Still Alive!!!

2013/12/06 § Leave a comment

Clearly, I have failed. Miserably. Abjectly. Unconditionally.

I thought of seppuku, but that would have been too melodramatic. Instead, I curled into a ball in the darkest corner I could find and hid until the shame passed. Or until I needed to pee. Whichever came first.

But I will rise again! Like a weed badly rooted, I will once more reach for the sky (and make a mess of your garden on the way).

Seriously, I’ve been a bit pathetic, but I will not give up on myself, nor on attempts at telling stories.

To be continued…

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Slings and arrows

2013/06/11 § Leave a comment

Another week lost. Partly for a good cause (my fiancée’s birthday), partly due to fatigue, and partly due to the fact that I have absolutely no discipline…

So, my target for this week is now 5,500 words. There is a point at which this is going to get ridiculous.

Also, I’m doubting my story, whether it is what I want to tell, whether I’m ready to tell. For example, do I know the magic system enough? Do I know how it works in practice, what its limits are? In this case, asking is probably its own answer… This always happen to me. I get into a world, a story, but soon it is not enough, not satisfying, not sufficiently detailed. And, being lazy, I just move on to something else. Good way to avoid the difficult task of making everything make sense.

I think I have to stick to Kaleriane’s tale. Character building and all that.

First week production

2013/06/03 § Leave a comment

Here is my production for the first week. Its raw, fresh off the keypad. So no reread, correction, edits, etc. That will come later. Right now, it’s all about putting words on the page.

I have no idea whether it’s crap or not-totally-crap… I find it very hard to evaluate my own writing, particularly as I write it. But I guess that should come as no surprise.

I’ve only managed 2,000 words this week, so I have to do 3,000 for the next. Discipline folks. That’s what I’m missing…

***

In the evening of her twelfth birthday, as the downing sun colored the estate in rich hues of gold and the leftovers from the feast were being disposed of by the staff, Kaleriane’s father took his daughter to the mountain. With them rode her father’s assistant and another man Kaleriane did not know. He was small and thin, his skin almost grey and mostly hairless, dressed in dirty browns and greens. Kaleriane did not like how he looked at her, like a ferret watching a mouse.

She knew she shouldn’t, but she asked nonetheless. “Sir, where are we going?” Nobody called her father anything other than sir in public, not even his daughters.

“Quiet Kaleriane, you know better. Watch, listen, learn.”

Always the lessons, rarely a kind word or a smile, and never an easy out. Kaleriane was looking forward to leaving for the dojo, which should be soon now that she was twelve. She would not miss her father’s oppressive training regiment.

Yet, even as she despaired of his harsh discipline, Kaleriane found the instincts he had ingrained in her from the earliest age taking over. Her body sank into the swaying rhythm of her horse, and her conscious mind opened to the world around her.

They were on a rarely-used trail that skirted the Landra Mountain, the highest peak on the island, to the west. It traveled for about fifty miles along undeveloped land and a ridge between the mountain and the cliffs dropping down to the sea, linking her family’s estate on the south-western shore of the island with a small fishing hamlet on the north shore. Kaleriane could not see why they were going this way. They certainly would not reach the hamlet before dark, and there was nothing else of note along the way except breathtaking views of the sea and of the slopes of Old Lady Landra. Her father was not one to take time off his busy schedule to admire beautiful vista with his daughter, even on her birthday.

More, while his assistant rarely left her father’s side, Kaleriane could not explain the presence of the other man. She had never seen him before he showed up for the ride, and she had not been introduced. He seemed comfortable riding, his clothing was not as poor as it appeared at first glance, and he had in his eyes the same look as her father. Cold, calculating, aware. Probably a colleague then, a mercenary. From the way he seemed to be looking everywhere at once and the colour of his garbs, Kaleriane thought he must be a tracker.

Were they going hunting? Why? And with what, they had no gear?

They reached a crest along the path and her father stopped and dismounted. She and the other two followed suit. To their left the ground went down a gentle slope before dropping thirty feet to the sea, colored copper by the setting sun. To their right extended low, shrubby hills that some distance away merged into the forested flanks of the mountain. Ahead gulls circled, and the sound of crashing waves was loud despite the height.

Her father approached her, and Kaleriane snapped to attention. He kneeled in front of her, placed a hand on her shoulder, and handed her a cloth-wrapped bundle as long as her forearm. Kaleriane opened it and found inside a combat knife in a plain leather scabbard. It was obviously new, the hilt bound thight in black leather and the one-edged blade, when she drew it, gleeming the cold blue of fresh steel. Small ideograms were etched into the hilt and sides of the blade.

“It’s an animantic blade,” her father said. “It will not dull, nor will it break.”

She raised her eyes from the gift, looking into her father’s lean face, her gaze travelling up from his square jaw to his sharp cheekbones to his storm-grey eyes, still cold and flat even in this moment.

“Thank you, sir,” Kaleriane said. There was something wrong with her throat, and the words came out high-pitched. To cover her embarrassment she started strapping the knife to her belt.

Her father rose and said “Everybody needs a good knife, a daughter of mine likely more than most. And you will need it soon. Which leads me to the reason why we are here.”

Something in her belly fluttered at these words, and she let the steely quietness she used as a shield against her father’s and tutor’s habitual cruelty fill her mind.

“You are twelve now, of age to go to the dojo. This will be good. I have given you good bases, and you have responded decently and trained hard, but the dojo will be different. It’s training will be more complete, more thorough. You will learn to work with teams. You will specialize. And you will make allies and contacts. They are key to success in this business. Your sister’s years at the dojo were a great success, look at where she is now, and I have no doubt that I’ve given you enough skills for you to honour the family name.”

“But,” he continued, “I have to make sure you are ready. Knowledge, balance, discipline, they are the three pillars of the successful mercenary. You must show me that you are ready.”

“I…I’m ready, sir!” she said.

“I’m sure you think so,” he replied. “But it’s not enough to say it. This is why I’ve brought you here. This is your final test. Succeed, and I will send you to the dojo. You will have proved adequate. Fail, and we will do it again in a month.”

“The test is simple. You know of the old shrine near the top of the mountain. Your tutor brought you there a few years back. I’ve had hidden in it one of the family seals. You will retrieve it and bring it back to the house within three days. From here it’s approximately a two-day trip at a leisurely pace, so you will have ample time. But, it will not be that simple. Akel, approach please.”

The small, grey man handed the reins of his horse to the assistant and moved forward. His eyes fixed Kaleriane.

“Akel works for the firm,” her father said. “He’s one of our best tracker. His job is to prevent you from successfully completing the test. He is authorized to do anything to stop you except kill you, rape you, or wound you gravely enough that you will not recover. You will have a one-hour headstart. After that, he will hunt you. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” she replied. In her shield of calm, her voice did not betray the burning she felt in her scalp, behind her eyes. “Get the seal in the shrine. Bring it back to the house within three days. Watch out for the tracker. Gear?”

Her father looked at her with what Kaleriane could almost believe was satisfaction. “What you have now,” he replied. “Allright. Make me proud, Kaleriane. The test starts now.”

Kaleriane ran. She knew she needed to think, take stock, plan, but for now she just wanted to get away. She ran between the bushes, zigzagging towards the mountain and its forested flank. She ran fast, too fast probably, in the uneven terrain the risk of an injury was high, and she was wasting energy too early, but she did not care. She needed the pain in her lungs, the scorching of conscious thoughts that comes with the lack of breath, the hard pumping of her blood, the effort of each step.

After what felt like eternity but, from the sun, was closer to half an hour, Kaleriane stopped. She had reached a lively stream that ran along the mountain and divided the shrublands from the forest. On the other bank, birch and poplars swayed in the wind, their leaves already taking on the colors of autumn. Kaleriane, bent forward, hands on her knees, tried to catch her breath, inspiring and expiring deeply as the breeze cooled her sweaty brow.

When she had recuperated a bit, she walked around to keep from cooling down too much and examined her situation. She needed to reach the shrine at the mountain’s top, find and collect the seal, and return to her family’s estate, all within three days. Meaning three days in the wild with nothing but her clothes on her back and her new knife. While being hunted by a professional tracker, who would be on her trail very soon and was authorized to hurt her to stop her. Her father’s idea of a test. Her only way to the dojo. Kaleriane knew she shouldn’t be surprised, she knew her father’s methods, had been subjected to them for as long as she could remember, but still…She repressed the tears that threatened, knowing that if she let herself cry she would lose too much time. She needed to think, like she’d been trained.

First, herself. She was in decent shape, no injuries, no obvious issues other than her young age. She was tired from her mindless run, but at least her head was clearer. For now, she would bottle her emotions. She had eaten well at her birthday feast and that would hold her for a while. She knew she would have to procure food eventually, and doubted she would have time to hunt, but there were a number of edible plants that grew in the forest that she could collect quickly. She would watch for them. Lack of sleep was going to be a bigger problem. With the excitement of the celebration to come, she had slept badly the previous evening, and it had been a long and demanding day. Her tutor had taught her that sleep was a precious resource, its lack leading to bad decisions, slower reflexes, and missed opportunities.  For now though, she was wide awake. It would have to do. She would have no time to sleep.

Second, her assets. She was still dressed for the feast, loose silk pants and matching sleeveless vest, with high-laced sandals on her feet. Good thing her father thought practicality trumped fashion, otherwise she would have been wearing robes, but the clothes were still less than ideal. While the days were still warm, the early autumn nights were getting colder, and her clothes would provide little warmth. It would also be colder the higher she got. But she would be moving, so she should be okay. Kaleriane was more concerned with the sandals. They were well made, but in the forest they would not hold the feet as well as booths, would capture debris, and would offer no protection against low branches. They were what she had, though, and Kaleriane made sure they were well-tied before continuing her inventory.

The only other thing she had was her knife, the gift from her father. Quite a gift, too. But she wouldn’t dwell on that, too much conflicting emotions, too much risk of losing focus. The knife would prove greatly useful, and she was glad to have it, but it was unlikely it would be the difference between success and failure.

Third, the terrain. Kaleriane didn’t know this area, having been to the shrine only once a couple of years back, and through a different path. She didn’t know the shape of the land, whether there were cliffs or crevasses or other natural obstacles that would block her progress. She did know the forest, at least the low lying one, as it was similar to what they had closer to home. The undergrowth would be thin, and her small size would probably prove helpful as she would fit easily between three trunks and most branches would be higher than she was tall. Her progress should be fast. Considering this, she decided her best strategy would be to make for the summit as quickly as she could, striving to keep ahead of her hunter.

Which led her, finally, to her opponent, the tracker Alek.

One sentence (revised) plus five times two…

2013/05/28 § Leave a comment

This was my one sentence. I’ve decided to change it to this:

A young woman, harshly trained by her father in her early years, turns against her professors and the life chosen for her during her mercenary school’s graduation exam.

Why the change? I was envisioning this story as that of a wake-up call, the story of a woman who suddenly realizes that she’s on the wrong path and decides to change that, despite societal and parental pressures. Originally, I thought the change should happen after the woman starts her professional life (a bit as a mirror to my own life). However, after giving it some thought, I like it better if the change happens at graduation. It has stronger resonance (graduation as coming-of-age). Also, the woman not being an idiot, she doesn’t really need to go all the way to her first job to realize there is something wrong with the path chosen for her. I do not want to write a passive heroine. And I’ve added the part about her father, which will tell us about the world, and about who the woman is.

So I will have two intertwined stories: that of her training by her father, and that of her choices and actions during the graduation exam. Expanding these two stories into five sentences gives:

Her father’s harsh training…

– She is the daughter of a renowned and prosperous security consultant, who through harsh methods has been training her from her early years in the skills of the mercenary.

– Following her twelfth birthday, and every month thereafter, her father subjects her to a difficult test which she must pass to go on to the dojo, the mercenary school.

– Through her repeated and painful failures at the test, she grasps the main lesson her father wants to teach her.

– Having learned her lesson, she steadily improves in the test but still fails to pass it.

– She finally wins by committing a terrible act, and gets sent to the dojo, but still her father is disappointed.

The graduation exam…

– The graduating class is assembled and told what their exam will be; she is enthusiastic.

– During one of the tests, her best friend tries to kill a professor but fails and is gravely wounded.

– From her friend’s plight she realizes the ugliness of her chosen profession and decides to avenge him.

– While working to successfully complete the tests she sets up her trap for the professor.

– As the exam concludes, she and her friend provoke a deadly confrontation with the offending professor.

Fostering Creativity

2013/05/25 § Leave a comment

One of the key, apparently, is getting down to it, every day, to sit down (or stand up, whatever works), and create, to build the routine, to exercise the creative muscles.

See this very interesting post (about a book) at Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings.

Serialization

2013/05/23 § Leave a comment

Wow, do I suck…

I’ve just had a three-day weekend and still made absolutely no progress. I did go on a trip to Toronto with my dearly beloved, which makes it a bit harder to isolate myself to write (no dear, just watch TV in the hotel room while I do this…), but still…

It’s the planning again. I’m going around in loops, second-guessing myself, incapable of wrapping things up.

So I’ve extended my planning period by a week – writing starts next Monday. I’m not proud of this, but, hey, what’you gonna do?

On to other things.

I’ve been thinking for a long time about serialized novels. One thing I find excruciating in the current publishing world is the delays between books of a series coming out. When you have to wait a year or two or more for the next chapter to be published, you forget (or at least I do) about what happened in the previous one, who the characters were, what the arcs are, etc. and it makes getting into the story more difficult. You disengage. I disengage. Of course, when you are young, carefree, or lack the need for sleep, you have time enough to re-read the previous book(s) before the new one comes out. I used to do that all the time, but nowadays, with work and everything, I’m finding that I have little time, or desire, to re-read. Too many books, you know?

Good examples of where delays have ruined things a bit for me recently are the Malazan Book of the Fallen, the Wheel of Time, and A Song of Ice and Fire series. All greatly immersive, all very complex, and I think I would have enjoyed the latest books of each much more had I been closer to the previous ones and had I had a better memory of the various arcs and characters. I’ve yet to buy A Memory of Light and A Dance with Dragons, the last books of the Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire, respectively. Contrary to the other books, which I could not wait to get my hands on, I feel no great compulsion to do so, in part because I’ve become emotionally detached from those stories (though for ASOIAF the TV series is bringing me back in!).

Of course, that is not to say that the novel model is broken. It is a wonderful medium. There are not many things as great as being drawn into a deep and complex world over a long period of time and many adventures, and the novel does this exceedingly well. Plus, of course, this is only an issue with ongoing series. When you get to a completed series, it’s three cheers and bye-bye reality. (It also dawns on me that this may only be a reader’s problem, not a writer’s problem, as the series mentioned above do not seem to have been negatively affected by this from a financial stand point. That said, I haven’t looked at the numbers, so what do I know…)

To get back to serialized novels, I think they represent an interesting alternative to the current model. In a way, it is the TV-series approach applied to novels (and a return to early forms of publishing). I love TV-series and I think their approach, building a world and characters and an overarching story over the course of individual, sequential episodes, has a lot going for it. Recently, John Scalzi showed how the model could work with his latest book in the Old Man’s War universe, The Human Division. It came out in 13 weekly installments averaging 10,000 words or so, each consisting of an independent and complete story, but each adding to the broader tale. I’ve only read the first one (to see what it looked like, I’m behind in the Old Man’s War books), and I liked the rapid pace and the fact that I had a finished story at the end, while still wanting to know what will happen based on the setup of the first installment. To me, this is an important aspect of the serialized tale, which Scalzi mentioned (but I can’t remember where): each episode has to stand on its own. This way, with each installment the reader gets the satisfaction of a completed story while, hopefully, being drawn into a larger universe and getting invested in the characters.

I’m thinking that, as an aspiring writer, it could be an interesting thing to try. As such, I will try to make my first story an introduction (a stand-alone prologue, not the first episode) to what could become a bigger narrative.

The story in one sentence…

2013/05/15 § Leave a comment

An unconventional woman freshly graduated from mercenary training joins a security firm and participates in a perilous first mission that will change her life.

That’s it. That’s my story in one sentence.

Lots of unsaid here – unconventional in what way? what is mercenary training? what does a security firm do? what perilous mission? I’m also conscious that this says very little about the setting. That’s okay. As per the snowflake method, more will come in the following steps. Next up, five sentences!