MU4: Chapter One (part iii)

(NOTE: CW, there’s some not-quite-death-related stuff that goes on in the last part of this chapter. I wanted to show that in order for Eika to truly break herself away from the life that is no longer hers, she must disconnect completely from it. Not everyone can face such a finality, and this was the only way she knew how to face it successfully. She knew there was something beyond, she only had to take that life-altering first step.)

*

Day seventeen was when she’d decided to purge it all out of her system. She’d woken up that morning after a very sound night’s sleep, coming back to reality just before the sun was about to rise. Outside her bedroom window the sky was a mottled blue-gray and her world was silent, with not even a trace of wind. The town was completely still, frighteningly so, and the lack of sound only served to remind her that she was completely alone, miles away from anyone else.

It was time for her old life to die.

She didn’t bother to change out of her bedclothes, only putting on a pair of light flat shoes. She left the house, not bothering to lock or even close the door, and started walking. She wasn’t sure where, but she didn’t care. She had to go somewhere. She had to keep moving. The only sound was the quiet tapping of her soles against the asphalt, and it sounded…intrusive. After a few more steps she stopped and took them off, throwing them to the side of the road. Her footsteps now silent, she heard nothing else. Nothing but her own breathing.

She quickly lost herself in this town, aimlessly walking further away from that house that hadn’t even been hers. She let herself be led this way and that, until she ended up in the center of town, stopping to rest on one of the benches on the common. Her joints ached some, but not nearly as much as she’d expected. She was hungry but had no compulsion to stop at the grocer’s she’d been utilizing these last few weeks. There was a produce store across the street from the park, however, so after a few more minutes of rest she got up and headed over. She settled on a small packet of crisp bread snacks as she walked through the small store, washed them down with a bottle of water, and grabbed an apple on the way out.

The brunch did her good, as she felt more awake and focused, but she still felt aimless…she was a blank slate now.

The only thing to do was to keep moving.

Become the person she knew she was. Become the spirit she knew she held within.

She walked further and further away from the house and the town, still in complete silence. Her feet ached and she felt the urge to return to the house more than a few times, but she refused to go back, at least not until she purged this last obstacle that plagued her spirit.

It was nearing sunset when she found herself on a back road leading up a wooded hill. She’d seen this small mountain from the house, well off in the distance behind the rest of the neighborhood, and she realized she’d in fact reached her goal – to be as far away from that village as she could get. The village that wasn’t hers. The village she’d been forced to conform to.

It was here that she truly started feeling the clarity…a hint of brightness within her spirit, starting deep within her heart, hiding well away in the background. This hill was where she needed to be right now, somewhere above the village, looking out over it. Not to become one with it, but to become its Watcher. To watch and observe what went on within, but utterly separated from it.

She understood her true goal now.

With a renewed energy and resolve, she kept walking up the hill, following the crooked lane all the way up to the top.

The sun had just hit the horizon when she reached the summit, a promontory of low grass and a few stray boulders. She perched atop one of them and decided to watch the sun set.

It felt so much colder up here, colder than she’d expected. She held herself tight as a breeze finally blew its way across the valley and up towards her. The town was more like a small city, all short buildings of three or four floors and houses littered on the outskirts. She must have walked at least eight or nine miles, nearly all of it barefoot and in complete silence. But up here she could hear everything…the rustling of the grass as it bent in the wind, the chirping of birds, the hum of electricity, faraway and unseen but perfectly heard.

She shuddered and felt something shift within –

Oh Goddess here we go –

Something shifted within and she could not make it stop. It felt like the breach of a dam, finally giving way and crumbling to pieces, and her very soul, which had been held back for so long, had started spilling over like a deluge. She felt the stab of pain just below the nape of her neck, both searing hot and deathly cold. It came at her, drove through her as if someone had driven a blade into her neck, just so that it kept her alive and on the edge of death at the same time –

Goddess please what is happening –

And all through this she focused on the sinking of the sun, falling below the horizon at the opposite end of the valley, in utter silence. This world, her world, was ending, here and now, and she was powerless to save it. She would never see it again. The sun would dip below the horizon and she’d be enveloped in darkness, here in this nowhere, with no one to connect to or sense. She was alone and she was dying.

I…oh Goddess, I can feel it.

She felt the knife sink ever deeper between her shoulder blades, entering her spine, a shard of pain shooting up to her brain and all the way down to her feet. She let out such a screeching howl that it terrified her. She screamed and screamed, pitching forward and landing face first into the grass, a fresh gash of pain shooting up to her brain. Oh Goddess, what was happening to her?

All at once, her voice gave out. She could only breathe heavily, taking in the musty soil and the frigid air. It tasted like…?

The sun had dropped, and the sky was fading from read to gray to deep blue and now to black. She could not see more than a few yards ahead and there was little to no sound other than the wind and her own breath.

Just her, and the wind. Nothing else.

She was truly alone. Completely abandoned.

Her throat ragged from her cries, she choked on her tears, her voice a raspy moan, as she pulled herself into a low crouch.  The pain in her spine was so excruciating she wanted to die, and yet her spirit was refusing to surrender. She could only bear this for so much longer. The silence enveloping her felt so much more ominous and frightening than any other sounds she’d ever heard, and she could sense nothing and no one.

Abandoned.

And finally, mercifully, her spirit broke apart.

Oh Goddess –

Her moans gave way to a deep growl, a sound so low and primal, a voice she had never heard. This was her own soul calling out in sorrow, the Trisandi spirit within calling out to the heavens, pleading for relief.  She slid forward again, her hands reaching far, far out, grasping at the grass stalks and the ground underneath in an attempt to keep anchored to the earth. Her legs pushed out from underneath her, digging into the ground, she dipped her head low, releasing the pain…bleeding it out, the icy power of it all bleeding out through her mouth, her nostrils, her eyes, her ears. Oh Goddess she was dying –

And then she felt. She felt. The earth gathered in her fists, pushed between her toes, and then she understood…she felt Gharra now. Felt the world beneath her.

And she let out such a horrifying primal howl from the depths of her soul that she felt the world tremble in response.

And in the next moment, all pain melted away. She felt miraculously free of the anguish. She was free. Her spirit was finally, completely free of the ties that had bound it.

And she heard it, just then.

An almost silent swish of a giant tail, low and cutting through the grass. But never touching the ground.

I am kiralla, she said, her voice thundering into the ether.

MU4: Chapter One (part ii)

Dubai once again, sitting in for Bridgetown.

NOTE: This chapter was indeed a thrill to write — creating an extended solo scene where the conflict is not between people or even the self, but between Eika and everyone’s expectations of her. But she won’t be alone for too much longer…stay tuned!

*

Eika found the letter from her parents on the third day of her enforced solace, and she swore it hadn’t been there two days earlier. She’d found the envelope and the letter within sitting on the dining table, with just her first name and nothing else. It hadn’t been there that morning, but it had been there when she’d come back from her walk. She’d been so bored waiting something to happen or someone to contact her that she’d gone to investigate the neighborhood. An hour later it was sitting there, dead center. And she had not sensed anyone’s presence. They must have stepped through Light to drop it off, but she would have at least sensed the change, as she hadn’t gone all that far, maybe a few blocks at most. It must have been a Devoted Eichi…they seemed to love torturing her like this.

The letter explained exactly what she’d feared – she’d failed in the eyes of the Council of the Blessed Ones. She’d failed so many of the spirit circles. She’d failed her parents. They’d exhausted every avenue trying to awaken her as a Blessed One, to no avail. They’d been forced to make the decision for her, to take the route no spirit should ever have to go through. She was to awaken completely on her own, with no assistance, away from outside distraction and influence, and away from possible injuries to herself or someone else. If she were to succeed here, she would be accepted as a Blessed One.

If she were to fail…?

Her parents were too cowardly to mention that possibility in their letter.

Extreme measures to say the least, but it did not surprise her at all.

They’d left her in this empty town, this outpost nowhere, to figure herself out. She was apparently sufficient in whatever she needed – electricity was working, the few storefronts in the center of town were consistently restocked when she was not around, and water was always plentiful. This was a highly spiritual testing ground, and she’d just been dropped into it without preamble.

She wanted to be angry at her family, and for a little while she was. They’d taken extreme measures to push her towards some indefinite, undefined goal. To be Awakened. No explanation or context as to how, or why. It was a goal expected of her, not to be questioned. That was how her family, how her family’s belief system worked, and she’d failed all other attempts to follow in step.

She wanted to be angry, but instead, she only felt relief, of all things. A heavy burden that had been weighing her down her entire life had been lifted, one she hadn’t even realized was there until it had disappeared completely. No Devoted Eichi drilling their spite and disgust at her failings. No spirit circles avoiding her as an abomination. No family viewing her with disappointment and shame. She was a complete failure, and yet she had never felt freer! Perhaps her family had understood this, and in their own messed up way, dropping her here was the only way they could release her onto her own road.

She remembered a few things from her training that she could most likely utilize here, but strangely the first thought that came to mind was the parable of Nehalé Usarai, the man that Awakened the One of All Sacred. That was one of the first stories her teachers taught the young initiates, and it was the first one that stuck with her all this time.

Nehalé Usarai was considered a brilliant tactician, who had not only brought the Ninth Embodiment of the One into this Gharné world but had known how to ensure her safety and keep the extremist Shenaihu and the overzealous Mendaihu from poisoning the Word of the One. He too had been left alone in an outpost town like this when he was a young boy, to train himself of the Ways of the One in his own style. Never mind the fact that the real story, the one that the Blessed Ones always omitted, was that he wasn’t alone in this trial but had been brought here with several other young acolytes and awakened souls, and they’d all worked together to create a peaceful commune.

She laughed out loud when the thought struck her: Dare I question the Blessed Ones? Dare I compare myself to the revered edha Usarai? But he was Gharné, just like her, just like anyone else here on this planet. If he could find his own spirituality in these parts, why couldn’t she?

*

Easier said than done, of course.

On Day Four, she chose to practice her Lightwalking. That had been her weakest ability, as she found that she could not always keep a steady focus on her destination. The first time she’d tried it here, she’d gotten the destination completely wrong and ended up somewhere on the outskirts of town, and it had taken her three hours not only to get her bearings but find the house she’d been staying in. Later that day she tried again and made it to her planned landing point near the library green down the road…but had misjudged the altitude and fell ten feet to the ground, twisting her ankle in the process. She cried out, more in frustration than pain, but she was too damned stubborn to give up just yet. She hobbled back to the house and thought about what she was doing wrong.

The walk did her good because it forced her to clear her head. She was obviously still holding a grudge against her family, regardless of their intentions, and despite her stubborn will to prove them wrong. Perhaps that was it…did she really need to prove anything to begin with? Who was she trying to impress, anyway?

“No one but yourself,” she said aloud. She’d decided to speak aloud whenever it was warranted – to give voice to her thoughts meant vindication, even if just to herself, even if her thoughts proved to be wrong. If she spoke aloud, it made her thoughts and actions real.

And yet…she had to concede, she was lonely.

Had her parents even thought of that? Had anyone?

She needed no one for the moment, and she was fine with that; she didn’t need the constant distraction of others during her Trial. She was not desperate for human interaction, just the occasional reminder that she was not completely alone in this world. Only three days in and she was fine, but she needed more stimulation than the local birds and the occasional flight or shuttle passing over. And she wasn’t about to waste her time poking around on a vidmat. Not that they’d left any here.

Just…someone to talk to. To learn from. To work with. To connect with.

Annoyed with herself, she pushed those thoughts away and set about making tomorrow’s plans. Twisted ankle or no, she was going to get this self-training done one way or another. She had a lot of ground she wanted to cover during the time she had here.

By day six, she’d managed not to kill herself when practicing her Lightwalking, though she still hadn’t quite gotten the knack of adjusting for changes in geography. Thankfully it was impossible to step out of the Light and into something solid – the soul’s connection to the planet ensured that would not happen – but she still reappeared too high and hadn’t quite figured out how to adjust for it.

The stores of food and other wares miraculously replenished themselves not only at the small store down the block, but in her own refrigerator as well. She figured someone was restocking while she was away and chose not to question it or scan for their whereabouts. The temptation to reel out a thread of sensing energy was high – Goddess, it was high! – but she held back. Reaching out right now was a sign of weakness, that she’d given up already, and she didn’t want that.

She’d also expanded her regimen to include the more mundane but equally necessary things in training…she took care of what she ate and drank, what exercises she did, how long she practiced. She’d long known one of her worst habits was her lack of organization, so she chose to face that head on. She worked out a schedule and focused on everything she needed to do to adjust her focus.

By day ten she already saw the changes. She’d been meditating twice a day. She’d been going out for runs around the neighborhood, going slightly further with every circuit. She became exhausted less often, she had lost the excess weight from unhealthy eating, and to her own surprise, she found herself focusing on more details of her day-to-day life.

She changed her appearance as well, choosing to wear more form-fitting clothes to help her move more fluidly (this was, in her mind, a brilliant bit of clarity…she now understood why the Elders’ uniforms were also form-fitting, and it did in fact help her during ritual practices). She’d chosen to cut her long hair after finding that binding it back during practice only served as another distraction. It was now quite short, well above the nape of her neck, just shy of a buzz cut.

She felt more centered than she’d ever been in her life, and she was immensely proud of that fact. She continued to speak aloud, letting herself burst into song or work out a problem by talking through it. She felt oddly comforted by all of this. She could do this.

She would awaken as a Blessed One on her own.

Day fourteen was tough.

She promised herself she’d get through it, even if it ended up setting her back. She’d been in this funk ever since she found the second letter from her parents. She had no idea how it had gotten there, or if they’d left it days ago and she’d only just found it. She had a feeling it had been delivered, just like the phantom food and parcel deliveries, with someone stepping in and out of Light without her noticing and leaving no memory puddles in their wake.

The letter, at first glance, had been expected. A concerned but distanced connection, wishing her good health, hoping her training was improving. A brief mention of other extended family members forwarding positive thoughts and prayers…but otherwise it was mostly her mother’s hand and words. Words that felt shallow and forced. Words she’d said to her many times before, meaning well but ultimately meaning little at all, holding no true empathy.

But upon reading again, the reality of her isolation truly started to sink in. She’d put on a brave front all this time, refusing to feel the pain. Refusing to give up. Refusing to give in and let the Devoted Eichi win. Her mother’s letter, though well meant, had only served to bring that pain back to the forefront.

They’d already given up on her, days ago.

“Goddess…!” she blurted, crumpling the letter into a ball and throwing it across the room. Even talking aloud felt shallow and stupid now, just an immature action to trick herself into thinking all wasn’t as bad as she thought. She let the tears come this time, even knowing how stupid and pathetic she felt. She finally let herself accept the fact that she’d put on a brave front to please everyone else, to the detriment of her own spirit’s pleasure. She’d set out to prove…what? Nothing. She’d proven nothing to them, because they’d refused to listen at all. They were only biding their time until she gave up and they came to pick her up, spiritually broken.

Somehow, this clarity felt so much worse.

MU4: Chapter One (part i)

Dubai, which stands in nicely for long shots of Bridgetown.

NOTE: The original rough draft of the as-yet-untitled fourth book in the Mendaihu Universe was started in the spring of 2015, written longhand right about the same time I was readying A Division of Souls for self-publishing. The original version of this chapter (then as chapter four) was started 10 April of that year and went through multiple versions over the next seven years. Since then it’s moved to the beginning of the novel where it serves to set up the MU seventy years after the events that take place in The Balance of Light.

What it sets up is this: when Denni/Denysia gave the world the gift of spiritual awareness and a connection to Trisanda, and her intentions were to set humanity on a course of higher maturity and a connection to a larger universe. But in the world of spirituality and religion…things don’t always go to plan.

*

Eikianassia Oktanis stirred from slumber and stared at the ceiling in a dazed attempt to remember where the hells she was. It was too quiet, the air too clean and cool, and the shadows didn’t look like those from her own bedroom. She let it come to her slowly…the faded blue shapes of light against the ceiling on the far end of the room…the lack of any traffic noise…the lack of any art or shelves adorning the left wall…one nondescript alarm pod, no vidmats tacked to the wall, no communications devices on the desk. A humbling, deafening silence.

“Wilderlands,” she said in a defeated whisper, all too aware that her words had just come from the only human voice for miles.

The Trial of the Blessed One.

Eika had been brought out here by her mother and father, after she had been thrown out of her twelfth and last spirit circle. This was her last chance at becoming a devout member of the Blessed Ones, and if she failed this trial as well, she would be excommunicated and ostracized by everyone she’d ever known and forced to fend for herself in the Bridgetown Sprawl. Taking this trial had not been a mutual decision, and she felt that all too keenly. Her family’s chapter had forced it upon her parents, who had then forced it upon her without bothering to think about how it might affect her already weakening self-confidence. She grumbled and stirred again, fighting the growing irritation now that she remembered where she was and why she was there. If she let this negative energy get the best of her, she would be up for the rest of the night and she’d be cranky the next morning. And that would be misconstrued as an imbalance or an act of reckless rebellion. And her parents, and the Blessed Ones, wouldn’t have that.

She rolled over in frustration, most of it aimed at herself. Why had she chosen to act up that day, anyway? It was all ritual, to be sure. There was nothing wrong, not a thing that could have harmed her in any way, and the Goddess of All That Is would be watching over her throughout.

But somehow, it felt wrong. Not distressingly, harmfully wrong. More like…? She huffed again, stopping this train of thought once more. She couldn’t think about this, not now. She needed to sleep, damn it all!

This was just like before…

“Eika?” she’d heard from behind her bedroom door, two days ago, followed by the rattle of the handle. “Eika, are you all right?” Another rattle. “Eika, why is the door locked?”

Her mother had sensed her frustration and, as usual, had completely misread the reason behind it.

“Hmm…” she’d mumbled in a pathetic attempt at sounding half awake. “M’okay,” she’d said. “Just an odd dream is all.”

She’d sensed her mother’s presence behind that door for what felt like at list five minutes before she’d turned and headed back to her own bedroom. She’d waited a few minutes more, at least until she’d heard the distant sound of a door closing.

Eika had let out a slow breath and glanced at the clock on her side table. It was nearing three in the morning, much too late for her to be awake, and much too early for her to decide to stay up.

They don’t understand, she’d thought. How hard was it for them to realize she needed privacy every now and again? Was it really that hard for them to understand? She certainly understood more of the Blessed Ones than they did of her, that was for sure.

…this was exactly like two days ago. Except now, there was no one else here in this house. There was no one in this neighborhood, this town. She was alone.

Completely, desperately alone.

She turned onto her left side, hear arm resting next to her head on the pillow. She flexed her fingers for a few moments, watching their blurry shapes in the semi-darkness. There, on the soft flesh just between her thumb and forefinger and stretching just short of her ring finger, she could feel the stretching of skin where she’d received the scar of the first spirit circle ejection.

Devoted Eichi Maysa had done that, the Goddess curse her.

Eika hadn’t warranted such an injury, at least not in her eyes. She’d merely been a little too reckless with her lightwork ability, still learning and practicing but not quite yet a master at it. A stray spark of energy had slipped out after a nearly perfect healing, which had caused the willing practice participant to twitch and yelp as if Eika had stabbed her with a dagger to her chest. The absolutely livid Devoted Maysa had responded to the innocent mistake by forcibly pulling her away from the healed, pulling her arm backwards and dragging her to the front of the class – she had just enough time to see that otherwise she’d done a perfect job, and her partner had started to respond that they were not in fact harmed at all, only startled – and held Eika’s hand up to the other devout.

Devoted Maysa’s eyes burned into her as if she’d forcibly and gleefully ripped the girl’s soul from her body.

This is the imbalance you must purge!” she screeched, spittle hitting her face, and before she could respond or react, Devoted Maysa had taken a glowing index finger and jabbed it into Eika’s palm, shooting a small but intensely strong tear of Light through her hand. Such was her expertise that only skin and a few strands of muscle had been injured, but it was enough to make her shriek in agony, in front of everyone.

She’d immediately been branded a failure.

Eika had quit that spirit circle within the hour and, after stopping at a medical center in Branden Hill to have the tear properly healed, she returned home.

She was not in the least bit surprised that, between her leaving the shrine and getting home, Devoted Maysa had already contacted her parents and had painted the absolute worst picture anyone could have made. She didn’t even bother to argue because she knew her parents wouldn’t have believed her. They wouldn’t have accepted failure, even accidental.

“Whatever she said, she lies,” she’d said, more out of exhaustion than defiance.

“Despite the Light within?” her mother had ventured.

“Especially despite that,” she said, and walked dejectedly into her bedroom, locking the door, and not leaving it for a day and a half.

*

Eika must have dozed off at some point. When she next opened her eyes, the sun was shining through the windows on the far wall. Her eyes were dry and stinging and she rubbed at them, forcing herself awake. A small digital clock next to the bed read a little after nine. She yawned and stretched, rolling onto her back, surprised by her laziness. Blessed Ones were usually early risers who worked on little sleep, and she had slept an extra five hours at least. It was needed, though…she hadn’t felt this relaxed, this rejuvenated in quite some time.

She reeled out three small threads of spirit energy, looking for her parents and her younger brother, or anyone at all that might be nearby. This was normal for a Blessed One; they liked to keep constant tabs on each other.

But she sensed no one, just as she’d feared. She avoided the fear by thinking about her family and what they might be doing right now: were they visiting one of the outpost chapels today? Would they be chanting and protesting outside one of the countless cathedrals and Elder compounds in the Sprawl? Would they be making their way across Swope Heights in their monthly neighborhood sweep of gathering new followers? The Blessed Ones made it a point to be a highly visible presence wherever they were. Would her parents have woken her up to join? Did they still want her to be a part of the flock? Or had they given up on her? She winced, finding herself sliding back in that gloom again. Surely, they wouldn’t have abandoned her…? Not when they’d been keeping such close tabs on her over the past year and a half?

How many spirit circles had she quit or been forced out of? She’d not bothered to count, but she knew it had been at least a dozen. She’d tried…Goddess knew she’d tried to fit into one of the circles and make her family proud, but every single time she had broken away. None had been as painful and traumatic as Devoted Eichi Maysa and that first circle…but many of them had been just as psychologically and spiritually taxing, each and every one. They asked so much of her. So much that she could not always provide. She could bring herself to heightened levels of Light energy just like every other acolyte, but it was never enough, or its signature too obscure, or its leaders too demanding.

She was awakened, but she was lost.

Eika washed, dressed, and entered the main living area of the house. The den was wide and spacious, yet inviting and comfortable. She kneeled across the back of the couch that sat in front of a wide bank of windows, and watched the day unfold outside. Not a cloud in the sky, and the trees at the far end of the rear yard remained still. It felt too still, which always made her nervous. The less energy there was around her, the more she felt the need to expend her own to make up for it. The Wilderlands had to be the worst place for her to be if they were to expect her to learn how to control her random bursts of Light.

But it was the perfect place for a Trial of a Blessed One. If the acolyte was successful and ascended to a true Blessed One, then there was nothing to worry about. But if they were not successful…

Well – Eika decided not to think about that for now.

She reeled out a few more threads, thicker and stronger this time, and tried to find her family again. They had to be nearby, somewhere in the area. They couldn’t have gone far. Families of those on Trial would be put up at a compound nearby. But when she still could not sense them, she started to worry. And her reach was pretty damn far, much farther than most acolytes her age. She could sense clear across town without breaking a sweat, not that she ever dared to do so in the jumble of the Bridgetown Sprawl. But when she did exactly that here in this deserted town, she reeled it all back and shut it tight within herself. She stood up and started pacing the house, looking for any sign of them. Any notes, letters, memory puddles…surely they’d have told her where they’d gone and when they’d return?

She found nothing. A few scant memory patches, sights of them having walked through the house at some point, but that was it. They’d just…left.

She was tempted to reel her spirit sensing out further, more than she’d ever done before, but knew that would have caused more trouble than anything else. Instead she threw on her jacket and began walking into the outpost town center. Perhaps she would find them there.

*

The town center, the entire village, was deserted. She was completely alone.

She’d gone to the center green and thrown out a cursory sensing thread of the area, just a passive sweep just to find anyone at all, whether they were Mendaihu, Shenaihu or cho-nyhndah, but had come up with nothing. Even an unenlightened would have come to her attention, but she sensed no one. And she was unusually strong when it came to spiritsensing; that had been another irritation of some of the Devoted Eichi and she’d always held back to avoid their anger and punishment.

Could her sensing ability be that off kilter? She didn’t want to ramp it up, not just yet.

But after two hours of walking through the outpost town center, she saw and sensed no one.

They’d arrived late last night, and she’d been half asleep, so she hadn’t bothered or expected to look for anyone, figuring they were all in their homes, or at least in some cabin on the outskirts of town, at a safe monitoring distance and away from her prodding senses. Now that she was fully and completely awake, however, the emptiness and abandonment felt more complete and heartrending.

Her parents had left her here. Alone.

“Pashyo,” she said, her voice without any echo.

Her Trial of the Blessed One had started.

Curiously, past the throbbing pain of abandonment, past the simmering resentment and the directionless anger rippling somewhere in the background, she felt determination. She felt the searing pain of her family giving up on her and abandoning her in this weirdly vacant town in the middle of nowhere…she felt a keen, almost kiralla-level wave of naked anger, her spirit so forcibly pulled out of a society of similar souls against her will…

…and yet, Goddess bless it, she felt a clear and immensely strong will, a refusal to give up despite it all.

Goddess bless it, she would persevere.

She would prove them wrong.

Revising, rewriting, reworking…

Some days it seems I’m never going to finish Theadia. I still think it could be better, but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. Mind you, I know well enough never to fall prey to overworking it; I’ve always kept a keen eye on when my projects are veering towards that edge and knowing when to reel it back. It’s better than it previously was…but it’s still not at the level I’d like it to be at.

Part of it is that I know there are segments that are still missing. Situations and subplots that need to be beefed up so that our protagonists’ actions make more sense. Small patches of vague world building that need to be clarified to make the story more real. Things that could be improved upon. This is the level I’m at now…going through what I have so far and filling in all those blanks.

Part of it is also that I need it to have more emotion. I’m trying not to talk myself into thinking that I’m merely comparing it to the Bridgetown Trilogy (which had quite a lot of it), only that I know the story could be livelier. Making the characters more personal. Giving them lives that the reader could empathize with. It doesn’t need to be high drama, it just needs to have more of that active spirit that pulls the reader along.

My writer brain occasionally reminds me of the possible idea of doing a complete rewrite to make it more vibrant creatively and emotionally, just like the Trilogy, and though that is of course tempting, I’m not sure if that’s something this story needs. Then again…my creative instincts tell me that this is precisely what Theadia needs right now, and I’ve since relearned that following my creative instincts have rarely steered me wrong when it comes to projects I believe in. And if I choose to follow through, then I will need to dedicate as much time to it as I possibly can.

[That, of course, brings up my long-standing creative foe, Distraction. If I’m going to do a total rewrite, I’m going to need to manage my time a hell of a lot better than I have. But that’s another post entirely.]

I can see this with the last several projects I’ve been working on: MU4, Diwa & Kaffi, Queen Ophelia and Theadia. They’re all stories that I want to tell, and stories I believe in…but my instincts are telling me they’re not quite told to my satisfaction just yet. I can do better. I can write them better. I can give them more of my spirit to make them work the way they should.

Will this mean several more years of not releasing anything? I don’t think so…I’m hoping I’ll have something out later this year, though I’m not sure which one it will be. Maybe it’ll be something utterly different. Maybe it won’t be any of them. Who knows…?

Still. Whatever I do next, I’m going to need to start working on it, and very soon.

This time last year

Source: Makoto Shinkai’s ‘The Place Promised in Our Early Days’

This time last year, I’d left the (Former) Day Job after what…thirteen or so years?…and took some time off to get my head together. I’ve been thinking about just how frustrated and angry I’d been then, and for how long. The job had effectively cleaved my writing time (and personal time) to almost nil. By the start of 2020 I was barely writing anything worth talking about. I’d fleshed out some story ideas here and there, but I’d barely written any new words at all.

After that time off, I started from the beginning again. I asked myself several questions.

What made me want to write? What stories did I want to tell? What was my writing style? What did I no longer want to write about? Did I really need and want to write what I was currently working on?

And then I just…started writing again. Learning from the beginning again.

It took a few false starts, but I got there eventually. I was aware of my processes now; I knew when something wasn’t working, when something needed more work, when something resonated with me so much that I knew I could see this project to the end. I compared it to other moments in the past: instead of thinking if only I could write like this again, I was thinking this is just like that previous project I enjoyed so much. And I just kept at it.

It’s been a year, and right now I have a full stove with things on many burners: a submission-ready revision of Diwa & Kaffi, the fourth Mendaihu Universe story, a new project based on the work I’d done in those final Day Job Days, and a few possibilities I’m yet to start work on. I’m still working for a replacement Day Job — preferably one in the city that doesn’t maliciously carve away at my cherished writing time — and I’m actively getting in better shape. I’ve been extremely busy, but in a good way. A way that challenges me the way I love to be challenged.

BRB, doing some much-needed revision

So yeah, over the last few days I did a Reread What I Have So Far of my current WIPs, which is something I normally do at various points of their production.

I often do this near the start of every project for a few reasons: one, to see if any of it holds up and holds my attention (which yes, both do, yay!), and two, to get a firm grasp on the story and its many moving parts. This second reason is the more important of the two, as it’s my way of establishing continuity.

And let me tell you, my novels ALWAYS start off with the shittiest continuity ever. This is mainly due to me trying things out just to see where they go. This includes character traits and personalities, extended family and friends, time of day, whatever. I used to say I was ‘flailing’ at this point, but I don’t think that’s a good word for it. More like ‘feeling my way’, honestly. After maybe four or so chapters, I’ll do a Reread What I Have So Far and see what works and what needs work. The end result is that Project A is going in an unexpected but fun direction and I’m quite happy about that, but I definitely need to get its continuity under control. Project B, on the other hand, is going a bit slow but the continuity is just fine. Woo, go me!

Added to that, I’ve decided that I’m going to spend a bit more time doing another revision of Diwa & Kaffi, because I’m taking a writing friend’s suggestion to heart: it needs more description. Not a lot, but after doing a Reread after distancing myself from it a little bit, those bare spots definitely stick out a lot more now. There aren’t going to be any major revision issues with this one, no inserts or deletions…this one’s just to give it a bit more needed meat to it.

So yeah, this is going to be my job in the next couple of weeks. My Writer Brain of course is a bit irritated because I won’t get any new words out for a while, but it’s the price I have to pay. I’ll get back to those new words soon enough.

Updates and whatnot

First on the docket: FREE BOOKS!

Yes, it’s that time of year again, and all five of my ebooks are available for free until the first of January over at Smashwords! Here are the links:

In My Blue World
Meet the Lidwells! A Rock n’ Roll Family Memoir
The Mendaihu Universe Book 1: A Division of Souls
The Mendaihu Universe Book 2: The Persistence of Memories
The Mendaihu Universe Book 3: The Balance of Light

All five books are available in multiple formats, so you can read on any PC, laptop, or ereader! Because I like looking out for y’all.

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Second of all: chances are I might not have too much to ramble on about in the next few weeks as I’m most likely going to just keep busy offline with my other projects as well as celebrating the holidays, so if you don’t see any posts in the next few Monday/Friday go-rounds, that’s the reason. It’s not that I’m busy, it’s that I’m enjoying not being busy!

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I’m happy to say that late last night I came up with an idea that could significantly improve the opening of MU4, which I’ve been struggling with the last few weeks. As usual, it revolves around my penchant for starting the story at the wrong time! Of course, I’d already logged off, and had even turned off the bedside light to go to sleep when it came to me, but thankfully I was able to remember it this morning, so that will be part of today’s work. Yay for breaking through a block!

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I’m still plowing through my music bios and it looks like I’m down to maybe 15 unread books at this point, which blows my mind. I never thought I’d be that caught up! Speaking of reading, I’ve done a factory reset of my e-reader (somehow the keyboard had stopped working) which wiped a number of apps that I’d had on there that I probably didn’t need and never used, but on the plus side, I’ve filled it up with a number of cheap or free e-books that I plan on hitting next year. My average books-per-year has hovered around 70 or so and I’d like to up that. (Why so low? Primarily because over the last few years I’ve been spending a considerable amount of reading-in-bed time doing project revision, and that can take up to a few weeks at a time. I currently do not have any projects at that level at this point.) I can zip through a good-sized book in a few days so for next year’s GoodReads challenge I think I’ll set it at 100 and see how far I get.

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Speaking of reading, what was my favorite books I read this year? Good question. I’ll need to refer to my GoodReads list and get back to you on that. That could be a good post in itself!

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…and that’s all I have for now. Hope everyone has a lovely Christmas holiday!

More on focusing smaller

Yet another gif courtesy of Makoto Shinkai

It’s been a week since my previous post about focusing smaller when it comes to writing, and so far this process seems to be working well for me. Every time I started overthinking the idea I’d been working on that particular day, I stopped myself with the reminder: patience, you’ll get there. The biggest problem I’d been having with Theadia and MU4 over the last few months wasn’t that I was writing crap, it was that I was too eager to get to the goal. And the worst thing I can do is write impatiently.

Some people can write novels out of order. I’ve done it myself a few times…for instance, some of the scenes from Meet the Lidwells were written well in advance as practice sessions at 750Words. And that’s just fine! I’ve been doing precisely that with Theadia lately, just to get the words out and get my brain in the proper mindset for that story. But in the bigger picture, I tend and prefer to write chronologically. I’m a big fan of keeping the Big Story Arc clear in my head so I’m better able to pull all the smaller arcs and characters in the right directions. Thing is, sometimes I let the Big Story Arc thoughts take over, and that’s not good for my writing process.

So what I’ve been doing all this week is focusing on one scene in each project. (As it happens, it’s the opening scene in MU4 and a mid-book scene in Theadia. Perfect example of my occasionally writing out of order.) The main purpose for these exercises was not to convince myself that I was FINALLY working on a new project… it was just to get the creative juices flowing, that’s all.

What’s helping me refocus? Music, of course! Just like the trilogy mixtapes, I’ve been throwing together some interesting mixes for both of the new projects. Theadia‘s mixes have been especially interesting as I’m going out of my way to pick songs I wouldn’t normally choose for this kind of thing. MU4‘s mixes have been similar to the early Eden Cycle mixes of ’97-’98, collecting songs from different genres that evoke a particular mood. I suppose in a way I’m revisiting my old Miami Vice soundtrack style of writing. Hey, whatever works, right?

Another way I’ve been training myself to achieve this new focus is actually a fun project that takes no more than maybe a half hour a day but it’s like a treat for me: storyboarding Diwa & Kaffi! I do one page of six squares a day, just rough visualization sketches in pencil. It’s doing two things for me: One, it’s super fun and something I’ve always wanted to do with my novels, and Two, the daily exercise is helping me get better.

And that, really, is the whole point of this exercise in narrowing focus: getting better.

On Focusing Smaller

Source: Paprika (Satoshi Kon)

I’ve often said that I tend to be a pantser rather than an outliner, but that isn’t entirely true. I’ve done complete outlines before. For example, the outline for Meet the Lidwells! was more or less complete because it was focused on the band’s discography.

On the other hand, I have a few complete outlines for books that I’ve backburnered or trunked. For years I thought the reason for the story’s failure was because I was too hyper-focused on it and gave myself far too many rules and limitations. I’d lose interest because I was trying too hard to make this rigid plan work, even when I constantly told myself it was never set in stone.

A few days ago I was reading someone’s Twitter feed and they happened to mention how, with some creatives with ADHD, they sometimes lose interest in a big project once their brain has solved the problem. That is, they’ve run the whole idea through their head and completed the plot before any work has even been done, leaving the person unable to maintain interest in the creative part of the work.

Suddenly it made sense to me: why do I still feel the pull of some of these backburnered and trunked projects but can never get far with them? Why am I having issues getting anywhere with Theadia and the fourth Mendaihu Universe novel? For years I thought it was because it just wasn’t resonating with me. But why wasn’t it? Disinterest and personal issues don’t seem to be the complete answer, because I’ve felt that with far too many of my completed projects at one point or another.

I had to put it in perspective. Again, with the Bridgetown Trilogy: why did I have almost no problems with that (not including the end of Book 3)? Easy: it was because the bulk of those books — and In My Blue World, Diwa & Kaffi and Lidwells — were written with me only focusing ahead maybe one or two scenes at most. I wrote most of that by sketching out a few ideas during the day job and expanding on those when I got home. [I’ve talked about this process plenty of times, of course.]

There was a reason I kept wanting to get back to that particular process, and for years I misunderstood that yearning as reminiscence and a longing for how enjoyable that process was.

But once I saw those tweets the other day, it occurred to me that maybe there’s more to it than that. Maybe my brain really is telling me that this particular process worked for me, and worked well at that, and maybe it’s time to return to it. I was looking at it wrong; I needed to understand this longing in a clinical sense. I can have a long-term goal with my writing — knowing the direction and final destination of the story — but I have to maintain a much sharper and smaller focus on the scenes in front of me at almost all times.

The reason for that is because when I work out all the moving parts of the entire story and plan it all out ahead of time, I lose interest in it. I’ve already done the brain work and now I’m bored with it. The fact that I keep thinking about these projects, especially when I read older blog posts, notes and outtakes, is because it’s not the story that bores me, but my brain reacting to the idea of the work it involves.

This, by the way, is most likely why my academic years were so damn scattershot.

SO. What this means is that I’ve started adjusting accordingly. My daily words are now focusing on writing short outtakes again. My plans for Theadia, MU4 and other projects are to work on them a little at a time, chapter by chapter, scene by scene. Referring to those outlines only as a road map, and only when needed.

I’m very curious to see where this will take me.

Yeah, no.

If I’ve learned anything about being a writer over the last few decades, I’ve learned to notice when I’m bored with my own work. And unfortunately, Theadia is heading in that direction almost directly out of the gate.

BUT! I’ve also learned that this is a good sign. What this really means is that I’ve just gone in the wrong direction, which is completely normal for me when I start a new project. It almost always takes me three or four tries before I get it right. I just have to keep at it.

Why does this happen so often? Good question. I think it’s because so often I start with a pretty sturdy long-game story arc, but I don’t put enough thought into the short-game subplots as I should. This was exactly why Diwa & Kaffi stuttered to a halt a few times. It’s all part of the process.

So what do I need to do to fix this? Simple: start over. Think of the short-term goals and story arcs that I need to hit first before I can introduce the long-game arc. And if it doesn’t work the second time, try it again from a different angle. Start in medias res if I have to. Effectively what I need to do is raise the stakes a lot more than they’re currently at.

Recently I started thinking about why I’d suffered the same fate with Mendaihu Universe book four, and I can see I made the same mistake there as well. It had nothing to do with the story idea itself…it was that I started it wrong. And I think I know what I can do with that particular project as well, so who knows…maybe I’ll be writing more tandem projects again soon? Heh.

Onward and upward.