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This blog is my online wordsmith workshop, where you'll find notes on my writing experiences, excerpts from my fantasy and science fiction novels, and essays of a more homeworld flavor.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

Travel Writing, more on the road
I sometimes feel as if my whole life was compartmented into sozens of separate and unrelated pieces: work and home, work travel and fun travel, hobbies and home care, writing, cooking, and other crafts, but in reality, the compartments tend to slide freely between each other, usually with pen and ink to bind them.

I write a lot of story stuff on the road, but I also write about the road. Any trip more than a couple of days gets a travel journal and if the trip is more than a week or so it gets two. I haven't done a lot with all that journaling except to use it as a guide to identifying photographs for labeling and photo albums (my one attempt at a digital camera proved disasterous as simple and cheap proved to be cheap and cheap and the higher-end ones trigger my technophobe instincts, though I think about braving it more and more as I get used to other technologies). Still, on occassion, I have used it to good use in my writing.

My fantasy stories, as books of that genre often do, include a lot of wilderness and so do my vacations. It makes a nice pairing and many of my fantasy locations are inspired by places I've been (including some of the most alien-seeming; the gravel mountainside in Olympia park, Washington truly defy gravity and the mountain must breed stones. I recommend it for day trips, but not for carrying a 50 lb back pack, as we did.)

Journaling also provided fuel for my writing courses; nature writing, poetry, moments-in-time, and fiction stories inspired by wild reality, especially Alaska. Alaska is a must for poets and story writers. Nowhere else in the world has the touring been so full of real stories.

You look at a town two or three streets deep and every building is its own story with their sagging structures, weathered sides, slants that put Piza to shame: permafrost, fast thaws, and heavy snows make construction a constant work in progress. The mountainsides, too, tell stories and not only of mining (though there has been plenty of that, as the poisonous water gives evidence). Alaska is either flat or vertical. It doesn't seem to have a whole lot in between. Vertical land formations tend to cave in, fall, get dragged down by the trees, and drag the trees down, and they leave those tales on every face for decades and more. They also do interesting things to water and weather; the smallest desert in the world lies near beautiful lakes of every shade of blue and green (sometimes all in one small lake.)

We've made two trips there. I'm thinking another is in order though we've rarely gone back anywhere a second time. (The home stomping grounds, work places, and Rome are the only exceptions to date). A chance to grow those unbelievably huge flowers and vegetables and sit and watch them grow as I write about the magical and alien scenes to be found there... that would make it worth spending a whole summer, store-bought water and all.

Well, I didn't intend this to be about Alaska. I've been other places and wrote about them and one day will get words and pictures together in a scrap book for the family if no one else. They have inspired storyies and settings and scenes even if the writings haven't been about the places in this world, and inspired essays that await revision and polish. They are also probably the source of many ideas whose sources I can't really track: I remember the idea, not how I came to have them, unless I write it down, and then it isn't so much a memory as a record.

So my advice today to writers is to travel, and journal as they go. The journal is sometimes the end for some: many travel books are polished journal entries openly or in disguise, but for fiction writers, too, travel journals are fuel, inspiration, and muse.
30 jan 09 @ 12:09 pm

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Writing on the Road
I travel a lot, usually without my computer, which has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are its easier to deal with security and luggage without the computer’s weight and special issues, I don’t have to worry about keeping it charged and powered, and I can always carry a notebook and pens. The disadvantage is that I can’t work on what’s on it and I have to carry a notebook and pens (which make my hand tired and the pens sometimes leak; some gel pens don’t appreciate the so-called joys of flying). On the other hand, not having t he material to work on that’s in the computer is sometimes an advantage. I think more creatively when I’m starting from paper and pen.

I know I’ll revise and edit as i type the resultant material into the computer, so I don’t worry about writing it correctly or even well, I just write and let the scene develop as it may. Sometimes I aim for new scenes, some that I had in mind or just playing with ideas. Sometimes i rewrite scenes I’ve already written at least once so that I can take the best of multiple versions and sort out problems that I recognise as being there without fully seeing what the problem is.

It can be an enlightening experience. Scenes turn new directions. New scenes become new directions for old scenes, and old scenes become whole new scenes later or earlier in the book. (I’m not one of those people who sits down and writes a story from beginning to end until I’ve written most of the pieces in and out of sequence, picked over scenes for those I’ll keep and those I’ll hint at in some other scene, sort out POV and all that other stuff that I generously lump into “revising.”). With pen and paper in hand, instead of computer and a version or two of a scene, I am more likely to discover new elements to a scene, reconsider the action and mood, sift the focus, or take a new direction in a story, than when I’m sitting at the computer.

At the computer I occasionally compose (this was drafted as well as slightly edited and posted using the computer, start to finish) but I find myself less likely to make big changes and more likely to polish what I’ve drafted before. (This will have only minor changes from the original draft, whereas if I had composed it on paper, the end result might be barely recogniseable, as a good second draft should be). The computer is where I assemble the pieces, fix POV, polish phrasing, typing, spelling, and the rest of the stuff generally lumped into ediring, and choose between a multiplicity of versions, sometimes sentence by sentence, and occasionally add to what is already there. I rarely change direction or add whole new scenes.

Typing seems almost to use a different part of my brain than pen and paper, fromingrained, habit in response to subconscious triggers if not physical necessity. I do let the typing/computer work guide my handwriting: I’ll note a scene that is absent and needed, bring a copy of a problematic scene to get me started on a new version. Mostly, though, I have pen and paper and free floating day dreams that might touch on food essays, several books and their associated characters, and other ideas and notions in the course of single brief trip. On a trip lasting more than a week, I bring multiple notebooks, stationary, and several pens.
24 jan 09 @ 5:41 pm

Flowers: an Eddible Boquet
Flowers are the crowned jewels of the kitchen garden, and like many jewels, are a well-kept secret. Beautiful color is their disguise. Everyone knows they are pretty, and roses the most famous of all. Roses are well known for their shape, form, and perfume, associated with romance and balconies and well-tended gardens. Others have famous beauty too, and countless songs and poems have been dedicated to their name. Who has not heard of the lilies of the valley, ladies’ slippers, or even simple but never plain daisy, whose name has been given to many a blond, beautiful daughter. Wild grown in the meadow or tame in a bountiful garden, flowers are gathered by young men as tribute to their lady loves, and by young women for sheer pleasure.

When flowers are plucked, they are made into posies and nosegays, bouquets and elegant arrangements, tucked into crystal vases or given as precious gifts to loved ones. Some last but a few hours, others many days this plucked, and a few, dried, might grace a crystal vase for years if they are handled delicately as, or more than, a valued gem. Always the first thought is for their beauty, though some please the nose as well as the eye. Who can look at a damask rose and not think to lift it to their nose, closing their eyes to take in the heavenly perfume? Who steps into a warm spring day and does not breath deeply, invigorated by the fresh fragrances of lilac and tulips, or, a little later, lavender’s heady scent. Who would think to pluck such eye pleasing sights and nose-pleasing sweets, and take them straight to the cook?

Yet there are many uses in the house and kitchen for both the beauty and scent. Potpourris of dried flowers and spices may fill a house with soothing smells that bring memories of holidays, pleasant summer days, or cozy fires. Slowly draw out the potent oils of the fresh blossoms in a warm water bath, or dry and crush the petals for a closet sachet. And, where there is scent, there is also flavor, though the one is not always as pleasing to the unaccustomed tongue as the other. With the right flavor, the cook will appreciate the color, too. The artistic cook, looking for a sweet surprise, an eye-catching dish, or simply a little fresh color for a plain meal, will prize these fine jewels just as others do. When flowers are served at the table, they don’t have to be in a flower vase.

Take for example, the dinner salad. In most homes it is made with such greenery as lettuce and spinach, celery and cucumbers, tomato and shredded cabbage, maybe onion and basil and a little costmary for added spice. Now imagine that salad, mostly green, with a little lavender or red, sprinkled with rosemary blossoms, marigold, and pansies. What finer surprise for the guests or a family treat than to see such a dish on their table? And like the vegetables in the fresh salad, each flower has a unique taste, to tantalize and delight.

To take this bejeweled food even further, try leaving out the green altogether. Build instead a small salad (in appetizer proportions) with petals of many flowers tossed together in a near-random mix. Let the artist emerge from the cook’s merry soul. Arrange the petals loosely; balancing color, texture, and taste. For the ‘lettuce’ of this curious salad, arrange the larger petals first. Plain yellow or red roses (garden grown, never sprayed) and pansies make a strong base. Then over these scatter blue lovage blossoms, pinks, ruby-red nasturtiums, and the amethyst flowers of chives. Petals may be whole or shredded, for a delicate accent of color and flavor. Each flower variety has its own unique flavor; this dish calls for careful selection and a little taste testing. Some may find that damask roses, with the strongest of all the rose perfumes, taste too much like perfume when eaten alone, but the flavor may soften under a light raspberry vinaigrette.

Flowers may also find a place in colorful as well as flavored vinegars. Herb flowers generally have a more savory taste, reminiscent of the leaves over which they once towered. The flowers of thyme, oregano and lemon balm all work well in their own season. For a sweeter vinegar, garden flowers may make a better choice.

Flowers also make a delightful dessert. Though the sweet scent of lavender may sometimes hide a bitter taste, the addition of sugar brings out their best. Use candied roses to decorate boiled frosting on an angel food cake. Or candy a selection beside ginger and offer a nibble to the more daring guests.

Flowers may never find their home in the kitchen the way they do in a garden or on a date, but they are more versatile than many may imagine. Don’t limit them to pretty captivity in a vase, but consider that they may have another place; a potpourri jar or pot, a salad, perhaps even a rose hip in a pot of soup or a garnish for a simple plate. Wherever blooms are taken, however they are used, they will find an adoring eye, a delighted nose, and sometimes, in the proper time and place, they may find an appreciative diner’s tongue.

Edible Flowers: (Do not use flowers from the florist or flowers that have been sprayed with chemical pesticides as the chemicals may linger even after washing.)
angelica
lovage
comfrey
nasturtiums
dandelions
elder flower
bergamot (bee balm, Oswega tea)
borage
chives
dianthus-carnations and pinks
sweet woodruff
marigold
peppermint
English/evening primroses
violets
24 jan 09 @ 5:10 pm

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Realistic Reality
I've often heard writers and teachers discussing believability (even in fantasy and science fiction, as much as possible needs to be believable, even if that only means internally consistant and reasonably logical given character motivations and goals, capabilities and limitations). Among the students, at least, it is easy to interpret this as realistic and i myself have done so, trying to have realistic settings, scenes, dialog.

But on reconsideration, I think realism is missing the point. The reason reality shows are shown only an hour per week are that it probably takes distilling a week’s worth of reality down into an hour to have perceptible differences between participants--as characters--and to have enough solid material to keep audience interest. No one is really a Truman.

Writing stories, it seems to me, is the same way. To be really believable, and still interesting, a range of personality characteristics have to be magnified, real conversations need to be destilled to remove all their wishy washy, repetitive, and unnn ahhh, thinking-aloud noises. Several people’s life stories have to be included in the life of an individual character, or else a life time has to be poured into a few minutes or hours, or at most days. Anything less won’t be interesting, and to a population bred on video games and action shows, won’t even be recognised as real.

I imagine that in a movie or tv show, characters playing themselves have perhaps the hardest roles, because they need to exxaggerate what they would do, distill and condense it just enough but not too much for it to come across as real. If reality show participants aren’t good at that, or arently extroverted and neorotic enough to be naturally more flamboyant than most normal people, they come across as flatter and duller than they would in real real life. (That’s probably why many are wanna-be actors to start with.) But that’s what it takes to make a reality show interesting to an audience when their lives are compacted into a viewing screen in a living room, and we need to do the same when we write, with the strength of concentrated words.
21 jan 09 @ 7:07 pm

Monday, January 19, 2009

Revising and editing
18 Jan 09: This page didn't seem to like my cut and paste but I think I hvae corrected most the punctuation errors (the jumbles of letters and symbols that appeared after I copied and pasted) from the last post and hopefully I have managed to avoid adding more.

Anyway, this seems the perfect time to note that editting/revision never seems to end. Some of my novels are so changed from my original drafts that I could start again from my original and come up with a whole different novel that no one would recognise as having the same origin.

I guess some people can just sit down and write a novel and have something that is nearly ready to go, but I've never been able to do that. I conceive of a character or a setting/situation (the Wall; based on the back of the Humanities building in Madison) or a piece of plot and go from there. I rewrite the same scene several times, then combine them to get a truly complete scene, then editted it down for verbiage. (One of my first creative writing teachers kept telling me "too many words" but pointed out not a single example of what he meant by that. It wasn't until years later that a reviewer took the few minutes required to point out a couple of long-winded or reducndant phrases I had been using so that I could look for them and others and take them out. My first drafts often still have them, but now I know what to watch for in revision, and with practice, I can avoid some of them in my first draft, too, which leaves me energy to look for more subtle problems, like sequencing.

Some of the best advice I've been given about revision though is that the first draft is always that: a draft, usually written for the writer, a means of captureing knowledge and ideas in words. But that shouldn't be the end. Few people are good at writing their first draft in their head, so they need a second draft, which often looks unrecongiseable from the first. The true second draft is writing for the reader, with due consideration for ensureing that the reader understands what the writer wants to convey to the degree necessary. (Allow the reader some flexibility. The reader's imagination can sometimes give a more understandable and meaningful vision of the setting than a description lost in the details, even if not quite the same setting as the writer envisioned.) the third draft, then, is for the publisher. Without losing the essential story, it is time for the writer to consider what will sell: length, a sense of completeness (stand-alone novels are typically prefered, but that doesn't mean that all of the stroy threads have to be tied off tight: selling more follow-on books is usually desireable especially whenthe first is successful), and material appropriate for the audience/market (It can be helpful to know who your audience is likely to be. I hadn't planned for a particularly young audience and I always try to make my material rich enough for adults, but I've been told by several people that my work really fits best in young adult, so I keep that in mind for romantic scenes and side stories and watch how far I take them.)

Anyway, for the struggling writer, I say don't worry about your first draft, and definately don't hold onto it. In a month or two, or a year or two, you'll look back and realize your revision is far better. Expect and accept change, be open to advice, and if you don't like using the delete key, do a "save as" for new versions or cut and paste to an "unused pieces" file. Who knows, maybe the next book will be a phoenix, born from from the ashes of scenes, settings, and characters previously thrown away.
19 jan 09 @ 3:28 pm

Character interactions: the core of the story
14 Jan 09: Don't get caught up in the human interactions;

That was the answer I was once given when I asked about why my stories tend to grow from a few pages to a few books as I try to polish them: too much time on a human interaction (or character interactions: many aren't human). I considered the possiblity. The answer was based on a guess from someone who knew nothing about my wirting, as if it were a common problem. I do suspect that some of my dialogs are too realistic, at first, that is insufficiently focused, and not enough substance to carry the story forward until they are much revised. My guess is that I also enjoy flowery flowing descritpitions just a little too much and these days I have come to the opinion that they get long because in the process of revision, I have added twists that create complex, convoluted plot lines that no single book could properly contain, letting the story get more messy even as I "clarify" and "enrich"; the scenes in the process of revision.

As a response, in general, though, I have more problem than just that it wasn't my particular problem. Charecter interaction, ultimately, IS the stoy, so how can there be too much attention paid to it? Sometimes the interaction is direct, sometimes indireect, but ulimately it is characters, their actions. aind interactions and relationships to each other as well as to their environment, that are the real subtance of the story: the sources of conflict and interest; the impact, good or ill, on the actions of other characters, and the course of progress and decline that define the plot. Character interactions are the substance of each scene, conflict by conflict, action and reaction, whether expressed as dialog or action or informative narrative. Through character interaction, we express emotion, character, style, and change. Even in SF and F, where setting and premises, scenery and description play a larger role than in some genres, character interaction is the spine of the story. It is the nature of that interaction, the complexity of it, and the style in which it is presented that determines whether a story is short or long or too long for its own good.

19 jan 09 @ 3:24 pm

From what used to be the On Writing tab
Many agent web pages, writer-speakers, and others related to the writing business suggest having a blog or web space or both to let others know about you, to advertise, to get feedback (though reviews are mixed on how much of an unpublished work should be out there for anyone to download). I have no idea how to go about advertising, except to send the link to a few friends who have already seen much of what I've written already! They, like me, are from a generation raised before the internet (it's still a teenager, afterall, and many of its features still infants). Also, that means I don't have anyone to ask how to make this web site do cool things like let other people post remarks, or even give this second page a blog button: so the difference between a blog and a web site update elude me. If you have suggestions and tips, feel free to contact me (see my contact page).

More soon --Emmalyn
19 jan 09 @ 3:19 pm

Changes to the site
Before I get too many well established visitors to my blog, and because I haven't found a way to have multiple blogs or categories on the site, I've decided to do a bit a swap. My notes On Writing are more like a blog than the story series, From Beyond the Wall, so I'm moving the latter to the second tab. And I'm moving my notes On Writing to this first, home, tab with its "real", archiveable blog. I'll start by adding the material from the other page to the blog over the next day or so (if I don't get to it today) so the set, such as it is, will be relatively complete.

Those wishing to see earlier pieces of From Beyond the Wall just need to send me an e-mail and I'll send the latest version to them. Before requesting the back pages, though, I encourage readers to start from whereever the story is at, then tell me if it might be a good starting place, if the scene, plot, and characters are clear without the preceding background material. One of the hardest things about writing a novel is knowing where to start, and I believe such feedback is a good test of whether my start is in the right place.
19 jan 09 @ 2:54 pm

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Chapter 1 Scene 2
Mountain Man felt the need to be among people once in awhile, and the Festival at Bywall was a great opportunity for shopping for supplies, socializing, and learning the latest political maneuvers of the Council of Elders. He would see other Wanderers there, as well. Indeed, it was the only place he’d ever had a meeting, such as it was, with more than two Wanderers at a time. Thus it was that yesterday he had closed up the cabin and headed down the mountain. It would also be a good opportunity to spread word of the new threat to the land. He might be late. He’d had every intention of reaching the foothills by now.

He had left the cabin yesterday morning not expecting to return for several weeks. His plans had changed even as he stepped out the door. He recalled a few traps that he hadn’t brought in. Since he didn’t expect to be back soon, he couldn’t leave them lie unattended. That had taken nearly two hours, most of it wasted trying to find a trap that he’d probably not bothered to replace after catching a rabbit there a few days past. Having collected what he could find, he deposited them in the cabin and set out for Bywall a second time. He had pushed his hiking pace a little harder and by noon had almost caught up to his planned schedule. The long, straight, ever-summers had been left behind, along with their nearly brush-free trails. The bittersweet fragrance of firs, pine, and spruce had been replaced by the sturdy oak and maple of the lower slopes, with their deep shade and the soft crooning of birds singing to their young. Holly bushes, birch saplings, mountain laurel and woodland flowers filled the spaces below the forest canopy but he didn’t mind that they slowed his pace. Color and variety filled his senses and told better tales of the passage of large game and hunting beasts than he could ever discern among the greens and needles of the upper slopes, and he had made good time. The forest told him stories while he spread himself a midday meal on a mossy fallen log.

His picnic was crude by modern standards. The Eldest of the Wanderers carried only a waxed wood mug for his cider, a wrapping of large leaves for slabs of cheese and pheasant jerky, and a dagger for both knife and fork. They were far more practical than a place setting of forks and spoons and porcelain as at a picnic, and easier to both carry and eat than a meal of meat pies, soft bread, and honeyed vegetables. At times he missed the meals prepared by Gerlotta, the old family cook, especially her high-piled confections of fruit and cream and puff pastry. Still, he never missed having to sit through slow courses, making conversations that varied little from meal to meal, or having to wait until the food was cold and the pastry tough because some guest or family member was so inconsiderate as to be late to table. Here he ate when he wished, hot or cold as he wished.

He’d spewed a bite of bread when a face appeared not a hand's breadth from his own.

Kakira--Kakla to him then--had grinned, amused to find her mentor’s mind so distant as to miss her approach. Not that he was sure he would have noticed, regardless. The tiny woman could slip across dried twigs and brittle leaves through the narrowest passages without making any more noise than a fawn or rabbit. He had smiled in greeting and wondered, even then, what trouble she would bring.

The lorefolk held his respect. Their knowledge of the land was prodigious and their respect for the past unquestionable. Their prophesies were usually full of vague allusions and wild-seeming predictions that might come a hundred years from now or more, but their predictions had proven right yesterday. A woman wandering went hand-in-hand with trouble. He’d been glad to see her at the time, but if he had known what was to follow... To be fair, some of it would likely have happened anyway, and the worse for his absence, or hers. Still, she was an expert at finding trouble signs and leading him right to them.

Yet their meetings had always been pleasant, curiously cheerful even, considering that they often resulted in him choking on a drink or some other messy result to his surprise. As he recalled, he had spilled cider down his buckskin coat on their first encounter. She had already been beyond tenderfoot skill then, when he had found her on his mountain, or rather, she had found him and appeared, as she had today, out of seeming nowhere. Today he had greeted her with a grin. “God’s blessings, Kakla! I hoped you still wandered,”

She’d returned the greeting with her best smile, a radiance that seemed to fill her face with summer sunshine, and a sparkle in her eye that spoke of hot fires in the dead of night. It was worth facing into a gale to win such a smile from her but no effort would be enough if she were annoyed. She had been in good spirits, well pleased by a recent discovery that she had soon persuaded him to come and see. She had accepted a bit of meat and sour bread out of politeness but her eagerness to depart induced Mountain Man to hurry with his own meal. He had gulped down the rest of his bread with cider and water, and gnawed on the jerky as he walked, more than willing to travel with her a way. The land was in her blood and he delighted to watch her move through it like one of its own.

The smile had soon faded to the slightly twisted smile she usually wore. “I wish all thought as thee, sir. Others treat me as a trespasser, as if there wasn’t enough land to fill the lifetimes of a hundred and more Wanderers.”

Her formal ‘thee’--warped by long tradition from what had once implied intimacy and informality to mean a sign of respect for the most senior leadership of their society--had reminded him of part of his plans for the coming weeks. The thought had given him an inner smile he was hard pressed to hide from her. And what he had seen today persuaded him to proceed with his plans as quickly as he could. Kakira -- Kakla no more, since instead of a little wild cat she had proven a fierce one--would be accepted as a full-fledged Wanderers if he had to speak to every other wanderer he could find to make it stand. He knew the favored haunts of many of them. The Elders, especially, must hear what he had learned of her. For two years, at least, she had prowled the wild lands of Mattias, and she had demonstrated more skill than many who had wandered for a decade.

As they hiked, he had prodded her into sharing his latest discovery with him. Prodded gently. He could not in good conscious ask her a direct question about her personal quest, about which he knew only fragments, any more than he could ask her true name.

She’d given him the longest look he had ever put up with. It had made him feel exposed, all his sins from childhood onward free for the seeing. If that was how women felt when he let his eyes linger, he would be careful not to look so slowly in the future! Whatever she saw must have satisfied her, because she revealed more than he had any right to know.
18 jan 09 @ 10:53 am

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chapter 1, Scene 1
“What were those things?” Kakira asked the builder-owner of the cabin in which she lay. The man, known to those who knew him best as Mountain Man, might have been carved from the same course wood as his cabin. His nose had been broken a few times, and harsh weather--both at sea and on the mountains--had toughened his skin to leather. His gray eyes burned from the long night of wakefulness and the smoke of hastily gathered wood in the fire place. He watched Kakira’s slow breathing, noted the pallor in her tanned cheeks--accented by the rich gold of her curly hair--and stopped himself from smoothing the blanket over her much-bandaged body.

The gash in his own shoulder might be as deep as the rows of claw marks on the woman he used to call Kakla--little wild cat--but he was three or four times her size. He had more flesh behind and around the gash to hold him together, absorb the pain, and replace the blood that had poured so freely from their wounds. He had learned not to worry overmuch when his apprentices complained of this or that disaster, but Kakira didn’t complain. Mountain Man worried now.

He tried to answer her question. “Your loreman friend would call them talgor.”

“Talgor are myths.”

“Then so are our wounds. The description of talgor fits what we saw. Supple as a cat, fierce as a wolf, but bigger. And uglier than a drowned rat.”

“They weren’t ugly, just different.” Kakira’s eyes blinked slowly, sleepily, and a weak fragment of a smile somehow reached the corner of her mouth.

“You would say that about the Evil One himself,” he murmured as he watched the aelweed take her to dreamland. He tucked the bearskin around her throat, closed the shutters against the rising sun, and settled down on the cougar rug, where he could hear if she shifted in her sleep.

He stopped himself from rubbing his shoulder, knowing it would only make the gashes ache worse. The cabin was crude by city standards but over the years he’d filled it with several comforts. He grabbed a pile of crude pillows--his stitching was poor and the fabric mostly his old townie shirts with the pockets still on and the sleeves torn off for rags, but the stuffing was mostly scrap rabbit fur and feathers and decadently soft--and tucked them under his bandaged arm, trying to relax into the comforting heat of the fire. The green branches were no longer smoking so badly and the driest bits were turning a deep warm red.

Rarely had he had second thoughts about becoming a Wanderer, or been concerned about his own safety, much less that of others. Even the tenderfeet were usually safe enough after a couple of lectures on poisonous plants and boiled water and watching the sun, and what to do if they found themselves too near a pack of wolves.

So he had thought.

The Wanderers were obviously in greater danger than they knew. He’d have to pass the news, but it wouldn’t be easy. Their numbers were small despite complaints from the city folk about “all” their people leaving for the wilds. Perhaps thirty or so Wanderers had come from the northern villages and the cities of Bywall and Eastest, as many more from the walled towns of the south. They would be scattered all along the Barrier mountain range and the river ways of inner Mattias down to the Flats. A few more in the northwest, perhaps, heading for the Festival at Bywall. Most chose to spend their time not in one place but exploring the land. They would be climbing First Mountain, the Twins, Grandfather and the Lessers. Some might fording the Sweetwine and Anvil rivers or canoeing along the Great Vine. Others would be seeking any uninhabited place they could find to fill their minds with new knowledge and speculation, and to open themselves to soul-searching thought. The rivers had once served as highways between a web of tiny inland ports and river towns. Now, like most of the old mining villages, the ports stood like silent tombstones over a past that the Wanderers no longer wanted to forget.

A few of the old villages might have been occupied as recently as a generation ago or less, last holdouts to a quieter way of life that, none-the-less had been affected by the echo of long-ago wars and the changes those wars, or the lingering peace, continued to have on the land and its people.

The townies feared anyone who chose a life that they themselves disdained.

Mountain Man had never questioned his own choice to go live on First Mountain. It seemed a natural desire to see the places their ancestors had once lived, to discover the new and unseen, and to be in and part of the nature around him. It seemed a natural curiosity to explore the great natural monument that had, like a raccoon on a window sill, peeked over the horizon at him nearly every day of his life. He had wanted to find the lands that his ancestors had once claimed not as distant wilds but as friendly neighbors. Yet the townies called it unnatural, even wicked, and called the Wanderers everything from traitors to warlocks to trolls.

The cabin was built from the land around it: half stone, half timber, furnished in more wood and stone, but not so much from the immediate area that anyone would easily detect the change in the forest from afar. Over the years it had become part of the mountain. Bats lived in the rafters, birds nested on the turf roof. A small pack of wolves made a near-nightly journey around and past the back ridge. (He had disturbed their route with his building efforts, before he’d learned their signs, but they respected his choice of location and left him alone, as he them). Everything here had come from that nature, with barely a forged tool or two to help him make use of it. Plants grew on the turf that formed the roof and kept out water and weather better than tar and tile.

The senior wanderer spent his time surrounded by the life of the mountain. Each walk, each hunting trip, each journey to visit a fellow Wanderer, Mountain Man discovered some new hollow or stream, spotted a bird he hadn’t seen before, or heard a familiar one sing a new song. What could he do in town or aboard a ship with his kin that would give him such rewards? Others, mostly after him, the Eldest of the Wanderers, had chosen the same path, albeit to different destinations. Some had heard of him before they came, but many had sought the wild lands as he had, wholly out of their own need.

Mountain Man shifted his shoulder, trying to find a better position, and looked up at Kakira. The pain-filled grimace had faded with sleep into a kind of sagging smile, like a sleeping doe or a golden eagle, resting after carrying a heavy prey to ground. The raptor provided a more apt simile for Kakira. As Kakla, she had only been Wandering for a couple of years. She should still have been a tenderfoot, but she already surpassed him in many wilderness skills. It was as if exploring the wilds was, for her, not a discovery of something new or long lost, but merely a return home.

Had that natural desire of the Wanderers to be one with nature and their land inadvertently disturbed something more sinister than the path to a watering hole? He feared some of the townies might prove right, that the Wanderers themselves might be the spark that woke the once mythical talgor and prodded them into attacking last night.

The city folk suspected that everything about the wandering life was a source of evil. They considered wander lust unnatural, believed that man and nature were enemies, not allies, and they pointed out, rightly enough, that nature held many dangers: hungry wolf packs in harsh winters, the spring storms that poured in from the west as if there were no Great Wall to slow it, plants that could prove to be good poison rather than good food. Mountain Man had been afraid of none of it. He had survived the worst that nature had to offer and still found more to fear among his fellow men. Until now.
14 jan 09 @ 4:44 pm

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Prelude to From Beyond the Wall
Beyond the Wall 1 from consolidated Sep08 file
Prelude

"Really, Hendell; Mayor Todd complained, "Word is she's one of your people, Can't you control her?" Mayor Todd towered over the men seated in the Mayor's Hall around him, and his voice carried clearly in the domed room. Yet he lengthened his vowels for emphasis as if he were speaking to a crowd on the streets. "There must be some way to keep her where she belongs."

Mayor Hendell of Bywall, son of Korm, son of Henral, one-time Executive of the Council of Mayors frowned at Todd, the eldest son of Klor and a whiner if ever there was one. "How do you suggest, Todd? We don't actively encourage her. She hasn't broken a law, doesn't wear leathers in town, doesn't carry a weapon bigger than a dagger, though I hate to think how she survives without more'n that. Think we could keep her leaving town? Make a law preventing women leaving town alone? I like my job, and that'd end it quick, along with my marriage. Anyway, why should we do anything? She'll tire of if soon enough and find a husband like any decent woman. And no other women have seen reason to follow her example." Hendell sat, catching the arm of his chair sharply with one side. He reminded himself he must stop sampling the pastries, but thought it would be easier to arrange for a wider chair.

What else was there to be said? Voices rose around him like a fire bell, and he sighed. He looked around to see who wanted to speak.

Mayor Pinkem was, of course, among them. The old windbag was adjusting his tie, a sure sign he wanted to take and hold the floor indefinitely. Fortunately, the current Executive of the Mayor's Council, Rondo Rondo's son, Mayor of Seaway, knew better than to allow the man to get started when the topic had already been discussed far longer than it deserved. He quickly called on Cormish.

Hendell didn't have to turn to know that Cormish, too, had been offering to speak. Cormish, another talkative southerner, had been Mayor nearly as long as old Tibaway but remained far more active and involved in matters of the Council. It was as if he was trying to outdo the combined accomplishments of his father, grandfather, and great grand, all mayors of Bridgegate for multiple terms. He wasn't quite as long winded as Pinkem, but it could be a near thing. Without looking, Hendell knew Cormish would stand, flip his coat tails, and take a breath to puff up his already broad chest.

His voice boomed out across the many-tiered meeting hall. "Perhaps not yet." It had, at least, the effect of temporarily ending the constant side conversations. Hendell found it a momentary relief to his ears, as if the low, constant muttering had been a pounding drum or blasting trumpet beside his head. Fortunately, Cormish decided the momentary quiet was sufficient and continued with his own voice at a more moderate volume.

"Who can say what effect this business is having on the discipline of the young people? It was bad enough when the young men started to wander about the countryside. Walking through the streets of my own fair city, what do I hear but Stalker the Wanderer did this and Treeclimber the Wanderer did that. Not a proper name among them, denying their own lineage! Did not one of the Lore Masters tell us evil must come from this growing restlessness--as they call it--among the young? And those shippers are..."

"Sir, we are well aware of your opinion on the matter of Wanderers. And as usual, you have misquoted Master Paulo. What he said was that the restlessness, and other changes, may be signs that some evil event is approaching. That doesn't mean that they are the cause."

Hendell rose, reluctant to reclaim the floor, but cognizant that Executive Rondo had lost control of the shifting topics of discourse. "Sirs, I remind you that Wandering is not the issue. The question is whether the girl should be allowed to wander along with the men, or whether to, carefully, make it illegal for her to do so." As soon as he said it, the Mayor of Bywall knew he should have phrased his point differently.

Beside him, Andru Felam winced as if the pain he experienced in reaction to the words was physical. Perhaps it was. In addition to being the Council of Elders' representative to the Council of Mayors and Bywall's most important Elder, it was his little-shared secret that the female wanderer was Speaker Felam's foster-daughter, Onaline. They both knew that the fact of Onaline wandering unescorted, living unchaperoned in the vast wilderness of Mattias among undisciplined men was the primary, if generally unspoken, point of contention. Not all were as certain as Hendell and Andru that the girl probably saw no one at all for months at a time. The wild lands included an entire mountain chain and vast forests and meadow lands occupied by nothing but birds and beasts and the occasional wild dog. Despite the attention they received, the number of Wanderers remained small. After all, that was the reason the girl was not here to defend herself--not even the more publicly visible Wanderers had been able to convey the message that her presence was needed, despite several week's warning that she had attained sufficient attention to warrant discussion at the highest Council of the land.

Hendell let his gaze roam around the room, trying to gauge the mood. Interest was high but opinions were harder to read, especially after hours in the smoke of dozens of poorly tended oil lanterns mounted on posts around the room. Many of the Mayors were merely curious, he was certain, even if he could no longer see their faces clearly. Few of the mayors had ever met the topic of their discussion, and still fewer knew that the fashionable young lady introduced to them at some high society social function had another life that had quickly come to their attention. Though her supposed exploits were already legend, her existence was still a recent discovery. Only in the past couple of months had Andru Felam revealed to the Council that he had even met the now infamous female wanderer, as a way of explaining what he knew from his daughter.

A male wanderer--or more likely a failed wanna-be who had returned home when he learned that living without a roof overhead was less romantic than he'd imagined--must have revealed her existence. Only such could have reported the participation of a female in the already controversial pastime of wandering. No whisper of a young lady so much as appearing in town inappropriately dressed had ever reached the ears of Council, and her exploits--all supposedly taken place while she was alone in the wilderness--couldn't have been witnessed, nor even guessed at, by townsfolk.

Anyone who had met her in her Wanderer role, Hendell was certain, would have known that hers was not an example other women would readily follow. She was unique, an ill fit for the role she had been born into. In her way, Hendell thought, remembering his own encounters with the girl, Onaline was pretty. She was petite and delicate, a diminutive figure out of all proportion to the attention she was earning. Her curled blond hair had been tied up in a blue ribbon, and her dress had been simpler than was currently fashionable: full and beribboned, but with a modest bustle, and without the layers of stiff lace that his wife currently adored to the chagrin of his own pocketbook. Onaline's slender fingers had wrapped around his with a surprisingly firm grip. Though she was a foundling, she bore a striking resemblance to her foster-father, save that while she was petite, he was unusually tall. Her golden yellow curls had shone like metal in the sunlight, and her intense eyes were like Andru's when his dander was raised, though Hendell couldn't have said whether they were brown or blue or gold. Those eyes had warned him of the strength her voice could display, would display, if the council attempted to end her wandering.

Not that Hendell had known, then, of Onaline's secret role. Yet, he had immediately sensed that this was not a woman who would readily settle into the role of cook and seamstress and meekly supportive wife.

When the long babble of voices that greeted Hendell's comment settled from a full boil to a steady simmer, Executive Rondo didn';t offer any more chance for discussion. He jumped straight to the official question. Everything had been said many times already. "Hendell, as mayor of Bywall, the question goes to you first. Do you believe that the girl should be allowed to do as she likes, for the present?"

Hendell knew his reply would put the pot back on the fire, but he saw no alternative, and it had the virtue of potentially bringing to end the discussion, at least for this session. Tomorrow, if all went well, he would be in a coach on his way home to Bywall. "I say that the question must be tabled. We have no legal basis on which to stop her, and we can't pass a law directed at a single person. Banning her from carrying a knife might force her into the protection of a city, but we can't ban women from carrying knives unless we want to do all the cutting in the kitchens ourselves, and sleep on the kitchen hearth besides, having offended so severely our own wives. We can ban her from wandering only if we ban Wandering all together."

Too many on the Council enjoyed their positions, and too many Wanderers were from high-standing families, for the last option to carry without more specific cause. In many circles, the Wanderers were considered a kind of hero--displaying boldness and bravery to a degree rarely possible in a land with no enemy to fight for several reigns. It wasn't a majority view, but strong enough to threaten long-established careers, should a Mayor move incautiously against that wind. The Mayors would be slower to realize that it would be equally detrimental to their personal lives and careers to take legal action against the lone female wanderer. Such an act would force them--when she refused or proved unable to comply with an order so counter to her will and passions--to lock up the adoptive child of a respected city Elder, well capable of winning sympathy to her favor. Still, the one threat was enough to dissuade them for now. It would take some incident--made up or real--to push them to pass a law against one woman's lone, unthreatening actions. For today, no one came up with a counter proposal to his request to end the debate, and the session came to a vague and noisy end
10 jan 09 @ 5:50 pm

Monday, January 5, 2009

Hello World
This is my first blog on the open internet (I also blog on our internal net at work, and EnE there has a different focus, but that's not accessble to the rest of the world). A multiple category option doesn't seem to exist here (I'll keep working on it) so following some of the story lines I'm hoping to share here for input and feedback, and maybe to generate interest in my several unpublished novels, may be a little more challenging than I hoped. If you like a particular series, send me an e-mail and I'll find a way to send more of the same filtered from the rest. I'll also try to make the titles distinctive and helpful.
5 jan 09 @ 4:03 pm

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