Tuesday, September 11, 2007

a story-bit from long ago

Sara watched her father as he put on his court robes. He turned and smiled at her as he buckled his tunic, then went and kissed her forehead.
“Are you ready?” he asked quietly. She bit her lip, and nodded. “All right, then.” He took her hand, and together they stepped into the capsule. Sara tried as usual to stand without support during the take-off, but she was forced to grab her father’s arm as the capsule jerked and plummeted. She looked up and forced out a sickly, nervous smile.
“Before I leave you, my dear, I have a few words. I’ve taught you all I could, you’ve learned well. I could not leave my world in the hands of anyone else who I’d feel more sure of. I know you will learn quickly.
“There are two people to whom I commend you, for help and advice. The first is Darien. I know you will go to him if you need help, I do not need to tell you. What I want to tell you is, remember who is Guardian. My one worry is that you will let your respect for Darien prevent you from making your own decisions. He is wise and experienced, but he does not know everything. No one knows everything. Take his advice, but trust your own judgement as well. He is your advisor, not your superior. Do you understand?” She nodded silently, and he continued.
“There is another, an old friend of mine. He is an outcast, a renegade. But he is honest, and I have asked him to be to you what he was to me– another advisor, helper, and friend. Many times there has been a situation in which his help saved our world. He will contact you, probably, soon after you come home. It is for you to decide whether or not you will accept his help; I can only tell you that he has proved for me to be trustworthy, brave, and loyal. Needless to say, I went behind consular law in meeting with him. Again, remember, no one knows everything, not even the council. You are responsible for your own decisions.”
Just then the capsule arrived at the chamber, and they stepped out. All the councillors were gathered, and bowed as Sara and her father stepped out. They went to the President and stood before him. He stepped forward and took Sara’s hand.
“Greetings, Sara. We are glad that you can join us.”
“The honour is mine,” she replied quietly, at the same time dipping low and bowing her head.
“Do you swear to uphold the laws of this council, the safety of your people, and the honour of this nation, for as long as you hold your post?”
“I do.”
“Good.” He turned to her father. “You have been a faithful and worthy Guardian of your people. Go now, into the rest you have earned.” Then he smiled, and his tone became warmer and less ceremonial. “Peace be with you, my friend. You will be missed.”
Sara’s father bowed low. “I thank you, my president and council, for the honour of serving the nation, and I go with grief to leave and joy to come.”
Then Sara and her father turned and walked to the center of the room, to the great circle in the middle of the floor. They faced each other, and slowly her father put his hands to his neck. She stood, heart beating fast, and as he hesitated, fear rose in her heart. It had happened before, that at the vital moment a Guardian was unable to surrender the medallion that symbolised everything he lived for. But after a moment of struggle, a smile passed over her father’s face, he lifted the leather strap, and placed it around her neck.
Instantly the world became heavier for Sara. She forgot the Council-chamber, the assembled councillors, even her own father standing before her, and her mind flew back to her home– now more– now her world, her planet, her people. She remembered, just that morning, the chambermaid bowing as she passed Sara in the hall– an ordinary event, but suddenly somehow transformed. Why had she not noticed, then, the shadow of a bruise on the chambermaid’s chin? Why had she not stopped to ask after the villagers? Why had she not even glanced at the viewer before leaving, to see that there was no trouble? Anything might have happened since the night... raiders, or a murder, or a flood in the valley... As panic filled her, her father’s hand fell on her shoulder, and she looked in his face. It was old, somehow older than she had ever seen it, but also younger. A few of the lines had lifted, and his smile had a lightness which she had never seen before. “Bear it well, daughter,” he said softly, and his voice held both pity and envy. Then, with a light kiss on her cheek, he stepped into the capsule that waited at the other end of the chamber. One final salute, both merry and sad, and the doors closed, and he was gone.

Friday, September 07, 2007

an unusually good day in the life

Every so often you get a day, or a portion of the day, which is just perfectly satisfying. Here's mine.

I decided I wanted something special for dinner. I'd had the foresight to marinate some chicken, in a champagne-pear salad dressing (I had bought the dressing from Trader Joe's on Mom's recommendation, found it was too sweet for me as a salad dressing, but makes a great marinade), so now I just had to decide how to cook it. Usually when I do chicken and pasta I make a traditional white sauce, but this time I wanted something not quite as thick. A dip into Joy of Cooking gave me the needed inspiration, and I went off to Trader Joe's for my ingredients.

I'd thought I might wait a while before starting to cook, but I was already hungry by the time I got home so I got straight to work. Followed much sizzling of olive oil, chopping of onions and garlic and mushrooms, simmering of chicken broth, mincing of fresh thyme. I had about a shot's worth of cognac left-- half of it went in the sauce, half of it went in the baby snifter I got at Oglethorpe's homecoming one year. Also some heavy cream, and of course salt and pepper. The result? A very thin, slightly creamy sauce, laden with chopped-up onions and mushrooms, and smelling heavenly.

I had intended to eat my dinner while watching the first of the two-part Dr Who, the conclusion of which was airing and being recorded as I finished my cooking. When you have a really lovely meal, though, it's an insult to eat it in front of the television,* so instead I got my Andrew Lang and read all about how Petru, the youngest of three princes, fought three Welwas and met three goddesses and came home to rule the kingdom. It's funny, I don't remember the story at all, but I recognized the picture of the Welwa the minute I saw it.

*(This rule is inviolable. The best accompaniment to an excellent meal is of course good company and conversation. Lacking this, a book is acceptable, but it must be both well-written and entertaining. Pulpy paperbacks are disallowed, as are textbooks. Under no circumstances may the meal, if the food be really of top quality, be accompanied by anything on a screen: television or computer. This rule, however, only applies to freshly prepared food. Carryout and leftovers are exempt.)

And it really was an excellent meal. Not only that, but it was exactly what I'd been wanting. Come over some time and I'll make it for you.

And then-- ah then-- came time to watch that Dr Who. Some of you were privileged (ay, privileged) to hear my wailing and gnashing of teeth two weeks ago, when I found that not only was the current episode ending on a cliffhanger, but the continuation wouldn't air till two weeks hence. It was, as I commented at the time, the first time I have ever had to wait on a cliffhanger for this best-loved of all shows. Oh sweet torment... anyway, I weathered the interim weeks surprisingly well, though I was obliged to watch the entirety of the 9th Doctor season on DVD to fill the void. But at last, the day was come. Having had the supreme satisfaction of eating an excellent meal of my own cooking, and finishing the last of my cognac, I was now to see the much-waited resolution.

This is usually the point in the evening where something goes wrong: the recording misfires, the roommate comes down and turns on the television before I have time to dibs it, something like that. If we were permitted moments of perfect satisfaction very often, they wouldn't be notable enough to write blog entries about. On this occasion, nothing went wrong.

It was really a very good episode. I have been unusually impressed by a few of the third season episodes (Gridlock springs to mind) and this one stands with them. The acting and direction were beautiful and intriguing in a number of instances (the human forms of the blood hunters, for example, managing to be what so few Dr Who villains are: weird but not comical.) And of course the remarkable Thomas Sangster, with his ten-year-old face and fifty-year-old eyes. And the story had two infallible sources of fascination for me. First there's the merciless digging into what it means and what it costs to be the Doctor (a popular theme in the new series; I'm philosophically ambivalent about its continued use, but I always enjoy seeing it). Then there's the World War I melancholy, which has enthralled me since I first read Rilla of Ingleside.

So now my stomach is filled with lovely food and my mind is filled with lovely Doctor, and just at this moment I really couldn't ask for more. This is what a great day is like: not thrilling happenings or lifechanging news, but simple, peaceful pleasures, enjoyed to the full.

And now to finish up, I think I will listen to some Nina Simone, write the second half of that fairy tale I started, and drink the 90-minute IPA that I've been saving for a month. And it will be good.

Post Scriptum: If you ever have the impulse to listen to Nina Simone with your eyes closed, go ahead and do it, but be careful. I think one could die of it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

hijacked by Andrew Lang

I'm not sure what just happened.

Earlier today, facing the imminent need to write a couple of short fairy tales as part of my novel, I went to the library and checked out a few of the Andrew Lang fairy books. You know the ones: The Blue Fairy Book, The Green Fairy Book, The Brown Fairy Book... okay, probably you don't know them. Probably you didn't spend your childhood in the JFIC folktale section of the library. But I did, and I must have read through the entire rainbow collection (though I think I snubbed the more basic colors like red and yellow, in favor of The Crimson and The Lilac and such... The Brown was always my favorite.) Anyway, they're great collections of fairy tales from a wide variety of sources, and I decided to return to this fountain from my youth and drink deep, in hopes of soaking up inspiration for my own writing.

Drink I did, for three hours at Jamie's. I'd forgotten how great the stories are, weird some of them, funny some of them, often conforming to very familiar patterns but every so often popping up with something quite unexpected. Several struck me as stories I'd like to adapt or retell in novel form, and one in particular I thought I might do for my Nano project this year. (I'm still planning to do Nano, though I'm in full swing with the novel... by November I'll probably be ready for a little break from Lila & Co.)

Having downed three cups of coffee, a fat slice of chocolate cake, and more fairy tales than I can count, I set off home, musing on the way about how I might construct that retelling for Nano. I took the long way home. An hour long, as it happens-- I just didn't feel like stopping once I'd gotten to my house, so I kept driving. And thinking. And driving. It was a beautiful night to be rolling down back roads with the windows open, insects chirping like they owned the woods, which in a way they probably do. And there came one moment, as I was composing the first few sentences of the retelling in my head, when I felt that sudden thrilling urge of creation, prompting me to get home and write it, now.

Well, one thing I've learned is that these urges don't keep. I may be all on fire with the excitement of a new idea, but if I put it off, sometimes even for as little as a day, I will sit down to my keyboard to find that the thrill is gone. I will discover that the idea, so brilliant in that moment, is dull now and full of difficulties, and if I ever actually write it it will be after hours and weeks of dogged plot-work. But in that initial moment of inspiration there is an energy and a passion, which I far too often fail to take advantage of.

Tonight I did not fail. I came home by the quickest route, opened my computer, and began typing. Initially my thought was to a two- or three-page sketch, using a storytelling voice, but telling it in abbreviated form, something for me to flesh out at novel-depth when November came around. But as I wrote the details kept creeping in, and by the third page I had barely begun to tell the story. I wondered if I was going to eat ever, or watch a Dr. Who as I had planned, but I was enjoying myself, so I kept going.

Seven thousand words later, here I am. Seven thousand-- I'm fairly certain I've never written that much at a sitting before. Ever. If I kept to a pace like that during Nano, I'd be done in a week. I am mind-boggled... and it went so quickly and easily, and nothing could have been more delightful than to watch the story rolling out in front of me as I typed. I stopped, in the end, only halfway through the story I planned to tell. I felt I could have gone on, but my energy was flagging a bit, and I know I'd have skipped some enjoyable details.

As I said, I don't really know what happened. Nor do I know what I plan to do with this story. At this rate, it looks like it will wrap up around 15,000 words, which is a strange and awkward length for a story. I have a few ideas. We'll see.

Anyway, that was not at all how I planned to spend my evening. But it sure was fun.