Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Here’s the Author’s Note to Neptune’s Forge, which I will be polishing up in the coming days:

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AUTHOR’S NOTE

First of all, this tale is all but impossible. Except for one thing; it’s not. Not really. Despite “history” and despite what a thousand historians might have to say about it, to declaim the possibility that there were, 1) ancient civilizations of which we now know not what of, and 2) an entire continent now covered in ice was once free of it and teeming with both life and real flesh-and-blood people, is to ignore not only the factual evidence, but to ignore the basic nature of Man.

We are, fundamentally, explorers. Now, here in the second decade of the new millennia, we come to discover that the greatest explorers may not have been the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Chinese or even the Phoenicians, but the indigenous peoples of the South Pacific. The evidence is, in fact, mounting that it was they, and not Asiatics coming over the so-called Bering land-bridge who ultimately peopled North and South America. Certainly the South Pacific Islanders peopled South America, where today we find too many parallels between these ancient cultures to turn a completely blind eye. We find ancient ruins that far exceed the height of the most celebrated cultures of the Old World, not only in celestial navigation and in the creation of tremendous edifices of such gargantuan size with cyclopean stone, but also in the precision of their tools. It is almost as if they employed cutting lasers, were you to examine the ruins of Puma Punku.

And then there is Antarctica. Are we to assume that no one, nay, nary a single, solitary soul, has ever stepped foot on the seventh continent prior to Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition in 1907. This is the ultimate in egotism!

I am old enough now to have been taught in schools that it was Christopher Columbus who first discovered the New World. And, we come to find that this was a complete and utter lie. Now we know that before him it was the Norse, who made it at least as far as Newfoundland, if not, as some now believe, to what is modern day Minnesota. The Viking swords uncovered in Minnesota—along with the many skeletons of tall, red-haired “giants”—seem to have a way of disappearing into the deep vaults of The Smithsonian, never to be seen again. And now, just this year, we learn that South Pacific Islanders landed in California perhaps hundreds of years prior to the Norse. Which only makes sense. That a people who found a thousand or more atolls scattered across the Pacific would somehow miss the only thing blocking their way to the east…North America? For crying out loud!
And so it goes.
So we are left with one sobering thought as we are assailed with one doubt after another, and it is this: a man (and a woman, of course, for where would he be without her?) has to climb that next hill. He has to sail over that next horizon, whether or not he be eaten by whole armies of “Here there be beasties!” To ask why he and she must do this is like asking, “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why do people go to Houston when they can go anywhere else?” The short answer to the second question is that they go because they can. They go because no one is stopping them, and for sure and certain if they tried, why, there’d be hell to pay.

I firmly believe that we not only once thrived on the southernmost continent, but we had a vast civilization there. How do I know? Well, I can remember some things. Yes, this author is certain that he is not a one-life animal. He’s been around the Horn, sailed the Seven Seas, and has even explored the stars. And I remember a hell of a lot, even though I’m not supposed to do that. None of us are, in fact. It’s sort of against the rules. So, while I’m not trying to sell you anything—except perhaps this, or better yet, my next book—I’m simply saying what Shakespeare once said with far fewer and better words than I can muster: “There are far more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” That “philosophy,” of course, being accepted science and history. I’d paraphrase it thus, actually: Today’s history is tomorrow’s lies. Also, today’s science is tomorrow’s stone knives and bearskins. But I suppose I’m sort of borrowing from Spock—the Vulcan, not the baby doctor—and twisting it a little. Please forgive.

So, leaving all that lay for now, let’s talk about people, and let’s talk about their demons and their lusts. Eloquent topic, what?

People do all kinds of things to other people. They befriend them and they betray them, they gain their confidence and they cheat them, they run over them, they hang them, knife them, shoot them in the gut, necklace them, bury them alive, drown them, throw them to the fishes, sue them, embezzle them, snipe them from afar, buy votes from them, divorce them, saddle them with debt they can’t possibly repay, bill them, wreck them, frame them, jail them, tranquilize them, tase them, rape them, occasionally eat them…my goodness, the list gets long indeed.

But why do they do these things?

I have a notion about that. I think it’s because there must be something in it. Something that is deemed, rightly or wrongly at the time the thought comes, to aid the perpetrator somehow, in some twisted sort of way.

So, enter twenty-two men fighting a harsh, fierce and unforgiving environment, and each man with a past, a history unique to himself. What monsters might erupt during such a quest?

Thus, the volume you have just read.

That, “Here there be monsters!” on those ancient maps? I think it was always the monsters they brought with them they were talking about, that’s what I think it was, and they were too embarrassed to report the truth. The Karankawa Indians of the Texas coast and the Tonkawa of the interior were rumored to be cannibals. But we discover that it was the Spaniards who were eating their own dead that the Karankawa objected to, and were immediately labeled as being the same thing for which the shipwrecked Spaniards were guilty. Hmph. One wonders if God loves a cannibal? That’s food for thought, I suppose, if you’ll excuse the joke.

Fortunately, you found no cannibalism in these pages. No, instead you found far worse. You found man as he sometimes (and unfortunately) is. I’m sorry. It’s just the way it goes, even though I firmly believe it to be unnecessary in the common run of life. But the story, you see, is necessary. And that’s what I’m all about.

This What If tale has been a labor of love, and through it I managed to discover some things about myself. First, that I can write a great tale in 19th Century prose. Second, that I cannot escape the basic tale of man, from him at his the most base to him at his loftiest heights of heroism, duty and self-sacrifice. And then of course, there’s Third: I can’t not write these stories. These characters speak to me, you see. For me they are as if made of flesh and blood. They are real, they have a past. They hunger, they thirst, they lust and they dream. They live and they die, win and lose, and every now and again, one great among them emerges, head and shoulders above the rest to attain heights I never dreamed for them. And that, of course, is as it should be. A writer can’t ask for any more than that, either of his story or of its inhabitants.

It’s time to leave them now where they lie, where they lounge, where they walk.

This story was never meant to see a sequel, or for that matter, a prequel. I fear it is as I created it: a standalone work, cold and naked before a harsh world.

And there, let us together leave it.

Thank you for coming on this perilous quest along with me, Reader, my good and faithful constant companion. There are other worlds to visit. So, let’s be off!

George Wier
June 22, 2018

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I’m back! Back on Neptune’s Forge. Here’s a little smidgen of it for you:

The thought you cannot speak is also the one you should not think.
Therefore, post a sentinel at the portal of your innermost sanctum
where intentions are borne,
and make him to keep his sword sharpened
that no unworthy thing be permitted to pass to or from it.
—The Secret Lamentations

Hastily-scratched entry from the journal of Jonathan Rath:
My friend is dead, and I’m not sure what today is. He was stabbed through his ear and deep into his brain. I don’t know who has done this or why, but this expedition is ended. I must find Peter now, first, and get him where we can talk alone, before we let that madman Gleese know what has happened, although I am almost certain that he is somehow behind this abortion of humanity. Peter Bornik and I will get to the bottom of it. Someone is going to have to pay for killing Parker Dunlevy.

It was on the first day of spring that Jonathan Rath planted the tree, a cherry, outside his kitchen window. He was five years back from the war, still unemployed and seemingly unemployable, due to his irascible nature. He had left as a quiet, unassuming country bumpkin in the first round of Lincoln’s enlistments following the fall of Fort Sumter, hardly more than a boy, and had returned after the South’s defeat an angry, rude, and unforgiving man. Sometimes he awoke in the night, screaming.

During the day he shaped furniture out in his barn, working, sweating, toiling without break in order to keep his attention focused and his thoughts quiet. Often he forgot to eat.

The tree had been left by a neighbor who needed one of his yokes repaired and had no money to pay for the service. Jonathan was known far and wide for his fine furniture, particularly his rocking chairs, bed steads, bookcases, tables and dining chairs, but he was not above taking on other work simply to keep himself busy. The cherry showed up the morning after the neighbor had come to see about the yoke for his ox, and had been both happy and surprised at the repair work. Before the man could apologize for having no money, and began a stumbling proposition for repayment at a later time, Jonathan ceased chewing his tongue and stated, “Pay for it if, when and however you can. It matters not.”

Jonathan Rath sat at his dining room table that evening after receiving his payment—the tree—and stared at the little green thing. Hours, it must have been, that he looked at it, probed it, wondered at it. He started in the complete darkness the instant after the lamp burned itself out. Where had the time gone? What sort of trick was this?

And that night he did not dream.

The next morning he planted the tree ten paces from his kitchen window where it would receive the full sun of the day.

And the years passed. Another trick, of sorts.

For some reason Jonathan Rath thought about the cherry tree as he left his tent in search of Bornik.

Find Bornik first, then together they could handle Gleese, and possible Kroones as well—this was the marching order in his mind. If Bornik wouldn’t throw in his hand to help him kill Gleese, well then, he’d do it himself. And if Kroones stood in his way, then Kroones had to fall as well. If Tomaroff likewise posed a barrier, then Tomaroff himself had to die. Rath’s blood was up, this he knew, and there would be no stopping him.

Rath had once slain what had remained of a company of Rebs in this fashion. This was in the Wilderness, May of ‘64, not far from Spotsylvania. After his major had been shot through the eye at a distance of eighty yards as he was mounting his Morgan on the main road through the woods, Jonathan turned, pulled his saber from its scabbard and strode toward the cowards shooting at him from among the trees. His chest had become a hollow tube through which a cool wind blew. When he was ten feet from them, a bullet passed through the sleeve of his left arm and left a narrow furrow there, the only scar he would bring home with him from the war. But at that moment, he didn’t even feel it. He stepped in among them, his saber slashing and singing in the morning sun. Arms, fingers and heads tumbled to the ground, blood ran in freshets, rivulets, and a steam arose. And still he killed. After he killed them, he hacked them, noting how soft the tissue seemed—it felt more like hacking feather pillows than human flesh. When his wits returned and he realized he was covered in blood from head to foot, he turned, replaced his saber in its scabbard and strode back to camp. The men had stared at him as he walked by, but no one said so much as a single word. He walked up to his Captain and said, “Sir, the Major is dead. You’re now in complete command of this outfit.”

It was this single-mindedness of purpose, this intensity of focus that drove him; as if, in the final analysis, his essential fuel was nothing more complicated than mere decision.

There in the makeshift tent two continents and nearly two and-a-half decades from the carnage outside Spotsylvania, Jonathan left Parker Dunlevy’s body where he’d had found it, with his life’s blood pooled and frozen into the ice beneath the sled, and went in search of Peter Bornik. In his left hand he had his hunting knife—the same knife he had once used to carve the filigree on his bedstead back home. He stepped out into a blizzard; the first such they had encountered in the Antarctic. The wind hooted and howled and ice crystals stung his face, but like the bullet carving its own filigree into his left arm all those years ago, he felt nothing. The hollow, windy tube inside him had turned itself outward to encompass the whole world.

Outside he ran into one of the Brazilians—he couldn’t tell which, at first, because of his sealskin coat and the woolen scarf covering all but his eyes, but when the man spoke, he knew him instantly.

“My friend,” Gomez stated. “Another is dead.”

“Yes,” Rath stated, then was thrown into momentary confusion. How does Gomez know about Peter? he thought, and then, on the heels of this, as Gomez pulled the scarf down to reveal a face contorted in anxiety, it dawned upon him that he wasn’t referencing Parker Dunlevey.

“Another? Another Brazile?”

“Sim. Sim. It is my cousin, Juan Tomas. He is…dead.” Gomez genuflected.

“Parker Dunlevy, the Irishman, is also dead. I am going to kill Gleese for this.”

“Gleese,” Gomez said. “Yes. Kill him. Go to house. Wait for the ship. No?”

The magnitude of it dawned upon Rath. Yes, they could kill Gleese, possibly Kroones, and take command of the expedition; turn it around and strike for the house. But to get there, to get to where the ship would pick them up in the Antarctic fall, they would need Tomaroff. Only Tomaroff could get them there. Without Tomaroff, without his compass, sextant, astrolabe and theodolite to not only ascertain longitude, but that most important calculation, latitude, they would all be as dead as Parker Dunlevy, and ultimately as frozen as the naked man in the ice caverns.

“If you will lead us,” Gomez stated, “my people will stand behind you, and I will kill Gleese with my own hands.”

For an instant, there in the bitter, stinging wind, Jonathan Rath was back aboard the launch after Gomez had harpooned the narwhal. Gleese’s rebuke of Gomez for killing the whale during childbirth in front of the men came into his mind. The look on Gomez’s face then had been a mixture of several elements at once: shame and regret, shock and disbelief, rejection for the rebuke, and something else. And in an instant, Rath had it—blame. He blamed Gleese for the whole fiasco, and for the hours following in which he’d spent with his nose figuratively rubbed in it while gutting and cleaning the narwhal and salting and packing its meat and blubber. Rath had come to hate Gleese since then and by degrees, and had likewise come to sympathize with the Gomez by the same factor. He could see how Gomez was the perfect man to dispatch Gleese, if indeed he himself could not.

“I will lead you,” Rath stated. “But first we must speak with Tomaroff. He must take us back to the house, as only he can. In this wilderness, all places are like every other place. But the Russian knows how to navigate celestially—with the stars. I do not. Without him, we are lost.”

“You very smart man, Senor Rath.”

“I don’t feel very smart.”

“Come. We find Russian.” And then his face sagged. “What about…Homem dos cães.?”

“What?”

Gomez spoke carefully. “Man of dogs?”

“Kroones?”

“Ah! Sim. Kroo-nez.”

“I will deal with Kroones,” Rath stated.

Advice to the young writer

She was busily writing away longhand on the couch, while everyone else babbled away incessantly nearby. Her writing was frenetic and fast and I could practically hear the gears smoothly cranking along, smell the oil burning, and I innocently asked, “What are you writing?” She went on to explain that it was just thoughts, stories, whatever came into her mind. After finding out that I, too, was a writer—from her mom, no less, who was hanging out nearby—and a writer who has had some small success in the field, she asked me if it might be all right for me to have a look at her work sometime, possibly give her some helpful pointers. And then, thankfully, she went back to her writing. Afterward, I damned myself for intruding.

Well, without looking at any of her work but simply admiring how it poured out onto the page, I offer the following:

Don’t ask for advice, from me or anyone else, as to whether or not your writing is any good. You see, you already know everything you need to know, even at such a young age. It’s your language. You can speak it better than many another adult I’ve met. If you can speak it and you can read it, then you can write it as well. On top of that, I would assert that you can pick up a book by anyone else, read the first few sentences, paragraphs, or perhaps pages, and know instantly whether it is any good. You can make a snap judgment about it, and that judgment will be found to be unfailing. It will be one hundred percent correct, as far as you are concerned, every single time. All you have to do is apply that selfsame objective ability to judge to your own work. It’s easy, but it may require a little practice at first.

Next, don’t stop what you’re doing. Keep writing just as you are, and if possible, as fast as you can. Most people believe that the purpose of writing is to produce a book or a short story, a paper, a pamphlet, an article—something that someone else is going to read. This is downright wrong. No, the purpose of writing is to write. I know that’s going to sound overly simple, but truth is always startling simple. It is the journey, not the destination, that is important. And that is success. Success isn’t at the end. It’s right there—a young woman writing furiously away, practicing her craft, learning from herself how to turn a phrase—how to make it just right. It’s the exploration of your own inner world and the expansion of that world toward the end of all horizons. It’s the expression and the inflection of being. So don’t stop. Don’t even hesitate. Let it flow until you fill the world with oceans of your words. And make them good ones, while you’re at it.

And here we are at the end and the sum total of everything I can say on the subject. That is all of it in these few paragraphs. You see, I had to come full circle to the young fellow I once was, sitting on a lounge chair writing furiously away. It’s taken me all this long to figure out that the innermost secrets of the whole craft was something I was already doing.

Along the way in life you’re going to get advice on the subject of writing from practically everyone you meet, because like me, you really enjoy the subject itself, and want to hear everything there is to hear about it, and from practically any person, whether they’re a reader, a famous author, or even—God forbid!—an editor. So the best thing you can do is listen to them and smile and thank them, and then disregard everything they’ve told you. And then go somewhere, find a quiet place—or perhaps a noisy one; sometimes that helps too—and just write.

So there. That’s it.

Have a wonderful journey, creative young lady. I wish you words. And plenty of them.

George Wier

Hopping around in the book at the moment, trying to get it polished up and somewhere near finished. Here’s a little teaser scene on the bus (neither guts nor glory here):

“Ms. Althea,” I said, “We have to go back to Umstauzel.”
“Back to—?”
“The first winery.”
“Why do you want to go back there?”
Dickerson Linton, clearly three sheets to the wind, stuck his face in between ours and breathed out alcohol fumes such that it would have been dangerous to strike a match. “If Bill wants to go back to Oompahpah, I shay we…we…we leg him. And Godschpeeeed.”
“Thank you, Linton,” I said.
Ms. Althea looked over at Julie.
“Umstauzel,” she said.
“Mr. and Mrs. Parker chimed in next, in unison, “Oompahpah.”
Somewhat of a chant began at that point, “Oompahpah. Oompahpah. Oompahpah…” with a little more than half of them managing to mangle even the mangulation.
“My God, you are all the worst bunch of…nevermind. I guess it doesn’t matter to me. You all paid for this, and the other wineries are expecting us.”
“Maybe you can call whoever is next on the list and tell them there was a holdup.”
“Yeah, I can tell them the holdup was Bill Travis.”
I nodded. “You might do that.”
“Okay, people. At this point I don’t believe any of you would be able to tell one winery from the other. We’re going back to Oompahpah.”
“Umstauzel,” I corrected her.
“Whatever the hell.” She turned to go back to the front of the bus and called over her shoulder, “Mr. Travis, please give me a head count.”
I turned around to face everyone and began counting silently, stabbing the air with a finger.
Linton Dickerson started throwing random numbers at me to try to break my concentration. “Twenty-one, thirteen, forty-two…”
“Shut up, Linton,” I said.
He laughed. “This reminds me of a song.” He started singing:

Neither a borrower nor lender be
Do not forget, stay out of debt.
Think twice and take this good advice from me.
Keep watch on your sovereignteeee
There is one other thing…you ought to do.
To thine own self be true.

I finished the count, called the total back to Ms. Althea, who grunted an acknowledgment. I said to Linton, “Thank you for that rousing chorus, Mr. Dickerson. You should go on the road with that.”
The bus lurched as Ms. Althea put us in gear.
“Looks like we’re already on the frackin’ road,” he exclaimed.
Elderly Mr. Parker suddenly stood and gave us all a moderately unsober yet poetic rendition of She Walks In Beauty Like The Night, at which not a few clapped and upon which Mr. Jameson remarked “Bo-ring!” Somehow, this prompted Linton Dickerson to stand and boisterously brutalize the theme song to Gilligan’s Island.
And so it went the five miles back to Umstauzel.

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Here’s an interesting little article from a private journal from 1962. The author is long dead. But what he foresaw is utterly relevant:

H. Verlan Andersen
Personal Journal, 1962

When the people commence to look to the federal government for their support, and if they don’t receive what they feel they are entitled to, they will strike against the power which is withholding that to which they consider themselves entitled. Just as in times past, men have struck against the companies who gave them jobs and provided them with a livelihood when they felt they were entitled to higher wages or shorter hours.

In both cases the recipients are not grateful for what they are receiving. They are angry because it isn’t more. The difference lies in this: When the strike is against a private company there is an independent unbiased police force to maintain peace and arbitrate the case in court, but where the government is one of the parties to the dispute there is no appeal to anything except force.

The employees can come to hate the government and its officers just as they come to hate the company and its officers when the law is not based upon moral principle. When the law can no longer appeal to either reason or justice, and where it is nothing more than a power which takes what is available and dispenses it with an arbitrary hand, with no fundamental principle to guide it in saying how much is to be given to which group, people lose respect for such a law and the police power which enforces it. No appeal to justice, reason, or compassion will prove effective. The people who are the backbone of civilized nations—the thrifty, hardworking self-respecting independent honest class—cannot respect such a law.

Where the right of private property is protected man is encouraged to look to himself to supply his wants. He is even forced to this just as nature and nature’s God decreed: Thou shalt eat thy bread by the sweat of the face. But when government announces that it will now see to it that his wants are supplied, he no longer feels the need to rely upon his own brains and body. That man loses respect for the rights of others. He looks to the use of force to provide for his needs. He looks to force which takes from others what they have created, and the more he is pampered the more he demands. He comes to believe what the government tells him: That there are no property rights which may not be invaded to provide for his wants. He no longer regards it as necessary to conserve and limit his desires or to save and provide for the future. In our complex economy this is the worst possible attitude, for when it breaks down the suffering will be most intense.

When a government encourages and advocates the belief that force may be used by groups, acting together through government to despoil others of their property, the reliance upon force becomes accepted. As the reliance upon force becomes accepted and as the numbers increase who depend upon government largesse, the greater becomes the problem of restraining this group when government can no longer supply their demands. The government must resort to force to keep them in place when their demands reach that point (which they soon will), where it is impossible to give them what they ask. Civil war will occur just as it did in Rome.

There are always large numbers in any society who are industrious and thrifty and who respect the rights of others to own and control property. These people know within themselves that it is morally wrong for the government to take from them the fruits of their own labors and saving practices and give to those who won’t work and won’t save. As the immoral practice of government grows, disrespect for law also grows. They no longer can be counted on to uphold and obey a law they know is immoral and is at variance with their conscience. The foundation of any stable government is respect and voluntary obedience by the masses of the people. When this is destroyed, free government is no longer possible and dictatorship becomes the only answer. Such a form of government must resort to a policy of foreign war to keep the people united in any respect. They must conduct a war against some real or imagined foreign government and cry danger in order to get any support.

In such a government only the corrupt will accept positions of responsibility, or those who are so blind that they are unable to see the perversion of government. Such a group will not scruple to stay in power. The love of power becomes the dominant aim in their lives. No means is too devious or too reprehensible. They will use force, lies, bribery, murder, and imprisonment to hold their opponents in check.

The loss of political and economic freedom is an inevitable consequence of socialism. Self-government becomes impossible because centralized planning displaces all local planning. As immorality grows apace, the people are unable to act in concert in sufficient numbers to put respectable and moral men in office. Each group is striving to protect its own selfish and government protected interests. Any man who stands up and says this is all wrong is vilified, maligned, and literally torn to pieces by the mobs who want government to continue to protect their labor monopoly, business monopoly, subsidy, welfare check, etc.

The moral element, seeing that it is impossible to restore government to its proper function, begins to plot its violent overthrow. This is the only recourse they have. Appeal to the ballot box is futile. Death is preferable to slavery to them. If there are no moral reference points, then government becomes nothing more than an instrument of force which treats man as if he were just another beast of burden. Not only does the government presume to own and control all land and natural resources, but it arrogates unto itself the power to treat each citizen’s labor as its own, to dispose of as it pleases, and even to direct what labor shall be performed.

—H. Verlan Andersen (1914 – 1992)

Woke up this morning from a dream and started writing. It’s been a long time since I wrote pure horror. I suppose this will be a short story or a novella. It’s temporarily entitled The Navigator. Here’s a taste: (and please forgive any errors–it’s hot off the old press)

In a small desert town along Interstate-40 between Barstow, California and Kingman, Arizona, a woman is brutally raped and left for dead behind a row of dented and sandblasted garbage cans that someone long ago had forgotten to continue filling. But this was forty years ago, and her son, the bastard who was conceived that horrific night, is midst his election campaign for United States Representative. Maybe he will win. Who knows; possibly someday he will become President.

Between St. Louis and Kansas City, up along I-70, a young woman of sixteen is certain that Christ has not only risen, but has returned. She knows this to be so because He came to her as a child and spoke things to her—things that no other living human being has ever heard.

In Harrisburg, Virginia, along the I-81 corridor, an almost ancient city councilman goes through the ritual of committing suicide. He has done this every night for the past thirty years, but has never been capable of summoning the nerve to put an end to his existence. Instead, he puts his grandfather’s Navy Colt pistol back into the holster in the closet where it has hung for his entire life. And then he cries himself to sleep.

Along the long, lonely stretch from Clovis, New Mexico to Lubbock, Texas, there exists a town named for a long dead Major in the Civil War. In this town each night a man awakens from a lurid, disturbing nightmare. What awakens him is the sound of his own voice, screaming. It is the same dream, the dream in which the gleaming bus comes to a stop, there is the brief, piercing, teakettle scream of pneumatic brakes being released, the doorway trundles open, and then he emerges.

***

Some believe that interwoven into the cosmic fabric of the universe are fine, spider’s silk threads that form a certain pattern. While it could be so that this pattern is set and held unbreakably in place by the stars and galaxies, there are a few who postulate that it is not the light at all that determines the woof and warp of these myriad skeins of thread, but instead this pattern is set by the night; the hidden and unseen. For them it is the black holes, the dark neutron stars, the postulated dark matter itself and other cosmic censures, unnamed and unnameable, that constitute the influences that marshals fate. To them, it is the cold night that is prevalent in the universe at large. It is the night that reigns supreme over the faint, hot little cinders of light.

For all that he has visited, this is most assuredly so.

His name is Christopher Pettibone. He is a diminutive-appearing man with a disarming smile, rumpled clothes, and a seemingly endless supply of cash. And when the bus comes to a stop and he arises, others wait for him to exit first. They don’t know why they do this, but they wouldn’t bother to question since they are not actually aware of him in the waking sense. Instead, they pause and shiver as he passes, and when he is gone, they shake the weariness and dread off of them as if they are shaking off the many miles behind. Just like on every trip Pettibone has taken, there will be one who is unable to bring themselves to climb back onto the bus before its departure. Pettibone knows this. He expects it, and in fact, cares not an iota. Caring is a human thing, a frailty. And he is much farther from human than other creature living on the Earth.

A lot of uncool stuff going on right now. Here’s the solution. Chapters 11, 18 and 19 are particularly important right now in today’s world, but also Chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10. Do these things, and problems seem to smooth out. These are brief statements of common sense.

 

As part of the overall book, I will be including several stories in Appendix form, from the history of the Isherwood. This one I previously posted, but in unfinished form. Here it is, mostly finished now. There will be at least five shorts like this, of varying length, dealing with some of the legends touched upon in this fantasy epic (because it has begun taking on epic proportions, as I knew it would). Therefore, here’s the full “Craypipe and Stovelilly”, along with an “Editor’s Note” at the end. I hope you like it.

CRAYPIPE AND STOVELILLY

Of all the tales of great adventure that come down to us from the old days and the older ways, nary a one is any more moving, any more adventurous, nor more affecting than that of Craypipe and Stovelilly. As you all know, Craypipe lived in the Wide Valley and Stovelilly kept her abode up in the Laurel Range of the Saw Teeth, and only upon great peril would Craypipe adventure forth from his shack among the stands of paper reeds; but the weather was fine and Craypipe was still young and less set in his ways, and he wondered what sort of land lay beyond those far, high and jagged peaks, and as you well know, there is no stronger motivation than simple curiosity. So one clear and bright morning, after all the chores had been done, Craypipe cursed to himself, threw up his hands—those hard hands of his, already gnarled with great strength and abrasive with harsh toil, even then—and put a paper note on his door saying, Gone Explorin’, put a blanket and one of his old belts around the mule, put some crackers, cheese and jars of honey wine in his burlap sack, grabbed his stick and set to walking.

Now, as you also know, Stovelilly got her name on account of her odd birth—her mother, Pratelin, was cooking that day for the Savior Man’s Feast and all the extended family in the hills, and the babe chose that precise moment when two or three things were ready to come off the stove or out of the oven all at once to come into this screaming world. Pratelin felt Stovelilly start to drop and reached down in a flash and caught her by the foot, lifted her up and set her in the cooking pot on the back of the stove—there was no fire under that burner, don’t you know, because it was nothing there but water for cooling things down with—and the new babe settled into the cool water, looked up at her mother and smiled. In the next instant, Old Ames came into the kitchen, took one look and stated, “Now Ma, what you cooking over there on that corner? Because I don’t think the folks will want any of that!”

“Oh shoo!” Pratelin said, damping down the fire under the taters. “That’s nothin’ but my little stove lilly.” And as you know, the name stuck.

But that was a long time ago, close on to thirty years, and Stovelilly lived in the cabin perched on the saddle of land between the two valleys all alone. Old Ames had died of the white rot and Pratelin got herself struck by lightning—and that is a whole other story, let me tell you—and it’s a hard world when you’re living on your lonesome. The family didn’t bother to come and state when they were moving off to the valley. They had forgotten about Stovelilly, as people sometimes do when they are deeply involved in their own affairs.

Now there was still magic in the Earth in those days. Some believe that it originally came from the great volcanic vents in the ocean, mixed with the water, was skimmed from the waves by the great winds that blow unceasing, and was dropped upon the mountains in great rain deluges, and ran down across the land and found its way into the very crops and the animals that we eat. It didn’t, then, take a lot of magic to manifest itself in ordinary ways, so no one thought of the lesser miracles as being quite…magical. They will see a tree growing from a little nut and think nothing of it, or a water spring up from a rock and pass it off as simply the way of the world. But it takes magic to move things, to cause them be when they weren’t before, and to generally bring forth life and living.

However it was that the magic came to be there, it so happened that Stovelilly was particularly sensitive to the ways of magic. She saw it everywhere around her, and was quite versed in pushing it along, of spreading it around such that little things throve and grew in profusion near her. Consequently, the saddle of land between Laurel Mountain and Forrestal Peak became ringed with a great forest of birch and pine, black walnut and maple, and fruit trees were everywhere such that there was no need to plant any crops nor slaughter any animals—for it wasn’t in Stovelilly’s nature to kill anything that could gaze upon a sunset or grow tired or thirsty. Thus, she walked alone in the forest, singing songs to herself to bide her time, and wondered as she walked if she would ever hear the voice of another human being ever again.

She had no way of knowing that a human being would be coming to visit her, and very soon. The magic didn’t speak of it, and her Dream Spirit kept the secret of his coming, for if she had any inkling of what would thereafter occur, she might have blanched at the aspect of it, and hidden herself, and not answered when the call came, borne of the wind that blows about the misty peaks in the morning.

It was seven days for Craypipe from the morning he left the shack until he came to the foothills beneath Laurel Mountain. He spent much of his time talking to his mule. The mule listened, but to his credit didn’t talk back. Nor had Craypipe ever named the beast, other than to call him, properly, Mule.

When Craypipe laid his head down that last evening before attempting the peak, he looked up at the stars and saw that they had not changed one iota from where they were back home, and he wondered at this. He had always heard that the stars were different in the southern climes. This, from the tales of old explorers, handed down through the years. But those old explorers had great boats, and all he had was an old mule who couldn’t talk or even curse back at him. Maybe it was all foolishness. How could the stars change?

Now the Great Old Bear also ranged the Saw Teeth, from Darkfell in the far south all the way to Northern Cross and the Castle ruins, and his wanderings took him past Laurel Peak, where the Mountain Magic was strongest. The Mountain Magic always made the Great Old Bear feel young, and when he slept in one of the dry caves beneath the saddle between the mountains, he awoke hungry, and hunger always made him angry, if not a little crazy.

It so happened that morning that the Great Old Bear and Craypipe awoke in the same instant, and while Bear was moving downhill to one of the streams with its treasure trove of brightfish, Craypipe moved steadily upward, pulling on Mule’s halter rope and cursing the beast at every misstep.

When Craypipe saw Bear coming, he said the bad word—the word no one can write under pain of death or imprisonment—and Bear, upon seeing Craypipe and hearing the word, let forth a fierce roar. Mule jerked the halter rope from Craypipe’s hand, turned his tail and ran, leaving Craypipe all alone on the mountainside.

Craypipe had naught but his walking stick, a shaman’s crook given him by his great grandpappy, and although it was chock full of both wonderment and power, the words and gestures that could summon the dark magic failed his mind upon the charge of Bear and imminent death.

Thus it was that Craypipe took the full force of Bear’s charge and was bowled over. Both man and beast tumbled down the mountain in a death embrace, and both would have perished were it not for the fact that one word escaped Craypipe’s lips during the mad descent, and this word was the only Power Word that Craypipe new. The Power Word set the shaman’s crook ablaze with the Hidden Fire, and the Fire enveloped Craypipe and turned the Bear’s great claws away from his all too tender skin. Additionally, it slowed their descent until they were aloft, suspended in the air with no ground beneath them. There, in the air, Bear became enraged and Craypipe became even more terrified. He was already bleeding from several deep slashes, and while the claws of Bear could not penetrate the fire, the concussive blows of Bear’s powerful forearms pummeled at Craypipe and very nearly knocked him senseless.

Stovelilly heard this great scuffle, distinctly heard Craypipe’s screams and Bear’s tremendous roar, and like a moth drawn to the flame, flew down the mountain toward them, gathering all the force of magic within her perimeter and channeling it into her arms and face.

Thus it was that in the last instant when she could have ceased her flight, instead she leapt outward from the face of the mountain and struck Bear with the concentrated force of her magic. The Hidden Fire of the shaman’s staff in Craypipe’s death clutch was snuffed out in a twinkling, and the three of them fell. Bear, however, was struck senseless by the Stovelilly’s magic, and thus it was that Bear alone—or rather, Bear’s ponderously huge form—that saved them, for the fell atop him and lay dazed upon his inert form on a high cleft in the mountainside.

Stovelilly awoke first, and found the bleeding man, still clutching his staff. Far away she heard the neigh of a horse or mule, and wondered if it was the man’s beast. There was nothing for that, however. She took hold of the man and pulled her to him. Her hands quickly became wet with his blood. She listened for his breath and felt for his heartbeat, but both were faint and fading, all too quickly. Instead of being repelled by the prospect of the strange yet handsome man dying in her arms, even as they lay atop the sleeping form of the Great Old Bear, Stovelilly began the song of Binding, first in a hushed whisper so as not to awaken the Bear, then, as the magic poured upon her from the earth around her and then through her, she was emboldened to sing all the more loudly and clearly. And those of you who know the Song of Binding, may sing it with me now, for here are the words as they were in the time that Stovelilly sang them:

Were it for me
I would not sing
Were it for death
I would not cry.
This is for life and
For healing
I sing.
Hear me Savior Man
And bring to me
The power to save
This lost soul
From the shadow
That comes.
To fight the shadow
Bring light.
To fight the death
Bring life.
To fight the wound
Bring healing.
And in healing
Bring Victory.
Thus I bind.
Thus.
Thus.
Thus I bind.
Thus.
Thus.

And as she sang “Thus” again and again, the magic multiplied and shimmered in her hair. Her old dress with the little daisies became a garment of light so bright that no thing could gaze upon it lest it be blinded.

And thus Craypipe’s gaping wounds were both cleansed by the Light Fire and closed, and the torn skin was sealed, even as the rent blood vessels were re-connected and blood once more flowed where before it flowed only outward through the breaks in the dam that was his body. For that is all a body is, a reservoir.

When Craypipe’s body was healed, he awakened to her beautiful visage and was struck dumb with admiration and wonder. He took her by the hand and bade her to rise. From the stomach of the Great Bear, the pair ascended the mountain, where they found Craypipe’s mule, standing and regarding them in a copse of mountain wildflowers. Stovelilly laid her hand on the beast’s head, and he too was struck as by a woven spell of love. Therefore both man and beast followed her to her little house on the saddle between the peaks, and there bided for a time in bliss and wonder.

There came a day when Craypipe’s tobacco had run low, and there was nothing for it but to venture forth in search of other people. Stovelilly would not travel so far, either on foot, or upon the back of an animal, and therefore she pled with him to stay.

Craypipe would not do so, even though he loved her more than he did his own hide.

She asked of him, “If thy mind is settled, would not thou instead then travel no more than a short time with me along the Ways, and there see other worlds?”

“I know not the Ways,” Craypipe stated, “though I have heard tell of them.”

“It is a simple matter, for a Byway Gate lieth not far from where thy sleepth next to me. For I know the ways, and would travel there before I would walk down the mountain, for the day that I go down will be the last day I shall ever see my home, and I shall never return.”

“Why speakest thou so seriously?” he asked her.

“When thou depart this place, I shall indeed go with thee, even though my heart be shorn in twain, for I love thee, silly Craypipe, and would live beside thee and also die, as thy wife.”

“I never had a wife,” he said, and spun his pipe on his fingertip. “But if thou would be my wife and have no other husband, I will forego a traipse down the slope, and instead travel with thee the Byway Gate, and gaze upon these other worlds of which thee speak.”

“Oh Cray,” she cried, and her tears came, and she kissed him.

They left the mule in the pasturage upon the mountainside, where all was green and lush, and would remain so throughout the seasons, and Craypipe followed Stovelilly to a secret cave.

Therein she lead him to a narrow passage hewn within the rock.

“Walk with me,” she said, “but lay aside the torch, hold my hand, and walk backwards, with nothing but hope and trust in my direction.”

“I would follow thee even into the Great Pit,” said he, and setting aside his torch, took her hand.

The walk through the Ways was a brief one, and they emerged amid a great battle, ongoing, in which men in shining armor hacked with swords at their enemies and fell from their mouths when the rains of arrows penetrated their armor, and there died.

An arrow passed through Stovelilly, and at first Craypipe cried out, but seeing she was unharmed, he gazed at her ethereal form in wonder and said, “Is this place not real? Are we not real to this place?”

“It is as real as the Great Bear, and fifty times more dangerous, but we are not yet wholly real. We must walk onward a ways, but continuing backwards, until we shall be restored to full flesh, for as now, we are mere shades.”

“Wonder of wonders,” Craypipe said.

One of the fallen knights gazed at them, even as he was slowly overcome by his wounds.

“A vision,” said he. “Art thou angels? I must be already dead.”

“She may be,” Craypipe said, “but I assure you, I am not.”

Then dismissing Craypipe, the knight turned his head to Stovelilly and cried. “Wilt thou not bless me? For my wound is mortal.”

Stovelilly knelt and placed her hands upon the brave knight’s brow and said, “I bless then in the name of the Savior Man, and of all that is good and blissful.”

The brave knight smiled. His eyes glazed over and he perished.

“Come,” Stovelilly said to her husband. “Let us walk further and away from this place, for I should not like to fully emerge amid so much death and carnage.”

“Aye, Lassie,” he said. “That we shall.”
[Editor’s Note: The story of Craypipe and Stovelilly ends here, as it did in the Book of Laird Merrick. It was likely collected by Merrick because of its references to the Ways, which were apparently an obsession for him. Although by decree, all references to Merrick have been stricken from the royal records, the tales of Laird Merrick have been passed as folk tales of the people of the Harrows from mouth to ear. Those tales follow.]

 

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Here’s a little post for aspiring writers—just a few tips that I hope will speed you on your way:

You should treat your writing project as though it’s so much clay, there to be shaped and molded at your whim. That is to say that in order to achieve the desired final result, you sometimes have to add things, embellish a bit here and there, and you sometimes have to lop things off wholesale; those things that don’t contribute to the overall project in a meaningful way, must be scrapped. The most direct way of stating this is that you must be perfectly willing to waste words. Words are your stock-in-trade. No book is ever written except that it’s done One Word At A Time. After the first draft stage, you may have a few dozen, possibly hundreds, and even thousands of words that don’t add anything to the story you’re trying to tell. Waste those words. Kill them. And add more if need be. I believe that writers who suffer from this truly non-existent malady they call Writer’s Block, actually suffer from one very simple thing only: a dearth of words. The remedy for any lack of a thing is to supply that thing. Therefore, you have to Sling Words At The Page. You have to sling far many more words at the page than you would care to think. The trick is to sling more than enough, and be willing to waste what’s not needed. Poof, no more writer’s block.

In keeping with the whole “clay” theme, there is no rule that says you have to write linearly. It’s true, books are written one word at a time, just as I said. But! There’s no reason you have to write them in straight order, from beginning to end. Those who say that a thing “must be done this way” are typically people who can’t break out of the box. They tend to write the same story, over and over again. And, well, that’s just yucky. But you don’t have to do that. You can write the first chapter, then write the last chapter, the write the next to last chapter, then write the second chapter, then the third from the last chapter, then the middle, then the Prologue (before the beginning), then the Epilogue (after it’s all over but the shouting), etc. There ARE no musts. None. Period. So don’t get trapped in downtown Linearville. It’s boring. It’s nothing but a one-way street through the same old town. Jump around a bit. See the sites, and along the way, write whatever the hell you want to write. Make it fun. Surprise yourself. The only person you have to please—at least at this stage—is you. And guess what? You’ll be way tougher on yourself than your future fans will ever be, by lightyears. So don’t sweat it. Just have fun with it. Splurge!

Another thing about rules is that I have found that they are made to be broken. Not just one of them, but very damn nearly ALL of them. Somebody says to you that you must must must begin a book with action, well by Jiminy, prove they’re wrong. Start with how boring everything is here in Dumpville, and that nothing ever happens. What? Nothing? Yep. That’s what I said. Nothing. You will be amazed at how riveting nothing can be. I mean, the reader is on the edge of his damn seat! Because guess what? Something ALWAYS happens! But guess what? Not here. Not in this first chapter. And pow! It just sucks them right on in. So, find a rule, break that damn rule. And that’s my only rule. I remember an editor told me once that you should never use words ending in ‘ly’. Words like “suddenly” and “freely” and “likely.” I mean, crap, there goes about five percent of the language, just because some wet-behind-the-ears junior editor with a brain filled with all the claptrap he learned in college latches onto something a professor—who probably couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag—blurted out because he was having a bad day and his wife was riding him about something stupid that morning. These are the same people who will tell you that you must sneeze thus. No. Not even. Forget about it. But they won’t listen to your protests because they are incapable of thinking for themselves, so whatever you do, don’t argue with them. Just smile at them, thank them, nod sagely, and then run like hell. And while you’re running, flush everything they just told you, because it’s a load of garbage.

For me, writing is a freeing experience. It’s best when it’s not loaded down with semesters (and even lifetimes) of preconceptions, bad advice, and a host of other baggage. Write to be free. You command the language. It’s your language! I mean, you’ve been speaking it well, bad and indifferent since you were kneehigh to a busted knee. Well, why the hell don’t you write it?

Shoot, I could go on. I could teach whole writing classes on this and get the weirdest looks from the attendees (who have each and every one attended other writing classes where they’ve been told the exact opposite of everything I’ve said thus far) but it’s all pretty well summated in the above few paragraphs.

It’s my contention that if you can speak the language passably well, if you can tell a story around a campfire and have everybody’s attention and have them leaning forward so as to catch every word, then by God you can be a writer. You can be the best writer who ever lived!

I guess that’s all. Go do it, now.

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It’s coming. Here’s is the author’s note for it:

AUTHOR’S NOTE

As a writer, I have been on the track of this story for most of my life. It has been hanging fire back there in the dimmest recesses of my awareness, never quite leaving me alone. I have, in fact, wanted to write this tale ever since I can remember.

Having become intrigued with the notion of the possibility of alternative dimensions for some time, and desiring to pen a “dark fantasy,” Isherwood was born. The title, however, was not born until I read George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides, the 1945 science fiction classic. The protagonist of that book, Isherwood Williams, is witness to the apocalypse of man. His viewpoint—that of an aloof and discerning man of science and student of human nature—carries that particular masterwork of fiction to its chilling conclusion. The book, as my friend Christine Bell of the Bookworks Bookstore (alternately called The Bookstore of Mystery and the Imagination, in downtown Glendale, California) stated, is “the most haunting book I have ever read.” And it was that for me. The images that Stewart painted for this reader will linger for decades.

While Earth Abides may not have been the inspiration for the current work (it’s hard for me to say what the inspiration actually was—probably a combination of several masterworks, including Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, and his and Peter Straub’s The Talisman, Clifford D. Simak’s City and Waystation, and perhaps a tad of Roger Zelazny’s famous Amber series) and it is not written from a singular viewpoint a la Isherwood Williams, it is, instead, itself—perhaps twenty or more differing points of view. That is to say that this author has no idea where it came from, except for possibly a synthesis of many works and my own imagination. There are indeed other tales similar to this, both from fact and from fiction—tales of a person being transported into the future and meeting their future selves, stories of being taken backwards or forwards in time, of being uprooted wholly from this world and taken to another; and last but certainly not least, the near-death and other macabre experiences of those who have suffered great illness or privation. According to their authors, these stories are not fictional. Not by a long shot. While most such are traditionally ignored in the mainstream, to say that “there is nothing new under the sun” is the same, in my book, as saying, “let me die now.” What a boring world it must be for some.

Isherwood is the world I wanted to create, to revel in and embellish. I believe that if there are other worlds, then they must have some of the same unbreakable edifices as this one: there must be peoples with their own distinctive culture, they must have rituals, they must have legends, and they must have heard of this—our—world. Another world would have pieces of our technologies (and conversely, ours of theirs). For another world not to exist is far too close to saying that there is no afterlife, that there are no spirits, that we are alone in the vastness of the universe, and that modern science IS, in fact, God. No, I’m afraid it isn’t, although some worship it as such. I have always felt somewhat of pity for those who do. They do not even know that they are not their bodies; that thing that animates their fragile form is itself both immortal and indestructible.

I set out to write the history of a world that “is not.” In that I believe I have failed. I failed to write a history. I’m rather happy about that. Instead, something else has occurred. The work itself has written a history of me.

My first attempt at this tale was an epic I was working on in the early 1990s entitled The Footprinters. That story was set in the primordial past (a hundred and fifty million years, to be exact) with a segue into today by way of the prologue. The Footprinters didn’t work out so well, and despite stretching out to forty thousand words in length, it was from a time when I was learning how to write. Ah well. The story itself may have been going nowhere in no particular hurry, but there were too many elements that, like Earth Abides, haunted me. Entrellis and his lairdsmen on horseback, Trey (who was at that time named Kern) the boy who was yet a man, Sherrin the witch and healer (in The Footprinters her name was Francin), and half a dozen other characters have lived on here in Isherwood. In 1992, when this world was first born via the printed word, I was married to another woman, I was living a hundred miles away from where I live now. I was, in fact, living another life. But, I was me. I was a writer, even then. When I would set myself down to write near the ending of each day, I was transported to another world. I was transported to the world where Merrick and his harriers once walked, where the land was in turmoil from civil war, and where a stranger with a higher knowledge walked among the simple folk.
Remembering those times and those images of the world I was trying to create, I recently embarked upon rewriting it all from scratch, and thus Isherwood was born.

Here we have good and evil in conflict as it always has been, we have a struggle for freedom from oppression, we have the bereft surging forward to assail those who would kill or enslave them, and we have personal journeys, love, and finally salvation. This is invariably the case when a writer sets out to do one thing and surpasses that thing—I am not saying that this work has surpassed any of those I have here named. Quite simply, I am saying that I have merely surpassed my own expectations for the work. And that, in the final analysis, is as it should be.

It is my sincere hope that you have enjoyed Isherwood, and that you will want to visit it once again. I am intent on at least two more in this series, thus forming a trilogy. But, I have no idea at this juncture, how long the final story will be. We are, after all, spanning whole dimensions, complete universes. There’s no telling where we may end up. And the final battle could very well end up being fought upon the surface of a star in another cosmos entirely. All by way of saying, let’s preclude no single thing.

All right, I suppose that’s it.

Take care, my friends.

See you on the other side.

George Wier
Austin, Texas