Saturday, November 29, 2014

NaNoWriMo 1K-A-Day: A NaNoWriMo Retrospective

So... I just won NaNo for the first time. After four years of trying.

Pre-NaNo, I was happy if a "book" reached 20 pages. I thought a page and a half was a decent length for a chapter. I just did not have enough practice or understanding to really develop a story. Then I discovered the art and joy of writing fanfiction, and I finally started taking literature classes in high school, and the more I learned about writing, the better my writing got, and the longer my stories grew.

Then I heard about this crazy fun thing where writers are challenged to write a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days. For a few years I put off doing it because it always seemed like I was right in the middle of a project (or four) around November... Then finally, my chance came.

Year 1 (2011) I had just finished up college and still very much attached to the writer's group I had started, which was always getting fresh faces. A lot of them were doing NaNoWriMo, so I just decided to pull out one of my ideas that I had crafted a premise for but never actually got around to writing. That idea was titled Cipherstalker. My original plan was to just do the challenge and track my word count for the fun of it, without planning ahead of time beyond a vague sense of where the story could possibly go, and just see what happened.
That was the year I discovered I was not a pantser. Or rather, I was not the sort to just write willy-nilly. By Day 3, I simply had to write down the plot that was spinning through my head or I was worried that I would forget it. Also, what I ended up doing was setting a goal of 2K a day, and only writing on my laptop in the evenings during the week. Of course, November 30 came, and I only had about 36K. But I was ready to get on it the next year!

Year 2 (2012), I was deep in the thick of writing Juvenile-level (like ages 8-12) fiction, and SO much more fanfiction, and I concocted this idea that seemed perfect for NaNoWriMo! So even though I thought it up, I purposed not to write it till November...
Then I was chatting with college writing buddies over the summer, and one of them was hitting really bad writer's block and could not decide on a genre. I had just read Arabian Nights, and I was amazed at how the stories in that book just kept going, one leading to another, and another—so I suggested, if he could not decide on a genre, to just write all the genres: write a story about a writer with writer's block who has incredible adventures in each genre, which inspire him to write a book he genuinely enjoys that becomes a bestseller.
This was in August... By September, the idea had festered in my mind long enough that I started planning out how I would write such a story: of course I would begin by introducing the writer and establishing the writer’s block… but then as the writer moves through the genres, I figured the easiest thing for me to do would be to have a similar plot for each genre, and it would just look different because of the different context and theme. And only I would have to know that the stories were basically the same. (Well, not anymore, I guess!) The more I thought about it, the more this sounded like an intriguing idea… and what was more, I could feasibly write multiple “genres” at the same time, because each plot would be the same, so it was essentially “writer’s-block-proof.” I decided to title it A Writer's Tale. Well, one think led to another, and I sat down on September 29 to just start things out and see if I could get enough momentum in an intro… and next thing I know, it’s October 29 and I’m writing the ending and I have no more idea for November (because I had forgotten about my earlier idea by then). So that was a NaNoFAIL that year.

Year 3 (2013) was the year I started this blog! Over the summer, I started the Suggestion Box series, which was well-received and popular among the participants (though precious few there were!) and came to a close just two weeks before November. Now, that first time, what I had done was take the individual lists (which contained a name, a place, a time, and an object, all chosen by the submitter, for which I had no preview) and craft an isolated scene from that. For November, then, I wanted to see if I couldn’t make a big long story using all of the “Suggested Items” and write that. I pooled all of the names, places, times, and objects and divided them into five groups, allotting a minimum of 10K words for each part. It went well for the first part, but as I kept writing, the parts grew shorter, and I found myself arriving at November 29 and having to end the story at just 47K with no idea where or how I was going to add those remaining 3K.

Halfway through, I suddenly remembered the idea I had planned the year before and then forgotten about. Well, I told myself, NaNoWriMo 2014, I know exactly what I am going to be doing!

And so, Year 4 (2014) I finally commenced writing “Clay Heroes”, the story of a young boy who makes figurines out of clay to defend him from bullies, and they come to life and one of them ends up a villain who wants to be his own master, and so the boy must find the confidence from the other heroes to stand up to the villain and defeat him. The story went well enough; it was my first time trying to participate in NaNo and work full-time, and so the first couple weeks I lagged very far behind during the weekdays and then had to write like mad to catch up during the weekdays. As with the Suggestion Box story, though, this ended up much shorter than I anticipated, lasting only about 28K words. To make up the difference, then, I simply resumed an old WIP called “The Last Inkweaver” that I had stopped writing over the summer (and I had actually been quite “blocked” on for a few months before that) and found the inspiration to finish strong by Friday, clocking in at the full 50,000 words by the 28th!

It was hard, most days, but I didn’t give up, even on the days when I could only manage 500 words or so. Giving myself the goal of “1K-A-Day” helped a lot, because usually, if I could reach 1,000 words, that would get me into the middle of a scene where I could just keep writing till I’d made up at least some of my deficit.

In the words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Even if I couldn’t quite manage it that day, I would just remind myself that I always had tomorrow, right up until the very end.

Thanks for sticking with me this month, and stay tuned for more fun writing entertainment from yours truly at Upstream Writer!

Friday, November 28, 2014

NaNoWriMo 1K-A-Day: Day 28

“Once upon a time,” I announced loudly, setting both the tone and the pacing for my story. My friends and I had all agreed that I would need to be loud enough for them to at least hear my voice so they could know whether I was still telling it or not.
“In a faraway kingdom, over the desert sands of the Far East,” I continued, more focused on continuing to talk than paying attention to what I actually said, “there lived a gang of very strong and very powerful thieves. There were five of them, and they constantly raided the merchant caravans that passed their way, and so amassed a vast hoard of treasures. They hid the treasure deep in a cave with many small caverns attached to it. Each of these caverns they had filled full-to-bursting with gold and jewels: in one cavern, they piled the precious stones in mountains of so much color one could not look in that room for very long. In another, they stored gold dishes and goblets of such quantity and size that they could set a table to please an army of dragons. In yet another, they heaped a veritable sea of gold coins. In yet another cavern deep within this cave they had—“

“STOP!” Tark finally screamed. “If I hear about another blasted cavern, I’ll slit your throat and take your friends to market in the morning!”

Just then, I realized that I had seen Japheth going to close the wagon door—but he had never closed it, and he had disappeared. Our plan was working! The other young bandit—I could only assume the two were brothers—was now making his way curiously toward the open wagon. No one had yet thought to call Tark’s attention away from me. I concealed my terror at the slaver’s threat by playing innocent. “Oh, I’m sorry!” I said, “I thought you would have wanted to hear about the treasures these thieves had.”
Tark’s big hand was already clenched around the hilt of his big knife. “Just get on with it,” he seethed.
I did, giving the story everything I had.

“One day, this group of rich and powerful thieves had gone as far out as the nearest town, and they were looting the city coffers, when a little old woman caught them in the act of carrying all that gold out of there. She warned them that some of what they stole was enchanted gold, and if they kept it for themselves too long, it would cause all of the treasure they had to disappear. The thieves did not believe her, and took the gold back to their cave in spite of the warning she had given.”

The brother had not reappeared around the wagon. I nearly let myself wonder what the others were doing to these thugs—but then I saw Tark noticing my expression, and his head was almost turning to follow my gaze!

But!” I shouted a little too loudly, and his eyes immediately returned to my face. I had him once again, and I relaxed and smiled. “But, what these men did not know was that the old woman was really a powerful enchantress in disguise, and the enchanted gold had been placed there from her own personal store. Thus it was quite easy for her to follow them, and when she appeared at the entrance of their cave in her true form—that of a young woman whose beauty defied the most perfect human any of the men had ever seen—they did not recognize her, and they succumbed to her charms as she pretended to be lost and positively dying of thirst and hunger, weeping and wailing piteously into her flawless white hands.”

There! I had succeeded in losing the interest of the woman. She rolled her eyes at my flowery description (which Tark, as it turned out, did not mind in the least!) and noticed the open door of the wagon. She began making her way over to it, as I continued my story.

“The band of thieves welcomed her into the cave, and bid her sit and eat and drink with them. The instant the enchantress set foot in the cave, however, she clapped her hands and all of the treasures disappeared—down to the very last coin.”

Tark blinked, and his expression twisted into confusion very much like the expression of the thieves in my story when they saw their riches vanish. When he saw how serious I was (he could not know that in that very moment, I was watching the burly, bald thug head for the open wagon—but not nearly fast enough, I thought!) he threw back his head and laughed loudly over the fate of the thieves.
“Those goobers had it coming!” he crowed, “That’s what you get for leaving the witch alive! They should have slit her throat there in town!”
I almost commented on his exultation, but I bit back the remark; it would have only made him angry with me, and besides, I had a story to tell.

But!” I said again, and to my credit, Tark quieted instantly and resumed listening to my story.
“But… That was not all that happened. Once the thieves realized their treasures were gone and that the woman they welcomed into their midst was a powerful sorceress, they were very afraid and they begged her to return their riches. The enchantress told them that she had devised a series of tests for them to complete, and then the riches would return as they once were.”

Tark shifted to interrupt me again, but I raised my hand, and he sat back. Progress around the wagon was evidently just as successful as we needed it to be; I now saw a yellow hair ribbon tied around the latch of the swinging door. Larryn’s ribbon, which meant all the thugs were incapacitated, and she would be in the process of making Tark’s treasures disappear. I needed to give her enough time to get them far enough away that he would not find them.

“There were five tests in all,” I told Tark in a quiet voice, so quiet he had to lean in close to listen. “The first was a test of truth: the Enchantress told the thieves to tell her something true—for she had the ability to detect a falsehood. The thieves at once confessed to her that many of the caravans they robbed had been carrying stolen goods themselves, and so they were helping other thieves conceal their riches in this secluded cave in the middle of the desert, while inspiring fear with the help of these other thieves masquerading as robbed merchants.”
Tark snorted. “Amateurs,” he muttered.

I kept right on speaking as if I had not heard. “The second test was a test of generosity. The Enchantress said she would be willing to give them back their treasures if they would give something out of what they have to a person in need, and without any chance to regain it ever again. She showed them an old man with no coat who would freeze in the cold desert air, and bid one of the thieves give the man his coat. The thief did so, and the second test was complete.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see three shadows making their way toward us. It was time to make an end to my story.

“The third test was one of diligence. The Enchantress told them to use the stones from around the cave to build a wall over the entrance of the cave—and if they did not, they failed the test, and they could not receive their riches again. The thieves had little choice in the matter, so they did as the Enchantress instructed. Very soon, they stood at the outside of the cave, and a wall of stones blocked the whole mouth, so that they could not get back in again without removing the wall.”
My friends could move freely through the camp as long as Tark kept his back turned. I saw Belak watching me from behind the tent just twenty paces from where Tark and I sat. The burly slaver still hung on my every word.

“The final test,” I concluded slowly, “was the hardest of them all: the Enchantress desired to test their virtue, to see if they in fact possessed the capacity and the skills to earn an honest wage, so that they could vow to her never to resort to thievery ever again. But even in that, the thieves proved so willing to do whatever she asked to regain their riches that they completed the task to her satisfaction.” I sat back and pronounced the two words that we had agreed would be our signal for the last strike:

Thursday, November 27, 2014

NaNoWriMo 1K-A-Day: Day 27

“I think what the dream was trying to tell me is that we need to use our respective abilities to work together and escape. Now, Belak,” I turned to him, “as the Bull, you are the strength of this group.”
He nodded and waited for me to continue.
“Larryn has speed to her credit,” I said, patting my friend on the knee.
Even though the gag distended her mouth, she did her best to smile at me.
Greyna grunted and made a hissing noise—or as near as she could manage.
“Right,” I said, “the snake; I was thinking about that, and I realized that, even in real life, snakes are not always devious—but they are agile, and able to bend in ways and fit in places other animals cannot. Greyna, with your small size and the way you move—you, out of all of us, could probably slip out of your bonds the easiest, right?”
In answer, Greyna looked down at her wrists and softly worked her hands back and forth; very slightly, the ropes gave at last and began slipping over her hands.
“Don’t do it just yet,” I warned her, and she stopped. “Now, let me tell you the whole plan, and we can be ready for just the right moment.”
Belak nudged me with a grunt, and nodded to me when I glanced his way.
“What am I going to be doing?” I asked for him.
He nodded, and I saw Greyna and Larryn nod, too.
I took a deep breath; my job was going to be the most difficult and the least assured of success—and yet if I failed, we could all be killed.
“The songbird distracted the bear through singing,” I began.
Larryn made a questioning noise.
I chuckled, “No, I’m not going to sing for Tark. But I will have to be the diversion for him, to talk to him.”
Greyna nodded toward me and tried to say something that sounded like “ho-hee.” I glanced down; the medallion was still hanging around my neck—the medallion I had received after telling a story. I grinned. “Yes, exactly—I can tell him a story.”
Belak let out a series of sarcastic-sounding grunts, which by now I was getting pretty good at ttranslating.
“Yes,” I said, “or just ask him a lot of questions like I always do.” I rolled my eyes at him.
For the remainder of the wagon-ride, I explained to them in detail exactly what we were going to do. By the time the wagon rolled to a stop, we were ready.

Tark sat on a stump and slid the blade of his knife along a whetstone as he watched his followers bustle to set up a makeshift camp. Useless dimwits, the lot of them! He certainly didn't choose them because he needed them—but they each owed him something, so that helped maintain their loyalty, and having a few extra knives and bodies was always handy when they struck a group.
The bald one, Friggo, was a washed-up drunkard sleeping with the pigs when Tark crossed his path. A small detachment of the King's Army was giving Friggo trouble, and nearly got him arrested—till Tark sailed in and freed Friggo, giving the idiot a knife in the process. Together, they spilled blood, and in Friggo's puny mind, there was no closer kinship. He never knew what disdain his hero held for him as Tark watched him unloading the tents and supplies.
Near Friggo was Bert—a woman, as it turned out. Tark kept her around not because his group needed a woman's touch (the fact that she was the only person capable of cooking was negligible, but allowed) but because she wouldn't go away under any circumstances. From what Bert told him continuously when he tried to lose her those first few weeks, the innkeeper she worked for treated her like a tanner treats a nag, and she saw Tark as her salvation, and firmly committed her soul to doing everything possible to please him—except touching him. Tark had made that very clear by breaking three of her fingers when she tried to run his arm, and Bert had never ventured within reach of him since. Traveling with the rough, muscle-bound men had toughened her up, and because men's clothes were easier to acquire than dresses, Bert was nearly indistinguishable from her mates.
The other two, Ham and Jap (his name was Japheth, but he hated it—which was why Tark used it at every available opportunity) were the two dull-minded youngest sons of a large family. They fell in with Tark because he promised them easy money and plenty of action—and to this day they still believed that fools-gold promise. The green young boys thirsted after the idea of being like the "bad men" that their mother always warned them about, and Tark's game of duping and selling other people satisfied that thirst like no other occupation. Tark watched them bustling back and forth, chattering like a bunch of squirrels at a picnic. He scowled moodily as he tested the hair-thin edge of his blade. Bunch of babies on a holiday, they were.

The timbers of the wagon creaked and groaned. Tark grinned as he imagined the three girls and the boy he'd so easily tricked, vainly trying to work free of their bonds. Lucky for him, Ham and Jap knew a thing or two about tying inescapable knots. Still, if they ended up breaking the wagon, that would mean either repairing it or buying a new one—and Tark was in no mood to spend the time or money either option required. He signaled Jap, and the strapping, dark-haired lad ambled over.
"Yeah, boss?" He slurred.
Tark gestured to the wagon. "Go see which one of the prisoners is making all that racket."
Jap lolled his dim blue eyes toward the quaking vehicle. “Whaddaya want me to do with ‘em once I find ‘em?” he asked.
“What do you think, Japheth?” Tark took a swing at him, but Jap had been traveling with him long enough to know when and how far to duck Tark’s reach. “Bring ‘em to me!”

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

NaNoWriMo 1K-A-Day: Day 26

“Tell us where you’re from,” Belak suggested to the burly man.
Tark shrugged ambiguously. “Well, when I was a young boy I came from a village on the far eastern border of Gramble—but since I left that place, I haven’t truly had a place that could be called a ‘home’—leastways, not what you would probably call home.” He stretched his arms wide, and they looked like they could enfold all four of us in a gigantic hug, if he was so inclined. “The whole kingdom is my home,” he roared to the fluffy grey clouds spreading their way across the sky.
“Are you one of those vagrants who just wander from town to town, begging for food and shelter rather than plying a trade to earn a wage, then?’ asked Larryn pertly.
“Larryn!” I hissed, shocked that she should be so brazen.
Tark showed his good nature and only laughed at her juvenile manner. “No,” he said. “I do have a trade—just not one that restrains me to one town or shop.” He winked at her. “I’m in the merchant business.”
“Oh, is that so?” said Belak, perking up and sitting up straight. I hid a giggle at the way his manner abruptly changed to one of strict professionalism in the presence of one of his peers. “My father is a merchant, as well. What do you trade, Tark?”
Tark grinned broadly at him, and spat one word in answer.


They moved like shadows in the dim light—one minute we were alone, just five of us; in the next, we were nine people with four knives, each one resting against every throat save Tark’s. The blade tickling my neck didn’t move, even as the slaver who held it used the other hand to shove a wet, dirty gag in my mouth. Then, one by one, Tark visited each of us and bound our hands himself. He paused when he reached me, taking up one of my hands as he had done when we first met. Leering down at me, he made a great show of slowly raising my hand to his puffy, scruffy face. The rage boiled inside me so quickly I forgot about the knife and jerked to punch him in the jaw. My fingers barely grazed his lips as a stinging pain ripped across the lower side of my cheek.

“Idiot!” I saw a fist like a meaty battering ram heading toward my face, but Tark had clouted the bandit holding me instead of taking his frustration out on me. My captor sailed backward so fast it jerked me into a heap on the ground, where I couldn’t move while Tark gave vent to his fury.
“How many times do I have to remind you lunkheads: keep the goods clean!”
I gasped as his huge hand clamped around my wrist and he hauled me to my feet. The wild rage in his face belied the weathered touch of the craftsman’s hands as he stroked the cut. I winced as it stung, and Tark examined the smear of my red blood on his dirty thumb. He glared menacingly at the bandit who had sliced me—even though the incident was entirely my fault.
“You’d better hope that mark is gone by the time we reach the port,” he growled in the deep, rumbling voice that had been so warm and inviting when we had considered him a friend. Now I knew that his manner was a farce, intended to lull us into complacency while his followers moved into position. He shoved me back roughly so that I stumbled backwards into Belak, who caught me and steadied me the best he could with his own bound hands. We huddled in a knot at the center of a ring of knives pointed toward us.

Tark sauntered around the circle, fixing each of us with an appraising eye. He smiled, but there was no more warmth or joviality in his expression. Only the greed and subtle hints of cruelty remained.
“You see, Belak,” he began, “I have a special skill, and that is to discern quality people in the same way a merchant of things discerns quality in the things he acquires to sell. There is so much that can be learned from just watching people. There was a man I met after I ran away from home, and he welcomed me as his apprentice when I showed him how much I could gain with my natural abilities, and he helped me form them into a trade!” He laughed, and his gang chuckled numbly along with him. “When I started dealing in people, you see, I began to learn that, whereas interesting things might be difficult to accrue, the people I collected nearly always came with their own mess of interesting things as a bonus—“ He glanced down as one of the bandits came forward with his arms full of all of our belongings: my sword, the shield, the satchel, and the knapsack. “And you children seemed to have quite the collection of interesting things!” He picked up the shield, examined it, tested the surface with his knuckles, and dropped it. Next came the sword, but try as he might, Tark could not remove it from the scabbard.
“What devilment?” he muttered under his breath as his muscles as big as my head bulged with the strain. I saw his eyes slide over to me; he knew I had been the one wearing the sword. In that instant, I found myself wishing it had stayed invisible; then, at least, we might have had some kind of weapon to secure our escape, whether I had known it or not.
Disgusted, and not wanting to be embarrassed in front of the prisoners he just swindled, Tark threw the sword down and picked up the satchel.
“Take this bag, for example,” he said. “It may be simple enough in appearance—and yet it miraculously contains enough food for a fully-grown man?” He swept his gaze over his thugs. “With a bag like this, we can have all the food we want, without having to beg or steal!” He gripped it by the seams and turned the bag upside down. A single apple, a corner of cheese, and one stale roll tumbled out upon the ground, followed by a single blanket, the coin purse, and a hatchet.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

NaNoWriMo 1K-A-Day: Day 25

Selection from "The Tales of The Inkweaver" 
There once were four animals in partnership who lived together around a cave in the woods.

The bull lived on the green under a precipice outside the cave, where he had shelter from the rain, fresh grass to eat, and plenty of room to roam. The snake lived on the sandy floor of the cave, where plenty of fat mice skittered within reach, and where it was warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

The bird lived in the tree standing at the mouth of the cave, and the hare lived in a little hollow among its roots.

While it is true they all lived in the same place, each one thought itself quite sufficient without the others.

The bull said, "I am strong enough to fend for myself. If anybeast dare threaten me, I can gore them with my horns and trample them with my hooves."

"Pooh, that is nothing!" said the snake. "I can hide in small spaces, cracks in the rock too fine to be seen, and I strike quickly. If anybeast comes near, I can slay them in an instant with one bite from my fangs!"

"You are small and cunning," said the hare, "but you cannot shift your long body away fast enough without legs like mine! I can sense danger before it senses me, and I can be far away before it is even close to me!"

"You may be fast, neighbor hare," twittered the bird, "but you travel the same ground as your predator, and your strength is easily spent. When anybeast threatens me, I have but to spread my wings and I am free to go where I will in the sky, and they cannot follow me. When I tire, I have the wind to carry me. What say you to that?"

So each had their own opinions about which characteristic was best, and they left it at that.

One day, while each animal was about it's business, a bear came and scratched up the tree and entered the cave.

When the bull returned, the bear reached out of the cave too quick for the horns or the hooves, and swiped a claw at its flank.

When the snake returned, the bear thundered with its paws and chased the snake out of the cave.

When the hare returned, the bear roared and showed its terrible sharp teeth. The hare ran away quickly and was too frightened to go near the cave.

When the bird returned, it found all its friends some distance from the cave.

"What has happened?" asked the bird.

"A bear has come into our cave," said the bull, showing its flank.

"It nearly smashed me with it's great big paws!" said the snake.

"It nearly ate me with it's big sharp teeth!" said the hare.

"Leave it to me," said the bird, and he flew to the cave to try and shoo the bear away.

But the bird was too small, and the bear just laughed and did not leave.

"It's hopeless!" cried the bull.

"What will we do when winter comes?" asked the hare.

"We must find another home soon!" said the bird.

"Nonsense!" said the snake. "Don't you see, friends? Each of us alone cannot drive away the bear, but if we work together, I think we may succeed."

So the four friends crafted a plan to get the bear out of the cave.

The bear sat comfortably in the cave, laughing to himself as he prepared to settle down and live in the cave that he had stolen.

Just then, he saw a strange sight. The snake came into the cave, but it was flying through the air! The bird flew with the snake in it's feet, and dropped the snake upon the bear's head, where it easily sank its fangs info the beast's fur. The bear roared in pain.

Just then, the hare raced into the cave and ran circles around the feet of the bear. The bear could not see as the snake slid down its face and bit again on the bear's sensitive nose, and it stumbled over the hare, who raced back out of the cave before the bear could touch him. The bear could not stand it, but the animals were not finished.

The bull came charging into the cave with it's horns lowered, and circled behind the bear. Pushing from behind, the animals goaded the intruder out in the open. The bear flailed with its claws and met only the bull's horns. It tried to swipe the snake from its snout, but only succeeded in wounding itself. Finally, unable to stand it, the bear took to all fours and the bird snatched the snake away as the bear ran far from the forest to find a more inviting home. In this way, the four neighbors learned to work together, and they have been friends ever since.


Far from being wary of me like I had feared, I found that the full, honest confessions of the last two days seemed to make Belak more receptive toward me. He smiled when we approached, and beckoned me toward the seat next to him while Larryn and Greyna took the seats on the other side of the table.

"Sleep well?" He asked in a display of general good manners.
Larryn and Greyna murmured in affirmative. Belak gave my hand a gentle squeeze as he directed his next question toward me.
"Did you dream again last night?"
I had to laugh softly to myself; here I had been afraid ever since the dreams began of any of my friends finding out—and yet now that I had been honest, they treated it with the utmost sincerity.
"I did," I answered, struck with the oddity of this conversation, "but I don't understand it."
"What was it about?" Asked Larryn, as a barmaid brought us mugs of cider and plates of warm biscuits and jam.
I waited until the woman departed to answer.
"Well, for one thing, all four of us were in it," I began.
"Really?" Belak cut in, but I glanced at him to let him know that I was about to expound upon it.
"We were all standing in a field of some sort," I said, "and then we all turned into animals."
Larryn snorted so hard while in the very act of taking a drink that she almost spewed her drink across the table. "We what?" She could barely form the words as she choked on her cider.
"I wasn't any kind of fowl, was I?" Belak said as he chuckled.
"No," I answered, feeling considerably less regard from my friends due to the bizarre nature of the dream. "Actually, Belak changed into a bull—"
"Not a bad idea," Belak remarked, flexing with a modicum of modesty.
I glanced across at the girls. "Larryn was a hare, and Greyna turned into a snake." I shuddered at the recollection. Watching a human being turn into a legless, slithering thing definitely qualified as one of the most disturbing sights I had experienced thus far.
"A snake?" Greyna grimaced. "That's not quite fair, if you ask me. A hare for Larryn is right enough, because she is so fast—but the snakes in all the stories are always devious!" She studied me with a wounded expression. "You don't think I am devious, do you?"
“Of course not,” I answered quickly. “And in the dream, the snake was actually a friend of the other animals—at least, from what I could tell.” Already the images were blurring over in my mind.
“So what does it mean?” Larryn asked. Belak glanced at her, and she defended herself, “What? All her dreams mean something. Are we going to be enchanted at some point today, do you think?”
“Goodness, I hope not!” I cried. “I don’t know what it means.”
“At any rate,” Belak stretched his arms and finished the last bite of breakfast. “We don’t have any reason to stay here in town, so we really ought to be moving down the road further if we want to reach the end before the first snowfall.”
Snow? I certainly hoped we would not be traveling as long as that! We paid our bill to the innkeeper and found the road that would take us further toward Gramble. We had been walking for several minutes before Belak finally said, “Say, Shereya—you never told us what animal you turned into in your dream.”
“Yes,” Larryn spoke up, matching my stride on the other side. “What were you? A doe? No wait, I know: a—“
“Thank you, but I can answer for myself!” I said, before Larryn could tease me with another poorly-informed guess. “I turned into a songbird.” The fact remained: I did not understand the dream. Why those animals? I could understand Larryn as a hare, she was so flighty, and Belak as a strong bull—but what of the bird and the snake? And what circumstances would occasion our having to outsmart the bear that our animal counterparts had battled?

Monday, November 24, 2014

NaNoWriMo 1K-A-Day: Day 24

“So…” he said slowly when our tale was done, “this whole time… you could say the Inkweaver has been controlling us with this enchanted tapestry of hers that you have been using like a map.”
It sounded awful to hear him put it so bluntly, but— “As far as I can understand, you might be right,” I confessed. “The only time we have ever erred from the path marked out on the tapestry was when we stopped in Aberon—“ I shuddered at the memory, “and you know how that turned out.”
“Now, Shereya,” Belak sought to reassure me, “that wasn’t your fault—“
“It was, and more serious than you know,” I rejoined. “It was so much worse for me because I knew, I had heard as clearly as if the Inkweaver herself had told me, what would happen if I went along with Morgianna—but I went anyway, and caused us all to have a miserable night because of it.”
Belak shook his head. “Shereya, be reasonable! That’s not—“
“And when I finally decided to listen and learn from the dreams I was having and the voices and stories I heard,” I went on, “that was when I was able to actually save a man’s life!”
“Is that what happened in the castle?” Larryn cried.
I nodded. “I wasn’t sure how to tell you all because at the time I wasn’t altogether sure how it happened, either—or,” I shrugged, “I was not willing to admit what was really going on.”
“Well!” was all Belak could say.
“Not that I know everything,” I hastened to add. “There’s still a lot that I don’t understand—like the satchel.”
Belak glanced at the worn bag hanging from my shoulder. “What about it?”
I shrugged and shifted its position so it wouldn’t rub. “You might not have noticed, Belak,” I said, “but ever since the very start of our journey, the satchel has always contained exactly what we needed—and Larryn and I certainly did not pack well enough to anticipate all the twists and turns we’ve encountered!”
He stopped short and blinked, “You mean you haven’t been carrying pots and blankets and all of those other things this whole time?”
I had to grin at his incredulity. “You didn’t really think Larryn or I owned things like a hatchet and a tent, did you?”
Belak scratched his head. “I guess I never thought about it.”
“But how does a normal satchel do all those things?” Greyna asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It belonged to—“ I stopped as I realized my friend had ceased walking with us and now stood a few paces back with a hangdog expression.
“Larryn?” I asked her, as a sneaking suspicion formed in my mind.
She sighed. “Oh, all right! It’s true—I got that satchel from the Inkweaver.”
I stood there slack-jawed as Belak demanded of her, “Was this before or after the council banished her from Mirrorvale?”
Larryn’s shoulders slumped. “Before—but she said it would be important! She told me that the day Shereya came to me wanting to find her would be the day that I—“ Larryn stopped and clapped her hands over her mouth.
I felt betrayed by my best friend. “You knew?” I shrieked. “All this time you acted like this was just a grand adventure that you were going to go on and it would just be a week’s journey to Gramble and I would be making the decisions—but you knew the tapestry was going to change! You knew we would be going on this long journey!”
“Did the Inkweaver say anything about returning home?” Greyna queried fearfully.
“The Inkweaver told you she would be leaving?” Belak asked.
“I’m sorry!” Larryn burst out, nearly in tears under our fury. “Shereya, I know I should have told you sooner, but—I didn’t know how. And when I saw that the Inkweaver had left a tapestry behind, well… I sort of guessed that maybe she had been meaning to leave this whole time.” She looked up at me, grabbed my hand, and pleaded, “Forgive me for keeping secrets from you?”
I let out a long, exasperated sigh; honestly! Sometimes Larryn could be so aggravating! “I forgive you, Larryn; now let’s just make it to the end of the journey, what do you say?”
“I’m all for that!” Greyna responded, and we all started walking again.

Larryn stayed beside me.
“Shereya,” she spoke hesitantly and in a low voice, “there’s something else.”
“What is it?” I asked in a pleasant tone, to show her that we were still friends.
Larryn kept glancing ahead to make sure Belak and Greyna weren’t watching.
“Have you always wondered how a girl as flighty as me could be getting such good grades in school, and always manage to behave myself at social functions?”
I didn’t see what this could possibly have to do with what we had just been talking about, but I did admit, “Yes, I would wonder how it could be possible.”
“I’ll show you why,” Larryn said, reaching into her collar. She pulled out a long chain, on which hung a small assortment of metal and stone pendants. “It’s this.”
I stopped and looked at the pendants. There was a round green stone, a thin gold disk, a square-cut jewel, and a long, thin bar of silver. “What is it?”
“It’s a Told necklace,” Larryn confessed.
I gasped. “How long have you had this?”
“Since I was a little girl,” answered my friend. “I went to the Inkweaver to see if she could tell me a story that would make me smarter, or help me get better marks in school, and she gave me this.” Larryn tucked the necklace back into the collar of her dress. “The story that came with it keeps me calm and focused when I need to be.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Larryn, carrying around a Told item in broad daylight all this time! I distinctly remember at one point wondering if she perhaps curried favor to get her grades—now I knew it was on account of a necklace she wore.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

NaNoWriMo 1K-A-Day: Day 23

At the well in the center of town, I stopped to take stock of my surroundings. The townspeople behaved normally enough; I saw smiles and nods between passing neighbors, and various craftsmen strolled through the streets, calling out the nature of their wares to invite purchases:

“Knives to grind! Anyone? Get your knives sharpened while you wait!”
“Flowers for sale! Fresh woodland flowers for sale!”
“Who would like a penny bun? Only a penny, every one!”

I sighed and seated myself on the low bench next to the well. So much of humanity—and yet they acted like the little house with three orphaned children did not exist. It was someone else’s problem—like the stone in the road.

I heard the thunk of tin on wood, and I looked over. A small boy with golden hair climbed up on the bench next to me with a little tin pot in his hand. He stood and leaned against the side of the well, paying no attention to the stranger sitting next to him, all of his attention focused on acquiring the water for his parched throat. He reached out a pudgy hand and seized the rope, pulling deftly to draw the bucket toward him. When it was high enough, he wrapped the rope around a small cleat on the side of the well shaft, and had his fill from the hanging bucket.

As he sat on the bench, swinging his feet and smacking happily on his cup, I soon discerned his round, solemn eyes fixed upon me. Drink finished, he put down his cup and immediately inquired, as if confirming a rumor of grave import, “Do you tell stories?”
The question was so sudden as to be somewhat out of place, but by now I understood that “out of place” on this journey typically meant that this was the intention of whatever Wordspinner magic guided us onward.
“Yes,” I answered the boy with an equal gravity to his own. “Would you like to hear a story?”
He smiled, squinting his blue eyes and showing his tiny white teeth. “Yes please,” he answered readily.
It wasn’t the audience I had been hoping for, but I started my tale anyway.
“Once upon a time,” I said, “There lived a king who ruled a large and prosperous kingdom. He was a good king, noble, and wise, and he wanted to rule his people well. But all was not well in the kingdom, for many of the citizens in the kingdom were unhappy, and daily the halls of the king rang with their complaints…”

I told the boy the entire story I had dreamed, from beginning to end. He laughed at the antics of the arrogant women, he frowned at the squabbling merchants—and he smiled when the simple peasant boy finally came along to roll away the stone, and received recognition from the king for his efforts and selflessness.

When the story finished, I heard a voice ask, “What does it mean?”
I raised my eyes. Somehow during the telling of my tale, villagers had stopped to listen at various times, and now the boy and I had a fair crowd standing around the well. Everyone was watching, having silently hung on every word. Among those gathered were the boy’s parents, and he immediately hopped down and toddled through the hard-packed dirt to cling to his father’s pant leg.
The man who had spoken stood just beside me. He had a grey jacket, a black hat with a wide brim, and enormous whiskers that clung to his jowls like an extra face on his chin. He blinked his wide, smoky-grey eyes at me. “Well?” His voice rumbled. “You have told your tale; now tell us what it means!”
A murmur of assent spread through the crowd. My mind seemed to sputter in my head, like a wheel that can’t quite roll its way out of a small rut. Was this what it felt like to be a Wordspinner? A story that basically tells itself—and now I had to convey some sort of moral? I opened my mouth, hoping that the words would come of their own volition, as the story had.

“Ah,” I said.

“Ah?” The man stabbed the ground with his cane. “That is all you have to say? What sort of a story does not have a meaning?”

Quickly, I began speaking as my words began drawing the correlations my mind had already sensed between the story and the real world events.
“All stories have meaning,” I assured the man, speaking loud enough so that everyone could hear. “And the meaning of this one is simple,” I looked around at the crowd and climbed up so that I stood upon the bench. “You all,” I swept my finger over the crowd, “are like those subjects who passed by the rock and resolved to see that someone else shouldered the burden of responsibility in attending to it!”
“What?” The whole crowd gasped and began turning each to his and her neighbor, whispering accusations and shifting blame hither and thither.
“It is true!” I continued. “There is a stone in the road right here in this town, and each of you has passed it by without consideration for your neighbors!”
“What do you mean?” asked the mother of the boy who had first asked me for a story. She glanced around the square. “Our roads are clean; if there had been a stone, surely one of us would have already removed it!”
“Yeah!” cried a youth standing at the back of the crowd. “Especially if a king or nobleman had hidden treasure underneath it!” Many people laughed at the joke.

“Is gold the only treasure?” I asked him. From my vantage point, I could see Belak and Larryn coming to stand in front of the little house, with Greyna and the three orphans in tow. “Do you really think that the meaning of a story is always so literal? When I spoke of a stone in the road, the meaning you so ardently seek refers to an unfortunate circumstance here among your number that every one of you passes by each day without a second glance—and not one of you has availed themselves of the opportunity to be the person to roll away the stone, to take responsibility for the circumstance, and thereby reap the reward that is concealed within.”

Also from "Inkweaver":

-The Legend of The Wordspinners
-The Last Inkweaver  
-What Are You Afraid Of?  
-In The Inkweaver's Cottage 
-The Unfinished Tapestry 
-Tales of the Inkweaver: "The Three Daughters"
-In The House Of The Talesmith 
-"The Invisible Gift" and "Forward Unto Danger" 
-Escape From Blackrope 
-The Rise and Fall of Morgianna Plontus-Byrmingham 
-The Morning After 
-Tales of The Inkweaver: "The Four Travellers
-In the Court of Count Bergen 
-"The Four Travellers" Part 2 
-Do You See What I See?
-Welcome to Criansa
-Meeting Delia
-A Nice Cup of (Honest) Tea
-Saving Margo
-Tales of The Inkweaver: "Four Animals in Partnership"
-Tark Trades People
-"Plotting" and "Meet Tark's Crew"
-Storytime for Tark
-Tales of The Inkweaver: "The Stone in The Road"
-Moon Valley
-Writer's Eyes

Saturday, November 22, 2014

NaNoWriMo 1K-A-Day: Day 22

Thirty paces from where we had stood, I found a basket discarded on the forest floor. The bright-red berries it had once contained were scattered among the leaves and mud. A little beyond that, the ground gave way to a steep drop into a small hollow where a young girl sprawled. Both her dress and her skin were covered in dirt—and I really didn’t think her short sleeves were appropriate for the cooling season, as summer was fast leading into harvest-time. She had a deep gash on her leg, which rapidly stained everything around it with the red blood. I could see the deep tracks in the mud just below us where she had stumbled.
“Oh gracious,” I carefully picked my way down the side to get to her.

She raised her tear-stained face as we approached.
“I didn’t think anyone would hear me,” she whimpered softly as Belak moved to sit her up out of the muck. I had the satchel with me, and—true to form—I reached in and immediately pulled out some cloth scraps that would be perfect for binding her wound. I wiped the blood off the best I could with some wet leaves from a nearby bush.
I tried making conversation as I worked, in the hopes of taking her mind off the pain.
“My name is Shereya, and this is my friend Belak; we were just walking through the forest when we heard you calling,” I explained. “What’s your name?”
“Margo,” she said, raising a grimy hand to push a lock of her short, uneven fiery-red hair out of her face. “My village is just down the way. I was out picking berries for our breakfast when I—“ she sniffed and wiped her nose with her sleeve, “I fell.” Her face tightened in a grimace and tears formed in her eyes. “I dropped the basket,” she mourned as Belak lifted her frail form easily in his strong arms, “and now we won’t have anything else to eat!”
The three of us made our way back up to the top of the hollow, where Larryn and Greyna were waiting for us. They had packed up the tent and everything else from our little camp already.
“Never fear,” Larryn spoke up. She had caught Margo’s last lament. She glanced at me, and I offered her the satchel.
“We have plenty of food,” my kind-hearted friend announced to the little wounded girl. She tucked a small bun into the girl’s slack hand. “We would be glad to share.”
Margo’s eyes lit up as she stared at the roll. Once she got over her shock, she immediately attempted to stuff the entire thing in her mouth, as if she was afraid we would snatch it away after the first bite.
“Whoa,” said Greyna, ruffling Margo’s hair, “slow down! There’s plenty more where that came from!”
Margo gulped down the chunk of roll and carefully peeled the remainder from her mouth to better be able to swallow. “Y’mean you carry fresh bread with you wherever you go? My sister Terzah has not been able to make bread for ages! You have no idea how good this is!”
Belak glanced at me without speaking, but his expression spoke volumes.

Very soon, we came to a part of the forest where the trees stopped briefly, revealing a small village, just as Margo had said. About twenty or thirty cottages huddled in the clearing, facing a sort of “square” at the center with the communal well in the middle.
Margo raised a white finger. “That’s my house,” she indicated a small apartment at the edge.
Discarded farming equipment lay strewn about the yard. A ragged mongrel of a dog rooted through a pile of trash leaning against the house. I glanced back over my shoulder to the few villagers milling about and conducting normal business, visiting pleasantly enough with each other. Each time I chanced to notice one of them glancing in our direction, their conversation would immediately shift to whispers. Not one of them approached us, though we were strangers in town.
The mongrel saw us and bayed, which opened the door of the house.
“Sakes alive!” a high, girlish voice hissed, “Margo!” A pale face emerged from the shadows, but the person it belonged to seemed reluctant to leave the safety of her home.
“Get her inside, quickly!”

Belak quickened his step, and we landed safely over the threshold before the other girl closed the door behind us. She was no bigger than Larryn, and had the same bright-red mop of hair.
Before I could guess that the two girls were sisters, Margo reached out for her and cried, “Terzah!”
Terzah took her sister into her arms, cradling her like a baby, even though Margo was not much smaller. “Oh Margo! We were so worried! I was about to send Geryon out looking for you!” She set Margo on the nearest available surface—which happened to be the table, while the rest of us could only stand and watch them. “What happened?” Terzah asked.
Margo sniffed and pointed to her leg. “I fell and hurt my leg, and I was calling for help, and these nice people found me!” She pointed around to all of us, and Terzah glanced at all of our faces with that same haunted, glazed stare. When she looked back at Margo, the little girl was holding out the remainder of the bun Larryn had given her. “Here,” she said, “they have lots of fresh bread, and they gave me one, but I saved some for you.”
Terzah gasped when she saw it—in fact, several times, and her breath was ragged and uneven. I could see her collarbone standing out underneath her skin, just above the neckline of her dress. Her hands trembled, but she didn’t reach for it till Margo offered it a second time. “Here,” said Margo, much more at ease now, “take it.”
In a lightning-fast movement, Terzah snatched the bread and stuffed it in her mouth in almost the same instant.

A boot thudded to the floorboards behind us, and I heard the clicking of a rifle.