestral castle, seeking joy. He licked his fingers without looking at them. They tasted slick, salty. Metallic. He loved that taste. Lived for it. Through it.

As he traveled down the corridors, sometimes skipping on the stone tiles, sometimes gliding above them, he laughed his rich laughter, reveling at the happiness he felt. His dark world was beautiful and filled with the brightness of love. He only had to reach out and pluck it.