jack and the apples

Art first; context later.

Jack was Adam John First the Third,
As hale a lad as you’ve ever heard
Run over the brook on a rotting log
With an apple in his pocket and a loose-skinned dog;

And V was Valentine Eve Vereen,
As sharp a lady as you’ve ever seen
Sew pockets in the chimney of her old top hat
For pencils and books and apples for her cat.

Now Jack and V and Dog and Cat
Had something in common (did you guess at that?) —
For Cat and Dog and V and Jack
Were joined in their love of a red sweet snack.
Yes, Dog and Cat and Jack and V
Loved apples in every variety…

I wrote a story once. It was about stories, and how they can be dangerous, and about a father who is losing his son; and in it I name-checked a fictitious children’s book called JACK AND THE APPLES. The name-check itself is later, but the description comes first:

Kelly and Kieran, Madonna and child, that voice like coffee with cream poured into those words like tiny perfect cups. She always hated her writing, but for once she could forget it was hers, just giving him that voice, those words, that slight simple story built up from symbols so old and commonplace you wouldn’t think anyone could do anything with them any more. Apples, trees, a dog, a girl, a boy. But balanced, like calligraphy, flowing in this stately dance out of a spiral notebook that looked like an elephant’s bung-wipe. Light mother and dark boy, a book, a couch, a lap, the sun before naptime. All mine. Can you imagine that?

… I won’t quote the rest — I’m too proud of that story, even if no one would buy it, you can read it if you like what you saw.

The point is, more or less as soon as the story was done, I started thinking about JACK AND THE APPLES. Now, I’ve written a dissertation in neuroscience; I’ve written dozens of scientific articles and short stories; I’ve written a couple novels in the 50-60K range and a couple in the 160-170K range. Footprint-wise, in comparison, a kid’s book is like… well, a kid’s foot. But I tried a few times and it would never come out. I was trying to write it more or less like a comic, with a descriptive mise-en-scene for the artist and the words, and I just couldn’t get anything that would go where I wanted it to go (or even somewhere else interesting).

But tonight, after a weekend of furious editing on THE EIGHTH KING and somewhat less than furious recovery from a really awful cold, I was lying in bed with Rowan and the words just started coming.

I’m not saying the doggerel above will ever measure up to the impossible bar I set for this book in “Keynote Speech…” But I’m very interested that this is starting to take something approximating shape.

THE EIGHTH KING acquired by Curiosity Quills!

People of the Internet: It is with considerable delight and non-negligible bemusement that I announce the corporate takeover of my creative alter ego. The fine folks at Curiosity Quills Press have made the questionable decision to acquire my epic fantasy, THE EIGHTH KING. Publication date isn’t firm yet — you’ll hear more about that. You’ll hear more about a lot.

Speaking of which. There will definitely be book news posted here, especially the stuff that works better in long form. But for moment-to-moment updates, you’re probably going to want to follow me on Twitter or my author page on Facebook. Wattpad and Goodreads are also options, but I function more naturally in FB and Twitter, so there’ll be more action there.

When I was 7, I resolved to have my first novel published by age 10. Better late than never. Here we go.

a love letter

CROSSED GENRES’ April theme:

32: Portals (Submissions: April 1-30. Publication: August 2015)

“…look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.” Alice’s rabbit hole, Chell’s blue and orange teleports, the T.A.R.D.I.S.’s doors… or a computer monitor, or the pages of a book. A portal can open across time, space, and imagination… and it can be closed to them as well.

There’s a story I’ve been meaning to write to this theme. It’s a follow-on to a novella I wrote on Wattpad last year. As soon as the realization came, so did the ideas, with set pieces to match. An orangutan demon, searching among rows of meditating monks like cabbages, looking for the man he’s supposed to deliver a message; war at the foot of a mountain, prayer-powered mechsuits against high sorcery; a dragon who eats the documents that Heaven has no room for in its file drawers. Two points of view (the two lovers in the letter below), told by two tellers, each with his or her own sympathy, in a frame story, and all of it converging on a girl I barely wrote about in THE EIGHTH KING—but for whom I have big plans, if I ever clear the decks enough to write the sequel.

CROSSED GENRES’ word count maxes out at 6000 words. I cut a point of view from the plan, cut the frame story, began. Two weeks and 3000 words in and Lin Ben isn’t even out of the monastery, isn’t even answering to his real name. Probably I could cut that in half, but it wouldn’t be enough. I have to concede what, in some chamber of my heart, I probably always knew: This is a novella, 20,000 words minimum. To do it right.

And, because it follows a novel that’s in queries and a novella that’s on Wattpad, it’s not a priority. I need to finish the War of Songs books—shit, I need to finish THE CLAIM—or I need to finish THE FLAME BENEATH THE STONE.

But, if I can’t finish the thing because I can’t sell it, at least I can share a bit of it. This is the first time I’ve written a love letter. I think I did all right.

Dearest Ben,

With my heart in such a furor, I feel I ought to profess ignorance of where to begin. But there is only one possible beginning; for, if you throw this letter away in frustration, thinking it some delusion or, worse, a cruel prank, then all I have done to find you again is lost.

My name is Chesa. I grew up in the colonies of Therku, in the cold pine forests where the lumberjacks live. I met you on the way from Rassha to the Summer Palace, around a campfire. We had resolved to visit my father and speak to him of a marriage. At the palace, I fought a monster when you were called away, and I died. After a short interval, I began a new existence as a page of the Court Celestial, where I toil to this day.

I know it is a great deal to ask you to believe. I pray the nature of the being who delivered this message will convince you.

My Ben—if mine you still are—I have spent the years writing letters to you, on whatever spare scraps, with whatever broken or discarded implements, I could cadge or find. I could send you the book of my afterlife, if anyone would deliver it. As it is, I have relied on the indulgence of a demigod who finds me useful, and she tells me a single sheet is all she may slip into the subpoena-serving demon’s freight, lest it take notice of the document’s thickness and inform some more influential functionary. I hope the thought of receiving a summons from the Court Celestial did not fill you with too much dread; but perhaps the dread will prove worthwhile, in the end.

But I have already wasted too much time on salutations. I bid you, Ben, to contemplate the substance that now connects us, the stuff that catches ink in the shape of characters and faithfully conveys them to the faithful correspondent. (Are you faithful, Ben? The question does not gnaw at me as once it might.) These characters, of course, are not the perfect, dire shapes that form a summons from the Gentian Circuit; but there are many such summonses, and more each day, a copy of each remanded to some box in some closet in some hall built from bricks of hardened cloud, bound together with a mortar of ground starlight mixed with new rain. The Gentian Circuit alone must produce tens of thousands of sheets each day, each inscribed with the writing of the greatest spirits, demigods, and beasts on Earth, Hell, or Heaven, each summarizing events of consummate importance and all-permeating consequence.

Keep such things together long enough, and a certain kind of energy begins to collect where they are stored, and eventually to grow, and take on forms. They must be culled and gotten rid of periodically, after their usefulness has passed. Or so this demigod tells me, so she claims. It is a strange claim, but I have seen stranger things transpire in these unending hallways, and I can name no reason that she should wish to deceive me.

The Court’s preferred repository for paper that has passed its usefulness is a creature called the Shoat of the Sky, whose specialty is eating the inedible. It lairs at the summit of the Fragrant Heap, the great peak which looms over the Tanggang mining colonies. The tribute will be made on the first new moon of the coming year, when fireworks and festivities will preoccupy the mortals of the outlying towns.

The feed will begin half an hour after the sun has quit the sky. It will be hours before the last paper enters the Shoat’s gullet.

Do you understand, Ben? A door from earth to heaven will be open on that night. And I will be at the threshold, waiting.

I pray this message reaches you in time. I pray it does not betray its true nature to its carrier. I pray it finds a Ben who cares enough for me to climb a hill and dodge a pig. My prayers defy enumeration. I pray that you can read these words. Did we never speak of books, Ben, in all those weeks? How not?

Well, there is your subpoena. Be timely in answering it, I beg you. The Court Celestial barely runs without you, as any heaven fails without a sun.