Bonemaker

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Just wanted to let you Aurian and Jin loving kiddos know, I wrote a companion piece to A&J a while back. It’s about Morda, Bonemaker and Emperor, and his rise to power through, well, what winds up being a lot of blood and gore. I’m posting it in installments on Wattpad, for your free and fancy enjoyment. If you miss Aurian and Jin, you might want to have a looksee.

You should also read The Antidote. Because Jin.

This is Bonemaker. THIS IS SPART–wait, no it isn’t.

Excerpt: Little Bird Prologue

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Little Bird, sequel to Aurian and Jin, is out soon. Are you excited? Eh? WHY THE HELL AREN’T YOU?

I mean…something non-caps.

Figured I’d be a sneaky creature and post the prologue here, because, you know, three of you might want to read it. (A note: the first part of the first chapter is posted in the back of The Antidote, the Aurian and Jin novelette closing the gap between A&J and Little Bird, which you’ve totally read, of course. This prologue is before all that noise.).

You guys remember Beauland, right? That kid who healed Jin? Well, here’s what became of him.

PROLOGUE:
The Beans of Mantic Fortitude

Thirteen Years Ago

Beauland Bornsson, newly returned from the Aithar Smiles Blessed Healing and Conscious Loving Coven in Kartok, was
about to become a coven master.

He was, in fact, sixteen days away from it–give or take a day, with an eighty four percent chance of relative accuracy (and barring, of course, Unforeseen Dimensional Flux (UDF)). He had it marked on his calendar with a little red star.

The current master of this coven–the coven, as it happened, formerly known as the Coven of the Ursine Shattermath–had seen this outcome as well, at seventy eight percent accuracy levels, and this was so close to certain that he had done Beauland the immense favor of getting the garden servantry to go ahead and dig him a grave, which he was currently napping in until teatime.

The grave, the coven’s current master had informed Beauland, was nice and cool and quiet. Dark, even in the daytime. Much more pleasant, in fact, than the shit Beauland would presently have to deal with–this last bit being said, always, with an old man’s knowing quaver.

Beauland was fairly sure the Coven Master had seen more than he had. He was all right with that–it was better not to know everything.

Beauland had spent the last few years of his life at the Aithar Smiles Coven, learning that the healing arts were, profoundly, not for him. It was strange to be back here, after so long away–the multi-dimensional effects of the place were even wearing on him a little, the constant white of the Gauntlet was blinding and mind-numbing. Yesterday he had caught himself trying to brush his teeth over the wash basin–which was a mistake, as every boy raised in the Shattermath should have known. The wash basins liked to bite. It was far safer to do it over your dresser, and trust the Spit Sentinels of Gorshdrkr Dimension to redirect as necessary.

Today’s multi-dimensional failure had occurred only seconds ago, in the lunch line. It was simply enough expressed, though it was having disasterous consequences:

Beauland had gotten the beans.

He sat now in the dining hall, fork raised, next move uncertain. The damage had already been done: he had eaten a few of them. They were Xyclian beans: he could tell from the meaty aftertaste. And Xyclian beans, for a fellow of his delicate constitution, meant gas. And ever since that Evinanjin woman had destroyed the Astartian Pact a few years back, magic was intense and unpredictable, so who could tell what else they’d mean?

Beauland liked exploring new dimensions. He liked the power-pinnacle destruction of the Pact had lifted him to. But there were nevertheless times when he missed knowing that the limits of a magical reaction were, in fact, limited.

His fellow Sights sat clustered around him, pity evident on their faces. Every single one of the bastards had gotten the cabbage.

In the dining hall’s high narrow windows, scenes from the streets of seventeen separate cities flashed, in twelve separate dimensions. With the strangely meaty bean taste still in his mouth, Beauland watched a merchant in the Xolitol dimension crash a cart drawn by two snail creatures into a tea shop nestled inside a hollowed out mushroom. As much as inter-dimensional episodes could seem like something, it didn’t seem like a good sign.

“This is going to be bad, isn’t it,” Beauland said.

“I wouldn’t say bad, exactly,” said the woman next to him, waving her fork. She had the facial tattoos of the North Darklands all over her cheeks and brow, and the bone rings of a Far North Headsplitter braided into her hair. This costume, when combined with pointed teeth and the bloody mess on her plate, did nothing to console him.

“Pardon me,” he said delicately. “But aren’t you a Darklander? Don’t you people like cannibalism, and violence, and such? Why’re you here, in a Sight coven?”

“Right in one!” The woman smiled. “Without violence, how’re you supposed to solve your problems? But that’s all neither here nor there. This Darklander is also a pretty talented Sight. And this Darklander says the beans aren’t bad for you.”

“If not bad, then what?”

“Interesting.” She extended a hand for him to shake, nails rimmed in something dried and black that Beauland did his very utmost not to turn his sixth sense upon. “Dax the Destroyer loves interesting, and those beans are from an interesting dimension. You’re about to fart so hard your parents’ll feel it.”

“My parents are dead.”

“I know. S’what I meant.” She pointed a grimy finger to her robes. “Sighted, remember?”

“Could you…could you be a little more sensitive, maybe?”

“Nope.” She picked up a piece of whatever the red stuff on her plate was and gnawed it. “Name’s Betz, by the way. They tried sensitivity training when I got here. I ate the instructor.”

“Oh.” Beauland looked back down at his empty fork. Aithar only knew how long it would be until the beans caught up with him–or how much of a warning he’d have. Just thinking about it caused an ominous growl to rise from his abdomen. “I’m Beauland.”

“I know. You’re the man who’s going to lead the Coven.” She rolled her eyes. “Apparently, I’m not a good choice, even though my accuracy rating is two and a half points higher than yours. Old Master seems to think I’m going to tear down the coven and eat all the apprentices, or something. Lies and calumny, o’ course. I never eat where I shit.”

Beauland, who was beginning to feel an unpleasant pressure building in his stomach, shook his head. “Higher than mine? Impossible. Mine’s the highest since Riktau Gaugh founded the place four hundred years ago.” Sights, who for obvious reasons weren’t fazed by much, got awfully shirty over accuracy ratings. It was the first thing Beauland had been asked, along with his name, when he returned. He had taken to the practice wholeheartedly–easy to do, as his was exceptionally high.

Beauland’s overall accuracy rating was, in fact, eighty-nine percent. The current Coven Master, napping peacefully in his grave, stood firm at eighty-five. Ratings in the seventies were considered respect-worthy, ratings in the low eighties impressive. High or mid eighties were the stuff that set Sights to whispering in the hallways. Close to ninety earned you instant forgiveness in the Shattermath Coven if you should, say, go off for a few years to study Healing, jump dimensions at night more or less just to explore what was around now, and come back, shrugging, claiming it hadn’t ever been serious, really.

Not that Beauland had done that.

But, if this Betz was two and a half points higher accuracy than he was, then…

…then she was in the nineties.

It was unheard of.

Literally. No one had ever heard of it.

“Quit gawping,” Betz said, not unkindly. “At any rate, all that’s about to change.”

“Eh?”

“You’re about to have your anal awakening.”

“My–”

“You heard me.”

Beauland was about to ask the fatal question–what precisely constitutes an anal awakening?–when he found out.

The gas, which had been building relentlessly in his intestine, released itself with dimension-bending vengeance.

It was funny, he thought vaguely, as the gale-force winds blew his chair out from under him. This hadn’t happened before, but he got the strangest feeling it had. Perhaps, in some other close continuum, he’d been doing this from birth. Perhaps, in that continuum, he’d eaten Xyclian beans every day. Perhaps, in that continuum, he was Xyclian.
He made a mental note to visit Xyclia, next chance he got, and find out. It was fairly rare, for a Sight to find a double of themselves in another dimension, but it wasn’t unheard of. He’d rather like talking to himself a little. He might be able to give himself some good life advice.

His attention meandered back to the present, where strange things were going on. For one, everyone in the dining hall was staring at him–their upturned faces, hovering over their blue Sight-robes, wore almost identical expressions of horror. Betz herself, who didn’t seem like she’d be scared of much, had her mouth half-open.

Beauland realized, suddenly, that his chair had blown out from under him, but he was still very much in a seated position. Hovering, somehow, three feet over the Dining Hall floor. He had spilled the beans, and the grey goop of them had turned the floor underneath him into a legume murder scene, an edible splatter painting of considerable scope.

“Don’t freak out,” Betz whispered to him, “but you’re glowing a little.”

Beauland opened his mouth to tell her he felt fine, he was fine, this was probably just some weird side effect of being Sighted and eating Xyclian beans.

Instead, he spoke in a deep gravelly voice and an ancient tongue. Or, well. The voice came from somewhere, and that somewhere was loosely around him.

It said:

When the King is a woman and then is a man,
The looming red light spreads over the land.

One becomes two and two becomes one,
Brother and mother, mother and son.

Backwards and forwards, black and white.
Grow it in darkness. Kill it with light.

The mage’s bright promise to end with the king;
A song, a fine hat, and a bird on the wing.

For a few minutes, there was crystalline silence in the dining hall. Even the extra-dimensional scenery in the windows seemed to be waiting for Beauland’s next move.

The Darklander, Betz, was the first to recover. She grinned, shook her head a little, went back to her horrifying plate of near-raw entrailery. She slurped up some small creature’s liver: the sounds of her enjoyment echoed throughout the quiet room.

“Nice,” she said, dabbing her lips with her napkin.

Beauland said the one thing left to say, in such a situation: “excuse me.”

The room dissolved back into its previous chattery atmosphere. The intrusion of prophecy, Beauland remembered from his youth here, was a regular fixture in the Coven of the Ursine Shattermath–though, to be fair, it wasn’t usually paired with indigestion. Young Sights interrupting a Maths lecture with rolled back eyes, a blue glow, and utterly useless information about the winners of a pigskins tournament fifty years in the future hadn’t been uncommon.

He’d done it himself, once or twice–faked it once or twice more. The problem with faking it, of course, being that someone in the Coven had doubtless had a mantic episode previously that foretold your faking. And, more than likely, it was the Coven apothecary.

This wasn’t fake, however. This had felt, in fact, very strange.

“I’d remember that prophecy, were I you,” said Betz. She had finished her plate, and was now sopping up blood with a crust of bread. “In thirteen years, there’s a high percent chance it’ll be important.”

“I guess I should listen to you,” Beauland muttered. “You’re in the nineties.”

“So’re you, now. Tomorrow, you’re going to check up with the accuracy reader. Mantic gases unblocked, you’re running at about ninety four.”

“No,” Beauland said weakly. “That’s impossible. That’s almost–Aithar bless, that’s almost one hundred percent accurate.”

Betz winked. “Yes, my friend. You’re very good. Of course, there’s still the occasional hitch–”

She was interrupted by three mournful horn blasts, some minor hubbub near the doors, and the appearance, in soil-stained blue, of an out-of-breath messenger.

“Hail,” the messenger panted. “Sad tidings, Sights of the Shattermath! Our Master, Rectix Vlarsson, has died! Nice and tidily in his grave, with a will left right next to the tombstone. Thank Aithar it happened before teatime. Oh–and long live our new Master, Beauland Bornsson.”

Beauland blinked. “But–”

“Remember,” said the Darklander. “Not quite a hundred.”

EXCERPT: Balancer, Pt. II

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Soooo hey, you guys. The Antidote comes out tomorrow, and I am, of course, losing my shit trying to get stuff ready. As a result, I’m here telling you to fricking buy it if you liked Aurian and Jin. I’d say something more entertaining, but I’m a little tired. So: buy my book.

Also, to distract you from how tired and boring I am today, here’s more Balancer. Poor Habbi. It’s tough when the High Mother of the village is actually your mother. You get held to a higher standard.

Here’s the first part of Habbi’s story, if you didn’t catch it. The Balancer, Pt I.

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Habbi spent as many days as he could in his wada on the foremost peak of Mount Farsight, fiddling with the arrangement of his dreamstones and trimming the goat. The goat proved rather resistant to the concept of trimming: every time Habbi got near him with the shears he would bleat piteously, lower his horns, and threaten a last-stand charge. Habbi was not a herder–was, in fact, one of only four boys in the village whom the Mother had decreed unfit for a future with livestock.

Chasing Stew from one end of the yard to the other with the shears and a horsehair brush, Habbi reflected that the Mother, as in all things, had been entirely correct.

But try as he might, he couldn’t bring himself to kill the goat. Yes, it would mean stew for weeks–and, at the end of those weeks, another trip to the ur-village, another sight of Mikki and her clever red beads. But he rather liked the goat, cursed though it was. He’d been destined for a life of Balancing from his tenth birthday, cut off from the day-to-day activities of the Stone Nation. This goat was the only goat he’d ever really gotten to know. He liked its ugly chipped horns and its monotone bleat.

He liked its company.

The life of a Balancer, he reflected, was a life of loneliness. It was the life of the fulcrum point, lived in this little stone shack on a mountain peak not so different in appearance from a fulcrum point itself. But there were different types of loneliness, and just because this path had been chosen for him did not mean he had to live its most extreme manifestation.

He could keep a goat. Even Ostil, the Balancer Before, had kept his hawks.

He just couldn’t keep a woman.

He couldn’t keep Mikki.

“No,” Habbi told himself, scowling. “Stop that.”

The goat, who had been watching him trim up his cooking herbs from the pen, baaaed at him.

Habbit made a new path through the herbs, laying smooth stones from the village stream in between their rows. He scrubbed the soot from his wada walls and hung bunches of herb trimmings from the rafters to sweeten the place’s smell. He rearranged his dream stones around the shallow hole by the campfire in which he slept, wrapped some of them up in the curly yak skin under which he slept at night. He consulted the stars at night, Balanced his mind and listened to their singing. He placed the dreamstones around himself, chose locations analagous to those stars that spoke to him most sweetly in the sky. It did not increase his harvest particularly, and most mornings he woke with only one stone filled, two if he was lucky. He weighed each one, decanted it carefully into a crystal storage vial of proper warding strength.

His was an important job, he reminded himself. If it were not for the Balancer–if it were not for The One Whose Dreams Are Communal, whose nightly wanderings were the best currency in the Nations–the stones would not hold the dreams of his people. The dreams would wander the world and cause mischief, as they had in the beginning of things. And the Stone Nations would have nothing of value to trade with at the Great Gathering–only tough mountain goats and yak’s milk, shards of obsidian found deep in the mountain caves. Like they had, indeed, before the First Balancer. Before the dreams had been captured, and the world had been righted.

Habbi had not forgotten the anger dream, its mewling and its distended little belly. And there were worse things. There were much, much worse.

Unfortunately, he had also not forgotten Mikki.

Habbi lasted, in the contemplative solitude prescribed for him, for precisely three days. After three days, he was out of corn–and that, he told himself, was a perfectly logical reason to go to the ur-village. Without corn, he couldn’t make his morning mush. And it was coincidental–entirely coincidental–that Algar Farmer’s booth at market was only three booths away from Wolef Herdsman’s.

He wouldn’t even look to see if she was there.

That was the proper way of things.

Yes.

Habbi had, with the force of will that came only to the truly Balanced, managed to entirely forget about the half-sack of corn he kept in the loft.

On the third day, he took up his staff and his traveling sack, tied on his warm fur boots and the cloak of skins his mother had sewed him before his going-away. He selected three crystal vials, full of the green glow of harmless laughing-dreams. He told the goat he was going away for the day: the goat, being a goat and therefore unconcerned, threw up its cud and ate some of it.

Habbi took the sloping twisted path down the mountainside to the ur-village. He nodded, with proper ceremonial sternness, to the guards at the wooden gate.

He wound his way through the market, which was small but lively. He basked in the sound of other human voices, the sight of maidens almost as pretty as Mikki on stone benches in the Great School for Women, dutifully repeating the lessons of their teachers. He waved hello to the folk who waved at him.

He was displeased, but not entirely surprised, to find the Mother standing in front of the Farmer’s booth, arms crossed, face severe under the tattoos of leadership that covered it. She was carrying her carved ivory staff, which she only carried when she was out to teach someone a lesson. Habbi had the rather unfortunate idea this lesson might be taught to him.

“Hello, High Mother,” he said, covering his eyes and bowing in the traditional greeting for a High Mother of the Nations.

“Hello yourself,” the Mother said, scowling most untraditionally. “Habbi. You and I need to talk.”

Habbi had thought of this situation, back in his wada while he decanted the dreams. He had debated what he would say, what he would do, if caught by the Mother.

Of course, he reflected wryly. The very fact that he considered it being caught said something about his state of mind. The phrase he had prepared: “hello, High Mother, I was just picking up some corn for my morning mush”–died on his lips as he looked at her.

It made a child out of you, being caught with your hand in the honey-pot by the Mother. It was even worse when Habbi’s particular set of circumstances applied: when you were the Balancer of your ur-village, responsible for the flow of its dreams. Longing was an imbalance, lust and love more specific than a warm detached glow were imbalances. It led you to do things like leave dreams in dreamstones.

And, of course, it didn’t help when the High Mother was your mother.

“Habbi,” Mother said. “I’ve let this go on long enough. I’ve let you cast eyes on Mikki for long enough. I’ve let Mikki cast eyes on you for long enough. It ends now.”

“I was, um,” said the Balancer. “Corn.”

“You’ve half a sack left in your wada,” Mother said, scowling. “You think I don’t keep track of what you buy? Onegod, it’s not like you’ve been eating anything but goat stew lately anyways.”

“Erm,” said the Balancer. The Mother whacked her ivory staff against poor Algar Farmer’s  booth in a manner that suggested, very plainly, that she would rather be whacking Habbi.

“This is difficult for me,” the Mother said. “I hope you know that, Habbi. The Rule of the Nations says I should treat you one way, my heart as your mother says something entirely different. You’re lucky: nothing’s come of it so far. The Balance hasn’t been upset, no laws have been broken. But should there be one sign–one single physical sign–that all is not right with you, and your little fastness up on Mount Farsight is less than perfectly Balanced, I’ll be forced to take measures. And that’ll hurt me, Habbi. That’ll hurt me very much.”

And Habbi, who never had known when enough was enough, said: “hurt you? Imagine how I’ll feel about it.”

And his reward for this statement was a single admonitory whack from the ivory staff. Which wasn’t too bad–the punishment for his crime was, by strictest interpretation of the painted caves, ten whacks and one night in the wilderness. And a man of Habbi’s slight build and poor wilderness skills would last precisely thirty minutes in the wilderness after ten whacks from that staff.

So it was a kindness the Mother did him. He tried very hard to remind himself of this as the stinging of his cheek turned into a steady burn. As he explored the bruised flesh with his fingers, touched the impressions the staff carvings had made on his face, he told himself: you had this coming. You are lucky it wasn’t anything more.

“I blame myself, really,” the Mother said. She sighed. “It was foolish, maybe, to put you up on the mountain so young. Onegod knows, I’ve coddled you and let you get away with far too much for far too long. But what were we to do? Ostil died so quickly, and you were the only one in the village who showed proper talent for Balancing. Great talent, shining in the depths of your mind like a white lamp. And please believe me, my son. I felt sorry for you. Few Balancers ascend Farsight before their fiftieth year is out–they have lived among people, had women and sired children. They have been prepared for the contemplative life for years.” She touched his cheek, tears brimming in her kohl-painted eyes.

“Don’t cry, Mama,” Habbi said uncomfortably. For a moment, tattoos and war paint and ivory staff and all, she was just his mother again, just the squat plump woman who had herded goats and hunted yaks and cooked stew for her brood in the family wada before Onegod had called her to the position of leadership she now inhabited.

Mother was young, too, he realized suddenly. Young, for the High Mother position. He was her eldest, and he was only nineteen–though it was forbidden for a male to know his mother’s precise age, she couldn’t have been more than forty. There was no white in her hair, and only recently had he begun to notice wrinkles under the circular tattoos that covered her face.

They would have to help each other. Their positions, after all, were related–a young Balancer balanced by a young Mother. Habbi kissed his mother’s cheek, surprised, as he always was when he saw her these days, by how far down he had to bend to do so.

“I’m sorry, Mother,” he said. “You’re right, of course. You always are. I’ll stay away from Mikki–I’ll try and come to market when the women are all at the Great School. I’ll try not to come so often.”

He pressed one of his crystal vials into his mother’s palm. “For you,” he said. “I was going to spend them on corn, but I suppose that’s immaterial now. Laughing dreams. Good ones. May they help you find a little laughter.”

His mother smiled, tucked the vial into her kirtle. “A balanced gift,” she said. “Perhaps all isn’t lost with you yet, my son. I’ll use them tonight. I’ll think of you laughing.”

As he climbed the twisting path back to his own wada, he tried not to think about the fact that, from here on out, there would be very little laughter left in the world for him.

It was not so bad. He enjoyed the Balancing, didn’t he? Enjoyed the sense of floating it gave him, the sense of suspension. He enjoyed looking up to the pinprick quilt of the stars, enjoyed mining them for answers.

He just wished he could experience his own dreams, sometimes. Even that–even the turnings of his subconscious mind–would be company of a sort. Better company than a stupid goat. Better company than the dreams he had to destroy, their twisting shapes making a sickness in his heart.

He knew what the Mother would say he could almost hear it: you are young, Habbi. Your training was incomplete. These longings will pass.

But it was not the High Mother’s face he saw when he imagined this, that visage made impersonal and mythical with tattoos and paint, but his own mother’s, her eyes worried and her lips turned down at the corners.

This train of thought was why, upon returning to his quiet wada on top of Mount Farsight, he did not immediately notice the cloaked figure hunched by the goat pen, petting the goat. He only became aware, in fact, because Stew let out a particularly pleased bleat–the cloaked figure had apparently found the spot behind his left ear which, Habbi had found through trial and error, it liked to have scratched best.

“I’m glad to see you’ve kept at least one of them,” the cloaked figure said, straightening. “I mean, I suppose even you would get tired of stewed goat after a while. You and I need to talk, Habbi. It’s urgent.”

The figure pushed back its hood.

“Stones and nightmares,” Habbi swore. “Black dreams and a turned knife, I can’t catch a break today, can I?”

It was Mikki.

Excerpt: Hedge Apples

Part III of this story for you. I’m well past this part, actually, but I’ve had to rewrite it again and again and again: it’s challenging to say what you want to say, deal with something fairly technical, and try not to debunk every single great illusion ever at the same time. I feel like the first part STILL drags on, but hell, what’s a girl to do?

If you like it, lemme know.

III

ESCAPE

It was show night.

Russell combed his hair in the bathroom, climbed into his dusty black suit. He collected his handcuffs and thumb cuffs and card decks and sponge balls and tinctures and trick coins in a duffel bag and loaded it into the back of his Cavalier. He secreted a few lock picks about his person, one in a sleeve cuff and one Houdini-style under the skin of his upper arm. He was very conscious, as he made the little incision on the inside of the bicep, of how crazy this looked–a pale young man, long haired and wild-eyed, inserting what was not at all a thin piece of metal into is own body.  It hurt like a bitch to do, and he hated doing it, but it had saved his life on more than one occasion. He might have had a death wish, but it wasn’t an irrational one: he blotted the blood where he had made the incision with a piece of toilet paper and put a band-aid over it. It would continue to bleed for a while, but that was quite all right with Russell. It could bleed as long as it wanted. Blood made for a better effect, in the tank.

He grabbed his dove jacket from the spare room closet–black on black, tailored to him and more expensive than the rest of the closet put together, smelling faintly now of birdshit and feathered nests.

He thought of his little doves, tame and good-natured, in their cages at the workshop. He had tried to learn dove magic, had seen enough good dove acts to understand the value of it, but when it came time to shove the fat little birds in the jacket he simply hadn’t had the heart. They accepted it too easily, accepted the close, black space inside the jacket sleeves too easily.

He had felt like he was betraying them. Doves never died inside a dove jacket, unless you fell or sat down or got punched in just the wrong place, but he didn’t want to take the chance. They could still suffocate, be crushed. He did tend to get punched. The doves were more like pets now, studio pets: their cooing soothed him while he worked. The jacket, however, had been too expensive to merely abandon, and he often wore it as a suitcoat for cold-weather shows. Its bulky shape, at odds with his thin frame,  had been one of the reasons people assumed his suits were all secondhand.

He put the dove jacket on. It was November, it was cold enough for it. He combed his hair one more time, the red-brown strands that had given him his childhood nickname crackling in the dry air and clinging like staticky silk to his neck.

Perhaps he would wear the jacket into the tank tonight. It would ruin it, but he almost thought he would like to ruin it: he derived a strange pleasure from ruining his most expensive props. It was one of the reasons he never made any money, one of the reasons he clipped coupons and was sometimes late on the rent.

(No, his common sense told him. People don’t like to see a fully clothed man in the tank. They like him half-naked, defenseless, vulnerable. You’re still a showman. Actually: you’re nothing but a showman.)

He checked the time. Might as well head out, he could have a beer before the show if he left now.

The drive was five miles–Russ couldn’t afford to live closer to downtown. He flexed his fingers on the steering wheel, running them up and down like a crowd of ten doing the wave at a football game. His fingers were thickly muscled, strong and dexterous. They had to be. He could pull a nail straight out of a wall with them. He could push his thumb through an apple or a plum.

They were magician’s hands. Of course they were; he was a magician.

Why did he have to keep reminding himself? Why did it feel, in some way, like a lie? When he told people what he did for a living–told them, I’m a magician–some little part of him looked around with nervous eyes, waiting for someone to contradict him. You’re a fake, he thought.

But of course he was. It was part of his job, to be a fake.

Wasn’t it?

The Pissed Pig’s parking lot was already full when he passed by. His name on the marquee was missing an s: The Astounding Rus ell A. When you were booked at The Pissed Pig you learned to expect certain things, and working lights weren’t one of them. He pulled into the back entrance and parked next to Howie’s SUV. Employee’s and Performer’s ONLY, read the peeling sign on the back of a piece of cardboard. ALL OTHERS TOWED STRAIGHT TO HELL.

Inside, in back, Howie and Tenko were waiting for him. Tenko had her toolbelt draped over the giant motheaten boar’s head that had, before some long-ago remodel, been the Pissed Pig’s only sign. The glass eyes glittered in the dark, as did the beers they were both holding. The backstage area bristled with props, not all of them Russell’s own.

“There’s the man of the hour,” Howie said, sipping his drink. “Oy. We almost got the tank filled without you. Want to check everything, make sure it’s as it should be?” He dragged another beer from the plastic rings, popped it and handed it to him.

“Thanks, Howie. I trust you guys.” He swilled. He watched their eyebrows rise.

“So,” Howie asked at last. “Where’s your girl? Mimi or Katie or whatever.”

“She left.” He gestured, mutely, to nowhere in particular. “Apparently, I’m an asshole.”

“You are,” Howie agreed. He patted Russell’s shoulder. “‘S all right. We love you.”

“Sure you do.”

“Of course we do,” said Tenko. His stage hand and sometimes assistant, a four foot ten girl with a perfect pointed little face, was wearing a diaphanous black evening gown and a pair of silver maifa sticks in the long dark mass of her hair. She was also toting the biggest tool belt Russell had ever seen, short of softcore porn. Her real name was Natalie. She was from Hoboken, New Jersey. “Boss, I was wondering. We’re doing a production of Romeo and Juliet at school, and I don’t quite have the room I need to build the balcony scene. Could I use your studio, maybe? And the truck?”

“Sure, sure.” Actually: “That’s perfect. I’ve got to go out of town for a few days, maybe you could look in on the birds too? Just feed them, touch them, talk to them a little. You know what I do.”

“Okay.” Tenko grinned.

“Just put the tools back in the right places afterwards.” He stripped the spare studio key from his keyring and handed it to her. “And don’t work after three in the morning. It annoys the drunks who sleep it off in the unit next door.”
“Okay, okay! Whatcha doing? You got a new lady already?”

“My father died. I’ve got to attend the funeral.”

There was silence. The cheap canned music filtered back from the bar, the sounds of evening drunks getting loud and rowdy.

“You okay, Boss?” Tenko asked at last.

“I’m fine.” Russell shrugged defensively. “I didn’t get to know him, you might say. Ma wants me there, though.”
“Oooh. The ma.” Howie imitated his faint southern drawl, the accent Russell couldn’t entirely kick no matter how hard he tried. “All right, mama’s boy, say no more.”

“Sorry about your dad, Boss.”

“Don’t be.” Russell looked around him, looked through the rising smoke and the rising dust and the faint smells of vomit and sweat from the main bar. “He was more of an asshole than I am. How long until showtime?”

“Twenty minutes.”

“All right.” If he strained, he could hear the murmurs of his crowd out there. “All right. Tenko, would you get my stuff set up for me?”

“Sure, Boss. Rings, then fire, then cards, then water, right?”

“Right. And one last thing. The tank?”

“Already on stage being filled up, Boss.”

“I know that. Put a lock on the sliding door.”

“WHAT?”

“You heard me.”

Tenko blinked incredulously. “Boss,” she said slowly. “That little trapdoor is your lifeline. If everything else goes wrong, you can still slide that door open and get some air. Nobody in the audience will ever know if it’s there or not. Why the fuck would you want to do a stupid thing like that?”

“I’ll know it’s there,” Russell said. He was surprised by the roughness of his own voice. “I’ll know. C’mon, Natalie. I know we have a lock for that thing somewhere around here.”

But Natalie, alias Lady Tenko, was shaking her bemaifa’d head. “No,” she said flatly. “Hell, no. That’s suicidal, Russ. You’re not a real magician, you know. You can’t magic yourself out of there once I lock you in. I won’t kill you. I won’t feed your stupid pigeons forever.”

“I can force the door. Those hinges are shitty anyway.”

“Like hell you can force the door! That tank’s taller than you, what’ll you push off of?” Lady Tenko, Mysterious Illusionist of the Orient, was now fully Natalie Ng, Hoboken-born bitch. It showed in every line of her crossed arms, the maifa sticks bristling like two hedgehog quills from her hair. “Give it up, Russell. I’m not gonna do it. I won’t kill you.”

“You and Howie’ll be right there timing me.”

“Which just means we’ll be the ones who have to pull your drowned corpse out of the tank. No, Russ. No fucking way am I locking that door. What is all this about, anyway? Is it because you broke up with your stupid fucking girlfriend?”
“I need to do it,” he said quietly.

“God, that’s it, isn’t it? Some trashy peroxide whore dumps you, and you want to drown yourself in front of a live studio audience. You’re insane, Russ. You are one hundred percent insane. I don’t even know if you need to be doing your show tonight. You’ll probably try to strangle yourself with the fucking silks, you deadbeat full-of-shit piece of…”

“If he says he can do it, I believe him,” said Howie.

Even Russell stared at him. Unperturbed, Howie finished his beer, wiping a few errant droplets from his multiple chins.
“He’s the Astounding Russell A, right? When has he ever been wrong before? If he says he can do it, he has a plan to do it. Remember the pirhanas, Nats? You said the same thing about the pirhanas. And not a one of them touched him.”
“This is different,” Tenko said hotly. “Even with the pirhanas he had a trap door. Right now, the Astounding Russell A is making A stand for asshole. And making a decision like that fifteen minutes before the show goes on–fuck! Russell, I’m worried about you. I am really and truly worried.”

“Just do it,” said Russell.

It must’ve been something in his voice, or the rising sounds of the crowd outside. She locked eyes with him, and for a minute it was just the two of them, magicians, and then the rest of the world. Could she see, he wondered, some little glimpse of what he was thinking?

It wasn’t the crowd’s reaction at all. They didn’t know about the sliding door on the top of the tank; they’d think the same thing either way. It was about the challenge. It was about doing something impossible.

It was about magic.

“I’ll want a two hundred buck bonus,” Tenko said at last. “Consider it stress pay.  Howie gets another hundred too, straight from your pocket and not through the bar. And you’re going to do what you always say you’re going to do and buy me a drink after the show, because you’ll be alive and well and I will be, trust me, so fucking happy I’ll be unable to order myself one from nervous laughter. And if you are one second–one second–later than two minutes in getting out of there, we come in after you. I don’t care about your death wish, Russ. You aren’t going to die with us right here.”
She stood on tiptoe, kissed his cheek. “Russell the Astounding Asshole,” she said fondly. “I hope you have a plan. I really do.” She grabbed her toolbelt from the boar’s head. “Gimme five minutes.”

It left Russell and Howie alone in the half-dark, staring at each other.

“You do know what you’re doing, right?” Howie said.

“Oh,” said Russell. “Fuck, no.”

****

The first part of the show blurred by, dreamlike. Russell appeared and disappeared his rings, shuffled his cards, turned the cards into roses and the roses into silks and the silks into walking sticks. His fingers made the gestures almost naturally, he stood at the right angles almost naturally. This wasn’t what his audience was here for. He knew it and they knew it. It was a prologue of sorts, a gentle introduction. Their faces, clustered around the Pissed Pig’s always too small stage, were politely appreciative. Their applause was equally polite.

The hadn’t come for illusion, for flash cotton and red silk. They had come for the water escape. Houdini’s water escape, really, just like he had Houdini’s lockpick in his arm. The tank, covered by a huge black cloth, loomed behind him. It was waiting for him.

It knew what he was going to do.

Could they feel it, he wondered? The tank’s heavy presence, its brooding, its casketlike properties. Its locked lids and doors.

He could feel it.

If there was one sort of real magic in the world, he thought, it was magic between people. Your audience could sense what they were seeing in some way that went deeper than the mere visual. They could sense your sincerity, your honesty. And this particular audience could sense that he was about to do something stupid and dangerous. They longed for it, like a fifteen year old girl longed for a boyfriend. They were impatient with his usual toys, with the rings and the canes and the cards. They wanted what he, through gesture or stance or telekinesis, was promising. They wanted his skinny ass in the tank.

It was almost sensual. Almost erotic, this longing.

With ten minutes left in the show, he caved. He signaled Tenko out: she took his table and his rings. He produced a bouquet of roses for her from behind his last silk and handed that over as well. She accepted with what must have been the phoniest smile in show business.

“Are you sure about this?” she hissed out of the corner of her mouth. He nodded. He kept up his own showman’s gloss.
Tenko raised the bouquet up high, Howie’s signal in back. The velvet curtain hiding the tank cranked up.

“If you die,” Tenko hissed, “I will haunt you in hell.”

Russell kept smiling. He removed his jacket and handed it to Tenko. The crowd, sensing the thing they had come for in close proximity, gathered close to one another. He unbuttoned his shirt and removed it. He dropped his pants. He stood, in his plain black boxers, in front of a live audience.

“Two minutes,” Tenko hissed.

Russell knew he was pale. Pale in the way only a natural redhead could be: ice-pale, milk-pale, the deathly freckled pale of a corpse or a freshly laundered sheet. He knew he was skinny, the muscles from years of training standing out more like tumors than sleek bodybuilt health. He knew a good effect when he saw one and knew, the first time he had seen a tape of his show and watched his own deathly white figure silhouetted against the black backdrop, that he would never do a water escape clothed again.

The audience oohed and aahed as he folded up his pants and passed them to Tenko. Behind him, the backlit tank cast a sepulchral blue-green light over the scene. The lockpick from his jacket cuff, which he had palmed and slipped between his fingers while removing the jacket, was a single sliver of cold against the warmth of his tense body.

Tenko left his clothes in back for him, returned laden with handcuffs. She locked him in the first set, the second, the third. She pressed the thumb cuffs over his flexing thumbs. His arms felt heavier. He knew from watching the tapes he was bending over a little with the weight. When she added the chain around his arms, locking it as they had agreed right above his heart, he sagged a little more.

The audience was stone silent as he ascended the stairs to the top of the tank, guided at the elbow by the diaphanous Tenko, who was, out of the line of audience sight, glaring at him like he’d just killed a family member. She was still glaring at him as she helped him into the water. It was tepid, smelled chlorinated. He felt his boxers ballooning up around his ass.

“Don’t die, please,” said the diaphanous Tenko. She sighed. “You about ready, Boss?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Breathe.”

He emptied his lungs. Took a deep breath, several small breaths.

She rested a hand lightly on his head. “All right. One, two. Go.”

He submerged. He heard, reverberating through the water all around him, the sound of the top door locking. The curtain came down.

The curtain had been Tenko’s idea, and it was brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. He would never stop telling her how brilliant it was. A semi-sheer curtain, ombre dyed dark red to cherry blossom pink. His figure, he knew from the tapes, was perfectly silhouetted by backlighting on it–a womb-curtain, the escaping Russell broadcast in a crepuscular haze of organ-pink. The crowd could see his large movements, but not his smaller ones–not, for instance, the shrugging off of the thumb cuffs, the movement of the lockpick from between his fingers to his palm.

His lips pursed in the pounding silence of the water. The handcuff lock was an old lock, familiar. He could pick it in his sleep. He picked all three of them with barely a pause.They must’ve done it five hundred times, in water and out of water, naked and fully dressed and drunk and sober.

The handcuffs fell to the bottom of the tank. He felt rather than heard them, in the flow of the water. His heartbeat was a deafening drum, was a funeral march, was a frenetic adderol roar. He picked the band-aid from his upper arm with his teeth, caught the head of the pick inside him with his teeth. He ripped it out.

The water took on a faint pinkish quality. He knew, when the curtain raised, the murmurs this would get from the audience. The audience would be roaring right now–roaring and murmuring, standing up, craning their necks. They had seen the thumb cuffs drop, the handcuffs drops. But the chains?

What did he have left? A minute? His head was starting to ache. His lungs screamed at him.

He went for the chains, heavy lengths of metal purchased at a local hardware store where Russell, enterprisingly cheap magician that he was, had a discount card. He felt the lock’s teeth, felt the pick inside them. He knew what Howie, voicing over the crowd, would be saying outside of his blank watery prison:

The stunt that killed Houdini! The classic of modern magic! Can Russell escape a watery grave?

Can he? Russell wondered dryly. The lock gave, the chains fell to the floor of the tank. Ordinarily, he would have stretched his arms at this point, but he knew better than to expend the extra energy underwater. He could hold his breath for two minutes without movement fairly easily, but with the energy expenditure of picking all those locks, and the shock of the small wound in his arm now bleeding pink ribbons into the water, he was pushing it.

He readied himself to push open the trap door. He braced his legs against the sides of the tank. He imagined the scene outside–the audience whispering, his own ghostly silhouette climbing up the walls of its womb. Wasn’t this taking longer than normal? Tenko looking theatrically at her watch, shaking her head. Howie, backstage, his hand on the axe. Russell was very proud of the axe, had found it himself on Craigslist. It was ancient, chipped, massive. A businesslike looking axe. The sort of prop that built serious suspense.

His arms were beginning to tremble. He braced himself, pushed.

The door didn’t budge.

He pushed again.

Nothing. His feet slid downwards along the glass sides of the tank.

Russell began to panic.

What the fuck–what in the blue fuck–had he been thinking? He was an illusionist, a performer, a sad latterday Houdini. He wasn’t a fucking wizard. How on earth had he thought he was going to get enough purchase to push open a locked door from inside a water-filled tank? What had possessed him?

Tenko had tried to warn him. Hell, Tenko had tried to force him to not do it. She knew about magic, knew what he was doing. Howie was just a stagehand for The Pissed Pig. What the fuck had he been thinking?

He banged his fist against the trapdoor. Nothing happened. He might as well have been banging against a brick wall.

A minute left, probably less by now. His vision was blurring. He could feel pain all the way to his kidneys.

Oh, fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Howie would be onstage, with his stupid fucking theatrical axe. The audience would be on tenterhooks.

This, Russell reflected, was how magicians died. Stupid magicians. Stupid magicians, he appended, who forgot they were just fucking performers, who forgot they couldn’t actually do magic. Which didn’t, in all actuality, exist.

His vision was narrowed to a thin and ragged gash in reality. Things were going red, then going grey. Oh, God. What a stupid way to die.

The thing he felt most, he reflected, was shame. Well. Shame, and incredible pain and pressure. His lungs were screaming inside him. His eyeballs were probably about to explode.

He pushed, and pushed, and pushed. His pushes were getting weaker. His feet were losing their purchase on the inside of the tank. Things were, incredibly, seeming less urgent. If he could just breathe.

Just breathe.

He was deep inside the wood, the trees making their crisscross ceiling of green and brown over him, the underbrush tickling his ankles. It was cool here, and quiet. Delightful.

The grey-haired man was glaring at him.

“Granddaddy,” he said. “What’ve I done?”

“You know damn well, boy. Be glad I’m the sort of gent who likes to break rules. Be very, very glad.”

“But Granddaddy.”

“Shush,” he said, scowling. “No buts. You best be buying that girl a drink, son.”

“But–“

But, but. The trees rose, blurred. Disappeared.

He felt–felt, rather than saw, because as deeply wrapped as he was in his own pain he saw nothing–the lock give.
He felt the trapdoor open.

He burst to the surface, just at the moment he should have done so–just as the backlighting, cued by Tenko to the side of the stage, flickered and went out.

It was incredible how fast the pain went away. How fast his vision returned, his sense of hearing. The crowd was shouting, screaming his name. There was only one answer to that.

Russell breathed deeply. He breathed greedy lungfuls of shitty bar air. He ducked behind the tank, back behind the curtains. He made his way through the backstage area and staggered through the side wings. He slipped out, through a service door, into the main bar area.

Lights. Sounds, murmuring, smoke.

And God, what timing. What incredible timing. He could see Tenko and Howie on the stage, Howie with the big axe over his shoulder, Tenko gripping his dove jacket as though, if she wrung it hard enough, he would appear inside it. He must’ve just made two minutes. Just made it. A second earlier and the backlighting would’ve still been on, the audience would’ve seen him duck behind the stage.

“Raise the curtain,” Tenko screeched. “Raise the goddamn curtain.”

There was nothing in the tank, of course. Nothing except pinkish water and abandoned chains. Tenko climbed the steps so fast she tore a great piece of netting out of her gown. He could feel the tension in the audience like a string pulled taut in front of him. His heart was starting to beat normally again. His breaths were no longer deep gasps.

Okay.

“Holy shit,” he heard Tenko whisper hoarsely.

He stepped closer to the stage, hoisted himself back up on it.

“AHEM,” he said.

Eventually, the lights found him.

The audience didn’t know exactly what it had just witnessed, how it had been different from the other minor escapes he had pulled for them. But they could sense it. Maybe it was Tenko’s tears–genuine tears. Maybe it was the way Howie rushed down the steps, picked him up like a pale bedraggled doll and spun him around in the air. Maybe it was the ribbons of blood still dispersing in the tank.

Tenko kissed him full on the lips. The crowd exploded. Some of them were climbing on stage to touch him, their fingers brushing his fingers, his shoulders, his dripping hair. Howie had to push them back, had to raise his axe even.

“Holy shit,” Tenko whispered. She wrapped the dove jacket around him. He was shaking. As feeling came back to his extremities, he realized he was freezing cold. “Russell, holy shit. How did you do that? How?”

“I guess the door gave,” Russell said. “Hey. I owe you a drink.”

“Like fuck you do,” Tenko said. She smiled at him through tears and runny mascara. “I’m buying you one. I’ll buy you fifty, if you never put me through something like that ever again. That was the most amazing thing–the most incredible magic–fuck, Russ, I wish we could tell everybody what you just did and have them appreciate it. I can’t for the life of me figure it out. “

“The door gave,” Russell repeated. “Why is that so amazing?”

Tenko laughed. “Fine, fine, if that’s how you want to play it. Keep your secrets. You forget, Russ–I looked at the lock.”

“Sure,” Russell said, frowning. “And?”

“And how did you do it? God. It’s almost like real magic. Did you have that door rigged somehow? Some sort of hidden latch?”

“What’re you talking about?”

Her laughter was a little crazy. “Russell,” she said, magician to magician. “I’m not an idiot. You picked that lock from the inside.”

****

For the rest of the evening, time was slippery. Russell got dressed and came back out to the bar to chat with his fans. He bought Natalie a drink: in return, she bought him four. He gave three of them away. Strangely, he didn’t feel much like drinking.

You picked that lock from the inside.

Even once the band started–and this Mala was indeed Mala Engelhoff, whom he had been in freshman English with in college–most of the people stayed in the main bar. Around him. He was touched, caressed, made much of, photographed and chatted up. A chubby Goth girl with a snakebite piercing more or less forced her tongue into his mouth. She got a picture of it and seemed happy, so Russell supposed that was all right.

He sat, numbly, and let things happen around him. He drank one or two of the thirty or so drinks people bought for him. The rest went to Tenko and Howie, who by the middle of the night were both curled stuporously on the old leather couch by the door with a plastic bucket in easy reach beside them.

You picked that lock from the inside.

When the Maenads’ set was over, Mala Engelhoff came and sat next to him. Yes, she remembered him from college. Boy, had his act been incredible. She was beautiful, just as he remembered, like a punk rock statue carved from warm amber. She was wearing a t-shirt with holes slashed in all the right places. When she kissed him, her lips warm and smelling faintly of cherry chapstick, he felt nothing, nothing, nothing.

From the inside.

It was impossible. Tenko had missed something. After all, she had been worried and afraid when she looked.

Nobody could have picked that lock from the inside of the tank.

He had forced the door, just like he had planned. He knew this because it was the only thing he could have done. Anything else just wasn’t possible.

Well, maybe Tenko hadn’t locked it all the way.
Maybe she was fucking with him.

He looked over to the couch, where Tenko and Howie were leaning saggily against one another. Neither looked capable of ambulatory motion, much less great fuckwithery. The plastic bucket, he noticed, had a thin layer of grey vomit inside it.

From the inside.

Oh, God.

At some point, he kissed Mala Engelhoff again. They held hands outside the bar, her hands cool and lotioned. She asked where he was living these days, which he knew to be an invitation. He ignored it, for once in his life, for maybe the first time. He left the sweetly sleeping Tenko a note, reminding her to look after the birds.

He climbed into his car, his suit smelling of smoke and bar and Mala’s hand lotion, and started driving home. After all, he had a funeral to go to. And he was already wearing a suit.

Writing Wednesday: Symbolism and Embolisms

WRITING WEDNESDAY: A Brief Note About Symbolism

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I see a lot of people talking about symbolism as if it’s a lesson you learned in High School English, and symbols are delicate little seedlings you cultivate, nourish, and plant carefully in the fertile loam of your TOTALLY NON SYMBOLIC story so that some beret-wearing reader somewhere will pause in his Baudelaire recitations long enough to read your book, notice your flowering seedling, and go ‘oh, how clever’.

This is not the case. Symbols aren’t hothouse seedlings–they’re more like weeds.

The core symbols in your story are the things you can’t kill, no matter how hard you try. Round-Up, Killz, newspaper and winter frost–you could try anything, and it wouldn’t work. Symbols are dandelions, crabgrass, and clover. Symbols, in a word, fuck up your lawn.

They fuck it up, of course, because they’re hardy. Because they’re malleable, unkillable. Because they belong there–because they should be growing there. They come with the territory. You don’t have to do any extra work to get them in there–they’re there already.

What you want to do, if you’re a smart gardener, is learn to work around them. Deal with them. Otherwise, you’re going to plant some poison in there that kills your whole damn story.

Or, if you insist on the English Essay method–your delicate little seedlings, imported at some cost from Shanghai, where they know about these things in spite of the entire fucking city being paved, will die as soon as they touch soil. Because they don’t belong. Because they aren’t right.

My advice:

Write your first draft. Just write it. Forget, for however many weeks it takes you, that you’re going to be the next Charles Dickens or Faulkner or whoever. Forget how pleasantly surprised you’re going to be when they chuck your Pulitzer at you. Forget all that back-patting self-congratulating bullshit and write a story.

After that, wait a while. Have a celebratory drink or five. Figure out where on the shelf you’re going to place all your awards. Whatever keeps your monkey chunky.

But then:

Go back and read. I could tell you to try and read it like it’s the first time you’ve seen it until I’m blue in the face, but that’s honestly close to impossible anyway, so just read it.

What jumps out at you? What do your characters keep looking at, what do they keep doing?

I’m writing a story right now about a young magician with a few mental problems who stumbles into a mess of real magic he isn’t quite equal to. He’s a sullen, hostile, brooding little person. He has, for many years, refused to acknowledge who he is or the truth of the place he’s come from.

What does Russell Attridge notice about people, first and foremost? Hair. Especially on women–especially dyed hair, treated hair, permed hair. He goes so far as to describe his mother’s hair as ‘the headdress…of some ancient peroxided Babylonian queen’. He judges women by their hair, almost.

Why?

I wasn’t planning on making hair an important symbol of Russell’s subconscious loathing of quackery and fakery. I wasn’t planning on hair being exemplary of the trapped feeling he gets around his mother, around his own illusions, which he knows are not real, and which in and of themselves symbolize his desperate yearning for the hidden magic and mysticism of his childhood. I wasn’t planning on a character’s hair–treated or not, kept up or not–denoting the character’s honesty.

In fact, I totally came up with all this after the fact. English major, remember? It’s what I do: make shit up. Green carnations. Art for art’s sake. Bullshit.

How, then, did it happen? If I didn’t plant my own tidy little literary orchids, how did they grow?

The answer is somewhat metaphysical, which you guys probably know I hate by now. But it is, simply–quit being yourself for a minute. Quit thinking about your writerly life, your possible Pulitzer, whether or not you’ll be making rent this month. When you are writing, be your character.

How, you might ask, is it possible for a slightly dumpy, happily parented twenty six year old arts professional to turn into a male magician who survived childhood abuse?

Well, I know men. I know magicians. I know people–adults about the right age–who’ve survived childhood abuse and neglect. I learned a LOT about magic, and abuse, and let what I learned influence how I thought. This isn’t anyone’s story but Russell’s. How Russell perceives his own surroundings will, therefore, be exactly how I perceive them, looking around as Russell. So it is what it is. And what I notice, slumping around a small Southern post-factory town with forgotten lockpicks in my pocket, is hair.

So you’ve got your tough weeds already. When you edit–pruning, for the sake of metaphor–all you have to do is cultivate them. Not too much–nobody wants to call more attention to weeds. But trim them, yes. Shape them. Make them a harmonious part of your literary garden instead of an add-on, or an eyesore.

Save the Phoenician sailors for poetry. Save the poppies and the games of chess for poetry. Let your prose ‘symbols’ be loose, and fast, and leave stuff open for discussion. The literary interpretation should be left up to book clubs and critics.
Your story should be you.

And if somebody doesn’t agree, fuck ’em. If you’ve thought long enough and hard enough about what being someone else might be like, it’ll be realistic enough. Believe in yourself. Other people can’t do that one for you.

Love,
E

PS–How many times have I ended a post with the phrase ‘fuck ’em?’ Probably a lot. I know.

If you want to read the first and second rough-draft chapters of this story I’m talking about, check ’em out here:

1. Hedge Apples
2. Telephone

Or–yeah, I have to do it–buy my book.

Aurian and Jin: A Love Story

NOVEL TIME

Sorry, guys. I’ll have a really writing post up for you tomorrow. But for now, guess what came out today?

No, not a new Harry Potter book. No, nothing to do with Star Wars. Sorry.

Here’s my book. Yessy yessir. You should buy it. You’ll love it, even more than you love me (which is a lot, I know.) You’ll grow fond of these people, which is a shame, because they ‘re words on paper and they’ll never know. But you’ll like it. I promise.

We’ve just got the paperback for now. Ebook is coming out tomorrow. Ebook will be 2.99. Print book is 12.99, because it’s pretty fucking thick. Yes. Yeeeessssss.

Aurian and Jin: A Love Story

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