Thou Art Past The Tyrant's Stroke

Fear no more the frown o' the great,
Thou art past the tyrant's stroke;
 Care no more to clothe and to eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this and come to dust.
shakespeare, "cymbeline"

Write A Break-Out Novel.  Write the Next Best-Seller.  Improve Your Marketing Platform.  How To Be a Successful Writer.  Drive, drive, drive.  Success.  Fame.  (Money!)  It seems as though, if you are not the cat's meow, you are no one.  If you aren't the one at the very top, you've failed.  In our high-powered, high-definition, global world, full of beautiful faces and pristine marketing images, full of the news of success (and the infamy of bankruptcy and failure), the race is on to be the One and Only, the world's darling, the best of the best.  Anything less is complete, shameful failure.

In a sense this mindset is a byproduct of capitalism and the American Dream, a mixture of spun clouds and false dreams, but I don't think I will go into all that right now.  Suffice it to say that, in our relatively free world, we believe we have the right to be the best.  And we do, but so many latch onto that right and blow it wildly out of proportion, losing sight of the fact that, firstly, we have to the right to do our best.  Providence will determine whether we taste fame or not.  It is still incumbent upon us to do the best we can with whatever skills we have in whatever spheres we are placed.  This is your proverbial sine qua non.

In my case, that skill and sphere is writing.  What I am about to say may come across as pessimistic, perhaps even bitter and jaded.  I assure you that is quite the opposite of my sentiments.  I adore what I do and I am so glad I have the freedom to pursue a "writing career."  However.  However, looking critically at my writing compared with popular writing, I do not see much reconciliation between the two and I don't really anticipate ever becoming really famous.  Not in my lifetime, at least.  This is not to say that the possibility is not to be entertained, but judging from my own style and incorrigible allusions to the arcane and obscure, I don't reasonably expect my books to become famous.  This is also not to say that I believe my writing will not be enjoyed.  With the exception of one reader (whose review puzzled me, but one has freedom of speech and opinion) everyone I have run across who has read The Shadow Things has enjoyed it to varying degrees, but certainly enjoyed it.  Everyone who has had glimpses, or full on reads of, Adamantine and Plenilune has enjoyed the stories and their execution.  Personally, I think I'm a decent writer with a fair imagination and a doggish tenacity that will carry me far.  But I don't think I'm popular. 

This doesn't exclude me from pushing my manuscripts and marketing.  Nothing will come to anything if it isn't helped along.  But my expectations for my novels remain realistic.  I don't want to ravage the walls of my stomach trying to push my novels into a limelight they were not meant for.  If they do become famous, I will be pleasantly surprised and rather abashed, but I don't expect it, so I'm not going to worry about it.  There are laws at work in the universe, and while the public does not appear, at first glance, to operate by any order, they really do and one has to respect that.  You might throw in examples like C.S. Lewis and say that some sound-minded, deeply intelligent people do become famous world-wide.  I would have to say that I don't consider myself to be on the intellectual level Lewis attained - my training and natural thought-processes do not yet allow it - and looking at the Lewis fanbase, I wonder if the really good jewels in his writing have been extracted by as many people as like his writing.  I doubt it. 

That's the closest I will come to pessimism.  An artist has to go into his art knowing that a few people will "get" him, many people may "like" him, and lots of people will misinterpret him altogether.  But there is a time and a place for everything, and that's fact.  I don't think it reasonable to expect that my novels' place is the limelight of the American book market; if it somehow is, I don't have any notion as to when that time might be.  Until then, I'm content to quietly rip decent fiction from the bowels of my imagination, put it in some kind of order, and offer it to whatever reading public is silly enough to fall prey to the alluring music of my writing. 

The Devil In Me

"I was born with the devil in me.  I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than a poet can help the inspiration to sing."
Dr. H.H. Holmes, serial killer, 1896

It would appear that the shadow of my last novel, coming after me, is yet long indeed.
 * * * * *
If I stretched I would be rewarded with a beautiful muscular pain which must be what all cats feel when they arch and curl their toes, but I was too lazy even to do that.  Even through the glass I could hear the bees under full sail in the clover; the summer sun pressed warmly on my cheek as I shifted my head a fraction into the embrace of my arm.  It was a rich, lazy summer day, a day of low, slow blood and limbs sprawling across a couch.  For the better part of a half hour I had hovered in a doze, moon-facedly happy with life, and too lazy even to stretch a limb. 
Save for the bees, it was very quiet.  Badger was laid up in bed pretending to be an invalid after the extraction of a tooth.  Mother and Father had gone off alone on horseback.  It was only Bruin and myself this afternoon, silent and companionable, enthralled by the mellowing power of the summer warmth in the solarium.
I do not know why we chose the solarium.  At high summer, with the room all windows and the bulk of it facing south, it was liable to be smothering hot.  But thank God there was a wind that day which kept the worst edge off the warmth; and anyway, Bruin was writing and liked the best light possible.  Like a cat I preferred to be near quiet people while I napped, and the couch in the solarium with its siren’s croon had been welcoming.  I had succumbed to its embraces without resistance. 
There was a soft rustle of paper.  “Goddgofang,” said Bruin quietly: “are you awake?”
Too lazy to stretch, I was almost too lazy to speak.  For a few moments I stared up the curve of my arm, up the back of the sofa into the white image of the sky out the window.  “No,” I said at last.
There was a chitter of a chair’s legs on the stone floor.  (The stones, too, helped keep the room from being unbearably warm.)  “Yes, I thought so…  I have been thinking,” he went on, “and would like, perhaps, another mind to help me.”
I roused myself to turn my head toward him.  He sat in one of those rather uncomfortable straight-backed chairs—though, I admit, I have always been a bit free with my posture—poised lightly with one hand spread on his papers and the other crooked, holding a pen; his head, too, was turned at me, and there was a little thoughtful, patient smile on his face for he seemed to anticipate my sluggish blood and was ready to fight against my desire to go back to my cat-nap.  Realizing he meant business, I blinked, cleared my sun-dazzled eyes, and gave him my attention.
“I am listening.”
He held my eye and did not look away.  “I was speaking with Avery the other day about my books.  He mentioned that he had just finished Scandalon and marked to me his own surprise in the apparent disparate natures of myself and my book.  ‘One wouldn’t think it, to look at you,’ he said—I think he meant it kindly—‘that you had such a raw imagination.’  It puzzled me.”  The puzzlement formed a darkness between his brows—Mother’s brows, I thought of a sudden.  Odd how I had never noted that before. 
“It puzzled you that there should seem to be such a difference between yourself and your works?” I prompted.
But he shook his head, smiling a little shyly.  “Nay, not that.  I am aware of that, and that, I think, is only natural in the writer…  Nay, it was his underlying meaning.  Perhaps it is best displayed in his non-verbal speech.  He seemed abashed.  I had one of those awful moments in which my mind ran back over all the uncomfortable scenes in the book and I had to stand there and act as sleek and cool as a cat knowing that we were both thinking the same thing.  Yea,” Bruin suddenly laughed a little at his own expense, “if he was abashed, I was nigh embarrassed!  But most of all I wondered why he did not understand me.”
My mind, too, travelled back across the pages of that book.  A raw, unsettling novel: the story of a man on his merry way to heaven only to find, when he got there, that he was in hell.  Avery was the sort of fellow who saw things in black and white—which was not bad, but the intricate patterns which black and white could make in life sometimes went overlooked by him and, when he found them, often mistook them for grey.  Scandalon was not the sort of book he would have really liked.  I was a bit sorry for that, and even found myself sore on Bruin’s account. 
Bruin had turned away, back toward his manuscript, and was going on quietly as if to himself.  “I become worried by this turn of events.  Afterward I was able to think back over my novels, each at a time, and found each subsequent story a little harsher than the one before.”
I put out my leg on the arm of the sofa, bending my foot until the long lean muscles in my calf groaned with delight.  “Hast only three,” I pointed out placidly.
He looked at me askance, and it was Mother’s face I saw.  “A’come,” he said with the closest he came to roughness, “I am trying to explain myself.”
“I follow you.  I just do not want you to outweigh yourself with plumage and feathering of importance.  The book is a good book,” I added definitely.  “So what is the trouble?”
“I am,” he replied with emphasis.  “I am.  I looked at him and he looked at me, and it was not that he thought there was such an apparent difference between myself and my novels, but that he feared there was no difference.  I was of a sudden all the evil and villainy of my novel—none of the goodness of it,” he marked out: “people will forget that.”
A harsh, involuntary smile gripped my mouth.  “They like to be mean-spirited.”
But he shrugged.  “I do not know that Avery himself meant to be mean-spirited.  It is perhaps that age-old disconnect between the writer and the reader.”  Suddenly he waved one hand.  “But that is not what I am talking of.”  With both hands and an angry splatter of ink he gestured forcefully at the paper in front of him.  “When I write, I write for people to see things—ordinary things which have always been there, but which people overlook—or do not see through overuse.  I don’t believe it was so much the shock of Reynard winding up in hell instead of heaven that got to Avery.  I think it was Reynard himself.  I think it was the upending of his virtues.  For some time Reynard comes across as an admirable gentleman.  I found myself at turns watching him display virtues that I wish to possess.  Then when we get to heaven—hell, that is, in this instance—it is like that ending passage of The Inferno in which the world is suddenly thrown over on its ear—quand’ io mi volsi, tu passasti ‘l punto al qual si traggon d’ogne parte i pesi—and everything you thought turns out to be quite the opposite of what it was.  I think that shocks people: to see their virtues turned into vices.  And I think it shocks people who know me to know I think about these things.”
I shifted my head so that I could watch my foot idly moving, stirred by thought.  In the long silence I heard the bees and, presently, the scrape of a hoe in a garden.  I reflected again that, unlike Badger, who was like me in forthrightness—and so, for that matter, rather like Mother—Bruin had inherited Father’s knack of saying many things and nothing at all, and hiding what he really meant behind his words.  Over fifteen years of practice I had learned to pick apart my brother’s words and uproot what he meant.  Sleepily stretching, I gently cursed his lack of glibness.
“You mean that you have to play the blackguard, and they do not like it.”
There was a momentary silence.  “Yes.  I suppose that is what I mean.”
I turned my head on my arm.  “But, by the stars, man,” I said roughishly, “that is what makes you so fine a writer!  ‘One would not think it to look at you’—by which he means, you’re a delicate-looking whelp and you smile like butter.  But you have fangs in your mouth and you’re not afraid of biting down on the black-tasting aspects of life.  How else could you write our enemies so well—which are ourselves—if you did not think like a villain?  I ask you!” I finished, thrusting a hand out at him.
“Nay, then—I, too, hear you,” he said patiently, not looking at me. 
I sighed.  “Then may I go back to sleep?”
“That sleep which you were not in?”
“Yes.  That sleep.”
He put his elbow upon the tabletop and laid his jaw in his palm, looking away from me toward the southern meads.  The swimming light made a crown of gold around his young head.  The little fiend! I thought tenderly—and was not sure why I thought it.
“None so easy,” he said at length.  “I know that, to craft a good villain, one must ‘play the blackguard,’ as you put it.  At times it is…wildly pleasant.  Exultant, in a way.  Whether that is the thrill of making something well or the latent evil in one’s blood, I do not know.  Perhaps that is why the question nags at me.  I know I do well what I do.  I just wish people would not look from my books to me in that manner.  Truly,” he added, coming round with a suddenness unlike him, snatching, in the act, a book from the table and flinging it at me, “villainy runs in our veins!”
I caught the book and stumbled to a sitting position.  It was an old book, yellowed and unruled, and full of Mother’s hand.  I read a few passages and looked up, suspicious.
“This is Mother’s diary.”
“Yes, I know.  She let me borrow it for research.”
I shut it again with as little quickness as I could for I did not want Bruin to know that I would rather not read those old accounts.  I had lost my comfortable position and began rooting around in the cushions trying to find it, all the while taking the time to think. 
He pre-empted me.  “Do not think,” he said, “that I have some enormous psychosis which, Cervantes-like, drives me to imagine unreasonable and untenable suppositions.  I am sound.  It is only that I wish they knew that.”  He laughed a little, softly.  “I do not want a leper’s bells…”
“Tush, sirrah!” I said.  He was really beginning to frighten me.  I abandoned my attempts to be comfortable.  “The proof is in the pudding.  Yea, Scandalon itself is the best test of your mettle.  How could you, being mad, write such a clear distinction between goodness and villainy?  That is your strength,” I pushed, “that is your keenness.  You see perhaps more clearly than others and are you to blame that your natural instinct prompts you to write the dichotomy?  Did God, in his infinite wisdom, look into the thoughts of his own mind and see the beautiful starkness that lies between himself and all that is evil—and did he not subsequently write as such?  How great the villainy—how great the conqueror!  That is what you do, Bruin.  That is what you write.”  I dropped back off the lip of the sofa, breathing a little heavily.  “And that is why books like Scandalon are perhaps so dismal: you know how to dream the nightmares that the wicked ones endure.”
He seemed unwilling to be overwon by me.  For some time he sat quietly, moving only his left foot a little, turning it on the point of his boot as a dancer might, his unseeing eye roving over the lines of his manuscript.  I could see that I had not adequately addressed his concerns, but how could I account for the peevish insinuations of a handful of readers when it was plain from the text that the author was standing on both feet? 
“It is not our fault,” I pointed out flatly, “that people are stupid.”
This produced a momentary flash of laughter from him and set his mood in a better temper.  “You are right.”
“Of course I am right,” I said, snapping up four fingers.  “Now put your face into a better shape before I knock the horse out of it and get back to your villainizing.  Nay—”  I heard a door crash shut in the wind and twisted toward the peristyle.  “Speak of the devil, the reprobates have returned.”
In a flurry of sunlight and wind, jerking a little forward, for the solarium door always caught a bit on a lip of stone, Mother pushed in, flushed and disreputable-looking.  It seemed the only cool thing about her was her faintly supercilious brow and the press of her mouth which always gave one the impression that she was trying not to laugh. 
“There you are,” she said in her warm, husky voice.
I emerged from the couch—the stone flags were deliciously cool underfoot—and stepped around an avalanche of ornamental pillows, bending down as she turned her cheek to accept my kiss.  “Your hair is a mess, Mama.  Did you have a good time?”
The sharp laughter stabbed at me from the corner-glance of her eyes.  “You’re impertinent.  How is Badger?”
I turned back on Bruin, at a sudden loss, and likewise his gaze met mine.
The poor beggar had not occurred to us.

In The Kink of Every Vein

I will hold your hand, love
As long as I can, love
Though the powers rise against us
Though your fears assail you
And your body may fail you
There's a fire that burns within us
andrew peterson, "carry the fire"

I said I would do another snippets post when I reached 100,000 words; I'm not quite there yet: I'm at roughly 92,000 words.  That number will have changed by the time you read this.  I've noticed that, unlike Mirriam, who can write good stories and make her stories action-packed and snappy, I take longer to unpack my plots.  Whether or not I can hold your attention remains to be seen...  I confessed to Joy that I do have another post in the making, one to be tacked on after "A Common Provenance In Pain," but that I have been busy - busy with writing Gingerune, busy dividing up Plenilune into chapters and coming up with good titles for those chapters, kicking idly at the opening scene of Adamantine which needs to be born again or else it will never see the kingdom of heaven...  Is now a bad time to bombshell that I'm also gearing up to spend this coming autumn semester in Scotland?

"these wretched eminent things"

Why doesn’t he look like a monster? He always looked like one to me. He looks—I could have broken his skull. I could have killed him. Why didn’t I kill him?”

Mazelin smiled encouragingly. “Eating: the answer to all the heart’s problems. Ah, how I’ve missed Thera…”

She turned over her hand and saw the lines defined by the charcoal. Some people claimed to read fates in the lines that crisscrossed a person’s palm: if that were possible, her fate looked like a spider’s web. 

The bench was cold, the night air was chilly, but a fierce and shining glory was burning at the kink of every vein in Ginger for she was acutely glad for Roxane’s company, for birth and life and warm fellowship: not even Philon could sour that. 

Faces came back to her out of the unwelcome sense of loneliness and fate: Melitta’s, Philon’s, haughty Anehawk's, immobile Akmennades’—the bull’s. It seemed everywhere she turned save in this hollow of earth that was like a grave were faces that despised her, mocked her, counted her as nothing. If she crawled down off her bench and leaned out over the pool—and if the light were good enough—she would see yet another face which looked back at her with quiet, desperate loathing. I roar in defiance and strive to be great, yet I will never conquer my blood. O Elohim—impulsively she flung an arm over her eyes to shut out the sight of the dark—what am I, and what wretched thing is man?

Their eyes met, warning and instantly serious where before Ginger thought they had been sharing a violent kind of joke. In the dark, colourless ring of Mazelin’s eye she saw the predetermined, cold-blooded desire to kill.

Between the broken pillars that marked the beginning of the lane Ginger looked up and around, dumbstruck: the massive structure lifted itself like a man hefting himself out of a pool, its great shoulders rising over the edge of the cliff, its shattered walls and leaning, roofless pillars gleaming in the hot, unadulterated Middle Sea sun. Everything was built on a huge scale. The doorways—what were left of them—rose like gateways to the sky. Stairways would have been uncomfortable to climb for people of an average height. The weight of a single vertebrae of one of the columns took Ginger’s breath away to estimate. 

The Argolime,” whispered Roxane—it was the time and place to whisper. “It fits it better for a name: like a wreath of laurel.”

The blacksmith watched dispassionately, his bottom lip a little thrust out in the expression of a man who is longsuffering, but would rather be elsewhere.

In the space of quiet Akmennades seemed to have found his temper again. With his voice muffled a little by the crook of his elbow, he remarked, “The light-well catches sound admirably. I have been listening to your talk below. I have learned two things: that the man Mazelin grows almost careless when he is excited, and that, when she is not angry, the girl has a very pleasant voice. It is like yours,” he added, lifting his head a little as a bird soared upward on a bank of wind, “but nicer.”

Beneath the ugliness of it all there was a beautiful irony in that, but she still hated that he had betrayed them again, lied to them all, and dumped them all back into Anehawk’s palm like so many pieces of silver. Well, his debt was paid. She hoped he liked his reward.

She could not help swallowing: he had one of his thumbs under her jaw and had pressed just when he said ‘swallow,’ and the horrid liquid went down against her will. It burned on the way down. Like a horse caught in the mire her mind kept lunging, catching, falling backward, white-eyed with terror. 

A house in town,” [he said], tearing up the loaf of bread. “A respectable business, neighbours shuffling in and out without scraping their sandals on the threshold. Something to look forward to.” 

He moved and, in moving, moved other things, built them up or tore them down, never lying still. It would be an all or nothing matter for him, she realized: either he must grasp the rudder of Thera and put his shoulder to her, or he must fade into obscurity. He could never survive being mediocre. 

"We come from fighting stock. We may be the last of an old breed, but that is what makes us so damn beautiful." 

"Yet you are stubborn,” he concluded, biting off the words with a sudden anger which baffled Ginger. “You might have been great, yet you are only pathetic: a tiny, fragile thing bloated with pride, a thing born of sweat and screams. I have given you great grace and you have only resisted me. You are but a man. If you will turn in my hand like an unbalanced tool, what shall I do with you? You are worth a woman’s blood to me.” 

On a little marble table close beside the door she spotted a little masculine figurine done to perfection in obsidian, an arm uplifted, first two fingers spread in triumph. It seemed as if it should be familiar, but she could not place it. 

I see that, like your mother,” he said lightly, “you do not have the knack of respect. That, too, I will teach you." 

With a feeling of sickened ecstasy she felt her body whirling and breaking free. Her foot hurt but she made herself put her weight on it, bounding, hands coming down to meet the floor. And then for a second she was a catapulting, weaponized thing before she crashed headlong into Mazelin’s rough and ready embrace. 

You poked the bees’ nest and you have no idea what to do about it.”