Endings Keep Running Away From Me

Standard

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)

Standard

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?”

The Hinterlands Chronicles: Bilqis

Standard

It’s been a while friends. I’ve been busy with work, and even more grat­i­fy­ing, I have been get­ting some con­sis­tent writ­ing done. I’m not mak­ing the great big leaps that I’d like but con­sis­ten­cy is more impor­tant in my esti­ma­tion. I haven’t for­got­ten about my blog here, or my read­ing, but with a full time job, well, some­thing has got to give, yeah? And some of my indie writer friends have had recent suc­cess­es (Lind­say Buro­ker being one such per­son) that have inspired me to work even hard­er to com­plete this project. I believe in this sto­ry and it has been with me for sev­er­al years. I’m still quite a way off but I am so very hope­ful. So hope­ful in fact, that I thought I would share a lit­tle snip­pet from Bilqis. Read and enjoy.

Look alike hanger

Some time had passed since Bilqis left Sec­tor Five, but not enough to for­get how being there used to make her feel, like both prey and preda­tor, both afraid and empow­ered. What came over Bilqis as she stepped from the ground floor plat­form was an instinct born of the emo­tions that came rush­ing back to her. The abrupt and easy squar­ing of her already broad shoul­ders, the cool set of her jaw, bright eyes hood­ed yet keen­ly alert was so deeply intrin­sic it was as if she had shed a cos­tume to reveal her true self. She had after all spent her entire life behind the invis­i­ble sec­tor bound­aries and it was only nat­ur­al that she would, as much as she hat­ed to admit it, find a cer­tain com­fort in the famil­iar yet treach­er­ous sur­round­ings.  

The weak didn’t sur­vive Sec­tor Five and many of the strong didn’t either. Bilqis moved east toward Mid­dle­ton, com­pelled by some deep need to revis­it her old home, cut­ting through the human­i­ty and the detri­tus like a scythe.  

Author­i­ty inves­ti­ga­tors were still no clos­er the find­ing the per­son respon­si­ble for insti­gat­ing the riot and the destruc­tion of Aju­tine Aero­nau­tics, although a sketch of the name­less sus­pect, in his mid twen­ties, with a broad deep brow, dark deep set eyes, and a sen­su­al­ly curved mouth that seemed some­how too petite to belong to a man, had been plas­tered across the city. Bilqis stopped to study one such fli­er print­ed on thin bright yel­low plas­tic paper. The dig­i­tal image of the sus­pect rotat­ed nine­ty degrees to the left and then to the right. When the image stopped cen­ter, it closed its eyes. She didn’t rec­og­nize him.

Beside the sketch of the sus­pect hung a fad­ed fly­er encour­ag­ing res­i­dents to vis­it their local clin­ic for free vac­ci­na­tions and health exams. Peo­ple com­plained about Goodwill’s tough poli­cies but Bilqis thought that the efforts he made to take care of Ajutine’s res­i­dents were com­mend­able, and more than pre­vi­ous may­ors had done.

A left at the next inter­sec­tion and three blocks east took Bilqis to Mid­dle­ton and Bright. She was stu­pid­ly mol­li­fied to find that her old apart­ment build­ing, all of Mid­dle­ton and the two scant blocks north of it, had been spared the blaze that ate up near­ly an eighth of Sec­tor Five, though she was unsure why. She’d nev­er liked liv­ing there. The plumb­ing always backed up foul green muck and every inti­ma­cy and indig­ni­ty could be heard through the paper thin walls. And it wasn’t as if Taha would ever return. Too much time had passed.

A set of crum­bling stairs led from the brief court­yard to a grungy lit­tle foy­er lined with bro­ken mail­box­es, accord­ing to mem­o­ry. She didn’t go inside. It was enough to see ithat the build­ing had sur­vived unashamed­ly ugly amongst even ugli­er build­ings and cir­cum­stances. The res­i­dents here, like in much of Sec­tor Five, were steeped on the kind of pover­ty that was worn beneath the skin. Even now, three years out, when she had plen­ty, there was always a lin­ger­ing hunger, like an itch that no scratch would ever relieve.

But her suc­cess wasn’t so sin­gu­lar. Not every­one who could wished to leave Sec­tor Five. Some were deter­mined to call the place for­ev­er home, think­ing them­selves noble and devout. Accord­ing to them the price of leav­ing was too high. Accord­ing to Bilqis they were fools. They refused to take the pledge to forego faith, unwill­ing to sign away their gods. Bilqis had been will­ing.

May­or Good­will sought only to enforce the laws that already exist­ed, under which Sec­tor Five would cease to be a safe haven for the faith­ful. Start­ing at the begin­ning of the com­ing year every­one would be forced to sign the pledge of faith­less­ness or take their life to the hin­ter­lands, eke out a life there on the vast bar­ren plains. Bilqis fig­ured that when that time came, plen­ty of peo­ple would let go of their notions of pride and sub­mit. No num­ber of riots or fires was like­ly to stop Goodwill’s plans to cleanse Aju­tine, to pre­vent anoth­er dis­as­ter like that of 2035, to allow anoth­er Bilqis Har­ban, sword of the peo­ple, to be cre­at­ed.

Weav­ing through vehi­cles jammed at the inter­sec­tion Bilqis crossed to the oppo­site side of the street. Half a block up she stopped at the cart of a street ven­dor and bought a sand­wich of dried meat and onions and cheese wrapped in soft yeast­less bread. She took a bite of the sand­wich, unaware until that moment just how hun­gry she had been..

Not pro­tein meal,” she stat­ed and enquired at once. She hadn’t eat­en real ani­mal flesh since leav­ing Sec­tor Five. Every­where else such fare was con­sid­ered parochial.

The ven­dor unabashed­ly took her in from head to foot as he spoke. “Course not. I only sell real meat.” He point­ed to the fad­ed writ­ing on the umbrel­la over his cart.

What kind of meat is it?” She took anoth­er great mouth­ful.

He held up a fin­ger as if struck by sud­den inspi­ra­tion. “Now that’s the ques­tion, isn’t it?” He didn’t elab­o­rate fur­ther but he did extend his hand. “You owe two bills for that sand­wich. Four if you’d like anoth­er.”

Bilqis paid the old ven­dor and left. Three blocks east, Bilqis turned into an alley. It was dark and buffered the clois­ter of nois­es from the street. She found the door at the very end of the alley where it butted up against a brick wall.

Bilqis knocked three times, wait­ed five sec­onds and then knocked twice. Sec­onds lat­er the door inched open, but Bilqis could see lit­tle more than a sin­gle glassy eye as it looked out at her.

Who?” demand­ed the dis­em­bod­ied voice.

Bushrah.” Bilqis crossed her arms. “She here?”

The door eased open a bit more and a face, mid-teens and male, emerged from the dark­ness. “Show me,” he said nod­ding.

Bilqis unzipped her jack­et and pulled down the col­lar of her shirt to expose the tiny black fist tat­tooed just beneath her col­lar­bone. He flashed the beam of a hand torch onto her face and then low­ered it to the mark on her chest. His hard angu­lar face soft­ened beneath the weight of naked respect. “Band­ed in red,” he said, awe chok­ing the tim­ber of his voice, fur­ther betray­ing his youth.

Her mem­o­ry of that tat­too was strong. Her broth­er Taha had drawn it him­self, the nee­dle loaded with ink laced with the oil of the atarahu. “So that you’ll nev­er for­get the pain of our peo­ple,” he’d told her. The tat­too had burned beneath her skin for months after it had healed. The very mem­o­ry revived the old tat with stabs of prick­ly heat.

The black fist was the sym­bol of The Walls the largest and most fierce of the Sec­tor Five cabals. The black fist rimmed with red indi­cat­ed a mem­ber of high rank. In the case of Bilqis, it was not she who had pos­sessed a high rank, but her broth­er Taha. He had ensured more than her safe­ty with that red line. He’d guar­an­teed her pro­tec­tion. She was prac­ti­cal­ly roy­al­ty among The Walls, untouch­able.

Who wants Bushrah?” he asked, back to busi­ness.

Bil­lie,” she said reclaim­ing the nick­name she hadn’t used since leav­ing Sec­tor Five.

He pushed open the door and sig­naled for her to enter ahead of him. “Okay Bil­lie,” he said eyes flick­ing back to the area below her left col­lar­bone, “I’ll take you to her.”