Chops

Way back, before I started all this, I had ideas aplenty but never could get far when trying to write them down. It’s a mighty frustrating place to be. You get the feeling that you’re chock full of the good stuff, that you need to get it out of you and into the world, and yet when you do you find, to your amazement, you are quite mute.

Huh?

I’m quite convinced this is the biggest obstacle to so many who try to write. In some quote I cannot seem to find online, Hunter S. Thompson once described it as a fear of the infinity in a blank page, pure and uninterested in every other thing you may have written. All the worse, then, if you’ve not. Starting is a nightmare. It’s white page after white page, all the way down. You might have thought you had a solid idea, but when actually sitting there, right at the face of the beginning of your work, well, you’ll have doubts, all right.

You’ve got to earn your chops.

There’s a great cycle to life and art and creativity. In a certain vital sense, some things really are born again every single day. We all start at the beginning so many times throughout our lives we’re quite oblivious to the pattern. Sure, there’s a difference between making art and brushing your teeth, but both of them work better once you’ve learned. And both of them need done tomorrow, no matter what you do today.

For someone who hasn’t published any one thing I can point to, quite yet, I’ve written a fair old lot of words. Most of them suck. Most of everything sucks. And, the cause behind the problem, you can never quite tell which ones, not when they’re still up close. My memory is strong, and I’m blinded by the vision still alive and well that I was trying to write, the experience of writing rather than what I actually did. You’re sold, always sold, on what you’ve just made. Yet that is the way to crap out a dull old turd. To get above the rubbish, you’ve got to kill the things you’ve made. They’ll only get better when you try.

That’s why I’m relieved to take a little summer break from Alpha. I kicked it off pretty good back in January, and went at just about the clip I intended for the first month or so. Even then, I knew that the pieces weren’t perfectly matched. I could feel the wobbles and creaks of the way I wrote my characters, and the jolts from scene to scene. But it didn’t matter. I kept going, as is the only way, and I finished it in July. I had written them, my characters and worlds were alive! These citizens of my mind, free at last, for me to see their flaws and mine.

First draft is a wonderful, god awful thing. There is no more pure creative experience than the first. That’s the one where you put your skills to their most brutal test. You’re navigating, trying to find the path from place to place you always thought you knew, until now. You’re bringing things into existence, straight from scratch, regardless of the pictures and the notes you made, and all the things you thought were research for this act. You’re naked, you really are, right before the blank. That’s all there is. That’s all you need. And it’s all you have. First draft is the place where you swing from high and low, tumbling around with your work like an adolescent tryst, at once warring and romantic. First draft is first love.

I know that Alpha’s draft is rough. So it should be. I bit off more than I ever should have done with this tale. Some forgiving part of me sees all the clearer now why it took so long for me to face it, and make it real. There’s a book in there. An imperfect, downright broken one, but it is there. For as much of a catalogue of notes is worth, this is better. First draft is the best ingredient there is for second draft, and third. Just add blood, sweat and tears, right?

In truth, I’ve no idea how many drafts there are between me and publishing this book of mine. But I shan’t skimp them. In fact, I’ll need to learn to appreciate that new pain for what it is: another kind of chops.

My plan for Alpha, when I get back to it in some months, isn’t just a spruce up. I’ll be cutting words — whole scenes I suspect, and enjoying the fact — but Venus doesn’t lie waiting in that rock. There’s whole things I’ve forgotten. Pieces of the story, tastes of the environment, and likely even characters quite entire, remain to be made right. Remain to be made in the first place! I’ll be messing with the whole thing in a pretty big way, I think. Certainly, that’s what I feel needs done. I know I can do better than what I sense I have. And I know nothing’s ever right on the first attempt, not when you can take a second.

Daunting, sure, but I am also looking forward to it. All the better than playing god is playing god’s director!

If I’d been better prepared, Proteus would be first draft complete as well. Surely I had no sense it would take longer than the story proper! Anyway, there’s quite a lot to its draft already, and I’m torn between taking Marie’s pen and pushing forth with it, or going back and practicing my rework skills before they come to Alpha.

Proteus was my backstory that went quite awry. I’m only very vaguely aware of where it’s heading, as you may well tell by giving it a read. (A task I must make easier with an index, as I made for Alpha’s first draft.) Marie’s first person perspective was a great little trick to get me started, but I took her place too literally and have written too much detail as a result. Proteus is quite a tale in its own right, as I discovered in its craft, and I need to pull the reins on it to have a chance to reach the end. I had that unnerving sense as Alpha’s Act IV slid askew when I met it, and for quite the same reason. Much to gain, then, in practicing this kind of repair work.

I can sit here and listen to Kira Neris all I want, writing about writing as I so often do. But it’s this fearful work that counts. This liberating slog, this beautiful mess, and, in the end, the very best thing that I do. I’ve a ton of work to make good on yet. And I welcome it, just as much as I wriggle away. It’ll show, and that’s all the reason I need.

If it comes too cheap, it ain’t chops.


Alpha’s First Draft

Done at last, here is the first draft, all laid out, of the first book of this whole project. Alpha: The Book of Princes.

I took six months to write all this, so there’s a fair bit in here. It won’t be perfectly consistent, as I made some turns along the way, but there’s nothing substantial to throw you off. No promises that every last bit of it will make the final draft, of course, as I aim to cut it down to size and maybe add a few things I forgot entirely, along the way. But this is the body of the book. This is the story I’ve had in mind for longer than is wise for anyone! And I am a fair bit proud that it’s laid out in words, at last. Not the final ones, but the first.

Act I

Alexander’s Awakening
Playing Dice
Half a Million Times the Speed of Light
The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Mother’s Nature
A Certain Little Prince
Ancient Histories
The Stars of Our Sisters
Fate’s Interception
Her Boudoir
With Child
The Colour of Your Mind
Necessary Fiction
When Spies Come Home

Act II

Barnard’s Littlest Nebula
Meeting in the Aisle
Unfinished Business
A Glasgow Kiss is Just a Kiss
Swords Off Orion
Sympathy With the Devil
As the Brother, So the Sister
That Sharpest Edge of Instinct
Rhymes With Struck
The Danger in Emergence
The Power of a Thousand Sons
Looking Up From Rock Bottom
The Crimson Queen
Princes
The Mind Sea
What She Had Made
Second Lease on Life
Brat’s Got Yarbles
Medusa
Drifting
Betwixt
Tomorrow Never Knows
Hey Joe
Where You Gonna Go?

Act III

Intercept
Queen Madala
Earth’s Fine Crescent
Brother Nature
The Last Light of Dying Day
And a Woman
Our Immortal and Beloved
Isis Weeps for Thee
Jet Twilight
At the Centre of that Sphere
The Charge to Zero
Beyond the White Line
The Magnitude of Vengeance
The Final Moment of Her Life
Not Chaos, But Abyss
Silent Distance
Pyramid Song
Black Hearted Angel
Some Equal
Shooting at the World
The Daring Fireball
Destroyer of Worlds
Child in Time
The Princes Met
The Eye of the World
White Light, White Heat
The Other Prince
A Parting Gesture

Act IV

The Journey to a Distant Home
Return to the Parting Stars
Andala’s Smile
On the Lawn
The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes
Another Kind of Power on Andala
Nothing Lasts the Pyre
An All Too Familiar Ceiling
Our Man in Ayanakert
Dissent Wears a Smile
Nude or Not
The Lady in Red
Fairy Godparents
Farewell, My Child Among the Stars
The Gift of an Impossible Princess

Unprepared as I am, to a fault, I’m surprised now that I see them laid out by the fact that Act IV isn’t much longer than Act I. It felt like it! I forever go long the further into a draft I go, as Proteus surely shows. Speaking of which, I suppose I’ve found my next project. No forgetting the tale within the tale, which I left almost on the verge of its true direction. As, no matter its original purpose, it’s there to let me explore this little world. Where I like best, sometimes, without a sensible limit!

I’ll be reading through all this again, when it makes sense to. And I shan’t forget my notes of ideas fumbled while writing them. I’ve no idea how many drafts this book will take to do, of course, but I’ve a sense that in some ways I’m done, but in others I’m so very barely started.


The Gift of an Impossible Princess

And so, Alpha’s end.

The lights were low aboard their home, as the dragon flew between the sapphire stars of night. Alexander checked the house, alone, on his way to bed. The cockpit glowed darkly, as the ship shot through space, calm upon its course. They were going fast, but not so quick the system couldn’t handle it. Sixty thousand lightspeed. The instruments were as dark as constellations of suspicious stars, green and much too regular. He let them flicker to themselves, against that constant sky; so slowly moving, no matter speed.

He walked through the livingroom, looked down the little staircase and paused for a moment, then turned off all the lights. Between the Earth and Andala, far from either one, were the most important people in his life, safe aboard this little ship.

Carl was sleeping, and Christopher sat with a screen in hand, reading much too closely to want disturbed. Alexander passed on by to his own room, where Katerina lay in bed.

"All done." He said as he approached her. "You awake?"

She was not. She had her back turned, the fresh bed sheets hanging from her side. He pulled them up a little, as he climbed in their big old bed to join her. She looked so small, there in the theatre of their bedchamber amidst the stars, that he always feared she might catch cold without him. But her shoulder was already warm to touch.

Alexander pulled his laptop from the side table, and flipped it open on his knees. His fingers danced a shortcut on the metal keys and the screen was blank but for a cursor. He wrote.

Sunday? Monday night! It’s been an unusual past few days. To say the least. I haven’t a clue quite where to begin, in fact. But let’s start at the beginning.

Apparently, Katerina, who I love, is from another world! I ought not hold that against her. She had her reasons not to tell me. But it is quite a shock, I will say. And it is the truth, I soon discovered.

His wife breathed loudly, quite asleep beside him. He played with her rich red hair, which he swept behind her ear.

I still can’t believe it. How could you? But it’s very real indeed. She has all the powers the Andalans do. In fact, she has more than most of them. She’s not just one at random. She is the sister of the king.

Katerina turned a little, and her heavy breathing became a snore. Alexander looked at her and grinned.

A princess! My goodness. And it’s worse than that. Or bigger, I should say. As little Christopher, my dear son, is their prince and bloody heir.

I can’t help but feel the fool in this predicament. Wouldn’t you? My beloved wife has played me for one, if you look at it that way.

But I won’t.

Seeing what I’ve seen this day beyond all days, I pity her for what she’s been through. She never chose to be born who she was. And no one asked her what she wanted until she left to take it for herself. I can only begin to imagine what her past life must have been like. If today’s glimpse was anything, it was horrid! No, I forgive her lying to me, I really do. Let’s concentrate on what matters, and where we’ll spend the rest of our lives. The future.

He smiled, impressed by his own nobility. He could see what others couldn’t see for pride. He was a man of intuition, he thought to himself, his fingers resting on the keys for whatever thoughts came next. As his wife, and impossible little princess turned to face him, and, quite unconscious, slapped him gently on the cheek.

Before I started writing his words for him, he wasn’t quite as long. But they have the time now, at that speed. And I’ll see to trimming Alexander’s epilogue just as I do every other bit of my own.

I suppose that’s the conclusion then, of my shitty first draft! Half a year since I started it, and much longer in the making. There’s something not right about the feel of it in my mind, and so I find that I’ve a lot in common with my diarist Alexander. I’m suspending judgment, as it is only wise to do, and my eyes are on the next future, where he too dreams to look. In my case, it’s the great rewrite. In his, it is the rest of his life.

Tradition maintains that you should stick a first draft in a drawer for a few months, to let it savour before you come back with the knife. Of course, what’s really changing is your mind. The difference between reading what you’ve written and reading what you’ve really written is a matter of how strong the memory of the event remains in your mind. It’s nigh impossible to let the words be themselves when you still know precisely what you meant to say with them.

My own memory is typically pretty long lived. Far as I can tell. I hope this doesn’t translate into poor editing when I get there. But first I think I’d better spend the meantime on something useful. Return to the background work of making Anatara? Perhaps. Proteus again! Maybe, as that story’s far from done. I could indeed tend to most everything I was writing about here before this year, it’s all unknowns, looking for a push. But there is another matter that is closer to the front of my mind.

This first draft needs stitched up! I’ll set around some links. And, all the better, slice and dice the body for myself, so that I can read it side to side as well as top to bottom. I want to read each character’s lines as they’re said. I want to see the structure, and what is missing. I want to step aside from the work I did, and see the work I’m yet to do.

So he’s right, if I may be too.


Farewell, My Child Among the Stars

Christopher learns his fate, as they escape Andala at long last.

"I don’t get it." Said Christoper to his father. "You want me to stay here?"
“Not today.” Said Alexander. “Not yet. But when you want to.”
“What if I don’t!”
“You will.” Said Aikatari, still crouched before him. “You have a taste of power now. And you shan’t forget it.”
“I can’t. I won’t. I will not stay here.” He said, adamant, darting to and from her eyes.
“Not yet.” Said his father. “No one expects you to, not today. I talked them out of it.”
“Today?”
“Not today. But when you’re comfortable.” Said Alexander, trying to stay ahead of his scared little son. “Whenever you decide. No one else!”
“I can’t just leave everyone. Just like that! What am I supposed to tell them? What would they ever believe! People don’t just vanish from the world like that.”
“I know. It’ll be tough. But we’ll work something out, Christopher, I’m sure.”
“You’re young, you’re free.” Said his mother, from behind the family crowd. “You’d be surprised how much so.”
“But I’m not!” He said. “Look at you all, staring at me!”

Aikatari smiled and looked down to her knees. Everyone else shuffled back a little, but for Carl.

"Can I stay here too?"
“What are you on about?” Christopher shouted at him. “You? Here! With them?”
“With you.” Carl shrugged. “I’m not leaving you alone to all this. To Jocaster! I’m with you, man.”

Christopher couldn’t see Carl’s generosity, as he stood, in horror. Not for the moment, at least.

"Ugh." Carl rolled his eyes. "I’m looking out for you, dummy!"
“I don’t see what use that would be.” Said Christopher. “But thanks.”

Alexander curled his lips as Aikatari turned to him, still upon her knees, to ask the obvious about this plucky kid.

"I, uh, you’d need to run that past your folks, Carl."
“Sure you will.” Said Carl, quicker than Alexander could think. “I don’t need to check in much anyway. I’d rather not bother them.”
“With little matters like what world you’re on?” Said Christopher.
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Evidently.”
“Look, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Said Alexander, then he grinned. “Careening wildly out of control as we do, no doubt. But not today.”
“No?” Said Carl.
“No.” Said Alexander. “Today, we’re going home.”

Aikatari grabbed Christopher, gentle but certain, by the shoulders. She had one more point to make before they did.

"You have come a long way." She said, seeking once again his eyes. "And succeeded. For the firet time in your life, you found out who you are."
“Perhaps.” He said, so very briefly in her gaze.
“That power, that you found, is all yours. You were born with it, and you will die with it, too. As we all do.”
“Die…” He whispered, caught by surprise.
“It is life. It is your essence. It is your aner. No one else’s. Not mine, not Jocaster’s, not Madala’s. You understand me?”
“I guess.”
“Only you can master it. And I am here for you, when you choose to begin. You will always be welcome here. My daughter’s son, my Christopher!”

She kissed him square on the lips, as no adult had ever dared before. Carl watched astonished, as did Alexander, as his son’s eyebrows shot sky high.

"Katari!" Said his mother, furious with her own. "Not like that. Humans don’t do it that way, not with children!"
“She is right.” Said Aikatari, cupping her grandson’s blushing cheeks in both hands. “But you are not human. And when you want to explore this, we are here.”

Andala’a leading lady, the mother of its new Kai, rose to her feet with an inhuman grace, as her arms slipped from him. Christopher stared at her, amazed, by just what he didn’t know.

"Right. Let’s skedaddle." Said Alexander, grabbing both boys by the arm. "Thanks for the hospitality, dear mother in-law, but we really must be getting home."

Madala said goodbye to her mother and brother, in Anatara. There were a thousand ways to say it, but she chose the shortest one.

"Oh," said Alexander, an idea landing in his head, "sorry to be ungrateful, but it would be quite marvellous if you didn’t visit us, not on Earth."

Carl, Christopher and Katerina all stared at him. But he had a fair point.

"Nothing personal! Causes the neighbours a lot of fuss, that’s all. You know how they can be."

Jocaster smirked.

"Of course not. We will keep this all on Andala, where he belongs."
“That’s the ticket.” Said Alexander. “See you in the summer.”
“The when?” Christopher gasped.
“The, uh, whenever you like.” His father grimaced in apology. “Let’s go.”
“Farewell.” Said Aikatari. “My child among the stars. I, and Andala, await your return. Good luck!”
“Thanks.” Said Christopher, turning back to her has his parents pulled him away. “Someday.”
“Soon!” She called. And Jocaster smiled with his mother.

Atarchus and Samean stood either side of the door as the Kinnerins left the royal house, Baiayana. Jocaster’s men grinned at them, not threatening but as a pair of awkward friends. Alexander and Carl kept a close eye on them as they passed, with polite nods. And out in the green, at last, their car waited just as they parked it.

"Well, what do you know?" Said Alexander. "One-two-three-four." He feigned a headcount. "We’re getting out alive!"
“Get in the car!” Katerina commanded, keen not to tempt fate. So they did. And together they shot off through the morning sky to their spaceship and home beyond, to fly again, among Aikatari’s stars.

Not too shabby. And not the ending, quite yet. There’s one more little bit to go. Not counting all the loose ends I’m sure will occurr to me in time. Yet this is the last we see of Andala, this book. The supernatural world lingering beyond ours, that so tempts Christopher with his origin, his nature, and his fate.


Fairy Godparents

My doubts about the order of things to one side for now, and the coronation behind us, it’s time to settle young Christopher’s fate.

"There is no point in denying him who he is, Madala." Said Aikatari. "The boy is your son. My son. And Ayana’s child."

Madala stood not far from her mother, in the grandest of her family’s formal rooms. She held her elbows tight, and barely looked at anyone as Aikatari made the case that she had always feared.

"I don’t suppose there is a point in denying half of who he is." Said Alexander, between them. He looked at Aikatari’s nose, afraid of the spirals of her eyes. "Half!" He said, turning back to his wife, who didn’t like it.
“He is all Ana.” Said Aikatari. “He is a better Ana than me. So much power! And so much potential for even more. Andala is his future. As he is Andala’s future, too.”
“But he has a life.” Said the boy’s father. “And a future ahead of him. A bright one, I’d say, on Earth.”
“To be what?” Aikatari scoffed. “A pretend human? Chasing after money? Owing the world that isn’t even his?”
“Well, he’s a bright kid. I dare even say brilliant. He gets it from his mother, of course.” Alexander’s smile didn’t earn her response. “He could achieve just as much as she has. Maybe more.”
“She has wasted her time!” Her mother snapped. “Shirking responsibility, running from fate.”
“Perhaps you don’t know this, Lady. Without Katty’s help there would be no ships fast enough to get here in a day, and your bloody minded son would be dead and buggered in that nebula. It wasn’t looking good back there, even I could see that. The boy saved him, but his mother got him there.” Alexander waved to the starry painted ceiling high above them. “Not by magic, either, but good sound hard science!”

Madala smirked as the room fell silent before Alexander’s high horse. Even her brother, lingering in the corner as he always did, heard his point. Several breaths of pause went by before anyone next spoke.

"Thank you, Madala, for saving your brother Kai," said Aikatari, as though Alexander wasn’t there.
“We did it together.” She said. “Alexander and I. It’s his achievement too, every bit as mine.”
“Yes. My thanks to you, Alexander. I speak for all Andala in offering you our thanks.”

No one seemed to find it odd that the Kai’s mother, not the Kai, was the one to say this.

"And his son." Said Madala, catching Aikatari’s sharp stare. "We are both his parents. Mother and father, there is not just one."
“Thanks.” Whispered Alexander, who wasn’t quite as certain for himself.

Jocaster crossed his arms, impatient. For as much as he looked like a Kai, in his cobalt blue robe, he hadn’t changed his mind about his sister.

"The boy," he said, in English for Alexander to hear, "is a little Kai. When I am done, Andala is his. Without knowledge of his power, he will live in hiding, afraid of those who seek him out." Alexander quivered, and Jocaster locked his eyes on him. "They will come. Your world is not so far away. You have seen our enemies. Jinn will find him. Whether he is prepared, or helpless."
“Yeah.” Sighed Alexander. “I reckon you’re quite right.”
“Alex!” Katerina snapped at him. To no avail.
“Come on. We’ve been lucky so far. But space isn’t getting any larger again. You know best of all, Katty!”
“But if he lives here…” she said, her voice tightening to a painful squeak, “we will lose him forever.”
“No, we won’t.” He said, holding her hand. “And he won’t either. Just half.”
“What?” Katerina said to him, her eyes spilling with tears so soon.
“Half the time he lives here, to study his…” Alexander waved his left hand about trying to find another word, “powers. And the other half, he’s back on Earth, living the life he already has. I think it’s pretty fair.”

She pressed her face into his chest, and said nothing more. If it had to be this way…

"I vouchsafe for him, Madala." Said her mother, whose daughter’s sob made soft for just the moment. "There is no safer place for him to be than at the heart of Andala. And no other where he can learn his aner. While he is here, I am his mother, and all the world is his."
“Sounds good.” Said Alexander, as his wife alternated cheeks upon his jacket. “And when he’s ours, he’s ours.”
“Of course.” Said Aikatari. “He is both.”
“Right, how about it, Katty?”

She looked up at Alexander, her face stained in spilled eyeshadow and red despair. She put her tongue to her teeth and whispered very well. Do it, if they must.

"What else do you think they could be on about?" Said Carl, out in the passageway.
“Could be anything, really.” Said Christopher, who couldn’t quite hear them inside.
“No, it’s you, kid.” Carl sighed. “For definite.”

His friend furrowed his brow. No fighting it. He was right.

Carl watched as a pair of girls, about the same age as them, literally drifted by. They were smaller than even Christopher, but flew along above his eyes, each one of them as cute as a devil. They slowed for a moment, looking back at him and his strange companion, who only had eyes for the floor. One of them whispered, and off down the hall they went.

"Is that a uniform?"
“Huh?” Christopher turned to see them go. “Well, they’re not laiyeen I don’t think.”
“See, I wonder how this whole place works. Do they get paid? And if so, why doesn’t someone else more powerful just steal? It’s weird if you think about it.”
“I didn’t get as far as how wealth works on Andala.” Said Christopher.
“You were all caught up at the naked part, right?” Carl laughed, no further himself.

Quieter than an owl in flight, Aikatari descended upon them, quite to their surprise. Christopher saw her first, and Carl saw his cousin’s face turn white.

"Hello boys." Said the lady who ruled Andala, settling down before them on her knee. "Good news!"

She was so close up that Carl looked right into her swirling eyes. They were like the petals of exotic flowers, blue and red. But Christopher did not.

"Christopher." She said to him, reaching for his chin. "Listen. This is important. You have a second home now. A second world to call your own."

He squirmed at her gaze. While Carl was dazzled.

"Here?" Said the bigger of the two. Katari did not answer him.
“Here.” Said Alexander, over the top of her. “We’ve come to an arrangement.”

His son looked more anxious than ever. And Alexander realised his mistake.

"You can have both things now. A life with us on Earth, and a life on Andala." He paused. "If you like."
“Here?” Said Christopher.
“Yes, here with your fairy godparents!”
“Fairy god…” Katerina seethed, unseen. No one appreciated his joke but Alexander.
“Katari and Jocaster. They’re right here for you, if you want.” He said to his son. “And I agree with them, you should give this Andalan side of yourself a try, now that you’ve discovered it.”
“I…” Christopher stared at him, wide eyed.
“You’ve got two worlds now, Christopher. I wouldn’t turn either down.”

Noted is the fact I forgot to mention Jocaster’s robes! There is no crown for Kai, but there’s still a fancy outfit.

There’s two competing versions of this scene, as I described, where either Christopher already knows Aikatari, or meets her here for the very first time. I quite like meetings in the aisle, so the other version surely has its draw. I’d have to rework the entire act to make it so, however, which I’m putting off this draft.

I don’t think this conversation is quite done yet, either. But should it be left so? For now, all is still in flux. As it has been all along. I seem to like my questions best unanswered! Untenable in the end, but for now.