//and it’s right around the corner

Tomorrow marks the first day of June. It also marks the beginning of my ninth ‘Writing Month.’ (Once NaNo rolls around, I’ll feel respectable. Ten is a good number to have tucked in your belt.) That being said, this is the first time that I’m continuing my NaNo novel (The Dying of the Light) into June. It’s currently sitting open at 73, 609 words, which means I’ve only had time for roughly 20,000 words since December. I’ve been busy and haven’t had the mental energy or the time to give it the attention it deserves, so I decided to shove other projects aside and add a minimum of 50,000 words to the manuscript during June. It’s going to be an exciting month and I’m jazzed – here’s to buckling down and doing what we love.

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“I know you can’t feel physical pain.”

Kirikizu’s muffled, buzzing voice cut through Winter’s haze.

His mouth and throat felt dry and rough, as if a sandstorm had swept through. He could not remember taking a breath through the last half hour. He lifted his eyes to the Emperor’s Hand as the other man said, “Fortunately, your baby brother can.”


Riza might be asleep. Any sane person would be.

He placed the cuff around his ear. “You’d better be there.”

Silence.

He flicked the cuff with two fingers. “This isn’t Shotgun, this is Saizou. Wake up.”

“Isn’t there a fugitive curfew?” Riza’s voice came through the speaker, loud and clear. “Don’t you people have bedtimes?”

“You don’t seem to.”


“You have a real gratitude problem, you know that?”

“Tell me where the Dog is.”

Riza’s loud sigh nearly deafened him.  “Fine,” she said. “See that building toward the back left corner? You should have a clear line of sight from where you’re standing.”

Saizou was hardly surprised that Riza’s ear cuff doubled as a tracking device. “I see it.”

“That’s the dog-house.”

“Are you positive?”

“I repeat my gratitude remark, but I’m going to give you a warning anyway – that’s also the Royal Poisoner’s home.”

Saizou tried to wrap his head around the idea of a Royal Poisoner. The concept was simple enough, but the fact the Prince-Regent blatantly employed one without hiding it – that was startling. “The Poisoner keeps the Dog in his house?”

“Lots of people have pets, dear.”

“Most pets aren’t human beings.”


It would be locked, he thought, and it was – but locks were of little consequence. He switched the reizaa-naginata on and cut through the wood, searing the lock away from the rest of the door. Lasers, as it turned out, were very effective lock-picks.


Immediately the snake darted forward, a warning strike so close Saizou felt the brush of its tongue.

“I wouldn’t move, if I were you,” said a calm voice. “Nor would I speak. She’s very sensitive to strangers.”

Saizou dared not move his head, but he glanced out the corner of his eye and saw a young man shut the partition door behind him and stand, his hands in his pockets. A patch circled his head and covered one eye, a morbid accessory for someone so young.

This must be One-Eye.

The young man smiled. “You must be Saizou Akita. I had the feeling you’d come back when I saw pieces of your accomplice stuck in the Dog’s teeth.”


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//beautiful people – tsuki & kiba

This round of questions was so good that I couldn’t decide who to shine the spotlight on. Lauren read the questions and immediately suggested Tsuki and Kiba (The Dying of the Light). A brief introduction aside from their snippet cameos – Tsuki (the Maid Marian character of the novel) is the daughter of a deceased retainer to the Emperor. When the Emperor went away to war, the Prince-Regent gave Tsuki to Matahachi (the Guy of Gisbourne character) as a house-warming gift. Matahachi would probably have preferred she come without Kiba, her bodyguard of twenty years. Tsuki is twenty-six, Kiba is forty, and his affection for her changed to a different kind of affection when she was nineteen. He has never said anything about it and never plans to. He is not only Tsuki’s bodyguard, but her confidant, partner in crime, and closest friend. I kind of adore them.

BUT ENOUGH WITH THE BACKSTORY – ON TO THE QUESTIONS!

TSUKI

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1.How often do they smile? Would they smile at a stranger? Tsuki has a ready smile, but whether by nature or Kiba’s constant influence, she is very in control of her facial expressions. Her smile is not automatic.

  1. What is the cruelest thing they’ve ever been told? And what was their reaction? I imagine the cruelest thing was the combination bringing news of her father’s death on top of her new living situation. It was a powerful one-two that changed her life. Her reaction was stoic; or at least until she was alone with Kiba.
  2. What is the kindest thing they’ve ever been told? And what was their reaction? I’m not sure she could pick the kindest thing ever told her. I would replace this with one of Kiba’s smiles; rare, warm things that portray far more approval and pride than words could. She treasures these, and can recall each instance (as well as count them on one hand).

4.What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood? Why is it so powerful and lasting? Tsuki’s strongest memory is of the day her mother taught her how to perform hara-kiri. Having your mother carefully teach you ritual suicide would leave an impact on most children.

5.What book (a real actual published book!) do you think your character would benefit from reading? Tsuki has benefitted the most from Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War.’ Kiba gave her a necessary reading list when she turned thirteen, and that was at the top.

6.Have they ever been seriously injured? How severely? How did they react? She was kidnapped at age six by a family who held a grudge against her father. She was not severely injured and came away with nothing more than a sprained wrist and a bruised forehead, but her father promptly hired Kiba. She also learned to ride a motorcycle with much trial and error, once gashing her arm wide open. Fortunately, she is nimble with good reflexes and has avoided intense injury…so far.

7.Do they like and get along with their neighbours? She is a secret champion to the daimyo villagers, but she and Matahachi don’t get along well. He desires Tsuki, but is gentleman enough to leave her alone. She’s very aware of her position and treats it with a very chilly air.

8.On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being easy and 10 being difficult) how easy are they to get along with? She’s easy to get along with on a surface level. She is polite, friendly, and outgoing; but she rarely lets anyone get to truly know her. So on the surface, she’s possibly an 3; but in reality, she’s more of an 8.

9.If they could travel anywhere in the world, where would they go? She would time-travel to a free Japan, I don’t doubt. She has a desire to make things better where she is, more than a desire to wander. However, if she were to pick – say, a honeymoon destination, she would choose Bali.

10.Who was the last person they held hands with? She’s not much of a hand-holder. I doubt even she could remember – but since Kiba is the only person she’s with on a regular basis whom she likes, it was probably him.

KIBA

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1.How often do they smile? Would they smile at a stranger? Honestly his smile is more like a grimace 99% of the time. Rare genuine smiles are reserved for Tsuki. Strangers and allies alike get glares.

  1. What is the cruelest thing they’ve ever been told? And what was their reaction? The cruelest thing is yet to come.
  2. What is the kindest thing they’ve ever been told? And what was their reaction? Tsuki once told him he was the most important person in her life, which – whether he realized it or not – set a goal in his life, to continue being that person.

4.What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood? Why is it so powerful and lasting? THAT’S FOR HIM TO KNOW AND YOU TO FIND OUT (but not here)

5.What book (a real actual published book!) do you think your character would benefit from reading? ‘The Book of Five Rings,’ by Musashi. He told Tsuki to read it, but upon reading it she discovered Kiba quoted it often enough that she already knew it.

6.Have they ever been seriously injured? How severely? How did they react? He has been seriously injured multiple times, but he’s not one to stay down. He reacts with common sense, goes to the hospital, recovers, and gets back to work.

7.Do they like and get along with their neighbours? …No.

8.On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being easy and 10 being difficult) how easy are they to get along with? Oh, he’s a solid 8 on a good day.

9.If they could travel anywhere in the world, where would they go? He’d be happy to live in Wales. In a forest. And be a hermit. Except he won’t, because he has responsibilities (coughTsukicough) and she wouldn’t accompany him.

10.Who was the last person they held hands with? Tsuki. They were climbing over a wall. It wasn’t exactly hand-holding in a ‘sweet’ sense, but they aren’t really a ‘sweet’ team.

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//a kitsune, an interrogation, and on-camera insults [or, a few snippets]

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“I need a left hand matching these dimensions.”


 

The guard glanced at the door. “Don’t worry,” Oscar continued, his anger softening just enough to allow him to say, “it’s not like I’m going to tell the P-R. Not sure we could communicate anyways; I don’t speak jackass.”

“You’re on camera,” said the guard blandly.


People thought interrogations and torture were the same thing, but they weren’t. Torture provided punishment or set an example. It could be vicious and fairly pointless. When torturing someone, you could use any method you liked. If the victim passed out, you let them wake up again or woke them yourself before starting again.

Interrogation was far more delicate; the difference between a finger painting and an original Hokusai. There were things you could and could not do – the subject had to remain alert, functioning well enough to correctly answer questions but too desperate to lie. Making the subject pass out was undesirable; it took more time and proved inefficient.


When she reached the bottom, she set the chair down and crossed her arms. “Happy?”

Kirikizu smiled mentally at the similarities between Haka and Otter, without allowing the expression onto his face. “Put it in the cell, on the opposite side.”

“Gonna throw shade at him first?” Otter rolled her eyes as she dragged the chair into the cell.

“Out of the cell now,” said Kirikizu, stepping toward the cell door.

“Do this, Otter. Do that, Otter,” said Otter, but it was half-hearted, and she cast a concerned glance at Winter’s impassive face before exiting the cell.


He lifted his head and met Winter’s direct, frozen gaze. The older man’s blue eyes were cold enough to draw all warmth from the room; at once broken and sharper than before. He was also done playing any game with Kirikizu.

“If you lay a hand on him,” said Winter softly, “I will kill you. Perhaps not today or tomorrow, but I will do it.”


“I made Nix’s acquaintance thanks to Matahachi,” said Kiba.

“Well, if someone’s going to tell the story, it has to be me,” said Nix, apparently regaining interest. “Because that is a truly awful opening line and I’d hate for a riveting story to drag on in that tone of voice.”

Kiba sighed and stepped back toward the wall, allowing the kitsune to continue.

“Thank you,” said Nix archly. “See, it’s like this, sweetheart – Matahachi took something very important from me, and I want it back.”

“That’s not good storytelling either,” said Kiba in a low voice, rubbing the back of his neck.

Nix opened his mouth, then squinted. “In fact, it’s terrible storytelling,” he conceded after a moment’s thought. “But I have a very good point, in that I don’t really think the young lady here needs to know the whole story.”


He reached the bottom of the stairs. Haka was doing pull-ups on the bars of an empty cell, and Otter was rattling off some kind of shopping list. “—expensive coffee, you’re going to have to shell out,” she argued as Kirikizu approached.


Tsuki looked up at the looming apartment building. A single light shone through a cracked window three stories up. “This yokai of yours,” she began.

“He’s not mine,” Kiba interrupted, “and he’s a kitsune. You should know before you meet him.”

Tsuki felt a heady thrill in spite of herself. Even those who believed in yokai and yokai-kin widely regarded kitsune as fables. The mountain fox-spirits whose number of tails increased their power, were legends, said to have been created by rice-farmers who saw things in the mist. Mist which may not have been entirely natural, Tsuki now thought.

“Let me guess,” said Tsuki, keeping her voice low, “he’s the only resident for miles.”

“He likes to keep to himself.”

“Then what makes you think he’s going to care about my request?”

“I never said I thought he’d care,” said Kiba. “A bribe may be in order.”


— The Dying of the Light

//how to stay in love with your novel

Last night, I received this message from a sweet, creative girl I know:

“Hey so serious question: How on earth do you manage to stay focused and enthusiastic and motivated about the same book until it’s done? I struggle so much with this and clearly you have some kind of a system.”

As I am wont to do, I decided to turn the answer into a blog post. (I jokingly told her that most of my blog posts these days are just answering questions.) The truth is that ‘systems,’ in the real sense of the word, are something I do not have. But everyone has something that works for them, a personal ‘system’ that might appear like horrific disorganization to anyone who does not live with that person’s brain.

Staying enthusiastic and motivated, I have learned, is a habit. It needs to become a habit if you aren’t in that habit already. It’s too easy to allow what should be discipline instead ride on the fickle waves of how we feel in any particular moment. If your writing depends on how you feel, then you have an issue to overcome. This isn’t to say you need to write every day in the same thing whether you feel like it or not. Some days are too busy, some days are too stressful or simply not conducive to writing, but you should do it as often as you possibly can.

Pick one project or two (but I don’t recommend more than two). The whole point of focus is to focus, to keep your eye on one goal. Two is sometimes fine (when I write a darker novel I used to write a Paper novel on the side to keep me balanced) but when possible, you want to have a single goal.

Here are ways I focus –

  • I’m more strict about what ‘entertainment’ I intake. When I’m at my most focused, I probably won’t want to watch anything. In her 1934 book, Becoming a Writer (I highly recommend this book, by the way, if you can find it), Dorothea Brande says, “…Books, the theater, and talking pictures should be very rarely indulged in when you have any piece of writing to finish. The better the book or play is the more likely it is, not only to distract you, but actually to alter your mood, so that you return to your own writing with your attitude changed.”
  • I create a playlist tailored to the mood, feel, and characters of my current novel. This is important for me – music sets my mood and keeps me in a particular mindset. Never underestimate the power of a good playlist when writing a novel.
  • I restrain myself. When the words aren’t coming and I feel about as inspired as a doorknob, I pull away and I don’t allow myself to write for a day, or two days, or (in extreme cases) a week. The end result is that I am inevitably champing at the bit to write again – I have ideas and things that need said and ideas pouring out of my brain. When we aren’t allowed to do something, we want to do it more than ever – it’s human nature, and should be utilized.
  • I brainstorm. Brainstorming is becoming a lost art, but I’ve never found a more useful tool. Grab a friend or family member who knows what you’re all about and just start talking. Once you pull that thread, what unravels might surprise you. This is actually how I bonded with my two closest friends Arielle and Lauren. They’re still my go-to gals – when I’m stuck , listless, and uninspired, they shake my muse awake. They make me laugh, they give me ideas. They’re irreplaceable.
  • I reward myself. If I write a full chapter, I might watch a drama episode or spend some time on Tumblr or Pinterest. All work and no play, etc. In order to not fall into Dorothea Brande’s ‘attitude change,’ I usually keep whatever drama I’m watching or book I’m reading in the same genre as what I’m writing. This is sometimes difficult, as I tend to write in difficult and sometimes nonexistent genres, but it can be done by picking one element. For example, I’m currently writing a futuristic samurai Robin Hood retelling. Main elements to choose from would be Robin Hood, science fiction, Japanese history, cyberpunk, bromance, or action-adventure.
  • I go back to the roots of the novel. What made me want to write it in the first place? Was it a song, or a phrase, or a person? Was it all three? Think about whatever elements inspired you in the beginning.
  • I date my characters. I spend time with them. I ask them questions and listen attentively to answers. I listen to a song and realize they hate it, or they love it, or it makes them sad, or it suits them perfectly. I place them in various situations and watch how they react or interact with others. Getting a fresh feel for them usually helps re-inspire me.

These are the basics, the points I can think of off the top of my head – but I’m sure I’m not the only one with a system! What about you? How do you stay focused, motivated, and enthusiastic?

//snippets + sketch winner

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I’ve written so much about writing this week, I thought it only right to follow up the previous posts with some snippets from The Dying of the Light. This book has had most of my focus since I began it in November, and now – at 65,000+ words – the gang still isn’t together. Still. It may have to be two books, but hey; sometimes you just have to roll with it. These hellions have stolen my heart and I hope, once the book is finished, they steal yours, too.

“So what, you had your fill of killing and decided you could become someone else? You thought you could change just because you wanted to?”

“That’s the only way any of us change,” said Winter. “Because we decide to.”  He was doing his best to keep his voice even, to remain calm and cool even as his pulse beat quicker and his blood grew heated. “I wanted to change, so I did.”

“You think you can become someone else because you let your weapons fall?” The bars rattled again. “You’re a bigger fool than I am.”

“Perhaps.” Winter did not move, but he opened his eyes. “But you seem content to remain a fool. That is what separates us.


He heard something fall over and glanced toward the desks, where Shun, the officer assigned to secretary duty for the day, had just dropped a stapler on the floor.

“Sorry, Commander,” he apologized, picking it back up and setting it carefully by the edge of the desk.

“You’re new,” said Haka, after a brief moment of recollection.

Officer Shun sat up so quickly his chair rolled into the wall. He bowed, trying to inconspicuously reach behind him and pull the chair back. “Um…three months, Commander.”

Haka blinked. Three months and he still didn’t recognize the man’s face? That was awkward.

Officer Shun apparently knew better than to point it out, because he added quickly, “I have a forgettable face. Nobody remembers it. Even my mother sees me sometimes and asks, ‘are you my son?’ That’s how forgettable it is.”


“What?” Shotgun barked, straightening. “You’re just bouncing us from one safe house to another? What’s the point? Saizou, we don’t need this guy.”

Hiro clasped his hands in front of him and regarded Shotgun with an icy calm. “Thus far, your safe house has been temporary. However, I’m sure I could find a much smaller, far more permanent safe house, roughly six feet deep and slightly longer.”

Shotgun’s eyebrows drew together. “Are you threatening me?”

“Yes,” said Hiro.


“Do you believe in spirits, Kiba?” Tsuki asked suddenly, leaning back on her palms. A shaft of pale, white-gold sunlight filtered through a thin patch in the clouds, shining across the scene of bare trees in the distance.

“What kind?” he asked, still crouched and ready to spring up, his elbows resting on his knees.

“Yokai. Oni. Angels, demons.”

“I might.”

“Do you believe in fate, then?”

Instead of answering her question, Kiba replied, “You’re too young to have an existential crisis.”

“I wouldn’t call it existential. More like a garden-variety crisis.”


For a long moment, Kiba was silent. Then he said, “You wonder if you should have left Saizou alone when he came here? If perhaps you interfered rather than aided.”

“I do. He might have had a chance.”

“No. He had no chance, and you know that as well as I. A war-ravaged daimyo, returning from a long absence? Long absences create speculation. His case was over before it began.”


Kirikizu faced the cell that held the prisoner. Winter did not look overly concerned, if he was concerned at all. He sat on his knees in the middle of the room, his hands at his sides and his eyes closed.

Kirikizu tapped the bars with a finger, and Winter opened his eyes.

“Ah,” said Winter blandly. “I assume you’re the one supposed to wring answers out of me via pain infliction. I’ve been looking forward to this.”

“Most people don’t,” said Kirikizu.

“No,” admitted Winter, “but the sooner you start, the sooner you realize I know nothing and the sooner you either kill me or set me loose to contact my supposed partners in crime.”


 

AND THE SKETCH WINNER IS…Tracey!

Tracey, shoot me an email [the-shieldmaiden(at)Hotmail(dot)com]!

A brief note to say that I’m holding an art sale – you can commission a sketch portrait (see examples in picture below) for $20 + shipping through tomorrow night! Shoot me an email or a Facebook message if you’re interested!

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Have a fantastic weekend, all!