Religion of Destiny

I’m getting back into the swing of writing on Destiny, which is fun and something like visiting an old friend (albeit a friend whose details I can change if I like). Older drafts have begun with Sehra waiting outside a house on the cliffs, something I’ve needed to change because what mother leaves her eight-year-old daughter to play with the edge of high cliffs nearby? This new draft begins with the death of Sehra’s father, the event that drives her mother to seek the aid of the witch atop the cliffs. This time, Sehra will be invited into the house instead of left to play with seashells.

One thing moving back has afforded me is a chance to introduce the dominant religion of the region in which Destiny mostly takes place. Two fisherman burst into a church, holding a third between them; the third fisherman is unconscious and in grave peril. His comrades bring him to the church to seek the aid of nuns, who are skilled in the healing arts. Also, a church is an apt location to pray for the health of a wounded friend.

I enjoy making up religions, taking elements from this one and that one to create an interesting set of deities and clergymen. There is the Church of the Sun, whose followers worship Destiny and Her Daughters and call themselves Followers of the Path. They believe that those who study and use “magic” are servants of Fate, the Unraveler. Magic-users, on the other hand, believe the universe was created by the Shaper, who bound the Oathbreaker and created six other deities to govern various aspects of reality. However, magic-users do not usually worship the deities of their paradigm.

“Honeycakes!” Sehra gushed, reaching out for one. Her mother pulled them away.

“What do we say before we eat?”

The girl grunted in frustration, then put both hands together and closed her eyes. “Our thanks to you, Destiny, for this bounty. Bless this food and all those who share it. Bless it by sea, sky and stone, as you have blessed me. By the Three, so let it be.”

“So let it be,” Donja repeated, smiling. Sehra grabbed a cake from the top of the pile and bit into its sticky sweetness with relish.

So here we have a bit of prayer, like saying grace before meals, that would be lacking from a magic-user’s routine. The Church of the Sun has ceremony and tradition, while the other has the practice of magic.

Responsibility of the Endless

I made some progress with the Sandman, completing the ninth volume, the Kindly Ones.

sandman kindly ones

I wanted more, somehow. I suppose, then, it’s good that there’s another volume for me to read.

I enjoyed how many loose threads finally get tied off in this volume, things left dangling since nearly the beginning, it seems. I’m actually rereading the whole thing since it’s been so long and I’ve read it in leaps and shudders. I also like to go back and look for clues I missed, foreshadowing, etc.

“Responsibility” seems to be the word for this installment. Not so much in the sense of one fulfilling duties expected of them, but in one owning up to one’s actions and facing the consequences. Even anthropomorphic representations of concepts make mistakes, and it’s important to set things right again. That sense of responsibility.

“We make choices. No one else can live our lives for us. And we must confront and accept the consequences of our actions.”

– Neil Gaiman, the Kindly Ones, volume 9 of the Sandman

Looking back, I believe I see I transformation of Dream from callous and disinterested to truly appreciative for the many whims and quirks of humanity and, at last, a sense of responsibility for his actions. It seems he had this all along, though. In an early conversation between Dream and Desire, Dream says to his sisterbrother:

“We of the endless are the servants of the living–we are NOT their masters. WE exist because they know, deep in their hearts, that we exist. . . . We do not manipulate them. If anything, they manipulate us.”

This is a bit at odds with the way Dream acts at times, but it does reveal that he accepts that he has responsibility to the living. He is not above reproach. He can be an arrogant, brooding bastard at times, but he does seem to have his head on straight for the most part.

Now I am eager to read the final volume, which as I understand it is a sort of epilogue.

Unloved or unlovable?

I finished We Need to Talk About Kevin earlier this week on the train ride home. I was moved to tears, making me glad the train was virtually empty.

we need to talk about kevin

Lionel Shriver has crafted a convincing tale of a woman ambivalent about becoming a mother. Though she is excited and views motherhood as just another country she has yet to visit, Eva Khatchadourian is plagued by doubts and does not immediately fall in love with her newborn son on sight.

The story is told through letters from Eva to her husband, who has seemingly left her. The tension in their couple rises as she recounts events from their son’s upbringing, his father unfailingly believing him to be a normal boy while Eva finds malice in many of his actions.

We learn early in the story that Kevin is in a juvenile detention facility after having killed several students and a couple adults at his school. As Eva revisits Kevin’s childhood, she wonders if he turned out the way he did because she did not love him as a mother should, or because he instinctively knew that she did not want a child. This, despite his being quite unlovable; I won’t list the spiteful things he does as a child, but they are many.

It was fascinating to be inside this woman’s mind, a judgmental creature living a shattered life after Thursday (as it is repeatedly called) changed everything for her and her family. I’m eager to see the film, and wonder how Tilda Swinton will give the audience a feel for her character’s thoughts since we won’t be reading her internal monologue. (Or letters to her husband, as it were.)

“I thought at the time that I couldn’t be horrified anymore, or wounded. I suppose that’s a common conceit, that you’ve already been so damaged that damage itself, in its totality, makes you safe.”

– Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Destiny is begun

I’ve decided to give Destiny a go while I’m working on editing Climbing Yggdrasil. I got over 1,000 words out in the first sitting and am itching to get back to it. I made a realization yesterday, that I am hesitant to do any writing if I’m not sitting in front of my computer. There’s nothing stopping me from writing in a notebook or on the back of an envelope and typing it into Scrivener as soon as I can. I might even do a bit of editing or rearranging as I’m transferring from paper to computer.

I’ve built up all these mental blocks in my head about writing, it seems. “No, I can’t do that.” Why the hell not?

“You would have your husband tainted by the Unraveler’s power? You would make yourself a slave to one of his minions?”

“Anything to keep him with me.”

Brother Horas shook his head. “My child,” he said, “all Paths come to an end. If Destiny wills–”

“Fate is the one who ends the Path,” Donja interjected.

Ripping the book apart

I can’t get over the separation that’s come between me and my first draft of Climbing Yggdrasil. I was just rereading a chapter, vaguely remembering what it was like to pound it out on the keyboard, and spotting little things that annoyed me about the text. Places where I was vague instead of expansive. Opportunities to do more, mostly.

As I read aloud to my husband, certain patterns emerge, things that seem a touch repetitive that I have to question. Then when I go back and reread it silently, I take notes and decide on what reinforces instead of repeats, what patterns are acceptable. In this latest chapter, our pilot’s parents reiterate a few times that they are happy the crew of the Sylphid takes care of their boy. This seems normal for a couple of farming folk whose son goes gallivanting across the solar system for years at a time between visits. (I also counted each instance and didn’t get past three, so that doesn’t seem excessive to me.)

“Just as long as you keep my boy out of trouble,” Manda murmured.

Yet I am still a little stunned by the effect time has on writing. It’s still mine, but I feel no reluctance to tear it apart and twist it painfully into something better. I am better able to see it as a reader who demands satisfaction rather than the sensitive writer who is protective of his baby.

And it’s kind of fun to rip things apart. I’m curious to see how I’ll take criticism from my beta readers. It shouldn’t be hard, my husband has already brought up things I hadn’t thought of in the vein of, “The way you wrote it is good, but wouldn’t it make more sense this way?”

Early mornings, thinking on Destiny

My experiment in waking up early terminated rather abruptly when the lack of sleep caught up with me by Wednesday evening. I left my alarm where it was, but on its first sounding I pushed it back to my usual time and happily slept another hour. Thursday evening, I didn’t even bother; I set the clock straightaway to the later time.

Three mornings out of five isn’t too bad, right? I’m left unsure of what I’ll do this coming week, though. It was nice, it felt good to have more time to wake up before stepping out into the cold. One morning had me sleeping in the métro, head bobbing as the tunnels curved left and right. This leaves me getting to work feeling groggy and unfocused, nullifying the peaceful hour I spent in front of my computer.

There is also the fact that I am not doing much writing these days making it more attractive to stay in bed for that extra hour. I have it set in my head that I must devote all of my attention to Yggdrasil before setting off on another project. Every now and then, though, I wonder: can’t I do both? It’s like when I hop back and forth between two books that I’m reading; as long as they aren’t too similar, I don’t run the risk of confusing characters and events.

I worry about one project sweeping me too far away from another, though. If some grand inspiration should strike, I would be foolish to ignore it by saying, “No, I have to work on the other project now to be fair.”

I keep forgetting that what I should do is try new things and change tactics if they don’t work. There is no manual for this, no way to find out what works for me without first attempting it. A story left behind does not curl up and die, either; worst case, the words will sit there patiently for my return, like the myriad ideas I’ve scribbled down and left to gather dust. Perhaps they even ripen in my absence, growing fuller and more interesting.

I think I’ll go play in Destiny a bit to see where my head’s at.

Worlds’ End


Is there any person in the world who does not dream? Who does not contain within them worlds unimagined?

– Neil Gaiman, Worlds’ End

Another volume consisting of several stories, this one takes place in a tavern at the end of the worlds where several folk have been stranded thanks to a reality storm. It is their wish to share their tales until such a time as they can return to the worlds from whence they came. We have a story of a boy upon a ship at sea, a tale of an alternate United States in which a boy name Prez becomes president, and a tale of a city concerned with proper treatment of the dead and the rituals surrounding death, among others.

This volume ends similarly to the previous one; we know that something momentous is occurring, but we know not what. As one of our human characters gets a glimpse of Death, he thinks the following:

I think I fell in love with her, a little bit. Isn’t that dumb? But it was like I knew her. Like she was my oldest, dearest friend. The kind of person you can tell anything to, no matter how bad, and they’ll still love you, because they know you. I wanted to go with her. I wanted her to notice me. And then she stopped walking. Under the moon, she stopped. And looked at us. She looked at me. Maybe she was trying to tell me something; I don’t know. She probably didn’t even know I was there. But I’ll always love her. All my life.

– Neil Gaiman, Worlds’ End

I am eager to procure the final two volumes and learn what is to become of Dream and the rest of the Endless.

Last Argument of Kings


Truly, life is the misery we endure between disappointments.

– Joe Abercrombie, Last Argument of Kings

I heartily enjoyed these books for setting many fantasy conventions on their heads, for introducing realistic characters who defy expectation without seeming to go against their natures. I love that my favorite character is a torturer and that I am still fascinated and intrigued by who I am sure is the villain.

I don’t believe this trilogy reads well if one jumps into the middle or the end. Each book is nicely encapsulated, but the whole story must be read to be appreciated. For that reason, I find it difficult to say much about the final volume without spoiling some of the surprises in the first two books.

I will say the pace of this third book does annoy me somewhat. It is split into two parts roughly down the middle; I slogged through the first 300 pages, replete with battles and death and strategies. I’m a fantasy fan who doesn’t care much for action, I prefer the magic and intrigue of it all. There is no lack of intrigue, however; our dear torturer friend has gotten himself into a bit of trouble concerning divided loyalties and blackmail.

The book more than makes up for Part I with Part II, which I tore through despite already having read it once before and having discovered the major revelations at the end. I love the ending for not being the joyous peal of “And then the world was saved and the kingdom rejoiced”. War leaves terror and ruins in its wake, and it’s fitting that the ending reflect that. The end of a war does not solve all of a kingdom’s problems either.

For me to say too much more would spoil more than is appropriate. I love the characters, from self-centered Jezal who has found himself way in over his head, to Ferro and her single-minded pursuit of vengeance. Sand dan Glokta is far and away my favorite character; a shattered ruin of a man, hobbling through each day one at a time through constant pain, ever asking why he does what he does. I suspect he only makes it through his days through heavy use of his dry sense of self-deprecating humor.

The Liebster Awards

Alexandra Needham has nominated me for a Liebster Award. I do appreciate the intent, but the chain-letter style of it makes me reminisce about why I left Facebook. However, I enjoy reading Alexandra’s blog and I liked the questions she posed as part of the nomination process, so here are my answers:

  1. What was your first pet? A black cat that I named, interestingly enough, Blacky. When he got run over, a few weeks later a dog of similar coloring, down to a white spot on one paw, showed up on our front step. We named him Blacky too.
  2. What is your ideal job? Writing, at home and in my pajamas, getting up at whatever hour (before noon) I please.
  3. Are there enough hours in the day? Absolutely not. If I could forego sleeping to make use of those nighttime hours, I would.
  4. What is the most obscure book you own? Why do you have it? I don’t know that I have any obscure books. My absolute favorite book, however, is Sabriel by Garth Nix. Come to think of it, I have a copy in French too. Does that count as obscure?
  5. What would you like to be able to see from your window? A nice garden, perhaps with a tree. Ideally, with a pond.
  6. Where was your best holiday or day out? It was a couple of days, actually. On my first visit to Québec, my husband took me on the train to Montréal, where I walked around in wonder at the shiny buildings and all of the strangeness of the city. We spent the night in a hotel, we shopped in underground malls, it was all so new and sparkly. I know the city a bit better now, but I still catch glimpses of how it looked that first time.
  7. Toilet paper, over or under? Under. It seems neater somehow. And perhaps it’s more difficult for the cats to unroll.
  8. What is the one thing you can’t get through the day without? My iPod. I must have music for the commute, or for walking, or whenever I am alone. I would be uncomfortable if I couldn’t read, or call or text people, but my iPod is my one must-have item.
  9. Describe your mug/teacup. I have many, but the one I currently use at work bears a pixelated heart that turns red when hot and fades to black as I empty it.
  10. What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow? I could Google this to figure out what the end of the joke was, but I’d rather just admit that I’ve forgotten. Though I did watch the Holy Grail incessantly when I was younger.

Imagining different lives

Today marks my third morning of getting up an hour earlier than usual to sit in front of my computer and catch up on internet things. While I have been enjoying what I now come to think of as “quiet time”, I think I need to shift the focus a bit. Catching up on blogs and e-mails is something I can do on the train ride to work; writing on my smartphone is something I’m less at ease with. Sure, I’ll tap out an e-mail to a friend, but blog posts or creative endeavors always feel stunted by the smaller screen, as though I’ll curtail my thoughts to fit its size. I bought a cheap tablet to see if that might work better, but found that I still couldn’t type on it as quickly as on a real keyboard.

I think I should take advantage of my quiet time to get as much use out of the keyboard as possible, saving the reading for later. I have things I want to put down here, I have updates to make to my personal journal, and I feel I am falling behind. I suppose that is better than lamenting having nothing to say.

I have started reading We Need to Talk About Kevin, a first-person fiction written as a series of letters to the narrator’s ex-husband after their son has murdered nine people at his school and been put in a juvenile detention facility. I enjoy being in this woman’s mind so far. Reading this book, I realize that I enjoy stories like these where I can fall into the details of a person’s (fictional or no) life and thoughts, especially someone markedly different from myself. I’ve already gotten through a large chunk of it in the first day, and plan to keep up the pace. I’m also interested in seeing the film adaptation afterward. I love Tilda Swinton.

It is very refreshing to get away from the sweeping vistas and endless journeys of fantasy; the intrigues and power plays, betrayals and confessions. I live there so much of the time that I forget how nice it is to visit the real world. It makes me look at people in the train and métro differently, wondering what their stories are and how they would tell them. When I was younger I used to visit coffeeshops and sit for a while, watching people and inventing stories for them. Then I would figure that my story is, of course, nothing like their reality and start imagining all over again.