Me 2012

Ardent Sojourner (3/80)

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He's cute for a Sun lord, Ardent thought, stealing a glance in the stranger's direction. She liked his face: he had kind eyes. Kind, anxious eyes. Wonder what's gnawing on his bones? Ardent dismissed him from her thoughts to focus on her intrepid mortal traders. She couldn't help admiring them. The fey shard had synchronized with their world less than two weeks ago, for the first time in over a hundred years. Yet here they were already, braving their "Cursed Lands" to see if the stories were true.


Here I am, boys. The stuff of legends. Disappointed? Ardent thought at them, smiling fondly. The youngest of them, Finquio, had lost his fear entirely, and was relating a story about his great-great-grandmother. She had braved the Cursed Lands to ask for help, and returned home with Ardent and two other fey. They'd saved the village from a plague, a flood, and an ogre. "I remember her," Ardent said, when he finished describing the climactic fight. "Diquio of Aki-by-the-River?"


Finquio's eyes lit as if he hadn't really believed until that moment that the satyress seated before him was the same one from his family legend. "Yes!"


"Her brother and father had the grippe and several other villagers were sick with food poisoning from spoiled grain. They'd had a bad rainy season, and we helped them barricade the river by their village when it was going to overflow. I don't recall the ogre, though. Been a long time; must've slipped my mind."


Next to her, Relentless chuckled and said in the fey tongue, "Maybe they mean Depths Pouring. Did he go with you?"


"Oh, no, I don't remember. I hope they didn't turn him into a villain. Poor Depths. But probably it was someone from the Moon Host that we asked to leave, and it got exaggerated like the rest." To the mortals, she added, "All the ogres I know 'round here are friendly. So what brings you folks round? No plagues, I hope?"


"No, no plagues," the middle-aged mortal, Mifinto, replied with a smile. His two comrades looked taken aback by her remark on ogres. "Not that we would say no to a fey healer! There are always the sick and injured. But Aki-by-the-River is a large and prosperous city now. We hoped to learn how long your people will be ... reachable, here in the Cursed Lands. And exchange goods and services while you are here."


Huanato, the last member of the delegation, added, "And there's the matter of the children."


"Here we go," Relentless muttered to her in the fey tongue. "Children?" he asked in the local language.


Huanato flinched despite Relentless's mild tone. "Yes. A young girl, Intia, from Menoti-on-the-Hill, is missing, and -- "


"We don't steal children," Relentless said, curtly. "What use do you think we'd have for a mortal brat, anyway?"


Ardent leaned forward and put a hand on Relentless's forearm. To the mortals, she said, "This is the village of Try Again, gentlemen. We can assure you no one from Try Again would ever hurt or abduct one of your children. Are you worried Intia strayed into the Broken Lands and got lost?"


Huanato looked relieved. "Yes, great lady."


"Then we'll keep an eye out for her. We find her, or any other mortal, and we'll bring them back to you. Anyone else missing?"


He bowed deeply. "A boy of Quintao Keep, and an infant girl from Ovindia-of-the-Valley."


"A baby. They don't think a baby 'got lost', Ardent," Relentless growled in fey.


"I know, sugar."


"Bet the mother drowned it and blamed us."


Ardent sighed and repeated to the mortals, "I'll let our folks know. Try Again isn't the only village in the Broken Lands, though, and I can't speak for the others. I'll send word around about it."


"Thank you, great lady." Huanato knelt before her and pressed his forehead to the ground at her hooves.


"Sure thing -- no, sugar, it's fine, don't do that -- " Ardent leaned forward and took his shoulder to help him to his feet. "It'll be all right. There now." She dusted off his robe and he bowed again, drawing back. The five of them moved onto details of potential trade. Try Again had access to magic -- granted, only trivial magic without making the journey to an Etherium, but they could still do things the mortals could only dream of. What mortals could offer the fey was less obvious: some barbarian fey would be interested in building materials, cloth, and imported labor, but in many ways it was easier to go to an Etherium for those needs. Ardent was more interested in new breeds of crop plants -- the hardier, the better -- and books. History, philosophy, fiction, whatever they had. Mortals were so much more numerous than the fey that they had a much larger variety of art and knowledge. Even when the things they knew were of little practical value, they were still interesting. Translation was always an issue, but this was the Old World, and the local written language hadn't diverged from the fey tongue nearly as much as the spoken had. A fey with an interest could pick up the written language in a month or two.


The mortals wanted to know if any fey trade delegations -- or healers -- would come to their lands. "That kinda depends on you folk," Ardent said. "As I remember it, my last visit to Aki-by-the-River did have a few problems with your official-types. From whoever your governor was ... Ifilio? I forget. Nothing insurmountable -- flea's-sneeze matters -- but I think we'd want a whisker's more assurance we were welcome. If we are. If not, we can stay home and you can come to us, sugar."


The mortals nodded understanding and Finquio apologized earnestly for the inhospitality of a governor who'd doubtless died more than half a century ago. They exchanged thanks and assurances of future visits and mutual profit. "Can I foist these folks off on you for entertaining, Relentless?" Ardent asked in the fey tongue after they'd covered the basics. "I want to see what our Sun lordling guest wants." The slender fey man had been waiting quite patiently on the far side of the park, within eyesight but out of earshot of them. Not that distance would stop a fey fresh from the Etherium from eavesdropping if he chose, but it was polite for him to pretend he wasn't listening. Of course, he probably didn't speak the language and nothing she'd said was a secret anyway.


Relentless eyed the Sun lord warily. "As you like, Ardent." He invited the men to his home for dinner, and the four of them departed as Ardent rose to walk towards her curious stranger.
Me 2012

Try Again (2/80)

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After his father’s capture, Mirohirokon spent almost three full days in the Sun Etherium, waiting for word he knew would not come, soliciting aid he knew he would not find. By afternoon on the third day, he’d endured all he could stomach. He gathered his aether, made sure all his enchantments were fully charged, and returned to the Broken Lands.

This time he headed southwest, for Try Again, a barbarian hamlet over a hundred miles from the Sun Etherium.

Here, the Broken Lands were hospitable, even pleasant. The barbarian farms of the fey shard were on gentle, terraced slopes. Some were already harvested and bare save for broken stalks littering rich dark loam, while others had crops still ripening. This developed landscape contrasted with the wilderness of the Old World, the mortal plane that the fey shard overlay. The Old World here was a rolling prairie of tall grasses and scrubby bushes. Although it had been a hundred years since the fey shard had last overlain this particular world, the mortals here still considered these lands cursed.

For most of the journey, Mirohirokon stayed on the roads of the fey shard and didn’t interact with mortal land. But when the gentle fey hills became steep, he shifted to the flat underlying mortal world and walked the prairie wilderness instead of following the winding fey road. Even with that shortcut, if he’d had to make the journey unassisted by aether, it would’ve taken five days.

Equipped with his walking boots, Miro reached the outskirts of Try Again in little more than an hour.

The hamlet was a farming community, with single houses set apart on several acres of cultivated crop lands and fenced pastures. A few of the homes had been built entirely of natural materials, or at least pretended they were: little cabins of logs, plain off-white stone, and hard orange-brown bricks. Others must have been made in the Sun or Moon Etherium, and relocated or assembled on site: an elegant ivory pagoda; a translucent palace made in miniature, perhaps a hundred feet long with towers no more than thirty feet high; a marble dome raised on columns, with crystal windows between each. Most were somewhere between: small, tidy structures made primarily of wood and stone, but with glass windows and fused-tile roofs that would never leak or sag.

Well shy of what passed for the heart of Try Again, Miro stopped. From an inner pocket of his jacket, he produced a scrying mirror and a notebook with a leather cover, both about the size of his palm. With one finger, he sketched the rune for “person” in the air above the mirror. It showed him the nearest other fey: a beefy squirrel-tailed man clinging to the side of a house as he fixed a crooked shutter. Miro opened the notebook to a page of sketches and names, and set it in the air before him, where it hung unsupported. He flicked his fingers over the mirror, switching from one person in Try Again to the next. Many of the barbarian fey of Try Again were emigrants from the Moon Etherium, where tastes in shape and size were far more eclectic than in Sun Etherium. In the Sun Etherium, most fey wore human-like shapes with elongated ears. They were taller than humans, granted, and more muscular. God-like versions of the race, perhaps, who wore the occasional affectation of horns or tails, and came in a variety of colors and hues, but still recognizable as all the same species. Here, Miro saw a tusk-mouthed ogre; two different small, slim centaurs – one more equine and the other more cervine; a six-armed naga with fey upper body and a snake tail in place of legs, entwined about a tree as she implanted cuttings; a chubby aquatic-adapted fey with webbed feet and hands fishing in the river; and more: an astonishing variety, especially for individuals who had to have trueshifted into such forms.    

It did make it easy to locate the specific fey he sought, among people so wildly different. While there were a dozen or two fey in the human-like shapes of the Sun Host, there was only one man with the head and tail of a horse, and while there were three different satyrs, only one of them was a towering female figure with rich, warm brown skin. Miro made a rune-mark on the scrying mirror over both the horse-headed man and the last satyr, as he came to them. After he reached the satyr, he closed the notebook and tucked it away.

Miro scrutinized the final figure, still shown in the mirror. She sat on a bench in a small park at the heart of Try Again, with a few buildings visible in the background. A naga was with her, this one with only two arms, and three nervous-looking mortal men stood before them. Even seated, she was almost as tall as the mortals. Her hooved, goat-like legs were bare of adornment save their fur, and too long for the bench. They stretched before her, crossed at the ankles. She wore a sleeveless off-white chiton draped over powerful shoulders and covering a copious bosom. The garment belted at the waist and ended at her thick-furred thighs. She had masses of curly black hair held back by gold combs, and two small horns on her forehead. Gold crescent earrings adorned her caprine ears, and a wide gold necklace encircled her throat. Her expression was open and kind, smiling as she talked to the nervous mortals. Miro watched her for a few moments. The mortals relaxed as they spoke to her. Miro lifted one hand to make the gesture to let him hear their conversation through the mirror, then aborted the motion. He shook his head and snapped the scrying mirror’s cover closed over the image. He squared his shoulders, oriented himself, and crossed the remaining distance to the village park.

§


Mirohirokon halted in the lee of a house near the village center, and clicked his heels to disable the walking boots’ enchantment. The satyress was taking pains to put those mortals at ease; no need to throw unnecessary magic in their face and alarm them all over again. Besides, walking the last twenty yards at a normal pace would give him a moment to evaluate the woman with soulsight and adjust his plans accordingly.

He turned the corner of the building with determined strides, looked to the group, and staggered to a halt.

Mortals’ souls appeared ordinary enough: radiant, translucent shapes primarily in healthy colors. But smears of sickly yellow-green marred them, suggesting issues with greed on one, and a struggle with laziness in another. Nothing Miro would condemn anyone for: everyone struggled. The oldest of the men had a wide streak of gangrenous corruption, indicative of cruelties he’d enacted, slashed deep into his soul. Miro didn’t like the look of it, but he’d seen worse. Far worse, and recently. The naga looked solid and likeable: his soul’s radiance wasn’t strong, but it had few dim parts and only modest fragments of sickly green in it.

But the satyress…

She was glorious.

Her soul had a sparkling radiance he’d never seen before on anyone. It was a bonfire of red and orange that refracted like a rainbow. No wonder she made the mortals more relaxed: their souls bent towards her glow like flowers turning to the sun. No sickly colors smeared streaks into her soul, no dull spots, no corruption. In the forty-four years he’d had soulsight, he’d never seen a soul so shockingly clean, so astonishingly beautiful. He wished he was not the only fey who had soulsight, that he could share this wondrous vision with someone.

“Well, hello, stranger,” she drawled, and Miro flushed at how long he’d been staring at her. “You all right?”

He forced himself to nod, to look away from her magnificence. “…yes.” He moved to her, drawn to that glow. Even the obligations of her soul that flowed from her nape floated in crisp and regular lines. Even the strings her soul held in her hands glittered. This isn’t possible. No one can be that perfect. “You are Ardent Sojourner?”

“Sure am, sugar. You needing something in particular? Kinda in the midst of sorting a few bits and bobs with these folks, here.” She gestured with a little wave to the mortals. The naga was giving him a flat stare made more effective by yellow eyes with slit pupils.

Miro stopped himself short, and drew back into a bow. “Of course. My apologies for the interruption. I am Mirohirokon of the Sun Host. If I might beg for a moment of your time, whenever is convenient for you?”

“Sure you can. Afraid I don’t have a fancy parlor for you to wait in, sweetie, but you’re welcome to have a looksee around our little park while I take care of things. Be with you in a whisker-twitch. Oh, stop glaring at the Sun lord and be nice, Relentless,” she added, poking the other fey’s serpentine lower body with the tip of one cloven hoof. Relentless made a face at her, but did stop glowering at Miro. Ardent added something in apologetic tones to the mortals. They answered in their own tongue, rapid not-quite-alien sounds that Miro could make no sense of. Her warm contralto voice made the language sound like music; even without knowing what she said, he itched to stay and listen.

Instead, Miro delivered another bow and murmured his thanks to avoid interrupting her again, then moved to the far side of the park. His mind churned with an internal argument. This changes everything.

No, it changes nothing.

She’s perfect. The Guide must have sent me to her.

She is not perfect. Good, yes, obviously she’s a good person. Obviously she’s a great person. That’s not the same as being flawless. Take another look, you’ll see. No, not right now, you idiot. Let her alone for fifteen minutes. Anyway, it doesn’t matter if she’s got great judgment and an excellent moral compass and the courage to act upon it. It’s probably worse that she has those things, because why would she trust you?

But if she will help me… It didn’t matter what his reason said. His heart felt a dozen times lighter in his chest. For the first time, what he planned to do next felt like not just something he had to do, but something that he could do.




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Me 2012

The Moon Etherium: the Phoenix Rose (1/80)

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“Shh. It’ll be fine.” The fey man stroked the head of the owl perched on his shoulder. Despite the reassurance, the bird’s head circled one way and then the other. They were alone in the Broken Lands, surrounded by a silent forest of stone spires whose jagged tips lanced the darkening sky. The last purple-red light of the sun was dying in the west as a full moon rose in the distant east. The dry, dusty air nourished little: some lichen along the northwest sides of the spires, and the occasional scrubby bush. A few spindly but determined trees made stark shadows on the eastern horizon.

Petting his owl absently, the fey focused on a scrying crystal in his other hand. The sphere showed, one after another, different sections of a landscape similar to their own surroundings. At first, each scene was empty of animate life. Then it showed the figure of a tall fey woman with silver fox ears and a long lush tail tipped in black. Her attention was split between the small white dog leashed by a silver chain that she was following, and a scrying mirror in her other hand.

The fey man exhaled; with a twist of his hand, image and scrying crystal both vanished. “Well, here we are, Mirohiro. Go.” The owl’s wings shifted, and the fey transferred him from shoulder to gloved wrist and raised him. “You know what to do. Go!” The owl took wing, silent and hard to see as he angled upward towards one of the stone spire tips.

With arms outstretched, the man’s outline blurred, then his form shrank and shifted. In an eyeblink, a sparrow hovered at shoulder height where the man had stood. The bird darted between stone spires. Soon, he saw through sparrow eyes the same fox-tailed woman he’d spotted in his crystal orb.

The woman dropped the leash and shifted into a raven’s shape. Her wings flapped as she rose, circling.

The sparrow flew forward with a fresh burst of speed. “Shadow of Fallen Scent!” he called out to her. “What a pleasure to find you here!” The raven’s head twitched in his direction, but she continued to ascend undeterred. “Oh, don’t rush away! Surely you can spare a moment for an old friend.”

The raven circled the twisted stone pillar a few feet above him. “I’m sorry,” she answered at last. “Do I know you?”

“Oh, of course, where are my manners? I am Jinokimijin of the Sun Host. We’ve met before. At the Convocation of 1220 we shared a dance on the Lily Pavilion. Do you recall?”

She laughed, and her ascent slowed fractionally. Jino struggled to catch up. “Naturally. Jinokimijin the Disgraced; I should have known it was you. What are you failing at today, Jino?”

The sparrow chuckled, self-consciously. “I daresay I’ve succeeded at the same thing you have, Fallen. May I call you Fallen?”

“You may not.” The raven eyed him warily, still rising.

“Excellent. Surely it’s no coincidence that we’re both here, Fallen. Flying around this same stone pillar, when the fey shard coincides with the Old World, and sun and moon stand in perfect opposition. Literal sun and moon, that is. No need for opposition between our respective Hosts, I’m sure.”

“Oh, I know it’s not a coincidence, Jino. You’re following me. Do you think you can catch me, your highness? Forgive me: your former highness.”

Jino flapped his wings harder. “Maybe. Do we need to make this a race, Shadow of Fallen Scent? We both know the potential of a phoenix rose. We’re both here for it. We could share.”

She cocked her head, as if considering for a moment. “No.” She flew higher.

“You must be tempted!” Jino shouted after her. “Think of all the work we’ve duplicated! Think of all we could teach one another. Do you know how the Moon Etherium formed?”

The raven slowed, and Jino almost closed the gap between them. “Do you?” she asked.

“Share this find with me, and I’ll share everything I know with you,” Jino offered.

“You don’t.” Fallen dismissed him and rose again.

“Wait wait wait. All right. If this is going to be a race – well, we should still be on the same side, whoever wins. Whichever of us possesses the phoenix rose, let that one be served by the other.”

The raven turned, and spiraled in a tight circle above the sparrow. “Are you offering yourself as my slave, Jinokimijin?”

The sparrow wobbled in the air as he tried to meet Fallen’s gaze. “Only when – and if – you gain the phoenix rose, my lady. If it falls to my hands instead – well. I suppose you could say you’d be mine.”

Fallen laughed again, a sharp, staccato sound in her raven’s throat. “Very well. I accept your bargain.”

Jino staggered in the air. “You do?”

With a glance at the spire they flew beside, she chose a spot along one of its winding curves to land. She resumed her fox-tailed human shape. “I do. Shall we formalize it, Jino? You haven’t changed your mind, have you?”

“No…no. I haven’t.” His eyes flicked upwards, to the still-distant peak. Then he dropped into place next to her. His man’s shape was taller than hers by some inches, and broad-shouldered; height and strength were fashionable in the Sun Etherium at present. He had gold-dusted brown skin, long golden hair bound in a narrow queue, and the elongated ears with pointed tips that were common among the fey. He wore a long formal jacket with a jagged, asymmetrical fastening down the front, and no jewelry save a hoop earring of white gold, studded by rubies.

Fallen had produced a short silver knife from a pocket in a gauzy overskirt that swirled over her trousers. Without a wince, she sliced open her own right palm and watched him with ice blue eyes in a gray face. She had a fox’s whiskers, white and almost invisible against her skin where they grew, but dark at the tips.

Jino slashed his own palm and they clasped arms, palm to wrist.“Whichever of us possesses the phoenix rose, the other will be bound to serve. Only the one in possession of the phoenix rose may choose to release us from this binding.”

Fallen repeated his words, squeezing his wrist. They repeated the oath a second time together, this time touching blooded palm to opposite wrist. For the third recitation, each rested their own palm against the other’s throat.

“Shall we race, my lady?” Jino still held his hand against Fallen’s throat. A trickle of blood leaked down the side of her bare neck. A droplet fell from the smear of blood she’d left on his wrist.

Fallen laughed again, revealing sharp white teeth. “Oh, I don’t think so.”

His eyes darted to the peak. “…uh. My lady?”

“Do you think I don’t know what you were doing, your former highness?”

A faint sheen of sweat formed on his forehead. “Making a bargain with you?”

“You are going to be such an adorable slave, Jino.” She smiled, baring her fangs. “I know you’ve been stalling for time. I know about your owl. I know you’ve been waiting for him to come back with the phoenix rose for you.” A long, mournful hoot cut through the twilight gloom. “And there it is! Right on schedule. Except for one teensy-eensy problem.” The owl swooped past their perch on the spire.

Its talons were empty.

“I already have the phoenix rose,” Fallen pulled her hand from his throat, and it came away holding a silver chain. Jino lifted his own hand to his neck to touch the hard silver collar now formed around it. “I acquired it two days ago. I only came back today to collect the roots of its nest-plant. Really, Jino, how stupid do you think I am? Do you think I’d take the slightest chance of becoming your servant?” Silver cuffs formed about his wrists; a chain linking them pulled his hands together. “You thought you were clever enough to fool me? You, Disgraced Jinokimijin? You’re not even clever enough to stay married.” Fallen pulled on the chain to his collar, dragging his head down to bow before her. “Perhaps it’s a good deal for you after all, though. You’re not actually fit for any higher position in society, are you? Call back your bird.”

Jino blinked, his head still bowed. “What?”

“Call back your bird! You belong to me; it may as well too.”

Jino lifted his head and peered into the gloom. The owl had circled a few times while Fallen was talking, but now it was winging away. “Come back?” he said, half-heartedly. Fallen glowered at him and wrapped a loop of the leash about her knuckles. Jino swallowed and yelled, “Come back! Rohi! Rohi, come!”

The distant owl wheeled in the air to face them. Jino whistled. “That’s it, Rohi! Come here!” He whistled again, but the owl had continued its circle and was flying off again.

“Oh, seriously! Can’t you leash it?”

Jino raised his bound arms and flicked one wrist up: a length of leather tether spun out of aether, snaking towards the owl. The bird dodged the tether and continued to fly on. “Sorry, my lady. I guess I’m not a very good animal trainer, either.”

She gave him a skeptical look. “Then I’ll have to find some other use for you. Perhaps you’ll make an adequate whipping boy. Come along, pet.”

§


The owl soared out of the forest of stone spires as the moon rose higher in the sky. The ground turned from cracked stone to scrub over the course of a mile or so, and then, suddenly, a hill covered in tall grasses rose over the brush. The owl dropped to the level of the hill top, flight wobbling badly. Legs extended, the bird spread its wings to brake, but was still going too fast when the shift wore off. In an instant, a fey figure with golden skin and indigo hair replaced the owl in the air. Human legs struck the ground, arms flailed for balance against the momentum, and then he tumbled through tall fragrant grass. Mirohirokon rolled to a graceless halt a half-dozen yards later, breathing heavily, with no bruises or marks to show for the abuse. Seed fluff shaken loose from the plants drifted around him.

He lay on his back and stared at the night sky. Miro knew he’d pushed it, holding the shape so long. He was better than most at storing aether when outside of the Etherium, but there were still limits. He just wanted to still be an owl. It was easier that way: easier not to think about what had happened, about what he had to do next.

About how it had felt to see his father in chains.

Don’t think about that. It’s done, it’s too late for recriminations now. Just keep moving. You know what you have to do.

Miro climbed to his feet, and clicked his heels to activate the enchantment in his boots; they had their own aether source. Then he took a step forward that arced him through the air with such speed that when his foot came down he was almost ten yards away. Another step, just as swift, and another.

Just keep moving. You can do this.

You have to.

May the Guide lead you on your Path now, Dad. And me too.




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Me 2012

November in Review

Health/Fitness
I am finally over the doom-cough that I picked up in mid-October. \o/ And Thanksgiving leftovers are largely gone. I will resume calorie-tracking on Monday. I expect it'll be a mess through December because Christmas, but that's okay.

I've been using the exercise bike pretty regularly since Daylight Savings Time ended. Usually only for 30 minutes, instead of the hour I do on my bike, but still something.

Writing
Oh, so much writing.
50,800 words on The Sun Etherium, to win Nanowrimo.
19,600 words on a new novel, working title of Fellwater. I started it for fun and am not invested in finishing it.
14,000 words or so of LJ entries and notes for Fellwater.

4thewords.com has proven a huge success as a motivational tool so far. I started Fellwater largely because 4thewords had a bunch of time-locked Nano events that I wanted to complete.

It is, perhaps, too effective, because I really need to start editing books and I still want to write instead. Because 4thewords doesn't have any way to give credit for editing.

The Business of Writing
Nothing on this front in November.

Art/Other
I ... don't think I did any drawing in November. There was a lot of writing.

Socializing
I went to Contra KC! For all three days, even! I think I wrote about that earlier in the month.

Gaming
I started a new game called 4thewords which is basically just "write stuff" but somehow my brain is now convinced this is a real game.  O.o

Happiness
Overall, a pretty good month. There were some hard days, but mostly I enjoyed diving head-first into all that writing.

Goals for coming month
* Do a few Moon Etherium illustrations
* Begin serializing The Moon Etherium on December 5.
* Make significant progress on editing one of my unedited books.

I'm not setting a writing goal myself, but I know that I want to play more 4thewords, and maintain my streak in it. Just maintaining the streak is 13,764 words for the month (444 per day). Most of the good monsters are 1000+ words. So I'm guessing I will write more than 15k this month. These words won't all be fiction. I'm happy to count LJ posts and even forum posts or emails, if they're of significant length.
studious

Nanowrimo 2016, in monologue form

2007 Me: Nano is SO HARD. I barely won it and it was such a miserable slog.
2016 Me: I can't remember why I thought this was hard. Let's write 2500 words a day and finish early.
2007 Me: WAT.
2016 Me: and make an outline for a new book and write 19k more.
2007 Me: HOW
2016 Me: I'mma take December off from writing, mostly, though.
2007 Me: I SHOULD THINK SO.
2016 Me: I'll work on editing and just do a little writing on the side. Like 15,000 words or so.
2007 Me: ... WAT. HOW IS THAT A "LITTLE" WRITING.
2016 Me: It won't all be fiction.
2007 Me: *just stares*
2016 Me: This is what happens when you get power-leveled by haikujaguar, okay?
worried

Coping Mechanisms

I went to Starbucks on Sunday. The weather was iffy for bike riding: small chance of showers before 2PM, than larger chance of rain/thunderstorm after 2PM. So I left the house a little before 11AM and planned to get home by 2PM.

The three-mile ride to Starbucks is a lot longer when it's cold and damp and I haven't regularly biked outside in several weeks. An eight-mile ride to Panera (sixteen both ways) was out of the question, given the probability of rain and the narrow window in which I was likely to avoid the worst of it.

At Starbucks, I ordered chai with no water, on the advice of a Twitter friend. It was very crowded at Starbucks, so I took the only empty table, a small high one in a corner, with a man at the adjacent table also using a laptop. We exchanged a few amiable remarks about the crowd and then devoted ourselves to our respective electronic devices. After five or ten minutes, the man left, and I had the corner to myself for a few minutes, until a different man approached. He said, "Good morning," in a friendly way, and offered his hand.

"Hi there!" I replied, cheerfully, because I am not adverse to a few minutes of random chitchat with strangers at a coffee shop. I shook his hand.

"What I am about to say will change your life!" he told me. He sat down, shifted to close and leaned back to look at my laptop screen.

My categorization instantly went from "friendly stranger" to "scammer." I am not one of those people who has been so conditioned to be polite that they will be nice to anyone, no matter the circumstances. I am fine with being rude. "Excuse me," I told him. "I am very busy." I changed the angle of my body and my laptop so that I could use it without him seeing my screen, and then I steadfastly ignored him. Or more accurately, did not visibly react to anything else he did.

He muttered something like, "Fine, I'm never gonna tell you", to which I thought great, please shut up and leave me alone. He continued to mutter at me for a few minutes, sitting sideways in his seat so that he could face me. Then he shifted to face forward, and started loudly telling a group of three women three tables away that someone had taught Jessica to be racist. I don't know who Jessica is or what she did that was racist. I am pretty sure that the three women he was ranting at did not know either.

At this point, one of the Starbucks baristas caught my eye with a look of 'do you need help?' and I tried to signal 'HEAVENS PLEASE YES' without actually saying anything or acknowledging Creepy Guy's existence. I was fussing with my bag to get out my headphones and iPod in an effort to get a bonus to my Ignore Harassment roll.

The barista leaned against Creepy Guy's table and told him, firmly, that he was being too loud, and he wasn't even a customer, and he needed to stop annoying the patrons.

Creepy Guy shut up for about five minutes. I had my headphones on by this point. I'd been trying to get some writing done but was making very little progress because DRAMA. After five minutes of peace, Creepy Guy decided he needed to talk at me again and started talking loudly and waving his hand in front of my laptop screen. I turned the volume up on my iPod. He touched my arm. I told him not to touch me again. He subsided for a bit.

Then he started fussing with the chair opposite his table. He positioned it so that it filled the space between his table and mine, and then put his legs on it, which had the effect of boxing me in between my table and his legs. I gave up on waiting for him to GO AWAY and left by shoving my table out from the wall so I could sidle past it. I sat down at a different table, because some spot of pride in me felt that, well, I'm not bothering anyone and I shouldn't have to be the one to leave. Also, it was sprinkling outside and I was hoping for a break in the weather before I left.

Creepy Guy remained a few minutes at the same table. Brave Barista approached him again, presumably to say "QUIT IT." Creepy Guy followed me to new table, tried to talk to me, touched my arm again, which got me to say "Don't touch me" again without me ever taking my earbuds out or hearing anything being said. Brave Barista had More Words for him, then went back to work.

A minute or two after that, Creepy Guy finally left.

After Creepy Guy left, Brave Barista came back to my table. "I want to apologize for that man -- "

"Oh bless you for finally driving him off," I told him.

"Yes, well, I'm afraid he's been around a lot lately and bothering the customers. We'd called the cops, and I was actually trying to stall him until they arrived so that he could be banned." Brave Barista gave me a little Starbucks gift card and apologized again.

I did a little writing. Maybe twenty minutes later, Creepy Guy returned to the Starbucks, but he didn't approach me. He talked to some other patrons and bought a sandwich. Brave Barista, whose name proved to be Dan, kept an eye on him.

I'd been tweeting about this whole episode as it unfolded, and I started to tweet "Why can't I meet weird strangers who are funny at the coffee shop, like Ursula Vernon does, instead of weird Creepy Ranting Guy?"

And then I stopped, and thought about some of Ursula Vernon's tales of interacting with strangers. Some of them are genuinely merely bizarre, and some are just funny. (There is really no way to relate the star-crossed love of a rooster and a turkey without it being funny.) But most of them are funny as much because of the way she tells it as because of what happened, and some of them are pretty awful once you take them out of the context of "Ursula Vernon boggling humorously at how is this actually happening to/around her." If I'd listened to what Creepy Guy had said, and if I'd had her gift for humor, I might have been able to showcase his rantings as "weird and funny" too, instead of "ZOMG WHEN WILL THE COPS FINALLY GET HERE".

So I commented on that fact instead. Ursula replied with, "Yes, but that's my coping mechanism for creepy things, so it's okay! We all have different coping mechanisms!"

Creepy Guy did come back to sit next to my table again. I don't know what he said, because I turned up the music as soon as he returned. He reeked of alcohol now.

Not long after, two cops actually showed up and bracketed Creepy Guy while he was sitting two feet away from me. I paused my music to listen as they took his name -- somewhat dubious on whether or not he was telling the truth about his name -- and told him he was banned from the Starbucks, and he'd better not already be banned from the plaza because if he was they were going to take him in. They escorted him out of the shop.

I would call this a victory for my "Ignore Them Until They Go Away" method, except that I had to leave myself ten minutes later, to dodge the anticipated storm.

But the thing that stuck with me from the whole incident was that realization about how the line between "funny" and "distressing" is in significant part based on your attitude and the way you tell the story. It also made me realize that I cope with awkward/uncomfortable/creepy by trying to ignore it and carry on with the thing I wanted to do. It's the same coping mechanism I developed in grade school to deal with bullies. In fact, Creepy Guy had NOTHING on the kids who harassed me in junior high. He wouldn't even be in the running. By childhood standards, this barely even qualified as an attempt at harassment. Twelve year-old me would be so jealous that this is the most obnoxious stranger I've dealt with this decade. SO JEALOUS.

I don't know how to tell this story so that it's funny, but I am thinking about that now. I don't think I have the right temperament to treat this kind of awkward/unpleasant situation with a sense of humor (never mind having the comedic gift to make it actually funny). Still, it's an interesting thought.
studious

My Writing Process, in Review

One of my Twitter friends, @AnaMardoll, did a poll for writers on "which part of the writing process is the worst":


I have a clear choice for this: editing. Definitely editing. At the end where I have to fix all the stuff I left notes for myself about fixing later. "I need to foreshadow this clever thing I thought of in chapter 15 somewhere in the first 7 chapters so that it actually looks clever." "I really should've come up with this historical timeline before I started writing but since I didn't, here it is now and I'd better make everything consistent." "Why do all three of these major characters sound exactly the same? I need to make them distinctive somehow." Etc.

Also, I don't have a good way to measure progress when I'm editing. I'm always jumping around in my manuscript looking for places to add foreshadowing or other details. Even when I'm reading through sequentially to edit for things like "make voices distinct" or "fix minor continuity errors", I usually can't hold the whole list of issues-I-need-to-look-for in my head at once, so I wind up making multiple complete passes. Editing just goes on and on until I give up. Writing is better because I can watch the book grow and see how far I've come. And once I have the thing written, I can read it, which is arguably the thing I want most out of writing. The edited version is important for readers-who-are-not-me, so that the book makes sense, but it doesn't make nearly as much difference to me.

I often wonder if the folks who prefer editing have a different process for "getting to the editing stage". Do they never come up with cool new things to add in the middle that effect the beginning? Or do they go back and add the stuff to the beginning right away, before they continue on? Is this a feature of good planning at the start? Is there a connection with experience? Because I used to hate writing a lot more than editing, but that was when (a) I hardly ever finished anything and (b) I thought the things I did finish were perfect and only needed a little proofreading.

It's not that the things I finished were perfect, mind you. They weren't even very good. It's just that I didn't understand enough to know what the faults in them were.

My writing process in general has changed a lot over the years. When I started writing in my teens, at first I didn't outline at all. I also never finished anything. My first attempt at planning a novel was supposed to be a five-book series, and it was an extremely simple outline: here are the characters, here is the conflict, this is the resolution, repeat x 5 with bonus resolution at the very end. I did finish the first book of that but lost interest in the project. It was also the first time I wrote fiction deliberately as practice-for-writing-fiction, rather than because I thought it would be brilliant.

I took a long break from trying to write either books or short stories, ten years or so, from the when I was 21 or so until I was 31. At 31, I was Very Serious about Writing This Book Properly. I decided to write Prophecy, a Serious Book with Meaningful Themes, and plotted out a detailed outline, and set day/week/month/year goals, and wrote pieces of the story in whatever order I felt like writing them. I called it The Master Plan(tm) and generally hated 95% of working on it. I kept at it until I was done, 2.5 years later at the end of 2004. Then I pretty much said "Welp, never doing that again." I hated writing that book a lot more than I hated editing it, but I didn't like any part of the process. The process looked like this:

  • Outline before writing

  • Revise the outline as necessary

  • Write in any order

  • Keep writing. Revise at the end

  • Have a plan for how much writing you're going to do

  • Write an intellectually and emotionally challenging story

  • Share it by email as it's written (with my one wonderfully enthusiastic beta-reader, ♥ jordangreywolf)

The second book that I "finished" (it's still not really edited) was The Warlock, the Hare and the Dragon (aka Silver Scales). I enjoyed writing it much more. I never plotted it outside of my head, or made any setting notes or character notes. Literally nothing except "wrote the story in chronological order as it went along". I posted each entry as I finished it for a small group of friends to read. I loved this book. I only disliked writing it about 25% of the time. It took about three years, but overlapped with the first book. I finished it in August 2006. I decided that clearly This Was My Process. The lessons I took away were:

  • Don't outline

  • Write chronologically

  • Keep writing. Revise at the end

  • Don't make a writing schedule (no "words per time period" quotas)

  • Share it as it is being written, with a small group of friends on LJ

  • Write cheerful, upbeat stories about lovable characters


Fast-forward seven years, to 2013. I'd been writing, but I hadn't finished anything other than short stories since my second book. I don't even remember if I was even theoretically working on anything when I decided to start A Rational Arrangement. *checks* Doesn't look like it.

Because the process that I'd taken away from my second book had not worked for me since then, I'd been gradually modifying my process. I'd experimented with different kinds of "scoring" systems to track my progress on writing, editing, and completing projects. For A Rational Arrangement, my process involved a weird scoring system, and an outline that I didn't worry about adhering to or revising as things changed. It took me 11 months to finish the first draft of ARA, and then about 16 months to finish editing it, My process:

  • Outline

  • Make character & setting notes

  • Write chronologically

  • Keep writing. Revise at the end

  • Don't revise outline even as the book changes; just keep going.

  • Keep score on progress

  • Share it as it is being written, with a small group of friends on LJ

  • Write cheerful, upbeat stories about lovable characters

Then I published ARA with greatly unexpected success, and everything changed.

Over the next six months, I wrote and edited a three-novella collection, Further Arrangements, as a sequel to ARA. The collection is book-length; one of the three novellas was 2/3rds written already.

Then there was 2016, where everything changed again.

I slogged away at the start of this year on Birthright, the sequel to The Warlock, the Hare and the Dragon that I'd been writing on and off since 2006.

Near the end of March, I stopped slogging on Birthright and started The Moon Etherium, where my process looked like:

  • Outline

  • Make character & setting notes

  • Revise the outline/make it more detailed if stuck

  • Write chronologically

  • Keep writing. Revise at the end

  • Write as fast as possible while in friendly competition with haikujaguar to see who can finish first. ♥

  • Don't share it as it's written

  • Write cheerful, upbeat stories about lovable characters


I wrote TME's first draft in six weeks, and edited it in about the same amount of time (finished edits 2.5 months later, after letting it "rest" for a month while I didn't touch it).

After that, I finally finished Birthright's first draft, and then wrote the first draft of The Sun Etherium over the next three months. That brings me to where I am now. My process going forward will be ... whatever I think is most likely to work.

I have some elements of my process that I will probably keep using, because my results with them over the last year have been so good:

  • Outline

  • Make character & setting notes

  • Revisit/revise/refine outline if stuck

The rest will vary.

I have complex feelings about "share the story as it's written", for example. On the one hand, I love positive feedback that encourages me to continue. On the other hand: I only want cheerleading while the writing is in progress, and thus I'm asking my best beta readers to either (a) read the story twice or (b) not provide critical feedback. (A) is an awful lot to ask. On the gripping hand: I think sharing the story in progress might actually slow my writing down, as I wait for feedback before continuing.

I am pretty sure that my insistence on "writing chronologically" is tied to negative feelings about Prophecy. I may try writing out of order again some day. We'll see.

I think the "write cheerful stories" is a permanent part of my process, but I don't want to lock myself into that. I do have some sober, thoughtful, heavy ideas that I might yet explore someday. It's not likely. I both read and write as escapism. My tolerance for reading or watching grimdark is very low at present. Writing happy, fluffy novels is like going off to live in a happy, fluffy world for several months. Writing grim material is the exact opposite. "How long do I want to live in this world?"

I have done the "Keep writing. Revise at the end" thing for all of the last fourteen years, though when I was a teen I was much more likely to keep going back and revising earlier sections. "Don't revise until you're done" is a common bit of writing wisdom, and it certainly make the "get words down" part of the process faster. I expect it makes the "edit the final draft" process slower, however. But I am currently pretty happy to write on and on and on, while I hate editing so much that I have three complete unedited drafts that I am ignoring to start writing a fourth book. It's quite possible I could do with exchanging "fun while writing the first draft" for "less hate while revising it".

So that's me. What are your experiences with process like? Do you keep changing your approach, or parts of your approach, while other parts stay static? What parts do you like or hate most, and why?
Me 2012

Gaming

Me: I have the day off. I should play some games.
Also Me: *browses through game sites* Howabout 4thewords?
Me: Self, you realize that is not a game, right?
Also Me: Sure it is! Let's beat up some monsters.
Me: By writing. You beat monsters up by writing. That is not gaming. It requires thought.
Also Me: It doesn't have to be complicated writing. Or a lot of it! We could beat up the little 250-word monster. It'd be quick.
Me: I don't think you understand what "relaxing" is.
Also Me: It's at least as much fun as Flight Rising and you get a story out of it at the end.
Me: ... point.
Me: But no, really, this is not gaming.
Also Me: You do text RPGs with your friends. That's gaming, right?
Me: Yessssss but --
Also Me: So writing by yourself is basically like a single-player text RPG.
Me: PLEASE STOP. You're just trying to get me to say "let's read a book" the next time I want to relax instead of looking for a game, aren't you?
Also Me: We do have that hardcopy of The Moon Etherium to proofread still.
Me: ... you are really messing with my self-image as a slacker, you know.
Also Me: \o/
Me 2012

Winner!

I won Nanowrimo yesterday, with 50,800 words. At the same time, I completed the first draft of The Sun Etherium (sequel to The Moon Etherium). TSE is a total of 93,100 words at present (I started it in September). It'll probably get a bit longer in edits.

Despite the horrible election, despite taking of a couple of days off for Contra, I finished Nano in 21 days. I am pretty proud of this.

I am also tired. And a combination of amused and annoyed by 4thewords.com.

4thewords has been a nice motivational tool throughout Nano. It's fairly bare-bones still, but it's cute and it encourages me to write more. However, despite having won Nano and completed my book already, I have only finished 5 of 9 quests in 4thewords' Nano section. One of those is because 4thewords decided to throw in a bonus "write ANOTHER 25,000 words this month!" quest. But the other three are because 4thewords has timed quests throughout the month and I am not allowed to finish them yet. As of this morning, I can finally do the "beat the 4th week monsters" one, which takes a minimum of 10,000 words. Then there's another quest after that which I don't know the terms for yet because not unlocked. Then I think I can use that to finish the last one.

*side-eyes 4thewords*

Anyway, this is a reasonable structure for people who are procrastinators that need to be motivated to do some minimum throughout the month and then push hard at the end. But when I'm finally one of those YES I FINISHED MY HOMEWORK EARLY people, I find it aggravating that I have to do some more work still.

Or I can ignore my completionist streak and just let them go undone. (But I'm soooo clooooose!)

Also, I finished my book and I don't have another outline I want to write just now.

Anyway, my current plan is to keep writing stuff for the rest of November, but it's just going to be "whatever the heck I feel like." Maybe I will write some LJ entries! Like this one! This morning I wrote setting notes for a ridiculously self-indulgent kink story. Which my muse seems to think needs to be novel-length with a plot. Part of me thinks "this is an excuse to write erotica! It doesn't need a plot! 'And then they have kinky sex' IS the plot!" and the rest is all "but if there's no plot what's the point booooooring".

*side-eyes muse*

Anyway, there's nine days left to November. I can write 15 or 20k of fluff in it if I want to.

Other near-term goals, which I will probably start in December but might start sooner if I get sick of writing random fluff and/or generally impatient:

1) serialize The Moon Etherium
2) edit The Warlock, the Hare and the Dragon (aka Silver Scales aka I Wish I Had a Title I Like for This Book)
3) find an artist for the cover of (2) above.
4) do some reusable header art for The Moon Etherium.
5) do not do 90-some pieces of header art for TME.
6) Proof the print edition of TME.

That's probably enough for the rest of 2016.
Me 2012

October in Review

Health/Fitness
I've been sick for the last 2 weeks solid. UGH.

I stopped calorie counting for my vacation on 10/12, and haven't resumed yet because still sick. v.v

Anyway, exercise is down, eating is up, weight is about the same as end of September, which is more than I deserve.

Writing
18,500 words on The Sun Etherium, which I guess isn't bad for a month where I only had 11 days where I wasn't sick or on vacation. I still feel like a slacker. Manuscript is at 42,300 words now.

The Business of Writing
Alinsa is still poking at Wordpress. Wordpress is still terrible. I may give up and start serializing The Moon Etherium by hand, on Dreamwidth and LJ or something.

Art/Other
I did a few B&W doodles for Inktober. I might have drawn something else when I was healthy and at home. That seems so long ago. Oh, I did some sketches of Alinsa. And one of a centaur hippopotamus. That was probably it.

Socializing
I went to Seattle! \o/ I mostly visited terrycloth. ♥ We also saw alinsa for a Friday night Devin Townsend Project concert. That was great, and Friday evening was les rainy and windy then promised, so Alinsa showed up very early, and Terry and I a little early, and we were able to secure standing spots in front of the stage so we could see. Small nightclub venue, tiny stage, great view. :) The sound was imperfect; the singers were much quieter than the instruments. But I know Townsend's stuff well enough now that it didn't bother me much.

I wanted to get together with Patti Ludwig from Twitter, but I flaked out and failed to coordinate a specific place & time on Saturday between me, Alinsa, Terry & Patti. Argh. Sorry, Patti. v_v

Terry, Alinsa and I did manage to meet up with chipuni, Eli, Munch, and her husband on Sunday for brunch. Then we went to the Starbucks roasterie down the block to see the Willy Wonka Coffee Factory (It's where they roast all their Reserve-brand coffee beans). Then went to a different nearby coffee shop for coffee, because most of the group did not actually like Starbucks coffee. After coffee, Eli had to leave, but the rest of us went to the Seattle Pinball Museum, which is more "play as much old pinball as you want for $15." I mean, there were museum-style placards on all the games, but all of them were also playable so ALL THE OLD SKOOL ARCADE. It was really fun. They had a Pac-Man. I still like Pac-Man.

Baby Pac-Man, the pinball/arcade cross, is still a good concept and a terrible game. Even for free, it is too hard to be fun.

Goals for coming month
*stares at this for a minute, trying to remember goals* Oh, right! I'm going to do Nanowrimo. That is why I am writing my month-in-review post before the month is technically over.

I'll be going to a local convention the weekend after next, so my Nano schedule includes taking three days off for that. I have no idea if this will work. It did in April!

I'll be working on The Sun Etherium. It might take less than 50,000 words at this point. If it does, I'm still counting that as a win.

I decided to enlist a secret weapon in the Nano war, and signed up at 4thewords.com. It's a site that gameifies writing. I don't know if it'll be long-term motivational, but I tried it a little last night and it got me to do some writing I would not have otherwise. Good enough.

Edit: For anyone thinking of trying 4thewords: you don't have to use their editor to write. You can copy-and-paste from your preferred editor to their site to get credit.