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Friday, June 20, 2008

A Little Solstice Gift

Summer solstice greetings! It is a beautiful day here in northern Colorado - mild, a gentle breeze, and the glorious smell of much-needed rain after a small shower this afternoon. I am not one to venerate the seasons' changes - only revel in the seasons themselves. But in honor of some who do mark the changes, albeit they are beings of my own creation, I'm offering you a scene I wrote when I was trying to get a handle on a very particular form of magic in Flesh and Spirit. Timewise, the scene would precede the opening of Flesh and Spirit by a day or two. There may be slight discrepancies with the final history/magic.

WARNING: this scene could be considered a very mild spoiler for Flesh and Spirit or Breath and Bone. Some would also rate it PG13.




His name glided through the moon shade like a hunting owl to settle in gentle urgency on Kol's bare shoulder. Rare to hear it spoken by any voice but his own in this long parched season of disaffection. Since those who ruled in Aeginea had silenced his sister Clyste, he had walked and danced and celebrated his waking seasons alone. Only in the Canon, at seasons’ change, did he dance with the others.

No matter the rare occasion; he could not attend the call. The grove suffered, and his kiran was yet steps shy of its completion. His sinistre leg held firm in the center of the grove, knee bent, thigh muscle warming quickly with the strain. He swept the same-side arm low, gathering the scents of shy violet and foxglove and hairy-stemmed campion, resistant in its deadness, and grasping the sounds of clicking beetles and the dry stalks rustling in the night breeze. He stretched his opposed arm skyward and let the rill of moonlight travel the arc of his length, caressing arm and hip, thigh, and extended leg, all the way to his toe that touched the unhealthy earth beneath the grass.

Refine the position - the hand’s curve, the toe’s point - lower the sinistre knee yet again, until the thigh heats like midsummer’s sun. He shifted and stretched, deeper, farther, as if his old vayar, Rafael, yet lived, goading him beyond his limits. Now, a full breath. Pause and hold. A perfection of stillness to settle the spirit.

Reaching deep for strength honed over seasons of practice, he drew in his limbs, sharp and sudden as a frighted doe bursts through the brake. Whipping out the dexter leg, he spun on his set foot, opening heart and mind and flesh to the ebbed life of the grove.

Oak and ash, wax-leaved hawthorn…as his own thoughts he knew them. Coaxing their faint music to life, he flexed his dexter leg to spin again, and again, and thrice ten more before leaping into the air, legs full extended fore and behind, in the exaltation of the grove. His will and his straining limbs…the movements…whatever perfection and grace he could bring to the kiran…drew the songs from trees and grass and moonlight and wove them together into a single pattern that infused the grove with life and power. He dropped softly onto his toes, coiled tight, knees bent, his arms raised in sinuous unity above his head.

“Sweetly done.” Moth perched in an oak split down its bole, her long, lean shadow reaching across the grass almost to his feet. She swung one leg idly, the snake sigils that wound from hip to ankle lacing her shadow with streaks of sapphire. "Thy kirani are the most exquisite of anyone’s, Kol. Could we but breed a thousand of thee to dance such patterns, we might repair the Canon and reclaim our rightful territories before the moon grows old.”

He dipped one knee, stretching the other leg behind to make a straight line with his inclined back, and swept hands from head to earth in a quiet allavĂ© to relinquish his bond to the grove. Moth’s interruption, so close upon the end of the kiran, annoyed him. He preferred to relinquish slowly, allowing the last energies of the dance steps to pass from his body into the kiran-hai - tonight, the grove - so that no energies would be wasted. His purpose was not to savor the lingering pleasure for himself, but to quicken the kiran-hai so that it might be sooner reconnected to the Canon, the living pattern of the world.

“What brings thee here, Sentinel? Not to discuss my kiran postures or this sad little grove.” He released his position and sat cross-legged on the grass, pleased to feel the faint beat of life beneath his groin. Before he’d begun the dance at sunset, this patch of earth and trees had existed season upon season without pulse or vigor. Surely no guardian had danced here for longer than his own lifetime.

Moth stretched her dexter leg up the tree, exposing herself to him, knowing he would be aroused from the kiran, the more so with its abrupt ending. She fluttered her lashes. “I would discuss postures with thee, Kol, in any season.”

Her body was indeed lovely and smelled of woodrush and willow and ripe female. But she had never seemed to grasp that he found her cold, biting manner unpleasing and her narrow thinking ungenerous. “Why hast thou come, Moth?”

“The watchwards at Clyste’s well have wakened.”

“Breached? By whom? Tell me it was not some blighted human!” Though Clyste’s indefinable spirit yet lived radiantly in the fields and forest nourished by her well, the mind and will that had shaped her singular being had long since lost cohesion. Any quickening of the barriers that confined her to her resting place must signal an intrusion and no act of hers. A breach could mean her death.

“Not a breach, graceful one. The disturbance was but a certain…awareness…roused in Clyste’s sianou lands, as if she stirred in her dreams. Hardly anything at all. But you made me promise to tell thee of the smallest change.” Moth traced one finger along the fine-drawn vine that encircled the swell of her breast. “I hoped for thy gratitude.”

Kol considered possibilities. Such awareness as Moth described signified nothing with regard to Clyste’s fate. That had been sealed many seasons ago with bindings of myrtle, hyssop, and hatred, and could not be reversed. But anything that sparked his sister’s lingering essence enough to trigger the watchwards was worth investigating. He had promised both his lost sister and his dead foster brother to mind the lands watered by the Well, as they had believed the place a nexus for the world’s change.

“Didst thou report this to the archon, Sentinel?”

Even in the dark he felt her smile. “Tuari would forbid you to act on it. So…not yet.”

The lie tainted the air like fen gas. Moth did not understand subtlety.

“Report the incident as thou wilt.” He phrased his speech as carefully as he designed a kiran. “It was a likely a bull elk’s bugling or a wolf’s howl that caused the quickening thread. My sister dearly loved autumn song. But I can chase lost dreams no longer. With so few of us left here in the hills, I’ve too much work undone to hare after rumors, even for Clyste’s sake. And I’ve had too little time for pleasure out here so long alone…”

He joined Moth by the tree, reached up, and twined his fingers in hers that yet teased at her breast. Then he pulled her down to the living grass and in explosive fury yielded her the unspent energies that by right and need belonged to the grove.

Only after she had sauntered into the night, smug in her small victory and most certainly bearing a report of his long-awaited submission straight to those who ruled in Aeginea, did Kol set out for the Well. He held little hope for the world’s change. But no treacherous human would sully the waning seasons of Clyste’s gentle life, and no dull-sighted archon such as Tuari would prevent him seeing to it.

A relaxing and joyous solstice to all!
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Me, Myself, and I

For the first time in forever, I posted on the Deep Genre blog.

The post is an answer to a question about whether one can overuse the words I and myself when writing in first person.

The short answer is: Yes, of course! The post talks about some techniques to minimize the problem. Read more of this post!

Friday, June 13, 2008

I Love It When That Happens

OK, hopping back into the saddle after another six days of family fun...

I assumed it would take me another two days or so to start moving forward, but I guess I did just enough in those few days between my mom's move and this latest digression to fuel some clear thinking. As I might have said before, a little distance gives perspective. First off, I realized that I had left a huge wrong turn in the plot.

PLOTTING RULE: Always consider alternatives to your characters' choices. Is what you plan for them to do next what they would really do next?

Case in point: Portier and Ilario had discovered that a young sorceress had been imprisoned by some nefarious individuals and used for nefarious purposes. The only name she spoke before she died was that of a man missing for almost a year. Her clues hint that he is held by the same captors. And what did my intrepid fellows do?

Went off to an afternoon "salon" to investigate another piece of the puzzle, because that's what I needed them to do: meet some people and discover that their critical deadline (and I mean DEADline) had just been moved up. Very tense. I was focused on the steps in unraveling the puzzle of the royal assassination attempt, rather than this parallel plot layer of the missing conte. DOH!

It was clear the girl had been held in the very palace where my investigators were staying. She had escaped her captors only three days previous. Of COURSE they would do their best to see if the missing man might still be held there! Which took them into the royal crypt and uncovered new artifacts, new evidence, and allowed Portier to get some insights into Ilario and his relationship to his half sister, Queen Eugenie, and get his own first view of this woman who is a crux of the conspiracy. Is she or isn't she trying to kill her husband?

That is, a good, spooky, revelatory action scene inserted itself. I love it when that happens!
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Monday, June 2, 2008

Some Common Questions

Inspired by a comment on my last post, here are a few questions I get asked frequently.

Will you read and/or critique my manuscript?

Sorry, I won't. Between my own writing, critiquing work of my critique group partners, and reading manuscripts for the various workshops, blurbs, and such that I "sign up" for, I have no time to read other manuscripts. I believe all writers need to establish their own group of first readers - people who are serious readers, serious writers, and who will be honest about their reactions to your work. Family members or personal friends tend to give support (which we all need, as well) rather than detailed feedback. I enjoy the give and take of an excellent critique group, and have learned as much by reading other people's work critically as I do by their critiquing mine.

For a few more questions and answers...

I have an idea for a story. Will you write it and split the profit?

Nope. Ideas are everywhere. I have more ideas than I could possibly write in my lifetime. And to be blunt, an "idea" is far less than half the work of producing a book!

Where do you get your ideas?

Everywhere. The Lighthouse Duet came to be from a feature story I heard on NPR, in combination with a remembered scene from a YA novel about Roman Britain, and some stuff I knew about monks preserving classical literature during the Dark Ages. The Rai-kirah books resulted from an attempt to turn the concept of a fantasy hero from the cliched "naive, noble-hearted young boy or girl with a kindly wizard mentor, elf and dwarf companions, and a noble destiny awaiting him or her at the end of a quest" on its head. And so was Aleksander born. Song of the Beast came about when I decided to pick another unlikely hero - a musician who lacked and was unlikely to acquire any skills of war. Etc. Etc.

Has anyone ever stolen one of your ideas?

I sincerely doubt it. Just as I do, most writers have more ideas than they can possibly use. And it is in the execution...the writing...that a book comes to life. Ten writers could set out with the same premise and come up with ten wildly different stories. Example? How many stories have been written about cruel slaveowners and their mysterious slave? I like to think I did something unique with that idea. If my books stand up well, then anyone who lifts one of my characters or some particular worldbuilding idea will be shown up as a cheat. I love the concept of Amber...the essential core of a world and an endless variety of reflection worlds that one family can travel. But why would I want to write a story based on that idea and pretend it's my own?

Now if someone is stealing your actual words, whole passages...well, plagiarism is another matter altogether.

Is anyone ever going to make a movie of your books?

I would likely have to sell a whole lot more of them! (Notice the ones that get made with any success at all have sold a few billion copies. Word of mouth. Word of mouth. Word of mouth.)

How do I get started writing fantasy (or any kind of fiction)?

This is fodder for an entirely new post. But in short: Read. Write. Learn the craft. Constantly and interchangeably.

I'll do more questions in another post.
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