Thrice – Of Dust and Nations

“Of Dust and Nations” is my favorite song by rock band Thrice. The melody and riffs come together in a haunting but mesmerizing way, and only after you’re already drawn in do you realize that the poetry in their lyrics are the true appeal of the song, delivered with wonderful force by the lead singer.

“Step out from time, see the dust of nations.
Step out from time, hear the stars’ ovation.

Saturn will not sleep until the sand has made us clean.
Still we stack our stones and bury what we can.
But it all will be undone. Nothing built under this sun,
will ever stand before the endless march of sand.”

On Writing Excuses

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On Writing Excuses

“This is Writing Excuses.  Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”

                I’d like to throw in my two cents on the web series Writing Excuses, something I only recently found and had an opportunity to go through.  Punchy and professional, the series is led by Brandon Sanderson (Epic Fantasy specialist) with his friends and fellow authors Dan Wells (Supernatural Thriller specialist), Howard Tayler (Science Fiction, Cartooning, and Humor specialist), and later added Mary Robinette Kowal (Short Fiction specialist).  Each of these authors has enough wealth of writing skill and experience to stand alone and shine out, but for the intentions of this post, I will be focusing on their joint creation: a fun and clean web series that tackles writing advice big, small, common, and extraordinary.

                An immediate appeal of the series comes from its length.  With each episode sitting at 15-20 minutes in length, it is perfect for commutes to and from work, activating your mind in the morning, or accompanying you during chores.  But from the beginning, the podcasters make sure to establish the intentions of the series.  While the things they discuss are quite helpful to any aspiring writer, what they wanted to focus on was helping those interested in genre fiction.  That being Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror, and all of the variations and subsets in-between.

                Because of the diversity between the authors, they are able to cover a vast number of topics over the nine seasons that have been produced (currently developing season nine).

Creating anti-heroes.
Writing with the end of your story in mind.
How and where to get an agent
Things you should know about the young adult market
Why is the villain often the most interesting character?
The reasons you should go to conventions
Understanding and writing discriminations
Different ways of breaking into the market
How to pace your story
Debunking common errors in fantasy stories
Understanding artificial intelligence
Witty dialogue and how to practice
Refining your prose skills

And on, and on, and on.  Literally hundreds of similar topics.

                As a hopeful fantasy writer myself, this series has been nothing short of invaluable to me.  I do not doubt that it will remain an eternal reference that I will come back to time and again as I seek out publication and whatever lies beyond.

                The series has been nominated for awards several times and has won two Parsec’s and a Hugo.  On many episodes they’ll host a special guest star, they will always recommend a related audiobook that can be found on Audible (a sponsor of the cast), and they somehow manage to maintain a ‘Clean’ rating throughout the entire course of the series.  I am deeply thankful that I found this podcast and have gotten an opportunity to know these people, even if indirectly.  I am grateful for their transparencies and their willingness to sacrifice both time and comfort to talk about things that aren’t always easy for them.  My only regret is that I didn’t have the chance to brave these subjects with them earlier, and I hope to someday meet these authors and thank them in person.

                If you are an aspiring writer, or even if you just want to better understand the art of storytelling critique, I (naturally) recommend you start Writing Excuses.  You can download or stream every single episode for free from their website.  Of course, I also recommend any number of their professional works as well.  Since the start of this series I have been exploring their individual stories, and hope to wrap up Dan’s John Cleaver series within the next week.

http://www.writingexcuses.com/
(For past seasons, just go to the ‘Archives’ link on the left, or explore their large list of topics)

                As always, thank you for reading, God bless, and don’t eat crayons.  Peace.

 

Edwin’s Dilemma (Part II)

Blast.  I was late.  Oh well.

Edwin’s Dilemma – Part 2

 

                Something sharp in the air held Edwin on the edge of a sneeze.  It was right there, tickling so fiercely in his sinuses that his eyes could hardly hold open.  Whatever was in this witch’s hut was unnatural and probably disagreeable in the blood of man.  Exactly what Edwin sought.

                Edwin wanted poison.  A patented blend of vengeful irony and homicide, bottled up for his convenience.  The inner hut was small, and stacked with trappings and chemicals and herbs only half-assorted.  The local witch had history in and out of Kastern, but Edwin always avoided her as a tribute to his good judgment.  Whether reliable or not, she was a witch, and witches always caused trouble.

                Besides this one was looking at crazy from a mile past the horizon.

                “Here,” Edwin held up what looked like a weed, “How about this? Grind it down maybe? Do some of your voodoo magic and make a potion?”

                Pud the Witch glowered, “You mock.  You ignorant.  You stupid.”

                “I hungry.  I impatient.  And yes, I mock.  Get on with it.”

                Pud shook her head without reservation, her tangled mop of hair swaying like a curtain, “Not briarweed, too potent.  Cannot hide smell of urine.”

                “What?” Edwin gingerly sniffed the flora in his hand, “It doesn’t smell anything like that.  Is it supposed to?”

                “Potion most effective if I pee in it,” she turned away but Edwin caught a fraction of a grin on her lips, “Stronger that way.”

                Edwin spread his hands out in sudden astonishment, “Of course it is!  It’s your urine.  Why bother using any poison? Just hand me a vial of that and I could probably kill half the kingdom if I’m smart enough.”

                “I’ve tried.  Doesn’t work,” Pud pursed her lips.  Edwin didn’t want to think about the implications.

                “Alright, so how about this?” The fresh noble grabbed a pouch off the windowsill.

                “NO!” The witch screamed and scrambled.  Edwin didn’t know what to do before she slapped the pouch from his hands. “No no no.  Not unless you want victim to grow flowers from chest and tops of feet like mountain people.”

                “Why.  What conceivable purpose could something like that possibly serve?”

                She struck him on the skull with two fingers, “You stupid.  You ignorant of power in the flowers.  Come, follow me.”

                Edwin did so hesitantly, and while entertaining the idea of throwing this loon into his some-day dungeon where she could be insane and talk to the walls in peace.

                Pud guided Edwin to a row of shelves separate from the rest.  With one trembling hand she grabbed a sheepskin bag that wiggled with contents.  She dropped it in Edwin’s open palm and he felt something fluid inside, “One of Patty’s favorites.  Glistenberry oil.  Exactly eight drops for full effect.”

                “That makes literally no sense,” Edwin said.

                “Put into drink of victim and,” Pud ran her thumbnail along her throat, “out they go.”

                “What constitutes eight drops?  Why can’t I just put in as much as I want?”

                “Eight drops.”

                Edwin blinked and dropped the matter.  He reached wordlessly for his skin of money and drew out several gold coins, “How much?”

                Pud levelled her eyes at him, “Twice that.”

                “Nonsense,” Edwin rebelled, “I was already offering twice its worth.”

                “Ah, but you have so much.  Couldn’t hurt, hm?”

                Edwin glowered at the money sack.  Amateur mistake, Edwin.  Amateur mistake.  “Very well.”

                Paying the fine, Edwin grabbed his purchase and took his leave as fast as the hut door would open.  He couldn’t let more of this witch’s imbecility soak its way into his brain.

                Edwin found Bismark examining something off to the West and thought it might be the diving sun, but the day was too young.  They were near the King’s court, just on the outskirts of his hold.  Awnings hung around them in brilliant colors, with tit-for-tat merchants selling their wares in force.  Having his sinuses cleared, Edwin remembered his ailment did not come from the witch’s hut, but instead the King’s illness.  It was passed to him like a rich man’s curse.  The poison would work, eight drops or not.  The King would soon be dead.

                “Bismark,” Edwin held up the sheepskin sack, “I have our retribution.”

                “Your retribution,” Bismark said without turning, “Your preemptive, blind retribution.  Lord, you still don’t know if you’re actually dying or if your ailment even came from the King.”

                “Of course it did, don’t ask stupid questions.”  Edwin churned through the nasally drone of his throat.

                Bismark was strong and loyal, Edwin’s greatest friend since the days where they wore the street as their bed and home.  They butt heads on occasion, even more so now that Edwin had ascended into a life of riches and taken Bismark as his confidant.  Edwin wasn’t sure why that was.

                “Did you find our man?” Edwin asked.

                Sighing hard, Bismark finally met his eyes, “Sir Linton has an unsated desire to dispose of the King.  In the early years of his reign, it seems the good King made a decision that lead to longsuffering for Linton’s family.  In the midst of their poverty, his firstborn son passed away.  Now Linton stands in favor with the King as a head of foreign trade and disciplinary treatments.”

                Edwin lifted his eyes, “But still holds the grudge?”

                Bismark nodded.

                “Very good.”  Edwin handed over the pouch of poison, “Make sure that he gets more than eight drops into the King’s drink.”  Because screw that old hag and her rules.

                “I don’t like any of this.  But, if it really comes down to it, I hope you were right about the sickness.”  Bismark snatched the skin and pulled it into his coat.

                Edwin held impassivity, but only until Bismark strode off towards the King’s Palace, feet set on a mission.  As he watched his companion depart, Edwin ran Bismark’s words through his head, but he could not decipher if they had any real meaning or not.

                Before becoming a young noble, Edwin had no appreciation for things like recreational garden-tending.  It was a thing reserved for the elite.  A frivolous activity for the hands of those who didn’t know real work or hardship.  Even now Edwin didn’t understand how some of his peers could be so fascinated over something so trivial.  In his admittance though, the flora had started to catch his fancy.  Not as a personal activity, but aesthetically, for the beauty they provided Kastern.  He didn’t care much for beauty over the years.  Hard to appreciate something you’ve never really known.

                One leg swaying over the ledge, Edwin perched himself on the rim of a home, in a nook not easily noticed.  It was one of his favorite spots to sleep before his inheritance.  He spun an apple in one hand, taking arbitrary and infrequent bites from its soft body.  Feeling docile, his attention easily caught on the flowing people of the street below and the garden master’s shop that filled the sky with aroma.  Bismark would return before long.

                Indeed, no sooner than Edwin took down the last bite of the apple core did his confidant round the corner, his face shadowed by hood and discretion.  Edwin rolled his shoulders to loose a couple cracks in his spine and left the perch to meet Bismark.

                Eyes shifting around to assess if he’d been followed, Bismark finally sighed and removed the hood, “It is done.”

                Edwin didn’t allow himself to smile.  He was a nobleman now.  Even through complacence, he needed to be well-mannered, “Thank you, Bismark.  You have done me a great service.”

                “Have I?  I’m not so sure.”  Bismark said.

                “You did deliver the poison to Sir Linton, yes?”

                “I did.”

                “And you have faith in his ability to administer the poison?”

                “Unfortunately, I do.”

                Edwin frowned, “Then I don’t see the question.”

                Bismark stepped closer.  Only now could Edwin see the sweat on his forehead and the pale tone of his skin.  “What happened?” Edwin said in growing fear.

                “Do you have faith in what you’re doing?”

                Pausing for just a moment too long, Edwin swallowed, “The King has commited a crime.  The crime of murder.  Is it not my job to right this wrong?”

                “So you believe to the end that you are justice, here.”  Bismark nodded, “Then the poison was real?  Because I only gave Sir Linton half.”

                Edwin felt beads against his skin. “What did you do with the other half?”

                “I want to believe that you are a good person, Edwin,” Bismark smiled sickly, “You are my best friend and now my lord.  I have faith that you would not truly harm a man that has done such good.  So I’m going to find if your motives are true.  I drank the other half.”

 

End of Part II