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Sleepwalkers Fiction: The Balance

Writing 150Prescott’s ear twitched as he looked down at the paper before him. He had written words and numbers on it, all laid out in a nice little chart. The source of income or expense in the far left column, and money going into his bank account in the middle one. At the far end went all the money that left his bank account for whatever reason, from the beginning of the month until now. At the bottom, the balance in his checking account, as it stood now: $-87.33.

He stroked his nose, from the twitching tip up to the top of his eyes. It soothed him to be petted, even if he was the one doing the petting. And right now, it was the only thing keeping him from having a small panic attack in front of all these nice people inside Zia’s Cafe on Allegheny. He double-checked and triple-checked the numbers. It simply couldn’t be right.

His phone buzzed. He plucked it carefully and read the text message displayed on its screen. Now I know why you wanted me to buy you lunch.

Prescott looked up and gave the man sitting across from him his best disapproving stare. When you were a six-foot tall walking rabbit, that only worked so well. Vitaly merely smiled back at him, hunched in his comically undersized chair, cradling the comically undersized phone in his massive hands.

To each other, they looked as they truly were. Prescott was the perfect blend of rabbit and man, with big brown expressive eyes, oversized buck-teeth hidden under a blunt and boxy muzzle, a thick coat of white fur covering his entire body. He favored baggy jeans and a light sweater this time of year; his fur was more than enough to keep him warm, but he couldn’t walk around naked when most people couldn’t see that he was keeping modest. Vitaly was an enormous blue troll of a man, thick white hair forming a mane that nearly hid the small horns and pointed ears that still managed to poke through. He had an underbite to match Prescott’s overbite, thick, sharp canines jutting up from his lower lip. He wore simple and sturdy clothing, blown up large to contain the impossible, ancient strength that was his birthright. He had learned restraint by living in a world made far too small for him, and had come to have the patience of mountains.

To the cafe’s other patrons, they were merely an eccentric couple — a hulking man who was constantly texting, and a strange younger fellow carrying out what looked to be a one-sided conversation. They came here together every Wednesday. The smaller man ordered for the larger one, and he had an odd, jokey way of talking. It was simultaneously hilarious and frustrating.

Prescott rarely told the truth outright after he came upon his true nature. It was the birthright of his kind, apparently, and it made simple conversations rather interesting affairs more often than not. He did his best to at least make it entertaining to decipher the truth, but that only went so far and inevitably people got fed up with trying to puzzle him out. Vitaly was the only person who knew what he was getting at most of the time, and that was an immeasurable relief to him. In exchange, he served as the troll’s translator so his muteness wouldn’t make things weird for anyone. They were the best of friends, and they fought often enough to prove it.

Today, Prescott was too nervous about his bank account to really give Vitaly a good rejoinder. “Ha. Very funny. I’m overdrawn in the first place because I bought lunch for you last week. You could have stopped after your tenth sandwich, you big ox.”

It was a lie, and they both knew it. Vitaly simply smirked and tapped away on his undersized phone. It was nothing short of magic that he was able to type anything with those fingers the size of soda cans. I know I could have. But it was more fun watching you sweat.

Prescott allowed himself a small smile. “If you think it’s fun watching me sweat, you have a pathetic and incredibly boring life.”

Vitaly shrugged, then ate the last quarter of his sandwich in one quick bite. Prescott looked down at his balance sheet and sighed. His ears folded as he thought about the bills he still had to pay. Money had never been his strong suit.

“I have everything under control, of course. My student loans are well in hand, and so are the utilities, and I certainly won’t make a late fee on the credit card. I know you think the negative in front of my balance looks bad, but really, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m in excellent shape.” Prescott’s heart raced as he thought about it. Where could he get the money?

His phone buzzed. Is no worries. I give you $500 now, and you pay me back over time, OK?

Prescott looked up, stunned. “But you make even less than I do. I mean, you’re practically a peasant! Where did you get that kind of money?”

Savings. I save while you buy video games and hair dryers and what not. This is interest-free loan, pay back when you can. But I help you budget your money, yeah?

The rabbit’s whiskers and ears lifted. “I don’t see what help you could possibly be, but I suppose it couldn’t be the worst thing.”

No, worst thing is borrowing money from Brendon. He lords it over you until the end of time. Lucky for you, it’s just me. Vitaly smiled, then reached over and grabbed the other half of Prescott’s sandwich in those big fingers. The troll sniffed it, made a face, and then ate it anyway.

Prescott snickered and rolled his eyes. It’s amazing how money in one’s bank account could lift your spirits. “Arrogant grand-standing is far better than some lummox eating you out of house and burrow, that’s for sure.”

They both laughed, then, Prescott loud enough for the two of them.

(This week’s prompt was balance, and I wanted to take it to a different place than most people would have thought of. Balancing a checkbook can be rather boring, but…I thought for these two it would fit rather well.

Prescott and Vitaly are two of the Three, a group of characters who find new Sleepwallkers and help them with the realization of their true nature. I really love the idea that they both find basic communication challenging for various reasons, and rely on each other to make things a bit easier. Prescott is the mouthpiece for the group, and all the twists and turns and verbal rabbit-holes can be useful in their line of work. When he needs to be earnest, he can trust Vitaly to decipher what he’s actually trying to say. Vitaly, for his part, can’t speak at all. For him, those tiny cell phones are a god-send. Also, I never get tired of seeing giant people trying to use tiny gadgets.

That being said, trying to figure out how Prescott and Vitaly actually speak to one another — and to ‘civilians’ around them — is a bit of a challenge. I know that I’m not a good enough writer to really pull it off yet, so I want to get in a lot of practice. They’re fun to write, anyway, so expect to read a lot of these guys in the future.)

 
 

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Sleepwalkers Fiction: The Gateway

(Here is a short bit of Sleepwalkers fiction that I’ve written. I wanted to establish the voices of some members of The Trio (the more problematic ones), and get a bit of a feel for the magical aspects of the setting.)

“This is my grandmother’s house,” the rabbit with the trenchcoat said. He placed one big ear on the door while he picked the lock with his tools. “It’s been in my family for generations.”

Brendan rolled his eyes and looked around. He was in a stranger’s backyard, somewhere in Towson. There weren’t a lot of neighborhoods like this left, with the plot of grass, a couple of trees, the white picket fences. Those that managed to hang on were typically lived in by the very rich, those that could afford neighborhood watches and security systems. On nights like this, when the moon was full and the sky was cloudless, he really didn’t want to be out with a pooka who could simply disappear at the first whiff of trouble. He’d be caught with locksmith’s tools that he couldn’t explain, for reasons he didn’t even know. It’d make a great story in the papers, and a bad end to his career.

And yet here he was, with Prescott the rabbit. He trusted the pooka with his life, but he would never ever believe him. It was the curse of his kind to speak in lies and riddles, and it made work out of finding the most simple truths. Dealing with him for very long was nothing short of exasperating, and in a situation like this it could be dangerous. But if what he thought Prescott was telling him was correct, then it was a danger that had to be faced.

“Right, you told me this before.” Brendan tried to keep the annoyance out of his voice. “And you’re sure that your grandmother is asleep? There’s no chance anyone will catch us?” He looked around again. There was no one in the neighboring yards, nothing but a few cats in the alley beyond. He still felt incredibly exposed in the shallow stairwell that lead from the lawn to the basement door. All it took was one person looking out of the window right now…

“The lady of the house is bound to come into her dark, quiet basement to cure her insomnia sometime soon.” Prescott shrugged. “And the neighborhood watch makes door-to-door checks on nights just like tonight to make sure there aren’t a couple of weirdos in her house for no reason.”

Brendan sighed. “All right then. Let’s just…get this done. Show me what you’ve found and we’ll get out of here.”

The lock clicked and the door swung open a few inches. Prescott gestured him forward with a grin. “I’ll be glad to, as soon as I can get these lockpicks to work.”

He stepped in to the dark room as quickly as he could and stood to the side. He heard Prescott hop in after him. The door creaked when the rabbit closed it, and it felt like the sound echoed off the empty stone walls. He took a deep breath, tried to still the beating of his heart inside his ears, and let his eyes adjust to the weak light.

A human’s eyes would have never been able to resolve the shadows in front of him, but Brendan’s kind had been around when there were only stars to light the way through ancient forests, before men had figured how to harness fire to light their dwellings. Though he didn’t have every ability known to his elven ancestors, he at least had this. It took a few moments, but boxes and old furniture soon crept out of the shadows in his vision. He could see the stairs leading up to the main part of the house forward and to his left, a boarded-up window across the room that clearly offered a view of the street, and the detritus of a long life sprawled out before him.

Prescott brushed his arm as he made his way past. His eyes flashed as he turned to look at him. “You’ll want to stand right there while I show you the door. Really, far away is the best way to see it.”

He followed the rabbit to the far corner of the room, picking his way past boxes and stacks of magazines, chairs and tables and oil lamps. Various scents leapt out of the dust at him as his passage disturbed the air. There was old wood and polish, glass and metal that had been heated and cooled dozens of time. As he made his way to the corner, he smelled something else as well. The long-settled call of dreamstuff suddenly tickled his senses, and it made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

Prescott got down on one knee and planted his hands on the brick. His luminescent eyes closed and darkened the room just a hair; Brendan found himself shuddering in response. He leaned in to see exactly what the rabbit was doing.

“Do you–”

“Shut up!” The rabbit hissed at him. “You’ll wake the old lady.” He turned back to face the wall. His face deepened in concentration.

Brendan straightened and frowned. That tone was unacceptable, he thought. The varmint needed to learn his place again, obviously. Then he blinked and stepped back, surprised at himself. That…thought was unacceptable. Where did it come from?

A door that wasn’t there a moment before clicked and opened. The air in the room changed, and a small breeze ruffled the nearest stack of papers, pulling the stale basement dust towards it. Prescott’s face was bathed in a milky glow. The rabbit opened his eyes again and looked towards Brendan, his whiskers twitching. He was obviously pleased with himself.

It was a door about four feet high by four feet wide. Through it, there was a winding road made of moonlight that cut through a forest of blasted, gnarled trees. Brendan could hear voices, quiet and insistent, whispering foul things to him. He saw a set of red eyes glowing in the periphery of his vision, but they would disappear when he looked directly at them. It took him only a moment to realize what this was, what Prescott had found.

“You found a Silver Trod. To Nightmare. How did you…?” Brendan backed away from the door. He had seen what he needed to, and he wanted the voices to just stop.

“Ancient Chinese secret,” Prescott said, and obligingly shut the door. The portal disappeared as soon as he did, sinking back into the wall. “I’m sure it was attracted by all the sweet dreams this family has had over generations and generations. Once you know what to look for, it’s easy to connect the dots.”

Brendan thought about how scarce Prescott had been lately. Suddenly, it all made sense. He felt his annoyance with the pooka melting away. “And no one else knows about this?”

Prescott grinned. “Oh, I Instagrammed it as soon as I discovered it. The Ominous filter was a bit of a disappointment, though.”

Brandan laughed, despite himself. Prescott swatted his arm and put a fuzzy finger to his lips. He quieted immediately. The rabbit’s ears flicked and they both looked up, listening. No sound came from the floor above.

Outside, he clapped the pooka on the shoulder and smiled at him. “Tremendous work, Pres. Really. Trods are getting increasingly rare, especially obscure ones. This will be a huge help to us.”

“Really? I didn’t know that.” The rabbit batted his eyelashes, reached into his trenchcoat and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “Tell me more.”

Brendan swallowed the snappy comment he would have made and pinched his eyes instead. Maybe he could get Vitaly to join them at the diner. He always felt better when there was a buffer between them. “I will over coffee and pie. Come on, let’s go. My treat. It’s the least I could do.”

The elf and the rabbit snuck out of the old lady’s yard and darted between shadows in the alley. When they departed, it looked like any other suburban street, a dwindling pocket of Americana special only in its blandness.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2012 in Writing

 

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The State of the Rabbit

It’s been a little while since I’ve done these, so I thought I would write a quick entry for today about where I am on various projects. I didn’t sign up for National Novel Writing Month this year (and I haven’t any other year, either), but there’s got to be something that occupies my time, right?

I’ve made the conscious decision to not do anything too “heavy” until the end of the year. I still have all the same projects that I would like to tackle — Sleepwalkers, Bird, serialized short stories and everything — but I think it might be more useful for me to back off on any ambitious projects right now. The holidays are coming up, and it’ll be all I can do to keep my exercise regiment up enough so that I don’t hit 200 pounds by New Year’s. Just typing that is a pretty frightening thought. I’m sitting at 194 pounds right now. There are only 6 tiny pounds to go. I could clear that with a Thanksgiving turkey and half of a pumpkin pie.

Anyway, I’m writing, but I’m focusing on little bits of fiction that help me to wrap my brain around a certain aspect of my craft. You might have noticed the initial results of this experimentation posted on the blog, and I hope to be putting up more bits of short fiction here in the coming few weeks. I have a number of settings that I’d like to play around with, and a number of characters whose heads I’d like to get into. If any of you out there have suggestions, I’d be glad to take them!

I’ve also stepped up my reading a bit — I just finished two apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic short story collections (The Mammoth Book of Apocalyptic SF, The End of the World: Stories of the Apocalypse), and now I’m into Mad Ship by Robin Hobb. The Robin Hobb novel has gotten into “I can’t put this down” territory, and I’m on a pretty good pace to have it finished by the end of the month. I’m also reading The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster(finally) and I’ve just started getting into Ringworld by Larry Niven.

There are also a number of furry projects I’ve been trying to catch up on. I’m a “slushpile editor” for a furry zine, and I’ve fallen way behind on making sure that’s all organized and sorted. There are a host of short stories and bits of novel given to me by friends that I really should work my way through, and I’ve been wanting to dip my toe into the wider world of furry publishing to see what else is out there — what’s connecting with audiences right now, or what’s really gripping authors and inspiring them to write? It’d be good to know the market, such as it is.

So the short answer is that I’ll be trying to sharpen the tools in my writer’s toolbox for the rest of the year. I’ll be writing bits of short fiction with the aim of better understanding my worlds, my characters, and honing aspects of my writing that I’m noticing problems with. On the flip-side, I’m ashamed to say that the voracious reader of my youth is all but gone, and I’m working on bringing him back.

So that’s the plan for me until 2013, at least. I’ll keep you posted through the holidays.

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2012 in Furries, Reading, Writing

 

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The Puzzle of Abigail

For this year’s Clarion Write-A-Thon, I decided to pull the trigger on a story that had been gestating for some time, a novel called Sleepwalkers. It was originally my idea for a TV series based on Changeling: the Dreaming, and evolved into a series of novels instead. Since White Wolf ended C:tD along with the rest of their World of Darkness setting, and since the world of Changeling had pretty significant issues anyway, I thought it might be a good idea to use it more as inspiration for a modern fantasy and make my own rules about the fae. I realize that every part of this last paragraph is pretty geeky, but this is what the post’s about. So I’ve warned you about what you’re in for!
My main character, Abigail, was fairly clear in my head only as far as what happened to her goes. I didn’t really know much else about her — what she wanted, how she’d react to her situation — and in the first three chapters I wrote over the course of the month that lack of knowledge quickly became painfully obvious.

In the first chapter, Abigail is introduced as a school-aged girl who has trouble with math and an imaginary friend. There really isn’t a whole lot of time to get into her head before I introduce the world, and then quickly shatter it because that’s what I imagined would make a gripping opening to the book. The next time we see her, she’s in a mental institution and her imaginary friend advises her to wait to be rescued.

As soon as I realized the situation I was writing, I knew I had a big problem. In the beginning Abigail isn’t an actual person — she’s just a tool that I’m using to introduce the concept of the world. Later on, I struggled to give her some sort of agency, a bit of conflict that would force her into action and make her an engaging character. The last of the third chapter was spent delving inside of her head a bit more to form that conflict, and in the end she makes a choice that actually will have consequences. However, it all comes down to “she was rescued, but not by someone she’d like to stick around with.”

This is a huge issue for me. I’m rather sensitive to the fine line I need to walk as a man writing a female main character. I don’t want to make her “just one of the boys” but at the same time I don’t want to diminish her by making her inert in her own story. It feels like the first three chapters lay the worst foundation possible for having Abigail be vibrant and active, so chances are I’m going to scrap the whole thing and start over.

I still want to use the scenario I’ve created in the first three chapters, because I love the idea and I think I have a good handle of the setting. But there needs to be a more thorough exploration of Abigail and who she is before the first page is even written. What does she want? Where does she come from? How does she feel about the things that have happened to her leading up to this story?

Once I know who she is and what she’s like, I can start identifying weaknesses in her personality or ideas of the world, and that’s where I can start building the arc of her story. Unfortunately, I can’t really move forward with the novel until I discover that, so the ideas and broader themes will have to remain vague for now.

More as this story develops. Chances are I’ll be posting small snippets of stories that try to nail her down. But first, what do you guys do to get inside the head of a character? Or is that even a concern — does that come through writing, outlining, or producing the plot? Do characters tend to spring into your heads fully formed?

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Writing

 

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