Birthright Armenia, Musings

[Blog] Here I am in Armenia

BIRTHRIGHTHEADER

By the time this post goes up (and assuming I’ve done my math right*), I will have been in Armenia for almost two full days. Which probably means that I will have cycled through at least five more complete sets of emotions in addition to all the ones I’ve already felt. I will also, I hope, be slightly less sleep deprived and more able to write coherently, but I’ll save that for next week’s blog. This week, I’ll just have to revel in all the giddy thoughts running through my head.

And “giddy” really is the best way to describe it. Giddy and a little fuzzy and not quite sure that this is all real and so very glad that it is. Between packing and good-byes and more packing** and then the actual travel, I haven’t had much time to stop in the last week. Now, though, it’s all taken care of. Or not, and the world didn’t end. I can stop and breathe and look around and grin like a maniac every time it hits me that I’m finally in Armenia. Quite literally on the other side of the world. Getting ready to learn and get involved and even just live.

It was around 1am when my plane landed in Yerevan, so I didn’t get to see much from the air beyond the pattern of the lights. I spent the trip to the home of my wonderful host family doing my best to sound out as many words in Armenian as possible as they flashed by outside the car window, which was simultaneously encouraging (I could recognize and even understand a few!) and faintly unnerving. For every word I could read, there were a hundred more I couldn’t. To say the least, I have a lot of work ahead.

And speaking of the language, it is, for me, a strange feeling to look around a busy street and know that a large percentage of the people all around won’t necessarily understand you. I’ve traveled only a little before this, and that was to the UK/Ireland. This is an entirely different ball of wax.

So far, it’s all been a lesson in humility as well. There’s so much of this I couldn’t have done (and won’t be able to do) on my own. Again, see note ** down below. But it’s more than that. It’s the cousin who encouraged me relentlessly to apply for the program and is helping me around the city now that I’m here. It’s my boss who reminded me until I listened that this is a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. It’s having to accept that right now, I need the help, because I don’t speak the language, don’t know the metro/bus systems, don’t know where to find anything or what to avoid. It’s having to recognize that in some ways, I’m about as self sufficient as a little kid.

And, weirdly enough, I’m okay with that. Most of the time.

That’s all I’ve got for now, save that Yerevan is a beautiful city, and I can’t wait until I’m awake enough to explore it. There will definitely be pictures, starting with a couple down below. A quick note: as you’ve probably already guessed, there won’t be a short story going up to this week, as my time got eaten by international travel. I do have one started, and I hope to be able to finish it over the weekend, but you know what they say about the best laid plans. Either way, it’s time for me to drag myself off to bed in the hopes of wounding the vile beast jet lag. Until later!

 

History Museum of Armenia

 

A view from Republic Square

 

 

* If I haven’t, I blame jet lag and entirely too many hours (about twenty) spent on planes. And if you point out that the two of those are basically the same thing… you’re right. I’ll blame that on the jet lag as well.

** I haven’t had to move for five years. To say I’m out of practice on packing would be a severe understatement. I would have been in a world of hurt were it not for everyone who helped me pack and move out and gave me a place to store everything that I didn’t take with me, and I’ll never be able to thank them all enough. Friends, if you are reading this, thank you so much. You saved me from myself.

Musings

[Blog] How I Learned To Write

HEADER

My mom tells me that I began showing a definite interest in writing while I was still quite small. Some of my fuzziest memories involve a few pieces of paper either taped or stapled together in a simple binding and stored in an empty check box. They contained the various tales that my young self wanted to tell, and though I couldn’t tell you many details now, I do remember that I was particularly proud of one featuring a family of rabbits who lived in a burrow under a hill, and that my mom helped me with the illustrations.

I don’t believe I ever really stopped writing after that. There were hiatuses, certainly, and it’s only been recently that I’ve actually made good progress on actually finishing stories on a regular basis, but I never stepped completely away from it. I can trace a lot of that directly back to the unfailing support I got from my parents and my teachers. My mom gave gentle encouragement and countless books to read. My dad gave feedback and pointed out things that could be better. One teacher in particular let me do an independent study focused on creative writing during my senior year of high school– which basically meant that I ended up reading an anthology or two of short stories and got to get school credit for doing NaNoWriMo.

In an earlier post I waxed nostalgic on the effects online role-playing had on my literary impulses, so I don’t need to go into great depth on them again here. That being said, roughly four years of daily writing certainly played a part as well, though personal projects tended to fall by the way side during that time. In a way, it was like training for the big fight or the big game. Practice the basics, over and over. Practice them until you don’t have to think about them. Practice them until they come off your fingertips on their own. Grammar. Descriptions. Tone and cadence. All the little building blocks for making words paint a story.

 

During college, I took a couple of writing classes. One was just the basic sort of thing, nudging me in the right direction and giving me a chance to get all sorts of feedback. It helped me see the areas I tend to have the most problems (pacing and plot) but didn’t necessarily give me the tools I needed to fix those problems. And then there was the screenwriting class.

Everything we learned in class was something that I had, ostensibly, learned or at least heard before– with the possible exception of the overwhelming importance of structure. What I definitely knew was that stories needed a beginning, a middle, and an end. Or at least, I thought I knew that. What I didn’t know was that in addition to having a beginning, middle, and end, all three parts had to work together and feed into each other. Stop laughing. I know that’s Writing 101.

For whatever reason (I put it down to my professor’s years and years of experience with the subject and his steady patience and care for his students, personally), it finally clicked. Beginning, middle, end. Problem, complication, resolution. Chase your character up a tree, throw rocks at them, get them down.

Looking back, I know I couldn’t have made it this far on my own. I seem to have been born with the writing bug, sure, but without my parents, my friends, and my teachers, there’s no way I would have been able to grow and learn enough to get where I am now. Or even how to go forward from here. And, I’m sure, there’s a dozen other influences that aren’t coming quite as readily to mind, though I’ll remember them as soon as I upload this post.

So, thank you. To everyone. And to those of you reading, too, because you’re a part of the journey as well. Even in the two months since starting this blog and setting a schedule for regular updates, I’ve noticed myself getting (I hope!) better more quickly and in ways I wouldn’t have necessarily expected. It’s a wild ride, and with any luck it’s just getting started.

Musings

[Blog] On the Magic of Deadlines

HEADER

There’s a certain thrill in a deadline, in having a specific point in time by which you must finish something or fail. And, for better or worse, I’ve always gotten along with said deadlines fairly well. Give me a deadline, and I will get more done than I ever thought possible.

Unfortunately for my stress levels, these bouts of productivity tend to happen either the night before or the morning of. I cannot count the number of essays I completed just before they were due, writing them in a rush of panic and sudden clarity. The sad thing is, the few I did write sensibly, over the course of several days, almost invariably turned out to be of poorer quality than the ones that poured out in one great flood. (Much of that, I suspect, may come down to lack of practice, but the point still stands.)

On a broader, less chaotic level, just having specific deadlines means I’m far more likely to finish things. Before I started this blog, I had set myself the goal (a deadline, perhaps?) of writing every day*. My target wordcount varied a little depending on outside circumstances, but generally landed between 100 and 350 words. It was fantastic! As I began to write regularly, whether or not I really felt like it, the words began to come more and more easily. I made progress in my stories, and it took less coaxing to get the words down on the page.

The problem was, I just had to write a certain number of words. Any words. I made sure they were fiction, but beyond that, it really didn’t matter. I could play around with a new story or fiddle with an old one. I could painstakingly carve out the next tiny segment of my current novel, or I could poke at a completely new idea that had just wandered into my head.

And then I started this blog.

Suddenly, I didn’t just have to write, I had to write complete stories and blog posts, and I had to write them in time to post them on schedule. It’s a self-set schedule, I grant you, but somehow, that almost made it worse. And so, I wrote: mini-essays, short stories, random musings. The one thing they have in common is the fact that they all need to be self-contained, complete thoughts. No more writing the first 250 words that I can coax from the ends of my fingers for me! (At least, not until I’ve done my work.)

I’m not going to lie– I’m only a couple of months in and it’s already hard. It takes a level of discipline that I don’t quite have yet, which would explain why I’ve ended up staying up until 5am, begging my darn story to just finish itself already. Hopefully, it’s going to get easier. I expect it to. In some ways, I need it to, since the human body can only survive on coffee and adrenaline for so long.

In the meantime, though, I’m just going to enjoy the fact that I’ve completed more short stories in the last few weeks than I had for months before.

 

 

* Or rather, almost every day, as I quickly found that taking Sundays off meant that I was far less likely to burn myself out.

Fiction (Short)

Grey Dog Inn

GREYDOGINN

It was winter, and the Prince’s men were far away. Under the low roof of the North Forest Inn, Revi moved back and forth between her cooking fire and a few woodsmen who had braved the cold evening and the driving snow, bringing them hot stew and wooden mugs full of her best brewed ale. They responded with cheers and toasts to her health, and the sound of their talk and laughter filled the low, smoky room.

“Here’s to Revi, queen among innkeepers!”

“May her barrels never go empty and her stew never grow cold.”

The woman grinned over her shoulder, flinging back her still dark hair as she danced back towards the kitchen. “Keep bringing me wood for my fire and silver for my coffer, Bram, and you know they never will!”

They met her words with shouts of approval, raising their mugs and high before setting to with a will. For just an instant, the room was quiet. Flames snapped in the hearth. Spoons scraped on bowls. Someone called out at the door.

If the sound had come at any other time, it would have drowned beneath the roars of merriment. It was a quiet noise, a small noise, just a low call that wavered in the cold. Revi stopped on her way and turned back to look at the door.

“Boys, did you leave someone outside?”

The oldest of the woodsmen paused and shook his head. “No, marm. It was just the four of us today.” He lowered his mug to the table. “You heard someone?”

“I heard something,” said Revi.

All the woodsmen grew quiet, glancing to the door and burying themselves in their food, leaning in over the table as if to wall themselves away. Revi pulled a heavy stick from its place on the wall as she continued toward the door and gripped it with one hand as she reached for the latch with her other.

Cold air and powdered snow fell inside as soon as the door swung open, and the innkeeper frowned into the night and white storm. She found nothing there she had imagined. No ghosts, no monsters, no soldiers waiting for half an excuse. Nothing at all, she thought, until she looked a little farther and saw the dark figure fallen on the path just beyond the light that spilled past her and into the night. It was already half buried in falling snow.

“Bram! Lucas! Get over here and help me! Some poor fool was out traveling tonight.”

Chair legs scraped on the floor. Rough voices muttered wariness. The two men she called joined her at the door and ventured into the cold with her, towards the still and snowbound visitor.

It was a man, wrapped in a woolen cloak that was stiff with cold. His brown hair stuck to his face and his eyes were mostly shut. He barely shivered, barely had a voice to lend to his words as he whispered his thanks again and again while Bram and Lucas hoisted him upwards and draped his arms over their shoulders. Revi went ahead and chased the others away from the fire, pulling an empty chair close and ordering the men to bring their burden forward.

“Set him there. Get him some strew. Quickly!” She cleared the way. “Roosh, go to the back and fetch my cloak from my room. The one on the end!”

They all obeyed. The half frozen stranger sank into the chair, leaning heavily on his rescuers. He made no argument as his icy cloak was pulled from his shoulders or his snowy boots from his feet. His hands shook more violently than before and closed around an offered bowl full of hot food. It took him several seconds more before he could wrap his fingers around the spoon and lift it to his blue lips and hungry mouth.

Roosh returned with the demanded cloak and Revi snatched it from him and warmed it by the fire for just a moment, just enough to heat it above the temperature of the room before she draped it around the stranger. He shuddered as sudden heat returned to his bones, and he groaned quietly.

“There,” said Revi. “Good. Eat that and then you can tell us who you are.”

The stranger nodded and managed to swallow a spoonful of stew. It was enough to satisfy Revi for the time being, and she breathed out a quiet sigh before smiling her thanks to the woodsmen and waving them gently away so that the visitor might have a moment to himself. They went, returning to their bowls at the table nearest the fire and sliding them to its far side so that they could sit and still watch the newcomer.

If he noticed or minded his audience, he gave no indication. Instead, he focused on his bowl and all the little movements required to lift each bite to his mouth. It seemed to grow easier for him after a while, requiring less effort to keep from spilling until the simple movements came to him naturally and easily once again.

Revi gave a short, satisfied nod. “That’s a bit better,” she said. “You look less like death, my friend.”

The stranger paused and managed a wry smile. “I feel less like death,” he said. His voice cracked and rasped. “Thank you.”

“Consider it our pleasure,” said Revi, and her own face wrinkled with warmth and welcome. “That being said, now that you’re a bit warmer, perhaps you’ll tell us who it is we’ve rescued? I can’t imagine a man could travel far in this weather.”

Another wry grin. “Ah, yes,” he said. “A man would have trouble with it, that’s certain.”

Revi waited for him to continue, and a pointed look glimmered in her eyes until the visitor continued speaking.

“No hiding for the traveler here, then.” He pronounced the words lightly, though they fell from his lips with a certain seriousness.

Bram and his companions looked over from their own table again and allowed their curiosity to trail across their faces. The stranger chuckled when he saw them.

“You can try, certainly,” said Revi, “but I hope you won’t. We’re friendly folk here, and I think there’s no need.”

The stranger laughed again, low and gravely in his throat, and he paused before speaking. “I won’t, then,” he said, slowly, “though it’s nothing so remarkable. I’m Eriat, just a traveler who misjudged the road north.” He shrugged and spooned another bite into his mouth, chewing it and savoring it longer than he needed to before swallowing it down.

“Just a traveler?” asked Revi as the quiet began to stretch on a little.

The man smiled again and nodded. “Just a traveler.”

A careful glint flashed in his eyes, though it faded quickly. Revi saw it, but there was nothing she could do with it. And the man seemed simple enough. Just a traveler. Just a guest caught in the cold and half frozen to death. She filled his bowl again when he finished, and he thanked her warmly and profusely.

 

He stayed at the inn for several days, helping where he could and keeping out of the way when he couldn’t, always keeping one eye on the door. The harsher weather that had caught him days before let up, bit by bit, until the grey sky hung less heavy and the falling snow eased and stopped. More guests visited the inn. Shepherds and woodsmen, a few travelers whose business took them along the long North Road despite the season. Revi served hot food to those who came and prepared warm beds to those who stayed, and short, cold days passed.

On the fourth day after Eriat’s arrival, on an evening that saw no guests, Revi joined the stranger in front of the fire. They sat together for a while, Revi sighing and leaning back and resting her feet, Eriat staring into the low, orange flames and watching as they flickered on a half burned log.

“So, my friend,” said Revi. “What was it that brought you here?”

Eriat kept looking at the fire for a while, and its light reflected in his eyes. Finally, he glanced over at Revi. “I was traveling,” he said. “Just traveling.”

“You don’t seem anxious to be on your way again,” said Revi. Her words were gentle, and instead of looking at the man she stared into the fire as well.

“The weather is still cold,” he said. “I can finish my journey once the way is a little more hospitable.”

“Most would have waited for that before starting.”

Eriat laughed, faintly. “My business was urgent.”

Revi turned to him with a quick grin. “Not so urgent as that, I think.”

The stranger grunted. “Perhaps not.”

They let the conversation lull for a while, listening instead to the dying cracks of the fire and the hiss of the wind through the needles of the dark evergreens. Revi chuckled.

“We could sit here for many more nights than this before you told me where you’ve actually come from.”

“Ah, perhaps,” said Eriat, and he paused for a while before continuing with a clever grin. “Or perhaps I’m exactly what I’ve said I am. Just a traveler who made a poor decision regarding the timing of his journey.”

Revi snorted.

Eriat’s grin remained. “You can believe it or not. It won’t make it any more or less true.”

“No, I suppose not,” said Revi. “But then, that cuts both ways, doesn’t it?”

The next days continued in much the same way. A trickle of visitors, more or less steady, kept them busy much of the time, and chores filled most of their remaining time. Their routine was simple and pleasant, and Revi appreciated the company almost as much as she did the help, and it remained so for almost two weeks.

Then, a shift in the weather brought a warmer wind and the roads that had been difficult to pass opened once again. With them came more visitors to the inn, and the quiet hum of three or four voices on the busiest of evenings was replaced by the songs and enthusiastic roar of a full dozen guests.

The soldiers came later, well after sundown.

The sound of their marching tramp on the road gave them away before they could be seen, but that seemed to be their intention. It seized the attention of the merrymakers in the inn, silencing their songs and their laughter. Those who ate hunched over their plates. Those who drank clutched their mugs closer to their chests. Every eye lowered. Every back turned. Eriat was with Revi in the kitchen, and in the instant before the soldiers came through the door, she saw that his face blanched pale and his calm frame went rigid.

There were four of them, all armed and draped in the Prince’s blue and silver. Revi felt a a familiar, uneasy twist make its home in her gut, coiling and sliding and waiting for inevitable trouble. She stepped out to greet them anyway.

“Good evening, sirs,” she said. “You look like you’ve traveled some way. Find a seat by the fire and I’ll bring you meat and drink to warm you.”

The leader of the soldiers stopped in front of Revi. “No, thank you, goodwife. We are not here for your food.”

He motioned for the three who followed him to move throughout the room, which they did, looking at the faces of each of the guests as they passed. The knot in Revi’s stomach twisted again.

“We’re here looking for a traitor to the Prince, a man called Taire. Have you seen him? He’s a man of about your age, mousy haired, dark eyed. He fled from us at Kedon about two weeks ago after we attempted to arrest him for stirring up the Prince’s subjects.”

“I don’t know of any men named Taire,” said Revi. She did not move as the soldiers continued to make their way around the room, and they were forced to step around her. She remembered the frightened look that had rushed across Eriat’s face, and she kept herself from even glancing in his direction. The description was vague enough. It could be him. It could be almost anyone.

“He might have called himself by a different name,” said the soldiers’ leader, a cold-eyed sergeant. “Do you remember seeing anyone who might be the man we’re looking for?”

“You’ll forgive me, sir, but over the case of any given week I’m sure I see four or five men that might match that description.”

Behind her, Revi heard the soldiers’ boots still crossing the floor. Tromping past the tables. Moving towards the kitchen.

“Anyone you’ve never seen before? A stranger, perhaps?”

Revi opened her mouth and cast about for an answer. She never had a chance to give it. A shout came from behind as one of the soldiers caught sight of Eriat in the kitchen and gave a cry. The soldiers all rushed to the back. Their leader pushed Revi aside as he joined them. A terrible crash and splatter and clang shattered through the room as Eriat grabbed the big cooking pot, still half full of broth and meat and hurled it at the soldiers advancing towards him.

It bought him an instant. And instant was all he needed. He rushed past his attackers, shoving them violently aside, narrowly missing the blades that slipped from their sheaths to hunt for his flesh. He bolted past the tables, flung himself towards the door, out and away to vanish in the night and snow. The soldiers gave chase, rushing back out after him and leaving the aftermath to the inn.

Within a moment, all of Revi’s guests were gone. Some muttered apologies. Others offered looks of sympathy. Every one of them rose and slipped out through the door and away from the inn. The soldiers would return. The soldiers always would return. But perhaps they had not noticed them, had not marked their faces. So it was that Revi found herself alone, sitting in an empty inn and waiting to see if fate meant to come calling.

It did not come. Not that night. The soldiers came back, empty handed and asking a thousand questions and breathing threats, but they did not act on them. When they left, she bolted her door and went to her bed and fell asleep, leaving the dishes and the cleaning until the morning.

The next day was quiet, devoid of guests and company. She cleaned and set the inn back in order. The day after that was much the same, and she gathered wood and made a little food in case someone should brave the winter and the danger of the Prince’s men. No one did.

On the third day, a few visitors came creeping back. Bram was the first, faithful if sheepish, though he did not stay long. Others came after, and each successive day brought more and returned things to the normalcy that had been before.

On the ninth day, the soldiers came back, asking more questions that could not be answered, and the cycle started over once again. The same happened six days after that, and then eleven days after that, and on and on. The shepherds and trappers and woodsmen who frequented the inn learned the pattern, such as it was, and most stopped avoiding the North Forest Inn in the days following such a visit.

There was the dog, too. It was a big creature, shaggy and grey and a little dirty. Revi found it on the steps leading up to the inn door almost a month after the soldiers’ first visit. She paused a moment and looked at it, eyeing the lanky canine before leaving it alone. It was still there when Bram arrived that night, and if a few scraps of food made their way outside, it might not have been by accident.

And the dog stayed. “I think he thinks he’s guarding you,” said Bram, chuckling a little to himself.

Revi grimaced. “He looks to me like he’s mostly just sleeping his days away,” she said, but giblets and dry bread crusts and other scraps continued to make their way to the porch. After a while, she wasn’t sure when, she even caught herself reaching down to scratch behind the animal’s ears when she passed by. And on a particularly cold night, she let the dog inside to sleep beside the fire.

“You seem to have warmed to him,” said Bram.

“Hush, you,” said Revi.

 

So it continued until the snow began to melt and the air began to warm. Almost two weeks had passed since the last visit by the soldiers, and Revi almost allowed herself to believe that things might return to the way they had been before. Bram came by less often, busy as he now was with traps and hunting, but when he did return he brought fresh meat and Revi welcomed him with open arms.

The dog had begun to look almost respectable, or at least as respectable as a shaggy canine could. He had no name; Revi only called him the Dog. Even without a name, visitors to the inn knew to expect him, and a few seemed to visit specifically to see him.

He would vanish now and again, disappearing for most of a day or even several days at a time. No one ever saw him go, and when Bram once tried to track him out of curiosity, he lost the trail before it led anywhere in particular. But he always came back, and it seemed wisest to consider it more a mystery than a puzzle.

Revi was outside the last time he returned. It was a warm day, the warmest yet that spring, and she had a tub of wash to hang up to dry. She had emptied half of it when the dog trotted up, bumping her hand with his nose as he went by and slipped inside the open inn door as if to hide inside.

The soldiers arrived only half an hour later. There were five of them marching in line behind the same sergeant who had led the first group during the winter. His eyes were still cold.

“Did you miss me, goodwife?”

Revi frowned. “No, I’m afraid I can’t say that I did. But what can I get for you?”

“The same thing I asked for the first time I was here, perhaps? You know where the man called Taire is.”

Revi stiffened as a chill spun its way down her spine. “I don’t, sir.”

The sergeant took a step towards her, and she only held her ground through a fierce act of will.

“I’m sure you do,” he said. “We’ve tracked him here.”

She swallowed once. “That can’t be possible. No one has come here since last night, and I know each of those men. None of them are called Taire.”

The sergeant stepped forward again until he fairly towered above her. “I’m not talking about last night, woman. He was in Kedon this morning, wreaking his havoc.”

“And I’m telling you that no one has arrived here today, not from Kedon or anywhere else,” said Revi. Her heart thumped and leaped in her throat, but she reached out to push past the man anyway.

He caught her her wrist in a tight grip. “I wonder,” he said. “Are you perhaps a sympathizer with his rebellion?”

She yanked her hand away and stepped back. “I know nothing of any rebellion,” she said.

The sergeant moved to follow her, only to stop as a sudden, deep bark sounded out from the door of the inn. The dog stood there, hackles raised and teeth bared, staring down at the soldiers with a ferocity in his eyes too intelligent to be only animal.

“A skin-changer,” hissed the sergeant, and he cursed. “Kill him!”

The five soldiers following him jumped forward, their blades out, bearing down on the single, shaggy creature. The dog barked again, then a third time, and he snarled and growled. He charged between the legs of the nearest man just as one of the swords flashed down towards him. He bounded back and forth, always keeping just inches away from death. He broke from the gang surrounding him and charged at the sergeant, gathering himself and leaping and bearing the man to the ground before snapping at the man’s neck with his teeth and bolting back down the path and vanishing down the road.

Three of the soldiers gave chase. Two stopped to help their fallen leader, taking him inside the inn and demanding that Revi render aid. She did so, enough to stop the bleeding and keep him alive until a more skilled healer could see to his needs. They took him away before the end of the day, commandeering a cart from a nearby farm so that they could take him back to Kedon more easily.

Revi never saw him again She never saw Eriat or the big dog again either, but months later a nameless traveler heading north spent the night at the inn and handed a folded letter to the innkeeper without more than a word or two of explanation. She read it later and exchanged a word or two with Bram the next night, and though neither one spoke of it after that, they would share a smile from time to time. Revi changed the name of the inn as well, though she never gave an explanation. Those who had frequented the inn during that winter, though, could guess why the sign that hung above the door was repainted with the image of a shaggy grey canine.

Musings

[Blog] Packing

HEADER

Last night, over the course of several hours, I started the process of packing up in preparation of moving out of my apartment. More specifically, I started packing my books (the most important things come first, of course). As I did so, two thoughts struck me. The first was that my bookshelves (and tables and various other flat surfaces) held a lot more books than I thought they did, and I’m slightly concerned about fitting them all into the boxes I have on hand. The second was the deep, half ecstatic, half frantic realization that I really, truly am about to spend the next four months in another country.

Pictured: five boxes full of books. Not pictured: three additional boxes, just as full.

There’s something about packing that is remarkably final. It is, if you’ll allow me to wax melodramatic for a moment, a physical embodiment of imminent change. I’ve lived in my current apartment for more than five years, but in less than three weeks I’ll leave it for the last time, and it will no longer be “home” to me– a strange thought.

Upon further consideration, I also realized that it’s the packing of my books specifically that has me feeling this way. I can pack clothes and computer without anything seeming quite so empty. But take away my books and leave my shelves all bare? That’s when you know that something is really going down.

Lest I sound like I’m slipping into melancholy, though, let me say that I’m almost giddily excited. It feels a little like it did when I was getting ready to leave for college, or like it did a few years later when I spent a semester abroad. Everything is new. Anything is possible. I have only the faintest idea of what to expect, and, despite what the over-cautious voice in the back of my head is trying to tell me, it’s going to be a wonderful, fantastic adventure.

I think I feel a little bit like Bilbo Baggins.

Updates

[Update] August 2017

HEADER

Hey all!

First, thanks for being a part of this first month of blogging! All of you following me here on the site and over on Facebook are such a huge encouragement, and you mean the world to me. I’m definitely looking forward to keeping up with the blog and the stories and seeing what comes of it! Other than that, I just wanted to give you all a quick update on what I’ve been working on the past month, and what’s coming up next.

So! July!

Aside from The Ethan Lindsay Job and Wisp Night, I’ve also been working on the third chapter of my rewrite of The Seven. It’s been going a little slower than I’d like, though I’m definitely making progress and I think it’s getting to the point where the chapter is doing what it needs to be doing to set the stage for the rest of the story. Because of the size of the cast, there’s a lot of introductions that need to be done, preferably in a way that also sets the scene for later as well– you know, basic good writing– which keeps proving a little more difficult than I expect it to, mostly because I have too many ideas and haven’t yet figured out how to narrow them down.

That being said, I think I’m getting close, and once I get this chapter squared away, I’ll have six of my main characters all set to go, and my current idea is to have number seven show up a bit later anyway. This means that I should be able to start digging into more of the plotty and exciting bits shortly, which I am definitely looking forward to. Everything’s better when you get to slay monsters!

For August, I’ll continue chipping away at The Seven, and I expect to be able to finish chapter three and get at least a little way into four as well. All the battling with it last month has left me with a much clearer idea of the beginning/middle/end sequence for the chapter, and once that gets figured out the actual writing tends to flow a bit easier. So, I’m hopeful!

I’ll also keep following the same schedule of “Friday blog, new short story every other week,” with the next story due early next week, so keep an eye out for that! I’ve got ideas for another fantasy standalone and potentially another Tanner and Miranda adventure, both of which have me excited. Additionally, my grand adventure to Armenia begins at the end of this month, so we’ll see how that balancing act goes. Ha.

That’s it for now! Thanks again for coming by, and please be sure to let me know if you’ve got any questions or comments by posting below! I’ll be back on Friday with a new blog. Until then, all the best and have a fantastic week!

Musings

[Blog] Battering Rams

HEADER

I am a huge proponent of brute forcing your way through writer’s block.

Some days, you just want to write. The words are coming and you like them and the story is unrolling before you in all its glory. Some days, you think it’s going to work out like that, only to have it all melt away as soon as you put your hands to the keyboard. You know the ideas are still there. They’re just out of reach. And then there’s the days when you feel like this whole writing business is absolutely nuts, you’re a hack, and why did you ever think you could do it?

And then, sometimes, that last kind of day stretches out into that kind of week. Or even that kind of month– or longer. Writing anything feels like pulling teeth, or pushing on a locked door, or trying to convince your cat that she should come cuddle with you. It’s awful, and it makes you wonder whether it’s worth all the trouble.

Which brings us back to the battering ram method of pushing through writer’s block. As a little background, I do my best to write two hundred fifty words six days a week. I can tell you right now that there are days that sitting down and doing it is the last thing I want to do. Maybe my mind is just wandering. Maybe everything I do manage to get onto the page feels trite and shallow. Maybe the last ten ways I’ve tried to start a scene have fallen flat, and I’ve already got a sinking feeling that Attempt No. 11 is going to do the exact same thing.

The only reliable way I’ve found to get myself past all that is to just sit and write. I can’t guarantee the quality. I can’t guarantee that the scene will suddenly sublimate into something wonderful. I certainly can’t guarantee that it will get easier to write on any given day. But I can guarantee that I keep writing. Despite the horrid, stuck feeling and everything that comes with it, I still have raw words that can be used, formed, and edited. Or I’ve crossed another narrative path off the list, which means I’m one try closer to finding the one that will actually work.

I can hardly take credit for this idea, of course. Many writers far better than myself have said something similar many times before; in particular, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, and Agatha Christie come to mind. It’s also, more or less, the concept behind NaNoWriMo. And I suppose, in some ways, it takes some of the mystery out of writing, making it seem more like mining than anything else.

But that’s okay. Because writing is like mining, and there’s a lot of dirt and much less ore. It takes work– hard work– to create. And I’m not the first person to have that thought either.

Fiction (Short)

Wisp Night

GHOSTLIGHTPATH

It was a wisp night. A fey night. Sada felt it as the sun sank and a new moon left the sky to stars and mist. She could hear it in the muted birdcalls and the way the lake below the cabin lapped against the shore. She knew it by the chill that clung to the edge of the warm summer wind and the fear that coiled tighter in her chest with every minute that passed and did not bring her sister home.

She left the cabin door open until the sun was gone, letting the last orange sunbeams spill onto the packed earth floor in patches. A fire burned low in the hearth, wavering a little and growing red. Sada pulled her shawl a little closer to her shoulders and fed another small log to the flames, then began to prepare a small stew for supper.

The whispering began as the final russet smudge faded on the horizon. It was a soft sound, dark and sing-song. It was too loud to be a breeze and more silent than a voice, and it built images in the corners of Sada’s mind that shattered when she looked too close. It hissed. It hummed. It chanted.

Sada was halfway through chopping a potato into pieces when she heard it. She dropped the vegetable and the knife and clenched her teeth in an attempt to master the dread that roared through her body. She took two measured steps to the window and cracked open the shutters just enough to peer into the gathered host of shadows.

They were there. Two burned at the edge of the path that led down from her door. Three more winked and glowed between the trees or on the lakeshore. More kept themselves half hidden in the fog. One wavered only yards away. They were tiny balls of light, white or pale blue, hovering two or three feet above the ground. The whispering came from them.

Sada hissed through her teeth and pulled the shutter back and latched it shut. Her heart thrummed and pulsed in her throat. She reminded herself that she had known they would come. She forced her breaths to slow.

It would be alright. Eska knew not to follow them. She would not follow them. They deceived but never lied. She could defeat their tricks.

She’s still out here, said the whispers. She’s with us, out here.

Sada ground her teeth. It would be alright, she told herself again. Eska would not follow them.

The path from Trasliy is a long one. There’s a thousand places we can confuse her, turn her.

Sada went back to the table and took the knife and the half cut potato again. In a few strokes, she finished the job and dropped the pieces into the pot that hung above the fire.

She has to come back through the darkwood. How well does she know the way? There are forks she should not follow.

A handful of grain, pinches of herbs and spices. It all went into the pot.

She has to come back through the marshes. What if she misses the road, even by a little? The bog comes so close in places.

A little milk to finish it. It only had to cook. It would be ready when Eska made it back.

An awful giggle pealed through the night, coming from everywhere and nowhere. Sada’s skin crawled and horror pricked her fingers. She waited for the mocking, impertinent whispers to come again. She did not breathe.

She forgot about the cliffside! It’s such a long way down to tumble!

“No!” The word burst through her teeth. A flickering showed between the shutter slats. Sada cursed herself for the betrayal of her panic.

Her leg is in such pain! She should have been more careful!

The vicious laughter came again, louder than before. White cold terror seared her chest. The wisps deceived but never lied.

Sada left the stew and snatched her cloak. She took her staff. She grabbed her lantern from the corner and lit it at the fire. She strapped her dagger to her ankle. She opened the door and slipped out to the night.

The wisps were all around, more than there had been before. They ringed the cottage, wavering, giggling, floating back and forth. Their lights left impressions on Sada’s eyes, but they offered no illumination to the ground below.

“Where is my sister?” Sada lifted her voice above the whispers and the tittering. She shouted her demand. “Tell me where she is!”

The ones who follow the wisps are lost.

Another giggle followed. Sada’s stomach knotted; bile slithered up her throat. She swallowed it back.

“Tell me where I can find her!”

We don’t undo what we have done.

“Take me to her!”

Sada let her words hang in the air, in the mist. She let their meaning echo loud.

You would follow us?

A gleeful mischief clung to the question.

“I would follow you,” said Sada. The words tasted wrong in her mouth. “If you take me to her.”

All the whispering stopped, just for an instant, and the void it left in the night was more terrible than the noise.

This is a new game. We will play it! We will lead, if you can follow.

A feeling of malevolent delight filled the air, and every light vanished. Sada was alone, with only the poor, pale light of her lantern. A second passed. Then two. Then three, four, five. And then, finally, she saw a fickle blue twinkling between a pair of trees a little way away, barely bright enough to be seen against the lantern’s glow.

She followed it. Her feet kept to the path as long as they could, but the wisp was long yards from its edge. It disappeared as she hesitated.

Her stomach dropped and twisted. Her heart leaped up her throat. She plunged off the path and forged through undergrowth and bracken to the place where it had been. When she reached it, there was nothing. And then another wisp flashed and waited farther on, even fainter than the first.

This time, she did not allow herself to hesitate. She followed, leaving the path behind. This light, too, winked away before she reached it, but not too quickly. Another, still fainter than the others took its place, and Sada almost missed it in the lantern light. Before she reached the fourth one, she extinguished her own light and followed all the rest in darkness.

The wisps were easier to see this way. They must have meant it to be so, and Sada would swear that they grew even brighter as they went, until she could have seen them through the lantern light. But she could not relight her lantern, and even if she could, the wisps would not have stayed so bright. That was not their way.

So they went. Sada tripped again and again. Her knees were bloodied. Her palms were ripped and raw. The wisps led her back and forth, never on the path, never over easy ground. They blinked here, they danced there. The route they took twisted all around, back over itself, left and right and sideways, never moving in a simple line. It moved through woods and into wetlands and out of them. It stopped in a stream and beside a bit of boggy ground. It went everywhere it did not have to go.

Exhaustion crept through Sada’s body and lurked in Sada’s heart. She continued even so. She fell and got up. She sank into mud and pulled her feet out again. She numbed herself and followed. The wisps led her one way, then back again the way they had come. They laughed when she realized what they had done.

And then they were gone. There was no warning. They gave no indication. One wisp led her across a patch of soggy earth and into darker forest. The next one never came. Sada stood in a daze, heart beating hard. She had no light, no way, no path to follow.

Her sister was not there.

She swayed and nearly sank down in despair and rage. Perhaps she would have, had her body not rebelled against it, her aching muscles complaining at the thought of bending enough to sit. It was enough to keep her standing. And standing was enough that she could start walking once again.

She had no path, but that was alright. How much more lost could she get than this? She had no direction, but that would come with morning light. She did not have her sister. She had no answer to that problem, so she walked instead, through the darkness, through the forest.

The ground disappeared beneath her, suddenly. One foot touched solid ground. Her other found a void. Sada cried out as she pitched forward, tumbling. She struck the sloping ground on the rough way down. Her shoulder, her hip, her head, her knee. She tasted dirt and blood. The world spun in shadow. She reached the bottom, stunned.

Her pulse beat deep inside her ears. Her chest ached as she breathed. She smelled loam and dirt and mud. Instead of moving, she let herself lie there, sprawled and beaten. She was still there when she heard approaching footsteps. The rush of panic was enough to set her upright. Her hand moved to her ankle and her dagger.

A low, familiar voice called out her name.

“Sada! Sada?”

The sound seemed impossible. It could not be Eska.

“Sada? Are you here?”

It could not be, but it was. The laughter that burbled up her throat broke out of its own accord, and she called out in incredulous response. “Eska?”

“Sada!”

The footsteps came closer, uneven in their rhythm but quickly nonetheless. By the time they reached her, Sada had found her own way to her feet, and when her sister found her she was standing and laughing and full of disbelief. They threw their arms around each other, and held each other tight until it felt right and safe to let go.

“I found you,” said Sada. “I followed the wisps and I found you.”

“You followed the wisps?” Eska’s voice went sharp. “Why would you do such a foolish thing?”

“You were hurt,” said Sada. “They told me. You fell down a cliff.”

Sada felt Eska’s grimace, but her voice was gentle when she spoke again. “I tripped on the road and scraped my shin,” said Eska. “That’s all. I stopped and rested for a moment and then kept going.”

“Then how did you find me?” asked Sada.

“I heard you fall. They brought you to the road– it’s only a little ways away. But you came at it from the cliff, and the fall could have broken you.” Eska hugged her tight again and breathed an easing sigh. “Don’t follow wisps, Sada. Don’t play their games.”

Sada hugged her back just as tight, burying her face in her sister’s hair. “No,” she said. “No, I won’t.” Everything was warm and safe, despite the pain and cold. Her sister was alright. “Let’s go home,” she said.

And Eska squeezed her one more time, and then they went.

Musings

[Blog] Hobbits and Droids

HEADER

There are two stories that may go a long way in explaining who I am and why I write what I write. Or at least, they provide as much of a reason as I’ve been able to find, and it seems fair to blame them for my preoccupation with daring deeds and grand adventures. In any case, I find them enjoyable enough to be worth retelling. Perhaps you will too.

Both happened long enough ago that I’m no longer certain how old I was. That particular detail is lost in the fog, so I’ll just have to make do and say that I was old enough to enjoy a good story, but young enough that I had not yet discovered most of the ones that have since influenced me the most. So, something less than ten.

The first one started with a joke, and a silly one at that. My dad, as he often did, was teasing me. And I, as I often did, was teasing him right back. On this particular day, the final volleys of our exchange went something like this:

Me: “Dad, you’re silly!”

Dad: “Who, me? No I’m not!”

Me: “Are too!”

Dad: “D2.”

Me: “…what?”

At this point, my mom figured it was high time I was introduced to a certain short, feisty, blue-and-white droid. Our family spent the rest of the afternoon watching A New Hope, and I’ve spent the rest of my life wishing I had a light saber. Thus was my introduction to Star Wars and science fiction in general.

My other memory is of a road trip and a book read aloud in the car. We were on our way to visit some relatives, and though a quick search suggests that it probably took us less than two hours to get there*, as a kid it felt a great deal longer than that. Or rather, it would have had my dad not been reading The Hobbit to us. It’s difficult to be bored when Gollum is in the front seat playing riddles in the dark.

That was the day I fell in love with Middle Earth. You can imagine my joy, then, when I found out that there was a whole trilogy besides set in the same world. My heart was still broken at Khazad Dum, of course, and my first reading of The Fellowship of the Ring took far longer than it should have, but that’s a different story. I can still say that that car trip is what kindled a deep and abiding appreciation for Tolkien and his work.

Since those days, my love of all kinds of fantasy and science fiction has only grown. I’ve seen The Princess Bride and Star Trek and Firefly. I’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia through at least twice. The Last Unicorn enchanted me- both the book and the movie. Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy both kept me up way too late on multiple occasions. All these and a hundred others are all stuck in my head and spilling over into my own imaginings, making them richer and far better than they would be otherwise. I owe a debt to all of these and more, but it all started when my parents introduced me to Star Wars and The Hobbit, which is why those two worlds will always be particularly special to me.

 

 

 

* That is, assuming I remember our destination correctly. If it was farther away, then I’ve underestimated how good my Dad is at reading out loud for extended periods of time, and I already knew he was good.

Musings

[Blog] Going Home

HEADER

“Homeland” is a powerful word.

It’s a word that speaks of ancestry and history; an old word. It’s a word that hints at a bigger story. It’s a word that must be shared, because it belongs to more than you or me. It’s a word that has prompted good and excused evil. It’s a word that demands you pay attention. It’s a word that says it knows a piece of who you are.

It’s why sites like ancestry.com are so wonderful. It’s why, when you visit Edinburgh, you can find a hundred little shops with pamphlets and pins for all the Scottish clans and septs. It’s why you’ll run across ads that claim to tell you where you’ve come from, based solely on your surname.

It’s what the Shire is to a hobbit, and why the scouring of it is so important. It’s what Rannoch is to the Quarians. It’s what Aeneas had just lost, and what he spends an entire epic poem replacing.

And in the fall, I get to visit mine for the first time.

In case my last name isn’t a dead giveaway, I am Armenian–one quarter, on my dad’s side, though the percentage isn’t important. I don’t know who said it first, but my grandfather once told me that as long as I had one drop of Armenian blood, I would be Armenian.

My heritage is something that I have always been aware of on one level or another. My dad taught me the Armenian alphabet when I was a kid, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about that part of myself. But awareness and full ownership are two different things entirely, and the latter has been a little slower in coming.

It still feels strange to say that I am Armenian-American. I’m learning the language, but I definitely don’t know it yet. I’ve studied some of the history on my own, and there are a couple of novels on my to-read list that will (I hope!) help add to my understanding of my people.

Of course, actually visiting, living, and working there for a while is going to give me an understanding that I couldn’t get any other way. Which would explain why I’m so excited. Terrified too, for sure. But mostly excited. You don’t often get to visit your homeland for the very first time.