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Tag: Writing Exercise

Working on the Craft… Is On Pause

Life has been throwing curve balls at me (sportsball metaphor!) for these past few weeks. I am dealing with it as best I can, but writing seems to have become the proverbial innocent bystander. My creativity is fluctuating wildly, and when the time comes to write, I feel drained and unmotivated. I know myself well enough to expect this to be temporary. But until then, writing exercises feel like too much of a chore.

In the meantime, a housekeeping note. I decided to skip the “Women and Men” section of The 3 A.M. Epiphany. There are some pretty inventive exercises there, but the outdated gender roles and implied relationship dynamics feel like too much effort to navigate healthily at the moment. So my plan, once I get back to the book, is to proceed to the next section, titled “Children and Childhood”.

Working on the Craft: Invisible Woman

We are now entering a section of Kiteley’s The 3 A.M. Epiphany that has the potential to cause some cringe. Titled “Men and Women”, it explores gender dynamics through a very… um… potentially traditional way. To be fair to Kiteley, he wrote this book 15 years ago, and it is based on exercises developed even earlier. Furthermore, he does actually make the point that these gender notions are societally enforced, rather than biological. Still, I will navigate the exercises in the section with caution.

With that in mind, I found this one interesting. “Invisible Woman” asks us to write a short scene of a woman becoming invisible for unexplained reasons. The focus is on what she does, how she interacts with a world that no longer sees her, and how different that is from her normal life (if at all). We all know the creepy violating fantasy of an invisible man. Would a woman from our present day society act differently? This is what I came up with.

I look down and see nothing. It is discombobulating for a moment, as my eyes seem to be floating some five feet above ground. I almost topple over, before the sensation of my feet firmly planted on the concrete of the alley – teehee – grounds me.

Hysteria. Possibly a problem. Oh well.

On that note, I don’t have to worry about losing weight now, so that’s a plus. Though to be fair, I wasn’t that worried about it before either.

I look around. Normal streets on both ends of the alley. Downtownish area, a bit north maybe. I have biked around here plenty of times, and coming out onto an actual street will likely tell me all I need to know to orient myself.

So I am the only confusing thing left. Somehow invisible. Good job. Repercussions to follow, though for now I am in survival mode. Which in my case translates into calm, reasoned, analytical, proactive.

If this is a temporary condition, might as well have some fun with it. If it is permanent, might as well have some fun with it before the existential dread settles in.

But what can I do with invisibility? I can be a creep. Sneak into my gym and troll the showers, see all those ridiculously sculpted dudebros vulnerable and unaware. But this feels somehow… bleak. As I am presented with the possibility, I realize no part of me gets off on voyeurism or control. I am almost disappointed by the discovery. What good is the creepiest of superpowers (let’s go with that description for the moment) if I don’t want to be a creep?

Oh well.

There is all the other personal stuff. If I am close to downtown, then my douchey trust-fund baby ex’ place is nearby. It wouldn’t be too hard to get past the doorman, then wait until his cleaning lady or whatever other bourgeois services he employs lets me inside the condo.

And then what? We’ve been definitely-no-longer-a-thing for over a year. What am I gonna catch him do? Have sex with some other girl? Say something racist to his other trust-fund baby friends? Buy stocks, or whatever it is trust-fund babies do?

As I come out onto the street, and figure out exactly where I am, I head north, still no target in mind. Unconsciously, my eyes go up and to the right, and I actually see the top of his fancy building in-between rooftops. This gives me pause. Okay, so it’s been a while, I no longer have emotional attachments to him. The scars are tastefully faded, the self-recriminations of my own stupidity have abated. But what if I’d dumped him last week instead? Would I have wanted to go through with haunting his ass then? More than haunt? I’ve seen the movies – I know how dark this can get.

I tear my eyes away from the building, just in time to avoid slamming into someone walking directly into my face. I lose my balance and nearly plop head-first into a trash can.

Right. Invisible. Pedestrian quantum mechanics don’t apply to me right now. People will literally try to walk through me.

So, no general creepiness, and no personal creepiness. What’s left?


Can I steal something? Break some law? I rack my brains for a moment, but nothing comes up. Sure, I could use some extra money. Or clothes. Or, frankly, a new laptop. But I don’t think I have it in me to take stuff I didn’t earn. The one thing I’d love to take care of, is my stupid student loans, and invisibility won’t help with that. And as for laws… I think about another assault on female reproduction that the old MEN on the Supreme Court just vomited on the country last week. If I lived anywhere close to DC, I might be tempted to revisit the idea of haunting and worse. But I can’t do much about it from Chicago.

Now that I think of it, I can’t really travel anywhere if I’m invisible. Unless I feel like walking.


So, to recap. I have somehow gained a power so many dream of, and have found absolutely nothing to do with it. Invisibility ultimately amounts to violation, and I am just not the violating kind. For a moment, I consider offering my services to the government.

Right. Hysteria again.

It is almost anti-climactic when I realize that I have gained an outline – semi-transparent shimmer delineating the boundaries of my body. With every step I take, I gain more and more color and texture. People around me don’t seem to notice the no-longer-invisible woman materializing in their midst.

Was this a test? Did I pass? I am waiting for the existential dread to kick in. But even as I feel the anxiety building up in the back of my mind, I realize, it doesn’t matter whether I passed, or not. I had absolute freedom, and I choose to do nothing with it. There’s something to unpack with my therapist.

I walk up the street, and I start whistling.

Working on the Craft: Letters From Inside the Story

This exercise asks the writer to take a story they are working on, then write a letter from one of its characters to another. The letter is never to be sent, so it needs to be deeply personal. It is never to become part of the actual story, so it’s more an exploration of the characters than anything else. I went full sap, while also trying to keep things ambiguous. Wouldn’t want to spoil my future NYT bestseller, yunno!

I marvel at my own capacity to write these words without breaking down. I have to face the truth of what is about to happen to you, and I find that I cannot.

I lost you once, all those years ago, and…

No, this is untrue. I have to start being honest with myself, even if it’s far too late for that.

I lost you for the first time all those years ago. And then I kept losing you over and over again, every second that you stood beside me. Beautiful. Kind. Unwitting. Broken. I could not tell you what had happened to you, for that would have been a loss far more final than all the rest combined. I could not give you the truth. So I had to watch you stumble in confusion, through a life you were no longer fit for.

He broke you, back then. I try reminding myself of that, and it rings hollow.

I told myself this lie over and over, even as I knew that it was a lie. Perhaps I accepted it for so long, because I took my cues from you. Your entire existence is a lie, after all, yet in the moments of lucidity you scrounge from the shattered mess of your mind, you seem happy. Content. You are incomplete, and it ruins my heart every time I see the knowledge of it on your face. But you are also content. Content to be with me.

I was not content. I never could be, with what was left of you. So I blamed him. Over and over, until my hatred of what he did to you seemed all that sustained me. But it is the end now, and I am about to lose you for the last time. There is no more point in lying to myself. He did not break you. He saved what could be saved of you. He did it in a rash, stupid, harmful way, but he had no choice. We all had left him no choice.

But now what happened to you back then is about to happen again. And I find that I no longer know if I have it in me to survive this. There is still a chance, maybe. He says there is. I have spent so long hating him, that I don’t know how to trust him. And I have seen this before. I have seen you before. What you become. How you have to be stopped.

It sounds stupid, and empty, and cheap now, because it is so very late. I should have said the words before. I should have told you the truth and given you the strength you needed to accept it. I should have…

These are the words then. I love you. I did then, and I have every moment since, even if you no longer knew it. A part of me hopes you still did. Another part knows that it doesn’t matter. Loving you was the one thing that made me feel capable of kindness. Loving you was the one thing that made me human. And even though I railed and raged when you were taken from me, I never lost loving you.

And until all hope is dead, I will continue to believe that you might know me again.

Working on the Craft: Goodness

A little bit of cheating today, because I ran out of life for the day, and I didn’t want to have gaps in my regular posting schedule. In my defense, it kinda works. The exercise calls for describing a kind person doing something good out of sheer empathy, rather than requiring something in return. As it happens, I already have a situation like that in my current manuscript, so I picked it up, edited it a bit, and the result isbelow. With that said, it IS quite weird describing altruism without making it sappy, and I am not at all certain that I succeeded, even with the allowance that the text comes from a work of epic fantasy.

The narrow warrens with their protective awnings formed a shadowy labyrinth. Signs of the Convergence were everywhere. There were too many beggars in the corners, and people wearing clothes that had not been changed in days, huddled in groups around fountains and public buildings with an air of discontented desperation. Children fought with skax for scraps of food, the small rodents’ faceted eyes and angry hissing enough to scare many away.

Valen’s heart broke a little, as he saw a grimy infant in rags – a little girl, barely able to walk – stumbling around a woman who huddled by the dirty wall of a nearby building, too weak to move. The passersby ignored both, and he could not bear thinking what would happen to this child when her mother was gone.

Pity was replaced by anger. The nobility lived in wonders of walking architecture and threw lavish parties turning the Convergence into entertainment. Meanwhile, the unknown continent’s arrival had spelled utter despair for thousands of poor souls living along the edge. Valen was honest with himself – he didn’t steal from nobles out of a sense of justice. The poor were no less poor for his exploits. But it always brought him a little bit of satisfaction knowing that some of those void damned nobles truly deserved to be visited by him.

He also noticed the increased presence of city guards. Mean expressions, hands dancing over scimitar hilts. What the farinate of Kash lacked in hospitality toward the refugees, it made up for in escalating tension. The Sovereign no doubt thought the Convergence crisis a minor trouble from his high throne in Tallisar. Enjoy the civil war when it arrives, salar…

However, Valen also saw Gem Singers, the glass jewels in their colorful robes glinting with the light of the setting sun as the cultists distributed food among those in need. They were members of various cults – the remnants of the Chantry after the Dissolution, focusing on good deeds and charity, rather than oppressive dogma and moralizing. The selfless work of the Singers was something Abradel sorely needed. And something its rulers should be providing.

There were also a few followers of Amrodin, offering healing to the most desperate looking beggars. The leviathan Gods cared little for the fate of humans, but to worship Amrodin, The Last Pathway, was to worship both life and death. His cult attracted the most skilled healers, even though Valen doubted many among those walking Kash’s warrens had his gift. It is still more than you will do for them, though, is it not?

Valen went to a food merchant and bought some fresh fruit at an exuberant price. He spent a few extra seconds staring at the man, after giving him an entire ruby flame for what no doubt had cost no more than a sapphire chip to acquire. He knew he could create trouble for the merchant, if he wanted to, but then told himself that times were tough, and he wasn’t exactly above exploiting others for his gain. The interaction still left a sour taste in his mouth that fruit could not wash.

He made sure to pass first through a temple of the cult of Amrodin, and then turned back, hoping that he remembered the place right. To his great relief, the lone sick woman and her infant child were still there.

“Take this,” the thief said, kneeling next to her and handing her a succulent simtar.

She looked at him with bleary eyes under a nest of unwashed blonde hair, then reached a tentative hand and took the soft red fruit. While her child watched with curiosity, she put the simtar to her lips and bit from it. An expression of profound happiness came to her face, and she offered the fruit to her daughter, who took it with excitement.

Valen rose from the dirty ground and offered her a hand.

“There is an Amrodin temple nearby, where you and your child will be taken care of. I have arranged it with the cultists.”

He did not mention the large sum of gemshards the healers had demanded of him. It was no matter. For one like him, there were always other sources of money, and walking through the streets of Kash, he’d seen too much suffering. It was a tiny drop in a lake of pollution, but he needed to do something.

The woman stared at him in suspicious uncertainty, while the little girl played with her filthy hair. Then she nodded and took his hand. Valen knew that he could not save everyone. But sometimes, he told himself, even two lives were enough.

Working on the Craft: Evil

This cute little exercise aims to describe the scene of a murder from the perspective of the murderer. The goal is to have him get away, feel no remorse, and try to make him sympathetic to the reader. I don’t know if I succeeded in that last part, but it was creepy how easy it was to get into the pettiness of the character. Oh well, something to work on in therapy, I guess. For now, enjoy my murder scene ^_^

I walked into the commander’s office. He sat at his desk, hands directing the overlaying holos like a concert pianist. But there was no artistry in what he did. His back was straight even when nobody was around. His posture rigid, even when sitting. A military officer through and through, all hard edges and lack of imagination.

He looked up at me now, annoyed. The commander lived in a system of fixed rank-based value, and I – a lowly civilian – did not rank high. That I served a Magister directly was of no consequence. Here was an officer of the king’s army. In his mind, I was so far below him, that I wasn’t even on the same chart.

“What is it, advisor?” he asked gruffly. No names. Never names with the commander. You were your rank, if you had one, your profession otherwise. “I am incredibly busy, and I don’t recall seeing you on the schedule. In fact…” He looked at a chrono display on the left side of the desk’s surface. “I have no meetings scheduled at all for the afternoon.”

I could see his mind already composing the stern admonition he was going to give his assistant – a wormy ensign I had only passing compassion for. Letting the obnoxious Magisterial advisor walk unimpeded on his station was compromise enough, as far as the commander was concerned. But coming into his quarters unscheduled? Blasphemy.

“What is so funny?” His harsh voice interrupted my thoughts, and I fixed him with my most placating smile. I knew it would piss him off further.

“I apologize for coming unannounced,” I said, and sat in the chair in front of the desk, feeling a shiver of delight pass through me at his outrage. He hadn’t offered me a seat. “I fear this could not wait.”

“Advisor, may I remind you that you are on this station purely as a sign of my respect for your… superiors?” The commander’s stiff posture was now bristling. “You have a free run of the public areas here, as per your request, and that is as far as my generosity goes.”

“I am, of course, eternally grateful,” I responded, not trying to hide from my tone of voice just how eternally grateful I wasn’t. “Alas, I have found myself… dissatisfied with this arrangement.”

The sleet-gray eyes widened. “Dissatisfied? I am under no obligation to satisfy you, advisor.”

“See? It is this attitude.” I was keeping my cool now, though I could hardly contain how smug I felt. “When I arrived here, it was to observe the workings of the station for my lord Magister. He is interested in overthrowing the King, you understand, and it is outposts like this one that will serve him best.”

The commander stood still, stunned by my conversational candidness.

“Treachery,” he whispered.

“I wasn’t to do anything, of course. His plans are nowhere near completion.” I kept talking, as if the man before me wasn’t just about ready to jump across the desk, and strangle me. “But I just… I find you so unlikable, commander. So extremely unlikable.”

“You dare speak this way to me, in my own quarters.” He almost seemed to need to state the circumstances out loud, so he could believe them. Lack of imagination, as previously mentioned. “I only have to call out, and there will be a squad of soldiers here to arrest you.”

“You reckon? How would they hear you?”

“My assistant…”

“…is not at his post, I am afraid. And with him not around, who even knows you are at your office? It is, after all, way past your office hours.” He looked at his chrono, confused. “These desks are embarrassingly easy to hack and disconnect from the network,” I offered. I hadn’t thought his eyes had more bulge in them. I was delighted to be proven wrong. Any moment now, I thought. Time for the coup de grace. “Does anybody actually know where you are at this very moment, commander? Did you let your wife know you’d be working late? Poor thing must be so worried.”

He darted for the weapon under the desk. He was fast.

I was faster. My stunner bolt threw him back in his chair, paralyzed but still conscious. His eyes traced me as I rose from the chair, gun in hand, and walked around the desk, fiddling with the controls.

“I just want you to know, commander, that this is not part of a plan.” I spoke mildly now, fully engrossed in my villainous role. “Sure, you would have likely been removed once things were in motion. But this?” I looked at the now lethal energy weapon in my hand. Then I looked back at his mute face. “This is sheer pettiness. Because I genuinely, sincerely…” I put the gun to his temple. “…do not like you.”

The beam passed through his head, cauterizing each entry point as it evaporated his brain. His face remained frozen in its dumb expression of fear, eyes turned sideways, toward the gun that was no longer there. I wiped the weapon with a piece of cloth, then arranged his fingers around it.

There would be an investigation. It would find nothing. And most of the base hated the commander, so they wouldn’t look too deep, unless forced. By which point, I would likely be very far away from here.

I started whistling as the door closed behind me.

Working on the Craft: Loving

The title says it all. The exercise asks that you write a short scene about someone you love. It challenges you to both make a conscious choice about the type of love you will be focusing on, and the means by which you do it. It is easy to become sappy, or to fall into stock phrases. I found it very exciting, however, because to me love is always in the details, whatever kind of love we talk about. So, here is my exhibitionist little scene about my boyfriend ^_^

He looks down at his notes, and I fall in love with him all over again.

He doesn’t lean, even though you’d think he would. He has this grace that tall, slim people sometimes have, a swan-like curve of the neck, where he just encompasses the notebook below him, rather than bending to read it. A pen is moving between his long fingers, sometimes touching his lips in an unconscious sign of thoughtfulness. You could draw a line from the feet of his crossed legs, running all the way up to that pen. It would be a bold line – a single fluid movement with no sharp angles, yet it would still look like a lightning.

The laptop is open on the desk in front of him, and it’s all gibberish to me. High mathematics are for people with better brains than mine. But to him it’s a language, and he is fluent in it. The code of the universe, and he can crack it. That is what stops me at the open door – a realization that strikes every time I see him work. His mind can encompass something so profoundly complex, that I have no choice but to be in awe of him. More so, for knowing how little of his ego is involved in the equation.

He works with quiet intensity. Not the dramatic movie style “10 seconds until detonation” type of intensity, but rather the deeply human drive to know and understand. To discover. I know the face I will see if I call out to him. Thin. Elegant. Beautiful. And deeply annoyed at me. His eyes will do the slow blink as he takes a moment to stop himself from snapping. I love him for that as well. He is in his zone, and I would be a distraction. Sometimes I draw his attention regardless. But not now. He is an explorer, and I’d rather just watch him explore.

Often, that is all I need.

He rolls the chair away from the desk, gets up, and walks to the mobile whiteboard by the wall. His movements carry an effortless grace. He is a dancer, even if his dance happens inside his mind. It has nothing to do with the music in his AirPods. When he traces the marker on the board, you can see the artistry. His movements are always broad, because even his confusion is underlined by confidence in his ability to comprehend. To solve.

His back is straight as he works, and he never hunches, although – again – you would expect him to. Tall people, especially tall people who stare at screens or boards all day, so often do. But in his office, in his natural habitat, he has made his world to fit his stature. He doesn’t hunch, because he never has to. There is beauty in this.

He notices me, standing by the door, and I act like I haven’t been there a while, but am just now passing by. He smiles.

There is beauty in this as well.

Working on the Craft: Ways of Seeing

Back to the 3 A.M. Epiphany, and an exercise titled “Ways of Seeing”, in which a first person POV is used to describe an idiosyncratic viewpoint as the narrator observes a traumatic event that does not concern them directly. The goal is to focus on the idiosyncrasies. I am only about 60% sure that I achieved this, but I tried to turn it on its head a bit. Hopefully, someone can tell me if I got it right.

I step inside the bar, the interior revealing all its secrets to me in an instant. The subdued atmosphere of shadowed corners, belying the barrage of sound they are designed to withstand. The twists and turns, made for people to be pressed against walls, almost, but not quite out of sight. The strobe lights above – hibernating now, to awake and rage later.

But in the early afternoon hours, the place is almost entirely empty. A bored bartender picks at his nose, confident in his invisibility at this time, hours before the place could make its first claim to crowding. Two girls sit at the tall stools on the other end of the bar, sipping at something that’s just the right color of pale red to be considered “basic”. A barback is roaming around in the shadows leading to the inner sanctums of the place, probably setting up for whatever events they have on work nights.

I have been here before. Not in this particular bar, but in a hundred like it. You could say I collect them. I am part of their scene, and – for reasons about to be apparent – also not. I get to observe them from afar, and then merge seamlessly with what they offer.

Which is, let’s be fair, often not a lot.

In a few hours, the first tendrils of the night will start creeping in, and there will be music, growing louder and louder as the place fills up. Groups of threes and fours, and the occasional hopeful single person. Not the couples, of course. Those come later, if they show up at all. Predominantly young men, predominantly attractive in the traditional sense, or failing that – bedecked in the flashiest possible regalia of their pageantry.

This place is made for them. The ones who want to see and be seen, by anybody, by any means necessary. The ones who dare to be desired. The bar abhors weakness. It doesn’t even feed on it, but simply rejects it. You don’t have to have a decent self-esteem to be here, but you sure as all hell must be able to simulate it.

The bartender sees me, gives me a disinterested nod, pretends to be cleaning a glass. Inwardly, I smirk. Sure, honey. As if you don’t pour most of this garbage in plastic cups. But I play along, and sit on another stool nearby. If he is here now, then he is the early shift. Could be the one, we’ll see.

Provided his girls leave earlier, or stay after.

The barback comes into the front, and my eyes pass through him, making the barest of cliff notes. Places like this have their own hierarchy of players. This guy is just that tiny bit too short, has just those few extra pounds, and just enough of them coalesce on his bearded cheeks, that he could never hope to make it behind the bar. Not for him, the shirtless look that gets the tips from men and women alike. Not for him, the perks.

People like that grin and bear it, because that’s what they have available to them.

As I reach for a drink I don’t remember ordering, it occurs to me – seemingly out of the blue – that there are other options available to people like that.

There is a gunshot. A scream. Another scream. Another gunshot. And a few more. The sound of glasses breaking.

A light goes dark.

The barback stares at the gun in his hand, eyes wide and wild. As if he can’t believe it’s his hand, with a gun in it. His gaze moves, as if dragged against its will, to the two bodies on the floor, splayed in a tangle of toppled stools, and beyond them – the empty, glass-shard covered space behind the bar, where a more traditionally attractive young man stood only a moment ago, but doesn’t anymore. Heavy breathing going faster and faster, the barback moves to look over the edge, and sees the bartender on the floor by the minifridge, a broken glass by his head. His eyes stare at the dark ceiling, but see nothing.

He would see me, if he weren’t dead. The barback never even knew I was there. They don’t unless I want them to. He just walks around the violated place now, in a daze, gun still in his hand. He holds it so tight, that it must be burning him. He doesn’t seem to understand what has happened any more than his victims did. Even though he must have planned this. I can only imagine he is in shock.

So, when I alight behind him, and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. When he whirls around, only to see what they all see when I want to reveal myself to them. He doesn’t even scream. From a certain angle, this is the most poetic way for things to end for him. It makes a cruel sort of sense. Harm received for harm caused. A life pays for life. Who cares if I wasn’t owed that life?

I am gone before the first sirens sound. The next bar awaits.

Clarion West Online Classes – A Personal Retrospective

In the past month, the Clarion West Writers Workshop offered a number of online classes through their website. I only managed to sign up for one class from the first round, but I was lucky (read – manic) enough to attend more from the second. The experience was absolutely fantastic on several levels, and the ability to directly interact with professional writers was like being plugged into an outlet, and having my battery charged.

The subject matter of the classes varied wildly, from the use of psychological responses and types of interactions in character building, to the relationship between worldbuilding, character, and story. The structure itself was very different from class to class. Some were webinars, with Powerpoint presentations and room for questions. Others were more lecture-based, with participation, exercises, and the like.

Some takeaways:

1. I need interaction with other writers, be it published, or aspiring ones. It is becoming more and more apparent to me that on a sheer motivation level, I require contact with others who are doing or trying to do what I do. This is making me evaluate the potential to find a writing group, even though I am instinctively suspicious of such things. But it really seems like something that will boost both my motivation, and output.

2. I seem to – and this one is hard to phrase tastefully – actually, uhm, know a lot. Not in the sense of “these classes were useless”, in fact the absolute opposite. I took something unique and helpful from each and every one. But more than a few of these things were rephrasing or offering a unique perspective on information I already had.

Which, to be fair, makes sense. I have listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts, and read a massive number of books on the business and craft of writing. With each passing class, I realized that invariably the most helpful aspect was the direct exchange of ideas, and the practical exercises.

There is always more to learn, and I am likely not even done with the beginning of the process. But it does seem that at this point I actually have a surprising amount of raw information inside my head. Which means that further “learning” for me will have a lot more to do with practice and personal exploration, than simply absorbing information.

Fuck… Oh well.

3. Most importantly, I am realizing that this is truly what I want to be doing with my life. Every class, every sit down with a bunch of other faces, all of us staring awkwardly at each other and the person speaking, has been another crystal clear resonance with the awareness that THIS is who I am. Who I need to be, and what I need to become.

I don’t think any practical benefit I could list (and there were specific ones, to be sure, from each class) will measure up to this simple realization, or rather its reinforcement. Quarantine has been hard on all of us, and I have had my unproductive moments, just like everyone else has. However, after these past two weeks, I feel energized and motivated. And not simply to overcome anxiety, depression, and the uncertainty everyone is dealing with, but to know that even when I fail to do it, my path remains unaltered.

I am no less a writer just because I haven’t been published yet, or because I might have unproductive, uninspired, or flat out blocked streaks. I am more of a writer, knowing that after each of those streaks, I will be back at it, writing. Because I can’t imagine not doing it.

P.S. As for the picture of Jaime protecting my work area as the majestic panther god that he is – you are welcome.

Working on the Craft: Picture Prompt

This week’s exercise is a little different. Last Friday, I participated in an online course from Clarion West, titled Writing While Blocked, with Eileen Gunn. Part of the exercise was to write for 5 minutes a stream of consciousness, based on a picture. It is something a lot of people do, but I never had, and I quite enjoyed it. I am adding the picture, so you can judge for yourself how well it fits with your idea of it (if at all).

He walks, the smell of rust his only companion, even as the Mood tries to force his attention on it. It hovers above him, like tied to a string, always blocking the light, although – what light is there in the rust corridors? Corroded metal and anger have made the sunlight flinch and recoil. It is too pure for the filth of this place, too innocent for its anger.

He walks, the wind blowing torn shreds of story around him, as if it too wants to add entropy to this place that is already devoid of order or meaning. Whose story was this? Did they care for it? Did they fight the wind as it tore it from their hand, their desk, their drawer? Did they curse it as it snatched the story and tore it apart with malice?

He walks, and he wonders at the stale air, at the nonsense of it, at the wind that should make it fresh, and the Mood’s fuzzy pollen-covered wings that should make it fragrant. He wonders, most of all, at himself, and why he does not wonder. He is angry, but he does not wonder why, or at whom. Is he angry at himself, for this walk that never ends? Is he angry at the Mood? Is the Mood his own anger, or his sense of wonder, taken flight and warped by the rust of this place, but the absence of light, or by the cruel wind that takes stories from people and tears them apart?

He walks, and the walk has no end, but he does not care, for his anger sustains him, as it sustains the walk itself. Was there a beginning? Was there rust when he started?

Working on the Craft: Clothes

A fairly straightforward exercise from The 3 A.M. Epiphany: to write a short scene centered around a memorable article of clothing. The goal is to focus on the ways clothing describes the people that wear it — their class and status, profession, goals, awareness of self. For all that it is a simple idea, it is also a profound one, as clothing exists in 99.99% of fiction, in one form or another, and it always says something, be it about the characters, or the author.

The vest was beautiful. In the crowded street market, under the din of merchants hawking their wares, and customers arguing, it was hard to focus on anything. But this piece, placed on a stand most of the people walking the street could not afford to shop at, had caught Valen’s eye immediately, and held it. Dark blue, the color of Ocean’s mists, embroidered with glimmering golden thread. No pockets, no clasps. It was meant to be worn open, over a bare chest – a symbol of status and bravery.

He could appreciate the intent, though he knew how the nobility wore such clothing. They had no understanding of the subtlety that a tailor put into such simplicity. He had seen countless men buying vests like this one, and covering it up with chains of precious metals. They saw themselves as grand only when their wealth was on shameless display.

They couldn’t understand, because they’d never known poverty.

Valen looked down at his own vest. Simple, unembroidered. Good quality which said that it wasn’t handed down, but bought from a merchant with actual gemshards. Not shabby, for sure, but not exquisite either. A thief could not afford to dress gaudy, but neither could they afford to look like street vermin. Presenting as a beggar had its uses from time to time, but usually it closed as many doors, as the eyebrows that rich clothing raised.

If one wanted to be good at that profession, standing out for any reason was out of the question. Valen was a master at walking the middle road.

Still, his eyes lingered on the vest. He was no tailor, but he appreciated craftsmanship. And he remembered a childhood not nearly long enough ago, when any clothing had been a luxury. Doubly so, if it was bug-free. When roofs over your head were not a given, and a piece of sturdy cloth was the next best thing. The boy he had been back then had dreamed of palaces and riches, and the clothing to show it all off. He had probably lacked sufficient amounts of taste, that he would have draped all the precious metal and gems he could find all over himself, if he could.

Valen of today smiled. That had been before the gift of the leviathan. Before riches had become easy to acquire. More an excuse for the life he led, rather than its purpose. It was the challenge he now craved, and with that challenge came appreciation for the simple and understated. The craftsmanship of straight lines and bold cuts. It applied to the clothes he wore, as much as it did to anything else.

The merchant across the stall took his smile as encouragement, and launched into a sermon extolling the virtues of the cloth and skill that had gone into the tailoring of his wares. It was a prelude to asking for an exuberant price, of course, and Valen ignored it entirely. He had no use for this vest, could hardly imagine an occasion that would call for its understated elegance. And he had work to do.

In the end, he cut the man short, apologized for taking his time, and moved out of the way of another customer, this one actually interested in buying something. By the time he had made two steps into the thick crowd, he had been forgotten.

Which was just as well.

Thin tendrils of blue light – light only someone with Valen’s gift would see, and only if they were to look for them in the crowded market – wrapped themselves around the piece of clothing on the table behind him. He kept walking, but his senses were entangled with the manifestation of his power, and he could feel the smooth silk sliding against other vests and jackets, ignored by merchant, client, and passersby alike. The tendrils carried it between legs and flailing arms, passing it to each other through the crowd as they flared in and out of existence.

All the way to Valen’s waiting hands.

He wouldn’t get much use out of it. But he remembered that young boy, and how much he had wanted such a vest.

His smile returned. He kept walking.