Endings Keep Running Away From Me

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I use Gram­marly for eng­lish proof­read­ing because if I didn’t you’d be read­ing this post in Mar­t­ian.

I’ve been work­ing on a sto­ry for near­ly three weeks now and I’ve hit a wall.

It start­ed with a char­ac­ter I cre­at­ed a few months ago for anoth­er project. Her name is One, which is short for One­sipho­rus. She has a dilem­ma. She’s come into pos­ses­sion of a book and that book is for­bid­den. I fol­lowed her through her day to day life. I’ve got­ten into her head and heard her thoughts. I under­stand her. I’ve giv­en her some­thing to sac­ri­fice and fight for. I’ve chal­lenged her cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. I like her.

I had a vision when I start­ed this short sto­ry (an off-shoot of my cur­rent nov­el length WIP) of where she would end up. In my vision, One is look­ing out over the walls of her city into the vast bar­ren plains that con­sti­tute the hin­ter­lands. She is con­tem­plat­ing self-exile.
The vision ends there. I’m not cer­tain how she gets to this place or how things went so bad­ly. I real­ized that the end­ing, in par­tic­u­lar the jour­ney my char­ac­ter trav­els to get to the end, eludes me.

End­ings, no mat­ter the sto­ry, elude me. I almost always know where I want my pro­tag­o­nists to be in the end, but the just before is this mys­te­ri­ous place I can’t seem to get to. It scares me too because this is part of my craft, a huge part of what I want to do and some­how I feel like I’ve run into a wall every sin­gle time

I had such dif­fi­cul­ty when it came to the end­ing of An Unpro­duc­tive Woman. AUW came to me in effort­less lin­ear waves. There was nev­er a moment when I felt stuck, when I had to go back and fill in any gaps. And I did this all with­out an out­line. But when it came to the end­ing, I choked. And this is evi­dent in the reviews that AUW receives. Some of those reviews site an unsat­is­fac­to­ry end­ing.

How do you know when a sto­ry is fin­ished? What con­sti­tutes a sat­is­fac­to­ry end­ing to you?

Alif Negotiates (Another Hinterland Excerpt)

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Hi there friends… It’s been awhile again, but for good rea­son. I’ve actu­al­ly been steadi­ly and active­ly writ­ing, although I haven’t updat­ed the word count in the mar­gin in awhile. I’ve been work­ing on a short ten­ta­tive­ly titled The Book about a girl named One. This tale address­es issues of cen­sor­ship. It is very strong­ly influ­enced by 1984 by Orwell and Fahren­heit 451 by Brad­bury. I love both of these books.

Alif’s first incar­na­tion
by The Artist (http://theartist23.tumblr.com/)

 

In any case, I wrote Alif Nego­ti­ates quite awhile back as I was doing a lit­tle char­ac­ter explo­ration. Alif is a char­ac­ter that will show up lat­er in the Hin­ter­land Chron­i­cles series. I have plans for him to be the even­tu­al part­ner to Bilqis’s daugh­ter. Of note, his char­ac­ter start­ed here in Honor&Truth, my incom­plete online ser­i­al nov­el. I stopped writ­ing H&T because it had so many plot holes. I went back, rethought things, re-out­lined, and it turned into The Hin­ter­land Chron­i­cles. I still go back from time to time and read it and despite how raw and unedit­ed it is, I still like it a lot. Enjoy the excerpt and let me know what you think.

*****

It’s bright out there,” said Mali.  The ven­dor waved Alif fur­ther into the tent so that he could stand beneath the canopy and out of the sun.  “Don’t think I’ve ever seen you this ear­ly in the day.  Some­thing up?”

Alif wore an old straw hat with a wide brim that wob­bled with each step he took.  Had any­one oth­er than Alif been wear­ing the hat, Mali would have laughed.

Got­ta make a run lat­er this evening and I want­ed to catch you before you left.”

I under­stand.”

Mali made his runs through the mid-Atlantic province on a strict sched­ule.  Each week he’d set up camp at a dif­fer­ent set­tle­ment to sell and trade goods. His spe­cial­ty was elec­tron­ics.  He’d been doing busi­ness with Alif for near­ly two years and he’d come to know the tac­i­turn male quite well.  Alif always vis­it­ed his tent on Fri­days, Mali’s last day encamped, and always after sun­set as Alif’s translu­cent skin was too sen­si­tive for day­light rays.  

I have a trans­ceiv­er set I believe you’ll be inter­est­ed in.”  The ven­dor reached beneath the table where he dis­played his wares and pulled out a ragged card­board box.  “They look like brand new, don’t they?”

Nice.  They don’t make these any­more,” said Alif accept­ing the trans­ceivers, weigh­ing them in his hands.  “What’s wrong with them?”

Mali enjoyed hag­gling with Alif.  He was almost as shrewd as him.  There wasn’t an elec­tron­ic gad­get that Alif couldn’t dis­man­tle and reassem­ble into some­thing bet­ter than it had been when brand new.  In the past Mali had tried to con­vince Alif to leave Set­tle­ment #53 and trav­el with him and be his repair­man.  He even offered thir­ty per­cent of the prof­its.  With Alif’s skill, Mali would be able to sell more goods and expand to include repair work.  And Alif’s cool demeanor would cause would-be ban­dits to think twice before tar­get­ing him.   

Alif refused each time sight­ing oblig­a­tions to his set­tle­ment, but Mali couldn’t see what kept Alif so attached to the set­tle­ment where he lived prac­ti­cal­ly as an out­cast.  They called him Inuwa, ghost, behind his back and the more super­sti­tious among them whis­pered that God had cursed Alif’s black moth­er with him, an albi­no, for refus­ing to iden­ti­fy his father when she grew large with her preg­nan­cy.

So you read minds now, is that it?” asked Mali chuck­ling.

No man can read minds or divine by touch. That’s all super­sti­tious non­sense. But we all have a sense of things, if we would just trust that sense.”

Alif han­dled the trans­ceivers, turn­ing them over in his hands and manip­u­lat­ing the but­tons.   “You have bat­ter­ies?”

Mali reached into his pock­et and hand­ed Alif two bat­ter­ies he’d recharged that morn­ing for just such a pur­pose.  Alif slipped the bat­ter­ies into place and adjust­ed the dials, pushed the but­tons, and speak­ing into one held the oth­er up to his ear to hear his voice echo back.

Alif removed the dark shades he’d been wear­ing to pro­tect his eyes from the sun and turned his atten­tion back to Mali.  His eyes were red rimmed with iris­es the col­or of water.  “I don’t see any­thing wrong with them.  Like you said, they’re like new.  But of course,” he said prob­ing Mali with those eyes, “there is some­thing wrong with them.  Come clean, friend, if you want me to give you the mon­ey.”

Mali laughed again, but this time to dis­guise the chill that trav­eled down his spine when Alif pressed him with those col­or­less eyes.  Did he not know the effect he had on peo­ple?

You’re right.  There is some­thing wrong.”  Mali reached into the box and removed a mon­i­tor about half the size of the trans­ceivers, and like the trans­ceivers it was sil­ver with yel­low trim.  “There is a track­ing device hid­den in them.”  He pressed a but­ton on the side of the tiny mon­i­tor and two green dots appeared and an irri­tat­ing beep­ing sound emit­ted from the speak­er.  He quick­ly turned the mon­i­tor off.

Alif hand­ed the trans­ceivers back to Mali and stepped back.  “You should know bet­ter.”

Of course Mali did.  Track­ing tech­nol­o­gy had nev­er done their peo­ple any good.  The city dwellers used it against his peo­ple time and again to find them, jail them, cheat them out of what was theirs, the lit­tle ragged bit of it that there was.  Those in the cities rev­eled in tak­ing from his peo­ple and as such any­one among the Pros­e­lytes caught with any­thing resem­bling track­ing tech was con­sid­ered a trai­tor and a dan­ger.  At worst, such a per­son might end up dead.  At best, such a per­son would be exiled from his set­tle­ment, which was worse than death.

The thing is, broth­er,” said Mali lean­ing in close so that no one could hear them, “I couldn’t pass up such a beau­ti­ful set of trans­ceivers.  When I saw them, I thought of you.  If any­one can deac­ti­vate the track­ing tech, you can.”  Mali slipped the mon­i­tor into his pock­et when a man approached his tent to inspect his goods.  He greet­ed the man with a smile and a nod, but he was too pre­oc­cu­pied with an old alarm clock radio to pay him any notice.  “Look at them,” he said drop­ping his voice fur­ther, “they’re too beau­ti­ful to pass up.  And you could put them to good use, or resell them your­self and for a pret­ty sum, I might add.”

Alif’s eyes nar­rowed as he con­sid­ered Mali’s words.  “So, you couldn’t sell these to any­one else, could you?”

Mali chuck­led.  The boy was quick as a spark before the fire.  As cold and con­trolled as Alif appeared, Mali had no doubts that there was a fire brew­ing beneath the sur­face.  He also knew that he nev­er want­ed to bear wit­ness to it.

Okay, I’ll take them,” he said, “but at a reduced price.  And I won’t nego­ti­ate.”

I’m the one who is sup­posed to refuse nego­ti­a­tion.  Remem­ber?  I’m the one with the prime goods here.”

I’ll be doing you a favor.  If you get caught with these, you’ll be wish­ing you nev­er saw them.”

Sev­en­ty-five cred­its.”

Twen­ty.”  Alif held up his hand before Mali could protest.  “And my promise not to tell any­one that you had track­ing tech.”

Mali looked long and deep into those red rimmed eyes and knew that he wouldn’t be able to change to his mind.  Besides, he hadn’t expect­ed to get even the twen­ty cred­its for the stolen prop­er­ty.  “Alright, broth­er.  Twen­ty it is.  Shall we shake on it?”

I Have Done My Job

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Idealised workspace, 2011

A a writer there are very few things I want more than to have my writ­ing read. That sounds sim­plis­tic, but it does touch on the gen­er­al gist of what I mean. Cer­tain­ly I want my read­ers to like what they’ve read, to write stun­ning reviews, tell all of their friends about me, there­by caus­ing my sales to sky­rock­et, caus­ing me to make lots (not insane amounts, just lots) of mon­ey, so that I can pay off my house, give in char­i­ty, give my chil­dren a great life and quit my day job so that I can cre­ate more tales that peo­ple want to read, BUT none of that is as impor­tant to me that my writ­ing is actu­al­ly read.

I would be a writer even if I nev­er made a sin­gle pen­ny doing it. (Which isn’t that far off the mark right now.)

Like most writ­ers, I have some­thing to say. As an intro­vert, since I rarely actu­al­ly say these things out loud, writ­ing is my mode of expres­sion. I write the kinds of sto­ries I would like to read, sto­ries that res­onate with me, and that hope­ful­ly have deep­er mean­ings. I’m not try­ing to con­vert any­one to my way of think­ing or teach any­one a les­son, (preach­i­ness in fic­tion is a big no-no), but I do hope that when read­ers have com­plet­ed my tales they walk away with lin­ger­ing impres­sions about the char­ac­ters and sit­u­a­tions, that they con­tin­ue to think about the sto­ry for days or even weeks in an effort to suss out the deep­er mean­ings, or at the very least because they’ve grown attached to a char­ac­ter and they miss her.

Recent­ly I received a very unex­pect­ed heart-warm­ing email from a woman who had just com­plet­ed my book. She’d down­loaded it for free dur­ing one of my past Ama­zon KDP pro­mo­tions. She said:

I have sub­se­quent­ly told friends about An Unpro­duc­tive Woman and what a won­der­ful insight into anoth­er part of the world and cul­ture as well a mes­sage to all of that we are so very alike in so very many ways.”

and

While not a Chris­t­ian, I do believe in a pow­er greater than myself.  The absolute every­day faith depict­ed in your book caused me to down­load the Qur’an too, I have my read­ing cut out for me for some time to come!”

The very fact that she took away the mes­sage of ulti­mate same­ness across cul­tures and faiths from my nov­el despite the sup­posed diver­gences there appear to be and that are played up by our media absolute­ly took my breath away. Even more, in spite of the fact that An Unpro­duc­tive Woman is not a reli­gious read, the fact that she made the con­scious deci­sion to learn more about peo­ple (Mus­lims) who are often made to seem oth­er and alien is the great­est val­i­da­tion and the great­est pay­ment I could ever receive for my writ­ing.

When I received her mes­sage I near­ly cried. It let me know that I have done my job.

*****

Thank you for the email S.V. You made my year… prob­a­bly my career as a writer.

Thank you Kin­dle Buf­fet for post­ing my book on your site so that peo­ple would know I exist.

Thank you to any­one who has ever hon­ored me with the time it took to read my book and write a review… even if it wasn’t favor­able.

Hap­py Ramadan to EVERYONE