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(Fiction Friday) Veniamin Kovalenko, Werebear Detective #2

Writing 150It’s been a couple of weeks — sorry about that. This time last week I was knee-deep in convention fun with other geeks! I had meant to write ahead so that the second part of Veniamin’s story was up and done, but time, as usual, caught up with me.

Today, Veniamin is exploring the part of the BART system that lies underground — this mostly happens right around the “Transbay Tube”, a tunnel under the San Francisco Bay connecting Oakland and the peninsula, but there are significant portions of BART that go underground within the cities themselves. I find these little bits fascinating; unlike a lot of other subway stations, BART underground feels fairly empty and there are all kinds of fun surprises that could be lurking in the shadows there.

The Lake Merritt station sits in easy walking distance of downtown Oakland, and it’s right where the trains go from street-level to underground. It’s as busy as you might imagine most of the time, one of those hub stations that commuters need to get to before they can catch other trains to Fremont, Dublin, or Daly City. This late at night, though, there weren’t too many people lingering around; maybe word had gotten out that strange and dangerous things happen around the neighborhood when no one is looking.

Which is precisely why Nunes and I were here with nothing but flashlights and cell-phone cameras. This wasn’t his usual beat — he patrolled closer to Hayward — but he noticed something slipping out of the shadows and, in his own words, wrapping a tentacle around a homeless gentleman who then dissolved like he was being dipped in acid or something. The suckers on the tentacle slurped up the stinking, steaming mess before it retreated. This happened three nights ago while he was covering a shift for a friend, and he swore on his badge that he wasn’t intoxicated at the time because he never drunk at work. I don’t understand how he could stand to do the job if he weren’t, but some people are just weird that way.

“Are you sure you should be doing that?” He swung his flashlight in my direction as I took a swig from my flask, wrinkling his nose at the sharp bite of vodka that filled the air between us. “I really think we need to keep our wits about us.”

“What do you think I’m doing?” I snapped at him before tucking the half-empty canister back into my trenchcoat. “You have your way of keeping your wits, and I’ve got mine.” He might not like the smell of alcohol, but I don’t like the smell of human piss that clung to the concrete all around us, so we both have to deal with things we’d rather not.

I was uncomfortable enough already with this whole deal. Nunes insisted on joining me on this little expedition despite me warning him off. The way he saw it, he still had a job to do even if he was calling me in as a ‘consultant’. There was no way he was going to let me wander off into those tunnels by myself; he had to know what was there, and he had to know how it would be stopped before he could rest easy. With just about anyone else, I could understand that motivation, even respect it. But there was something about him that rubbed me the wrong way. He was scratching an itch that was better left alone, and I got the feeling his reasons for doing it weren’t entirely on the table.

“If that’s your way of keeping your wits, then we’re both in trouble.” He trained the flashlight on the tunnel, the meager beam of light diffusing into the darkness ahead of us. The sound of his footsteps were crisp and neat, just like his polished shoes and his pressed uniform. They echoed around us with a rhythm that made me anxious. My fingers itched for the flask again.

“You want someone else here to find some shadow tentacle monster, that’s fine by me. I can go home and catch up on my Netflix queue.” I walked right next to him as we passed through the door that would lead us into the maintenance tunnels running along the side of the subway track. I admit, I was in a rotten mood. It wasn’t just the smell, as bad as that was. It wasn’t the fact that I was wearing clothes, either, though the detective get-up I stuffed myself into was as uncomfortable as hell. I liked the way I looked in my cheap off-the-rack suit and trenchcoat, but I hated the feeling of that tie around my neck and the belt around my waist. They were reminders of what I was supposed to be, a civilized Joe protecting other working stiffs from the worst of the worst out there, but more and more the costume felt…restrictive.

I snorted to myself and resisted the call of the flask one more time. Maybe it was time to get out of the city for a while. My parents would be glad to see me for a spell, and it had been ages since I caught fresh fish right out of the ocean.

“No…no, you’re the guy I want. It’s just…don’t you care about the quality of your work? I can’t stand it myself when things are sloppy.” Nunes was working to keep his voice light, conversational. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to cover up his nerves or his disdain for me.

“Things are already sloppy by the time I get called in,” I said. I took a deep breath to try and dispel the tension building up my spine. “It doesn’t much matter if I tie things up in a neat little bow at that point. I fix the things that you and your people can’t.”

“I guess so.” Nunes had a question on his lips, but he didn’t ask it. That’s just as well. He wasn’t going to get an answer he liked.

The darkness closed in around us as we walked deeper into the tunnel, and the scent shifted from an overwhelming crush of people to stale air, rats, damp metal and concrete and…something else. I couldn’t quite place it, and that rankled me too. If I could shift here, I’d be able to isolate it, maybe pick up a trail, but…there’s no way I would take my clothes off in front of a civilian.

The strange scent grew stronger by degrees, and it seemed like our flashlights were dimming as we went along. It’s possible we were under the Bay at this point, but I couldn’t be sure. After ten minutes or so, I noticed a change in Nunes’ scent. He was getting more nervous, agitated. Around a bend in the track, I discovered why.

Standing in the middle of the tunnel was a girl who couldn’t be older than 18. Even from a hundred yards away I could smell her fear, and the wind carried quiet sobs towards us. As soon as Nunes saw her, he rushed forward. I should have stopped him, but I didn’t. I knew it was a trap, but there was some part of me that just went for it anyway.

“Maria!” He stopped short fifty feet away from her, even though there was nothing stopping him from going right there. “Are you OK?”

Maria nodded. When I got to him, I could smell that alien scent much more strongly. The air felt charged with something, a tension, a feeling that it was fighting against something that shouldn’t be displacing it. I felt the hackles on the back of my neck stand up; something was wrong here. All around, something was fundamentally wrong.

That’s when a pale man stepped out of a shadow clinging to the rounded wall of the tunnel. Nunes turned to him, his eyes wide. “I brought him to you. Now give me my daughter.”

“Fine.” The man was short and sallow, his face familiar and disturbing in a way I didn’t remember. He raised a hand, brought two fingers forward, and Maria flew with a shriek towards Nunes, collapsing at his feet. The officer helped her up, looked at me, and whispered “I’m sorry” before he turned and ran.

I should have been angry at him, but I wasn’t. If someone had kidnapped a member of my family, I would be willing to do some pretty intense shit to rescue them. Still, bad form, Nunes. If I ever got out of this tunnel, you owe me one.

“Hello, Veniamin.” The pale man turned towards me, pitch-black eyes narrowing in recognition. His accent, his manner, the way he said my name — it all came back to me at once, and I realized too late that I was alone in a pretty bad place with the last person I wanted to be stuck with.

I sighed, pulled out my flask, and drained it. If I was going to be torn apart by an outsider from some other dimension, I might as well be drunk when it happened.

“Hello, Ed,” I breathed. “You look different. Did you get a new haircut?”

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2018 in RPGs, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Fandom) Afrofuturism and Furry

Fandom 150Over the weekend I attended Further Confusion 2018 with over 3,400 other furries in San Jose, CA and let me tell you, it was a pretty great time. I got to catch up with a lot of friends from all over the country and meet a few new ones, including folks I’ve had an internet crush on for a good little while now. Nice seeing all of you, and I hope you folks come back next year!

The highlight of the convention for me was getting to run my very first “Afrofuturism and Furry” panel on Sunday. I had a good little group come in to listen to me jaw on about the Afrofuturist movement, its history and purpose, and why it actually makes a good fit for furry fiction. Whenever I talk about race in furry circles, I worry about the pushback — it can be a surprisingly touchy subject for those of us who pretend to be talking animals, especially in this political climate. Everyone was awesome, though, and I appreciate the openness and respect from the audience as they asked questions and related some of their hesitations about tackling things. When the panel was over, I promised the folks in attendance that I’d write up a follow-up here so they could grab additional resources if they wanted.

First, here are a few good places to go if you want to learn more about just what Afrofuturism is:

Now that you’ve got a primer, here are a couple of places you can go to sample Afrofuturist music:

If you’re interested in a few essential Afrofuturist stories, don’t worry man — I’ve got you covered:

And finally, a few furry-specific Afrofuturist stories:

  • Elephantmen! (Image Comics) – I included this here because of the many parallels between the titular genetically-engineered chimera and the historical experience of black Americans; brought to a strange country for a specific purpose that has now ended, with a history forged by the theft and ruination of black bodies and a present that alienates and disrespects them.
  • The Pack (Midas Monkee) – This is a comic about a pack of Egyptian werewolves, which is LIT AS FUCK
  • Yohance (Midas Monkee) – Space opera with a purely African aesthetic and absolutely amazing art.

Afrofuturism deals with the alienation of belonging to a group that has been historically segregated; the reclamation of an identity that was lost long ago; the water that both erased our cultural connection and serves as a fertile environment to uncover new life; and how being who you are disgusts or angers people who have nothing to do with you. It is longing and sorrow, hope and determination, anger and defiance, provocation and self-reflection. It asks us to know who we are, know how we work within a culture that is hostile but promising, what values we want to take with us into the future. It challenges us to question so many of the assumptions we’ve made about science-fiction and storytelling in general. There’s so much that can contribute to furry writing and deepen the themes we deal with in our fiction. I highly recommend checking out a few of the links above; there’s bound to be something for just about anyone!

 

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(Fandom) Further Confusion 2018

Fandom 150Further Confusion 2018 is just around the corner! The first major convention of the year will be held at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center starting this Thursday, January 11th and closing down on Monday, January 15th after five days of furry fun. I really love this con; it’s super close to me, and I get to show so many friends from out of town the best parts of the city! Not only that, but I’m usually on a few panels about writing and/or spirituality where I get to chat a bunch about things that really interest me. Good times all around!

If you’re planning to go to the convention, please let me know — I’d love to meet you! Chances are you can find me bumming around the Dealer’s Den, chilling out in one of the many hang-out spots around the convention center, or attending a boatload of panels (that I’m not on). If you’re interested in attending a panel I’ll be hosting, here are the four I’ll be working with.

Adult Furry Writing (18+ Only)

Saturday, January 13th @ 10:00 PM (Salon V-VI / Marriott)

Writing adult scenes in furry fiction are a bit more complicated than ‘just add sex’. How can you make sure adult themes are woven into stories in ways that not only engage your readers but also enhances the work? I’ll be on this panel with my husband (The Pen Drake) and Kyell Gold for the first time this year to talk about how to handle the more graphic aspects of our fiction.

Developing A Writing Practice

Sunday, January 14th @ 11:00 AM (Almaden / Marriott)

One of the biggest pieces of writing advice for the neophyte is making sure you write on a regular basis. But in an age where so many things compete for our attention, how in the world do we manage that? I’ll go over strategies that have worked for me and answer questions about specific stumbling blocks to the best of my ability along with prolific writer Kyell Gold!

Afrofuturism and Furry

Sunday, January 14th @ 5:00 PM (Guadalupe / Marriott)

Just what IS Afrofuturism and what does it have to do with furry fiction? I’m very excited to offer this panel for the very first time — I’ll explain just what Afrofuturism is, detail its history in brief, and show how the themes, aesthetic and values of the movement are more at home in furry fiction than you think. I’m on this panel solo, so expect a more conversational panel.

And here are a few panels that I think are so cool they need to be promoted!

Titanium Tea XXIX

Friday, January 12th @ 1:00 PM (Los Gatos Suite / Marriott 4th Floor)

Watcher Tigersen has been running this tea-based social at Further Confusion for years now, and it’s always a fun time. He even brews an exclusive tea just for each year, and this meet-up will be no exception! If you’re a tea afficianado and you’d like to meet other furries who love a good cup and a sit-down as much as you do, you should definitely check this out!

Native American Cultures

Friday, January 12th @ 3:00 PM (Almaden / Marriott)

Julzz, Yasuno and Tonya Song are bringing back this panel from last year, exploring various aspects of Native American culture including art, stories, music, philosophy, history and more. It’s really exciting to get more of this kind of panel in furry; more insight into the beliefs of Native Americans is sorely needed so we can approach aspects of it with more care and sensitivity.

Reveille and the Swingin’ Tails

Saturday, January 13th @ 1:00 PM (Second Stage / Marriott)

This is low-key one of the best live performances at Further Confusion, featuring a six-piece band playing jazz, funk and blues! Scheduling conflicts mean I don’t make the concerts as often as I’d like, but I always try to see the Swingin’ Tails if I get the chance. You should too!

Let’s Talk About RAWR: the Furry Residential Writing Workshop

Saturday, January 13th @ 4:30 PM (Guadalupe / Marriott)

Did you know that there is a one-week intensive residential workshop dedicated to helping furry writers refine their craft? WELL THERE IS! Alkani Serval, Kyell Gold and Ryan Campbell will be hosting this panel about RAWR (the Regional Anthropomorphic Writers Retreat) — they’ll be talking about what previous years were like, and what you can do to apply if you’re interested!

Mindfulness and Meditation Workshop

Sunday, January 14th @ 1:00 PM (Santa Clara / Hilton)

Kannik will be hosting this panel all about the benefits of building a regular meditation practice and how it can lead to being more mindful in all aspects of your life! He’s an engaging and down-to-earth teacher who’s been doing this for years. The panel has been wonderfully informative and enriching for years, so if you’re curious about the transformative aspects of meditation and mindfulness I highly recommend spending a bit of time with him on Sunday afternoon!

Unsheathed Live! (18+ Only)

Sunday, January 14th @ 10:00 PM (Guadalupe / Marriott)

Unsheathed began life as one of the very first furry writing podcasts, and it continues on as a live panel at various conventions. It is a BLAST. Last year, Carrizo Kitfox outfitted 3D models for presenters Kyell Gold, K.M. Hirosaki and The Pen Drake for extra hilarity and immersion. Kyell, KM and Pen will discuss what they’ve been reading and writing, then take questions from the audience in a lively, loose event that’s consistently one of the highlights of my con!

So those are the panels I’ll be trying to make this year, but there’s a ton of other stuff to do. In addition to the Dealer’s Den during the day and dances at night, there are charity auctions; a gamer’s lounge for board games, tabletop RPGs and video games; poker tournaments; late-night Jackbox games; and all kinds of meet-ups for furries of all kinds of interests. Around San Jose, there are amazing restaurants, art installations, nightclubs, museums and events as well. FC 2018 is going to be really, really fun — I can’t wait to see some of you there!

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2018 in Furries, Writing

 

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(Fiction Friday) Veniamin Kovalenko: Werebear Detective

Writing 150For Fiction Friday this year, I’d like to play around with a new setting or character every month. Chances are this will settle in to a rotating band of settings that I’ll return to again and again, just to play around with various aspects of writing. One of the things that have been setting me back is a reluctance to just play around, to write for the sheer joy of it. So that’s what I’ll be doing here.

This month I’m going to dig into Veniamin Kovalenko, a character I played in my husband’s Dresden Files game. Veniamin is a Californian of Russian descent (obviously), but with deep ties to the Golden State as well as Alaska. His family’s birthright is the ability to change into a bear pretty much at will, something that serves most of them pretty well. His mother and father own a little hotel in the forests just a little way south of Silicon Valley; other family have installed themselves as park rangers and workers in various state parks.

Veniamin, however, has chosen the path of the private detective to the supernatural creatures in and around the San Francisco Bay. He’s seen too many good monsters do stupid things and meet their end because of it; he wants to protect folks with too much power and too little sense from making bad choices, and make sure ‘regular folks’ aren’t victimized by those they have no defense against if he can help it.

I rarely write in first person because I’m just not good at plugging in to a drastically different voice from my own, so that’s my challenge this month: try on a writing style that’s distinctive and alien.

 

#1: Bearbaiting

San Francisco didn’t even have the decency to be sweltering when that demon from Hell walked through my door. If this were Sacramento, he would have slipped in all covered with flop sweat, dark stains on his shirt where perspiration soaked through, panting and stinking of whatever garbage he could afford from the vending machine on his salary. But the City By The Bay barely cracked 80 in a heat wave, so all I had to announce his presence was the faint whiff of sulphur and subway piss.

He wasn’t an actual demon, but he might as well have been — maybe something worse, like one of those parasites that feasts on souls or a Kardashian. He stood in front of my desk with his hands clutching his hat, his shabby uniform neatly pressed and creased. The six-pointed star caught the little bit of morning light that made it into the room and glinted right into my eye, making me squint. Almost like he was mocking me, he squinted too — at the tumbler of whiskey I had in my hand.

“Isn’t it a little early for that?” He said, frowning at the smell.

“Ain’t it none of your business?” I splashed back the three fingers in the glass, slammed it down, swiped the bottle and refilled it so I could take another sip. “I don’t go to your box outside of Hayward Station and judge you for your life choices.”

The man sighed and looked around the room. I couldn’t lie, my office had seen better days — the couch on one side of the room had been mangled a few nights ago after a particularly epic bender when I blacked out and shifted, and there were claw marks all over the wall and floor there. The trash bins were full of empty alcohol bottles, my desk was buried under empty pizza boxes, and the air was full of stale food, drink, and bear. It hadn’t been a good time these past few weeks, but that was just part of the deal in my line of work. If this prim little asshole had been through what I had, he’d drown his sorrows in extra cheese and Johnnie Walker too.

“Can I help you?” I leaned forward and put my tumbler down. He didn’t look like he wanted to be here, and I sure as hell didn’t want him here. So the sooner we got done with…whatever this was, the better it would be for both of us.

“Oh…uh…” He stopped trying to work out what had happened to the couch and looked back at me. Then he looked down. Then he fiddled with his hat. “I…uh…I hope so.”

Something wasn’t right here. The BART police officer in front of me was a lot of things, but hesitant wasn’t one of them. I tried to clear the fatigue and booze out of my head so I could put my finger on it, but when I did that all I got was a headache. Still, I could tell even then that he looked pretty shaken. Maybe he had seen something. Maybe he was in over his head.

“All right then, Mr. Nunes, sit down and tell me what’s on your mind. Though if it has anything to do with BART I’m afraid I’m not your guy. Still banned for two more months, remember?” I straightened my tie and smiled to take the edge off that last bit. If he was coming to me, he had to be three shades of desperate and it’s not in my nature to be that tough on a desperate man.

“Well…yes.” Nunes sat down across from me and stared down at his stupid hat for a while, gathering his courage. If it weren’t nine in the morning — and he weren’t a police officer — I might have offered him a shot. But he came around eventually. “I might be able to do something about that.”

“Yeah? Why?” It had been ten months since I’d been busted trying to sneak into the BART tunnels, on the trail of some wild fae who had been doing who knows what in there. Nunes was the officer who caught me and, when I couldn’t talk my way out of trouble, got me banned. I had my own car anyway, so it wasn’t too big of a deal, but it was the principle of the thing. It really sticks in my craw when I get punished by the people I’m trying to protect just for doing the right thing. What’s the point of having the law when it doesn’t actually help?

“Because I think you know there’s something in the BART tunnels, and I need you to find out what it is.” It took a lot of effort for him to look me in the eye when he said that, I could tell.

I gave Nunes a good, long look. It really doesn’t do anyone any good to know what’s really out there; it’s more trouble than it’s worth for people like me. Even if you’re just trying to live your life, people get really afraid, and that fear makes them do all kinds of stupid, destructive things. But he clearly saw something that spooked him, enough to come to the last person he should expect help from.

Still, keeping up the cover is important. I leaned back in my chair and shook my head. “I really don’t know what you mean, Officer. I was chasing a lead for a client when I was sniffing around there. Turned out to be a dead end, though. Given all the trouble that came my way the last time, I’m not inclined to go back down there.”

“Please, I…I don’t know what you know, but I know it’s more than I do, OK? Something in those tunnels have been taking the homeless. I don’t know what it’s doing, but…but it’s…” Nunes stopped then, looking down into his lap, clutching his hat. Goddamnit. I was going to have to help this asshole.

I took a deep breath and tried not to let my shoulders slump too much while I grabbed a notepad and pen. “All right, Nunes. Just start at the beginning. Tell me what you saw.”

I fished a (sort of) clean tumbler out of a draw, poured some whiskey into it, and slid the glass towards him. To my surprise, he took it. Then he began to talk.

 

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(Personal) My 2018

Self Improvement 150So now that the dumpster fire that is 2017 has been officially extinguished, it’s time to look ahead towards the bright, shiny new year and plan how to make it better. I’m not going to lie; I’m one of those people who love to think about New Year’s Resolutions — but I’m sure you know that by now. It’s one thing to make public declarations on the Internet for what I’m going to do, but it’s quite a different thing to follow through and hold myself accountable for failures.

I’ll try to do something a little different this year, especially in regard to my writing. While I’ll definitely be aiming for pretty ambitious goals at the start of 2018, I also realize that it’s possible I won’t be able to meet them for some reason. Perhaps family issues will flare up again and I’ll be forced to slog through some difficulty. Maybe something will happen with my day job or my mental health and I’ll need to drop everything to take care of that. Or perhaps shit hits the fan in the United States and survival becomes the overriding focus of our short and brutal existence.

No matter what, the goals I have in mind for the year will serve as a North Star for what I’d like to do. Even if I know I won’t be able to meet them, I’ll still get as close as I can for as much as I’m able. Achieving the goal would be nice, but ultimately it’s not the point. The goals are a means to an end, that end being encouraging behaviors and developing habits that will make a more consistent, more productive writer.

For The Writing Desk, I’m aiming for one hundred posts in 2018. That actually shouldn’t be too hard to manage; if I keep up a regular output of three posts a week through the year, that would put me right around 150 by December. However, I know there’ll be times where I’ll need to take a week or two off to tackle other work — or I’m working on an essay or two that requires extra time and polish. This year, though, I’d like to focus on minimizing those interruptions and communicating in advance when they’re going to happen. Becoming more professional and accountable to myself for what I do is a big thing for me this year, and this little corner of the Internet will be an excellent first step for that.

Another good reason for making sure I’m consistent here is that it trains me to write to deadlines. If I actually want to make a living on this, I’m going to have to be able to produce a certain output on time. I know that at first any polish I’ve got here might suffer, but that’s fine. I can learn how to write about involved or difficult subjects and still be on time through this. There may be a few bumps in the road, but that’s in service to progress.

For the Jackalope Serial Company, I’m aiming to publish 50 ‘episodes’ of serial in 2018. This will be a lot more difficult, since it means I’ll need to make sure I have at least one piece of serialized fiction up on Patreon every week this year. There’s no way around it, I’ll need to make sure I’m working ahead of what I post in order to make this goal, and that’s a very good thing. It means that success will force me to plan ahead and work consistently; there are going to be weeks where I just can’t write, but if I’m diligent I’ll have a backlog to catch me for a bit. I’ll even give myself two weeks this year where I can be ‘off’, and I have a good idea about when I’ll take them. But in order to be a storyteller, I’m going to need to learn how to tell stories. The Jackalope Serial Company will be an excellent proving ground for that.

Finally, I’d like to write and submit ten short stories to various publications this year. One of the best things about 2017 is the sudden expansion of minority voices in the science-fiction/fantasy space. I’d love, more than anything, to become a part of that wave. I hardly expect that any of my work will actually be accepted or published, but it’s well past time that I put myself out there. Writing stories is only one part of the vocation; learning how the industry works and engaging with it as much as you can is a big part that I’ve neglected for far too long.

I fully expect that I’ll be submitting more stories towards the latter half of the year than the former. For the next few months, anyway, I’ll be focusing mostly on The Writing Desk and the Jackalope Serial Company to make sure I’m consistent there. Once I feel more comfortable with my writing routine, I’ll begin to branch out with standalone short stories written for the wider SFF or furry markets.

So, these are my three big goals for 2018: write 100 posts here, write 50 serial chapters, and submit 10 short stories to publications. That’s a LOT of writing, and again — there’s no expectation of making the goal. That’s not really the point here. The point is to push myself further than I have been, to develop a consistent writing practice, and to submit work on a reasonably predictable schedule. Every month, I’ll reflect on my progress on these goals, talk a bit about what’s working and what I still need to focus on, and discuss my game plan for the next month. We’ll see how that goes, but for now, I’m really excited about the chance to ‘earn’ my label.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions, and how do you plan on meeting them? Let me know!

 

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(Fiction) Sergei & Bunkin #2: The Glade

Writing 150The Essex Freehold was on a large lot of land mostly covered by wild forest broken up by small clearing — some of which had buildings and some of which didn’t. The freehold itself was right at the front of the property behind locked gates; you either had to key in a five-digit combination or say a secret phrase to the chimerical gremlin sitting on top of the key pad. Bunkin had gotten them in with the phrase, then argued about whether or not Whitney or Beyonce was better for ten minutes before Sergei dragged him along.

Now they were definitely not lost in the young woods and bushy undergrowth a half-mile behind the huge brick mansion, according to the pooka squire. The clearing with the “problem” chimera should definitely be around here somewhere. However, Sergei was getting the feeling that they were going around in circles. The deer paths were starting to show the signs of their previous passings, and the lower branches along the trees bore familiar scrapes from where his horns brushed them the first time.

Bunkin was a little ways ahead of him, squinting at a map that had obviously been printed by his school library’s dying printer. In an effort to make it more legible, he traced the faint outlines in pen. This might have been a fatal error; if he had marked in landmarks that were mere flights of fancy to make the travel more interesting, neither one of them would have a clue. It was a hazard in having a pooka for a squire, he supposed.

The troll tapped Bunkin’s shoulder lightly to get his attention and then signed. What are we looking for?

The map says that we should have seen the unicorn trail by now, and that we can follow that to the glade. But I can’t tell if these tracks are unicorn or deer. And since the big trail splits off three ways over there… Bunkin pointed to the east, southeast, and due south, then shrugged.

The squire had a point. Sergei had never seen a unicorn before, but he knew that it was roughly the same size as a deer with split hooves more than likely. He would have guessed the unicorn to have a gait more like a horse, but that wasn’t a given. He stared at the three paths Bunkin had marked out and tried to figure which was which, but they were far too similar. Unless…

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and focused on the Glamour around him. There likely wouldn’t be much — this was mostly new growth on private land, and the natural magic of the place would be drawn to the balefire within the freehold’s mansion. But there should be enough for him to spot a basic trail.

When he opened his eyes again, he saw Bunkin’s true fae visage more clearly — an upright six-foot rabbit with wood-brown fur, a basic tunic and trousers, and a hand-drawn map of the Duke’s lands. In addition to the oak, hickory, and sassafras trees there were others that shimmered with rainbow bioluminescence in the afternoon sun; squat bushes bearing, impossibly, mushrooms with red and white spotted caps and little button eyes; and tiny trails hugging roots and vanishing under the undergrowth. Sergei thought he saw something moving the grasses there, but looked away before he could find out what it was.

He peered at the three paths again. The first path, headed east, showed prints that seemed to dance along the dirt, with a crystalline glint catching the sun whenever the wind blew. Somehow, he knew this would be the way to go. He nodded in that direction and made his way forward, with Bunkin scrambling to catch up.

I’ve never seen a unicorn before, Bunkin signed to him. I don’t think I’m dressed right for the occasion. I hope she likes me.

When we get to the clearing, we’ll probably see Beyonce but not the unicorn. Of course, they might be surprised…but if they stuck to tradition, the mythical creature certainly wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him.

What? Why? We’re the good guys. Unicorns can be shy, but they know someone pure of heart when they see them. Bunkin puffed out his chest a little. His eyes, huge and black and liquid, were surprisingly effective at broadcasting a purity he didn’t have.

We might be pure of heart, but I’m pretty sure you’re not a virgin. Sergei grinned down at his squire, then ruffled his ears with a broad, heavy hand.

“Gross.” Bunkin frowned as he stopped to ‘fix’ his ears. “I’m still in high school, dude.”

Sergei blinked and turned to look at his squire. You mean you are?

“When would I have had sex? During exams? When I was working for you over summer vacation? There’s just no time.” Bunkin was exceptionally stone-faced, or maybe Sergei wasn’t good at reading the expressions of a rabbit after all this time.

Well…maybe we’d better let you lead the conversation, then, Pure of Heart. Sergei stepped aside on the unicorn path to give Bunkin the right of way. You learn something new every day, he thought to himself.

It only took them a few minutes of walking to reach the edge of the clearing. The trees parted suddenly to reveal a small meadow no more than a hundred feet across, impossibly bright with sunlight. There, in the center, was a tall, almost elfin woman whose skin seemed to absorb and reflect the golden glow. She was in a sheer white dress, ribbons of fabric floating off her arms and around her ankles. Prancing around her was the unicorn, its pelt as white as her silk, its horn as bright as her skin. It stopped as they approached, looking their way with a warning, nervous snort. The woman’s gaze followed. Both Sergei and Bunkin knew at once this was the chimera they were looking for.

“No way,” Bunkin whispered. “I will never understand why so many people get so lost in their head over Beyonce.”

“Hello?” the chimera’s voice rang through the clearing like a bell, though Sergei couldn’t see her lips moving. The unicorn pawed in agitation at the grass, lowering its horn towards them.

Well, Pure of Heart, you’re up. Sergei pointed to the clearing, and Bunkin nodded.

I’ve got this, he signed, then strode confidently out of his hiding spot.

“Yo, Bey-Bey, what’s up girl??”

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2017 in RPGs, Sleepwalkers, Writing

 

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(Writing) I’m A NaNoWriMo Cheerleader

Writing 150National Novel Writing Month is almost here, and it’s one of the many reasons I love the end of the year! In just two days, beginning on November 1st, thousands of writers all around the world will band together to accomplish one insane goal: create a novel of at least 50,000 words by November 30th. This will require them to write at least 1,667 words per day — that’s around 90 minutes of work every day for the entire month, including days where you just don’t feel like it, or you have to cobble together those minutes between other tasks, or weekends, or Thanksgiving. In order to be successful at NaNoWriMo, it’s almost imperative that you WRITE. EVERY. DAY.

That’s a daunting prospect for anyone, even writers who have been at this for a little while. For most of us who aren’t professional, writing has to happen in the margins of our lives — when we can snatch a block of time from the world in which we feel motivated, relaxed and capable. The cultural shock of shifting from writing when you have the time to making time to write can be enough to get even the hardiest author to bow out over time, and that’s understandable. Writing isn’t easy, especially on a deadline. In order to make your word count, you have to turn off the inner critic that demands your narrative spills from your forehead, fully-formed and ready for print.

This is an incredibly useful skill to develop, especially for perfectionists like me. I’ve wasted so much time being overly-precious about my work, where I write and scrap the first chapter, scene, paragraph of a story over and over and over again until I’m just sick of it. So many saplings have been pruned back into the dirt from the needless hyper-criticism I subject to everything I write; I’ve spent so long never finishing anything that it’s taking significant time and effort to undo that impulse so I can be productive.

NaNoWriMo is a bootcamp that forces you to turn off your inner editor in the service of getting something done, and for a writer that’s one of the most important things you can do. No one expects a 50,000-word-story written over 30 days to be any good, but that’s OK. Your goal isn’t to produce the next great American novel; it’s to hit your word count, every day, for 30 days — rain or shine, feast or famine. The great thing about the goal is that it doesn’t tell you how to achieve it. You are empowered to build your own practice to get the words in however you can. But you have to build the practice. You have to get the words in.

You won’t be alone in this endeavor should you choose to accept it. A wonderful community has sprung up around NaNoWriMo over the years, and you can hit the official website or any number of forums, blogs and other resources for all kinds of writer groups for insight, tips and encouragement to keep you in the zone. That’s perhaps the best part of the whole affair — you forge and strengthen bonds with other writers all over, and the cheering circle you create begins a virtuous cycle. Writing leads to learning, editing, collaborating. Before you know it, you’ve got a novel to show for it and a number of new friendships.

This is a great thing, and to everyone participating in NaNoWriMo this year, I salute and whole-heartedly encourage you! In solidarity, every Monday this month I’ll talk about a different tool I use to keep myself organized and offer notes on how my personal journey to becoming a more consistent, productive and professional writer is going. Also, I’ll keep a running tally of my word count for my blog and Patreon stories over the month.

Good luck, you crazy writers! I wish you nothing but the best for the coming month!

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2017 in Better Living Through Stories, Writing

 

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