Art or Craft – which matters?


It’s rounding on ten o’clock at night and I just saw this:

23. Storytelling Is The Art, Writing Is The Craft
Writing matters. It has rules. It can be artful or utilitarian, it can be languid or merciless. But it’s just the vehicle. We keep coming back to the authors we love — Atwood to Gaiman, King to Morrison — not merely because of the quality of their prose but because their stories are engaging. It’s the stories that matter. The art lives in the story. It’s the hardest and most essential part — you can write beautifully, but if the story there doesn’t sing, fuck you. The opposite is also (usually) true: the writing can be execrable, but as long as the story grips us by the nipples, we’ll buy the ticket and take the ride — and we’ll beg you for more when we’re done.

Chuck, you’re right.

Damn.

I talked about this with my brother several weeks back. We both came to writing in our lives, but for different reasons. I came to writing because I am in love with language. He came to writing because of story. We both write, but for disparate areas of focus. In this regard, I must confess that I disdain the fact that people with ugly prose still get the girls because their stories are the hit of the parade.

Don’t get me wrong; it makes sense. If Harry Potter just opened up by talking about a guy named Harry who wore glasses and was almost a teenager and wasn’t sure what to do with his life or who his friends were and was mediocre when it came to school, but he was okay at it and……

… If that were the case, that book would end up in someone’s fire or toilet paper stand. There has to be progression. Yes, I get that. You have to have something happen. In fact, it’s best if you have a whole shit ton of things happen, each one throwing the reader off, but still making sense. And on and on et cetera..

Yeah, I get it. I just think there should be something said for good writing as well. Not that it can only be good writing, because again, if your “good-writing” about nothing, then you’re giving you’re giving your keyboard a hand job, and yes, you write, but what’s the point? I’m talking about writing a good story AND you know how to write good prose. There has been a sizable handful of books which I have put down (against the raging applause of the masses on how good the story is) because I just couldn’t take the writing anymore. My go-to story is always Sanderson’s Mistborn. I got 400 pages into that book and I had given a liberal dose of grammar and good prose passes (subjective, yes, but aren’t all books subjective when they’re in individual hands?). I had to put it down.

The masters out there are masters of both. They know how to use their craft and make (as Gaiman says) good art.

I agree with you, Chuck. I don’t think it’s right necessarily, but c’est la vie. The point is, write. Writers write. As much as my readerly self doesn’t like shit prose, my writerly self lauds the fact that at least they made it to the shelf of readership. What does that say about the masses and literature? I don’t know. No, it’s not England in the 1800s anymore and this is not the literate society Simon Winchester mentioned in the beginning of The Meaning of Everything.

They want story. You’re a writer. Give them a goddamn story. Even if it’s not the story they want. Your job is to make a story. Write like a cracked-out booknana-lovin’ monkey, and give them a fucking story.

-lp

Arting Harder


If ‘to art’ is a verb (as Chuck is clearly using it), then what would be the past tense of ‘to art?’ Is it “arted?” Like, I arted in front of my wife last night while making chocolate chip pancakes? Does that really work. Well, Chucklodytes, guess what??

I wrote another 1,500+ words today! I arted so hard today, ’bout blew a fuse! It’s like those scenes in the old Rambo flicks where John Rambo (by complete happenstance, of course) comes upon a game-breaking automatic weapon and just fires until the smoke fills up the theater seats.

Yeah, that was how hard I arted.

 

Page glitter pancakes


You know what? I just pimped out my page. Added all kinds of new colors and glitter and words and shit. Added a cool little progress bar for my current work. Fuck yeah! So, Now all I have to do is work on that work and update that work and put that work into action…work, basically.

The progress bar is an idea that I took from Brandon Sanderson’s page. There’s one thing I have to say about the guy, one thing I respect greatly, and that is how much he really includes helping out other writers as a part of his craft. It’s wondrous. There isn’t much of his work that I have read (though there will be, the farther down the WoT rabbit hole I travel), but what little I have read has been mediocre. Bro suggests that I read The Way of Kings at some point in my life, but if the Stormlight Archive is supposed to be a nine-book series, there’s no way I’m starting out on that before the whole thing is over. That’s been discussed; it’s just not something I do – sort of a once-bitten-twice-shy kind of experience with Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles. Same reason I haven’t read Game of Thrones as of yet. Call me crazy, but I’m just not going to get into it.

Anywho, Sanderson has the progress bar on his page and it keeps the fans updated on where he is and what he’s got going on. Now, he’s got like three or four progress bars because he’s a professional author and that’s how his life works at present. I’m not a professional writer as of yet, but there are still things I’d like to do to get myself moving.

At the time of this writing, I have upwards of eighty seven thousand words on a page. I’m happy with that, but I don’t want it all to be stagnant. The goal is to keep moving. Sort of a Rocky thing when he talked about no one hitting harder than life (from the movie Rocky).

So, it’s about getting it done. You just stop complaining. You stop blaming. You just put in the work. It’s as easy as that.

 

 

 

You Do You


do-what-you-love

Another beauty from Mr. Wendig. When I read this this morning, I about crapped myself laughing. I love the way he puts it – art is art and there’s no one right way to do it. Just because others have done it one way does not mean that the rest of us have to do it that exact way. Just because some of us view a certain piece of art one way does NOT mean that the rest of us have to view it that particular way as well.

It’s a beautiful thing to know that when you do your art, you’re doing your art your way. Just as John Keats put it:

 

Beauty is Truth, truth, beauty; That is all there is to know and all you need to know.

 

Your art is your art. Some may like it and some may dislike it. In fact, some will like it and others will not. And if anyone criticizes you about your art, saying that it SHOULD look one way or another, or you SHOULD have done it one way or another, I agree with Chuck – they can go drink a Middle-Finger Frappacino.

Writing and publishing are two different games, and you should not go cry in a corner just because your stuff doesn’t get published. Your art was successful long before you tried to get it published – it was successful because you finished it, and you wanted others to read it.

Boom! Done. End of list.

Congratulations!

So here’s the deal. When it comes to your art, it’s yours. You own it. No one else. So, put your headphones in, turn the volume up, read Chuck’s wondrous words and again, be on your way.

(*P.S. Check out Chuck’s article below)

Have a word-filled 2016.

lp

 

————-

YOUR 2016 AUTHORIAL MANDATE IS HERE: BE THE WRITER THAT YOU ARE, NOT THE WRITER OTHER PEOPLE WANT YOU TO BE

By Chuck Wendig

 

That blog title is way too long, but fuck it.

A handful of weeks ago, some presumably well-meaning tickledick posted a comment here at the blog. It was a comment that I chose not to approve because, really, I don’t need your shit, Rando Calrissian. This blog is my digital house, and I don’t let strangers inside just so they can take a dump on my kitchen table, especially so we can all sit around, smelling it and discussing it. But the comment was a splinter under my nail, working its way up into the finger-meat. And then reading George R. R. Martin’s end-of-the-year message about not finishing the newest SOIAF also was something that crawled inside me and starting having thought-babies.

Being here on the Internet is a bit like hanging out on a clothesline — some days are sunny and warm, other days are cool and breezy. Some days it pisses rain and the wind tries to take you, and other days it’s daggers of ice or a rime of snow or smoke from a wildfire or some pervert streaking across the lawn and stropping up against you with his unwanted nasty bits.

Being on the Internet means being exposed.

You’re just out there. A squirming nerve without the tooth surrounding it.

That’s good in some ways because you’re exposed to new people, new ideas, new ways of doing things. You’re not an isolated creature here. You are an experiment being observed and are in turn an observer of countless other experiments, and that makes a subtle-not-subtle push-and-pull. But can also be erosive or corrosive — it can wear off your paint a little bit.

As a writer in particular, it has its ups and downs, too. Here, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a gaggle of ink-fingered cohorts who know what it is to do what you do. You’ll have a herd, a cult, a clan, a tribe. You’ll have smaller communities who know what it is you write or want to write, too, whether it’s young adult or epic fantasy or erotic sci-fi cookbooks. And here on the Digital Tubes, everybody is has an opinion, everybody is an expert. And that’s extra-true with writing. Other writers have their processes and their hang-ups and their wins and their losses, and they share it all. Which is, on a whole, a good thing. Information is good. Camaraderie is good.

That, though, can muddy the waters at the same time. This Person is doing This Person’s thing, and That Person is doing That Person’s thing, and Other Person is really loud about what WILL SURELY WORK FOR EVERYBODY (translation, will probably only work for people who are or are like Other Person). And advice gurgles up around your feet like rising floodwaters. Do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t say that, don’t write this, this isn’t selling, that is a no-no, publish this way, sell that way, don’t publish that other way, drink this, wear houndstooth jackets with elbow patches, drink that, snark here, snark there, with a fox, in a box, wearing socks, eating rocks, with a bear, without hair, anywhere. We have a whole lot of writers trying to figure out who they really are, and in the process, do a very good job at also telling you who you should be in order to conform to their notions of who they want to be. To confirm who they are, it’s easy for them to also confirm who you should be, too. That’s not sinister. That’s just human nature. It’s easier to become something when others are along for the ride. And it’s also the joy of confirmation bias — what worked for me confirms that I WAS RIGHT AND SO YOU ARE A HEINOUS DIPSHIT IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW PRECISELY IN MY FOOTSTEPS. I do it. You do it. Most of us do, I think.

It then gets further complicated once you have readers. Or, Uber Readers, aka, fans. Because they, too, have opinions on you and your work. They will have opinions on your process. And it’s not that they’re wrong, it’s that they’re — no, wait, they are wrong, never mind. They’re totally wrong, because they’re not writing the stories. They’re right about what they want to read and when they want to read it, but not about how to create it. It’s hard to tell someone how to do their job. It’s extra-hard to tell them how to make their art. Because process and prose and authorial intent are all intensely personal to the creator. Personal and twisted further by the pressures of creation and the potential mental stresses that come along with it — remember, a great many writers and artists also suffer from depression or anxiety or other ghosts in the gray matter.

It’s not just one type of writer over another. This is true of new writers who are just finding their way. This is true of mid-career or mid-list writers who are out there in the wilderness surviving, not sure how to get out of the forest just yet. This is true of super-successful authors who are trapped under the magnifying lens of a massively public fanbase — the sun likely focusing into a laser-hot beam upon their foreheads. All artists of every level are exposed here.

Here, now, is the comment referenced at the fore of the post:

“There is no skill floor or ceiling to being a writer. Anyone who speaks a language, who tells a story, can write. To be published is a stricter process that requires an adherence to professional guidelines and to a standard of quality that is dictated by the publishing office. That you’ve been published so many times is no small feat, and I commend you for it.

But having read Aftermath and Blackbirds, I feel that there is…a laziness to your style that you seem to be either unaware of or have come to terms with. It’s difficult to quantify, but it gives me the impression that you don’t value writing as an art. As a job, certainly. But not as a form of expression. Because otherwise you wouldn’t spend 45-90 days on a book. A soul isn’t bared in three months. Professional or no, no book you truly care for should go from start to finish that quickly.

To know an art is to break established rules in the hopes of producing a truer version of your vision. And you certainly break the rules of writing craft. In the first three paragraphs of Blackbirds you’ve disregarded flow, used inappropriate comparisons, and introduced the main character through a mirror scene. And while these things are permissible, they are not the hallmarks of someone who cherishes what he writes.

Great writing seeks subtlety. It’s the words that are unwritten, the descriptions that are inferred, the meaning that comes across through the subtext of what is explicit that writing excels at communicating. But your writing doesn’t ask me to look within myself for answers. It asks me to look no further than the page. And that, to me, is a tragedy. Because we’re all capable of greatness. But greatness comes from being dissatisfied with how things are, and with pushing the boundaries of what you believe yourself to be capable of in order to achieve your absolute best. And even then, you won’t be satisfied. You’ll push yourself further in your next pursuits, because now you’ve touched on what you’re capable of, but you won’t be satisfied.

To release your books in such a short time frame tells me that you’re satisfied, and that breaks my heart.”

I tried for the better part of a week to conjure a more cogent response than “fuck you,” and I got as far as “go fuck yourself.” Like, I tried to go through it once and conjure point-by-point rebuttals — well, no, because of course I value art and art is not beholden to any timetable and it takes the time that it takes short or long and — but eventually my rebuttal dissolves into a gargled cry of “eat a bucket of deep-fried fucks, you squawking chicken-fucker.” With an added, “HOW’S THAT FOR SUBTLETY,” and then a crotch-grab as I cackle and yell, “CHERISH THIS.”

This is someone who wants his vision to be my vision. He has very explicit ideas about how art is made — ideas that, by the way, are provably false. (For writers in particular, looking at the daily word counts of famous writers is clarifying in its sheer variation.) Great writing is not one thing any more than great paintings are, or great music, or, or, or. The variation in art is glorious. The variation in the process that puts the art into the world is equally amazing. Music can be operatic, or punk, or dub-step. A sculpture might be an alabaster goddess or a bunch of fucking cubes stuck to a bunch of other fucking cubes. Food can be subtle and airy or unctuous and heavy or whipped into a foam or shoved between two buns (tee hee buns). Comedy can be a routine that takes years to write, or an improv session that took 30 seconds to conjure.

There’s no wrong way to do it, as long as you’re doing it.

There’s no timetable, as long as you’re taking the time.

Nobody can tell you how you do it. They can only tell you how they do it or what illusions they hold about the process — illusions that often wither under actual implementation.

They can offer suggestions. And you are free to take them, hold them up in the light, and see if there is anything there of value. And if there isn’t? Then you can fling it into the trash compactor on the detention level where it will be ogled and eaten by the one-eyed Dianoga.

That’s not to say there aren’t people you should listen to — a good editor or agent, a trusted friend, a beloved author. But even there, you want to find people who will clarify and improve your process and your work — not substitute it with something that isn’t really yours.

So, in 2016, I advise you to give your middle fingers a proper workout and elevate them accordingly to any who would diminish who you are, what you make, or how you make it. You don’t need to wall yourself off from it, but you also don’t need to be a sweater hanging on the clothesline, either. Get some tooth around that nerve.

Know who you are. Learn your process. Find your way. And don’t let anyone else define who you are as a creator, as an artist, as a writing writer who motherfucking writes.

Happy 2016, writers.

You do you.

*explodes in gory human fireworks*

 

Write Until your Fingers Bleed


LP: Dear Chuck, where have you been all my life?

C: LP, been hangin’ around dirty bars and and back alleys, looking for inspiration and writing my little thingy off.

LP: The thing is, Chuck. You’re just the man. Seriously, you write all these like, manly things about…like, manly stuff, and writing stuff. It’s just….AAHH (** Paused while LP loses mind and goes for a 39-mile sprint while trying to calm his brain down).

C: Yeah, well it’s not always been this, as you say, “manly.”  LP? You there?

LP: (** Panting) Yeah, yeah Chuck. I’m here. So, (still panting), what you got for us this week? What’s another one of those good old-fashioned stuff that Chuck can give to the world and we can post right here on the space.. you manly man, you. You beautiful manly Amaze-Bearded …man?

C: Actually, LP, there is this one thing…

LP: Take it away, Chuck.

____

write

NANOWRIMO SURVIVAL GUIDE: HOW I WRITE 50K(-ISH) EVERY MONTH

I do NaNoWriMo roughly every month. That probably sounds like a humblebrag, and maybe it is, though you’ll note I’ve said nothing about the quality of my writing and am only noting its quantity — but I write anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 words every month. Is this how everyone should do it? No. Is this how I do it? Yep. I’m a full time writer and I get to do this pantsless, coffee-soaked, and in a shed specifically designed to house my dubious word count. As such, I’d damn well better dance for my motherfucking dinner.

I figured it might be helpful to outline for you, then, how I manage to survive this pace.

So what follows are a mighty smattering of tips and tricks. You may find them useful. You may find them distasteful. Feel free to take a nibble and see how they taste. Taste yucky? Spit it out.

Here we go.

1. I write from an outline. You don’t have to do this, but it helps me. My outlines generally cover big tentpole stuff, but not always the nitty-gritty details.

2. I give the appropriate quantity of fucks. Meaning, I do not overfuck, but I do not underfuck, either. I do not care so much that I feel all the weight and pressure of the world pinning me between the shoulders, but I care enough to actually, y’know, do the work to the best of my ability.

3. I do not edit as I go.

4. I do one reading pass of the previous day’s work — and here I’ll allow myself minor tweaks.

5. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking a whole fucking lot about the story. I take specific moments out of my day to do this. Showering. Walking the dog. Mowing the lawn. I roll the story around my mouth like a pebble. I’m like a human stone polisher over here. It helps me stay focused and concentrate on what I did today and what I have to do tomorrow.

6. When I end one day of writing, I write a few notes — a few words to a few sentences — that give me a clue as to what I need to write tomorrow. So, I open the file and there are some vague stage directions to get me going. THE CHIMPANZEE DETECTS TREACHERY. Or EWOK JEDI FLORGIN RAT-BEAR CHASES ANCIENT SITHLORD THROUGH A PEORIA WAL-MART. Whatever. Something to grab hold of when I start the next day.

7. I shut off THE SHRIEKING GESTICULATING ATTENTIONFEST THAT IS THE INTERNET using a wonderful piece of software called Freedom (avail for Mac and Windows, I think).

8. I do about 45 minutes of writing, then 15 minutes of dicking around.

9. I get up and move my ass. Like, not literally that — I don’t merely stand up in my chair and shake my booty for a few minutes. (And here I quietly hope no one hacks my webcam to provide proof that I do exactly that.) But sitting down for so long is an act of indolence and torpidity and it’s like I can feel my blood thickening to corn syrup. The blood needs to get to my brain, not pool in my heels. So, I walk, I move, I run, I dance (sometimes Flashdance, sometimes Footloose, sometimes I’m Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing).

10. I do not listen to music because music distracts me.

11. I try not to eat shitty garbage-food during the day. Carbs make me boggy unless I’m running, so I try to keep this slugabed machine moving with nuts and cheese and stuff like that. I also don’t drink while I’m writing. I mean, I drink and eat shitty garbage-food sometimes, but I do it properly, which is to say, at midnight in the dark while weeping and aggressively touching myself.

12. I let the characters lead the way. When I doubt, I ask what do they want in this scene, what do they want overall, and what is most important? I let them run with it. And this usually runs them into other characters who are either competing for the same thing or who want opposing things. Characters have problems. They use the fiction to confront those problems (often poorly). This is the engine of storytelling. Seize it, let it guide you. Do not let “plot” dominate this core character-driven component.

13. I also like to let characters just talk. I’d say about half the time I keep it. And the other half of the time, just letting them talk still lets me know something about the characters.

14. I make sure I’m having fun when I’m writing. If I’m not enjoying a scene or worse, I’m bored writing it, something is wrong. If I’m bored, you’ll be bored. If I’m having fun, I hope you will, too. I like to think each of my stories is you buying a ticket and taking a ride. I never want you to regret getting buckled into my NARRATIVE LOG-FLUME SPACE MOUNTAIN FUCKSTRAVAGANZA. When I’m writing a scene or a chapter I also think very hard about if I’m giving you a reason to drop out. If I am, I try to reverse that trend and course correct then and there.

15. When in doubt, seek danger. Er, not for you, but for the story. Seek danger that’s physical, but also that’s emotional, spiritual, emotional, social. Fiction is often an act of taking your plane and flying it right at the ground. Sometimes you pull up at the last minute. Sometimes you crash the thing and the story becomes what happens after the crash. But it’s never about a few safe stunts. It’s about the conflict found in the world around us, but more importantly, in the human heart.

16. I try to always second-guess the reader. Every scene I try to guess where you think I’d go, then I try to do differently. Or, in rare cases, do the same just to keep you on your widdle toes.

17. I write in the morning. In the morning I have all my IEP — Intellectual Energy Points. I have not yet spent them on things like answering emails or making dinner or dealing with the daily ennui of HUMAN EXISTENCE. Which means I give the writing high priority. When I used to have a day job, that meant getting up before the day  job and banging out 1000 words.

18. Comfort actually matters. The myth that art is born out of hunger and discomfort is as pervasive as it is toxic. Have a keyboard you like. Sit in as nice a chair as you can afford. Avoid eyestrain. Be fed. Have water. Make sure your giant bunny costume is washed and deodorized and that the assless window gives proper access to your botto… *checks notes* Okay that last part is for a different post. So. Uhhh. Just be comfortable.

19. I know that community is a big part of NaNoWriMo, but for me, I like writing to be as isolated an act as possible. I don’t care what you’re doing. I care what I’m doing. Comparing yourself to others is a no-no. It’ll just make you feel like you can’t measure up.

20. I endeavor to write five days a week, and then don’t write on weekends. I need that break. Every day that I do write, I write regardless of how I’m feeling — I write through illness, anxiety, life trouble. This is not saying you need to do that. (What did I tell you about comparing yourself?) You have to find your pace. Maybe you write all your weekly count on Monday at 2:15. Do what’s best for you. The good news is, for the most part, routines are valuable. Establish the routine and stick to it and after a couple weeks, you’re good. The bad news is, NaNoWriMo asks that you have that routine up and running by the time the month starts.

21. I post notes around my monitor or my desk. Little things — questions, plot points, plot holes. Things of which I want to remain mindful.

22. I also jot notes at the beginning about my characters — never more than 100 words, and sometimes enough to fit on a smattering of Post-It notes. I write the things about them that I think are most important. These are usually character traits — even writing down three significant traits (“OBSTINATE, INCONTINENT SEX MACHINE”) gives you something to keep in mind as you write that character.

23. I do not read the same type of thing that I am presently writing. It crosses too many wires, and the signal starts to bleed. Ideally, I read non-fiction. But key thing here is that while writing, I am also reading. Reading is a vital, revivifying act. Writing without reading is like running without food. Eventually, you’re running on empty.

24. I ask myself, “Is this making sense?” If not, I course correct.

25. My writing life is not a sprint but a marathon. I’m running a long con, here. This is a heist where I’m stealing the Crown Jewels, not just knocking over a liquor store. You can’t sprint to 50k in a month without shattering your tender little brain-vase. You gotta measure it out. Gotta find a workable, steady pace — then stick to it consistently and confidently.

26. The daily mantra: “I can fix this in post.”

27. CAFFEINE, MOTHERFUCKER. DO YOU SPEAK IT.

28. I type fast. This sounds a-doy durr hurr obvious but seriously, I practice typing and I type hella zippy. Also, HELLA ZIPPY is my roller derby nickname.

29. Don’t think about publishing, don’t think about finishing, don’t think about next week. Think about yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and that’s it.

30. Repeat after me: “I am my own Muse.”

31. Repeat after me: “Don’t panic.” Clutch your towel and realize this isn’t making or breaking anything. This isn’t BRAIN ROCKETRY. Again, see #2 on the list: care less.

32. PANTS ARE A TOOL OF THE OPPRESSOR

33. When in doubt, escalate.

34. Eschew shame. I find shame to be half a ladder. It feels like you’re climbing somewhere, and you are… at least until you’re not. I don’t find shame valuable in writing (or really, anywhere else).

35. Also? Fuck writing advice. I know, you’re reading this here and now, but you have to know where such advice belongs. While writing, it rarely belongs in your face. Give it minimal priority. Every writer does things differently — this post is a good example because smart money says you do things at least somewhat differently from how I do them. “Writing Rules” are rarely that, and they’re a good way to make you feel like you’re on the wrong track. Writing advice is just that — advice. It’s advice on what to order on a menu, not a mandate on how to live your creative life. I read writing advice between books. I think about writing and read what other writer’s do during down-time. It doesn’t help me in the midst of the thing. It’s too much noise. Before and after I write? Yes. During? No.

36. I try to remember how amazing it is to be a writer. Because it is. Even when it’s not.

37. I try to be aware of self-care issues. I’m practiced enough where my writing schedule remains unpunctured by anxiety or health issues, but I also remain aware that when they happen, I am excused for writing badly, or shorting my word count, or just taking a much-needed day off.

38. In fact, I’m always comfortable with writing badly. Because that’s why WRITING JESUS invented that thing called “editing.” Thank you, Writing Jesus. Thank you.

39. If I’m stuck, I babble on the page until I am unstuck. Sometimes I blow stuff up.

40. I am vigilant about protecting my time and my space for writing. This is my TERRITORIAL BUBBLE and none shall puncture it lest one be shanked by a broken coffee mug.

41. I back everything up a billion times. I back things up on an external time machine drive. I back them up via Dropbox and with reiterative file names. I email myself the drafts. I also save obsessively. Any time I stop writing for more than five seconds, I do the keyboard shortcut to save. Nothing is more dispiriting than losing what you’re working on.

42. I write for me, not for you. I am my first audience. You can come later.

And that’s the end of that.

BEHOLD THINGS AND STUFF

30 DAYS IN THE WORD MINES is a 30-day writing regimen. $2.99 at Amazon, or 33% off directlyif you use coupon code NANOWRIMO.

The NaNoWriMo Storybundle is live — 13 books with another 12 if you meet the $25 threshold. You will note that the bonus tier contains one of my books so go grabby-grabby.

If you want a lot of my tips and tricks and DUBIOUS WORDTHINK agglomerated, look no further than The Kick-Ass Writer, out now from Writer’s Digest: Indiebound or Amazon.

If you’re a fan of mine, you are apparently called “Wendigos,” and hey now there’s a t-shirt by House Organa shop, so, jeez, go be stylish and rad and WENDIGO SEXY.

Now, go forth and –

The Making of a Tiefling


tavern

*Translated from Infernal

 

My mind is still my own, still that belonging to the human named Markus Shelling. But beyond that curtain, that dividing blanket which designates the limits of that strict human stage of reality….beyond that, and all praise unto Him, I have become so much more.

I was ah…well, Markus, rather. Yes, I should speak of him in the past tense, as that is where we left him (isn’t it, Master?) was never cut out to be a keeper. This, in Waterdeep Speak, is the term for those business folk who handle the books of other small businesses, taverns, apothecaries, general stores, or any other small establishment of public service. Ledger keeper or Book keeper, perhaps, would be the full term, and with as much quotidian inventory and numerical data which needs keeping track of, it stands to reason that the masses would see this position as one requiring, well, a degree of intellectual acuity.

A keenness which Markus did not possess, and he knew it.

No, the position of keeper was one he inherited with an almost radical reluctance. After all, his great grandfather, Jamison, had been a master of his craft and through the years passed this know-how onto his grandfather and his father. And no-matter his degree of protest, he knew that familial custom demanded his acceptance of the post one day.

There were four in his family. His brother, Craighton, was four years his senior, and his father’s prized son. He had the looks, the propriety, and the intellect which kept the Shelling family name in high esteem. He had merited both academic and athletic accolades at the Waterdeep Junior School and had been accepted to the Sword Coast Grand Academy to pursue a degree of higher learning in Mathematical Sciences. His father fondly recounted his eldest son’s aspirations of returning to Waterdeep to reorganize the books and assist with the water trade deficit. “If there’s anyone who can do it,” his father remarked proudly, “old Craigy can.”

And when he watched his brother ride off on a caravan of packed horses and two ornately bundled carriages, Markus felt a hidden burning of fear inside him. He swallowed hard, knowing that when his brother disappeared, it would only be him and his father. And Markus would be publically facing his own physical barriers.

Because Markus was the ugly antithesis of his brother, and if he didn’t know it himself, his father would be sure to remind him.

“Bring your worthless ass over here you waste of skin!” drunk, he would yell to the winds at Markus’s ears. He would jab a finger several times over into the boy’s head, each time with more force, and say, “And see if you can keep one fucking thing I say in this worthless head of yours.” He would then teach his boy – numbers, figures, addition, subtraction, accounts, balances, and over and again.

And, stuttering, and with deep breaths, Markus would try…he really would, and if he had just a bit more time, he knew that he would probably get it. But his father would wait until one full second before that time, and he would take pleasure in again laying hands to the disappointment before him.

Tears welled in him for nights, weeks on end, and Markus learned to wait until his mother and father slept before weeping to himself, praying:

 

“Oh d-d-d-dear spirits o-of Thy G-g-grand Faerûn, hear m-me, please, h-h-hear m-me….”

 

And when morning came, the looking glass of his water room showed him the aftermath of the fear his eyes exuded from the night before – the subtle pink lines of frayed tears, the lachrymal shades of his living nightmare.

 

“Markus, fix yourself you little shit. Slap yourself right before I do. We’re going into town.”

 

Markus would wipe his face, and turn from the room to answer his father’s commands.

Town days weren’t exceedingly special, but enough to merit a change of pace. His father went in twice a week; his father sat atop the bench to steer the carriage and whip the horses; his boy was expected to stay within the carraiage, ‘so you don’t make a fool out of me,’ was the general reason. Not that Markus argued it at all. He had come to enjoy the ride, and enjoyed what he was able to see of Waterdeep when they arrived.

He would wait in the back, hidden by the canopy of the carriage. Sometimes his father would be gone for several hours, sometimes overnight; at least he wasn’t beaten. But one day, Markus wanted that to change.

“You stay the fuck here, you bag of Sin; you hear me!? I catch you out of this carriage, you’ll need a sickbed and a cleric.” He stepped away toward the general store and continued muttering to himself. “Someone’s got to join me in the laughter.”

As soon as his father was out of sight, Markus snuck out of the carriage and followed him, his heart racing all the while. He watched his father walk down the two full rows of the main strip, Jarkaam Street, sidestepping local shoppers and the workers of the day. He stayed a safe distance behind the squat man, shivering lightly as he watched him spit into the dirt and shoulder past young women and several elderly townsfolk before turning down an alley way and slipping behind a nondescript metal door.

For hours Markus sat outside a small square window only several flickers of a low-burning candle finding his hidden peering eyes. He found a safe quiet spot atop a handful of ale crates – a place where he would be hidden and still learn.

Inside he found his father amid a gathering of well-dressed men, businessmen, each of them giving giddy nervous laughs at odd moments. From outside the glass, Markus caught words like “hidden”, “payment,” “street price,” “coinage,” and “product flow.” All the while the definition of his father’s heinous rictus faded in and out of definition amid thick billows of his own cigar smoke. He passed small sacks of brown paper from the inside of his vest pockets to open hands, each of those handing him thick wads of stained paper bills. The murmur of the dark room’s communal tavern rose and flickered with the short flames of the candles within.

 

“’Scuse me, you go’ a permit?”

 

Markus turned to find a man standing behind him with an immaculate uniform of social status, a small badge of Waterdeep sewn into the fabric at the heart.

“Ah n-n-no, I j-just am-ammm ah,” he struggled to sound normal and slipped from his squatted perch upon the stacked crates of wood where he thought he wouldn’t be noticed.

“Sorry?” the man said. “A permit, sir. This is private property, see?” The man put his hands behind his back.

Markus kicked another small crate to the ground with another nervous jolt of his heart.

The back door of the alley opened and three of the men from within stepped out, their smiles dipping into frowns as they saw the uniformed man.

“Is there a problem, constable?” One of them asked. Then the man turned and saw Markus. He whispered back to several of them inside the doorway, and when Markus’s father emerged, he dipped a hand in a front vest pocket and moved several pieces of gold to the constable’s hand, this accompanied by another of the small pouches Markus had seen from the window.

“Nothing we can’t take care of, constable,” his father said, his eyes burning hatred into his son’s skull. The constable turned and walked away as did the other men in their business attire, and the alleyway was given only to the son and the father.

He beat Markus to within an inch of his life that night.

 

“Fucking failure, ‘as what you are!” To this day I…he remembers being strapped to a long wooden table somewhere underneath the lively chatter, footsteps, and daylight of the city. He remembers the sound of water drops lazily falling into other stagnant pools of water. And he remembers his father’s bloody pair of hands, both open and clenched as they rained upon him.

“William, no! Stop it! He’s not Craighton!” He remembers his mother’s caring form running from somewhere behind him. Moving as fast as her emotions and fibers would allow. And he remembers him silencing her.

“Shut your cow mouth, woman,” his father exclaimed. A thick wave of ale stench washed across Markus’s shackled form before he heard the whip, the thud, the gurgle, and the drunken wheeze of his father as his mother’s still form dropped to the wet unforgiving underground at his side, a long pair of rusty scissors jutting from her neck.

“M-mo-mm-momma?” Markus made out, tears leaking from his eyes and mixing with the fresh blood of his clearly broken nose. “Mm-moomm.”

His father wheezed and Markus heard the familiar swig from a bottle behind him. “Mom-mom-momm-mommma!!” His father mocked in a cackle. “You’re ‘a fuck’n reason f’ ‘is,” he slurred.

 

“Oh m-make it s-st-sop, dear s-spirits,” Markus said to himself.

 

Yes, Markus, there came a whisper in answer Yes. We can do that. If you really want it to stop, of course. It asked.

 

Markus turned his head to the other side of the table from where he heard the voice.

“What you lookin’ at, you foul waste of piss?” his father said, gripping his jaw and spinning his head in a painful torque back to him. Markus sniffled and swam in the tears that fell from his eyes. “M-momm-mo-momm,” he murmured as his father’s deep charred voice mimicked him again, jerking his fingers from his face.

 

Shall we speak? The voice came again.

 

Markus turned back again. “Who are y-you?”

“I’m Daddy!” the drunk man hollered and cocked back a fist and landed it across his son’s tear-filled face.

 

Well, that didn’t get us anywhere, did it? Said the voice again – another whisper, somehow clear through his own fear and drunken blubbering of his father. How about we try answering the question. I’ll remove the annoyance and we’ll chat, yes?

 

Markus turned back to his father and responded. “Y-yess.”

His father was already cocking back for another blow, this one open-handed. “You little waste of pi-“ He grumbled.

 

And in mid swing, his hand at full speed about to strike through his son’s bloodied and tear-swollen face, the drunk man froze – every inch of his body still as though all of time rolled over him.

Markus’s eyes were wide as they watched him, waiting for everything to begin moving again.

“There we are,” came a familiar voice. It was the same quirky soft voice his mind had heard moments earlier, but this came directly to his ears. A small creature, slender-jawed and smiling wide emerged from beneath the table, looking at Markus lovingly with silver pupilless eyes. His crouching form rose to standing and it looked down upon his father from another two feet at the least. “That’s all taken care of then.” His vestments were simple and solid colored, both top and bottom dark enough to match the underground ambiance.

 

“Bit of a nuisance, wasn’t it, the fat little fucker?” He looked at Markus’s father before looking to Markus for a response. “Oh dear, excuse me! As if a manacled man doesn’t have other issues on his mind.” He made a wave of his hand and all Markus saw was the light blue skin of the creature and the long cream-colored nails. Two clinks and the manacles binding him to the table unlatched and fell to the floor.

“Now, Markus, is it? Name’s Kræm, Vinzur Kræm. We need to chat.”

 

Kræm, with magical oration, set it all down then. The Great Lord Fraz-Urb’loo had broken from his imprisonment to find his realm of Hell completely torn apart. They had not only invaded his home, they had ripped through his followers, and they had stolen his treasured staff. None of this, of course, made any sense to me…ahem..to Markus at the time, but it would.

Kræm was not a spirit or a god; he was humble about this (he still is, as I understand, the crafty funny servant), but he served the Great Lord, and was, at that moment, serving him to recruit others to join His cause….and he said the gems of an acceptance were many and glorious….all Markus had to do was agree to serve.

 

“You will be given power beyond power,” he said. His fingers tapped together and his smile was brilliant, white and shone confidence, “and all you desire will be made available at simple request.” He tapped Markus on his lips. “And that little B-b-b-b-babble you g-g-got there will d-d-d-disappear.” Kræam smiled and chuckled then. “Great Lord Urb’loo will grant you charisma, intelligence, deception, among countless other treasures. Just think, Markus!” He said. “Not one human ever will you ever have to compete with for mental supremacy. Talk with any of the weak-minded and they are yours; they are at your bidding. You will own their every thought.” He looked at the frozen form of Markus’s father. “And if they deign to challenge you,” he bent land looked in the man’s eyes until blood, dark and rich, began to slide from the frozen man’s nostrils, “they will wish their tongues never tasted freedom.”

He turned back to Markus. “And you have only but to say the words, and this power, is yours.” He reached out and offered an open hand to Markus. “Say it, boy. Say the words; vow to serve Him always and take the world for your own.”

Markus’s, eyes wide, looked down at his mother’s lifeless form upon the cold stone of the underground floor, then to the red-flowing face of his drunken father’s still form. He began to breath heavily. His eyes began to water, and then, looking at Kræm’s face, Markus dropped to his knees and took the servant’s hand.

“Yes,” he said. “I accept.”

“Good,” said the servant. “You’ve made the right choice. There is, of course, a price, isn’t there? All things have prices,” he said again, this time with the biggest smile he had shone. “But the price you pay will be trivial to the glory the Great One will show you.

“Remember,” were his words, quieter now, almost the voice Markus heard the first time. “All glory you ever receive is His gift to you. You are created, born, and made in this world as He wishes you to be….and He wishes greatness for you.” He then turned to the stilled pitiful drunk that had beaten on the boy and placed a blue clawed hand on his shoulder. The man began to wither and shrink in on himself. The pores of his skin dilated as the skin shrunk and dried splinters and flakes of blood spewed to the ground, burying Markus’s mother in a pile of dried sanguine excrement. The clothes wilted on the shrinking skin and fell away as all limbs were sucked into the hollow stiff body. Vinzur Kræm shook the clothes off and pulled away a long ruddy staff, the body of which, when analyzed, showed fingernails, and small stiffened sinews of muscle cramped into bones, ligaments, and tendons. The top of the staff was a translucent human skull, hollowed, and mouth agape.

“You’ll be needing an Arcane Focus,” said the servant. “Something to help you commune with the Great One and channel your powers…and fuck with good old pops if you’re ever in the mood for a joke. The Great One has an indefatigable sense of humor,” he snorted, slapped Markus on the shoulder . “Now,” he said. “Take this and face me, boy; let’s make this official.”

tiefling

 

[chuckles] It’s all laughable now. It’s only been several months, but that’s how it started. That was where Markus died, and where I began. The Great Lord gave me this remarkable form [chuckles], and these beautiful horns. And a name – Mir, the Infernal term for ‘order.’ “Lord Urb’loo will explain it to you if you last long enough for Him to deem you loyal,” said Kræm. He gave me some clothes and a pack, and sent me on my way. I was to keep my head down and leave Waterdeep.

 

And I’ve been on the road ever since, as Mir, willing only to please the Great Lord, give thanks to Him, fulfill His commands, and enjoy myself along the way.

 

Now, what was your story?