Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Price of Independence - Rough - Day 8

After some time picking their way through the woods once more, they arrived at the head of the valley. Hills rose to either side of them, steep and rocky in places, while the forest was thinner. A faint animal trail wound its way down toward the valley floor, though they couldn’t see that far as the trees grew thicker further down.
“These hills look like they could be susceptible to landslides,” Altman commented, eyeing the slopes. He found his eyes drawn to low areas where many piles of rocks had accumulated, most overgrown but still possible to make out even to his eye.
Kaylene glanced at him with a raised eyebrow. “A city boy like you is suddenly an expert on landslides?”
“My specialty at the Academy was in the geosciences. I may never have done any fieldwork myself, but I’ve been well trained in what to expect, and what to look for.” His earnest, serious expression was too much for her, and peals of laughter rang out. “I don’t see what’s so funny,” he complained.
“No no, I didn’t mean that! So Mr. Learned Man, what else can you tell me about these hills?” she managed to say coherently after a few moments to compose herself.
He dismounted, Deman and Kaylene following suit. “Yes, Alt, show us what more you know of rocks and stones and metals!” Deman glanced over at Kaylene and winked. “All through our time at the Academy, I never was able to distract him from his work long enough to get a good idea of what exactly it was he was learning.”
Altman started toward the southern hills, scanning exposed rock surfaces and inspecting foliage. There was a lot of low-laying ground cover so the pace was slow. “And what did you study there, Deman?”
“I,” he said with a certain self-importance, “was learning administration. SOMEONE has to keep these science types in check, wouldn’t you say? One day you’ll be reporting to me, Altman!” he called ahead. Altman, still engrossed in the rocks, made some sort of vague affirmation. “Probably didn’t hear a word I said, the poor guy. Where would he be without me?”
“You’re a good friend to take such an interest in him,” she said with a cool smile. He was about to reply when Altman’s voice rang out.
Deman looked over his way, then back at Kaylene. “He’s probably already forgotten us. We’d better go collect him.” She just shook her head and followed after.
“Here, you see? These greenish spots. There aren’t many, but that’s copper.” He didn’t even look up as they arrived, just traced his fingers over the rock, inspecting it closely.
“Looks like moss to me, are you sure?” Deman demanded, bending in close to look.
“Of course I’m sure, Dem. This is what I’ve been trained for! And here ... There’s even less of it in this area, but these reddish brown streaks. There’s iron in these hills.”
“Impressive, city boy, you do know what you’re talking about at least.” Kaylene watched the two with one hand on her hip, the other holding her spear.
“Of course, of course ...” Altman worked his way across the exposed rock absently. Deman straightened up.
“You almost sound like you know what he’s talking about yourself,” he observed.
“Me? Only a little. I help ‘ol Mr. Tremaine out once in a while and he’s talked about his work. Can’t say I understand most of it but I know he’s talked about iron and copper in the area before.”
“Huh, well I’ll be,” Deman said, considering. “But not much of either, then?”
“That I couldn’t tell you,” she said with a disinterested frown.
“... and here ... here ... what have we here? It can’t be ...” Altman had reached the edge of the exposed rock face and was examining not the rock, but a small dark patch of foliage at the bordering edge.
“Well I’ll be,” Altman said, stunned.
“What is it, Alt?” Deman closed the distance and stood looking at the scene uncomprehendingly. “All I see is some dying grass.” Kaylene came up beside him, the hood of her cloak passing into the beams of sunlight shining down and casting the patch into shade.
“Kaylene, you’re ...” Altman started to protest. “You’re ... in the perfect spot. Don’t move, please!” He leaned in a little closer, then drew back. “Do you see it? Tell me you can see it.” There was definitely a small—tiny, really—mineral patch within the rock that was casting the faintest blue glow, barely visible in Kaylene’s shadow.
“I ... think so. It’s glowing isn’t it?” she asked uncertainly.
“By the Council, I think you’re right,” Deman said. “But what does it mean? That’s no iron or copper I’ve ever heard of.”
“Unless I’m very mistaken, I think this is electrite.” Altman’s voice was hushed, almost awed. “It’s electrite ore!”

Continue to The Price of Independence - Rough - Day 9

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Price of Independence - Rough - Day 7

Another short one today. Not only is it Thursday, a notoriously busy day for me to start with, but I still have my Super Secret Project and now another Super Secret Project! I'm getting busy, but this is a good thing.

The next morning the three of them rose, Altman and Deman from their camp, Kaylene from her home, breakfasted and then set off. The boar had been delivered, dressed, preserved and stored in the care of Kaylene’s family in their small home, and had fed them well the night before.
The trip to her home had consumed another couple of hours. “We’ll get this beast taken care of and stay the night, then set off in the mornin’. We should get to your uncle’s home long before sundown,” she’d said.
Altman did his best to keep his nose out of his experiment notes and plans in order to get his horse packed up and succeeded in at least not delaying the others too badly. Deman rolled his eyes and sighed in amused resignation. Kaylene betrayed no reaction beyond a mild interest in his notes.
Finally they were ready. Altman had the letter from Tremaine open and was examining the map at the bottom. “You know where this creek we’re looking for is from here?”
Kaylene smiled. “Yes indeed. You camped right next to it. There’t is right behind you!” He looked from the map to the creek and back again several times, brow furrowed, face screwed up in concentration. Kaylene laughed.
“But ... that means we’re almost there already! It looks like it should be farther.”
Kaylene walked her horse up beside his and pulled the map from his hands. She studied the map at the bottom and nodded slowly. “Nope, this is the one. We oughta be there not long past midday.” With that they set off, riding along side the creek through the woods.
By midday the woods had thinned slightly and the way was lighter, the trees a bit younger, and the creek was curving to avoid a rise of the land that suggested they were just about at the hills. “The head of the valley is just ahead,” Kaylene confirmed.

Continue to The Price of Independence - Rough - Day 8

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Price of Independence - Rough - Day 6

The woman nodded at each, face not changing expression. Altman cleared his throat. “Erm, well, thank you ... We might never have known that boar was there.”
“Oh, you’d have found out quick enough, I think. Another minute ‘r two and it would’ve made sure of that.” She examined them critically. “What’re city folk like you doin’ this far out in the wilderness? It’s clear you sure aren’t hunting.”
“As a matter of fact we are hunting for my uncle’s home.” Altman looked her over more carefully; her cloak was worn and rough at the hem and stained from travel. She used it often and well, and had likely been out for an extended time on this particular trip. “You live in this area then?”
“Not far. Where does this uncle of yours live? I don’t know of anyone else in these parts.” She maintained her expression; Altman was starting to find it a little unnerving.
“He doesn’t live around here, we’re still on the way. He described a valley. We’re looking for a creek that should lead us to the hills around it.”
Finally her expression changed; she looked thoughtful. “You must know Mr. Tremaine.”
“Yes! Eldrid Tremaine. He’s my uncle. Well, my great-uncle, actually. You know him? You know where he lives?”
“Yeah, I know him and where you can find him. Might be willing to show you the way, if you can help me out.”
Deman had been silent the whole time, watching Altman and his reaction to Kaylene. With a smile and not a look at his friend, he chipped in, “Certainly! But what can we city folk do out here for someone as experienced as you?”
She dragged the spear point out of the boar and prodded it. “I wasn’t out here to hunt, but suddenly I find myself with quite a haul. You have horses, and I won’t be getting this guy very far without one. Help me get ‘im home and I’ll help you get where you’re goin’. It’s not out of your way. In fact, it’ll get you closer.”
“Deal.” Deman once again spoke before Altman had a chance. But it was Altman she was looking at when the smile finally broke over her face. A shock ran through him as her eyes became warm and seemed to bore into him for just a fleeting moment.

* * *

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Price of Independence - Rough - Day 5

I spent more time on a Top Secret Project today than I did writing, so this is another short update. This may be a fairly regular occurrence on Tuesdays and Thursdays, though I still intend to write SOMETHING every day and post it.

She was armed, he realized; she carried a staff, which was weapon enough itself, but it took him a moment to realize the heavy pole was tipped with a sharp spear point with a cross-guard. He noticed quickly enough when she hefted it point-out and raced right toward them.
It was about this point that Deman noticed her; his first sight that of a spear aimed entirely too close to him. He yelled out as she went by, rearing back, startling his horse. The horse added its own cries of startlement, and then the girl was past, darting through the space between their horses without a whisper of sound. Altman turned to watch her pass, but even so he barely saw her draw the spear back and lunge forward, driving the bladed tip deep into the side of a massive boar they’d been completely unaware of not 5 meters from their location. His mouth dropped open in shock.
With an ear-piercingly loud but brief squeal of pain, the boar tried to lunge at the girl, but it caught on the cross bar of the spear. She held her ground, but it pushed her backwards toward them almost a full meter before it collapsed to the ground. While the two young men sat astride their horses, looking on slack-jawed in shock, she stood over the boar catching her breath. Finally she looked around at them. “You two are from the city, aren’t you.” It wasn’t exactly a question.
“Yes ... ah, thank you ... Um ...” Altman managed, somewhat tongue-tied.
“Kaylene.” A heart-shaped face stared up at him levelly, eyes cool under the hood.
“Altman Dolet, and this is Deman Buxton.”

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Price of Independence - Rough - Day 4

Days passed uneventfully as the pair made their way along the Southern Road. The last of the guard towers were long past the day before when the road began to turn gradually to the east. Altman checked the map on the letter carefully. “I think this is it. We should turn west here.”
Deman inspected the map himself, uncertainty written on his features. “Are you sure we haven’t gone too far already? Not that I don’t trust you, my friend, but you haven’t spent all of your time traveling. Are you sure you know how to judge these things?”
Altman sighed. “No, I’m not sure. But the road just started turning to the east, right? Does that not match what we see here?”
“Yes, I could see it that way, I suppose. I was expecting a sharper turning point like we see there,” he said, pointing a touch further down.
They bickered for a bit, then finally agreed to turn off when Altman pointed out they merely had to find a long stream that meandered through the woods and lead to the valley where it disappeared under the hills near the valley’s mouth.
They were only a few hours past the Southern Road, off into the woods on what Altman assumed must be a game trail when a sudden quieting of the woods pricked at his attention. It surprised him, back in the recesses of his attention, just how used to the subtle sounds of the woods you could get even when you’d never spent any time in them in your life. Nothing showed you just how used to it you were until they were suddenly gone. Even the sound of the wind in the trees seemed to have died off.
Altman searched intently ahead of them, trying to see anything that might have spooked the wildlife. Dem looked back the way they’d come.
“You there!” he called. Altman turned his horse awkwardly. It took him a few seconds, but not more than 20 meters back, he thought he saw an off-color shape flitting from tree to tree. His horse edged closer, which he took as a good sign; didn’t horses edge away from danger? If they recognized it as danger, at least?
Dem sat his horse with an air of caution, radiating uncertainty. The rustling in the brush grew louder.
Altman’s horse started forward again, and suddenly a figure melted out of the shadows of the trees.
It was a person, and not an overly tall one. Coarse brown trousers and a dull green hooded travel cloak obscured the figure’s sex, but something in the movement made Altman identify it as a female. She was slight of build and moved with an economy of motion and ease of posture that spoke of experience. Altman was about to speak again when she raised one hand and put a finger to her lips. He bit back the words.

Continue to The Price of Independence - Rough - Day 5

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Price of Independence - Rough - Day 3

They chatted for a time and Calland asked after Altman’s experiments, which he was only too happy to show off and explain at length. After saying their farewells, Altman replaced his equipment and began a list of the things he’d need for the journey.
He was two hours into his preparations—mostly shutting down the experiments, as they wouldn’t keep until he got back—when Deman arrived. With astonishing speed and accuracy, he spotted the preparation list. “Altman! We’re going on a trip, and you didn’t tell me? I am astonished and appalled!” Altman couldn’t tell if Dem was serious or being flippant, but there was a certain aggrieved tone to his voice.
“This isn’t a trip to the pub, Dem. It’s a personal matter of family, and a trip of indefinite length. You don’t have to come this time.” Altman’s smile was a touch sad.
Deman looked at his friend and his expression turned sober. “Nonsense. We may as well be family, and the least I can do is see you off. If you don’t return with me, so be it, but I insist on at least making the trip down there with you.”
Altman looked at him for a long moment, then sighed in acceptance. “Company along the way would be welcome. But you do know there won’t be any pubs don’t you?”
“Well. Then we’ll just have to bring our own along, won’t we?” And with that, the matter was settled. The rest was simply the province of detail.

* * *

Deman tied the last bag to his horse’s saddle and looked about in satisfaction while Altman shuffled notes and papers in a leather folio. “We’re all set. You’ll never regret this, Altman. Just wait until you see what you’ve been missing all this time!”
Altman glanced up, finger marking his place. “What? Oh, yes, of course. Are you ready?”
Dem rolled his eyes, sighing ruefully, and swung himself up on his horse. He’d already packed Altman’s horse for the journey, knowing if he didn’t do it, it would never get done. “Indeed, my friend. If you’d just get your nose out of your work for a moment, we can be off.”
They rode out the massive stone and iron gates of Holdswaine at dawn. The chill autumn air hinted at snows to come and turned their breath to mist while they gazed at the blaze of the season’s colors in the trees. The road was broad and empty as they made their way south and west toward the valley described in Eldrid Tremaine’s letter.
Over the first two days, they would pass Holdswaine guard posts, reassuring small wood and stone towers and filled with armed men who kept banditry to a minimum. The distance between the towers increased steadily beyond that point, and by the fourth day they’d long passed the last of them.
The road took on a somewhat more sinister aspect after that, and the two were grateful when they passed through the occasional small village. Altman found himself jumping at shadows over the long stretches of unoccupied road; every rustle of wind brought an imaginary bandit raid from the thick forests the pair rode through.
"I wish we’d thought to bring an arms-man along," Altman commented wearily on the fourth night as they made camp just off the road.
"And I wish we'd brought a whole troop of them, but sadly we are not wealthy men. We’ll have to do without. Though I should say it’s just as well we aren’t wealthy, as we’re not a terribly tempting prize, now are we? Barely graduated scholars out on a journey to a run-down cottage in an obscure valley with little more than the clothes on our backs?"
The comment was offhand, but put in that light, it did ease Altman’s mind and soon the pair slept.

Continue to The Price of Independence - Rough - Day 4

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The True Writer's Block - First Drafts

I need a bit of a break from the fiction for today so I'm writing this instead. It's just one of those days.

About a month ago I got into a discussion with a friend about writing and the concept of 10,000 hours to mastery and it spawned the idea of this post. You can find the discussion in the comments of Indre Viskontas' Effortless Mastery post.

I believe in writer's block. I do NOT believe that it is something that causes you to be unable to write, despite having suffered from it for very long stretches of time in the past. That is simply a misunderstanding that occurs when you run into a speed bump during your writing. Sometimes things come to you quickly, other times it doesn't. Those are the times you feel like you're blocked.

Over the years I have come to think of writing as being very similar to sculpture. Michaelangelo said “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

Writers too must do this, chipping away at our blocks to reveal a beautiful story or a novel. The main difference between the writer and and the sculptor is that we as writers have to create our blocks first. We do this by writing a first draft.

There are plenty of ways to write a first draft. You can do it slowly and carefully, editing as you go, valuing quality over quantity and/or speed. You can do it all in a rush, ignoring problems in a reckless, headlong dash to get it all down, valuing quantity (or speed) over quality; this is the NaNoWriMo method. But either way you need to end up with your first draft when you're done.

First drafts are just the starting point. The REAL work begins when the first draft is done. You've got your block. Now you have to carve it, shape it, chisel away at it, fine-tune it and polish it into something 'shaped and perfect in attitude and action.'

Embrace your writer's block, and then break it, and reshape it. Your writing will thank you for it.