My 2015 Bookshelf

You're acquainted with that gig we do each December/January, when we all post lists of the books we've read during the last year.  It's tradition.  I walked into the sunroom to pick up my book-log moleskin notebook and jot down the latest book I finished, and the tradition came back to me.  So here I am, writing up a post of the books I've read this past year.
the purge
Before I get into that, I have to admit I did a thing recently that I never thought I would do, that most book bloggers will instinctively consider anathema.  I got rid of books.  Lots and lots of books.  I sorted and cleaned my shelves.  I still have quite a chunk of books left, but an even larger mountain of books are sitting in my garage in boxes, waiting to be carted off to Goodwill.  I had so many books, it was pinching my nerves.  They were ugly and messy and made me feel guilty when I looked at them.  I hadn't read most of them - many of them, I honestly didn't feel like reading at all.  So I pulled them all off the shelves, I sorted through them, and I kept only the ones that I loved, only the ones I actually, seriously wanted to read (not the ones I had told myself, "well...I'll read it some day"), and the books I knew I wanted my children to read.  That was it.  That constitutes a large collection still, but much slimmer and more manageable than the zoo I had before.  Phew.
the list
The Tulip by Pavord (1/3/15) - a massive, beautiful book on the history of the tulip. yes, I read a gigantic book on a flower.

Assurance by J.C. Ryle (1/7/15) - a little booklet on just that, the assurance of salvation. I love J.C. Ryle's work.

50 Things Every Young Lady Should Know by West  (1/7/15) - a little book on feminine etiquette. got this as a Christmas present from my parents last year.

A Year In Provence by Mayle (1/20/15) - a funny culinary journey through 365 English days in a French land.

First Principles of Verse by Hillyer (2/12/15) - a small book I picked up at random, but which proved to be a gem of instruction.

Jane Eyre by C. Bronte (3/-/15) - this doesn't need any introduction.

Villette by C. Bronte (7/-/15) - another of Charlotte's, a beautiful, personal fiction of an English girl in France. Ask Katie for details. XD

Wuthering Heights by E. Bronte (7/-/15) - I read a lot of Bronte this year.

Rebecca by du Maurier (8/3/15) - phew! what a tense, tense read.

For All the Tea in China by Rose (9/12/15) - an account of Robert Fortune, the man who stole tea plants from the insular world of China and broke the Oriental monopoly on the world's favourite drink.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by A. Bronte (??) - arguably my favourite Bronte novel thus far, with Jane Eyre being close.

Agnes Grey by A. Bronte (10/3/15) - not as strong a novel as Anne's latter work, but that's understandable. still, enjoyable!

Face Paint by Eldridge (10/22/15) - ever since hearing that my favourite makeup artist was publishing a book on the history of makeup, I was on pins and needles to get it. it did not disappoint! what a lovely, insightful, inspiring read it turned out to be!

Black Spring by Croogan* my bad, it's Crogan, I just miswrote it (11/17/15) - this novel was recommended to me by Mirriam; it's a fantastical twist on Wuthering Heights, and I hate to admit it, but I enjoyed it more than the original. I felt that Croogan took some of the holes or poorly answered aspects of Emily's work, and fleshed them out, made them even more poignant, or put them in a garb they should have had. perhaps Emily should have written fantasy instead. it might have suited her tastes better.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Kondo (11/25/15) - one of the most delightful, inspiring books I've read this year, this simple, drastic approach to decluttering (and staying decluttered!) has helped me shift loads off my life.

The Little Book of Skincare by Cho (12/28/15) - yes, more Asians! I absolutely love Korean skincare and if you let me loose in one of their department stores, I would be happily lost forever. their fabled ten-step routine is legendary and I thoroughly enjoyed getting a front-row seat via this book, getting to know the Korean way of skincare in wonderful, accessible detail.
the current
The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Schiff. I saw this endorsed by historian/author Robert K. Massie, whose books my father owns many if not all of, so I grabbed this book off the B&N shelf without a second thought.  so far, so good!

how about you? what did you read this year?

The Point Is To Avoid Them

I saw a list of romance tropes on a popular, otherwise reputable blog the other day.  At first my thought was that the author/blogger was warning young writers against these tropes.  Disappointment: she was not.  Some of them were so-so, many of them were regrettable, some of them were downright awful.  I had to laugh to keep from crying.

I'm going to give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume she just found this list, alphabetized it, and posted it, because I certainly hope no established author in her right mind would willingly recommend young writers use tropes as a crutch.  We've all used tropes before, okay?  We all start there.  Then we look back and blush and try to hurry on as quickly as possible.  But please, don't recommend to people that these tropes are actually good things.  We're supposed to move on from them, not carry them with us.

Okay, I'm going to hit the highlights here.  You ready?  Be prepared to blush and laugh and cry and tear your hair out.  It gets good.

abduction to love: I think this is called Stockholm syndrome, and isn't it considered a bad thing?  Yo, Phantom of the Opera - what do you think?
accidental pregnancy: Somebody please explain to me (I am otherwise experienced in this) how you can have an "accidental" pregnancy. 
amnesia:  Ah ha ha, "50 First Dates," anyone?  How depressing is that...
antihero romance:  Unless you really know what you're doing, this is going to be lame.  Just because he/she is the antihero does not mean he/she is automatically hot/brooding/mysterious.  
arranged marriage:  Because we are so enlightened now and arranged marriages are a freak-show of the past. 
bait and switch: Yeah, that worked out well for Jacob.
beauty and the beast:  Again?
best friend’s lover:  Blurred morality.
best friend’s sibling:  Why is this a big deal?
best friends/ friends first:  Finally, someone is making sense here.
blackmail:  How does blackmail produce romance?
bodyguard crush:  Oh, grow up.
boy hates girl:  Yes, yes, I know, but try not to disguise the fact that they are going to get together because, let's face it, we all know they're going to get together.  That's how the stories work. 
boy meets ghoul:  Say what, now?  
boy meets girl:  Really.  Tell me something I don't know.  The book was listed under "romance," after all.
break his heart to save him:  Go ahead and try this one, it could be good.  There is immediate character interplay just in this one line.  This is the kind of love which has true grit: it's going to save him, even if it means he can't have what he thought he wanted.  It could be good.
bully turned puppy lover:  Because this is obviously what we should all strive for.

celibate hero:  What.
consanguinity: At first I thought we were talking about incest, but no, it's not that bad.
crazy love: What.
damaged lead finds happily ever after:  Because no one has ever written that before.
dark secret keeps them apart:  Or this one.
different worlds:  Or this one.
fling:  Oh yes, this is the best idea yet.  Shallow, biological attraction.  That's the heart of romance right there.
forbidden love/Romeo and Juliet:  I'm still convinced that "Romeo & Juliet" was meant to be a comedic satire on EVERYONE WHO WOULD WRITE THAT KIND OF STORY.
girl wants bad boy: Girl, go home.  You're too stupid to know what is good for you.
guardian/ward:  Everyone sees that coming.
guy wants cheerleader:  The hell why?
if I can’t have you, no one will!:  May or may not have used this one to some extent in "Plenilune."
imaginary love triangle:  I tried to use imaginary shapes in geometry class.  It didn't work.
impotent love:  Exactly why are we using the word "impotent" alongside "love"?
innocent cohabitation:  Yes, this is what naive young girls fantasize about, but real life does not work that way. 
instant/false sweethearts:  I - what? I don't actually know what to make of this one.
it happened in Vegas: Because that is always the precursor to a healthy romance.

long-term lovers: I know, they're such exotic creatures these days.
love reforms villain: Usually lame and frequently unrealistic.
love triangle:  I think most readers actually hate love triangles.
mad love:  How is this different from "crazy love"?  Is it actually mad?  Is it angry or insane?  I don't have enough to work with here.

men in uniform:  I'm sorry to disappoint you, but the militia has already left for Brighton.
mistaken declaration of love leads to love:  I actually sat here for several minutes trying to work this one out.  I've got nothing.
one night stand:  Are you serious right now?
one wants true love/other wants a fling:  Seriously?
oops! fall in love with the wrong person (which could ruin everything!):  Okay, wow, love is not a contagion that you can't avoid despite taking women's supplements and drinking orange juice every morning.  It's not something that "accidentally" happens to you.  Sheesh, I am so ticked off right now.
partners in crime:  Literally or figuratively?  Because crime is still crime, whether you love your accomplice or not.
passionate lovers:  As opposed to dispassionate lovers.
Plain Jane get the hottie:  Yay, Jane!  You go, girl!
playboy:  Encouraging the erroneous view that rich, profligate guys are totally hot and if you can just reform them of their ways, they will still remain mysterious, suave, and filthy-money-loaded.  
politics:  There is little romance in politics.  You are either a pawn or a prostitute or both.  

reluctant sex worker:  As opposed to an enthusiastic one?  Guess she won't get a good tip.
removing the rival:  But what if the rival was "the one"? What if they were both walking side by side and one of them gets struck by lightning?  What then?
rescue romance:  This has been done.
return to hometown:  This has also been done.
revenge:  Because that worked out so well for the Count of Monte Cristo.
road trip romance:  There's nothing more romantic than having to put up with the woman's tiny bladder on a long car ride.
rock star hero:  Money? Check.  Fame?  Check.  Good looks? Check.  Got yourself a perfect recipe for a cheap romance right there.
royalty:  Yes, just so long as you give me a male heir, otherwise we're through.
scars from the past:  Done.

secret baby- he doesn’t know she’s PG:  I literally do not know how to handle this.  Does "PG" mean "pregnant?"  Or does she need parental guidance?  And, you know, if she is pregnant, he's going to get wise to the situation sooner or later.
secret that can end everything:  I may or may not have testified against those French nobility.  You may or may not be an Englishman in disguise.
sibling triangle:  I was also afraid this was incest, but I think it's just that two siblings are crushing on some one other unrelated person.  This actually happened to someone I know and, trust me, it turns out super horribly for everyone.
sibling’s ex-spouse:  I'm going to be downright honest here and say that, since I do subscribed to what God has said, this is not an acceptable situation unless the spouse has died.
sleeps with everyone but you:  Then maybe there is something wrong with you.
sudden parent:  What the hell even?  Generally you get some warning, so, no excuse.
the one that got away:  Then obviously she has good taste.
time travel:  Super, super difficult.  Do not attempt unless you know what you are doing.  A good romance is hard enough to pull off without throwing time-travel into the mix.
tortured hero(ine):  Wow, that's a novel idea.  I've never heard that one before.
tragic love affair:  All affairs are, by nature, tragic.
tragic past:  Yes, by all means, let's cheapen real tragedy.

unrequited-love-switcheroo love triangle:  I cannot take you seriously if you use the word "switcheroo."
unwanted harem:  Now, this is just hilarious.  
virginal/innocent:  I know, right?  It's so rare these days.
wallflower noticed by the rakeYes, but did you remember to pick up the leaves?
In case you were wondering, yes, I really love romance.  Right off the top of my head, I can think of only two pending stories which do not include romance.  Romance is great!  Romance is sweet.  Romance touches us.  Romance is what we all long for.  So yes, I am making fun of most of these tropes - because tropes are generally stupid.  But also yes, I am completely in favour of romance.
Just not these.

What I Owe You

Back when I was working on publishing Plenilune all on my own - no, let's backtrack over that.  To say I published Plenilune "all on my own" is a misstatement.  I had lots and lots and lots of help.  Seriously, it would never have been possible if not for the many, many people who responded when I reached out to them.  I am so thankful for that.

It was not an easy road, and some people made it even harder.  In my stumbling attempts to figure out what to do and where to go, someone took personal offense at my difficulties.  Upon contacting this author in the hopes of receiving a shout-out on her blog for my book, I received the coldest, most crushing email I have ever got from anyone ever.  It was made very clear to me that I was considered no more than an up-start, an amateur, a poor writer, unworthy of regard.  I was so stunned by the tone of the email that I sobbed.  Needless to say, I'm full of self-doubt and esteem issues.  I wonder if I am any good every day of my writing career.  It didn't help to have someone so viciously add fuel to the flames. 

I deleted that email, but I haven't forgotten it.  I've never contacted that author again, but the wound she served me is still sore.  But it did highlight one thing for me today as its memory resurrected in my mind - as it sometimes does.  It showed me how much I owe to you people who still believe in me, who love Plenilune, who anxiously and patiently await my subsequent books.   

Thank you.  Thank you, everyone who loves my work, who cares for me, who supports me, who cheers me when you read my snippets, who stick around The Penslayer even though you know I'm quietly working away and have nothing to update.   

Thank you.  You are why I am here today.  You are why I look forward to publishing another novel.  You, my "blogging friends," as you were scathingly referred to, are my support, my network, my grape-vine.  You care and you are awesome.  Anyone who has ever had a career serving art to people will tell you - the people are your friends. 

so thank you. thank you so, so much.
xoxo, the penslayer

Drakeshelm & Adamantine Updates

Does anybody really care?  Does anybody really care?  Do I care?  Yes, I think I care.

I am three parts lazy, two parts bereft of ideas, and six parts bad at math.  And that is why The Penslayer has been so quiet lately.  But I think you do care about my writing and I like to tell you how things are going, I just don't always have a meaningful update to give.  "I'm writing.  I'm still writing.  I've petered off for now.  Okay, I'm writing again," is an accurate but dull description of my progress.
current work
My "current work-in-progress" is Drakeshelm, one of my Plenilunar novels.  It's pretty far down the chronological line, but I don't like putting novels on hold which are bursting to be written, because then I lose the inspiration and the story isn't as good when I go to write it later.  So I'm working on that now.  At the risk of jinxing myself, the storyline is coming along nicely.  This is the first time I am writing in the third person from two separate characters' points of view, and the trick is to make sure my readers don't feel sorry to leave one character behind and try to rush through the next character to get back to the first.  Because, let's face it, we've all read those books.  Both characters need to be equally engaging.  And it is not easy.
dabbles
Alongside Drakeshelm, I am also allowing my rewrite for Adamantine to bob up now and then whenever I get the inspiration for a scene.  I am intensely excited for this novel.  I have almost completely divorced myself from the original draft, and very nearly cut myself free of the nagging terror that this draft won't be as good as the first.  Mirriam said "It's more like the dreams other books have when they go to sleep," and I think that is pretty much accurate.  And just in case anyone still needs a little more convincing that this draft is going to be in lockstep with what you have come to expect from the Penslayer (yours truly, not the blog), allow me to favour you with one of my current favourite clips.  Enjoy!

I could smell the electric spirit reaching fever pitch and I knew it was too strong. In a panic I leapt forward, my staff crosswise over my body, and screamed into the gale, “Fall back! fall back to me!” with every nerve straining to make my voice heard through the tempest.
They heard me. The roaring turned on its heel and seemed to rear up into a howling shriek which rattled my bones. Out of the fireshot darkness came first one streaking white weasel, then another—then they were fleeing past me like a comet storm while the Good Dog filled the void behind me and made for them a bulwark against the onslaught. My skin felt raw with their light, my nerves were breaking with blast and surge and thunder and the effort to hold it all together. The last little spirit shot behind me and something in me almost had time to whisper, It is over, get gone at once! but then I sobbed with heartbreak for at the same moment I saw it was not.
The storm came at me out of the vale, hurling aside the trees, burning sky and landscape in a titanic lightning battle that shivered and sheared and turned the marrow in my bones to vapour. I could not move. It rushed up the hillside at me in a manic wall of fire, cracking off thunderbolts from a dozen places at once so that the air bled with energy. Every hair on my body rose on end as the electricity coursed in blue streaks across my flesh. It roared up to me—
And stopped. Out of the wall but inches from my blood-drained face shivered a crack and materialized a mask of ivory and scarlet geometrics, caught in a mimicry of a snarl, and I came face to face with the Weapon. 
adamantine

Another Year Under Wraps (And Snippets)

The first day of December!  Christmas is around the corner! (In twenty-five days which never sounds like a long time but then seems like eternity.)  I am now twenty-five years old, and my baby is about to be one!  Oshkoshbagosh!  I cannot believe it has been a whole year; looking back, I'm not sure how I survived.  It has been both more rewarding and more grueling than I imagined it would be.  Just today I was tickling and twirling my 20+ pound baby over in my arms and realized that I never would have been able to do that a year ago: simply caring for her has made me stronger physically, and it has made me more selfless as an individual.

Finding time to write is actually not that hard.  Filigree has a decent schedule and, if I like, I can write whenever she is taking a nap.  I don't always, but for all you who consider having babies and writing, and despair, take it from me: it's not as impossible as you think.  Okay, but seriously, I want to give you a snippets post and go take a nap because I am falling asleep as I write this, so let's get this post written here before I lose your patience.
snippets
She drew up suddenly with clustering images crowding between her eyes and the bleak world around her, pictures of the bird’s-head on the pike and the bird’s-head on the man, pictures of the great tent into which she had gone, heart in her throat and a fanged smile on her lips, like the fox trotting into the wolf’s den. Candlelight had but barely dispelled the holy gloom: on low tables, denuded of all but spatters of blood, she had been brought into the presence of the gilt deities of the Higu. The bird’s head had looked upon them with reverence and reflection, but [she] had noted them at only a glance, bird-shaped, dog-shaped, flame-shaped, woman-shaped…then her eyes had run on round the perimeter of the enclosure, her skin prickling with the nearness of other things, things which the eyes could not see and the soul shrank from in fear.
drakeshelm

Either thou art a great liar,” said Touchlight, the soil and the roots of his parentage breaking through his cobbled tones, “or thou art an exceptionable woman.”
“For the sake of Hunlaw-gang,” she remarked glibly, “I hope I am the latter.”
drakeshelm

With one man coughing his death-blood on the back of her neck, the other supporting himself on one good leg, [she] dragged herself clear of the mess. Her free hand found the head of the lamed soldier, bare, and she dug in her fingers to get purchase on his hair. She was rewarded with a bolstering earful of swearing as she hauled herself to her feet. Unexpectedly out of breath, she dropped her sword, took the man’s head in both hands, bent over it while he struggled in her grasp…
Don’t kill him, she thought wearily. One…two…three…
She brought her knee up into his face. With a grunt, the body jerked and slumped out of her hands.
drakeshelm

Thank you, Philip,” she gasped. Fumbling at her middle, she unlatched her sword-belt and let it slide, unheeded, to the floor. “Thank you. Thank you.” Her voice kept coming. In detached horror, she could not make it stop. Her hands were shaking. Her hands were bloody and shaking.
drakeshelm

It might have been enchantment—it was uncanny. Of a sudden a wind came with a noise and rush through the place, hard enough to shake the trees into a tempest over the walls and whirl the fresh leaves over the seats and across the pavement. Akilina felt the hair on her body rise on end with a sensation of excitement and horror. There was a dual sound of whispering, rising silks as gentlemen on every hand rose up from the benches, their faces turned toward the doors. Her heartbeat slowed, stilled, drubbed rhythmically through her body like the beating of the waves on the shore.
Good Lord of all and God my God, protect me.
The doors were heaved aside: the fullness of the wind banked down the rostrum, pivoting on its invisible wings and clipping, lifting the mailed coins of Akilina’s veil. Their ringing was a small, hollow sound under the wind. She felt her eyes widen as if to swallow up the sight of the two figures in the doorway—and almost at once she felt a stab of disappointed rage when she saw the man was not the Devil for whom she waited. Who he was, she did not know. She did not recognize him. He was tall and finely built, lean yet broader at the shoulders than he was at the hip, fair-haired and of the arrogant, noble countenance known to the people of the Honours. He was not one of the Cubs, of that she was certain at a glance: he had not the colourless eye, that sneer which was of second nature, that lightness of limb and aura which tread down the solid matter of nature like beetles underfoot. Yet he was of importance, for upon his arm he bore none other than the She-Wolf.
Her, Akilina would have known the whole moon over, though she had never seen her before. Rumour fell short and upon its face before the woman’s feet. In the sweltering air of summer she wore a billowing, unkilted gown of white silk, weightily trimmed in flashing samite, which the wind made sport with and frothed round her frame like the breakers of the sea. That frame, for all that she had borne, was undiminished in its splendour, quite as tall and straight as the gentleman beside her, both graceful and fertile in shape. Her hair was unadorned, long and loose and loam-coloured, weaving round and framing a face which hurt with its beauty and made one hate it with a passion. She walked with the gentle swing of one accustomed to horseback, she looked round on the homage of the lords of the Honours as one accustomed to their praise.
Akilina leaned back in her chair and folded one leg over the other. Albeit beautiful, what was the She-Wolf to her? It was not the Devil’s paramour she had come to duel with, but the Devil himself. Her heart beat quickly again, and now it was flooded with an angry heat. Had he come? If she found he had sent the She-Wolf in his place, not deeming her worthy of his notice, she would teach him she was such a foe with which to reckon.
Suddenly the woman stopped, throwing up one hand; the gentleman beside her halted mid-step. They were half the rostrum from Akilina. The wind had dropped. The heavy silence was profound. Had they felt her rage?
“Well?” said the voice of the Devil at her elbow. “You have called us. We have come.” 
cruxgang

November: Drakeshelm

pinterest

No, I am not doing Nano. Not this year, anyway. But all things considered, Drakeshelm is coming along rather well: ideas keep clustering and gathering, and I slowly keep writing, and the current steadiness of the work is encouraging. The main document clocks in right now around 28,260 words, so a little over halfway to "novel" status.  Yay, two thumbs up for me!  Would you like some snippets? I think you would like some snippets.
snippets (as promised in the above)
Dragon-powder and brutish curses exploded in her ears, but in that moment the healer in her had surged uppermost, vision tunnelling, the dim ring of battle rising in her ears to sing over all else so that she was caught in a shining bubble of one single note. She remembered sweat and blood and sleet coursing off a naked leg onto soiled stone.
She remembered Destrian’s face.

Not as tall as Commander Herro, but still he was taller than she—most folk were. She looked back at him, her lips pursed in a flat, grim line while her vitals seemed to slow inside her body, cautious, ginger, sensing their way like a cat in the dark. The wind whistled round the orderly’s helm and buffeted about his cloak; he stood motionless, waiting.
Touchlight and I brought you down. I made him run for Envelain as soon as we got you here. I stayed with you. You don’t remember? You were coming in and out like Cerberus trying to get out of hell.”
No. No, he did not remember. He remembered the tunnelling of light and the consul at the end of it, sprinting for him like a little golden race-hound with her dragon-helm becoming the mask of a supernatural fiend.

You made the mistake of laughing.”
Slowly, she raised her eyes from the dance of her knife. Herro stared at the ceiling still, unblinking: but he had been listening, and had gone so far as to listen to the gaps between her words and taste the bitterness underlying the sweet-and-spice of her blithe tone.
He turned his head toward her. The firelight shot off his eyes and quenched again. “You laughed at them. At the bird and the pike and the cracks in the dark. You laugh. That is why people hate you.”

Carrilus huffed, humoured. He put down the paper. “We were at the bend of the Ghir where the forest comes down to the edge of the cattle flats. We had made our bargain and were ready to return home when two horses and their riders broke out of the wood and came at a flat gallop toward us. Anyone would take the pale horse for a good one at a glance! But the consul killed that admiration the instant she came up to us. She reined in on the outskirts of us, pushed off her hood so I got a picture of her face—pale as a vampire, with a sporting of blood on her lip to add to the effect—and then she laughed. She said, ‘You poor bastards! Who is your leader? Whither do you go?’ She has a way of setting your back up before you have even met her properly, have you noticed that?”
Alwin had, but in his mind he was trying to link together the frayed ends of the story which Drakeshelm had been telling him to the sudden recommencement in Malamour’s tale. She had been running. Running for her life.

Struggling to think—it was like crawling through furze.

Yes, sir. I left Moneypenny there.” Destrian turned round. “Was Moneypenny still on duty? He has not been sent to the infirmary?”
“I’ll be damned if I know or care!” replied Carrilus. “Stand out of my way!”
Destrian’s shadow fell across the light. In his still carefully modulated voice, he said, “I do not know what has come over you, sir. I am not your enemy. Commander Herro needs rest and quiet; I would thank you to lower your voice.”
“I would thank you,” murmured Carrilus, “to get out of my path and let me have a look at him. He is my friend—”
“He is my Commander.”

In an arc of scarlet and silver, Krichirin lifted the weapon, gilt tassels falling back to his elbow. It sparked, smoked, smudged the world in black and orange and the throb of horrified blood. He aimed it at Drakeshelm’s head and fired.

Happy Birthday, Plenilune!

(still a flaming beauty)
I know, right?  A year ago today!  It's hard to believe.  And now I've got two manuscripts written (one in sore need of revision) and another in the works.  Phew!  Plenilune just keeps rolling on.  I am so, so thrilled to be able to say Plenilune is a published work and that readers have enjoyed it beyond their wildest dreams.  Most people love it; some people love it and hate it and don't know how to live with themselves because of it.  It's divisive and fantastic and seriously you're never the same after it.
update
A slapdash first draft of Ethandune (number two in the Plenilune series) has been written; because it's slapdash it needs a LOT of editing and polishing.  Talldogs (number three) has a first draft.  I'm currently working on the manuscript for Drakeshelm (number seven).  I can't say when these will be published.  I want to publish them in order so that the chronology makes sense to my readers.  Howsoever, I'm writing them to be published so unless a piano falls on me from a very great height, look for these titles in the future.
instagram
Yes!  I've mentioned my Instagram before and honestly if you've been wondering why I'm so quiet here on The Penslayer, it's partly because I haven't had a lot to update on, and largely because I now do a lot of updating via Instagram.  It's a great, fun social media platform that I actually love.  Because really, most of us have love-hate relationships with most of the social media that we use.  I actually enjoy using Instagram.  I post word count updates, excerpts, and now I'm doing a series of makeup looks for characters from Plenilune.  Check it out!




 These are recognizably Black Malkin, everyone's favourite female character.  I have a shoot of Julianna of Darkling-law also up on my Instagram account, I have two shoots done and ready to be edited, and I have several requests for more looks!  I now have the chance to fuse my two loves, writing and makeup, together into one project and I love it!  Look for me in the "find the Penslayer elsewhere" button at the bottom of my blog page.  

got some looks you want me to do? shout it out!

Chapter Titles Are Delicious

niroot puttapipat

I've been slowly pecking away at my Drakeshelm manuscript and thinking, meanwhile, about the plan for Adamantine. Not a lot for me to show you guys, due to that.  I have taken requests for makeup/outfit looks for characters from Plenilune and I've already done one for Julianna from Darkling-law - posted on my Instagram account.  If you'd like to keep abreast of those fanciful, awesome, fun looks (yes, you do), keep watch on my Instagram!

Meanwhiletimes, although I'm not much for pen-and-paper outlines, I do sometimes chalk up chapter titles in my head to help me know where I'm going (and what I meant to put in a chapter, besides), and I thought I'd share a few.  These come from all over the place and I'm not going to tell you which books they belong to - I'll leave you to guess.  Do feel free, you know, to guess.  It will be amusing for us all.

the man who wears the lionskin
"the thing we brought among us"
white eyes
the day of jezreel
the land of nimrod & its gates
the lion among the foxes
belteshazzar
tatter-catskins
"tempus est"
the great & terrible day
the far hallelujah
heavy like panther-skin
"my death & thy protection"
clockwork blue
the december prince
"kill him for me, aaron"
the desolate sanctuary
the hound that bays will also bite
rough & honours
jure uxoris

Remarkably like Flannery O'Connor's chapter titles, now that I think about it.  I haven't read her much, just her essays (I'll get to her fictions one day), but we have that in common with our chapter titles.  Dorothy Sayers too, I suppose...  Do you enjoy creating chapter titles?  Do you have favourites?  Share! share! don't be shy!

Fey Dangers Lurk in the Night: Snippets

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I would like to give you an actual snippets post. While I have been writing, I have not been writing much, and so I've been quiet on that front. But I'm a writer, so I write. It's what I do.  Please forgive my hither-and-yonly attitude; at present I am going where the wind takes me.  At present I am also fighting a most damnable cold, and caught up in the speediest reading of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall that I can manage, so you can see how one's writing might slow...
snippets various
What is it?”
I noticed that, although considerably on the alert now, she took the letter regardless.
“It is a letter of introduction, madam.”
“Hmph!” Nevertheless, while I teetered on the edge of dreadful suspense, she ruthlessly opened the letter, and for a moment the room was quiet as she read. What I suffered in that awkward silence! My mouth felt dry, my head felt cold. 
adamantine

Well?” demanded my cousin, leaping to her feet. “Who was it? You were hardly gone five minutes.”
I looked at her stupidly, barely registering her words.
Rudely, she pulled a face, presumably imitating my own. “Dunce-cap! Who was it? Lord! are you deaf? Tell us who it was! Who would come to see you?”
Of a sudden my mouth was dry, dry like cotton, and my heart felt stone-dead in my chest. “No one,” I said softly. Somehow my weak and feather-light body crossed the room and sat in its chair. “It was no one. It was a mistake.”
adamantine

He turned at the clear sound of my abashment. For a moment—barely a moment—I had a view of his face, but I lost it again as he turned to me, his silhouette blotting out the light.
“Did I surprise you?” asked his disembodied voice.
I blushed. “I do not know how you perceived me. I made no more noise than a cat.”
“I could hear a cat.”
I had no footing to stand upon and felt smaller than ever in his presence. How tall he was, I noticed, and slim, built like a racehorse, somehow dwarfing the dark, looming furniture of the room. He seemed at once a long way off, and yet too close. Had he been any other man I would have stepped forward, closing the gap, to make us more comfortable in our mutual humanity. But with Mr. Tennfjord one could not quite be human.
adamantine

Thankfully, he tossed away the topic like a spent match. I was conscious of it smouldering, but he seemed not.
adamantine

Amy said briskly, “I’m as that glad naught become o’ thy sister, but I say nobut ought to be out o’ that hour. Naught good comes o’ folk out and about so late! ‘Tis a God-forsaken hour. Maybe I live in a household o' heathens,” the girl said frankly, “but I believe that strong as fey dangers lurk in the night for folk as foolish enough to be out when they ought to be abed.”
“Maybe…”
“Can’t help wondering if the dog didn’t do thy sister a good turn. Made sure as she got home safe, nenny touching a hair on her head.”
“Aye! Fey-like.”
adamantine

Not like thy brothers. Art soft as a girl,” she mused. “Pretty, too.”
With an otherwise motionless face, he smiled. “Do you know why they call us the Devil’s cubs?” His smile faded. “My bones are made of iron, and my marrow runs with flame.”
She half-turned away, darting him a look under her lashes. “Not ice-water? That was the tale I heard.”
Quick as lightning he snapped out one hand and caught her a pinch under one ear. Scared and hurt, she screamed and yanked free, a hand on her neck, her eyes wide and flashing with alarm and rage.
“Thou—blackguard!” she rasped.
Bruin relaxed. “Yes, now you better know me. Do not provoke me.” 
lamblight

The Commander was there already, with his shadowing orderly and the first-degree captains, including the man who had escorted the garrison’s supply of beef, herself, and her manservant. The cheap animal-fat lights made harlequin shadows of their faces, reddened, tough, veneered with cheerfulness over a growing tension. Someone made a joke and the lights seemed to flicker up, bolder, brighter, more golden now than red, and their faces were changed likewise with flashes of genuine mirth. In their cold, backwater outpost which was hardly of any account to the cartographer, they had their own ring of companionship. In their way, they loved it and were content. Nostalgia and loneliness bit at [her] where she ached under her right collar-bone. 
drakeshelm

[She] looked down at the thing she had drawn from her pack. It was her chain of office, links of Pallas-metal enhanced with a single viridian spinel pendent in the shape of a branch. The firelight turned the white metal to gold; the gem breathed in the light and hid it away in the depths of a single facet, from whence it glowed a hot, angelic green. As she raised her hand a fraction, the light grew, as though taking a breath for a deeper plunge; light-bolts of fire flickered off the links.
“Philip,” she said, “let me have back my cloak.”
drakeshelm

In a blank madness of depression I hurtled out of my chair and ran to the sideboard. A knife! A goodly, sharp knife would do the service. My hands flew among the tumblers and crystal bottles. I could not see. With one lip bit between my teeth, I held back all noise, but I could not wholly stop the tears. Glasses! amber fluids! waxes and seals! Where was the knife?
I shot open a drawer and the knife nearly flew out at me. I fumbled, caught it, cut my palm. Through my tears I had a dim impression of a hummingbird in silver, with one wing dripping red. Irrational shock sent the room lurching.
“By the twelve houses—not you also!”
Windows—doors—furniture swept round in a jerky movement and I stumbled headlong into a man’s chest. Arms gripped my head so that my mouth was crushed against a massive upper arm swathed in linen. I could not breathe. With all the animal panic in me I fought, kicking, writhing, screaming in muffled bursts.
“Maria! Maria! Maria!”
The arms shook me loose and flung me to their length. I wavered, dizzy with terror, then my eyes suddenly cleared and I found myself looking up into Goddgofang’s face, cleft with stark-blue concern, his teeth doggish bared and his eyes white like a horse’s as he stared down at me. He looked at me as though I were alien.
I felt alien. 
maresgate

Catch. Catch,” breathed Alwin.
The wind guttered; for a second the sleet dropped back wholesale.
Dear God—his hand tightened on his sword-haft.
H-h-h-ho-o-o—fwoosh!
The first bale took in a colossal plume, white-hot and blinding. Light flooded the field and shone yellow off hundreds of horn-crested helms, naked swords, chain-mail shirts and chain-skirted horse-flanks. The ranks went on until the circle of light faded, and still, Alwin knew, there were more behind.
“Fire the engines!” he shouted. The bale would burn down soon, with such paltry tinder to scorch. “Ten—Eleven—release!”
Shunk! shunk! ch-r-r-r—clunk! Engine Number Eleven released on command, her handlers springing back as the arm hurtled backward, dragging the stone in its trough, and came free, arcing into the air with the blue fire etching her swan-wing arm against the night sky. Looking up, Alwin saw the net come open and eject the stone into the abyss.
The bale went out.
Darkness flooded back in.
drakeshelm

Beautiful People: Drakeshelm

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I was going to do an update and snippets post, but further up & further in posted September's Beautiful People questions, and they looked doable for my Drakeshelm manuscript, which I'm currently working on.  I went back to the very beginning and wrote the first chapter.  Going from the ground up.  Thumbs up - yay me!  I've taken out a few questions because it would be unutterably dull to get your interest piqued and then hear me say, "I...honestly have no idea.  What bearing does this have on my novel?" so I've inserted a few old Beautiful People questions to make up the difference.  Whoo.

In case you forgot or are new to the story, Drakeshelm is roughly sixth in line after my published novel Plenilune.  Yes, it's a long way down the line, but here comes the plot, so who am I to say nay when the spirit moves me?  
beautiful people: drakeshelm
She is in a crisis.  Who would she really like to see right now?
The mouth gashed backward into a crazed smile, and he wondered that he had not recognized that face before and the bloodline behind it. The movement seemed to bring Philip into view and she swung her head like a horse toward him. The man came forward a step, and the combined movements seemed to push [her] over the edge. Her eyes watered and she staggered forward, sobbing out,
“Philip! Philip, help me. I hurt—so much…”

Is she easy to get along with?
The ambassador was still looking down at him in that way, lids drooping a little, her mouth in a kind of mocking smile which might have been unconscious, but he doubted it. He felt the fully-formed desire to hit her steal into his brain.

She is in the middle of a huge crowd.  How does she feel?
With a pedigree and a misanthropic turn of nature, Drakeshelm is often annoyed, but usually self-possessed.  Like many who feel they do not owe the world anything, she will watch and she will judge and she will ultimately ignore.

Does she believe in luck or miracles?
Yes.  If they are of her own making.

Does she like and get along with her neighbours?
“I would like to kill you,” said Alwin after a pause.

If she could travel anywhere in the world, where would she go?
The headwaters of the Himmajol, the Shangri-La of Plenilune.

How does she feel about her body?
In terms of vanity, she puts the peacock to shame.  At the same time, she is human and sometimes wishes she were taller, or had ginger hair, or were a brunette, or didn't chew on one thumbnail when deep in contemplation, or grind her teeth when she sleeps.  Like you and me, she has good days and bad days.  But this question has really very little bearing on the novel.  At least now you're in the know, I suppose...  Hope you're happy.

Does she have any enemies?
It would be marvelous for someone of Drakeshelm's personality to not have enemies.  And it would be a stupid plot if I didn't involve antagonism. 

What is her strongest childhood memory?
Standing on a bench at the rough-hewn trestle table in the workroom of the kitchen in her family's farmhouse, watching her father drain honey into glass jars.  Never mind that directly afterward she was hit from behind by a passing alaunt and was thrown onto the floor.  The romanticism of the moment remains.
Out from under the shadow of the wall, Alwin could dimly see her face. It was no less finely bred than her horse’s, but had no softness about it as had the animal. The mouth was jewel-cut, deep scarlet, and the eyes were a demonized pale blue that held no warming tint of mercy.

"You Are Bookish!"

Tea at my elbow, letter to a friend in the mailbox, curled up on my parents' couch with a lap blanket and the rewrite of Adamantine open before me.  I think sleep deprivation is leaving me a little under the weather at present, but we'll get over that.  For now, a little update.

A small handful of people have been loosely indulging in a "#summerwiththebrontës" project, prompting us to make our way through any ol' Brontë novels we choose this summer.  I've read Jane Eyre and Villette thus far, and am now over halfway through that dark classic Wuthering Heights.  If you have not read the Brontës, I certainly recommend them.  I feel foolish recommending such renowned writers, but if you have not, then I say that you should.  The writing is deep, elegant, raw, profound, insightful, inspiring.  Need one say more?

And, of course, I've been making my way through the rewrite of Adamantine.  As usual, I am feeling my way as I go, which makes for slow going, but I think this overhaul holds promise.  ("Methinks the lady doth protest too much...")  I haven't yet got to the point of being excited for the plot.  Some of you perhaps know that phenomenon: at the moment I'm writing metaphorically in the dark, not at all sure where I am going is worthwhile; but eventually you hit that sweet spot when things start to come together, a clearing in the distance is seen, and you begin to catch fire for the story.  Well, I am not there yet.  Give it time...  Meanwhile, a small taste of what I've been writing:
adamantine snippets // chunks
In the grey distance I saw sudden, high-heaped hills, matte-purple like the mothy, soiled robes of a decrepit empire...

It must be only a stray dog, wandered, perhaps, from a menial’s hovel in the hills: a small, cold part of my mind reasoned with me as a bent, wizened, senile councillor reasons with a young, inexperienced monarch. Yet the royal youth in me was the stronger, the better at instinct: I had known that dog, and it had known me, as strangers who had already met, and a dangerous, powerful understanding—which I did not at all comprehend—had charged like lightning between us. More than ever I hated and dreaded this country!

Suddenly Miss Coventry was back. She swept through the door and clapped it shut behind her, leaning on the panelling. Her face was white and her eyes lit up splendidly with haste and rage.
“Quiet, both of you!” she lashed out at her sisters. In two strides she was across the room and had flung herself in a whirl of sombre grey linen into her chair. “Father is coming with his guests. Mabel! stop crying at once!”
Aunt Coventry also fell upon Mabel until I was sure the girl could do nothing but cry. “Lord!” exclaimed Agnes Anne. She bounced back onto the sofa, her tirade forgotten, her curls bobbing with energy. “Are they men? are they goodly? are they come for tea?”

His skin was as pale as breakers; his hair, in the weak light, was grey-flaxen and, no doubt to many, unremarkable—but to my eye it was unusual. Even my relatives, although British-white, had all brown eyes and hair running brown to black. [He] looked like an errant shaft of sunlight, travelling so long from its source to reach the pole of Earth, half-dead with the distance and panting for want of blood and breath, had come to stand out of the rain in my aunt’s cheerless parlour.

How are you feeling?” he asked, gently yet pointedly.
I looked away to consider. My body felt as though it had been cut out of paper and thrown away: I was the hollow silhouette left behind. My spirits flagged black and foam-flecked beneath my desperate flogging.
“As well as can be expected,” I replied.

My body ached with fatigue and soul-weariness; I dragged it through the doorway, dragged off its black coverings, flung it upon the hard bed to drown it in sleep. For a space I lay awake, quiet, my throat raw but my eyes dry. Staring into the darkness of the window where September night was rushing fast across a doomed sky and dark grey banners of a storm’s victory were flying tattered beyond the shivering ranks of the trees, I picked up alternately two images to view: the yellow and blue of my mother’s painting, the other, Mr. Tennfjord’s austere and handsome face. Why the latter charmed me so completely, I could not say. “He was kind.” I heard my own words patter with old, blown rain against the window: cold, quivering, piercing to my heart. Those three words, more than my aunt’s blighting suspicion of my illness and my cousins’ ruthless, indelicate tongues, made me want to cry—as blood coming back into a frozen limb tingles and stings and cries as with serrated pain.

The breakfast mollified me. It was erring to bland, but hearty and filling, and when I was finished I felt the calm sleepiness of a duck ripened and fat for Christmas dinner.

Do you go out into the country much?” I asked.
“Lord! the country?” repeated Agnes Anne—Mabel had her lips screwed over a needle and was fighting with a spool. “No! Why should we? There is nothing of interest there. Life gets so dull here sometimes, except in high summer when there are actually interesting folk about to walk and dine with. People come up from Manchester and London,” she explained, with such stress as though she were speaking to a child.
I pressed the point. “I changed carriages outside of London and went up a bit of hilly, wooded land they called Hampstead Heath, I believe.” I twisted toward the window for more light. “My carriage companion at the time was an elderly gentleman—I never got his name—who informed me that the heath dated back to Saxon or Danish times. He said the land was charted in the Domesday Book, and was an important piece of historic property. It was dusk, and rainy,” I added ruefully, “so I wasn’t able to see much, but from the sounds outside the carriage I got the idea it was a large place. Have you anything of the sort here in Aylesward?”
Agnes Anne and Mabel had stopped working—the latter with the needle still clenched between her teeth—and were staring at me. Mabel finally took the needle from her lips and opened her mouth to speak, but her sister caught her up.
“Lord! you are bookish! Who cares about some grass and trees? You’re as bad as Margaret, I swear. I don’t know but that we’ve got more lakes than I can count, and people come from all over in the summer to visit them, but they’re nothing special.”
“You won’t find them in the Domesday Book,” said a brisk, ominous voice in the doorway. “The Normandians never took them.”
I turned to find Miss Coventry herself watching us, cold and disobliging. More than ever she looked unfriendly, but I was glad to see her. “Are they quite old, then?” I asked. “Older than the Normans?”
“Old as the hills,” she replied. She lifted her shoulders, as if it did not matter. “Coventrys are part Saxon, part Norman. We go all the way back.”
I do not know if she meant to do it, but in that remark I was made to feel how homeless and rootless I was. In this place I was like Melchizedek, without father and without mother, with no genealogy and no portion.

Howling Myself

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It is almost with grim determination that my pale blue nails clack away at the keyboard on this post.  Several times over the past two months I have made an attempt at updating The Penslayer - every attempt has left me dismayed and, ultimately, silent.  A handful of you know, I have been dealing with possibly one of my worst nightmares, postpartum depression.  Thankfully, not only has it not been as bad as I feared it might be, I also have an excellent doctor and an effective prescription to combat it.

But part of the effectiveness of the prescription is that I can still feel: I still experience the ordinary impact of emotion.  Believe me, this is a good thing.  I wouldn't want to be a zombie, or insensitively cheerful, because I am drugged.  However, since I am up during the night periodically to feed my baby, since I am working hard to keep in shape and boost my happy hormones, since I am almost constantly with people so that I am not left alone, I am left tired and unwilling to write a simple blog post. 

But recently things have been on a slow upward climb.  (I suffered a few days back from extreme exhaustion, to the point of being sick, but that wasn't my baby's fault.)  I have casually picked up the rewrite for my novel Adamantine, and despite the setbacks and the occasional attacks of insignificance and fear of failure, I think this rewrite holds potential.  Looking at it as critically as possible, I feel as if its tone is written now from a place of calm and immutability.  I am taking my time.  I am not even truly committing to working on it, but Howling myself into it and writing on it whenever, however, as I please.  I have never worked well under pressure - which, I know, is not a good trait; I have always been more likely to lock up and put back my ears and shut down entirely when I feel I must do something.  I do not have to work on Adamantine - but it is there, so I am.  It's good.
snippets from adamantine
Ah.” He passed the letter through the fence and I took it, holding my breath as well. “I’m from Essex, myself, and I’ve never been to Cambridgeshire. Quite out of my route. Well,” he settled into the stool again, and I began to think of a large stork trying to get comfortable on a Holland chimney-stack. “Welcome to Cumberland, all the same.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Whatever was left of my heart died as I said it.

...the portraits over the mantelpiece were glimmering in the lamplight and drew me toward them as visible, flesh-and-blood entities in whose presence I would not be alone. I stood below them and studied their faces. They were both gaunt, severe-looking people, the man and the woman, the sort to bear the tumult of their century with unflinching lips and steady mien.

She was an enormous woman; not unkempt, but huge, combining with her size an unusual quickness of movement and overbearing will that was like an avalanche to behold. Although not of slight build, although my frame was tall, well-proportioned, of Junoesque lines, I quailed in the presence of this woman who, if she had any blood in her of those Royalist forbearers, exhibited only the harshness of their demeanour and none of their grace.

...at last we came to the chamber which served as the dining room, the door was thrust unceremoniously open, and I found myself on what seemed, to my bewildered nerves, to be the dark shore of a blazing sea; I heard the wind outside like breakers and the seashell clink of crystal and silver within. I think for a moment—I was very tired—I supposed I had been asleep, and I was about to wake up: my usual bright, Greek island scene was invading the dream of this sooty, grimy, wet Albion. They were converging and one was about to give way.

Presently I set my empty cup on the counterpane and leaned back under the covers, my face turned toward the window. I listened to a sound which had become strange to me: the rushy, taffeta noise of raindrops falling from leaves as the wind swept through them. In my misery, I liked it.

Against the white ceiling my hot, burning eye saw the mottled menagerie of my mother’s painting space, saw the upright canvas and the splashes of colour she was working into the form of a blue Delft vase and a single, exquisite yellow tulip.

The Weight of the Sword and the Knife

this is for...well, you know who you are



I descended in a storm of fireflies and cherry blossoms, light as a maple leaf, and glided along the snaking bend of a rivulet, forepaws brushing the grasses, nose full of the sweet, summery aroma of the earth and the last hot breath of the sunset which was dying between the mountain peaks.  I left behind the high winds, the darkening clouds, the tossing pines.  I left behind heavenly mountains and followed the rivulet, charted like a great river among hillocks heaped up to resemble massive ranges; on either side of me, my whiskers brushed the tops of tiny cultivated cedars, miniatures of great forests.  The little life-thing in my chest thrummed pleasantly.  Life tonight was sweet to me.
When the rivulet was spanned by an arched bridge, sharp as a dragon’s back, I wandered from the water’s edge and followed the stone path through a garden half-tended, half wilderness, to the silhouette of a tiny shelter within, and the dim yellow lights which glowed through its lattice openings.  A soft, warm wind came with me: spirit bells chimed as I swept around the azalea hedge, followed the walk to the building’s slat steps nearly overgrown with ivy, and there I touched the earth at last, on the topmost step.  Four tiny lights flashed and sank as each paw set down on the planking, and the shelter itself seemed to shiver, as if with delight.
There was no door: I looked inside and saw you, kneeling at a wide, low table with your back toward me, a huge and heavy lantern—quite out of place in the exquisite delicacy of your surroundings—hung above your head so that you could see your work.  You wore glasses, of the kind popular now in the West, also so that you could see your work.  No shoes: they sat beside me on the narrow fore-porch, as vibrant a red as my royal cloak, their laces as white as the tip of my bush. 
You were busy, hard at work with books and papers, laptop and phone shifting, gleaming, clicking around you, shogunates of grades struggling for supremacy on your war-table.  But even in the midst of your pitched battle you caught the tremor in the earth—perhaps you felt the wind on whose wings I rode—for you sat up straight, took off your glasses, and turned round.  You saw me.
As every sensible human will do when confronted with a wild animal, you froze.  The lantern light fell on your naked eyes, spirit-blue in a porcelain face, and illuminated the burnt gold of your hair which the wind was fingering, but you did not move.  You did not breathe.  You stared at me, and I let you stare your fill awhile, until you had got used to my presence in your sanctuary.
With one fluid movement I bent forward, opening my jaws to set down the scroll which I had been carrying between my teeth.  I hesitated, then straightened.
“Good evening,” I said, and I smiled.
You narrowed your eyes at me, pursing your lips.  “I know you.” 
“Of course.  I have come to bring you your dream tonight.”  I set my paw on the scroll.
You looked at the scroll; you looked away again a second later, but seemed to think better of it, for you stared again, harder this time.  You showed off the brave strength of the porcelain of which you were made.  “I see now.”  You, too smiled, relieved.  You met my gaze.  “It doesn’t usually look like that.”
“You know me,” I crooned: “I am fond of drama.”
“Tell me the story,” you prompted eagerly. 
But I rose and entered the genius of the shelter.  “I am cheerful tonight,” I evaded.  “I will do even better.”
Noiselessly I rushed the table, whisking by you, and leapt up among your papers.  They fluttered and chittered liked cranes on the river, floating down around me as I settled, bush swept round my forepaws.  I sank down amongst my glowing fur, eyes warm with the lanternlight.
“The tea in the pot is hot again,” I said.  “Pour us two cups, you and I.”
I saw you smile, hitched round to look down at me where you sat.  You would not know it, but I knew, looking back up at you through the veil of lantern-light: it was the smile of a warrior worn out and ready to sheath his sword, and has been asked by someone he loves to make one last charge.
You reached for the pot. 
As the steaming amber liquid filled the tiny cups, I watched, one with the flow and at once detached.  In a high, absentminded way, I said, “Summer has come.  It is warm even in the mountains now.”
“I don’t have to wear a sweater here,” you agreed gamely.  You held out a cup for me: I saw that your hand trembled.  As you set it before me, I, too, reached out, light as a feather, and touched the smooth back of your hand with the smooth pad of my paw.  A tiny light blinked and, for a second, I felt the thump-thump of your heart.  I think that you felt mine.  You took back your hand without hurrying.
“Do you like it?” I asked.
You looked up over the rim of your cup, raised to your lips.  “Do I like what?”
But I evaded, suddenly, like a wind that changes direction in the long grass.  “The warmth is good for your bones.  It makes your eyes mellow.”
You pursed your lips again and gazed down at me out of thinned eyes, not at all mellow, but calculating.  With a hard little sigh, you began to play the game.  “The cicadas made a racket this evening.  I was glad when the sun went down and they finally hushed.”
“Mm, the cicadas.”  I liked this move.  I heaved up my shoulders and stooped my head to drink the tea.  Every hair rose on end as the warmth pulsed through my body, and my whiskers coiled like snakes in the sun.  “They are summer, don’t you think?  I hear their rattle like the shaking of sabres.”
“You like that,” you pointed out.  Then, “Why are you wearing a red cape?”
“Because I like that too,” I replied, and finished my tea.
For a spell you were quiet.  You sat with your legs folded beneath you, teacup settled on your knees, and stared at me with the purse gone out of your mouth.  I settled in and waited, pleasant, while the warmth invaded your bones and your eyes became mellow. 
“It’s summer,” you said at last, as though it had only just washed over you.  Your voice was full of relief.
“Yes.”
You looked away, through the lattice to the dark world outside.  One gardenia, white as your skin, could be seen growing over the porch; beyond that the lantern lost its strength and the world was invisible.  The mountain peaks could no longer be seen silhouetted by the sunset: night had fallen.  In the dimensionless black, fireflies lit up and faded away, like our memories of childhood dreams.  Honeysuckle filled the air with its drowsy scent whenever the wind dropped away.
“It’s summer.”
“Yes…”
And then suddenly you were crying, chin thrust up and jaw clenched, fists tight about your teacup—choking on great, suppressed sobs.  You cried like an empress.  I did not say it—I let you cry, lowering my head so that, while I watched you out of the corner of one eye, I would not appear to be watching—but I thought that you were beautiful.  But finally the sobs died away, and the wind played gently with the spirit chimes, and the night-time silence fell about us once more.
I whispered, “You did not think you were going to make it.”
“No,” you gasped.  “No, I didn’t think I would make it.”
I got up and arched my back, drawing all four paws off the ground.  “You will ask yourself,” I said in a sturdier tone, “if it was worth it.  I would not answer that question if I were you.”
“Why?”  You turned and frowned at me—and saw that I was not on the ground.
“Because females are dangerous with philosophy.”  I lowered myself back to the floorboards.  “One thing you do know,” I went on.  “You are strong.”
You twisted your mouth on the taste of stale tears and bowed your gaze to your teacup again.  Reaching up once, you tucked a thick strand of blonde hair behind one ear.  “I do not feel strong.”
“One never does.  You are enough,” I added.  “It is enough.”
Your face darkened.  The strand slipped out and fell across your eyes so that I could see only the tremble of your chin, the hard line of your mouth.  “I want to feel like enough.  I want to feel strong.  I am tired of—I am tired.  I am tired.  It never seems to be enough.  When I don’t have any more to give, I have to give more.  It’s killing me.”
I could hear the tsunami in-rolling, felt the ground shuddering under my paws.  These were tears of desolation, not relief: I rushed up and swept round the table to your side, spraying blossoms of paper around me—one by one they folded into tiny cranes and darted toward the four corners of the room.  “Sho! sho! sho!” I crooned, as though to a baby.  I pounced upon your lap and placed my forepaws on your cheeks, drawing up your head.  Tears wet my long, drifting whiskers as they brushed your face.  The eyes which stared at me were those used to looking at nightmares.  I would not say it aloud, but the sight of them cut the little beating life-thing in my chest. 
“You are human,” I said to you, “and so small, and fragile if struck just right.  But you are human, and so you are also strong—magnificently strong.  It does not get easier, my darling, but sometimes it is summer, sometimes the fireflies dance in the cherry trees—and sometimes your animal spirit comes down to make you tea when the witching-hour is upon the world.  You are not far from the kingdom: the plain beneath its citadel is the most fought-over land.  Have courage, brave heart.  It is summer.”
I think you wanted to speak, but you were tired, and perhaps you tasted the spell which my words had hastily woven and you did not want to break it.  You gave a watery smile and reached up to stroke my mane.  The hand which touched me was sure now, and I knew I could leave you to the summer night without fear.
“Put up the sword and the knife.  Rest awhile.”  I withdrew, hovering among a storm of paper cranes.  You gazed up at me with a crown of lantern-light around your head, the post-storm quiet in your eyes.  “Drink your tea.”
I dove for the stairs.
“Wait!”
With a flurry of petals I paused, landing on the top step beside the scroll.  You had flung round and I saw your eyes go from me to the scroll.  “Aren’t you going to tell me the story?”
I grinned, showing my teeth.  “But I already have!”
You jumped to your feet.
With a kick I took off, sending the scroll spinning into the room like a firecracker, and launched into the purple air with a cataclysm of heaped clouds and wind and firefly-lights.  Summer thunder roared through the sky.