Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fic: Fairy Tale

Will you play a game with me?”

He doesn’t look up: not even scantily-clad nymphs can distract the King of Hell from his quarterly reports. “You’re confusing me with Death. I only gamble.”

Not chess, you silly. Poker, I was thinking, or blackjack. We could make the stakes interesting.” She walks her fingers up his shoulder.

I prefer to gamble for souls. Why would I be interested in playing a game with you?”

She spins away from him, lifting her hair and flicking it back to draw the eye to the smooth line of her spine, exposed but for ivy and scraps of silk. Her head turns so that it is perfectly framed in the arch of her raised arm, and she lifts long lashes to meet his gaze. “I’ll let you name your own stakes.”

The Devil sets down his paperwork, precisely in the middle of the blotter. He sets his paperweight on the upper left corner, and its empty sockets leer at her exactly the way he is too controlled to. “What do you want?”

I want the chance to win your powers for a night.”

Which powers?”

She flits back to his desk and leans over the front of it, giving him a clear view down the front of a dress that never hid much. “All of them, silly. Why play for anything less?”

If I win, Orphne, I want you for a month.” He says it low, trying for nonchalance. He is rarely denied, rarer still for very long, but nymphs cannot be coerced and are not easy prey for his brand of temptation.

Her grin is sharp, because she knows the power she holds. “Okay.” She produces a deck of cards from - somewhere, he doesn’t want to think where, and shuffles. “One hand, then, and aces are wild. Since it’s your realm, I’ll deal. That work for you?”

Your terms are acceptable.” He smoothes one already-smooth lapel and gestures at the immaculate liquor cabinet behind him. “Can I pour you a drink?”

Oh, this won’t last long.” She deals a card to him facedown, then one to herself, then him, then deals herself a face-up Queen of Hearts. She sets the deck aside and checks her facedown card, the looks up at him expectantly.

He looks at his cards, then says, “Hit me.”

She obliges with a five. The Devil smiles, and turns over his cards: the Ace of Spades, of course, and another five. “Twenty-one,” he says.

She flips her other card, and it is the Ace of Hearts. “Too bad.”

Of course. Fetch the gold goblet, will you?”

This? Really?” She holds up a battered cup with old dull carvings on it.

I’m fond of wordplay. What better than real blood from the Sangreal?” He takes the cup and slices his left forefinger with his thumbnail. Blood rushes out, and then it stops when the cup is half full.

Orphne takes the cup and drains it in one go, her throat working around it. He watches her intently, particularly when she licks her lips after. Her dress fades from green to blood-dark and she smiles. "Well, things to do, places to be. Thanks for the game."

She’s gone in a flare of smoke and a whiff of brimstone. Lucifer puts his head down on his desk and wishes that light wouldn’t chase away the shadows of self-deceit.

The shortest night of the year holds a greater number of secrets than any but the longest. Festival frivolity lifts the veil between worlds and the veil between proper and improper, and all may pass freely back and forth with no thought to consequences come the dawn.

They all wear masks, but it’s easy to recognize many from familiar postures and voices. An unfamiliar woman in a black dress wends her way through the crowd to the officer in conspicuous uniform and unmasked face. “When do you go off-duty?”

Midnight is shift change, ma’am.”

I’ll meet you here at five after.”

Okay.” He doesn’t say that he should find his wife at the end of his shift, but watches her as she walks away.

A cask of mead is unearthed in the beer tent, and, in a gesture of unanticipated magnanimity the local brewer gives glasses of it away. Beer sales drop, but that’s okay, as the cask of mead never seems to run dry.

The perfumed summer air grows thick with temptation.

A thin woman in well-tailored clothes goes back for a second hot dog, and a fifth. After the seventh, she vomits neatly and wipes her mouth with a well-practiced hand and goes back for an eighth.

Two brothers joyfully get into a fist-fight before they are carted off by police officers who tighten the cuffs just barely overtight.

The brewer is distracted from serving by counting the money-box.

In full knowledge of the fact that her husband is not here, a woman approaches her best friend's handsome husband, the one she wishes she'd married because he is so very wonderful.

The Mayor watches from his chair in the beer tent and can't bring himself to do more than drink more mead.

Orphne pulls a little harder on her new powers, puzzled that there are not more couples sanctifying the forest. She can see the cusp of wanting in them all, and tugs harder to pull them over.

Another fist fight breaks out, and there is a flash of subdued light beside her. “We're all tempted by different things, my darling little cheater.”

She sets her jaw. “I don't know what you're talking about.”

Lucifer slides one finger under the strap of her dress and glides it up her shoulder. “You are accustomed to a particular kind of wanting. But there are seven cardinal sins, not one, my pet. For example, it is the very definition of pride to think you can deceive the King of Hell with a simple glamour on a card to disguise a ten as an ace.”

She whirls to glare at him. “Why'd you even let me go through with it, then?”

He shrugs. “Why not? It does me no harm to let you try to preserve your forest. I thought we might even participate, given our deal and the fact that I'm here already.”

She takes his hand and leads him into the woods, anger radiating from every pore.

No matter how you rig the game, the Devil always gets his due.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Songfic, and other creatures from the zoo

Sometimes a song is particularly inspiring.

Like this one: I really like it. I have written portions of stories that were inspired by it, as I find lots of bass and a steady beat good for reminding me of an atmosphere of adventure, and 'I just want to turn the lights on in these volatile times' seems like really good motivation to go and do something really stupid.

Songs can be useful reminders of an atmosphere one is trying to evoke, particularly for those of us who have a tabbed browsing problem (currently open: Tumblr, blogger, two Youtube tabs, a wikipedia article, a article, three writing projects, two stories I am supposed to be critiquing, a forum thread, and two stories I'd like to read). If I get drawn in to other things and disrupted from the mood I was writing, a song can remind me of what it was I was trying to do with the scene. Video game and movie soundtracks are integral to the mood of a piece, and the music Stephanie Meyer listened to while writing Twilight became a sort of soundtrack as well, so popular music relating to other media is not a new concept. Society is a story machine, and they leak out all over, and each tastes of the others.

But songs can take on other roles in stories, like the fanfiction My Immortal drawing its title, chapter titles, and tone primarily from Evanescence and My Chemical Romance songs. There also exists songfic, which involves weaving lyrics into plot.

One of the neatest approaches to songfic I've ever read was Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. It follows the plot of the Scottish ballad of the same name, and the full text of the ballad was included in the back of the book I read. The text itself is full of broad and witty references to literature, and a portion of its charm stems from the fact that it is in many ways a book about stories.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Meta: Purpose

This was written for the semi-final round of Adam's contest. This was the prompt:

Object Perspective
Your assignment for this round is to write a story or poem from the perspective of a kitchen sponge, broom, towel or fork. Yup, that's what I said. Have fun. 

I hated this prompt. I hated it so much. I don't particularly like writing anthropomorphism, and I've grown to dislike reading it, too. I read Silverwing and loved it and thought it was amazing, and I watched parts of the Redwall series as a kid. I read Animorphs and The Ship Who Sang and more werewolf stories than you can shake a stick at, so I was familiar with the more direct way of applying human characteristics to non-human things, too. But at some point I stopped liking it when human characteristics are applied to inhuman things. I like when the alien is alien and written as such. I like well-done xenobiology and earnest tries at xenopsychology and machine intelligences that are machine and uninterested in becoming human.

A lot of times, anthropomorphic objects are presented that way in children's literature. In children's literature, it can be a way to raise awareness of consideration for objects or the environment, or a way to present values in a way that is stripped of a lot of other societal constructs (the Little Engine That Could didn't have to deal with systemic oppression or privilege, just trying his hardest).

But part of all writing is writing to your audience, and Adam is the audience for this contest, and he is not a child. Writing it as a children's story wouldn't have worked, either for him as the audience or for me as a writer.

Honestly I think I spent nearly as much time complaining about this as writing it.

That is not to imply that it was rushed, but that I complained a lot and have several people I should apologize to.

What I hate most about the prompt is that I really like the story and have no real problems with it or areas I think definitely need improvement.

In a piece of irony, I put a silver plate in the dishwasher very late one night after working on this.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fic: Purpose

I am reasonably certain they don’t know what I’m for.

This isn’t because they’re ignorant in general, but more likely because their parents - maybe grandparents, it’s been such a long time since I was out of the box - only used me when they were throwing me at their own parents and shouting about Birmingham. It took years for the stench of pot and politics to fade from the lining.

Then, I measured the passage of time in Christmases and Thanksgivings and Easters, when we’d all be taken out and put to use. I was sometimes horrifically employed on - of all things - pickles, but at least I got fresh air and scrubbing.

Now I measure the passage of time in Vinyl Cafe Christmas specials coming faintly from next door. The walls are thin, and the neighbour’s hearing is going, so I can hear Stuart McLean almost clearly.

The world is changing.

They bring out our case in the middle of summer for some kind of dinner party, and it’s almost like our first owners’ weekly formal dinner parties. But now they are puzzling over why the knives are different sizes, not able to tell which are dinner knives and which are butter knives. The spoons cringe, and the fish forks swear like sailors as they are deemed dessert forks.

I am passed over as “I don’t know, some kind of fish fork?”

I would that I could snarl at them. I have served judges and mafia kingpins and celebrities. Even men who died as petty criminals had more awareness of the way things worked.

The box closes with me still in it, and I am in the closet with a few serving spoons and the dessert forks while the dinner progresses. The serving spoons complain in their ponderous way until I threaten to scratch them.

Dubstep wubs through the apartment, shivering up through the box to rattle us. I liked it better when live jazz threaded through a room after dinner, when the marmoreal elegance of the lady of the house hadn’t been replaced by workman’s trousers. I must grudgingly concede that the CBC has improved their programming over the years, but that is the only thing, I think.

The sounds fade with time, and then the dishwasher starts.

The box opens, and there is light and air and the lingering smell of chicken. The knives are placed again amongst us. They are mottled faintly black and blue, an unhealthy shimmer all over them. Collective horrified silence greets them.

The box goes back in the closet, the damage they’ve wreaked hidden and ignored. Time passes.

The closet is emptied, contents sorted into piles to be packed, sold, donated, and trashed. A susurration of horror passes between us. We’ve been with the family for years and years, but these miscreants and wastrels - well, at least we end up in the pile to be sold. At least they recognize that we are worth something.

I am shaking in rage as we are loaded into their car. Three - or was it four? - unbroken generations of service, and we’re not even being offered to siblings. We are taken to a consignment store as if we were never of any importance at all.

A sticker is slapped on the exterior of the box, which has grown dry since the days it was oiled at least once a month. I wonder how we’ve been valued.

Not much, not near enough, since we are there for only a day. The car that takes us to our new home is quiet and well climate-controlled. We are put in a drawer, and I expect that to be the end of it.

Mere hours later, the box opens, and a man reaches in with hands that smell of silver polish. The spoons are immediately in love, but I withhold judgement. I doubt he’ll know what I’m for, either.

Then we’re back in the box and the drawer is closed.

There is no neighbour with CBC here, and thus no entertainment nor way to tell time. It doesn’t feel like long, though, before the box is opening again.

The butter knives are first out, and he doesn’t hesitate at all to pick them apart from the dinner knives. Then the soup spoons and salad forks and dinner forks. The fish forks are left in their partition, and I anticipate that I will be as well.

There are sounds of a table being set, and so it seems this will be the end of it, until the hands return. The snobby cheese knives with the mother-of-pearl handles are extracted, and then slim fingers return for me.

I anticipate some manner of indignity, like antipasto or relish. Bundled with those awful knives, we approach a kitchen island laid out with amuse-bouches, amongst them - [i]oh[/i]. He intends to put me to my true use. I will have purpose again. I do not care how long I will have to wait between uses, because here, here I am fully myself.

I sink into the dish of olives with a satisfied sigh.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Writer separate from writing

There is a luscious trap in writing about writing: writing more about my experience as a person who writes than about writing itself. This is self-indulgent and not what I want to blog about, because, above all, it is boring.

Our experiences as people contribute to our writing, yes. But our experiences writing contribute to a very narrow spectrum of experiences, and ones which are accessible primarily to other people who write. The process of writing, and the things we think about as related to writing, speak most loudly to writers.

But our range and depth as writers is greatly strengthened by observations of other facets of life, and a broad range of experiences. Nora Roberts, for example, includes neat things about flowers in her romance novels, which adds depth to characters who are florists. Tumblr user CeruleanCynic writes adorable romance through the medium of two characters answering questions about disasters. Both writers, though their research shows to varying degrees, have their writing enriched by outside interests.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Meta: Flight

This was written for Adam's contest, with the prompt of spending a day in your favourite cartoon. The cartoon is The Vision of Escaflowne.

Adam called me out on the transition to the world of the cartoon, and that's something I'm probably going to fix in edits, though the story probably won't live anywhere but here. That's because, as fanfiction, I can't publish it without checking with the IP reps for Escaflowne. It's also because, as self-insert drivel based around one of the most facepalm-inducing tropes in fanfic, I am not going to clutter up my account on Archive of Our Own with it.

Unsure what a facepalm is?

Image from
It is when Picard cannot bear to look at you and slaps a hand over in exasperation because he's read six different fanfics this week where people who suspiciously resemble the author appear from nowhere and become his love interest. Three of them weren't even spellchecked.

As one may have gathered, I wasn't super-enthusiastic about the prompt. But I love Escaflowne, and it was great to revisit the world, and I watched a bunch of episodes of the series to refresh myself and also because it is still entertaining.

So if I were to edit it, I think I'd change the transition to the cartoon world into picking up a white feather, because that's imagery that occurs in the series and it gives me-as-character an active role in stepping into the cartoon.

Some of the starting part is based on a story I read years ago called How To Be Fantastic, which is a multiple-choice path to survival if you happen to find yourself trapped in someone else's fantasy.

The bit about dancing was because Escaflowne is noted for having an amazing soundtrack, and there's an episode which relies fairly heavily on singing a folk song; similarly, the tarot reading was included as a nod to canon, as was the bag that contains everything (though that was also based somewhat on real life: my messenger bag is capacious and packed full of interesting things).

The persistent subtle-and-not-so-subtle threats of violence (the falling a lot, the attempted kidnapping, the mole-man groping me-as-character) are based on canon, but more broadly: there's a war on in the series, and it has a lot of the pushy courtship nonsense common to a lot of anime.

In the writing itself, I could probably emphasize more that everything hurts a lot and me-as-character is a badass and ignoring the pain on purpose and not just magically unhurt. I'm quite happy with the way I filled the single day I had in the cartoon: I got a lot of stuff in without it being super-crowded or rushed.

Final verdict: needs more editing, not going to get it.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fic: Flight

It’s ten past midnight and the moons are high and bright, washing everything in faint blue-silver. It had been mid-afternoon, and it looks like it still is where the curve of South America is distantly illuminated.

I haven’t dreamt this place in years, and this doesn’t feel like a dream. Everything’s too solid, and I’m still wearing the clothes I was when I laid down for my nap. If I knew this was where I’d end up, I’d have dressed better today. It’s always been a contingency plan that, if I knew I were going to another world, I’d dress as much as I could like local nobility. Arriving alone here instead of accompanied by a prince, it would have stood me in good stead.

Basic check: I exist, and am the same species I was before I went to sleep. I am on Gaea, I gather from the sky. I am alone, and on a gently pitched roof. Where am I in intermediate terms? The night air is humid and cool without being cold, so probably a temperate zone. There are imminent mountains in a rough semicircle around the sprawl of buildings, and the lights cut in too clean a line on the side away from the mountains. Asturia, then.

It’s been too long since I watched the series. All I remember are allusions to Venice and a great number of blonde princesses. Merchant cities, though, those I can deal with. Better here than the heart of the evil empire, since totalitarian ideology and I don’t tend to get along.

What do I have with me? No shoes, which I’ll need to correct. I do have my messenger bag, though, and that makes me grin. I emptied it recently, so not a ton of supplies, but unless something has gone terribly wrong, I have all the tools I need.

I have always wanted to fly.

To further this cause, I look for an easy way down, then check the drop from the edge of the roof. It makes me swallow hard. I swing my bag over my shoulder and strap it tight and then let myself over the edge feet-first. Once my hips are over the edge, the gap feels huge, but I let myself down until I am holding by my fingertips. I let go, because I don’t have the upper body strength to go back now. Air rushes up past me, and then everything hurts and I roll a few feet across the cobblestones.

I pick myself up and dust myself off and look around. I’d landed on a tavern. Bar or club is a too thoroughly modern way to refer to it, I confirm as I sashay into the smoky, convivial darkness. A hand grabs my ass, and I whirl elbow-first. The man I elbow in the head has disconcertingly mole-like features. “There was no need to do that!”

“I did not give you permission to touch me,” I say.

A man dripping smug and money drapes an arm around the smaller man’s shoulders. “Have you offended the lady already, Mole-man?”

His eyes are sharp on mine, but I’m not reading him as a threat. I crinkle the corners of my eyes and lift the corners of my lips. “I might have overreacted. I’m not from around here.”

“A tourist! And what brings you to our fair shores?” He lets the mole-man duck away to his beer, and I congratulate myself on finding a guide to the city. Next on my list: shoes, then secure accommodation. Then trouble.

“I’m from the Mystic Moon. This just happens to be where I landed.”

“I see. Then we should give you a warm Gaean welcome to celebrate your visit.”

He gestures to the barkeeper and moments later a waiter brings over something that smells of alcohol and honey. I’ve joined him at his table, with him as buffer between me and the mole-man. “So what do you know of the wonders of Gaea?”

“I’d love to see a guymelef in action. We don’t have them on the Mystic Moon.”

He takes my hand and kisses the knuckles. “I will see what I can do. It is likely nothing can be done until the morning, though. How can I keep you entertained until then?” He makes eyes at me over the hand he’s still clasping.

I smile crookedly at him. “It would be wonderful if you could explain the origins of the music the band is playing. Maybe show me how one dances here?”

He leads me awkwardly through a few dances. After the first few, either I pick up on the steps or I’ve had enough to drink, as they’re no longer awkward. It helps that someone sees my lack and hands me a pair of worn red dancing slippers.

I keep dancing - with other partners, once I know the steps. As the night’s drawing to the time when people are usually retiring to someone’s bed, I drift back to the gentleman who’s bought my drinks. I have nowhere to go, and novelty apparently amuses him.

“A seaside market town must have a market at dawn.”

“Of course, my lady. Mostly fishmongers and those who sell to the later tradesmen, but I would be most happy to show it to you.”

“Can we go now and walk along the waterfront?”

“Of course, my lady. I would benefit greatly from a few hours sleep, though, if you wouldn’t mind. We could then see the later market, which has many attractions other than raw fish. Have you anywhere to go?”


There’s a pause.

“My room has a chaise. Hardly fit accommodations for a visitor from the Mystic Moon, but it has grown rather late to make appropriate arrangements.”

I nod, and find myself catnapping on a brocade-upholstered chaise longue under the light of strange stars.

When I wake, the morning sun is casting long shadows. I have no frame of reference for how early it is. I know I’m up before my companion: I always am.

I dig in my bag for my hairbrush and rebraid my hair. I could almost leave it down, but if I get into all the trouble I want, loose hair will just get in the way. I read for a bit as the sun rises higher.

Eventually, he emerges, fresh-scrubbed and clean-shaven, and looks surprised that I’m awake.

“Can we go now?” I ask.

“Yes, my lady. Let me just get a runner to take these messages out.” He ducks his head into the hall and shouts for a boy with big sad beagle eyes and a swooshing tail and hands him the messages and some coins.

We set off for the market, and the city is different in daylight: smaller and dirtier. Seagulls turn overhead. The market is interesting, and reminds me of the one outside Leeds except with more fish. As we meander the stalls, runners periodically approach my companion with missives that he reads and replies to with quick scrawls on the page.

I am aware of his eyes on me, but I’ll get what I want out of this, so it’s okay.

The Earth trinkets I see sprinkled in with Gaean merchandise are few and far between, but they’re here. A Mickey Mouse watch with a blank digital face being sold as a bracelet. A MetroPass with sixty-three cents still on it billed as a holy relic. I have him buy me coffee and something like baklava and eat it as I walk before sucking the honey off my fingers.

The sun is waxing noon when he grabs my arm. “My Lady, we’ve been invited to the Palace for luncheon and a demonstration of guymelefs. We should probably proceed there directly.”


The walk to the Palace doesn’t take long once we pick up the pace from a lazy stroll. Once there, the guards usher us in without so much as an introduction. The dining room we’re escorted to is open and airy and occupied by a squat round king and what looks like a dehydrated weasel but turns out to be my companion’s father, another merchant prince.

“Ah, our visitor from the Mystic Moon! Tell me your name, child.” The King is expansive in his welcome.

I hesitate a moment. I don’t remember name magic here. “You may call me Eileen.”

“Lady Eileen, you must come sit by me and tell me all about the Mystic Moon. It’s a shame the Fanelian King had business outside the city: he’s been on a state visit after his own encounter with a girl from the Mystic Moon. They say she had magic powers of divination. Is that true of all of you?”

I sit, and a footman pushes in my chair for me. I wish vaguely for a long skirt to smooth rather than practical black pants. I smile at him, not bothering to let it reach my eyes. “I have a tarot deck with me. Would you like to judge for yourself?”

“After lunch, I would be delighted.”

The older of the merchant princes has a voice like oil. “Such a rarity! I am sure most of Gaea would be entranced to meet someone from the Mystic Moon.”

“I don’t know how long I’ll be here,” I say, warning flags going up.

He has a smile I’d like to punch. “We must try to persuade you, then.”

The sheer volume of guards stationed around the room suddenly strikes me as menacing and claustrophobic. But overt displays of force wouldn’t do them any good: as far as they know, I’m completely in their power with or without ostentatious armed guards. It’s overkill if it’s meant to contain me, and silliness if this is standard.

Lunch is served, and we converse over our plates. The weasel only references putting me on display once more before his son sends him a sharp look. I ask them to explain Gaea’s geography just to have a concrete topic.

When lunch is over and the table cleared except for our glasses, I dig out my cards. It’s a mini pack, wrapped in a plastic bag because the box is ragged and the cards fall out. I shuffle three times before proffering the deck to the King. “Would you cut the deck, please?”

He lifts part of the deck away and I tuck it in at the bottom before laying out the Celtic Cross spread. I look up the cards in the little guide that came with the pack as I go. My memory is shoddy, and intuition rather than perfect memorization is what lets me spin the narrative.

“Let’s see - you’re in the middle of unexpected events, with new enterprises and new gains on the horizon. This leads to eventual success and financial gain, coming from a disastrous affair in the recent past and chaos and failure before. In the immediate future, though, you are going to make a very foolish choice.” I glance ahead in the reading, already suspicious of what it will hold. Oops, yeah, there’s the Queen of Swords. As if I needed confirmation.

“Greed is a motivating factor, but will be countered by a woman. The financial victory will be hollow and unsatisfying, and you’ll feel alone.”

I smooth my face before I meet the King’s eyes. He looks mildly perturbed but thoughtful. “Most interesting. Now, Dryden informs me that you are fascinated with our guymelefs, so I have put together a display for you.”

It occurs to me as we all rise and follow the King that I am as tall or taller than most of the people here, including the guards. We pass through courtyards and airy hallways to an amphitheatre with arched entryways the size of McMansions. There are chairs set up on either side of the throne, and on the opposite side Escaflowne observes the proceedings from a plinth built into the edge of the gladiatorial pit.

We seat ourselves, and two mecha that look like pirates assembled from spare parts emerge and go through a staged sort of duel. The one with a bullwhip as thick around at the widest part as my wait disarms the one with the cutlass, then turns and bows to the King. As he rises, he reaches forward and grabs me, chair and all.

I’m frozen. I can’t even scream, because this is a wholly unexpected tack. As I rise in the air, the chair falls far, far down to splinter on the sand, and I close my eyes and cling to his metal thumb. I really, really hate heights. The next few minutes are not going to be fun at all.

He turns his hand to cup me in his palm and brings me close to the faceplate and leers. “Handing you over to Myden in a cage is going to get me a bag full of gold, girlie.”

I fumble in my bag while maintaining eye contact and grab a packet of Emergen-C. They’ve got the little indents where you’re supposed to tear, so it’s easy to glare at him while I rip it open.

“I know exactly what I’m worth, and you were underpaid.” I toss the contents of the packet at his eyes and slide free of the guymelef’s hand as it convulses reflexively.

I don’t have time to climb down carefully, but I will likely break a lot of bones that I am quite attached to if I freefall from this height. I wish I’d put on my mountain biking gloves. They’d protect my hands, at least. I grab the edge of one of the plates on his arm and swing myself more towards the guymelef’s torso. I realize that I’m letting out a litany of giddy swearing only as it stops when I slam into its torso chest-first.

Someone near the King is roaring outrage, but I have no time for any of them, because there’s really not that much in a packet of Emergen-C and he’s going to grab me again in a minute. I’m still falling, but the ground is approaching way too quickly. I manage to land in an instructor-approved fall position, and no white-hot spikes of agony rear up to tell me I did it wrong.

I run windedly for Escaflowne.

It’s supposed to only respond to the blood of a Fanelian king, but fuck that noise: I’m PK. I dig in my bag for my fork with a hand that’s already shaking. There are steps up the side of the plinth where Escaflowne sits, and I take them two at a time. The pilot of the guymelef has realized where I am, and he’s coming for me. I reach Escaflowne’s thigh and run atop it to where the energy core sits dormantly red.

I take a deep breath. I look behind me. I stab myself in the base of my thumb with a questionably clean fork. Tears well in my eyes and I squeak a bit, but I jam the fork in my pocket and stick my bloody hand over the energy core. It lights gold-purple, which is probably not a good sign, but the cockpit opens.

Go me.

I slide in and put my bag in my lap and grab for the controls. The cockpit closes up with me in it, and I worry for a moment that it’ll crush me to death. But it rises as I will it and the sword swings with my arm and there is lots of shouted panic.

The bullwhip falls to the ground, severed near the hand. I don’t want to keep fighting, though. I want to disengage and go see what this thing can do.

I duck into the guymelef-sized doorway that seems to face the sea most directly. It opens to a hangar where unmanned guymelefs who have not earned pride of place sit waiting, but the far door is lit like freedom. It opens to a cliffside road, but I head straight out over the cliff.

Once in freefall, Escaflowne stretches and rearranges. Plates slide and the leg controls retract and it reshapes itself around me until I am riding the dragon out over the sea. The afternoon sun sparkles on the ocean and I am free, free, free above it.

I throw my head back and laugh, then direct my attention to steering with my abused hands.

The first hour is like the first hour sailing: hyper-awareness of the controls and nervousness that I’ll end up in the water under a great lot of machinery. From the second hour on I’m trying to remember if anyone but Fanelia and Zaibach had flying guymelefs, and contemplating how likely anyone is to have anti-aircraft guns. But I’m contemplating while driving a mostly-mechanical [i]dragon[/i], so I’m pretty okay with that.

As the sun sets, I head up towards the mountains. I want to keep watching the sunset as long as I can, and if I can gain elevation at the right pace I could maybe drag it out for hours. It’s getting chilly and the trees are thinning and I’m thinking this may be as long a sunset as I can manage when Escaflowne goes into a dead drop.

A scream boils up and I try desperately to regain control, but Escaflowne is headed straight down into trees. I brace for impact, in full awareness that I am probably going to die.

Escaflowne hits the ground and rolls and I am flung clear.

I lay very still and stare up. Slowly, and listening for crepitus, I turn to look at Escaflowne. It’s mecha-shaped again, kneeling in front of - I squint - a kid in a red tank top with floppy hair all over his face. I turn again to stare straight up.

Booted footsteps approach and there’s a sching of steel, and a sword is levelled at my throat.

“What were you doing with the Escaflowne?”

“Hello, your Majesty. I was escaping Asturia.”

“I see,” says Van Fanel, King of Fanelia and hero of my favourite cartoon. “How did you pilot the Escaflowne?”

I proffer my still-bloody hand. It’s not all that much bloodier than the rest of me, which is annoying, but the tine-marks are still clearly visible. This shirt is probably a write-off. He looks at my hand, then puts his sword away. “Interesting. Come sit by the fire.”

He asks no questions beyond, “Would you like some?” as he offers me a skewer of some kind of barbecued meat.

I volunteer, after a while, because he should probably know that Escaflowne recognized its true master when it crashed me here. I also don’t want him to think I’m an absurdly awful pilot, because it’d be nice if I could take it out again, this time with permission.

In the flickering firelight, eventually I drift to sleep on the ground.


I wake in sunlight, and determine quickly that I’m on the roof of my condo building.

Back in the real world, I take the inside elevator back down to my floor.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cultural Narratives

I've brought up the concept of cultural narratives a few times, without ever explaining what exactly I mean, and I said here that I'd explain them eventually.

This is very nearly what I'm talking about, except that it doesn't go into depth on the kinds of narratives we expect when we are thinking fallaciously.

The whole concept of the 'friendzone' is one example of this. The gentleman* in question is usually operating along the assumption that his story goes along the lines of 'boy meets girl and is nice to her and she falls in love with him and they live happily ever after.' The object of his affection is usually a girl who is operating along whatever narrative she had assigned to herself before she met a new person - sometimes a love story in which she has already cast the other protagonist. When the two people are not experiencing the same narrative, both parties get frustrated - he sees her as a mean person who friendzoned him, she sees him as a creepy 'nice guy' who thinks women are vending machines into whom he can deposit 'niceness' in return for affection.

Romantic comedies, and most romance novels, enact the narrative the gentleman is acting from. We reinforce the expectation of reciprocity every day. Partly that is because rejection sucks, so we want narrative reassurance that we will not be rejected. But rejection doesn't suck as much as being a terrible person.

Another example of cultural narrative is that if you work hard and go to college, you can expect a good career when you are finished. All commentary about that narrative can be found by looking up a three-word phrase: Occupy Wall Street.

Cultural narratives provide a visual context for a lot of things, as well: tattooed people in leather on motorcycles are recognized as associated with Sons of Anarchy or the Hell's Angels, even if they're there for BACA. The expectation and association there help the members to do good things.

Similarly, in writing, cultural narratives can be a crutch and lazy awful writing that perpetuates stereotypes and the worst aspects of our culture, or they can be used deliberately and with purpose. Or both! But I will probably judge you if it's both.

*Gender assignations are made in line with the complaints I've seen from people on both ends of this narrative. Majority and opposite pronouns make stories easy to tell.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Meta: April

This was written for a contest, under deadline. There is not nearly the usual level of context, subtext, and pop culture reference because of this. Basically I wanted to write silly fluff with the subversion that not all drunken escapades end in sex or jail.

Of course, in my head they go on to fall in love and produce ridiculously successful projects together, the latter being more important than the former.

Oh! Just noticing: male romantic lead was given a Hispanic-sounding last name because I wanted to write non-white characters because it had occurred to me that I used a lot of WASP-sounding names even when I had no particular idea of race when writing characters.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fic: April

Light and sound and fizzy fruity blood. She laughed as the room span, and drank again. It was a good night.


She didn’t recognize the room. April sat up, clutching her head and half-closing her eyes against the light and the hangover. The night before was a swirl of colorful drinks and bright lights and loud bass and cologne.

It occurred to her to check for another occupant in the bed.

There wasn’t one.

And she wasn’t naked, surprisingly. She was wearing a man’s dress shirt and her own panties. No bra, no sign of her dress.

Water. Definitely the first priority. It felt like something small and disease-ridden had crawled into her mouth and drowned in all those fruity drinks.

The room didn’t quite look like a hotel - everything was stark white and air, and all that shaded the windows were thin drapes, not a black-out curtain in sight. It was also bigger than most single rooms, a white-leather seating arrangement grouped on some kind of shaggy area rug across an uncomfortably wide stretch of tile. April walked to the windows and pulled apart the drapes, determined to orient herself in the city by the skyline. This was her city, she knew the views, she’d designed the billboards on a lot of the roofs. April stared out over the balcony to the city, a bit perturbed that she was noticeably higher than everything else. With the buildings she didn’t see, that meant she was in Valdez Tower, near the top. Not a hotel, then. She’d broken one of her cardinal rules and gone home with someone.

She wondered what had happened, unease settling into her stomach and making the queasiness of her hangover worse. April resumed the hunt for water, making her way to one of the two white doors near the seating area. The other opened, admitting a tall lean predator with a breakfast tray. His gaze flicked up to her, and he set the tray down on a table and dusted his hands together. “Oh, good, I’d hoped you were awake. I wanted to discuss those marketing strategies you brought up last night in more detail.”

April was still asleep. Had to be. Anthony Valdez had just brought her a breakfast tray. Two glasses of juice: at least some of it was meant for her. “You realize I was completely trashed, right?”

“Oh, yes. Have a seat. I brought Tylenol.” He folded his long frame into one of the white leather chairs.

“You realize I was completely trashed and I work for a direct competitor, right?” What the hell had gone on? She woke up with her clothes mostly gone in the bedroom of Chicago’s Most Eligible Bad Boy (really, there were polls), and she’d spent the night talking marketing strategy? What was wrong with her? What was wrong with him? What had she been drinking?

“You said you’d quit for a chance to be my publicist. Of course, you also said you’d be happy to get paid in alcohol and wings, so I wanted to make sure you were still solid on it this morning.” He quirked a smile at her, the mocking edge to it slight but there.

She must have been really, really trashed. She hadn’t blacked out since college, and had never been that gone. Why had she been drinking that hard? “Where’d my dress go?”

“You threw up on it. I sent it out for cleaning along with my pants, which you also managed to hit.”

April winced. “Sorry.”

He seemed almost to be enjoying himself, or at least her discomfort. “Not a problem, especially if you can deliver as a publicist. Still think I can up condo sales by volunteering for Habitat for Humanity shirtless?”

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"True Writers"

I spend entirely too much time on writing forums. Frequently, new writers trying to define themselves in relation to their writing pop up. The endless quest for identity and the re-mapping that comes from new interests leads entirely too frequently to discussions of what makes a 'true writer' or a 'real writer' or what differentiates a writer from an author.

Sometimes, I feel the need to contribute concrete instructions to discussions that have become murkily existential. Thus, my recipe for a True Writer:

  • 3ccs unicorn blood
  • 3L bourbon
  • 300mg of Diazepam
  • at least one quill pen for every day of the week (only crow feathers may be used if completing recipe on the new moon; any will do at other phases)
  • 200mL India Ink
  • 1 dragon placenta (whole)

Crush the Diazepam and mix well with the India Ink and unicorn blood. Heat to precisely 333K in a copper saucepan. Exceeding this temperature will result in Romantic Poets; falling short results in postmodern photographers. A candy thermometer is recommended.

Remove from heat and slowly stir in the bourbon with a wooden spoon (not olive wood under any circumstances).

When mixture has turned blue, fill quill pens with mixture and carefully insert them into the dragon placenta. Do not spill.

When mixture has all been transferred, bury the placenta on unconsecrated ground. Cook for 30 minutes.

Serves 4 as main course, up to 8 if used as a genre writer.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Meta: kiss the golden cross for luck

It's poetry time again, which pretty much translates to spot-the-reference time. This was written for a writing contest in the summer of 2010, and was my first sestina ever. I think it was the first time I thought of form poetry as akin to Scrabble: you have a set of parameters and a set of tools, and you put together the tools you have according to the parameters, individuality dictating that everyone puts them together differently.

I cheated a bit - 'this' is quite simple, and I used 'more' once instead of 'oar' and 'see' once instead of 'sea.' The part I'm quite proud of, though, is my use of 'amber': it means three different things at different places in the poem. I felt quite smug in that, even though only one of the judges caught the reference to Roger Zelazny's fantasy realm, and wasn't entirely sure that it was a reference I'd meant to make.

The metaphor about escape to a more enlightened/licentious place is semi-coherent at best, except for the first stanza, where we have some requisite rejection of Catholicism in favour of Druidic tradition. In the fifth stanza that gets rejected, too, because what's a traditional poetry form without explicit rejection of most forms of tradition?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Poem: Kiss the golden cross for luck

St John would not approve of this
But Carmelite interdiction and it's discipline of mind
have passed on down the river of tomorrow
as we keep paddling upstream on hazel oars
fiercely always away from yesterday's sea
into the mountains of Amber

when the evening light has turned to amber
and the world has been reduced to this
a mooring post upended above a starry sea
and the day has driven all from mind 
reduced communication to whispered 'more's
our hedonism will be less delirious tomorrow

slow as golden syrup dawns Tomorrow
a naked moment to preserve in amber
reluctantly we dress and put our oars
to water, reducing the world again to this
a battle against the current, mostly of the mind
narrowing the world to what we can see

Today is one day closer to the sea
we paddle hard to get through Tomorrow
as the sun wanes afternoon the current rises, but we don't mind
the sliding sun has turned the water amber
we set out for hours like this
no distractions but the dipping of our oars

green wisdom tries to sprout from our oars
whispering of submitting to the sea
with joyful defiance we deafen ourselves to this
tomorrow bleeds midnight to the day after tomorrow
as we refuse to be fossil-amber
and cling fanatically to freedom of mind

As we round a bend to morning we mind
that we cut the water cleanly with our oars
paddling through the night has cost us clarity but put us close to Amber
and far distant from the sea
we'll land the day after the day after tomorrow
and see everything; the miracle is this.

Amber frees our minds from constant paddling, opens up to roads paved in slightly sacrilegious gold
Eternal city means we watch as this river carries our oars downstream
Down to the estuary where everyone lives, somewhere between tomorrow and the sea