Posts Tagged ‘National Novel Writing Month’

So, I finished the rough draft of the first book of Allosaurus. I did a quick and dirty word count, and it comes out to just around 19,300 words. Those of you who are familiar with National Novel Writing Month know that the goal is 20,000 in one month.

Took me seven.

Still, it’s the first time I’ve written that kind of volume without being on some sort of manic episode – thus, putting the tales of Fran and Palmetto-Bug Man ahead of the original Ashland* by leaps and bounds. Also, the original Ashland has been, mercifully, lost. So, yay meds.

A lot of people look at writing as homework that you have to do, every day, for the rest of your life. Forgot who said that. It doesn’t feel too far off the mark. But there was also an element that felt like I was compelled to write. Even on days when I was tired, or didn’t “feel” like it, Fran and company beckoned. I could see her in my head, arms folded, foot tapping. “Dude, let’s go!” she’d exclaim, while Fenris and Pamela checked their watches. “I got asses to kick! C’mon!” And so I’d follow them along, writing as I went. When I would try and write something that was out of character for them, they would look back at me, incredulously. “You know I wouldn’t do that,” Mister Vanglorious would say. This made it a bit difficult to stick to the original plan of my story, in which Fran dies. It also allows me to go further in exploring what I really want to write about with these characters, which is the way a person can become a monster – and how they can, maybe, win back their humanity.

Speaking of Mister Vanglorious, there are several characters that I “borrowed” from my best friend Doc. Doc’s a hardcore gamer, with experience working in the industry designing peripherals. He’s that serious. He came up with D – Nforcer, Vanglorious and Arctica Winters as avatars for DC Online and Champions Online. Thing is, he more or less killed them off in the games, so I was only too happy to give them new life in Allosaurus. Thanks, Doc.

 

*Ashland is a story I’ve been writing on and off for about twenty years, in all honesty. The basic theme of Ashland is the way things lose their real value when everything has a price. I stopped writing it because, as a satire, it slowly became indistinguishable from reality.

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No excerpts today. I went in and tweaked some bits about the philosophical debate between the two sides fighting over The Queen and The Wise Woman. Just wanted to make it a little more clear that one side thinks that there are two personages that are distinct from one another, and the other side sees them as one and the same. Sort of an allusion to the ‘trinitarian’ versus ‘modalist’ views debated in the early Christian Church, ‘cept different.  I also built up some bits about what happens to Tule (the professor who becomes part of Mind), and some political chicanery afoot on Syl. The finished product might have absolutely none of that in it; I just thought it would be a good thing to put it on paper, so I know what’s going on.

One of the things I realize that I’m trying to create here is a very complex and nuanced universe. In my head, I can see the course of events, the flow of history, that led to my characters being who they are; the societies that shaped them, the beliefs they hold dear and also struggle with, even the (often unwieldy) names they get saddled with. The trick, for me, has been to provide all that backstory without bogging the whole thing down so that it reads like a history textbook. A thing I always have said about my writing (to all the uncounted thousands of people who’ve asked me), is that I picture what people are doing, what sort of things are happening, and then I write it down. I try to write it down in the way that I talk. The thing is, I actually talk like this. I’m a blast at parties, obviously.

Me at a party:

Me at a party, being the life of same.

 

Yeah, baby.

Ze plot, it thickens. We now begin to find out a bit about the primary threat in this story, the whatever it is, that communicates in colors. It seems to be very similar to Humanity (not humanity, note the case). 

 

 

The professor was  discovered, unconscious, the next day. Professor Mansuur found him, stretched out, beside the gate. Mansuur started to go through it, then thought better of it, and went around.

“Tule,” he said as he tapped his shoulder. He was breathing, but otherwise, he didn’t stir. Mansuur looked about for the old man, but he was nowhere to be found. This is just weird, he thought. He pulled out a ‘caller. Get some help here, I guess.

Professor Tule could see the color. It was a mind. A Mind, immense, old, fearsome in its intelligence, its acquired knowledge and information. It didn’t have a physical form; it had grown far too complex for that. It existed as waves of energy. Its experiences included the entirety of the Universe, and Tule, part of that Mind now, experienced it as well. He experienced a life form that called itself Humanity; that life form was separate and distinct from the humans he had known. Humanity, as it called itself, possessed the sum total of all attainable knowledge.

But, it was not the Mind he had become part of.

The Mind was something entirely different.

 

Professor Tog and professor Mansuur were in the waiting room. An ambulance had come; they took Tule to a nearby hospital. Police had come, also. They found the old man’s body in a nearby swamp. Mansuur had been questioned thoroughly, and they seemed to be convinced that he hadn’t done anything.

“Do you really think something, ah, criminal happened, Mansuur?” Tog asked. She was a thin, nervous looking woman who had never strayed far from the confines of academia. There was an edge of excitement to her voice that she was not completely successful at concealing

“I couldn’t tell you. Tule’s in some kinda coma, I guess, and that old man’s dead. When I found him, Tule was on the other side of that stupid little gate, like he walked through it. Maybe he and the old guy got into it.” There was an old fashioned wall screen in the waiting room; two dimensional and flickering static. There were news reports about the local warlord being outraged and insulted by someone or another. Mansuur sighed. I just want to go home, get off this bass-ackwards mud ball and be somewhere civilized.   Haven’t had a proper gin since we got here.

 

Physical shape is limited.

It limits Us.

“What do you want me to do about it?” Tule questioned. Their conversation had grown more and more sure, more confident, as time had passed. The earlier stumblings over alien concepts were now, not as frequent. This current tack was throwing Tule for a loop. “What do you mean, ‘it limits us’?”

We are not matter. Matter/energy. Physical shape is matter only.

It limits us.

Leave it.

“You’re not serious, are you?”

Explain serious.

With that, Tule knew they were serious. There had, in fact, never been the capacity for a joke, for anything that wasn’t deathly serious, to Mind.

“Leave it, how?”

Surrender.

Release.

Abandon.

Tule considered it. The infinite cosmos, or this shell that would eventually degrade and fail.

 

“Were either of you this man’s next of kin?” the nurse asked Tog and Mansuur. Tog let out a small gasp. Mansuur sighed.

“We know how to get in touch with them,” he answered.

 

 

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved

 

Forgive me.

It’s just that, well, it seemed so right, so tempting. And, it was right there, toying with me. How could it hurt? 

Just a little tweak here, there; it was already kinda about the same thing anyway, wasn’t it? I mean…

Yeah, whatever. Don’t judge me. You don’t know what it’s like. The pressure! The Horrible, Awful Pressure!

(I retrofitted an earlier idea into this novel. I think it works, he rationalized.)

 

The Battle of the Angels

 

Somewhere else: the Tau Confederacy. Humanity had been here, too: colonies grew, flourished, forgot, were forgotten. Now, a society of technocrats had arisen. They were curious, nosy, even. They sent their spaceships into the void, discovering and rediscovering lost worlds. They made a big deal out of it. Propaganda portrayed the explorations as heroic; the women and men, scientists all; larger than life, romantic. It was one of the only times that students were lionized thusly, in human or Human history. And, just like any other era where heroes are made, the gap between the heroic and the reality was vast. Disappointing, too, to those who discovered that expanse. “Heroes”, after all, were made up of the same belching, farting, toe-stubbing stuff as everyone else, but that sort of thing rarely makes for good viewing.

Professor Beyster Tule found himself to be one of those “heroes”. He had gone to the great University of Tau Theta, stars virtually in his eyes. He saw himself, standing rugged, proud, barrel chested, on some far – flung world full of adventure and intrigue. Pushing back the boundaries of ignorance, bringing the light of scientific reason and Truth to benighted savages living in darkness. Then, he was posted to an observation blind on Garvin. Garvin, powered by fossil fuels. Garvin, full of airborne toxins and pests that seemed to have evolved with the expressed purpose  of getting revenge on people by making them miserable enough to want to die, but not quite killing them. Garvin, where he and his colleagues were forbidden by strict Confederate policy, to interfere, while the society tore itself apart. Garvin, now radioactive at lethal levels, dead, a husk. Tule and the rest barely made it out. That Garvin. Pushed out of memory only by strong drink and people paid to listen and nod wisely. So much for romance.

Older and wiser, Professor Tule found himself in charge of an expedition to Syl, ancient Syl. Rural, forgotten, no lights, no cameras. No drama, he hoped. Just digging around in quiet ruins, would be plenty exciting enough. But, now, there was a new warlord or something, itching for a fight with the outer universe. As if that wasn’t enough, there was the old man, to deal with.

More so than just being old, what struck  Professor Tule most about the strange man was the fact that he looked tired. Really tired, bone weary, fed up, disgusted, sick-and-tired-of-your-shit tired, he thought. Some old people have this air of childlike wonder about them. Some look mean and grouchy, as if all their lives they’ve lived for this one thing, only to find out that it was all a lie. This guy looked like he’d seen it all, over and over again, for years and years. He just could n’t be impressed. Not a single damn could be give. Not at all.

He sat in a rickety little folding lawn chair, in the moth – eaten and run down field, next to an equally rickety looking gate. It was rusty, made of wrought iron, shaped like a Fleur de lis, and covered in layers of chipped and peeling paint. It wasn’t connected to a fence. It hung there, suspended among the weeds. He sat watch to it, like a security guard waiting for the shift change.

 The professor’s archaeological digs had been covering a lot of ground nearby, so to speak. They were trying to salvage whatever history they could. This part of the planet Syl had seen a lot of fighting: long ago, it was called Sylvania and was the seat of empires. Revolution came and went, came again as the former rebels became the tyrants to be rebelled against, over and over again. Now, Syl was a backwater place; sleepy, down at the heels, parched, drunk from history. Ruins abounded. They felt lucky to find more than two sticks propped up against each other. A bit of pottery fragment here, a scrap of leather there. They were trying to piece together the lives of people, dead for thousands of years, based on rumor, hearsay and dusty old garbage. It was tedious, miserable, fidgety work, and they loved it.

The old man and his gate were at the end of a long dirt road. Scruffy tufts of grass, a twisted and gnarled old tree with sparse leaves that gave neither shade nor shelter. The old man, and his gate. Dr. Mansuur, a bit of an amateur linguist, spoke first, asked him how he was doing. He nodded. It seemed to take a supreme amount of energy for him to do this. He looked at professor Tule for a moment, the creases in his face deepening slightly.

“What do you want?” he asked. He spoke in Galactic Standard, flawlessly, un accented. Tule could have guessed that he was from Gesselshaft, the capital city on Tau.

“Um,” he stammered, “we’re archaeologists, and-”

“I know what you are,” the old man interrupted. “What do you want?”

“To, ah, to learn the history of this place, I suppose you could say,”  Tule lamely finished.

The old man grunted. “I guess that my command of Standard is not so good,” he lied. “What do you, want. Here.” He jabbed a long, bony finger at the ground. It seemed like an accusation.

“Uh, to dig around here?” Tule guessed. “See what we can turn up? Maybe we can find something here, something really important, to, well, convince people to stop fighting in this area?” The old man looked at him, expectantly. “That would be a good thing, wouldn’t it? No more fighting?” He had the sensation of being a little kid trying to explain to his dad why he was digging a huge hole in the front yard. I’ve got no good reason to be there, with the old man, his scraggly tree and his gate without a fence, Tule thought. I feel like a fool.

(The particularly observant among you may recognize this as part of an earlier blog entry, from before all this NaNo business.)

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved

I decided to go back and revisit a scene that I had glossed over before, and expand “The Battle of the Eraser”. Here’s how it ends:

 

“Sarge, I -” Tilu began. Setetenepini heard a soft pop. When she turned to look, Tilu’s exo stood still, like a statue. Well, she thought grimly, with the transport gone, this was gonna be a one way trip any way. She still had to fight back a tremor or six.

An alarm blared. A different one than before, different from all the other bells and whistles that were going off all over the place. A section of wall slid away, and was replaced by the deep blackness of space. Some sort of force field was holding the atmosphere in; there was no whoosh of escaping air, no irresistible wind blowing anyone toward the opening. All the same, the icosahedron began, slowly, methodically, to drift.

“They’re launching it! They’re launching -” Pili yelled, and was silenced, somehow. And, just like that, it dawned on Setetenepini just what the “it” was.

The Eraser.

Launched at Shield of Faith base.

She ran after it, turning behind to fire off shots.

 What am I gonna do with it when I catch the damn thing? she thought.

Pound on it with the butt end of her rifle out of sheer desperation, naturally. It rippled and pinged, made gurgling sounds. She fired into it. The surface darkened where the beam hit it. She tried to push her hands into it, to grab hold of something. She had the queasy sensation of feeling her hands growing ever longer, thinning, spreading out. Still, the Eraser lazily drifted.

Why am I not being shot at? Setetenepini wondered. She glanced back. No one was stirring.

More to the point, nothing else, save her and the Eraser, was moving. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a small shape. It was a rail pellet. It hung motionless beside her. Over there, a soldier without an exo was frozen, gruesomely, in mid pop. Here, one of her squad was in a perfect action posture, running after her.

 I think this thing’s gone off, Setetenepini thought. She tried to dig her boots into the metal deck below her feet. Tried to wrestle the nothingness that was the Eraser to a stop. Positioned herself between it and the opening to space. She looked down at one of the rippling metal sides. It was splitting, tearing, in slow motion. Whatever was keeping it together, was failing.

She stared into it. As she watched, she saw her squad come aboard the Power of the Duality. She saw the transport torn apart by a rail gun. She saw the Shield of Faith base this morning, yesterday, tomorrow. She saw Tilu, shot and killed, and at the same  time, alive and pinned with a medal for bravery, made a general. She saw all the faces of those she’d watch die, die again, then not die. She began to see…

Everything,

Everywhere,

Every when.  All at once. It was glorious, beautiful.

The Power of the Duality faded around her. It doesn’t matter, she thought, serenely. Was that what she felt? Yes, serene. So, I’m dying. I didn’t think it’d be like this. Kind of a nice surprise, actually.  What’s that they say? Right as you die, your brain releases the biggest amount of dopamines it ever will into your blood? I suppose it does, doesn’t it? There was an impossible riot of color and sound, that became silent black.

 

Setetenepini floated in her exo. Gradually she became aware of the fact that she was breathing. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness, and soon she was able to make out faint pinpricks of light. She was on the night side, she realized, and was looking down at Tangeet.

So. Not dead, she thought. She checked to see if her radio worked. “Tangeet Base Shield of Faith, this is sergeant Setetenepini, please come in, over.” There was silence, a bit longer than would be normal for radio lag at this distance. Then:

“Sergeant Setetenepini. You are in restricted space. You are hereby ordered to vacate this area soonest. Over.”

“I know this is restricted space, Shield of Faith. Check my clearance. Over.”

There was another over-long pause. “No clearance for a Setetenepini, sergeant or otherwise. No Setetenepini assigned to this base, sergeant or otherwise.” There was another, much shorter pause, then the voice added, “No Setetenepini in Divine Military service, sergeant or otherwise. Over.”

“That’s not right, Shield of Faith. I was with the attack that went out this morning to board Power of the Duality. Which appears to have been destroyed. Over.”

The pause, then:

“No attacks were launched from this base, this morning or otherwise. Are you trying to infer that there is a war of some sort occurring? Over.”

“I am not inferring. I have been fighting in the war against the Heretics since my first posting, I have done two tours of duty. What the hell are you smoking down there? Over.”

After the pause, there was a different voice on the radio. “This is Captain Kiseritelere. We don’t detect a vessel at your co-ords. What are you piloting? Over.”

“I am piloting a Yan Co Heavy Industries model R 8 exo, mark III, Captain. Over.”

“What the hell are you doing in an exo, sergeant?” came the time dilated astonished reply.

Setetenepini was seized by the imp of the inappropriate. “Floating aimlessly, ma’am, and running out of O2, ma’am. Over.”

“Sending a shuttle to your co-ords soonest. Can you send us a link to your vitals, so we know how long til you freeze-dry? Over.”

Setetenepini touched some buttons on her wrist, then nodded in satisfaction. “Link established, ma’am. I’ll be here when you get here, with bells on.Over.”

 

 

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved

 

So, okay. I had to go to a funeral in Ft. Lauderdale on Thursday and Friday. That didn’t leave me in the mindset to write much, as you might imagine. Getting back in the groove of writing was a bit of a challenge, but then I simply let the story tell itself. A bit about tonight’s excerpt: We are getting to learn a little bit about Setetenepini, some things about her family, and about the society she comes from. I’ve also discovered that her people are somewhat matriarchal, which was a bit of a surprise. I had assumed that they were more of a meritocracy.

“But, Chris,” I can hear you saying, “this is a story you are writing – how can you not know what is going on in it?” 

Oh, you. You should know by now that A) I’m what you call the classic Unreliable Narrator and B) not knowing where this thing is going is actually kinda fun for me. I’m purposely not finalizing any back-stories or histories or even any ending points just yet. This will either be awesome, or a colossal train-wreck of failure and humiliation. Either way, I learn something, so, yay.

The Battle of Memory

 Sleep never came easy for Setetenepini. Not on board the battle cruisers, not in the barracks, not in school, not at home, not in this hospital/prison they made for her. She fought it, always had, only surrendering at long last, with bloodshot eyes, and with quiet rage at having lost one more time. She would lose, and every night she would dream. It was a terrifying dream, terrifyingly real, and yet it seemed to make no sense. What she dreamed should not be scary at all, and yet, there it was:

Red.

Horizontal stripes, with gold and flecks of blue.

Undulating.

Many becoming one.

An endless void, with nothing in it, forever and ever.

Then she would see the face of a woman, full of concern, grave, ageless. She was utterly foreign in appearance. Her skin was an impossible shade – dark brown like soil, but smooth like waves of silk. She had never seen anyone who looked like her. And yet, she knew, without a shadow of a doubt who she was.

She was the Wise Woman.

Not the Wise Woman of the painters, with her skin the color of gold, her eyes green like the grass, her hair in bronze ringlets turning to gray with age and  understanding. All the painters of old had made the Wise Woman look like a regular person, a kindly old woman. They gave her a stoop, as though she was hunched over from years of tending her Garden with love and care. She could have easily passed for someone’s dear saintly grandmother. And, when the artists wanted to depict her as the Queen, they merely straightened her posture, put her in golden armor and changed her cane to a sword. Gramma in a costume for a masquerade ball.

The face in Setetenepini’s dream was the real deal. She knew it. She was seeing the face of the Queen, of the Wise Woman.

Candace.

 And Candace was talking to her. It was horrifying, awful, dreadful, and yet soothing, somehow. Setetenepini couldn’t understand how this face could elicit such contradictory emotions, but, there it was. Candace spoke to her.

Of course, Candace had spoken to others, in  the dim and far away past. She had told those who would listen all sorts of things, all her secrets, all her knowledge. Commenters had expounded on her teachings, and Candace’s words became fixed, immobile, eternal. Thus, for millennia, there had been no real need for Candace to speak to anyone new. What else was there to say? Only crazy people and heretics claimed to hear from the Wise Woman in our modern era, Setetenepini thought. So which one am I?

 Neither, Candace would say.

 I am sharing this with you, so that you will know, and be prepared.

They are coming.

 Who?

 I don’t know. But they will come; they will come here, to your world. You will have to fight them. With all the knowledge of war that I am giving you.

 How can you not know who they are? You’re the Wise Woman.

  There are things I don’t know. I’m as surprised as you are about that, to tell the truth. I do know, however, that they are coming, and they will bring the emptiness you’re seeing.

 From the time she was a child, Setetenepini had learned not to discuss her dreams with anyone. Spankings, ridicule, even an exorcism. The Officiant was very old, was a very scary man, with a permanent scowl. The exorcism was grueling, humiliating. It only ended when young Setetenepini lied. She acted; she wriggled about on the floor of her bedroom, she screamed, she through her self about. She really sold it. The Officiant finally nodded, smiled grimly that his job was done. He gave her water, wiped her brow, and told her mother that she was cured. That night, Setetenepini herself had thought, maybe the dreams will really stop, now. Maybe I can be normal.

 The dreams didn’t stop.

She wasn’t normal.

She was, however, becoming adept at convincing others that she was just your average, everyday young girl. She was an avid student of the ordinary, the commonplace. What’s the music that normal people her age listened to? That was her favorite, of course. Who was the most popular boy in school? Well, she thought he was just dreamy, too. When the other girls her age got wild, acted out, talked back, she did too; she adopted their slang and their outlandish fashion. When those girls started to come to their senses, well, it was a miracle. The Setetenepinis got their sweet daughter back, just like everybody else.

 And, still, every night, the dreams. The fight to stay awake. Did lack of sleep cause her to have these strange dreams, cause a psychotic break, or was it the other way around? She went out to the clubs when she was of age, found her taste for drink by studying what the normal girls, her friends of the moment, drank. If she drank, would she black out and not have the dreams? No; she was merely drunk, still dreaming. She would bob and weave, she would slur her words, she would vomit. She would awake, tired, hungover, like everyone else. The difference was she would always, always wake up with her horrifying memories.

 In fact, the only thing she did that was out of the ordinary, was to join the Divine Military. She had to do it, regardless of her family’s traditions, regardless of her mother’s wishes. If she was going to have these dreams of colors, of a terrifying void, of a totally foreign Candace, then she was going to study as much of the Divine as she could stand. She would pore over the Commentaries; she would memorize The Pearl; she would write out her own copy, counting letter for letter, knowing which one was the exact middle point. She would study the mysteries of the Sword, the Crown, and the Shield. She would tend to her own Garden, growing the very plants and herbs Candace spoke of, the very ways she taught. She would become an Officiant herself, if she had to.

 She would never, never, perform an exorcism on anyone.

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved

Here’s the latest excerpt. Goodnight.

“People aren’t supposed to survive an Eraser blast,” the doctor continued. “And yet, here you are. Given what I’ve seen about how the things work, I think it’s very likely that you’re telling the truth. And, incidentally, that’s why I’m shocked by how calm you seem.”

“Would it make you feel more comfortable if I started crying for my lost mom and dad and my dear sweet goldfish?” Setetenepini grunted.  “Or, how about this: I could go all catatonic with the thought that all my friends, classmates, first boyfriend, et cetera, don’t know who I am, never heard of me. Would that help?”

“Would it help you?” the doctor asked.

“No.”

“Then, I recommend against it.”

They were both silent. Setetenepini stared up, up at the ceiling. Doctor Rutikeseritu sipped his spicy coffee. “Mm mm,” he sighed. “I get these peppers dried and ground for me, special. You’ve never had coffee this way? No? You don’t know what you’re missing.” Sip, sip, sip.

“You don’t miss them, do you?” The doctor switched topics. Like a train jumping from one track to another one going in a totally different direction.

“What?” It caught Setetenepini off guard. She sat up. Suddenly, and for no reason she could pin down with any certainty, she was angry.

“I’m just curious.” He thought for a second, then began, “I’ve got an older brother. Well, three, actually, but this is the one just above me. When he turned eighteen, literally, on his birthday, he left. Moved all the way to Bafurs. He’s a nurse, now. Anyway, just up and left. Hardly ever speaks to any of us. Not angry, not holding a grudge or anything, we guess, but just won’t contact us, and only gives us a way to contact him if we press him about it. Last year, I asked him about it. He said that if he could have moved off-world when he was eighteen, he would have. Bad heart; they won’t let him emigrate. He says he never really felt like he was part of the family.”

“And I remind you of him, that it?” Setetenepini scoffed.

“Well, he’s got about fifty kilos on you, but, yeah, little bit.” He stood up to go. “You know, when you feel like it, I’d really like to hear about your family.” He walked off.

 

*   *   *   *   *

 

Downtime.

Setetenepini had found a long piece of wood, just about the right size. They had let her out, to walk around the grounds of this place, and she had found it. It was like a length of bamboo, with no breaks where new stems had shot out. It was fairly rigid. The metal twine she found was just strong enough to put a slight bend in the wood. The twine was tied tight, with shoe laces.

The cup was a little bit harder to come by. There weren’t any squash, or pumpkins around, and anyway, she didn’t really want to take the time to clean them out and let them dry, and then paint them with shellac. The cup was a little on the small side, but it was made from a sturdy plastic. She poked two holes in the bottom of this, and found more shoestring. She tied the cup to the wood, over the metal twine. The open end of the cup faced away from the assemblage.  She knew she wouldn’t find any arrows. That was a given. So, once again, on a day they had let her walk the grounds, she found smaller sticks, a few millimeters thick, and a couple decimeters long. These are almost perfect, she thought.

They almost confiscated it. They thought it was a weapon.

 

 

words and pictures © Christopher Ward. All rights reserved