//of coffee sadness and beautiful people

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What you are looking at is a very sad and very important image. It’s the image of my last cup of coffee for a month. I mentioned that we’re going on the ‘leaky gut’ diet (‘leaky gut.’ That just sounds awful. Like ‘acid reflux’) and along with sugar and dairy, one thing we can’t have is caffeine. So, I get no caffeine – during JuNoWriMo. I don’t think morning cups of Sleepy Time are exactly going to help, but we’ll see if I can stay awake with other remedies (like…going to sleep before midnight, maybe).

So I’m savoring this cup of coffee and already trying to figure out ways to get another one before the day is out. Speaking of JuNoWriMo, who’s excited? I am! I don’t think I’ve done enough plotting but I’ve done as much as I can – I’ll have to continue it in about a week or so, depending on how much I write. I’m aiming for 3,000 a day – at least as much as I can fit in, and yet I’m also hoping this will be more relaxed than most NaNos. I think I may have misunderstood something somewhere.

Also, it being nearly June and all, I realized that I had not yet done May’s Beautiful People. I meant to right after the questions came out, but I had just introduced a handful of new and beautiful characters into Kenna and could not decide which one to show favoritism to. However, since Wol quickly became a favorite (and not just with myself) I decided to use him as the subject for this month’s questionnaire.

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  1. Do they get nightmares? If so, why or what of? Wol’s sleep is usually deep and dreamless. If he does get nightmares, it’s either directly after or directly before something he fears takes place.
  2. What is their biggest guilty pleasure/secret shame? I’m not sure he knows what ‘guilty pleasure’ means, but his secret shame is the fact that he indirectly disobeyed his King’s orders when he was in his home country. (It’s a long story and involves too many spoilers, hence the vague response.)
  3. Are they easily persuaded or do they need more proof? He is not easily persuaded. He’s suspicious and thorough, and refuses to act without decent proof – unless his heart is in the way, in which case he’ll act without thinking.
  4. Do they suffer from any phobias? Does it affect their life in a big way? He has many fears, but no ‘phobias.’ Anything he may have had resembling a ‘phobia’ dealt with those he loved, and they are no longer a factor.
  5. What do they consider their “Achilles heel”? He possesses mok-dae, the gift of fire energy, which has as many downsides as it does upsides. His does not use it frequently and prefers to rely on his own natural skill and strength. His fire drains him of energy and burns him as well, rendering it something useful when necessary but crippling if used often.
  6. How do they handle a crisis? He tends to remain very cool and calm-headed in a crisis, at least outwardly. He does not let his panic get the better of him, and tends to plan everything out almost to the point of overthinking (but not quite).
  7. Do they have a temper? He’s hot-headed, but he has a good rein on it. One does not get to be the King’s Hand without self-discipline.
  8. What are their core values and/or religious beliefs? He believes in Elah and was raised in a very religious home. While he lost many of the trappings that came with the upbringing, he stays strong to nobility, honesty, honor, meekness, loyalty, and doing what he knows is right.
  9. What things do they value most in life? When he first meets Kenna, all he has are his principles and the need to return to his own country. While not suicidal, he also carries little regard for his own life. What he gains during his journey will be interesting to see.
  10. What is one major event that helped shape who they are? He witnessed the greatest betrayal he had ever seen, and it shaped his belief of who people are, and what they are capable of. Everything he does is affected by that event.

There you have it – Wol, a swordsman who gets more or less conned by Kenna. (After all, I had to make sure he was a major player throughout the rest of the book, right?) SADDLE UP FOR JUNO, PEOPLE. IT STARTS TOMORROW. (Also, Mom came in to tell me there’s enough coffee left for half a cup. HALLELUJAH!)

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kenna + celebrating 50k

I’ve been up to my elbows lately, learning how to balance writing + art. I’ve always had a kind of mental block when it comes to doing both – apparently, I can only handle so much creativity at once and have to pick which area through which to channel it. Fortunately, I think it ‘clicked’ the day before yesterday – for the first time, I both wrote a chapter and drew a commission within the span of twelve hours. Now I think I can get back into the swing of blogging (although I never really stopped; I’m just busy writing for The Fangirl Initiative twice a week as well). Still, as I surpassed 50,000 words in Kenna (I usually reach 50,000 words much quicker, but I am required to put an extra amount of thought into this particular novel, resulting in a more ‘slow and steady’ process) I decided to celebrate with snippets!

Surprise surprise, right?

…Right?

anyway.

Kenna and Wol

Kenna unlatched the fence and pushed it open, singing a soft battle-song. She knew it had a history of blood and violence, but it had been reshaped, used as a lullaby to soothe her when she was small, and it seemed to work just fine on the goats.

She was not young, but she was commanding, with sharp features that spoke of a dangerous beauty not yet entirely stolen by age. “You,” she said, with a thick, winding accent prominent in just one word. “Girl. What name have you?”

            “Kenna.”

            The woman did not look impressed. “A boring name. Will give you something better.”

            “My name is my name,” Kenna repeated. “Even if you give me another, it will be a lie.”

There were no guards, but no guards were needed – crow’s cages were inescapable from the inside; a contraption of steel bars and no way for anyone inside to reach anything that would help them pick a lock.

One of the men inside was curled up against the far side, his knees up to his chin. His eyes were closed, his face half-obscured. He was so covered in mud that he was almost featureless. The other man wore some kind of leather armor, and had taken advantage of the holes in the cage – one leg hung out the bottom, one arm was hooked out the side. His head leaned against the wall of the cage, and his eyes were closed. He looked as peaceful as it was possible for someone in a crow’s cage, awaiting starvation and the elements, to look.

“I promised my mother I would die in battle or not at all.”

Kenna was well aware that she had lived a sheltered life, raised away from the public and its customs and behaviors, and she knew that this man most likely expected her to free him in exchange for his help. She was surprised when, instead of asking again, he only leaned his head back against the bars and closed his eyes, as if settling in for a nap.

“You’d better hurry,” he murmured, his eyes still shut.

Kenna knew her time was almost gone. “What did you do?” she blurted.

He opened his eyes a little. “What?”

“Why are you being punished?”

Again, he smiled. He did that a lot for a dying person, she noticed. “I can tell you that the punishment is unequal to the offense.”

He was strange-looking; more like a caricature of a person than a real one. It was as if his face had been removed and replaced with someone’s idea of what a face should look like, resulting in something that was not exactly unattractive, but looked neither male nor female. He held a black fan in one hand, and tapped it against his arm as he looked at her.

“I don’t know. A man in a crow’s cage,” said Kenna, glancing at the silent girl. She did not look at all related to the strange doll-man, yet he had called her his child. It was difficult to tell the man – Mereen’s – age, but was he old enough to have a child this old? “He was Eastern.”

“A kinsman!” said Mereen, looking pleased.

“In a crow’s cage,” Kenna repeated pointedly.

Mereen waved his fan dismissively. “If it’s who I assume it is, there is no need to worry. Was he asleep?”

“He was before I spoke with him. And after, again,” said Kenna.

The man nodded his head and brushed a long strand of silken hair back behind his ear. “It was Wol Shina, then.”

“Wol Shina,” Kenna repeated, the name rolling off her tongue like a wave. Wol Shin-a. “He was a strange person.”

“Yes,” agreed Mereen.

She sat down on the floor with her back against the wall, and watched the small flame flicker inside the glass lamp. “Elah,” she whispered, “please let Einar be well. And Ingimar, and Farr, and Fagel.” She blew out a breath, and watched the flame dance as the air filtered through the open top of the lamp. “Do what you wish with the wizard.”

“Now,” he said, adjusting his flowing robes and tossing his hair back over his shoulders, “you may ask your questions. Shall we start with the last one you asked?”

Kenna felt just embarrassed enough that she averted her eyes and instead focused on the worn wood of the table under her elbows. “Well, I do want to know about your face.”

He absentmindedly traced the curve of his own cheek with a finger. He managed to look thoughtful, almost sad, in spite of his smile. “Is something wrong with it?”

snippets of a story (kenna + no dark disguise)

Kenna

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Smoothly, Rago replied, “At least you have the good sense to leave me to my business.”

Bortz nodded continually, lowering his sword and backing away. He took a deep breath and puffed out his chest. “It’s an honor to meet your glorious self.”

Rago did not respond; he only raised an eyebrow and waited until Bortz motioned at the men behind him to leave.

“Apologies again,” said Bortz.

“I do not require your apologies,” said Rago. “Only your absence.”

_________

            “Arguing among ourselves will not help,” he said, acknowledging her presence without looking at her. The others were now behind them, although Kenna could hear Farr plying Rago with questions he did not seem to have answers to.

“But it can be very satisfying,” Kenna pointed out.

_________

“But his life has not been an easy one. You have not known his breed of pain, or sorrow. If you wish to know about him, ask. If you do not, do not ask.”

            “I didn’t want to ask him,” said Kenna. “It’s why I asked you.”

_________

The mountainous elf’s smile showed both rows of teeth. He had long ago carved symbols into his teeth, runes from the North. When Kenna was eleven years of age she had asked him what the runes meant. He had replied that they were the lines from a Northern lay depicting their once-greatest warrior, Oldorin. May thine enemies be cut down before thee.

Kenna had gone to Einar and requested similar symbols be carved into her own teeth, but he had refused to oblige, stating that she would regret the decision once she was older.

“And if I do not?” she had asked, indignant with the rebuff.

“Then you will carve them yourself,” he had responded.

_________

Alaric eyed the house from across the nearest fence-line before turning back to face the others. “Let me speak with them.”

“Why you?” Kenna wanted to know.

“He has a point,” said Farr, before the wizard could reply. “You all make a terrifying lot.”

Kenna realized she was included in the statement, and felt her brief sense of indignation fade in the happy knowledge that someone thought she was terrifying.

No Dark Disguise

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“He’s a type-A control freak. He’d probably rather punch himself in the face than ask someone to apartment-sit with him in case of sudden somnambulism.”

“He should get that on a tee shirt. ‘In case of sudden somnambulism, punch face.’”

_________

Castle looked from one face to the other. He settled on Skinner. “Just behave yourself.”

“It offends me,” said Skinner, “that you felt the need to say so.”

_________

 In thirty-three years, Skata had never met another man who managed to make a relaxed stance and an amiable expression seem full of terrifying, unspoken threats.

_________

Breeze, warm and syrupy, blew in through the open window, tossing the curtains gently aside. Frogs and cicadas chirped and croaked in a constant symphony that had taken Angel some getting used to when he first moved to the South. Now the sound was pleasant, almost comforting in a way.

_________

“Looks like the whole town’s here,” Angel remarked, climbing out of the car and walking around to open Easton’s door.

“Aw, and they say chivalry is dead.” She took his offered hand and let him help her out of the car.

“Not dead, just old. And vampiric,” he responded.

the parting glass

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Yesterday, I Skyped with my spirit doppelganger and, after about an hour and a half, we got around to the reason why we’d called in the first place – I was stuck in Kenna. I wasn’t stuck where I was, but I didn’t have the ending figured out and I find it impossible to write anything beyond the middle of a novel if I don’t know how it turns out in the end. Hannah, as always, is like a stick of dynamite to my roadblock – she shakes lose whatever was in my way, leaving me free to see through it. We discussed how important it is for characters to die with meaning and how we should milk the emotion for all its worth, and then she threw out, “Okay, so ______ should die in front of Kenna, and someone should commit suicide.”

I blinked. Suicide? But I rolled the thought around for a few seconds and came to the conclusion that for a certain character, it would certainly make a striking statement. As for ______ dying in front of Kenna, I immediately agreed, as that had been the plan all along (more or less).

“It’s not a question about who dies, so much as what they die for,” said Hannah.

I nodded. “True. And I’ve never had a problem with killing characters to begin with.”

She began to laugh. “No,” she agreed with a great deal of enthusiasm, “you haven’t.”

“Then again, you’ve never told me not to kill one.”

“That’s because I know you,” she responded.

I’ve always had a bit of a George R. R. Martin complex – I want readers to never feel as though any of my characters are impervious to harm or death. I want them to be worried for the lives of everyone, because that’s what I enjoy. It’s what keeps me hooked on a story. (I once had a conversation with Jenny about this, and it turns out we disagree on the matter; therefore I’d be interested to know your thoughts on ‘character safety’.)

There are many reasons to kill off a character. Reasons like a) there are too many characters and one of them needs to go, b) their death will motivate another character, c) they must die in order for things to come full circle, d) they must die in order to prove that no one is safe, e) they must die in order to prove something about their killer, ad infinitum. The list goes on – but, as Hannah pointed out, it’s not who dies so much as why.

I’ve read a plethora of books where a character will die for no real reason, and that leaves a bad taste in my mouth – especially since I usually have the misfortune of adopting said character before said demise. Examples would be Beleg Cuthalion (looking at you, Professor Tolkien),   Finnick Odair (although I suppose I can see where Suzanne Collins was coming from, even if I feel like justice wasn’t served), and Alan a’Dale (although that was a TV show, not a novel).

However, I’ve also read books where the author seemed incapable of killing off any main characters at all, and this became a pattern, until I wasn’t really interested. I was too bored with the knowledge that these characters would survive anything. One shining example of this is Stephanie Meyer.

After all this, you might have drawn the conclusion that I’m a bloodthirsty maniac who enjoys watching my characters bleed out on the floor, but you’d be (mostly) wrong. Not everyone survives. Death is a part of life, and a necessary one – and in my current works-in-progress, there are quite a few characters who won’t survive the last page.

The thing is, none of them die for nothing. Even the villains have a purpose in death, because there is a difference between killing characters simply for killing’s sake, and killing them to make a point. It’s not always an easy job and it takes discernment and thought, but I hold fast to the belief that, for most stories (not all, but most), death isn’t a maybe, it’s a must.

Arnmundur’s voice was like dragonfire. “A hundred years we have avoided death, and now it has found us even here. We cannot stay.”

            “No,” agreed Einar. “We cannot.” Then he gestured for Kenna. “Come. Help me gather the men.”

Beautiful People – Einar

 

If I were to make a list of the best characters I’ve ever written, Einar (Kenna) would be at the top. When I saw that this month’s list of questions was deeply introspective, I knew March was Einar’s month. I was going to post a picture of him, but instead I decided to link you to a sort of trailer-slash-fanvid I made a few months ago for inspiration.

1. What is their secret desire? Secretly, Einar wishes he could re-unite with his wife and children in the afterlife; but he exchanges this desire in order to protect and raise Kenna. He has never regretted this decision.

2. What is the best and brightest moment they experience during the story? Einar is a man who takes his duty seriously, but has also developed an edge – almost a taste – for killing, though he never kills needlessly. He knows his own flaws and limitations. He has many ‘bright’ moments as the backbone of the story, but to tell those now would be spoiling!

3. What are the emotional places your characters are afraid to go to? Einar does not live in the past, but he holds it close. He does not let the past frighten him, or so he thinks; but it influences his decisions toward Kenna and the thought of truly releasing her ‘into the wild,’ as it were, is something that he greatly fears.

4. Is there a place/city/room where they will never go? Why? For Einar there is no such place; even if he would prefer not to re-visit a traumatic memory, he would march into the jaws of death if he had to.

5. If they were permanently leaving town, what would they easily throw out? What would they refuse to part with? (Why?) Einar would bring Kenna; everything else is secondary. If possible, he would also bring his weapons; but he has few worldly possessions and he likes it that way.

6. What do they want (consciously and tangibly)? More than anything, Einar wishes to see Kenna safe and happy. While he is extremely calm, this would give him true peace.

7. On the other hand: what do they need (on the emotional, subconscious level)? He needs space and time to himself, but not too distant from those he cares about – he must be close enough to keep an eye on them. As long as he has his own thoughts, he doesn’t feel he needs much.

8. If they could change one thing about themselves, what would it be? He has reached the point where he would very much like mortality; but he views actual attempts to ‘relieve yourself of the burden of living’ as something cowardly and not worth considering. If he were honest with himself, he would like to be able to see the world with new, unjaded eyes. In a small way, this is one reason why Kenna lights his life – she gives him a fresh view.

9. What is the most humiliating event of their life? The realization that he and the rest of the elvish warriors were tricked into leaving their families at the hands of the enemy. None of them have ever recovered.

10. What things do they turn to when they need a bit of hope? Einar needs only to look at Kenna to have his spirit rekindled. He calls her the light of his life, and as elves abhor lying, he means it in the deepest, purest sense.

Kenna – Dream Song from Mirriam Neal on Vimeo.