Wednesday 16 December 2020

Blog Moved

Shoulda said this ages ago! But the blog has moved to Peat Long's Blog – My ramblings on Fantasy, Writing, and Anything Else I Like ( It's been great here but the times they are a-changing, so please go to that link to follow my writing further.

Saturday 28 November 2020

Friday Five: Actual Thoughts Caused Lateness

I know. Actual thoughts. And only a day late! Let's get this show on the road, happiest to least happy.

1) Last week saw a slew of big name book releases, many of which I should have reviewed by now. I haven't! I've been awful at reading. But I shall at least give big props to Anna Stephens' The Stone Knife, RJ Barker's Call of the Bone Ships, and Sam Hawke's Hollow Empire here and say belated happy bookday. There will be reviews! Honest.

2) I've just seen this tweet from Jeanette Ng talking about the expectations to be realistic in cultural portrayals, rather than being given the freedom to reinvent. It's an interesting, thought-provoking one, that has a murky mirror in the way a lot of fantasy is talked about (and I apologize if jumping off on this is seen as distracting from Ng's points). There seems to be a lot of expectation that fantasy should be historically/culturally correct rather than as acts of fantasy and reinvention, and a certain amount of low-level complaining from Europeans about American reinvention of their European heritage. The question of "cultural ownership" is far too nuanced for me right now - save to note that reflecting on the complications in our own is a good way to help see how non-simple it might be for others - but the general point that fantasy is intended to have departures from reality is one I will shout all day long. The clue is in the name. It's a far easier shout for me than it might be for Ng, so I'm not saying this is the answer to what she is talking about (although it seems to me it is part of her thinking), but it is something we could perhaps think about more in fantasy in general.

3) Going back to releases, there's also been another big name release that I feel less enthused about hyping, and that is Ernest Cline's Ready Player Two. There's been a lot about it online, a lot of tweets. I don't have much opinion about the book because I haven't read it but I do about the tweets and how they link into the evolving way I see communities and definitions of what we are vs what we aren't. In many ways, that's the predominant political discussion in a lot of communities I'm in. And I think a fair part of the anger against Ready Player Two in certain corners comes from the sense that Cline is trying to promote himself as part of one community/ideology when his words don't fit. Part of me dislikes the assumption that what Cline's character thinks is what Cline thinks, but I can't deny everything I've seen makes it look and sound like a very obvious self-insert, and that it's a very fair assumption (at least). Part of me dislikes the amount of criticism that is based on the ideology rather than the book's quality, but I can't deny that the quotes on twitter show a lot of ideology and that makes it fair game. Cline has made a point of saying something with this book; of course people will say something back.

4) There's also the stuff about the pointing and laughing at how bad it is. It's not particularly nice, but I've yet to meet someone who doesn't point and laugh at something simply because of how much they dislike it. As far as I'm concerned, if an author puts out something that reads like a parody of themselves, people are going to laugh, and why the hell not? 

5) Finally, when the Time magazine list of 100 books came out, it made me angry, and I disliked that because it put me on the side of people I'd prefer not to be near and I didn't want to be crapping on the parades of anyone made up they made that list. It made me angry because it used an objective title for a very subjective list, and because it was very modern tilted in a way I don't think right for all time lists, and because it didn't contain my favourites, but honestly, it probably shouldn't have annoyed me as much as it should have. Not the race thing btw. That's complicated and I'm leaving it alone except to say I feel very bad for all the very good authors who've had to put up with this conversation. However, I recently had a second look as a result of a conversation of Fantasy Faction, and the closer look brought up something that I think is a genuine cause for concern and a little gentle scorn. It is best illustrated by using the British books on here, as it's a small enough sample to make the point but large enough not to be accident:

British Childrens Authors on the list pre-Tolkien: Carroll (2), Nesbitt, Travers (tip of the hat to 'Straya), Lewis (2)
British Adult Authors on the list pre-Tolkien: *tumbleweed*

Same, but post-Tolkien up to Rowling

C: Dahl (2), Cooper, Jacques, Pratchett, Pullman (2), Rowling (2)  
A: White, Stewart, Pratchett/Gaiman, Rushdie, Gaiman (2)

There is a very obvious skew towards children's and young adult literature in this list. Which means the list carries the implication that Fantasy is really a genre primarily for the young, that there's not much good adult fantasy (and most of that literary), and that it's adult fans should grow up, a position that I'm sure a great many reading this list have heard before. And beyond that repetition of a casual insult, there's the consideration of what a perception of "it's for kids" means for adult's fantasy. It is not like the idea of fantasy authors being asked, and in some cases forced to tilt towards a younger market for financial reasons (or denied publication because they didn't) is at all new. Just look at the ongoing controversy over "women = YA'. 

So while I'll freely concede it's a little alarmist to call this list dangerous for skewing towards children/YA in their 100 best of all time, I don't think it's completely paranoid. The idea of adult's fantasy as a respected genre, with all the advantages that come with that, is not permanently safe. As such, I think this list is a little dangerous, and also more than a bit insulting and snobbish. If it were a "Our favourites", maybe it's not a big deal. But as a 100 best of all time? It's a bit of a deal. And my disdain now feels very justified; it is but a mirroring of what this list is.

All done. This might be my last post done on Blogger! I'd be sad, except trying to change my font to my preferred has taken two tries. I hear a lot of complaining about Wordpress' functions, but Blogger's changes for the worse are real too. Now, just to decide on a new blog name (or, you know, think a lot and not change it).

Friday 13 November 2020

Scene Breakdown: Rainbow Six Opening

Ever sat there looking at one of your scenes and wondered if the pacing was right? Too long, too short? Dithering too much before getting to the main event or getting there too fast? I really hope so, because I don't want to be the only one. Some people will say just write but the reality is many of us have a habit of including the wrong things, putting them in the same order, and so on. Getting that right is a skill many writers pick up through osmosis but doing some detailed analysis work can really help.

Why this scene? Honestly, I hadn't really meant to. I was looking at Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six mainly for some ideas on Action Thriller plotting, but it occurred to me that I could use the opening scene as an interesting example of an action set piece opening. I don't think it's one of the best examples of it's ilk I've ever seen, but in a way that makes it more interesting. 

Now, we've got to remember while analyzing that Clancy wrote this as an incredibly successful mid-career author. That makes it interesting in that you can both call this the standard in that it represents a genre great at work, and also a bad standard in that you've got to ask whether everything Clancy does is something a writer without his name can do. It should also be remembered that Clancy's style isn't for everyone inside his genre, nevermind out, but equally that what he did had huge results. Just because it mightn't be to your taste doesn't mean there isn't material to mine here for scene structure - particularly with an author like Clancy whose success came down to his storytelling, not his prose.

Here's a quick synopsis of the scene for anyone who's not read the book before (although it's probably easier to read the thing yourself) -

John Clark (a protagonist from previous Clancy books) is a former CIA operative, on a plane to London with his family and a friend to start his own small agency. It is his bad luck to be on the same plane as three rogue terrorists targeting an ambassador - but after realizing how dangerous the situation is, he decided to make it their bad luck instead. Thanks to a little acting and knockout punching, he and two of his men take back the plane. The scene ends with the plane captain asking who Clark is and getting no answer.

I broke the scene down into 82 paragraph sized beats (apologies if I'm using beats wrong). Some of them are longer than others (and some are two small paragraphs), but this should give a rough idea of how far in or not we are. Other technical details include that this scene is roughly 7k words and takes up maybe 2% of the book. This isn't really a lesson about economy - but a lesson about how a writer can hold a bunch of people with them for a 7k book intro and action scene? That has value. Onto the breakdown with the opening line:

“John Clark had more time in airplanes than most licensed pilots, and he knew the statistics as well as any of them, but he still didn’t like the idea of crossing the ocean on a twin-engine airliner.”

This sentence tells us three things about the story very quickly:

a) Where we are - on a plane!
b) That the character John Clark is a very experienced and educated man (on this at least), but he's still just a man - he still gets scared by fairly mundane things.
c) The technical details in this story will matter. They will not be brushed aside.

C to me is maybe the most important one. It is an important style marker for someone new to Clancy's style (and while this is a mid-career book, it is the first Tom Clancy I read, so this does happen). There's very little chance of getting the wrong expectations with this sort of opening. In any case, Clancy packs a lot in here.

The next ten beats (that was the first, this takes us up to eleven) are dedicated to establishing a sense of normal, introducing us to Clark and his chums, and setting out his tone and style. The latter is crucial. Part of Clancy's appeal was the big play he made to American values, Western values, patriotic values, and so on. Presenting a world view his readers can buy into is a big part of many of their enjoyment. Come, says Tom, let's watch the heroic CIA ex-Seal think about Football and exchange small jokes with his wife about how murder's cheaper than divorce lawyers. Even if you're not super into Clancy's cultural standpoint, it's still a cosy little tableau that does a good job of introducing John Clark as an all round human being, not just a murderhobo.

Is ten beats a good amount here? Honestly, it seems a little self-indulgent. In my notes, after beat 7, I wrote "I'm bored" and that's pretty much true. There's only so many ways you can give the same information. Now, we can afford to be a little patient as Clancy makes clear through Clark that something's happening here - even if neither us nor Clark know what - and his prose is easy to churn through. But this could be compact.

Beat 12 is when the tension starts to rise. Clark notices a passenger still wearing his jacket. Why wouldn't he take that off on a Transatlantic flight? The way in which the tension is introduced is a good example of show, not tell, and a good example of the way Clancy is determined to act as our guide in this world. Clancy's books aren't just books - they're borderline manuals.

Clancy uses the next eight or so beats (up to 20) to establish this situation. He shows the terrorists' actions - because the man in the jacket is a terrorist using it to conceal his gun - those of Clark, and those of the people around Clark. Now, we are told when writing scenes to consider who has the most to gain and to lose, to use agency. True. But in a very micro-sense, that can't always be true. Right now, John Clark has zero agency. These men are armed and in control and while he does have a gun, he stupidly left it in the overhead compartment (likewise his friend and second Alistair). Clancy doesn't try to force agency on Clark here. He goes out of his way to emphasize how the only smart thing the passengers (panicking a little), the captain (cool as the cucumber in a Hendricks G&T, wot), and Clark can do is go along with the passengers. This is an important part of Clancy's world. Yes, it's about American heroes, but these heroes are professionals, not a comicbook Conan.

Beats 20-22 are given to Clark's 1) EMOTIONAL REACTION: 2) REVIEW, LOGIC, & REASON: 3) ANTICIPATION: 4) CHOICE: That list? I took it from Jim Butcher blog posts on scenes and sequels. Clancy's using a similar structure in a micro-sense - a little action, a little reaction. This is the order of the reaction, more or less. Clark never has a specific emotional reaction, but his constant admonishments (out loud to his wife but mainly to himself) that others shouldn't panic is the clue to his own. In many ways, how Clark pushes his emotions onto others is a deft piece of characterization (would be defter is Clancy doesn't pretty much call this out a few paragraphs later but oi vey). Then he starts surveying the tactical situation. Then he anticipates what he'd do if someone was threatening his wife. Then he decides there's nothing he can do right now. One last interesting wrinkle - Clancy's prose style slows down, making heavy use of ellipsis as he tries to capture the way the information will be entering Clark's head here:

Chavez did the same . . . and Ding was still wearing his jacket. He was more used to hot weather, John thought, and probably felt cold on the airplane. Good. He’d still have his Beretta .45 on . . . probably . . . Ding preferred the small of his back, though, and that was awkward for a guy strapped into an airliner seat.

The action-reaction dichotomy continues for a while, each time getting closer to Clark deciding he must take action. By a while, I mean we're up to roughly Beat 50 (so a bit over halfway through). Is this too much? Yes and no. It's a question of style. Clancy is working on the painstaking accumulation of detail, details that will lead Clark to switch his mind from "they have the power, more lives will be saved by co-operating" to "they do not have control and are likely to try leveraging their power by taking lives, so more lives will be saved by whupping their asses". In this regard, the timing is roughly right, particularly as the beats are shorter than they were to begin with. In a longer novel, the midway point usually gets the biggest explosion yet - so above, so below.

However, once again I found myself getting a little bored by the latter stages of the to and fro. Here Clancy's tendency to throw in a free manual doesn't help him. Certain elements, such as Alistair's interactions with the terrorists and Clark, are good. Others, like Clark mentally replaying stuff about terrorism, not so good. In terms of technical writing, the PoV looks a bit wobbly. There's a few details thrown in that don't seem to have come from Clark's mind, and a few that are shown but don't necessarily ring true. There's three dickwads on a plane liable to get you killed and you're internally monologuing about how smart terrorists don't do that rather than being razor-focused on the situation? Well, maybe. Maybe this is Clark's way of displacing his emotions. I'd go with that, but some stuff was too loose PoV wise, so there's a question (i.e. "even John Clark, experienced as he was, saw flaws in others that were perfectly natural to himself"). I think my big takeaway at this stage is that if you're going as long and as depth as Clancy, make sure you really do have enough interesting material to use.

Once Clark decides to go, he decides to, er, go. That is, he asks one of the terorists if he can use the toilet, acting like he's going to piss himself. I'm slightly reminded of Die Hard at this point. The terrorists eventually decide yet, with another case of what looks like wandering PoV ("What turned the trick was Clark’s size. He was just under six-two, and his forearms, visible with the rolled-up sleeves, were powerful. Number 3 was smaller by four inches and thirty pounds, but he had a gun, and making bigger people do one’s wishes is always a treat for bullies.") Now, that could just be Clark's opinion stated as fact, but it feels a bit of a stretch. It'd be fun characterisation if it was, but we're dealing with a little too much uncertainty.

The first terrorist is lured a little further down the plane after the piss break, so Clark and Ding can deal with him together. That moment of action is a single beat; there's perhaps three beats leading up to it. From there it's another four beats leading up to the second terrorist going down (this time Clark and Alistair). There's a bit more of a to-do before the last terrorist is approached; they want to lure him out of the cabin rather than go in after him. It's a good way to heighten the tension and give this a fitting finish; it's also a case of playing to the details. Sucker punching a guy looking the wrong way in the aisles is one thing. Having a firefight in a cockpit is another. From concocting the plan to executing it with a gun to the head is another 4 beats, with the terrorist's surrender taking 2. Clancy's style is very much lots of planning, quick execution.

There's another 8 or so beats after this, mainly consisting of the technocratic resolution of the scene and Clark insisting on keeping his professional mystique. He wants the world to think this was just three lucky air police (things that wouldn't fly today).

So what's happened?

When people talk about good openings, they often talk about the question that gets people to turn the page. Here, the question is:

Do you want to see Clark and chums waste some more terrorists?

There is very little plot set up. Those poor terrorists, as Clark makes firmly clear, have nothing to do with anyone. His allusions to his agency tell you nothing more than is on the blurb. This opening is simply about establishing the world and characters Clancy wants to sell you, and giving you a taster of what it's all like. John Clark is a badass special operator who loves his wife and dotes on his daughter and incipient grandkid, who's a little scared of flying and whose hands sometimes shake after combat. His world is that of process, of tech, of clandestine battles.

Perhaps this is why this first chapter feels like a short story (technically a prologue but whatevs). It certainly follows story format, albeit in a flabby way. One quarter for the establishing shot. The decision to take action is actually 70% in now I double check. The scene could be shortened and I think if I was building my own beginning in a similar vein, I would, and I suspect an editor who wasn't aware your big books would sell and sell would demand that. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that's the interesting question here - how much could you cut this and still get the feeling?

The opening section could probably be condensed to around 1k, saving about 4-500 words. You could shave another 500 of easily just by ending earlier. That's one thousand words saved without effecting the action at all. I'm less sure about how much you could save there, particularly if you're a writer going for technocratic details heavy but it's got to be some. Could you get this whole passage down to five thousand words? I think so. If you can't, can you spice it up?

Not without losing the whole point of what is Tom Clancy. What this scene does well is a long build-up to sudden moments of violence. I think arguing for a shorter, leaner piece to avoid the build-up being stretched too far and losing its tension is wholly consistent with the author's seeming aim. Lots of action here isn't. Which maybe means calling this an action setpiece to begin with was wrong. Whoops. But it is worth studying.


Well, very tentative conclusions, not all of them on structure as promised. Here goes

1) You don't have to sell the book on mystery if the scene is fun
2) Around a thousand words is a good point to check whether you're still carrying the reader
3) 3-4 beats between an immediate plan being put into place and it coming to fruition looks good. The beats don't have to be long.
4) The scene-sequel model works pretty good on a micro-level, particularly the chain of reactions

All sound good? Any questions?

Tune in next time as I tackle a scene of less than 7k words.

Monday 2 November 2020

A Monday Update

Hello all and welcome to another month at Peat's Academy for the Blithely Eccentric.

Or not, as the case may be.

This will be a quiet month on me for the blog for a few reasons. One of them is NaNo, which I'm going to be using as a good excuse to up my fiction writing habit. Another major one is I want to switch this blog to Wordpress, as that seems a far better platform than Blogger, which makes me a little reluctant to add to the archive I'll have to transfer over. This post will make 252 - that's quite a lot. I'll probably do a few updates here and there due to habit, but nothing like what I've been doing.

"Peat," you might say, "It doesn't take that long to switch platforms."

It does when you're not trying very hard and it's not a priority. But it will happen!

I do have plans for when I re-open on a new platform. Probably non-sustainable plans, but we'll see. Here's the planned schedule for the new site:

Mondays: This is when I'll post my worst ideas since you need something to make you laugh on Mondays, and these posts will be slightly less annoying than your co-workers. Books as alcoholic drinks. Books as band names. Dubious things to do with bones. I think my next one planned is reviews in limerick form, but I'm always willing to listen to new bad ideas.

Tuesdays-Wednesdays: Reviews, interviews, top 10 lists (unless v silly), and so on.

Thursdays: Writing chat, which could also include interviews

Fridays: Fantasy chat - Fantasy Five catch-ups, general state of the genre things (I could also possibly include anthology reviews and roundtable chats here)

Saturdays: Nothing

Sundays: Fiction. Hopefully a serial, but other forms of fiction may appear.

I think that's it. Obviously this is all subject to change, and I'm not above double posting on days when I've got lots of content and can't be arsed with waiting to post it. Which might result in missing days. I apologise for the way I am there.

So that's it really. If there's anything in particular people think would be cool to see, hit me up in comments on one of the many other forms of communication available.

And as a nod to there being some sort of content today, here's a general update

Reading: I'm sort of between books at the moment. I'm dipping into Fallen Queen by Y.R. Shin and Nasomi's Quest by Enock Simbaya, but neither is super grabbing me so progress promises to be slow there. I do, between ARCs and a super-sekrit project, have a TBR list that's longer than a Leonard Cohen song so I should dig into that, but right now I want some fairly easy re-reads or to dig into non-fiction.

Listening: Most of my days are dedicated to a mix of Depeche Mode, Fields of the Nephilim, and generally laidback and dark music, but I am also trying to go through the entire Enslaved discography, one a day. I was also recommended this album of Stoner Metal Nirvana covers by Blessings of the Highest Order which is pretty good.

Drinking: I had a hot chocolate spiked with Kahlua and Phantom Spirits' rum aged in stout barrels, which is a good way to make the world feel a little better. Expect alcoholic hot drinks experiments to continue.

Eating: I had some great fusion results last week combining various blends of soy/hoisin/rice wine with allspice and a Chipotle-Mango-Lime spice blend I got from TK Maxx, but didn't write down any recipes. I also made a very tasty faux-SE Asian soup, but I didn't write that recipe either. I do have some teriyaki eel from a takeaway to eat as leftovers today but I'll be honest, it wasn't very good.

Watching: I have let my wife have the TV remote for Halloween (and most of eternity to be honest) so it's been a lot of Hocus Pocus, the new Are You Afraid Of The Dark and so on. Left to myself, it's been rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender and Guy's Grocery Games. I did also see most of the Steelers-Ravens game on Sunday, which had one hell of an ending. And speaking of endings, if my Fantasy Football team keeps staging nigh-miraculous comebacks to beat my wife's team, it will probably end my marriage.

Writing: This blog post.

Not sorry. Uhm. I'm doing a lot of WIP hopping, but I am trying to get the main one (embittered knight is forced to turn detective to try and save a sharp-tongued thief from a murderous gang after she's accused of a crime she didn't actually commit (she does a better job of the saving)) ready to submit by the end of the year. The other main project features an unlikely and bickering crew of misfits trying to put a king back on his throne - assuming he still wants it. Also got back into doing some poetry for some godawful reason.

And that's it. Happy trails.

Sunday 1 November 2020

Our Kind of Watchman

When I started this blog, I meant it to be a way of sharing my writing as much as anything. That didn't happen but now is as good a time as any to start putting that right. This is a short piece I wrote a few years back now for a site writing contest, and I hope people enjoy it. If not, it was written by my evil twin, a cad who has nothing to do with me.

Our Kind of Watchman 

I am waiting for the bell to toll.
There’s five of us, all with coffee in one hand and a stylus in the other. Stretching out reports and cracking jokes until our shift is done. MacElra is the loudest, the one who aims nearest the knuckle. I worry he’ll get into trouble at his next thought-sensing but today I’m grateful. He masks my silence. I don’t want them worrying about me. Worry can become questions.
The bell rings. I am released.
“I must go quick,” says young Ronagh. “Saorne expects me.”
“Not the only thing she expects, I’ll wager. Hoard your silver, lad.”
We laugh at MacElra’s jest, even Ronagh as he flushes. They’re recent news and he’s not comfortable with it yet, but he knows we tease because we’re pleased. Your Watch-brothers are closer than your real brothers.
“I’m for the inn. Any takers?” MacElra announces.
I shake my head swiftly. “Not me.”
“Too many of you have beautiful women,” he grumbles as I leave.
Outside the Watch-house’s sanctuary, my stomach grows cold and tight like a dead man’s grip. Citizens look at me and move aside. My uniform marks me as a Hierarch’s servant; a figure of law, order, and dread. The Hierarchs know their crimes and I punish them. It keeps Tallabhair whole. I walk home, except I take a turn I normally don’t, knock on someone else’s door.
“Come in, Toadstool. You ready?”
I nod. I’m ready to commit my first crime.

There’s three of us. Niaja, heretic mage; polite, withdrawn. Comarach, our patron’s favourite killer; scum.
And me. The necessary traitor.
I take out my key and open the treasury door. The moment I enter, awareness of everything permeates me. I know who is here, what is here, where it is. One of the many blessings the Hierarchs give their Watchmen and right now, the best of them. Niaja’s face is clenched in concentration as she maintains the spell that masks us from my fellow Watchmen. And Comarach follows, ready to kill either of us if we get clever ideas. When I stop, waiting for a man to walk by, he places his blade at my back. I hated him enough before that.
We continue through the labyrinth, ignoring the kings’ ransoms piled to either side. Our patron bade us take the Knife of Riaghaid, and that only. Even if Comarach was not here, I could not afford to anger her.
I have never seen the Knife of Riaghaid before but one thought summons the image. An ordinary thing, dull and notched. The desires of mages are strange. I lead us to it like a bird seeking summer. There are few of my fellows this far in. I take it and the power of it makes my teeth rattle.
It’s all too easy. No one thought to protect it from a Watchman. Our loyalty is legend.
I smile as we walk out. Disloyalty never felt so good.

Tallabhair is riotous at night, the citizens drinking their sorrow. I smell danger in the mead fumes. All Watchmen know the stories and I’m not protected by my uniform now. It’s the first time I’ve been out without my uniform since I was a boy. The thought troubles me more than any threat. A stranger walks in my body, past the crimes I swore to punish. Poppy smokers, unlicensed poets, adulterers. They don’t seem so terrible tonight.
I had no choice, though. I have my own Saorne; Muadha, whose eyes make the Moon Maiden weep and own my soul. Muadha, whose eyes fail more every day, the magical energies of Tallabhair eroding her brain. The doctors told me it was not uncommon, a side-effect of the sheer scale of the Hierarchs’ workings to keep back the hungry sea. They had a cure; the Hierarchs could hardly do their work without one. An expensive one though, they warned me. I paid that no mind. I was a Watchman.
Then the Hierarchs denied me.
I didn’t dwell on it. I was trained to quick action and stoic courage. Instead, I started looking for others who might provide me what I needed for my beloved Muadha, heedless of price. The refusal continued to fester away though. Eating away at the man I was.
We turn a corner and I find myself eye to eye with MacElra. Fear consumes me. Is he waiting for me? Does he know? No, he’s with a woman. His eyes are wide in question.
I open my mouth and Comarach slits his throat.
“Fucking toadstool,” he hisses.
My fists ball up. He smirks at me. My hand is on my knife hilt when Niaja coughs. I look and she gestures at the woman. We all realise the truth that the heretic is saying in the same moment; the witness cannot live. She runs and Comarach chases but I am faster. My blade flies straight between her shoulders. I pull it out, the coffee rising up my throat. She’s dead. At least I don’t have to finish her. I don’t sheath it but turn to face Comarach again. His own weapon, wet with MacElra’s blood, is waiting.
“Perhaps it would be best to settle this matter elsewhere?” says Niaja. “Such as, say, somewhere that is not a murder scene.”
She’s right. I clean my knife and sheath it. He takes the lead, unafraid of me. Scum. I glance at Niaja and her lips twitch, then she’s like a statue. We go to the meeting place as quickly as is sensible. As we enter, I nudge Comarach.
“I’ll get you for this.”
“No you won’t.”
He’s right. I won’t even remember it.

The patron gives me two vials. The first is for Muadha.
The second is for me.
There is a problem with committing crime when your mind is read regularly. The only way to escape capture is to never remember doing the crime. The second vial will solve that problem. But there is more, as my patron had explained when we first made our bargain. The Hierarchs are not fools. If a man receives a great prize but cannot remember why, they will prod and probe until they have the truth. And what greater prize is there than the miraculous recovery of your wife from the surest disease in Tallabhair?
When I wake tomorrow, Muadha will be well, but not with me. She will be somewhere else and I will believe that the strange corpse lying next to me is hers. Every little drop of pain I’d thought to escape will be mine, right down to the dregs. When my patron told me, I nearly begged her to find another way. To make me vanish too so that we could be together. I know she has a use for men such as me, if a man like me was willing to be scum.
I was not brave enough.
Now the vials are in front of me and I want to ask her for this mercy. I’m still not brave enough. I tell myself it is necessary. No one will suspect a thing if Muadha dies, but if we both disappear after tonight, people will come looking. People like Comarach.

It is three weeks since the night that both MacElra and Muadha died. I sit away from the others as I write my report, my coffee laced to keep me numb. My Watch-brothers watch me quietly. They wish to heal me but don’t know how. They don’t know how to heal themselves. MacElra was our soul. We take our pain out on the scum who did it.
My mind wanders constantly. I keep starting to write a resignation rather than my report. My captain, MacCuoma, refuses to consider such a thing. He tells me it would dishonour their memories. Maybe he’s right; I struggle to know. I am grateful for his care, for my brothers’ sympathy. It’s MacCuoma who tells me when the bell rings, tells me to go home. He emphasises the word home. Citizens look at me with fear and pity. I’m not just a Watchman to them, I’m a human too.
I reach my empty dwelling and look for the mead bottle. It’s not where I left it but there’s a small one in it’s place, it’s contents a pale yellow. Like amber. Or piss. I don’t care, I drink it.
As I do, I notice the woman. She wears no marks of belonging and a deep hood that doesn’t quite conceal the inhuman perfection of her face. I finish the vial, my mind sluggishly accepting the impossible reality.
“Hello, Watchman. We still have business, you and me.”
She is right. I try to open my mouth, to ask after Muadha. When I can be with her. I can’t, but she smiles anyway.
“There is a man,” she continues, “Who has offended me. He believes himself safe.”
I understand her request. All of it. I nod, heedless of price.

Friday 30 October 2020

Friday Five: Feeble Fumblings from Tired Minds

1) I don't know how many of us spend too many brain cells on what Fantasy Actually Is. I try not to, but I had a tiny epiphany thanks to doing some academic reading and wanted to share it.

Fantasy is both the silliest and most serious of fiction genres. It is the silliest because it is unabashedly throwing aspects of reality out of the window, holding on hard to childhood passions and games, embracing the bizarre and surreal. It the most serious because it is a direct descendant of our most important stories, our sacred texts, our ancestral memory on how humans should act, updated time and time again. At this point, this dichotomy is so embedded that there's no shifting it.

And how do you define a genre that has those two tentpoles so far apart? You can't really. It's just an open invitation for some clever swine to go "Well actually" once you think you've got something. There'll always be a traditional view but the tradition will merely by the tip of the iceberg (and I'd also point out the traditional view will be informed by all media, not just the literature).

I'd love to sum this thought up in a clever and poetic way, but it's Friday. Maybe something cleverer and fuller will come along another day.

2) Malinda Lo's craft series is continuing and is well worth checking out with these posts on vision and mystery. The latter particularly appeals to me as someone who wants options other than conflict, and who frequently sees people talking about the lure of the unanswered question.

3) The finalists for the British Fantasy Society Awards have been announced. I can tell you virtually fuck all about the choices because I'm about as up to date as bleeding people as a medical cure but I know that it'll be remarkable if Jen Williams wins again, making it a win for every book in her trilogy, that RJ Barker and Tade Thompson are fantastic twitter follows, and that there's no shortage of very talented authors, creatives, and creative enablers on that list. Congratulations to everyone!

4) Hoo boy. I am really struggling to hit five this week. I do indeed plead guilty to the charge of not being particularly engaged with the community recently. As such, item four will be me sharing all the books I got ARCs of through NetGalley (please don't ask when I'm finding time to read all of them)

Look at that list! Assuming your eyes are good enough for that small image. Aha, made it bigger. I'm so fucking smart. Anyway, a lot of excitement there. So far Fallen Queen is winning my attention most, but we'll see how Mr Goldfish Brain here gets on.

5) Okay, I've run out of fantasy things, so lets talk Sci-Fi. I know, I know, spaceships are boring, but there are occasionally good things in the twin genre. One of them is the Sci-Fi Month event on twitter, hosted by DearGeekPlace and OneMore. Everyone looking to engage with others into their Sci-Fi-ish ways should check it out.

6) I lie! But I just saw this and had to include. Go. Look. Much cute. It's a lovely short about a witch and her cat.

Thursday 29 October 2020

The approach of NaNoWriMo and why to write

Here it comes again. Worldwide lots of people talk about writing month. Some do a lot and feel good, some do a little and feel bad, and others have other outcomes. I've seen a few people wonder whether to do it, mainly due to the fear of feeling bad.

Me, I will be doing it, as an extension of the writing I'm already doing and will continue to be doing after. No special project. No special participation other than talking about word counts and some projects in places that NaNo that I'm already part of. Why?

Let's go to wondering whether to do NaNo, which for me, is just wondering whether to write. There's a lot said about it, sometimes in negative tones that affect people's perceptions. For me, it boils down to the simple question of "Is your life better or worse with writing in it?" Some people find it better because they enjoy writing. Some people find it better in the same way others might find their lives better for running long distances - they don't particularly enjoy the process but really enjoy having done the process. For others it is less about enjoyment of any part and more the need to do it, and feeling bad if they don't do it. This camp is the most likely to say things like "people who can live without writing should do so" and while that's pretty negative, it's their truth. Hell, it's a bit my truth. This is the camp I'm mostly in. 

Whatever camp people are in, it has to be one where it makes life better. There's zero reason to do it if it doesn't make life better. 

That doesn't necessarily help anyone on the sideline deciding to jump in. Help clarify the question maybe, but not answer it. Of course, I can't. I do however have a few other questions that I ask myself regularly:

"Am I worried that I'll have some bad days or lose enthusiasm and stop doing this and regret wasting my time?"

Every writer will have those moments. To a certain extent being a writer is defined by coming back when others stop. However! Coming back is easy. You've just got to shrug off the bad days and want to come back, and write when you do. It works, as can be seen from the excellent Melissa Caruso's twitter thread on this. Don't let fear of the bad days rule you. Also, who says we have to regret time spent on pastimes that aren't forever? 

"Do I really have anything to say? Any stories that are different enough to the rest to be worth writing?"

The great inconvenient truth about writing is you never really know until it's written and people are looking at it. Which also equals a big opportunity to find something worth saying through the process. You don't have to have everything at the start.

Well... okay. Two. But I think they cover most of it.

Look. If you can look at NaNo and say "I'll write and talk about it as long as it's fun, and if it stops being fun I'll just drop it with no dramas, and maybe I'll come back but no regrets if I don't", then I think you're all set to go. If that's not your mindset and you've got one that works, then top bombing.

For everyone still thinking about writing who's not sure they can be easy on themselves - maybe find other ways to do it. I know one person who'll be doing NaNo, but by spacing the days out so not all fall in the month but all fall when he's ready to write. Sounds clever to me. I also know another who might be joining in to do their thesis, which is where I am with my continuation. Starting something new wouldn't make my life better, not like finishing something would. 

There's short stories for people who aren't sure about novels, flash pieces for those unsure about short stories. People could set up a chain story with their friends. Ways to write seem ever proliferating. 

And if people think their life would be better with a bit of writing in them, then hopefully they'll find a way to do so.