The Fourth Wall Diner

Haskeer stepped through the steel door, and onto cracked linoleum. Red blaze of neon filtered through glass windows onto a crowded diner. The booths were crammed with humans laughing and talking. A long glass display case bisected the room, filled to the brim with faded toys and garish errata – twin rows of wide black booths down either side, with a long counter in the very back of the diner. A tall stool with a red-leather seat at the counter  seemed to beckon, and the paladin moved towards it.

The humans seated at the booths were dressed strangely, somehow too simple and too elaborate — as if they were dressed both for work in the fields, and a journey across the tundra of the Northlands.. They paid little attention to his passing, or his gleaming silver armor.

A blonde man with a square jaw, sat with a baby in his lap – their eyes both wide and blue. A blonde woman at his side wiped the child’s face with a damp napkin and a certain elan. On the opposite side another couple, a man with a preposterous mustache fork-deep into a plate of fried potatoes and a dark-haired woman with a beautiful smile. The dark-haired woman was pregnant, and the man and his mustache nearly vibrated with concern and pride,  each motion of his hands a prayer.

Two young men sat hip to hip in a booth, poring over a stack of brightly colored pages. They argued bitterly jabbing the page with pointed fingers, and gesticulating wildly as their argument crested into a familiar plateau. Across from them a woman rolled her eyes with exasperation, spreading cream cheese on a grilled bagel.

In the corner of the diner was a jukebox, glowing green and yellow. A man with glasses and a ponytail leaned against it, making a selection – his head bobbing unconsciously to the song already spooling through the air.

Are you sorry we drifted apart?
Does your memory stray to a brighter summer day
When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?
Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare?
Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?
Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again?

A tall, gangly man stumbled through the door behind Haskeer, and moved to the jukebox — hands already spread in mute apology.

In a back booth, three men sat hunched close together. A pile of tiny figures were arrayed on the table before them – small soldiers, goblins, knights, even a fierce looking black dragon. The tallest and shortest examined each figure with animated fixation, while the third stared at something glowing in his hand with boredom. A large man with a fierce tattoo of a squid-demon stumped over and flopped down a large sketchbook. Haskeer caught a glimpse of men and women holding swords of fire.

There were others in the diner, every seat was full. A curly-haired man stuffing lemon after lemon into his water, a thin man with his hands steepled, a balding man laughing and pointing across the restaurant. The faces began to run together as the paladin moved forward, his steel boots clanking on the floor.

Haskeer sat down at the counter, his back to the rest of the diner patrons. A warm fog of steam billowed out of the kitchen, accompanied by the wonderful smells of fried potato and seared meat. A man approached, pulling a well-worn jotter out of his pocket and the nub of a pencil. He wore thick spectacles, and a thick mop of hair pushed up into a white paper cap.

The man greeted the paladin, barely looking up from his notepad.

“Sup, Big Green. What’ll you have?”

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DragonCon Scrying

So, I know I’ve been pretty lazy on the blog — well, I’m going to DragonCon this weekend — so you can safely expect that to continue.

I’m going to be taking pictures of my adventures and posting them up on my Tumblr –feel free to check in on the shenanigans. I won’t get to the ‘Con until late Friday evening [EST] so don’t expect much before then, unless you’re into Chrono Trigger fanart.

[AND WHO ISN’T???]

Click on this picture of me MERGING WITH THE SPEED FORCE from a previous DragonCon to be teleported to my tumblr for picture goodness.

Sitar

I play and she dances.

That is how it works. That is it.

The heat of her day, and the hat on her head, and the crease of her waist and the slight boredom in her green-green eyes.

I thump down on the strings and an eruption of trees – pines today. Green like her eyes, but I place them outside her reach with petty twangs. She spins faster, catching the rhythm. A few coins clatter. It’s hot.

I throw gold notes at her feet, but her steps erase them – Nena the Cruel, the Cat Dancing. Give her a heart, and she will return a hard-scrabble scrap rat-tat-rattling around your rib cage.

She makes the devil jealous. The sun weep.

I fill the plaza with water, my fingers on the strings. She steps onto the waves like a birthright, her hem dry.

The crowds pass, but they do not see. This marble and stone corner of the world full of spite and spiders — full of amaranth and ambrosia. At the end of the day I will slide my hand under her elbow, and she will jerk it away. My desire-sweat drips, and she kills me again with green-green daggers.

I bring a spirit of fire into the forest, I build a wall of earth — it is never enough to hold her. A snake winds around the base of my spine and I want her and want her. I scream down into my hands, and the strings do their best to answer.

My hands move. Nena dances.

I play and she dances.

That is how it works.

[Story on Demand for N.E. White]

 

 

 

 

 

Aufero

Aufero is a strange place.

Almost, but not quite, sensible. Approaching, but never meeting, sane.

So many pieces that don’t fit. Words, names, places, people, gods, colors, music. A world on the edge

Artist: W. Heath Robinson

of things, a Grand Central Station of the cosmos. A quiet shore where many lost things wash up and begin again.

What brings them there? What keeps them there?

The Lost named it, when they stepped from their silver ships. In the old tongue, it means “to steal”. As if the world itself was a bandit, reaching into the pockets of more respectable universes and grabbing everything that jingles, everything that shines. Aufero piles up its treasure, little caring for organization or thrift. Rubies bang against pennies, coarse granite against opal.

History wanders, and logic gets lost. Civilizations rise by whim, and the unlikely and strange gad about in the common streets as if protected by royal decree.

Dinosaurs moan about philosophy, while living skeletons make a proper Old Fashioned at the bar. Swaggering bravos, kings and titans of industry all plot and battle in the streets of a city where it is always night, for no particular reason at all. A patient prince of Hell lays waste to all who oppose him, cheating the laws of the universe with deadpan glee. Minotaurs play chess. Gnomes sing the blues.  Friendship is real, and love is real and death is real  — side by side with a thousand quiet absurdities and the hallowed mundane.

George Washington wearing a clown nose.

Do you want to go?

[Just some navel-gazing about my main story-world.]

Wind / Sails / The Removal Thereof

Nausicaa – H. Miyazaki

A little context.

1. I’ve been working on my very first novel. [QUIVER. CLENCH. ANXIETY-NINJAS IN MY STOMACH.] I started working in September, and completed the very, very rough draft in April.

2. I’m coming around the bend on my first round of editing. Soon I will let a few Alpha Readers take a long look, before they solemnly set fire to my manuscript and without breaking eye contact — dial the authorities.

3. While I try to stay focused on the craft itself of working on the book, I have noodled around a bit on The Next Step. The world of traditional publishing is contracting, and it’s never been known for being an easy assault for new talent — so, most of my thoughts have been centered around Self-Publishing.  With resources like CreateSpace via Amazon it’s childishly simple to do, and I could have the most basic unit of my goals with a modicum of time and effort — i.e. a paper book that I slap in my mom’s hands.

4. I heart Pat Rothfuss. Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear are excellent books. Wise Man’s Fear is one of the only books I can ever recall finishing …then immediately starting to read again. Slowly, languorously. I went on to read other things, but I would circle back like a honey-drunk bee to take another sip. I read that cat’s blog religious — and all of this novel nonsense is so I can send him a copy [right after my mom] and then he’ll read it and think I”m awesome and that we should be best friends and then he’ll come to my birthday party.  THIS WOULD CLEARLY BE HIS REACTION TO MY WORK.

So, contextualized?

Today I read an interview he gave, linked into his own blog.

I was chuckling at his wry humor, and stroking my chin at the interesting bits — when I came to this section:

Full interview: Toonari Post

TP: Were you ever tempted to self-publish?

PR: Not really. Because, as I mentioned, I wanted people to read my books.

I know there’s a lot of talk about self-publishing right now. Everyone’s giddy with the possibilities. And I’ll admit that it looks good on paper: sell your books directly and keep a bigger chunk of the profit for yourself. No rejection letters. No hassle with agents. Sounds good, right?

Except nobody knows who you are. And nobody really cares. And your book is mostly crap because you haven’t had a substance-level editor give you feedback and make you revise it a couple of times. And your book is full of typos because you didn’t have a copy-editor read it. And the layout is ugly because you don’t know anything about layout…I’m sure you get the picture.

It’s like the query letter problem that I just mentioned, magnified a hundredfold. You might be good at telling a story, but that doesn’t mean you know anything about marketing. Or layout. Or editing. Or publicity. Or selling your books for foreign markets.

Even if you’re surprisingly good at one of those things, you’re still not going to be as good as a professional. You don’t know the tricks of the trade. You don’t know the right people to call. You don’t know what mistakes to avoid….

Everyone can point to a few examples of people that have done very well for themselves self-publishing. But honestly, those folks are lucky as lottery winners. They’re statistical anomalies. You want to publish with a publisher because a publisher knows how to publish a book. And you don’t. You really don’t.

Woof.

Dang.

Now, first and foremost, this isn’t about how Pat Rothfuss broke my heart, or what a big meanie-face he is, etc. etc. His beard is made of laughter and moonbeams, people.  From my EXTENSIVE PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE [aka reading his blog.] he is clearly not a malicious person in any way. He was speaking from his own experience, trying to give helpful and clear advice.

It was a bit stern, and absolutist — but then, I remembered — Nerd/DM High Speech. Nerds speak in absolutes, with unwavering knowledge about whatever topic is in our demesne.  It probably comes from being the smartest kid in the class, or years with our finger pointing at the small print in the Player’s Handbook. We all delight in pronouncing This is how it is. This is how it works. No, you cannot gain access to 6th level spells, just because you have a magical ability that increases your effective caster level, Carbunkle.

No, this post is about my reaction. I felt foolish.

Here is a writer and person that I respect telling me that I’m functionally wasting my time. I will self-publish my novel and it will be garbage. It will not be discovered, it will not be read. I am doing a disservice to myself and to the work itself by going this route. Pat Rothfuss told me I was an idiot.

This is not how my fanfiction plays out AT ALL.

I don’t think he’s wrong. I don’t think he’s right either.

For the vast majority of people self-publishing, he’s absolutely right. We all need to hear the stark truth like that. A wake-up call that if your goal is financial success then you are setting yourself up for failure. You are not some maverick Hemingway blazing across the firmament while thumbing your nose at traditional publishing. If you got into this gig to be the next 50 Shades of BLAHBLAHBLAH, then you are in it for the wrong reasons. Take a glance at the amount of self-published drivel on the Amazon Kindle alone. His metaphor of winning the lottery is apt. Every writer can benefit tangibly from a trained editor, copy-editor — and the inarguable expertise in marketing and layout that a publishing house can bring to bear.

But, I’m special. SCREAMED THE SPECK OF DUST IN A TRANSPARENT ALLUSION TO THAT CALVIN AND HOBBES STRIP.

YOU KNOW, THIS ONE. [I miss Bill Watterson.]
And beyond that, I do believe that traditional paper publishing is in its dotage. We’re caught in the weird wilderness between traditional and digital publishing, and all the old dinosaurs are late to the game. The tools are all laying around [editing, design, computers with blinky buttons] — what’s to stop us from selling and promoting our own work digitally direct to our audience? John Scalzi almost pioneered this concept, releasing his work chapter by chapter on the web, then backed into traditional publishing after he had already built a readership. And he’s the president of the freaking Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, now!

There are more options now  then ever, so more people than ever are going to chase the dream their own way. So, yeah, me too basically.

I have taken his thoughts to heart.  I’ve always considered self-publishing the book as a first step, a tool to one day get picked up by a publishing house. The first book is a resume for the new job I want to have.

I hear you, Pat. I really do. But I am mercurial at best — I just can’t stay motivated with the idea of finishing the book THEN enduring two years or more of frustrating query letters, and standing like a beggar outside the big publishing houses wearing an adorable Dickensian top hat.

Well, maybe the top hat.

So, I’m sticking to my guns. Alpha Readers in July. More and more editing after that, and then when I say done I will use this fancy InterWebamaphone to put my book into people’s hands and on their fancy e-readers.

And I’m still sending you a copy, Pat. I’ll save you some cake, and a brightly colored hat.

Barton

A small village,  directly in the center of Riddlewood. Human settlers were first drawn to the ancient forest

Retreat by Andreas Rocha

by an accidental discovery. A traveler was camping underneath one of the ancient elms, boiling some water for soup when an acorn fell into the open pot. The traveler didn’t notice right away, and by the time he did the water had turned a brilliant shade of green. History does not tell us much about this traveler but one thing is clear – – he either had an overgrown sense of adventure, or a serious deathwish. For no apparent reason he decided to give the concoction a taste. He poured off a tiny draught of the green liquid into a dented tin tankard, and tossed it back.

He woke up several hours later, his teeth stained the color of the leaves.

This unknown traveler had just discovered the remarkable soporific effects of the Riddlewood Elm. Folk tradition contends that he spent the next several weeks finishing the emerald concoction, one sip at a time — but regardless, at some point he stumbled back to civilization and somehow convinced one of the larger merchant families to invest in his new scheme. A team of brewers, apothecaries, and loggers would make their way into the heart of Riddlewood. They would harvest the amazing acorns, determine the best way to render them safely potable and marketable, and the other, lesser trees could be cut down to make casks and barrels for the new concoction. A troop of soldiers were also included to protect against the mysterious and sly wood elves that lived in the forest.

For the first few weeks, the newly christened “Barreltown” hummed with activity. Acorns were gathered, brewed and tested. Hundreds of trees were felled to make barracks, fences, and a multitude of barrels — the saw mill ran day and night. The soldiers quickly grew bored as the wildlife of Riddlewood gave the new town a wide berth, and the wood elves were nowhere to be seen.  With nothing else to do, they joined in the construction of the town, their first project a suitable saloon.

Reports vary on the events that followed, but the central theme is agreed upon by most accounts. A young soldier took to wandering the green halls of Riddlewood out of sheer boredom and restlessness. She was the youngest member of the troop, though well-trained in the ways of sword and shield.

The soldier came upon a clearing where a large red tiger lay dying, caught underneath the trunk of an oak tree that a careless logger had felled, then abandoned. Without stopping to consider the danger, she ran over to the creature and with a great cry flung herself under the tree. Arms and legs straining she pushed the felled oak up far enough that the red tiger could just barely wriggle out.

She dropped the tree in exhaustion – only then realizing that she had dropped her weapon at the clearing’s edge, and stood completely defenseless against the wounded animal.

To her surprise, the red tiger rose wearily to its feet and made no move to attack.  It looked at her curiously, then padded off into the forest.

The soldier returned to Barreltown and told all who would listen about her amazing experience. A few believed her, but she was met with more than a few mocking japes. She became obsessed with proving her story, and spent much of the next few days prowling through the forest looking for tiger tracks.

Tigers, like most cats, appear when they please.

By Rui Tenreiro.

The young soldier was keeping the late watch one night, when she felt her eyes beginning to droop. She stomped her feet, and put pebbles in her shoe, but weariness stole over her.  With a start, she awoke at moonfall, a bare hour before dawn, to find the red tiger sitting quite calmly on a felled tree trunk in front of her.

The red tiger stood, and walked a few paces before turning back to look at her. The intention clear, the soldier gripped the hilt of her sword closely and followed.

Through quiet clearing, and silent tree, through moon and leaf-rustle night. The guttering torchlight of Barreltown vanished behind the young soldier, and yet she continued on.

At last, the tiger stopped and turned to face her. The wind blew, and the tiger changed. A beautiful young wood elf, with hair as red as the tiger’s.

Without speaking a word, he knelt before a ragged stump of a tree and placed both hands upon it. He sang quietly, and the soldier was surprised to find tears running down her face.

Between the palms of the wood elf, and guided by his song the tree trunk began to grow. Forming and changing, shaped by his will as a potter turns the clay. A tiny barrel formed, sound and true — then with a sharp twist he broke it free and pushed it into her hands. The soldier held it up to the rising sun, and saw how well it was crafted. Sound and true, with nary a crack — better than any one in Barreltown could hope of making.

“Why would you take, what the forest would happily give?” the wood elf asked.

The soldier had no answer.

Time passed. The soldier and the wood elf spent much time in each other’s company.  Love was given and returned, and the two hatched a plan.

Early one morning, the soldier and the wood elf walked into Barreltown hand in hand. They marched directly into the mess hall where all the loggers, apothecaries, brewmasters, tradesmen and soldiers ate their meals. The soldier cleared off a table and called everyone’s attention, and the wood elf plead most eloquently for the forest of Riddlewood. He finished his speech, then showed the gathered crowed how wood could be shaped and sung from the living trees, without harm.

And the people listened. They understood. And they agreed.

To the vast shock of historians throughout the world, the people of Barreltown agreed that it was a great

By Annemarie Rysz

idea. This incident is hotly contested in many scholarly circles, as it goes counter to entire schools of socio-political thought. Some even go so far as to claim the story is completely fabricated, a convenient fiction crafted by the wildly successful Riddlewood Brewing Guild.

Regardless, two hundred years later the village still remains. Barton is a reasonably prosperous hamlet, most of the residents splitting their time between farming and the seasonal work on the factory floor, brewing and bottling the various ales and liquors distilled from the trees of the forest — great casks filled to brim, tight and sound made from living wood. Only the very oldest buildings in the town show the sign of an axe or saw, the rest are all formed carefully and beautifully by the druids of Barton.

The village is roughly split between human and elven populaces, with intermarriage common.  The sigil of Barton is a red tiger with a green acorn in his jaws.  The village is led by Count Pel Marlowe, his family owns controlling interest in the Riddlewood Brewing Guild.