Friday, October 9, 2015

Podcast interview and #giveaway!

The new Paper Crane Books podcast has begun. Listen to the first episode on the Paper Crane Website HERE and hear me answer all your questions about writing and literature. Make sure to subscribe for all future episodes. Sign up for their newsletter and enter for their Halloween giveaway!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Story for the Day: The Vestry

There are many customs that thrive throughout the Triumverate, some good and others not so wonderful. Sesterna has its slave trade, Marridon has its hats and its science, and Balletrim has its Saints. Being the most religious out of the three countries, its natural that such an export should carry over, but considering how their holidays are celebrated, it is a wonder that anyone should honour such a custom:

They were passing a small vestry on their way to the tradesman’s quarter, and they were just
in time to hear the dissonant tones of the bells calling out the end of service. Downcast eyes and mournful aspects accompanied the crowd of parishioners that were shuffling over the threshold, their steps in perfect time with the monotonous clang ringing throughout the marketplace.
“This is your improvement, captain?” said Bartleby, gesturing toward the vestry. “This is a disparagement on the rights of man. It is shameful that a man must prostrate himself to such an odious requiem. Man is born to liberty, intellect and the wonder of discovery are his birthright, and here are a hundred who would rather moan along to a sepulchering chant and beg a fictious entity for contrition they don’t deserve.” He snuffed, and his nosehairs writhed. “What is all this anyhow?”
“I believe it is a holiday borrowed from Belletrim, adopted by those here who wish to follow their Saints.”
“Fah! Ruderary! Adopting a form of cognitive slavery for the promise of a mythical reward—what a ridiculous way of going on in a country where a man might do anything. The manner in which people will shakle themselves…” He clicked his tongue and shook his head. “You were a freer man,” speaking to Rannig, “as a slave in the brick pits than these people are. Left to themselves, they will believe in cockleshells if it means they might have a sense of salvation.”
“Take care how you talk of them, my old friend. The Saints may come to plague you after all.”
Here was an arch look, and Bartleby glared at the captain over his spectacles.
“I invite them to come, captain,” Bartleby insisted. “Let them descend from their high boughs of moral impossibility and prove themselves, if they want to be worshipped. If I speak against them, they ought to come and smite me, or push me down a well, or make my ears sprout trees, or whatever it is such superstitiosities do by way of punishment.”
“Your ears already got branches on ‘em, Bartleby,” Rannig observed.
He browsed the incanescent enation radiating from Bartleby’s ears, and the old man flailed and tried to blow the giant away with a huff.
“You must not touch them, my dear Rannig,” said Danaco. “He is cultivating a wisened farm, to ward off any spiritual entities that wish to retaliate against him. They are beacons of reason, working to repell stupidity for miles around. They are his sagely furnishings. Only look how the sun catches in them. A gloriole for us to marvel at and for Bartleby to triumph in.”
Bartleby put his hands over his ears and glowered, hating his horay nimbus and disdaining the captain and the giant for pointing it out.
“You ought to garnish them with windchimes. They might be our musical accompaniment instead of Rannig.”
“Hang your windchimes,” Bartleby grumbled.
“That’s what the boss said to do.”
“I do not need windchimes or garnishings or anything else!” Bartleby cried, his fists shaking. “I am very well off with my books and my bathing companions.”
Rannig canted his head and gave the old man’s ear hairs an apprasing look. “Maybe you can hang a small book of ‘em, Bartleby.”
“The weight might pull them out,” said Danaco. “He should have to plait them to keep them together. There is a challenge. We should stop at the ropemaker in the market and try what can be done.”
Bartleby was very sure he should be shaving his ears from lobe to tragus by the end of the day, and watched the procession of parishioners leave the vestry in a gloom of gowls.
“Well, we had best wait and let these men and women pass,” said Danaco, nodding toward the string of black shawls shambling out of the vestry. “We are in a hurry, I grant you, but we invite ill-luck on ourselves if we should break the line of mourners.”
“What is the supposed purpose of this constructed celebration?” Bartleby asked.
“Some sort of ritual abstinence from eating, drinking, and bathing, done to reduce themselves to vestigial and regretful children, after which they go for an ablutive plunge and have a moderate feast, followed by postprandial prayers. Something to do with purification of the soul and the shedding of sins, I understand.” There was a pause, and without turning to Bartleby, the captain grinned and said, “Scowl any harder, my old friend, and your jowels will droop to your knees.” 
“No bathing or drinking—ha! What humbuggery, to starve oneself for invisible entities. All they need do, if they are in want of contrition, is to forgive themselves and get on with it. Say they’re sorry for whatever crimes they have committed, and then treat themselves to a sandwich. And so they do this every year, promise not to do the things they are only going to beg forgiveness for next year? And all this with mossy teeth and mouths crusted over with the slag of dessication?” He winced, pinched the bridge of his nose, and heaved a heavy sigh. “Why must people feel the need to invent hardships and adopt stupidities—a man has no business shakling himself when he is born free. We had best stay here, captain. The cloud of noxious microbes swarming about this uneducated horde might attempt to invade—what are you doing? No, captain! Don’t approach them! They should be hosed down and scraped before you near. Microbes, captain! Microbes!” but it was too late: the captain was approaching the sacred procession, was bowing and exchanging pleasantries with the priest standing at the door, and Bartleby dared not move any nearer the vestry for fear of nonsensical ideologies poised to occupy his brain.  
“They’re just prayin’ and not eatin’ for the day, Bartleby,” said Rannig, in a kindly hue. “They don’t have the Mallacht.”
“They might as well have the Mabhrach, or the plague, or whatever else your people consider to be infectious. Ignorance is the worst of all contagions, my boy,” Bartleby asserted, “for it is not limited to one people, as you see here, and it is caught easily by the low and credulous.”
“Well, the boss won’t bring back anything, Bartleby. He’s not either of those things.”
“Hrm, no. He is rather immune to stupidity, but he does believe in an ethereal entity and is religious in his way, and so are you--” and with a disenchanted look, Bartleby added,”-- unfortunately.”
Rannig smiled cheerfully, and Bartleby shifted away from him, wondering whether only certain types of Gods begat stupidities and whether he were susceptible to any of the nonsensical doctrines that the captain and the giant cherished.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Story for the Day: Amoebas

We're in the last stage of edits for Damson's Distress. A release date will be announced soon. In the meantime, let's watch Bartleby panic about amoebas.

Come, sir,” said the captain, pouring another cup of tea. “Tell me about this thief, and never
mind about my giant. You are not allowed to ignore me while I am sat before you. He is sitting by the window, and yet I replenish your cup.”
“Oh, yes. Thank you, sir.” Mr Bellstrode forgot the giant momentarily and sipped his tea. “The man who took my seal was a small man, dark skinned—that is to say, darker than myself, but not darker than you, Captain—Indeed, you would almost look Sesternese, if not for the ears and eyes, and perhaps your height, which is quite considerable. I have never seen a Lucentian to be so tall—that is, you seem tall sitting down. The height of your shoulders, and your structure and carriage in general—“
“My dear Mr Bellstrode,” Danaco interposed, “how you do mumble on. The man you wish for me to find?”
“Oh, yes,” Mr Bellstrode exclaimed, rousing himself. “Dark, long black hair pulled back and trailing down—and he had a man with him who was twice his height, with a great curved sword at his waist—both of them high status, I believe.”
“Truly?” The captain’s brows arched. “And what evidence is there that these men belonged to the palace?”
“I saw them roving the gardens when I arrived. The queen did not speak to them—I daresay she doesn’t speak to anybody—but her retain did speak to them—that is, he gestured them, and after the whole of the trade commission was welcomed and shown to our quarters, the two men followed me. I thought at first that they were some sort of guardian being assigned us, for that seemed perfectly natural, but after they entered the room and pushed me aside, it was too late to refute them. The larger man held me back, and the stout one took my seal and laughed at me!”
The captain looked enormously amused. “You let them in your room, without knowing who they were?”
“I did not know they were going to rob me, sir!” Mr Bellstrode cried, in a panic.
“Come, man,” Danaco laughed, pouring himself another cup of tea, “you ask to be pillaged. Fortunately they did not think to plunder your person whilst you were alone.”
“Indeed, they seemed on easy terms with the queen’s man—how could I have known that they were coming to steal something from me? A visitor to Marridon would never be treated thus!”
“But you are not in Marridon, Mr Bellstrode. Here is Sesterna,” gesturing toward the scene beyond the window, “and while these men as you describe might be pilfering without the queen’s knowledge, surely she should never act for you were she sensible of your plight.”
“The great monarch of Sesterna is a great boinard,” said Bartleby. “If she dared to move a finger to do something other than summon a footman, the whole matriarchy would perish into the sea. The only time she can be asked to actually lead her people is when being called upon to choose a new ribbon for her hat and say nonsenseical things about fashion and so forth.”
“Here, you are too severe on her, my old friend,” the captain crooned. “Was not she generous to us by inviting us to her ball?”
“Ha! She didn’t invite us so much as she allowed us to stay. We invited ourselves—well, you were invited by a client—but we were so beneath her notice that she barely noticed Rannig, though he was the largest moving landmass in the room.”
“You are only sore that she slighted you when you chose to pay your addresses to her.”
Bartleby humphed and looked offended. “A formal shake of the hand wouldn’t have killed her—well it might have, considering her views on the lower classes. The wealth of education means nothing to her—and I even suffered to put on my best hat, but nobody can ever see anything with you in the way. A gesture and a word from you, and she saw nobody else.”
“I am exceptionally well-groomed,” Danaco acknowledged, studying his arms and brandishing his mane. “I think it is hardly my doing if nobody else in the ballroom could be asked to dress themselves half so well. A dignified air, worked physique, and a well-cared for aspect is all that is required to be the envy of everyone in a Sesternese ballroom, and I did not mean to make myself a rival in any respect, but I was the only tolerable dancer there.”
Mr Bellstode looked all the surprise he felt. “You have danced with the queen, captain?”
“I may have done a gavotte with her,” was Danaco’s careless reply, “but I should never succumb to imprudence while in such expensive company. I only saved her from dancing with another atrocious partner. Her previous opposite was a fright, all left turns and stomping heels, his toes kicking out every which way. A man does not dance like an elephant when the queen is his on his arm. He strode down the middle of the room, stampeding across the floor with thundering steps, and was likely to bring down the crystal candleholders the next moment had I not politely taken her hand when she came to the top.”
Bartleby said something about Danaco’s not so much taking her hand politely as he did push the man waiting for her aside to usurp him as her partner, and cleaned his lenses with his robe.
 “I had her for the next two dances, and was very well satisfied to have her for two more, being the capital dancer she was.”
“You had her the rest of the evening, never mind the two dances,” Bartleby grumbled.
“Nay, my friend. I had her for all of an hour, you will remember. I did not keep her forever. I gave her back before the evening was over.”
“She did make an offer to have you as her frippet.”
“And a pretty piece I should have been. The delight of being a queen’s ornament is an office I should never mind having.”
The old man humphed. “If your vainity wants to dance with such a lolly-lace-mutton every day--  no, Rannig!” Barlteby cried, pulling the giant’s hand back through the window. “You cannot drink the water from the font! It is hardly clear enough, and there are leaves floating in it! This is not a mountain stream, for you to be putting your hand in whenever you want to drink. It is not a fountain with moving water. It is a stagnant pond, my boy. If you put your hand any father in, it will rot off from all the bacteria festering in that deathknell of a millpond.”
“But the fish are all right, Bartleby,” said Rannig.
“The fish, my boy, do not have the same weaknesses or biological make-up as you do. They are protected against certain pathogens that should kill you in five minutes. The fish, however, have a lifespan of all of two days and do not care about it. You are not a fish, though I do wonder if you were amphibious for a time, given your propencity to plod about without shoes whenever nobody is watching you. Who knows what contagions and diseases are in that water.”
Rannig blinked. “Who does?”
“I do, my oby!” said Bartleby, in a heated accent. “And there are a hundred and one things floating in that unmoving swill that can kill you. Excrement from the fish, micteration from the birds, dead overturned bugs everywhere! And think of the mosquitoes that have bred in it—mosquitoes, my boy, the very scourge of the north!-- and unless you wish to invite all them to breed in your sinuses and make house in your brain, you will keep your hands out of that water!”
Rannig glanced out of the window and perused the becalmed water of the pool beside him. “I don’t see any bugs, Bartleby.”
“They are there, my boy,” said Bartleby stoutly, his eye flaring fervently. “And do you want to drink what a bird has bathed in, hrm? Birds are not more innocent than insects when it comes to spreading diseases, and there are othings things besides in that plungepool of calamity. There is dirt and sludge, and perhaps a few newborn crayfish or a few newborn tadpoles swimming about. Should you like to swallow a mouthful of them and only realize too late what you have done? And at night, someone might have done his business in there, to save himself a visit to the public latrine. Who know when that water was changed last—and there are amoebas to consider, my boy! Amoebas!”
Rannig was well acquainted with Bartleby’s old friends bacteria, poison, and general uncleanliness, and while he knew what amoebas were—or at the very least had considered them with regard as to how small they were in comparison to how large he was—he did not believe they were a danger to him. He had been used to drink from the Sesternese pools before during his time as a slave in the work pits of the northwest, and thought there had been some unpleasantness at first, he was grown quite used to water there. His Frewyn mind, which according to Bartleby was comprised of a few glass marbles, accepted that there were many imperceptible lifeforms in the water, but science and demesnes were new to him and were therefore a sort of magic, something that only a rumpled old man with an unforgivable hat could make intelligible after a lecture and a few lamentations on how little Rannig knew of the sujbect. Secretly, Rannig delighted in hearing Bartleby’s ideas, laughed at his raving exclamations, and when Bartleby lauched himself into one of his great recitals on the scientific wonders of the world, which all seemed to recommend Rannig’s imminent death, the same smile wreathed his lips. It was easier to appease Bartleby than enter into an argument—which Bartleby would call a debate-- though he loved to see the old man’s ear hairs stand on end. He said a good-humoured “Aye, Bartleby,” to close the conversation and promised not to drink the water in the fountain, though magpies and butcherbirds were breeching the pool with their beaks and imbibing all the amoebas which Bartleby foresaw. He watched the reflection of the birds wavering in the surface of the water, listened to all their tinkling sounds as they splashed about, and continued wondering about amoebas and all their noxious companions as Mr Bellstrode went on.   

Monday, September 21, 2015

Story for the Day: Music

Being a musician who has sat through many a traditional session, I understand why there is so much dislike for the Livanese bombard, which is even louder than its real-realm cousin.

The pavilion was almost complete: the rugs had been laid, the cushions had been systematically stacked, the annex had been errcted, and the canopy was now tolerably well placed.
The last of the garnishings were being festooned, a frill here and a sash there, and Danaco was directing the whole from the end of the walkway, endeavouring to have his men collect and compose themselves.
“Panza, stop fiddling with the tassels and get you out your ocarina,” the captain commanded. “We will welcome my friend with music, and with nothing commonplace. You will play the Sahadin march in C, and there will be no complaints about it.”
 “Transpose it now. You have a few minutes. It might be done if you can remember the sharp. And practice your scales. I will hear you. Your notes were dreadful flat last time you did an air.”
“Where is that hand harp? I told the men to convey it from the ship five minutes ago. You shall have some accompaniment. Shanyi, you shall play it-- no, never mind about the belly dancing this time.”
There were a few disappointed sighs, as the men had already dressed in their shortened shirts and low pantaloons, and were preparing to welcome the chieftain with an enticing wobble.
“No crumhorn, if you please. I know everyone adores playing it for a lark, but the thing does sound like a dying peregrin. Put that Livanese bombard away. If I wanted to be deaf, I should ask Rannig to whistle instead.”
“The bombard, sir?” Damson asked.
“A sad trick of an instrument, made as a joke by a royal bard in Livanon who hated himself and the court. The legend states that when it was first played, it made ears bleed and eyes water. Have you never heard one, sir knight?”
“No, sir. I do not think so.”
“Take you one of them when we go to storm your king’s keep in a week’s time, and you shall deafen every guard within half a mile. You shall have to borrow some of Bartleby’s wax to save yourself the misery of such bombilating notes.”
“If it is so unpleasant, sir, may I ask why you have it?”
“It came with one of the men, and which one, no one has dared to tell me. It is kept on the ship as a reminder, a punishment awaiting anyone who tries to get Rannig to whistle.”
Damson watched as almost every member of the crew took up an instrument and began to quietly practice. “Do all the men play, sir?”
“There is no sense in not having a musical crew, Damson, else they should bore themselves when we are becalmed at sea. Bartleby plays a famous leaf flute when he can be asked.”
“I played it once, captain,” the old man sibilated, “one time! And one time does not denote a life of musical service.”
“A leaf flute, sir?” Damson asked the old man.
Bartleby looked as though he would rather not talk about it, but Rannig stepped in to fill in all the blanks in the captain’s story.
“When we were in Sesterna, we were tryin’ to lure a thief that took somethin’ from a merchant the boss was helpin’. The boss put a pan of coins on the street across from the tavern where the thief was sittin’ and made a distraction while I hid and waited for him in the alley. Bartleby took a laurel leaf, folded it between his lips, and started playin’ a tune while the boss started dancin’.”
“I am supreme at a gambol when I can be asked,” said the captain. “Our plan worked splendidly. The thief davered over to see our little display, and Rannig leapt out from the alley to squelch him.”
Damson thought he had heard incorrectly. “A leaf, sir?”
“Yes, a leaf, sir knight,” said the old man impatiently. “You will make me exemplify, but I won’t. I did it once, and never again.”
“Had you only heard him, Damson, you should have been in raptures. He played it as though all his musical powers had been waiting to be unleashed upon the world. He succeeded in ensorcelling a thief with just one song. My dancing did very little where Bartleby’s vendition of The Eager Purse did everything.”
A sly grin escaped Danaco here, and Bartleby snuffed and said it was nothing extroadinary.
“Indeed, sir, I do not know anyone else who can play a leaf, sir,” said Damson. “I should say it is extroadinary.”
 “It is the same as playing any reed instrument,” said Bartleby. “The vibration of the reed creates a sound when you blow into it, and depending where you blow, the pitch changes. It is exactly the same. A leaf is not a real instrument, however, not a real one at all. There is no skill needed to play it, and it has a finite amount of sounds.”
“But how did you know to do it, sir?”
Bartleby looked rather embarrassed. “I did it when I was a very young child and curious about the world. When one has little, one learns to do anything with what one has.” Feeling this to be a delicate subject, the old man hemmed and turned the subject. “Anyway, I will not do it anymore, and that is the end of it. There are already too many musicians in the world, or those who think they are musicians. Having musicians anywhere near you is like invliting flies to tea: they are tolerable for ten minutes, but when they begin to hover around your dinner, one wishes they would either go home or die. They are little more than a drain on the economy’s resources.”
“But, sir, we need music,” Damson implored. “It is an important part of our culture. Is not music educational, sir?”
“Learning an instrument and understanding musical theory, yes. Learning how to barely work it for the purpose of begging for coppers, no.”