Raison d’etre

So. I’m writing a novel.

It’s YA Fantasy with a twist—the setting for this first book is in a chain of tropical islands and there aren’t any swords in sight. (Which is a little odd, because I’m fascinated by fencing and kendo and lightsabers and all-things-Man-in-Black-esque.) On the other hand, there is some wushu going on in the story; if I’ve done a good job, you’ll be able to tell which of the martial arts I was trying to channel.

bookstack

The challenge right now is that I’m so wrapped up in the story, I’m not sure where it needs revision. (That’s ‘revision,’ not ‘editing’—the technical correctness is less important to me at this point.) A handful of friends have been generous enough to spend their time reading parts of the manuscript, and they have given some fantastic feedback. So as I work those changes in, I’m going to post excerpts and chapters here, hoping that other friendly neighborhood story enthusiasts will take a few minutes to read and suggest ways to improve.

So if you or someone you love reads stories, please let me know what you think!

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Supreme Court to Decide Winner of 2015 U.S. Open Tennis Tournament

[Here’s a news-satire article that I thought should be published on The Onion. But it turns out they don’t accept submissions anymore. So I guess this is as far as the joke can go.  :/ Names haven’t been changed to protect the innocent, because it’s all just made up anyways.]

Supreme Court to Decide Winner of 2015 U.S. Open Tennis Tournament

stadium

Washington—Bernie Jackson’s dream of being lauded as the champion of the U.S. Open this September is one step closer to becoming a reality. His lawyer, Charles Chamberlain, says that taking their case to the Supreme Court is the final hurdle for his client. When asked about the justices who seem to be divided on the issue, Chamberlain said, “The power to veto is the final power. And when these judges review the facts and realize they can veto more than just national and state legislation, I’m confident, they’ll make the right decision.”

The facts of this case are as follows: In September 2014, Bernie Jackson realized that being named the champion in the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament was a matter central to his individual dignity and autonomy. The fact that he had not been awarded that privilege was a painful experience for him.

However it wasn’t until contacting Mr. Chamberlain’s law firm that he realized the current U.S. Open tournament was forcing upon him a definition of personal identity and beliefs that he could not accept. He explains, “The reason I started this whole effort is because I respect and value the privileges that come with the U.S. Open trophy.”

With Mr. Chamberlain’s expertise, Bernie Jackson took his battle to the local courts and then to the state judiciary. While early victories were encouraging, they were overturned by the higher court. However Mr. Chamberlain remains hopeful that reason will prevail. He says, “We have a clear history of change in how the game of tennis has been played. And changed understandings of sporting events are inherent in a country where new dimensions of freedom are clear to new generations.”

Koreena McMurphy, a paralegal with over 20 years’ experience in tournament legislation, points out that Mr. Chamberlain keeps up a confident front, but he actually has a few haunting uncertainties. She says, “He must convince the Supreme Court that a private group should not presume the right to define the winner in their competition. He has a hard task ahead of him.” When asked about this detail, Mr. Chamberlain refused to comment.

However when Bernie Jackson was asked if he had any worries about his case, he stated, “Nope. I don’t understand all the legal stuff, but I’m really looking forward to getting my trophy for winning the Mixed Doubles.”

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Juggling the arts

juggling_ballsAfter conferencing with my Chief Narrative Analyst, the early-early story stuff doesn’t seem to gel well with the tale overall. That means a small re-arrangement of menus here, and a new chapter to focus on for revising and polishing.

All this back-and-forthing is making me realize how complicated storytelling actually is. We take in stories almost like breathing in air. But writing a long-form narrative feels like juggling a basket-full of tennis balls or keeping a dozen plates spinning on those little dowel rods like they do. It goes from miniscule word choices to characterization to scene selection to plotting to massive world-building.

That’s the writer’s sense of it, I guess. For the reader, it seems like things are simpler, easier, more delightful hopefully. This might be the perspective that puts solid weight to the truism that a writer should write the story she wants to read.

Onward and upward.

P.S. – Here’s how you can tell if a photo is fake or is showing someone really juggling: the balls are all jumbled up. If they’re arranged in some kind of graceful arc, you know it’s phony. Of course, with real juggling, there IS a pattern (at least there is when juggling 3, which is as much as I can do). But the pattern doesn’t look like a simple curve over the juggler’s head. It’s a sort of weave and you have to be inside the pattern to really see it, except you don’t ‘see’ it as much as take part in it.

I guess that could be a good lesson for story writing, right? A little encouraging at least.

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To the Beginning

Wrestlers fast to make weight. This is kinda the opposite, I guess:


Dom nec Anoven-mynec will come forth dead to his father, stillborn from his mother’s hands, as the cottonwood casts a seed to the wind and it is swept off the face of the land. – The Writings of Amharon the Betrayer

Aislinne, Princess of Caradoc and heir-apparent to the throne, carried her younger brother on her hip, descending the hidden stairs to the king’s dock so she could set him adrift on the ocean. It pained her in several ways, but she knew this was the only way to overthrow the king. The visions had made that clear.

In her other hand she carried a torch, lighting more torches in their brackets on the rough hewn wall as she went. It was a task below her station, but it would keep the guards from seeking for her down at the dock for a little while longer at least. The guards who were supposed to light the way during the third watch were still unconscious in their bunk house. That wouldn’t last long. The vision that had shown her the way to rescue Breanainn hadn’t told her anything about the dry-rot that would get into her supply of dormelian flowers. She had kept them hidden behind a tapestry in her bedroom, not thinking how the cold stone on one side might harm them. Now she knew. She had learned much since the visions started three years ago. And she had learned more about what it took to fulfill a vision from the Final Measure. She knew there hadn’t been enough petals for all that ale in the cask; the guards would only be asleep for a short while. That didn’t give her much time for her own escape.

Amharon had warned her that things can go wrong, even if you have a gift of vision. He had died soon after. Aislinne wasn’t sure if she had learned more from what the old man had taught her or from what she had seen her father do to him. Hopefully the nursemaid would be ready, so her brother’s departure wouldn’t be more difficult.

Pausing on a small landing, she hefted Breanainn higher on her hip. She shouldn’t call him that, but it’s what she was used to by now.She tried to shrug the backpack straps on her shoulders into a position where they wouldn’t ache so much. The vision also hadn’t told her how heavy things would be.

Maybe if she hadn’t waited until the last possible moment, it would have been easier. But their mother had already endured so much, Aislinne couldn’t find it in herself to steal the boy away sooner. The queen’s eyes had lit up so brilliantly after the birthing, when she could finally hold her son. She had endured the pain so well, stifling her cries by biting down on a leather strap, hiding behind the heavy curtains draped around the posts of her bed. Even with those precautions, Aislinne had feared that the guards would be woken, but the fresh dormelian had done its work well. By the time the king’s men were awake again, Aislinne had smuggled Dom nec Anoven-mynec away for the night with the wet-nurse, exchanging him with a child from the city who had been stillborn. When the guards were starting to stir, she had slammed the door open, letting the hall flood with the sound of her mother’s keening. They hadn’t been willing to take the little body though and instead forced her to carry it as they marched her down to the chapel and the royal family’s mausoleum. The undertaker and his wife had looked at her with faces stricken by despair—they knew the king’s oppression as well as anyone and they knew of Amharon’s prophecy too. But a stillborn prince put an end to the one and ensured the continuation of the other. Aislinne had struggled hard against the impulse to whisper some comfort to them. Every voice that could speak the truth, her own writings had told her, was a spear-point set against Breanainn’s heart. She should have hearkened to that herself, but coming back to the queen’s chambers, hearing how the wailing had merely dwindled to mournful sobs, seeing her mother’s shoulders shudder. It made it terribly hard to resist the queen’s plan. So she had agreed. And the next day they sent out the announcement; the next ten-day, the first few visitors arrived—young mothers and nurses of wealthy women of the town, bringing their own little ones to the castle to comfort Queen Brenna’s loss. And if the queen favored one of those infants more than the others, the king’s guard hadn’t noticed. The following days, even more children were brought to the queen’s courtyard, and Breanainn among them again, the Judgment-against-Lords disguised among fishermongers’ sons and the daughters of merchant-princes.

The plan had worked perhaps too well, because now here they were on the eve before King Tiernan’s return and the boy was far from safety. But each step down the dank staircase brought that escape closer, so Aislinne pressed forward.

Mother had argued again for another plan, a way to keep Brean— No, that wasn’t his name. This was Dom nec Anoven-mynec, not a simple child, not her little brother, certainly not a normal three-year old. He was too quiet, too quick to watch and see, to swift to understand and do again himself. Even though he was so young, she found herself speaking carefully around him, and saying things as if she were talking to an adult. Her gift of visions had made Aislinne grow up quickly, teaching her more about the ways of the world by age thirteen than she had ever cared to know, and it seemed that Dom nec Anoven-mynec was destined for the same short childhood.

Their mother had argued that they still had time to prepare, while she sat in the courtyard and watched her son running among the small group of children who had been brought to the castle that day. He clambered up on a broad stone near the chrysanthemums, then stood looking out over the scene. Queen Brenna had insisted, “We have had no word of greeting from the advance party.”

“Mother, celebrating his birthday last week was too much,” Aislinne said softly. “And arguing about this now will only endanger him further. I wrote out the vision this morning. Tiernan will come unannounced, hoping to catch you in something he can use to justify a punishment.”

“Why would he seek to punish me further? Hasn’t he done enough?” the queen said under her breath.

“All I know is that years before you lost your trust in him, he had already forsaken his trust in you. Now is no different.”

Queen Brenna of Gwenllian lowered her gaze to the lush grass in her courtyard. It wasn’t until a long moment had passed that she forced her clenched fingers to release her gown and whispered, “You sometimes speak so harshly, my dear.”

Soon after, the queen had hugged each of the children goodbye, weeping over each of them and crushing the last blond-haired boy to herself fiercely. Then the women had departed with their charges, except Breanainn’s nurse who had gone alone while Aislinne had smuggled the boy to her room to wait while she made the final preparations.

Now they were to the last flight of stairs before the king’s dock.

“I can walk,” Dom nec Anoven-mynec said with an endearing lisp to his words, even though his eyes were so serious.

“No. I don’t mind. You have a long journey ahead of you. You’ll need your strength.”

“Where am I going?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is Nana going with me?”

“Yes, she should be here soon. Shhhh.” Aislinne carefully peered around the corner. The king’s dock jutted out into the swift moving river, with several boats of different sizes moored along a gangplank that was braced against the rock outcropping. The stonework arched up and over this narrow part of the <name> river, keeping out both rain and prying eyes. Farthest upstream was the ferry, which sat un-manned and had been that way since the king had declared the queen’s restriction to the palace grounds. She was not to travel upstream to the Gwenllian raft-market where her kin ran their shops, nor downstream to the where she could sail along the coast back to her home city. The house-arrest had been his parting words to his wife and household before he set out to wage war on the barbarian tribes. Almost four years later, the guards made sure the queen stayed in the palace, but they had grown comfortable and lax, forcing her to stay inside the palace itself, since that was easier than watching all the grounds. There was only one soldier stationed here on the dock, a younger man forced to serve in the most inconvenient and boring assignments until he could claim seniority over someone else.

Aislinne put Dom nec Anoven-mynec down on one of the higher steps. “Stay here. I’m going to get your boat ready.”

“Are you going to hurt him?”


BoldtCastleTo be continued. (If that wasn’t obvious.)

And I didn’t know there was already a castle bridge over troubled waters. Cool.

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This is not the blog post you’re looking for

My best guess is that folks aren’t looking at this blog b/c they want a dose of authorial angst. However I need to think through some things. And as someone more famous than me once said, “How do I know what I think until I see what I write?”

I hope you’ll bear with me. Part of the reason for not posting more story stuff is that I’m not sure what story stuff to post. That is the question.

In spite of a fun experience getting my feet wet at conDFW last weekend, some of the facts and opinions I’ve come across recently have felt like I got my blanket wet along with my feet. And then someone threw the heavy, soggy quilt over my head. The main trouble was in finding that I’ve gone way beyond the reasonable word count for a first novel. That was a carpet which, out from under one’s self, one ought not to pull (to torture a sentence in order to satisfy a useless rule). The second befuddlement came while browsing Jane Friedman’s blog and reading that the big book publishers might not be the holy grail of print storytelling.

Second trouble first: Yes, I’ve been planning on doing some digital publishing, but in my mind that has always been a step toward getting a “real” publishing deal. It’s like the final, grand destination on the cruise just got lopped off. The penultimate destination can apparently be pretty rewarding, so I’m not too worried about that, I guess.

First trouble next: There’s a whole bunch of chapters of what I’ve been calling backstory, but now it seems like the best option is to bring it all back in. That would make it so the 80k word mark comes around a relatively conclusive concluding point. But I worry because it’s not a final-battle sort of conclusion. Then I think maybe the story ought to be ruthlessly cut down so it’s more like Steven Brust’s novels. Then I think, why should I have to conform to some publishing tradition of book size. Then I think about watching the four-hour version of Hamlet. Then I think I should just forget about all that and try to write as good a story as I can.

And by that time I’m all confused.

The bottom line is that I’m a little embarrassed about having to yank everyone around back to stuff that happened earlier in the story. But I guess I’ll get over it. So—next post will be a forward to the past.

Thanks for your patience while I’m sorting this all out.

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Chapter 2: Good Counsel

So, with that much in place, we need to get Dom to the training hall. But have you ever heard of a teenager who doesn’t want to do what mom says? I’m know I’m making a stretch here, but, please, try to suspend your disbelief.


Papaya blooms, grows green, then ripens yellow, but a gift interrupts you in the middle of a day’s work.

— Western Island folklore about gifts of magic

Dom stood in the knee-deep water, anxious to get his chores finished and get this mysterious meeting over with too. Then he could meet up with Etsu and Hana and do something fun. Maybe talk Hana into singing for them. Thinking about why she might refuse and what he could say to convince her, he continued hauling in the remains of the net. His arms moved automatically to prune off the sections of thin webbing and coil just the weighted cord onto his arm. Closer to the shore, Midori was waiting. Someone else had been up on the path there, but Midori hadn’t said who. Just that they needed to hurry and get cleaned up.

“I still don’t see what’s so important that I can’t just get my work done and meet with whoever it is tomorrow. Fixing this net is going to take a full week.”

Midori grunted.

“I should get started on it today.”

Another grunt.

Looking over at his teacher more carefully, Dom saw that Midori wasn’t listening. The teacher stood leaning against a tree, with his right arm held across his stomach, supporting the other elbow, while his left hand was raised, tracing along the scar on his cheek. A blur of motion overhead caught Dom’s eye, and he looked up to see another white crane sailing over the stream. He clucked his tongue in chagrin at the bird that had gotten him into this trouble. But he smiled a little too. Etsu and Hana would love hearing about it.

“Have you ever watched a crane?” Dom asked.

Midori looked up. “Eh? Oh, yes. Crane is the measure for throw net. To be sure.” Then he stood upright and put a hand out to lean on one of the mangrove branches. “Dom, I’ve got a question for you.”

“If it’s about netting sharks—”

“No, course not.” The older man turned and peered at the tree while he spoke. “You can swim fine. You can sail fine. But why is it you don’t go out with the divers?”

Dom stopped tugging at the cord. He watched the Measure of Fishing for a few seconds. Then he turned and walked farther out into the river to get the cord untangled from some mangrove starts. “You said it didn’t matter.”

“Course it didn’t matter. Then.” Midori folded his arms once more. “If it had mattered, I would have just told you to get on a canoe and get out there instead of asking you about it. But it might matter now.”

The cord was hooked on a mangrove that was already starting to branch despite its small size. Dom leaned down and untangled the rope. Then continued winding it up, still standing out in the stream. He watched a pale green leaf coasting by on the current, getting carried out with the tide. That’s the way it was with grown-ups. Pushing kids around with all the expectations and assignments, and all a kid could do was get carried along with the tide. Without looking back, he said in a dull voice, “If you want me to start spear fishing, then just tell me.”

“Bah! Bind spear fishing. This isn’t about fishing.” He cleared his throat, then said, “Dom, the Measure of Advanced Motions from Koukimazu Island is here. To see you.”

Oh. That jogged his memory. Shina was going to kill him.

She had shouted to him as he left the house this morning that they would probably have a guest and that he should tell Midori he needed to stay near the village today. Actually she had been acting funny most of the ten-day, so now it finally made sense. But then he had seen Hana, walking down to the lagoon on an errand. He had run to catch up with her and forgotten all about mothers who were acting strange and visitors who were arriving. If Shina wanted him to remember, she should have told him what was going on. If he had known someone from the next island was coming to see him, that would have stuck in his memory better.

Dom stopped what he was doing and turned around. “Why does he want to see me?”

Midori got a distant look again and started tracing his scar once more. “Because Shina thinks you can go over the reef, I imagine.”

Shina didn’t care about the reef or about spear fishing; Dom knew that much. What she cared about was their family, her students in the Lesser Motions class each evening, helping out with the sanctuary service each ten-day, and mastering the flashing-white calligraphy style that Measure Keiko had been trying to teach. That meant this was something to do with the Motions. Dom yanked and tore the last bit of netting free from the mangrove. Why couldn’t she just drop it? Her schemes and efforts to get him into the Advanced class had soured from being an encouraging vote of confidence to being just plain embarrassing. Every new trick she tried just reinforced the fact that he couldn’t see Presence. He wished should would just forget about it like everyone else.

Twisting the last length of cord into the coil around his arm, Dom asked, “Why does she keep bothering everyone with this, even though Daiyu has already explained that I can’t do it?”

“What?” Midori focused on him. “What do Daiyu’s explanations have to do with anything?”

“She’s in charge of the Advanced class. She decides who studies. And she’s decided that I can’t, so I won’t.” Dom started back towards the shore, stepping high over the receding water.

“So that’s it then? You don’t want to move on?”

“I’m already doing what I like. Why is everyone always pushing me around, trying to make me become someone else? That’s what I liked about you. You let me learn and let me decide what to learn, instead of fussing over what I can’t do.”

“Let me get something clear here, Dom. If you’re just hanging around with net-fishing because you like taking things easy, then I’m going to put you on an outrigger and make you live over-reef!” Midori turned back towards the muddy incline that sloped up to the pathway.

Dom bounded up the ridge past the older man.

“Give me a hand then!” With a grunt, Midori caught Dom’s hand and lunged up the slope. Still holding him in a strong grip, he said, “Do you hear me? We’ll send a canoe out each morning with coconut and taro for you, and you can trade your catch out there in the swells.”

“I don’t just want it easy,” Dom said, pulling his hand free.

“Good.” Midori stepped back a pace and waited quietly.

Dom started trying to explain, but stopped. He looked away, staring at some white taro that was pressing up through the dirt on one side of the trail. The thick stalks splayed out from the root, then spread wide in dark green leaves overhead. The plant was something like what he felt about it. Or rather, the exact opposite. There were enormous leaves, long stems, and a massive root to it—all completely different, but all clearly connected. Out on the swells, there wasn’t anything like that. “There’s no rules out there.”

“What, you mean the other kids are rough-housing out there?”

Dom looked away impatiently. “No, not the kids. The Deep. There’s nothing to.… It’s not like here,” he said, stomping a foot on the path. “If you fall down, you hit the dirt, then you get back up again. But out there, you just go down. Or you just float on and on for days. If you make one little mistake, you could sail for a ten-day and never reach anywhere. If you drop something overboard, it just goes down and down and never comes back up. There’s nothing to hold you up.”

Midori nodded.

“I don’t like it,” Dom said with a shrug.

“True enough,” the Measure said. “The Deep eats up everything it can. So where does that put us?”

“It puts me at the river, trying to get better at throw-net. And there’s nothing wrong with that.” Dom lifted his chin as he challenged his teacher, “At least that’s what you said before whoever it is came from Koukimazu.”

“Dom, you can’t just get mad at people for trying to help you.”

“Sure, you can. If you’ve got a line and hook, luring an armor-fish up the river there, and I come tromping into the water to help make sure you catch him, then you’d be mad too.”

Midori shook his head. “You know that’s not being helpful.”

“It’s the same. It’s not helpful because you don’t want people doing that. Well, I don’t want people telling me what I have to do all the time. I got enough of that growing up with Yasuo.”

“Now hold on. You know they love you.”

“Sure, but even if I love Shina, if I keep telling her what’s wrong with how she cooks roast pig, she’s going to get mad about it.”

“She makes delicious roast pig.”

“Midori—I’m serious. I’ve had enough of it.”

“Listen,” he said calmly, putting a hand on Dom’s shoulder. “All I know is step-and-gather. You get things ready, you find a spot, you do the best you can, and afterward you mend the nets. So we’ll go talk to Measure Kyoko, we’ll see what he has to say, and we’ll see what comes next.”

Dom looked into the older man’s eyes. Midori was just trying to help too. And he was right. At least about part of things. He wished that he could explain it to Shina too, but every time he had tried, the words weren’t there. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to explain something he didn’t really understand himself. And he couldn’t say the parts he did understand because he knew so clearly that his ward-mother was trying so hard to help him. Yasuo too, if he had to admit it. A hummingbird buzzed closer from the thick jungle, then veered off again, setting the red blossoms bouncing on a willowy bush nearby. Step-and-gather made a little bit of sense at least.

“Fine.”

“Good,” Midori said, steering Dom around and pushing him forward along the path, “And after you get done playing around in the training hall, you can fix what you did to my net.”


Again, thanks for reading. And if you know of any teens who sometimes act like this, could you ask them to look over this chapter? Call it a realism check maybe. Because I was a perfect child growing up, so I’m just making this all up.

(Don’t tell my mom that I said that, okay?)

And as for the ocean—really it’s a little bit scary. Beautiful, but scary.

More images are on this computer-backgrounds site: http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/ww-sea-waves-wallpapers/

More images are on this computer-backgrounds site: http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/ww-sea-waves-wallpapers/

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Shark Games – part 5 of 5

mangrove_forestGreetings to all viewers, welcome back to everyone following. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by. And I hope the story is interesting enough to merit sharing with a friend.🙂

This excerpt continues on with the teachers as they trek to collect the student and debate pedagogical theories. At the break, we finally shift back to Dom, off in the tidal river that runs through the mangrove forest. This picture is from falconmetaknight, showing the Florida Everglades, but it’s a lot like the mangrove I saw on Kosrae as well. So we’ll call it even.

Enjoy!


They walked the rest of the way to the river in silence. Shina enjoyed a glow of anticipation at hearing that Kyoko was going to work with Dom—one way or the other. It didn’t matter where exactly they trained: Kyoko was not a great teacher because of the training hall on his island. He was great because he had a gift of teaching. And he would teach her son. And her son would learn and inherit the wonderful fullness of Presence. Shina floated along in relief and satisfaction.

As they moved through jungle’s sunlight and shadow, Shina opened her mouth a couple times to thank Kyoko; however, she decided to remain quiet for now. She could thank him later, when it was less likely for Daiyu to take kind words for one person as an insult to another. Instead, Shina tugged and smoothed the training uniform she wore, tucking the folds of cloth tucked into her belt first one way, then another. She watched the three people in front of her, each moving in their own unique way as they each traversed the same path.

Near to the river, splashing sounds came to their ears, along with the sounds of someone shouting and struggling. The four stopped. Midori looked back at them, a quizzical expression on his face.

“Dom?” Shina asked.

“I don’t know who else,” Midori said. “Wait, while I go check. No sense in all of us getting muddy.”

He left the trail, half-stepping, half-sliding down the incline towards the marshy soil and mangrove trees. As he left, Daiyu spun round. When her gaze and Presence came to bear on Shina, the cascade of sharp, red shapes radiating out in a circling pattern around the woman’s head was vicious and it nearly startled Shina into a defensive stance. She caught herself though. Just because the older woman had been quarrelsome all morning and felt particularly antagonistic right now, it didn’t mean she wanted to fight. Shina clasped her hands behind her back, working to keep her own feelings peaceful, her own Presence mild.

“Measure Kyoko,” Daiyu said, “we’re alone for the moment. So I want to be completely honest. There is more to this than just the injustice of offering extra help to a student. I have watched Dom’s lack of progress for years now. From what I have seen, the Motions are something Dom is not meant to learn.”

Astonished, it took a moment for Shina to grasp that the other woman was speaking seriously. Dom not meant to learn? Not meant to understand as much as he could about life? By whom? Dom not meant to grow as far as the Final Measure allowed? Her brows shifted together, changing the look on her face from confusion to offense. In a soft voice, Shina started, “How dare you—”

Kyoko turned slightly towards Shina, lifting his hand in a slow movement to ask her to wait. “Can you clarify, please, what you mean, Measure Daiyu?”

With Daiyu’s gaze fixed on Kyoko, Shina could see little of the woman’s Presence, but her words were plain enough. “Dom is beyond the point of being allowed to study advanced techniques. He cannot discern the energies of another human being, as required in the Advanced Motions. He is blind to it. Or else there is something more wrong with him. It would be like the Measure of Songs trying to teach one who is deaf.”

Daiyu fell silent, but Kyoko waited, his hand still raised to give Shina pause, although his eyes were still on Daiyu, waiting for something more. The woman looked off into the foliage. She started to speak, but stopped again, like a foolish, little child caught in a prank.

Finally Daiyu finished her argument in a rush of words. “If the Final Measure hasn’t given this boy the capacity to even see Presence, then it is not wisdom to try and force a knowledge of the Motions upon him.”

Shina caught her breath. She blinked, while Kyoko lower his hand in a slow, graceful movement. She wanted to lash out at this woman, her neighbor that she had known for years, who had the gall to now insult her son this way. With stiff, deliberate movements though, Shina turned away. She forced herself to look back along the trail where they had walked.

So. Now it was in the open. Daiyu had concluded that somehow that Dom had been.… What? Cursed by the Final Measure? So Shina and Yasuo were harboring some kind of demon in their home? She took deep breaths, searching in the chaotic shapes of tree trunks and branches, vines and shadows. She had to find something to settle her eyes on. Because her son was a little slow, he must therefore be some hideous abomination? Infuriating! Did Daiyu think the same applied to every child who couldn’t do the things other children could do? A troupe of devil-spawn running among the few angels who could immediately perform everything the senior teacher commanded?

Shina stopped her racing thoughts and concentrated instead on the random arc of a mangrove stem that stretched farther inland than the rest. She considered the mangrove carefully. Very carefully. Each arc of the root system skipped closer and closer to the hill side where she stood, each curved segment raising above the thinner, criss-crossed roots of the other trees. It touched down into the mud every few feet. There was a rhythm in the distances between each place the root-stem touched the ground. She could identify it. Somehow she could measure it. Somehow.

She ignored the rest of their conversation. Between the implacable chaos of mangrove roots and her desire to not offend her guest, Measure Kyoko, Shina labored to make up her mind that she would not attack Daiyu.

* * *

Dom wrestled the savage jaws of the shark away from his head once more, using the fishing net to help keep hold on the thrashing, enraged animal. The powerful tail was still down in the water, shoving them both to the right and the left with each sweep. The gruesome rows of teeth opened and chomped shut in a senseless, violent rhythm, while Dom stumbled around in the frothing, muddy water. This was the last thing he’d expected when he started pretending to talk to that stupid crane. A good lesson somewhere in that. The silt sucked his feet deeper and deeper as he slewed the fish back and forth, trying to stay balanced. If he went down into the water with the miserable thing, he wouldn’t be able to keep his arms away from the jaws.

“No, you don’t!” he grunted through clenched teeth, heaving the predator a little higher as it launched into another spasm with renewed vigor.

Then his foot caught on a mangrove root.

Toppling to one side, he growled in panic and straining effort. He hoisted the shark that same direction and slammed it against the dozens of other roots curving down from the main tree trunk, using the animal itself to help steady his own footing. The momentum brought him much, much too close to the jagged rows of gnashing teeth. As he pushed back on the shark, it squirmed and twisted, writhing horrifically across the mangrove roots. It caught one of those wooden stems in its wide mouth and clamped down instantly, wrenching its neck back the opposite way, tearing the root into so many splinters.

It would be worse if it got his arm.

“No. You don’t.” But in spite of his insistence, his arms and shoulders were already burning. The excitement and near-panic coursing through him had energized him, but it was wearing off. He couldn’t wrestle with a natural killer like this for much longer.

“Aaii-ya!” someone cried. “What are you doing!”

Dom glanced up to see Midori standing on the riverbank, and he almost lost his hold on the rough fins and the tangled ropes. While he struggled to hold the shark still, and also keep it away from him, he slipped down to his knees in the mud. The animal was so much better suited for this kind of mindless, brutal struggle. Dom grimaced as the sandpaper skin scraped more and more at his arms and legs. The splashing water was punctuated with chomping sounds as the animal bit at the air, right and left.

“It’s a shark!” Dom shouted.

“Bah. It’s a baby,” Midori said. “What are you doing to my net?”

“I’m not— Augh!” Dom reared his head back with a new patch of reddened skin across his cheek. The animal’s hide was like scraping a lava rock across his skin.

Midori called out, “It’s too small. Let the poor thing go.”

“Bind me! The poor thing?” Dom struggled back up to his feet. Midori had always been an unconventional teacher, but this was going too far. “I am not letting it go!”

“Well, what else are you going to do with it?” Midori pointed to a larger root that branched out near Dom’s head. “Don’t just drop it and stand there. Shove it off and scamper up.”

Dom eyed the tree limb Midori was pointing to. Such a simple solution—from the man standing twenty feet away from the beast. But he didn’t have a better plan of his own. With a grunt, he heaved the shark off towards the middle of the river. Its tail skidded in the water and it fell with a slap only a couple feet away. However the remains of the throw-net were still wrapped around its fins and the tatters immediately snagged on the mangrove roots. So the shark immediately angled back at Dom.

Shouting in a mixture of defiance and fear, Dom lurched forward a step in the silt and tried to jump, but thick mud sucked at his feet, keeping him from lifting out of the water at all. He was barely able to grab the mangrove root overhead, but he hauled with his weary arms, dragging his legs up out of the water. Then he hung there, standing with his wet, muddy feet against the tangle of roots.

The shark, still tangled in the mangrove and the net, thrashed beneath him with furious sweeps of its tail and mouth.

Then Dom’s wet hands and muddy feet started to slip on the wood. Through clenched teeth, he muttered, “By the rule!” Squirming and contorting like a monkey, he worked to get a better grip on his wooden support. Water and mud splashed up from below as the shark tore against the constraining ropes.

Midori called out above the sounds of churning water. “Hurry. We’re waiting for you.”

“Dearest Measure of Fishing,” Dom answered, “If only the island council had the wisdom to call a Measure of Climbing, I might be able to climb across to you quickly. But since our elders apparently don’t have such wisdom, I’ll have to beg for your patience.”

“Climb here? Bah. You need to set that poor thing free.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“You can’t just let it tear itself to pieces, all tangled up there.”

“You’re joking.”

“And you can’t just leave it there to starve. I taught you better than that, Dom.”

“You didn’t teach me anything about wrestling with sharks!”

“Baby sharks.”

“Whatever.”

“Look, Dom—it’s more scared of you than you are of it.”

Dom glanced over at Midori quick enough to see him smother his smile. Shaking his head, he muttered, “It’s also more able to tear my hand off.”

“Well, be careful then, but hurry up about it. Just cut it loose already.”

Blowing out his breath as he realized the Measure of Fishing was not going to let this go, Dom looked up at the peaceful clouds drifting along in the blue sky. “You’re having a jolly time with this, aren’t you?”

“Course I am—you look like a monkey, hanging up there. Don’t tell me you lost your knife.”

“No, I didn’t lose it,” he snapped. He couldn’t believe Midori. True, he had always taught how a good fisherman takes care of his livelihood as well as the goatherds did. And it was true that he was willing to teach in different ways, helping students learn how they needed to learn rather than force them to memorize traditions and repeat mindless drills. That was one of the reasons Dom liked working with him. But this? This was crazy even for Midori. “Don’t you think it’s a little unfair to accuse a student of losing his knife when no one complains about the teacher losing his senses.”

However Dom craned his neck around to look more closely at the shark. The animal was growing tired, thrashing less and less. Dom could see where the ropes were twisted tight around its gills and fins, but he couldn’t reach that far hanging below the branch this way.

So he swung his feet up to the top of the arching root, then shimmied around so he was laying on his belly and chest against the curved wood, his head still tilted down toward the water. The wood dug into the skin of his chest and stomach. Balancing awkwardly, he reached up with one hand to the small of his back and took his knife from the sheath strapped to his belt. The paring knife was a small blade, shorter even than its own wooden handle, and it curved forward slightly to help cut through lines. Dom put the handle of the lightweight tool to his mouth to hold it while he climbed. Then stopped and took it out again, so he could spit out the mud and salt water.

“By the Measure, stop acting a pretty boy already,” Midori chided.

Not bothering to reply out loud, but thinking through several disrespectful responses in his mind, Dom gripped the knife handle with his teeth. Then he inched forward along the mangrove root, clenching the wood with hands and arms and legs and feet to keep from sliding face-first down on top of the poor, little, baby shark. When he was close enough to reach the thicker cord binding the shark to the broken root, Dom took the knife and stretched out his arm as close to the fish as he dared.

The first cut didn’t quite sever the rope. But the tug on the line caught the shark’s attention and it thrashed sideways to chomp and bite wildly.

Dom reared back as high as he could manage. “I’m trying to help, stupid fish!”

The shark sank back into the floating silt clouds, pulling most of the fishing net out of sight as well. Perfect. Apparently nothing was going to be easy today.

Dom switched his grip on the knife and measured the distance to the rope that was closest to the mangrove roots. Then he sliced downward. The knife severed the line. But that effort also threw Dom off balance. He dropped the blade and clutched at the mangrove root with both hands again, trying to keep from falling in next to the irritated man-eater. The water on his hands made the bark slippery again though and he gradually slid closer to the river surface. Then, as the cut ropes drifted down under the surface, the shark thrashed his tail again and tore away from the river bank, vanishing into the deeper water.

“Yeah!” Dom shouted at his success, then changed to, “No no no!”

He lost his grip on the wood and splashed down face-first into the muddy river. After he surfaced and wiped the dirty water from his face, he turned to face Midori’s laughter.

“Mezzan, releasing the animal is one thing,” the fishing teacher joked, “but joining it down in the muddy water? You’re taking my teaching of how to think like a fish a little too seriously. But you should be glad: if the old stories are right, the next time you meet that shark, it will remember you and save your life.”

“Ha, ha.” Dom grabbed up the buoyant wooden handle of his knife as it drifted in a lazy circle.


PS – I’ve noticed that the timing is skewed a little across these initial scenes. Hopefully it hasn’t been too noticeable, but if it was distracting, please let me know so I can try to improve it. Thx.

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What do you do at a conference?

When Jane Friedman said a writer oughta go to writing conferences, I thought, “Great suggestion. Too bad there aren’t any close by, so I can’t go.” Then I found that the DFW Writers Conference IS close by. Perhaps uncomfortably close.

I’m not sure what I’d do there. Have a 10-minute pitch session with the agent of my choice? What does that even mean?

If you’re in the know about stuff like this, I’d love to hear what your thoughts are.

And more story tomorrow. Should have been today. But definitely tomorrow.

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