#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 8

Full list of questions here.

Week 8: Alternative realities: what could have changed everything, and how?

Hoo boy, let’s say a lot of deaths could have changed the lay of the land. But saying more gets super spoilery (even for the sequel books :P). In fact, very few things I can talk about here that don’t reveal stuff about the plot but I’m going to discuss a pre-book event that’s important.

So we’ve talked in the past about an anti-magic sentiment that led to the enslavement of magic users and their associates, right? That came about from fear and basically the core proponents forced scientists to develop technologies to suppress magic to make it easier to oppress the minority group (there was large military support for it all).

An event called the Liberation was when Laliena the heroine would release the shackles of the enslaved and lead the Three Kingdoms into a new prosperous age … But would happen if she never rose up or was killed before she gained enough support? Suppose now that she was an irreplaceable part of the movement what then for those poor souls?

Well, Alvefia abolished the trade well before the other countries followed suit. The Ivy Throne was a crucial element for the push back, after all, but they were hemmed in by supporters and needed support. If they did not come, in time, they would begin their resistance campaign by persuading their southern neighbours, Elefia, while borrowing some of their military strength and begin the arduous campaign country-wide. The resulting chaos would lead to the eventual collapse of the institution of slavery but with much heavier overall losses.

There are certain elements of the main plot that don’t occur and the structure of the Kingdoms is so, so different.

I like counterfactual situations like these. Naturally I went with the optimistic vision but there could easily be a different pessimistic one.

 

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#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 7

Full list of questions here.

Week 7: Your favourite relationship of the book

This doesn’t necessarily mean a romantic relationship. In the redraft there’s a familial one that I’ve loved to think through in my head. I did struggle with a few: Varim and Roxanne; Varim and Max; Ayene and Kai, the last being a recent love of mine. (Clearly Varim has all the fun.)  I settled on my antagonists who are a couple.

The main action details the large invading southern empire of Anzor and the conflict that ensues.

Respen del Anzor and Luce dal Reine are from the Anzori Empire and lead the campaign to the north of them where the books are set as General and Lieutenant-general of the Army, respectively.

They’ve been together for about thirty years when the story begins. They met as young revolutionaries and have stood side by side, blades soaked crimson with their backs firmly pressed against each other. Respen is a curious boy who ran from home and tried to follow his brother’s example, ending up trying to expel a regime that continued to enslave magic users—and those they associate with; Luce is a girl who does not speak of her past when they meet, her speech broken and heavily accented. But she is a more than capable fighter, arguably self-taught. She would continue to be secretive about much of her past in the ensuing years, even as they grow closer with the eventual romantic slant. There are parts of her past which are too painful to recount: she much prefers her present and future which is her mission and her love. But they were partners before they were lovers, two people who were far from home doing something they believed in—they understand one another. I mean you’d have to in order to be with them for about 30 years!

While they feature a bit less than I think they ought to, I enjoy writing that easy intimacy of a long-standing couple. I think we see a lot of burgeoning relationships in media and sometimes it’s nice to see things a while after the fireworks have died down.

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 6

As always, link to the list of questions here.

Week 6: An interview with your protagonist

Okay, so part of this whole rigmarole is actually identifying my main character. Writing Excuses did an interesting dive into a distinction between a main character, a hero, and a protagonist, trying to piece together if you can have different characters fulfil those roles. I think my book is one that does that as I tend to favour ensemble casts but there are naturally key characters. A hero, protagonist, and a main character can be distinct but they often overlap and are collapsed into one, maybe two characters. I have many POVs and the roles they fill in the story likewise overlap.

To distinguish:

A protagonist is the character who undergoes the most change. They’re the one who take action to move the story forward.
A main character is one we spend time with. We see the story through their eyes.
A hero does heroic/cool things.

For more on this breakdown, listen to this episode of Writing Excuses, where I got the idea from.

Generally speaking I have a rough “main three” for the above distinctions: a hero in a character named Varim, a protagonist in Kai, and a main character in Rixa, although since they’re all POV characters they tend to fill multiple roles. Rixa fulfils the “maintagonist” role (listen to the podcast!), without the heroics, and is whom we will be interviewing today. Naturally to avoid spoilers I’m framing this as an exit interview at the Academy, which is a university in the western Kingdom of Onzaria.

Hello Rixa, how are you?

Hel—ahem—hello! Good. How are you?

Before we get into this: can I ask after your name? It’s not a common one in these parts.

No you’re absolutely right! It’s not even common for its origins. It’s actually the feminine form of an old master, Rix. That’s how you say it, too. Ricks-ah. I’m named after two flowers, the rieaus and xalfring, respectively, and they make up my full name: Rieaus Xal Syrill. I think they were my mother’s favourite but I’m not sure.

Beautiful. Okay, let’s jump in. 

Oh—okay.

Just some perfunctory information first. You’ve confirmed your name but can you tell me your birthplace and age, please?

I was born in Tymbroia [country south of Onzaria] but have spent a good amount of my time in Onzaria, especially in Goddess County where my great-aunt Jane lives. Oh, and I’m twenty-three.

Lovely. Out of interest, which do you prefer?

Neither because they offer different things. I liked studying at the Academy in Onzaria but the city life in Tymbroia’s a little more laid back, if I’m honest.

And do you have any brothers and sisters?

Not that I know of.

Favourite food?

Are these really your necessary questions? Hmm, I don’t know. There’s a nice three-cheese salad with tomatoes, olives, yerwin [a sweet vegetable, usually used in salads but common in soups as well] and just a hint of chillies.

A good burger never goes amiss, too.

And to drink?

Any Tymbroian wine and you can do no wrong—even the cheap stuff. Close second’s an ale the Onzarian’s affectionately call “fairy’s piss”.  Oh wait. Sorry! Should I even be admitting this? Do you even want to hear this?

That’s alright. It’s an informal chat. Okay then, what was the best thing about your chosen subject?

I studied anthropology and history, with a minor in botany. Is that what you need for the record? [interviewer nods] Erm, I suppose I got to see the Kingdom’s rich history, of trade and technology, even in the dark periods with slavery … History’s not so clear cut because people aren’t so we shouldn’t think there are heroes and villains so much as nuanced individuals who did good and bad.

Do you think Laliena [heroine who galvanised anti-slave armies] was a hero?

Just like my great-aunt, she was a Liberator, but I imagine if we scrub away at the worship you might see a flaw or two. Except Aunt Jane. She’s perfect.

She isn’t going to see or know about this. 

[Laughing] I don’t believe you.

Do you feel as though you’ve made any meaningful connections here? If not, how could we do more to help? 

Lots! Though, I would say I just got really close to my old friends like Rox, Varim, and Kai—Max too. Sorry. I’m going to miss them. But that’s part of the Academy experience, I suppose.

Absolutely. Great to hear. Do you feel like the experience overall was worthwhile? Any improvements?

Oh of course! I had so much fun. And improvements … Not that I can think of. [Too nervous to express herself there, she would later draft a four-page letter with some suggestions, mainly relating to the teaching content.]

What’s the most meaningful thing that happened to you, do you think? 

It’s a secret. Can it be a secret?

If you want. You don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to.

Thank the Goddess.

Have you read anything interesting recently?

I read in the paper that the actual official animal of Tymbroia is the nirik, not the nymph like the palace would have you believe! It makes a lot of sense but no-one wants to be tied to those strange twisted creatures, poor things.

Speaking of our neighbours, do the growing tensions worry you?

Mmm … not really. Leaders bicker all the time without anything scary happening. Another thing history misses is that leaders always bicker with nothing coming of it. They’re always so dynamic in the tales. [quieter] The conquering and sieges are actually quite rare.

Have you secured employment or know what you want to do next?

Soldier! No, I’m kidding. I was referred to a reclusive botanist named appropriately Mr. Evergreen. He lives on the island to the west. He seems weird but nice. There are a few others already there and when they visited they couldn’t recommend it enough—especially Aunt Jane! I’m going to apprentice with him for a year or so and then use the money I earn and look for an academic role, maybe teach in the Academy.

And that’s your dream job?

I’d love to write history books of my own, actually. Maybe some fiction. But being an academic is a little more practical, you know? The books won’t pay for themselves. I think I’d like to teach, anyway.

Well, we’d love to have you on if you choose to come aboard. And finally: what are you going to do now?

Sleep! Definitely sleep. See my friends. Maybe go to Alvefia [country to the east]. I heard it’s lovely this time of year. They have this tomato-based bread thing that apparently’s lovely.

Have some wine?

Yes! A month to catch up on sleep, read, then maybe go dancing! I haven’t done that in a while.

Is there anything you would like to ask me? 

No but I love your hair! [It’s dyed green.]

Thank you! All the best in the future. 

Thanks, you too. Bye now!

 

That was fun! Later, peeps.

For The New Year, Full of Potential

I wanted a month to see the shape of the year before I did this post. That’s what I did last year and I’m not stopping any time soon. Fight me.

I might be a little naïve in thinking a new year is more significant than literally any point of the year but I am determined to shed my skin and a new year is a symbolic time to do so. A giant reset button in our understanding of time and selves. Today we’re talking about everybody’s favourite part of a new year: goals!

When setting goals I think it’s important to take stock of the why as much as the how. The how is the method and execution but the why is its significance and can lead to insights into your character. I don’t want this post to be daunting to you, like you’re not doing enough. People measure their worth and the very abstract notion of “success” in perfomative and often inflated ways (x amounts of likes, y amounts of money). Tread your path, improve yourself because you want to improve not because you want to appear as though you’re improving. You’ll find the scope of the goals decreases but we’ll get to that in a sec.

I think my goals are fairly demanding but I have a lot of time on my hands so I might as well spend it doing what I’d normally do anyway. I think of them in a progressive way—not a time-constrained thing, but something to continue to work towards even after 2018 expires. Time is something that feels like is disappearing these days so small goals are relevant also. It’s not the size that’s the concern: it’s how achievable it is. You can set big goals but if you don’t meet them then what’s the point? Increase the size over time but start where you need to. Change doesn’t come over night: it takes concerted effort often over long periods of time.

It’s hard but using that knowledge will help you when times are tough. Life gets in the way: you’re sick, going through something deeply disruptive emotionally. We are human. We are powerful if we acknowledge how we cannot be 100% all of the time.

That said, you should make yourself accountable—actually doing what you set out to do. You say you want to read more but are you actively looking at the structure of your days to see where you can sneak 10 mins of reading? (I do it by page number but that is the privilege of time speaking once again.)

Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go to plan, though. Things can change: you set goals that you didn’t achieve or find yourself doing stuff you never would have thought you’d be doing. Mine is poetry. You can expand from there or reduce according to your realistic outputs. Don’t overburden yourself in order to achieve if it’s not working for you: work in your bounds. Or don’t! It’s not a requirement of you. But if you do, be responsible.

In pursuing goals we often don’t stop to reflect on the qualities we possess in the first place. A future self comes about by actions we actively take in the present. It’s the reflection that reveals the significance of the goals in the first place. Learn to appreciate what you have done, not what you could be doing. Sometimes it takes our loved ones to show us what we’ve done—all that we’re capable of. This preamble is important and stuff I lose sight off in my search for more: I’m indebted to my friends and family for keeping me rooted when I’ve drifted off.

On top of the goals I set myself from last year, these are my new things to keep track of:

Poetry: On top what I do monthly, I have a poetry project I’ve begun in earnest that may or may not be a waste of time. I’m in the midst of research and that’s been interesting and exhausting in equal parts. When I’ve synthesised enough of it into usable art I think I’ll be able to showcase it here. Earliest will be March but I make no promises as I imagine there will be new and previously unforeseen avenues to explore. Quite excited though.

Essays: I’ve not written one for quite some time which is hilarious considering that that is why I started this blog: partly to sate my ego but also to inform people of ways they can help themselves improve in various aspects of their lives. I fell off after the last Diamond Age piece in the summer and have been wrestling with that for a while

Anyway, there’s an ever-expanding document with essay topics I want to cover in the coming months and while it says “2018”, it’ll carry on for years, at least. The breadth of topics is expanding—from the advice stuff of early blog, to the more informational stuff that populated the more recent stuff—and will require more technical research … and words. So look out for the huge pieces in the future. They’re fairly labour-intensive so I’m going to stockpile a few smaller ones and hopefully stay ahead that way. There’s one I’m making good progress on and will be ready soon. It’s a little less cerebral than before so my aim is it enjoyable and insightful. In my head there will be three distinct categories of essay: small (500-1500 words), medium (1500-3500), and large (3500+). The road will be long and maybe a bit weird but I hope you’ll join me. I love making these pieces and wish that you find them useful. I’ve enjoyed seeing the developing shape of the blog and the new life it’s had.

Writing: I have a book I want to finish, maybe write some short stories and before year’s end start a new book. Lofty goals all things considered, but I want to work on my book with more regularity than in the focused bursts of July and November in particular. Hopefully I can finish more quickly that way and free up some brain space for the other projects itching for some daylight. On the short story front: I’ve already submitted a 4,000 word one last month. I doubt they’ll accept me but I did it, so more of that. I have a couple of ideas I’m toying with so I’ll say one more is a success while two is an immense one. These are short stories written not necessarily submitted/accepted. I’ll also try to keep abreast of the weekly Writing Challenge, which reminds me that I need to make a page so that you can follow from the beginning. That’s on my agenda.

Music: Guitar playing (what guitar playing?). Regularity is the key here. Gotta practise often, even if it’s 10 mins. I think keeping the calluses on my fingers nice and hard is a good metric—they disappear over lack of use and repeated showers, see—so I’ll keep that as a mental touchstone. I’m also more competent than I gave myself credit for: I got to grasp 2 new chords on the back end of last year. Last month I’ve got a 3-chord song to refine. My goal last year was to have one original written at least and that feels super achievable now. Just have to keep the skills sharp in my mind. Like the short stories, if it’s a case of only one, then it’s a success.

Drawing: More of that. I have long-term illustration goals—we’re talking ten years so it’s not soon but again regularity is key.

Keep in contact with friends: I can’t believe my selfishness in forgetting something like this: only focusing on myself and what I want/need. As you know, I am not in employment. A lot of my friends live in my university city and the ones that live in my home city here are studying or in work themselves. I try to see them as much as my wallet allows but that’s still less often than I’d like. Even when I can’t see them, which is often, I’m going to try to keep on track of my friends. We have the magic of the internet and I use it to idle. Disgraceful.

Okay, that’ll keep me busy. We’ll end there. Tomorrow is the writing challenge so look out for that.

What about yourselves: what do you want out of this year?

January Reviews

One month down. A long month, and many books read. *cracks knuckles* This’ll be a long one, folks; let’s get stuck in.

Black and British by David Olusoga [5/5 stars]

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I am extremely biased. While book reviews tend to favour fairness over strict objectivity, I have to say that my ability to be objective is likely compromised. This book’s title is me. This history is me. My ancestors, the nation I belong to, the reason I am sat where I am today is contained within. It is a fragment of my reality that is distilled in 600 pages. It’s hard to convey the significance of such a thing but this is definitely the kind of book I’ve always wanted. So what is it?

Withhold your judgements and take a journey through time detailing Britain’s relationship with black people across the course of history. This isn’t just about slavery or Windrush although the two feature in the story—and how could they not?—especially the former, it’s about the large tapestry that begins in the Roman Empire, continues across many decades, merchants, nobles, royals, slaves, workers all. This isn’t just my history though. This is history for us all—particularly us Brits. Jarring, heartbreaking, fascinating, quietly impassioned, this is recommended reading for anyone.

One quibble: Olusoga rarely quotes figures, instead favouring them in words (forty-thousand five hundred and thirteen instead of 40,513, for example) which can be cumbersome and resists the eye. I’ve no idea if this is a history academic thing but it’s not enjoyable and is especially annoying in the latter parts of the books where complex figure do appear. I imagine the size of the book meant that figures were a later addition and there was not enough time to revise the earlier manuscript. I don’t know the exact reason but I need to state it.

Slade House by David Mitchell [3.5/5 stars]

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Come one, come all to Slade House. Who knows what wonders await will await you? A new love, a great party, new friends, perhaps?

As much as it probably stands fairly well alone, I would call this a companion book to The Bone Clocks which was published a year before this book as it has some of the same motifs and plot elements as it. I maintain that to get the full richness of Slade House is to have read The Bone Clocks before but it could stand easily on its own … until the end. I think this feels like an expanded “deleted scenes” and those who have read both will know what I mean.

One of my biggest criticisms of The Bone Clocks was the overuse of Fantasy Terminology in turgid monologues. The smaller real estate of this volume means that this is mostly gone and what we have is a much more streamlined piece.

There’s a lot to like but it can’t reach its heights because in some ways it makes you wish that a.) you are reading The Bone Clocks or b.) it was longer overall. But oh well, still a nice bit of fun. Mitchell still has got a great use of voice and as usual is full of interesting ideas. It makes me wonder about his next literary venture which I am eagerly anticipating. Moving on!

The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan [4/5 stars]

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OH YEAH, GOTTA READ THE WHEEL OF TIME, BABY!

I’m convinced that this series will be the death of me. It’s equal parts great and laughably bad. I say this with endearment (look to the rating): a sizeable increase of presence and characterisation of the female characters 90%+ of whom are in love with Rand al’Thor; a deepening of the world in fascinating, creepy, and exciting ways … slowed by awkward pacing and poor chapter construction (reams of Rand, one of Nynaeve, MORE RAND, one Really Late chapter starring Perrin for events that happened through Rand’s eyes one hundred pages before). I could go on but you get the picture. The annoyances are profound. Jordan has the ideas and some of the execution but some crucial aspects like the skill of his prose and characterisation is genuinely lacking. But damn is it really good when it’s good. It’s a huge improvement from the more overall clumsy first volume, especially since its length is smaller, too.

One of the hilarious things is the amateurish nature of the descriptions across the book: he loves to beat you over the head with physical descriptions of characters we’ve been following the entire book. “The gaunt man who was gaunt looked out with his eyes that popped out of his gaunt face … Did I mention that he was gaunt? I think I forgot that bit.” No Robert you got it. We get it: Perrin is large but gentle so feels uncomfortable with his muscles. Show us in his movements—let him hunch his shoulders more, avert his eyes, be non-confrontational. These are aspects his character delivers but is cheapened by the constant description of his Immense Musculature™. The prose that has genuine flourishes—“[speak] without embroidery” was a personal fave because it had me muttering “Ooh that’s good. I like that.”—of quality becomes much more laboured as a result.

Of Sand and Malice by Bradley Beaulieu [4/5 stars]

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A brisk and exciting story to whet the appetite between books in the Shattered Sands series. I bought this to show support for an author I respect and damn am I glad I did: it serves as a sort of prologue to the second book (which I am set to finish very soon). While I don’t think it’s a necessary read, it does add a lot of depth to a story going ahead, even though it’s set some years before even the first in the series.

For the main books, Beaulieu likes to intersperse the present with significant events in the past and something tells me this is built out of some of those scenes. What we get is a great little book. I think you could read this before any of the core books but I would especially recommend you’d read it between books one and two.

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner [3/5 stars]

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Our final book for January.

The premise can be referred to in shorthand as “unconventional wisdom”: challenging prevailing ideas and revealing new ways of perceiving the world. It’s a light and pretty fascinating book but not without fault. An example of one of my major issues is with the positing of IQ. Now it’s not a focused topic, rather built in to their discussion of another, but considering their aim is challenging conventions that are misrepresented and taken for granted, the overall dubiousness and non-holistic nature of IQ should be held with a greater deal of scepticism since it measures specific types of intelligence, which in turn feeds perceptions of what intelligence is/looks like. That, strikes as quite hypocritical. I’m willing to posit that it’s human error but that’s pretty sloppy.

I do owe the Steves a bit of a debt though—they helped me rationalise my goals with their awesome podcast—which is why I was quite entertained throughout, but it’s not without its flaws. A perfunctory glance at Goodreads reveals it’s quite polarising. Go in with an open mind and make your own decision. Good book overall, though.

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 5

Full list of questions here.

In the updated version of Umbra there isn’t even a fifth chapter; I cut a lot of chaff out and chapter five stands at a whopping 8,473 words of mostly worldbuilding. It’s nice … but needs to go. Narrative economy is something I am still learning. It’s a draft, what can I say?

So here, one of the perspective characters, the knight Dame Kaiyrah Halewood is heading back to her home city of Liax, capital of Onzaria, to report to the King. She is sat atop her lupine creature with plumed ears and two tails called an alvayne, named Sol for his golden eyes. As the world stands, technology is magic-powered for the most part and has seen some decline. Kai’s current challenge is steering Sol into Liax. Alvayne do not like the smell of engines and magic-based pollution so you don’t see them frequent the more modern cities that have been proliferating across Delka. Which is no real bother for those who are not fond of wolf-kin.

With the decline of the amount of vehicles on the roads these days, she knew, at a push, she could manage to steer Sol to set foot in Liax and enjoy the city. She knew his curiosity would get the better of his revulsion and her urgency to get to the capital would lead him to take the first steps onto the white paving stones of Liax.

The day began dreary and cool, showing the first signs of the approaching end of summer.

As far as cut chapters go, it’s not a bad bit of writing. It’s just not a very sexy chapter. Sorry, Kai. You get many more chances to shine in the future.

So the writer friends that I associate with have already done this so I can’t really tag them so I’m opening up the floor. Anyone who is comfortable in sharing this, I would love to see your work. You can also check out their challenges through the links on their names:

S.E. Berrow
K.F. Goodacre
Harli V. Park

That’s it for this week’s writing challenge but I’ll check back in for other stuff very soon. I’m quite excited for next week’s one.

A New Year in Poetry

This might be my most personal set of poems. It’s too early to tell if this is a bad idea or not. Enjoy.

A Journey Can Be A Short Passage Or Long And Meandering Like This Sentence—They Are Both Valid And Meaningful

Some days I want to leave forever
float away and disappear so that you
can stop missing me
and stop wondering if when you
saw me might be the last.
Kingdoms have risen and fallen
while I strutted along the desiccated fields
with no destination in mind.
Had so much time passed between?
Lately I’ve noticed my wholesale disappearance
would only serve to exacerbate
the me-sized gap over there:
I am near but far away,
not in the sky
but in the trenches
part of a phalanx
fighting a war partly of my making,
and still trying to pass it off as something that
couldn’t have been foreseen.
Every spider-web thin apology
seeks to encircle the elaborate fortress I have
built to keep you away;
I love my glittering gossamer, see.
But I remember
I am sole possessor of the key!
I can’t ask you to wait for me to grow sense and yet
I hope that you do.

Keep Calm And Carry On

Flint-lock frowns.
Hearts kept at bay.
Unified indifference.
Private regret.

Keep calm and carry on.
Past rain-soaked sleeping bags
and shivering pleas.

I can’t work out
if it’s worse to meet or avoid
your solemn gaze.
I wonder if you resent me.
(I know I would.)

A gold-ringed coin drops into
your dirty palm.
“Good luck,” I mutter.
It is not a kindness, I assure myself, moving away.
I’m secretly full of shit:
That offering is a token of my guilt.

 

To Whom It May Concern

Dear Sir/Madam,

Mine is a familiar shape, I know
but I am hardworking and diligent
though I suppose all who write you
say something similar.
In truth I have a tendency to
overwork due to my need to
perfect all I do.
I come to work to feed that;
see, I’m afraid of not being competent
because of those who told me I was not
so I will spend too long
working through a problem.

Mine is a familiar shape, I apologise,
but it is a lonely one.
I’ve been prone to bouts of
uncertainty
not only of direction but how honest I should be—
to my friends,
to myself.
I do have a few skills:
These I bring and much more.
I have experience
and patience:
A man can do anything if he has those.

Mine is a familiar shape:
Compassionate,
which I suppose is important for when
colleagues or clients don’t have it in them (for personal issues)
to see the business side of things.
Sometimes it’s best when there is a lot of space,
a place to come back to when they’re done.
Meanwhile I will step in
to help—give them time away.
It helps, however little, I’ve found.
If that is not appealing
I have made giant steps—
not as grand as Coltrane’s, sadly—
in realising my creative goals,
making sure everything’s ready for
when my transformation comes
rapidly like a train.
If I blink I’ll miss it.
But it approaches.
I will step on the platform
and will slice the winds of misfortune.
Every written word
helps me to rationalise:
To improve,
dissect,
extrapolate …
Things every business needs.

Ah fuck,
this cover letter is too damn long;
well, it’s not a cover letter at all!
More like a soapbox,
a signifier of strength
a mast holding through storm,
rain-lashed but puffed out—
deliberately defiant,
come what may.

Yours faithfully,

O.B.

FiNe

“My ills are reticulate/My woes are granular/The ants weigh more than the elephants.”

I seized misfortune by the collar,
raised my black gloved ill-intent
and demanded it tell me why I was chosen.
Fragments and curlicues, I said, feather-light
the most unaccountable
of machinery—
always buzzing,
humming,
roaring
diving,
and then buried in the
mud.
Thoughts filed through,
piled through
without completion, just a merciless
torrent of consideration, deliberation,
consultation, digression,
parsing, reflection,
refraction, inversion,
weak, agreeable,
meticulously footnoted but
inert.
And why? What’s this passion for?

What of the figure of stone over the white cliffs
overlooking the foamy sea?
Its hard exterior, cool to the touch
with inner combustion—
it’s a strange contraption that might take flight.
But you’ll find no warmth in it
though you still might burn your fingers.
It’s best to keep away,
yet still masses find succour from it,
flock without minds—for what?
It’s the strangest contradiction I’ve ever heard.
Reflecting and withdrawn.
Who has looked at its real face?
They circle its mighty frame with
easily reached conclusions:
mere fragments of a whole.

I must stand alone—
There is no longer any fullness;
it has faded,
chipped away by this tool
that seeks to sculpt
Platonic beauty
and fears its
antithesis,
fears that
Darkness sits within
just on the cusp of breaking out—
split the head clean in two
and consume all in hellfire.

“Fool!” he responds,
“that is what makes you strong.
To understand not to agree, that provides
fullness.
And think of your mind as tracing filigree:
Intricate and beautiful,
unbound by dogma, thirst propelling you,
oh my Philomath!
Certainly you might digress
but discovery is around every corner
if you do not protest.
Parsing and reflection are your allies!
Believe in the effectiveness of your considering:
extrovert judgement when you need to,
not a moment before.”

But in industry I require speed!
“And any worth their role will see consideration benefits you best—
Cold calculation does not suit you:
The fire is no weakness, not to be feared.
It should be stoked and used to
give light and here for those who seek it
but do not be rid of it too quickly—
know that the temptation is high,
but save some for yourself:
fire for one, fire for all.
So you see, dear, this passion
is this arc of dawn,
a sonorous whisper,
your foresight and flexibility is a promise of
a bright future.
You’re doing just fine.”

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 4

Week Four of the 52-week writing challenge. As usual, full list can be found here.

Question 4: Your favourite thing that DIDN’T make it into the book (such as a background story, description, or an erased character)

Oh man, there is so much that I wanted to put into the book—like the names of the countries are based on the tribes/ethnic groups that founded them, for example—so I’m struggling to pick just one. I’ll give it a go, though. I’ve elected to talk about a tiny country called Kaska. In the setting, the Three Kingdoms, they’re a small country and state, not really with much influence across the board. On the surface.

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On my shitty unfinished map, Kaska’s this tiny one here.

Across the world of Delka there are titans/giants that have affinities for the various magics across the planet. Kaska has very little except for the existence of the Frost Giant, an ancient spirit with an affinity for ice and tied to the mountain that he lives on, giving a lot of the temperature around an unnatural cold to it all. His connection is so sharp that he would die leaving being separated from the mountain.

Kaska has very little natural resources so they rely on exports almost entirely, but their imports are in the form of people, not products. Kaskans are the Jacks (and Janes)-of-all-trades from lawyers to bankers, doctors, soldiers, courtesans, etc., and most crucially to the Giant’s interests, spies. The history of the Three Kingdoms is turbulent and complex, but the last big event was the Liberation—a wide-spread emancipation of the enslaved who were or known to associate with the magically-inclined—where Kaska were a huge part of, both positively and negatively. Often, Alvefia (or Ispara) to the east is credited with the advancement of the anti-slavery rhetoric. Not only that, but political and military efforts of the Liberation since they abolished all forms of slavery some 100 years prior to the uniform abolition, and this is true, but Kaska actually had a more integral part in it, if much subtler.

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“Those damn liberals in Alvefia!” (Hallius is the capital)

These come in the forms of two core groups: the Fraternity of Frost and the Sorority of Shivers. Both were single-gendered groups, as the names denote, and they had influence across the entirety of the Kingdoms. They got the name from the cold country they inhabit, but also for the Giant’s blood that stirs in their veins. As a rite of passage, they would have the Giant’s blood in them for certain advantages: decrease their body temperature, lower heart rate, increase their vision (especially in cold conditions), making them indispensible. This became extended only to core members because in time they recruited across the Kingdoms for their wide-ranging purposes. A minority of Giant’s blood owners are his children but we’ll return to that.

Both the Fraternity and the Sorority’s main product was information, and typically they worked as spies and assassins for various courts to advance the anti-slavery movement in the Kingdoms. Mostly they would pass messages between enslaved revolutionaries and abolitionists to help with the organisation of escapes: ships that ended moored on safe shores, like the southern tip of the land to the north.

The Sorority still exists when the story begins, but the Fraternity is dead. As I said before, Kaskans are important figures both good and bad. One of the largest pillars of the slave trade was named Axon the Direwolf who was an information broker turned solider turned war criminal. This happened because the allure of violence was too much. His craving was so vast that it would be the death of him and the Fraternity. He was the Giant’s son, of a “human”* mother.

The Sorority was diminished as a result, for the size of the Fraternity was unmasked when they found ledgers of those in his employ and connection**. Many retreated to Kaska, awaiting the memory of their traitorous and murderous brothers to fade from memory.

The seat of the westernmost Kingdom is a country named Onzaria. When the slavers were deposed, they needed leaders. The would-be king was starting a kingdom from the ground up and it would be advantageous to be in their good graces, considering the size and influence of the wealthy Onzaria. The Frost Giant’s firstborn (and most beloved) daughter Veveril—again of a “human” mother—elected to marry the king of Onzaria in order to secure prosperity for her home. About a year or so before the beginning of Umbra, Veveril is killed by poisoning which would naturally attract the Giant’s ire. But that’s about where the story of Kaska gets to. I have some rough plans but that would be telling.

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Onzaria which if you squint shares a border with Kaska. The capital Liax lies to the far west and you can see just beyond my hand.

The reason all of it didn’t make it in? I didn’t think of it until well after I had begun writing the  book! By then I couldn’t think of a sensible reason for including it. Look at the size of that. I’ve admittedly done it in my drafts for some things (to the confusion of my betas—sorry!) but I wanted to have it down as a reminder to include it in the future, which is usually why things in the latter half pop up: they’re reminders. Hope you enjoyed this lengthier post. I had a lot of fun writing it.

*They aren’t humans in a strict sense but they’re humanoids and saying human—denoting what we mean by people generally but with a jewel in their foreheads with grants them all sorts of benefits like mentally communicating with loved ones, and more (they’re fucking aliens okay?)—is easier conceptually, especially for the layperson.

**Axons, incidentally transmit information to different neurons, muscles, and glands, acting as a centre point of info. I didn’t know this when I named Axon but his character has developed over time and his role was serendipitously aligned with his name. Neat, huh?

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 3

This is the third week of the 52-week writing challenge. Full list of questions can be found in the original post.

Question 3: Who is the book for and why will they love it?

My aim is adults who like fantasy so 18+, though people in their late teens could easily find enjoyment. The only reason I say adult is because of “adult” themes—strong violence, sex, you know the business. Anyone who’s read Sanderson, Rothfuss, Martin, Abercrombie, Hobb, etc. will get a nice cross-section of what I’m about, though I lean more towards Sanderson than any individual on that list. Anyone who likes adventure, conflicting world-views, large-scale battles, magic, and those delicious fantasy staples like royal corruption, betrayals, and death are hopefully in for a treat. Those who dislike orcs and disposable enemies will be well accommodated (although there are elves), as well as those who come to challenge notions of what “good” and “evil” really mean*.

As for why will they love it: A fair bit of the fantastic without compromising on the consequences of conflict and violence more common in the “lower fantasy”, though we’re turning the dial down on the level of grit and grimness. There’s banter, mystery, internal conflict, a rich history three-layers deep—concerning a conflict between twin goddesses, heroes who thwarted an ancient “evil”, and a nation freed from an actual evil, slavery, many years prior, each of these having echoes to the present and future—weird creatures, a diverse cast, a dash of romance (I’m not a heathen**). It’s choc-full of stuff! If all of this isn’t floating your boat I don’t know what to tell you other than this book isn’t for you. And that’s okay. There’s plenty of good stuff you might wanna check out.

*I make no claims of doing it effectively but that is one of the core themes of the series.

**I’m of course joking. I like when the romance is complicated and the people don’t just jump at the chance to hook up but instead agonise intensely over the notion. It’s really funny to me.

#AcresofInk Writing Challenge: Week 2

This is week 2 of the 52 week writing challenge. A list of all 52 can be located on the original post. I’d say it’s not too late to join and would be interested in exploring other people’s processes. This week is known as “Lord save us” week. *touches hand to forehead* How can a verbose virtuoso (emphasis on the verbose) such as myself do such a terrible task?!

Question 2: Write a paragraph pitching your book and then distil it into no more than 3 sentences (basically, a blurb). Show both

Kill me  I mean, this is quite the difficult thing!

Okay, here goes:

The Three Kingdoms, once known for its beauty and technological innovations, hangs together by a thread, disease and conflict plaguing its once verdant lands. Only the blessing of the Goddess can right this wrong and bring prosperity to all. Far to the south, the great Anzori Empire stands at a tipping point. Their empress is dying of a rare and hardy illness and the ambitious clamour for her throne. They seek the Goddess’ Blessing in the Three Kingdoms, the last hope for empress and empire. Both hope for a miracle, of a magic from a lost age. But only one can wield the power. The War of the Twins begins.

A~and in condensed form:

The Three Kingdoms and the southern Anzori Empire battle over a power that can bring them salvation. But only one can wield its glorious light.

I don’t even think they’re good but I’d risk missing a week if I tried to get one “perfect” (perfect in scare quotes because it’d be “perfect” for when I complete it, inevitably being tweaked again until my body turn to dust and I fade away without actually writing my books). And I’m shirking a third sentence because it says no more than three sentences. I’d like to see who can do it in one or two sentences: that’d be Hard Mode+. Ah well, a good deal of practise for when I need to seriously do it in the coming years.