A Writing Meme – 4

The Writing Meme – Part 1
The Writing Meme – Part 2
The Writing Meme – Part 3

18. Favourite antagonist and why!

Signe, hands down. At least in Lost Knowledge, though I have a contender coming up in a future publication.

She’s not a primary antagonist, or anything. She’s not a bad guy, exactly, though she’s certainly awful. She just does a great job of poking at everybody’s insecurities, harassing them endlessly, and failing to put up with anybody’s rubbish.

19. Favourite minor that decided to shove himself into the spotlight and why!

It’s a duo: Lenny and Kim. Shadow of the Mountains was the first Lost Knowledge book I planned, and originally, it was supposed to be the only. Everything in Liminality was intended to be backstory, plotted but never written. But Kim and Lenny elbowed themselves into center stage, and I couldn’t say no when I realized that their story was really so much bigger than I had ever imagined.

20. What are your favourite character interactions to write?

I sort of already answered that without realizing that this was coming up, so I’ll go with a different answer.

Right now, I’m drafting The Van Helsing Legacy, and I am really digging the interactions between Meg and Chessie, the monster-hunting flatmates around whom the story revolves. Sort of without my consent, they acquired a bit of a buddy-cop vibe. You’ve got to admit that a bluestocking and a flapper chasing down vampires has a certain appeal.

21. Do any of your characters have children? How well do you write them?

Well… yes. Jeremiah’s got Cynthia, and Cynthia’s got Kim. Nobody’s got young children, though.

There’ll be more parent-child interaction in No Cage for a Crow, but it’s still mostly at a distance. Morrigan doesn’t get on well with her parents.

22. How long does it usually take you to complete an entire story—from planning to writing to posting (if you post your work)?

This is impossible. Everything I’m writing now has been percolating in the back of my head for ages. The Medium started brewing in 2005 or so, about the same time I began writing the atrocity that eventually became In the Shadow of the Mountains. The Morrigan Holmes series occurred to me when I was five. Yes, five. I’ve had The van Helsing Legacy rolling around in my head since the first time I saw a Hammer Dracula film, and I don’t even know when that was. I can’t possibly trace a story from inception to completion. The writing is variable. I was writing ItSotM for eight years before publication. The Medium brewed forever, but only took me a year to write, edit, and publish, probably precisely because so much thought had gone in beforehand. I drafted The Wailing in less than a month, but it’s short. There is no consistency in my time frames.

The Writing Meme  – Part 5


Riverbank Children – A Poem

To the boy in the green canoe:

You brought a hopeful fishing pole
down here to the iron river
and with eager hands cast out your line
to plumb the depths of a crystalline morning.
The whitewashed banks lower their brows
in concentration
hungry for your disappointment.

Boy, your sweater is too large.
It covers your hands with handknit safety
and your chin with the smell of your father’s cigarettes.
Boy, your chest is too small to hold
your potential. Your eyes are Concho pearls.

Did you carry that boat on your back,
young man? Does it trail behind you always?
Do you carry it to school, canoe in one hand,
while the other grips an empty bucket
reserved for the day’s catch?
You are always ready, ready for a prize.

Boy, you cannot even see me up here,
merging with my park bench
in the fog – nor would I want you to.
You are the river, and her bounty is yours.
The whitewashed banks are disappointed
by your mastery, the relish and the fickle pride in a failure.
The morning is no less sweet without a fish.

Boy, you are the river, self-absorbed, eternal;
the banks cannot stand against you.


To the girl on the playground slide:

Your pudding thighs are full of sunshine
and you gleam through the fog.
Your bare feet leave optimism in the toes-splayed tracks,
spreading down the plastic chute.
Your fingers grip the bars, clenched teeth
gritted tight, latched fast to living.

Coal-dark eyes, you black sheep girl
with your red hair bow and your mockingbird laugh,
you own the playground.
There is a woman hiding in your infant eyes.
Wild Roma queen, the world sees you falling,
but I know you fly.

Don’t tell stories!

I was at Chili’s the other night, having a couple of well-deserved drinks with a friend, when I observed something that wriggled its way into my brain and stuck there. It didn’t even really register with me at first. A family was having dinner a few tables away. There was a man, a woman, and a small boy, maybe seven years old. I didn’t notice them much at first, but after a while, a short argument went down about something I didn’t catch. Honestly, I wasn’t paying much attention. Someone raised a voice, someone contradicted the other. Then the boy offered his input. I don’t know what he said, but it was about ten seconds long, and at the end of it, the man reacted. It wasn’t violent, or anything. He just grabbed the kid’s arm, not hard enough to hurt him but hard enough to make me wince, and said very loudly “Don’t tell stories!”

I brushed it off and went back to my beer. The boy didn’t speak again, that I saw, for the rest of the meal.

But that episode grew and distilled in my mind until it had become a sort of gnawing horror.

Because you see, I knew what the man meant. The little boy had presented an untruth as truth, and had been rightly reprimanded for it. “Don’t tell stories” meant “Don’t tell lies.” That’s pretty good advice. That’s also not the advice that was given.

Children’s brains work differently from adult brains. They’re still constructing their understanding of the world. They’re still fitting that understanding to a language they haven’t fully mastered. At some point, they discover their ability to express things that don’t really exist. That’s not lying, exactly. It’s also not that false imagination adults sometimes invoke when a child says something fantastic and a nearby mature moron responds with “What an active imagination!” as though imagination is some sort of vaguely amusing mental illness that causes hallucinations so vivid, puny child brains can’t tell them from reality. Children know reality from fiction – their own fictions – at a very early age. They may believe in superheroes and wizards from television, but despite imagining that Barbie is going on a dinosaur-hunting safari, no child I’ve ever encountered has believed that Barbie is a real hunter, or that Rexie the dinosaur is really dead.  Children do not get confused by the images they create inside their minds.

The problem is expression, and this has a very obvious cause. The book begins “Once upon a time, in a kingdom far away, there was a brave little tailor,” not “You know, I was imagining this story that’s not really real, and wouldn’t it be interesting – but bear in mind this isn’t real – if there was a kingdom – a fake kingdom – somewhere, and it was a long time ago – but not actual time, because that’s history – where there was this…”

No. When grown-ups pour their hearts and souls into a world born inside their own heads, they don’t preface it with “ALERT: THIS IS NOT REAL.” The assumption is that the reader/viewer is not a complete bonehead and can tell that certain things are fiction. This is the mode children learn by observation. They learn by observation that their stories are valuable, and that the best presentation is verisimilitude. The whole point of a story is pretending that it’s real – pretending, while knowing that it isn’t.

Adults underestimate children. I think I can state that as general fact. Most adults underestimate most children in most situations. Thus, when a child generates a story and presents it in the format adults use to present stories, the child is shot down for lying.

Don’t get me wrong; children do lie. They’re not the idiots a lot of people assume them to be, and they’re not the beacons of angelic purity, either. They’re as clever as adults, and can often be as conniving. The difference is that they don’t have the body of knowledge to work with. Children lie to get out of trouble, to get someone else into trouble, to get something they want, or just to create mayhem. They do lie.

That doesn’t change the fact that the all-knowing adults often can’t tell a story from a lie, and treating stories as lies is damaging. How many children have internalized that barked order – “Don’t tell stories!” – and have let all their stories die untold as a result, both the lies and the brilliant ideas? How many novelists have we lost to that horrible little piece of linguistic imprecision? How many seven-year-old screenwriters, comic artists, and playwrights have trudged through life full of stories they don’t dare tell?