Tomb of the Father: Chapter Three (Excerpt)

Author’s note: The following text is a short chapter excerpt from my forthcoming novel, Tomb Of The Father. This installment will be one of the last chapter excerpts released until the book is completed.


Lord Eadwulf’s castle lay an hours ride from the city of Hableale, ensconced in rolling woodlands that trammeled out and merged with the flat vastness of the moor circumferent. The outer keep was a massive thing, ringed first by moat and second by huge curtain walls, ancient and wrought of stones from a foreign land, their providence as unknown to the inhabitants of Haberale as their age. Trumpets sounded from somewhere within the hulking monolith as two figures entered on horseback, driving hard across the drawbridge, through the mighty barbican and deep into the well trammeled haven of the outer bailey. To the right, a storehouse before which was chained a massive hound of some breed beyond the rider’s collective reckoning and to the left, a length of stable-barns from which the shunted braying of great steeds emanated like mighty gusts of wind. Folk of every lower class there labored; stable-lads hefting thick clumps of hay and the refuse of the equines as maidens dressed in the elegant red robes of the Order of Marta watched from afar, reveling in the excitement of their voyeurism, giggling with mischievous delight, fantasizing about that which their fathers would prefer they not. Older men moved large sacks of grain and salted meats from the castle proper and placed them within the store house in well-ordered piles and then dusted their calloused hands and stood chatting idly as their eyes followed the crows who turned half-circles up in the thermals.
The sky roiled with the dark harbingers of sunder, a heavy, howling wind tearing off from the far mountains and soaring in and under the battlements to scatter the hay and seed and chill the bones of every present soul. The guards looked to the darkening horizon nervously and then latched the great gate behind the two riders and then lead their horses to the stables and there bound and calmed them.
Gunvald dismounted first and looked around in wonderment. The grand keep’s ambit was so verdant and so ancient that it seemed more of some other world, some higher plane than the dull and barren sprawl of the short-flung town. He moved from the outer stable-barns and started on his way towards the wide stone-slated path which wound up to the mouth of the donjon like a gigantic serpent comprised of cloud. Baldric quickly followed and together, with a retinue of two guardsmen, they entered the castle proper. Through double doors of oak and across wide floors, well-laid with lavish carpeting, and up and down steps they went until at last they entered the well-packed banquet hall to the sound of muted strumming.
A great feast was underway and much merriment could be heard rising every now and then over the raucous clatter of instrumentation. Eadwulf Charmian sat, as was his right, at the head of the polished long table upon a throne garland with cushioned silks, hands overflowing with the splendor of his kitchens; spiced wine and phasianid. He was surrounded on all sides other by the host of the house, the chamberlain, his marshal, knights and footmen aplenty; pantler and butler moving to and fro with dutiful reserve, carrying plates of cheese and meats and trays of fish and hearty loaves and great and shimmering samovars of wine.
As Gunvald and Baldric made their way to the table they paused and, respectfully, bowed to their noble host who rose with great animation, smiling broadly.
“Duteous gentlemen, we welcome thee unto our hearth. One face familiar, the other, less so.”
Baldric gestured with melodramatic flair to his compatriot and then spoke in booming undulations.
“May I present, Ye Lordship, Gunvald Wegferend of Haberale, loyal solider to The Crown and honorable hero of our thede. Twas he alone who survived the massacre at Rivenlore and paid back the damnable cur, that architect of our goodly men’s demise, two-fold!”
A light of recognition there entered into the lord’s puffy, dull and inebriated eyes.
“Not with silver and gold, I trust!”
“No, m’lord,” Gunvald replied with a faint smile, “With blood and steel.”
“Aye, a most handsome reply! Come, let me embrace thee, worthy comrade!”
With a sudden burst of energy, the lord bounded across the floor and threw his chubby, ineffectual arms about Gunvald and then kissed his bewildered guest full upon the cheek and released him, smiling widely, patting the warrior’s arms as might a beneficent uncle.
“Now come, let us wine and dine and make merry!”
With some hesitation, Gunvald nodded and joined his Lord at the resplendent banquet table. Eadwulf made no direction and so Gunvald took a seat beside a old and grizzled pikeman whose helmet sat upon his lap, o’erturned as if he might at any moment don it once more and spring fiercely to violent action.
He scoured all present heads and gave a muted sigh. His lady was not present.
Where hast my love flown?
As Lord Eadwulf bade his Marshal, a stocky man named Haiden, raise the samovars and fill the newcomers goblets. Gunvald gritted his teeth, exerting every ounce of his considerable willpower to restrain himself from inquiry. At last, it became too much to bare; he turned full about in his chair and addressed his gracious host curtly.
“I hear tell, thee’ve taken on new hands. A young woman, if thy yeomen tell it true.”
Eadwulf gave a libidinous smile and in that moment, were he any other man, Gunvald would have leapt from his seat and cleaved him in twain. But he wasn’t any other man; he was a duke and more importantly, he was of Torian blood; of a certainty, there was no greater crime than the murder of one’s own kind – Gunvald recalled that not even that most abominable deity, Dactyl, whose very name were as a curse upon both the living and the dead, ever drew the blood of another Origin.
“Aye,” responded the lord, a twinkle in the eye, “A darling girl. A commoner, but none more beautiful, I tell thee true. Leofflaed is her name. I must introduce thee once she quits her bath.”
“She’ll be joining us?”
“Indeed, this is a special night, dear countryman! Hath thy dull brain been so wrought with valorous contemplation that ye’ve forgotten the day?”
Baldric, who sat dutifully beside his cousin, leaned in, whispering, “Tis Winter’s Dance.”
Gunvald perked up instantly, raising his goblet and forcing a wan smile.
“Of course, of course, I’d nearly forgot, tis Winter’s Dance.”
“Aye, Fall holds ever diminishing sway, master of the seasons no longer – the whispering winds of The Rimn rattle the cottages of our dainty hamlet already like the breath of some great beast,” Haiden exclaimed, shuddering slightly.
This pronouncement of fell dismay seemed to rouse much discontent in the host, the lord most of all.
“What now, sir? Is my Grand Marshal – sovereign of both horse and man – afeared of a light Winter’s gale?”
A portly old man nearest the Marshal, crimson frocked and hairless, replied darkly, “Haiden speaks it true, m’lord. These winds which blow so ceaselessly, the odd fog that seems to hang omnipresent o’er the moors, what seems to follow one in the passing, and those accursed crows – everywhere, simply everywhere – tis a bad sign. An omen. Marta is warning us.”
“Hush now, Summoner Thane,” Exclaimed Eadwulf, squirming upon his garland throne with nervous agitation, “Afore thy doomsaying proves ruinous to the good mirth of the house.”
The old man leaned back in his chair and folded his hands about his chest, over the heart. Gunvald recalled that the superstitious, masked peasants he’d met upon the road had made the same gesture when he’d uttered the name of the Eyeless-all-seeing. Gunvald remembered being taught as a child that the earthly manifestations of Marta affix themselves to the heart. It was said that the heart was the source of all emotion and that, if sufficient appropriations of piety were made to the goddess, she would cleanse the ailing organ of all that troubled it. Due this attribution, some had taken to calling her, Our Lady Pure-Heart, others still, The Reaper of Woe, though Summoner’s of a more parochial variety looked down upon such name-giving – some to the point of declaring such monikers heresies – for in the purist’s eyes, it was the very summit of arrogance to denominate pet-names to an Origin of beautitude. What place, after all, did the finite have naming the infinite?
Thane opened his wrinkled maw to speak but a harsh glare from his lord caught it there in his throat and, quickly, he fell silent once more, nodding to himself rather sadly as might the father of some harumscarum lad who’d the mind to go frolicking about the moors at night. Haiden too said no more and seeing this a fresh smile broke out over Eadwulf’s rotund and rosy face. He reached forth with his beefy, bejeweled fingers and raised his glass for a slender serving wench who poured a fresh pint of wine.
“What do thee make of all their pronouncements, landsman Gunvald?”
Gunvald looked from Haiden to the holy man and then shook his head.
“I am a footsoldier, before that, farmer. Premonitions and omens are, I am afraid, well beyond my ken.”
Suddenly, a new voice intruded upon the feast, low and sonorous, mannered like some orator of yore.
“This once venerable council has fallen to superstition most deplorably. Here you sit, High Summoner and Grand Marhsal, in the keep of the most powerful lord in the north, quaking like unsuckled babes at the prospect of supernatural despotism. Our dreams can, in times of direst contest, follow us full from that queer parlor, sleep, and pass into the waking world, latched to the insides of our selfsame skulls like a gaggle of phantasmal parasites. There they spring loose upon our fertile imaginations all manner of signs and signals, every style of omen and fell proscription. But by what method do we discern whether it is some connective coil that lends itself to providence or merely our dream’s own alcahest? Answer that question and thee shall surely have seized upon the truth of it.”
All present heads turned left, to the grand stair that let out to the upper landing, to behold a young man, garland in the finest of silks, blue and white. Upon his shoulder nested a falcon, whose piercing black eyes scanned the crowd the same as its master’s own and his lapis blue and more striking still.
Eadwulf gestured to the well-spoken dandy, “Landsman Gunvald, may I introduce to you the honorable Baron, Czemis Avarr, Ironmonger and Falconer of Caer Avarr. Our barton’s Master of Game.
Gunvald nodded respectfully towards the beauteous man who bowed respectably, but with a slight smile playing up one side of his face, as if he were possessed of some knowledge about the members of that venerable gathering which, if divulged, would bring about considerable embarrassment. The falconer then advanced to the table, his footfalls so soft and feline he made almost no sound at all. When he stood before the only empty chair opposite the lord, Haiden sighed and gestured to the falcon.
“Master Avarr, surely you do not mean to bring that carrion-beast to our table?”
The falcon sqwaked as if in rebuke as Avarr smiled ever so faintly once more.
“Not at all, for see thee not, he’s no carrion-beast. My friend prefers his prey were lively. The struggle of the hunt well whets his appetite.”
The Grand Marshal furrowed his brows with deep puzzlement and some apprehension, unsure as to the significance of the young falconer’s words.
“Meaning that he will leave thy food unmolested, lest thou there hath eft or shrew a scuttling.”
Avarr smiled his ghosting, barely discernable smile and straightened, extending the arm upon which his falcon nested as he whistled a command, whereupon the majestic beast flew full up to the rafters and then back down to perch upon the lower railing of the staircase like a dutiful guardian. The avian surveyed them intently as its master took his seat opposite Eadwulf, removing a small, silver cigarette tin from some inner fold of his jacket. All the while he moved, Gunvald’s eyes followed him, transfixed to the supple elegance of the singular man as he slid a machine-packed cigarette between his blood-red lips and lit it with a golden lighter. Languid and masterful were his movements, so much so that even the mundane action of his tobacco consumption seemed to eat up the energy of the room, to refocus and refine it. After a few long, languid drags upon his opium laced cigarette he leaned back upon the unadorned and old wooden chair at table’s end as if it were a throne more resplendent than Eadwulf’s own. The gesture seemed to say that it were now permissible for the party to continue, that his entrance had garnered sufficient appraisal. It seemed, to the veteran, that any man or woman who had no foreknowledge of the rightful placing of the household would have assumed this guady, white-haired falconer the rightful master of the keep.
“Thou must be Sir Gunvald, tis an honor to make thy acquaintance, loyal kinsman.”
Avarr extended a supple, white-gloved hand to the soldier who took it with some hesitation and shook it firmly. The falconer was far stronger than he looked.
“The honor is not thine alone, Baron Avarr, thy reputation precedes thee. Six years of fighting the grey folk and yet I never once encountered thee or thy men. Yet there were stories aplenty. Not a month went by where there was not talk amongst the war camp of thy valor. I wish we could have, if but once, shared the field.”
“We never had the chance to fight, side by side, as I never fought at the front. Fering – before his passing – stationed my regiment in the north-eastern forests near the base of the World Spine; despite my protestations, he believed, correctly, as it turned out, that my prowess as a huntsman would prove useful against the remnants of the Grey Folk who had deserted their war combine and who operated from that festering wood as brigands of a most savage disposition. Their operation had severely hampered our supply-lines and without supplies thy lot in the front would have crumbled, not from the foes to the north, but from the pangs of hunger and thirst. As thee well knows, the Grey Folk were not seasoned in open warfare, they’d have been crushed like insects under the hooves for a boar had they confronted the Torian Legions, army to army, on some open plain, as is our custom, for those weapons from my forge are scarce rivaled, even in Sage. Rather, they preferred the confounding architecture of their grand forests – subterfuge and skullduggery from behind bark and vine – arrows in the dark, knives in the back in twisting avenues where grapeshot is ill advised. Thou mayest recall the furor their tactics caused, we Torians had grown complacent in our ways and were outraged, foolishly, senselessly, when a tribe decided that rules and warfare mixed as water and oil. So our gracious Lord sent me to confront them at their selfsame game and thanks to the valor of my own men and, if it is not too bold to say, my own slow-flowering plans, I was able to best them most decisively.”
“As humble as ever, Baron.” Marshal Haiden sneered. Gunvald sensed bad-blood between the two and wondered at its origins. It seemed to Gunvald that there was some mote of jealousy in Haiden’s tone, buried firmly beneath his facade of civility. A venom particular to a man once scorned and unrecognized. A strange thing indeed, for the Grand Marshal was, in the hierarchy of the court, second in importance only to Eadwulf and the Arch-Summoner himself. What, Gunvald wondered, could he possibly be jealous of? What could a countryside ironmonger of minor nobility possess that the chief of The Lord’s army could not?
At length, Avarr turned to the Marshal and poured himself a glass of wine and lit himself another cigarette before speaking.
“I’ve been called many things in my life, Grand Marshal: ‘whore-monger,’ ‘addict,’ ‘pretentious,’ ‘tree killer,’ but never, ‘humble.’ At this point, such an allegation would sting worse than all the others. What is ‘humility’ but the perpetual pretense of inferiority? Nothing else. The humble man is he who says, ‘Ignore my prowess! It is meaningless! Praise only my boundless insignificance!’ When indeed, in reality, the feigning of his impotence and insignificance is the very thing which he hopes is praised; a substitute for true virtue. To be called humble is to be called a liar.”
The members of the house gave several terse, nervous laughs, unsure if Avarr’s comments were meant as jest or lecture or some queer combination of the two and when he laughed with them their mirth turned in earnest. Haiden merely grimaced and returned to his goblet, clearly displeased but not so sufficiently as to ruin his Lord’s graceful gathering.
Eadwulf leaned over his mutton, goblet in hand, remnants of fowl clinging to his girthful and graying beard, “Is Leofflaed coming shortly? Or is she still mucking about with her perfume and spice?”
The baron leaned back in his chair, smoking idly and looking off to where his feathery comrade fluttered about the rafters as if in silent rapport. At length, he spoke without turning.
“She dresses as we speak. I expect her any-”
Suddenly a shrill, impetuous voice boomed out from the upper landing.
“So I see that all have begun without me!”
Gunvald followed the voice from whence it came and turned his gaze to the grand stair whereupon a young woman stood, pout-lipped and grim-eyed, hands at her waist. Gunvald was shocked and elated. Elated at the sight of his beloved, shocked at how much she had changed in the space of seven years. Gone was the radiant smile of youthful innocence, in it’s stead, a cold, disdainful frown. Gone were the sun-faded and form-fitting lineaments of the village, replaced now by garish vestments of the keep, silk and sapphires, silver and gold. Gone was her agile frame and the supple movements which the soldier remembered so fondly from his youth, replaced now by an ungainly girth. None would have called her fat but the burgeoning plumpness of castle-excess was unmistakable.
“Thou hath no right to look so put-out, Leofflaed, one cannot expect all the world to run along the lines of thy clock,” Avarr replied flatly from below.
She surveyed the falconer with slowly softening vexation, then the party. Gunvald was surprised the Lord did not reprimand the baron for his chastisement. At length, she sighed and descended the stair, taking a seat beside Lord Eadwulf. As one of the serving girls pulled out a seat for Leofflaed, Eadwulf smiled and gestured towards her, his mouth half-filled with meats.
“Radiant, my dear, most radiant!”
Her only reply was a half-hearted smile, as transitory as the light glinting off her eyes.
The Lord motioned for the serving girls to fill her cup and move the food down to Leofflaed’s end of the table, as the silk-robed woman looked over the faces of every present soul. She seemed wholly disinterested in the affair, hands folded about her waist, lips stuck in what seemed to be a perpetual pout. Though she had gained weight and her countenance wore grim, she was still quite beautiful, the luster of fertile youth not yet wholly faded by time. What stirred Gunvald’s passions more than all her fading beauty was the memories of those fairer days wherein she and he had twined about the steps of the old temple, bounding here and there over moss and lichen, bracken and fern; how they had played hide and seek in the forests beyond Castle Avarr just before the moorland; how they embraced in times of woe and how they had kissed underneath the white bone of the moon by the statue at the edge of town whereupon he’d stumbled across the curious, one-eyed beggar. He remembered how they’d made love the day before he’d left for war, how she’d moaned and later cried and how they had pledged themselves to one another as the sun had risen red as the blood of all the men he had ever slain, as if portending all the masterful savagery he had done and all that he was still to do. Crushing sadness and unignorable agitation swam within the body of the swordsman, moving within his bosom and up from bosom to throat and from throat to mouth, bursting free of that fleshy cage like a lantern shattered in a barn of hay.
“Ne’er did I dare to believe that I would behold that face again; not in wildest dream-wanderings.”
Leofflaed turned to the upstart instantly, one brow going up with mild shock, the other down in confusion. Eyes met there for some indeterminable sphere’s turning, brown to green, green to brown forest to earth, plateau to vine. The shock swiftly dissipated into perplexed consternation.
“And thou art?”
Gunvald’s heart stilled a moment, then a pain, eerie and ethereal, slithered throughout the totality of the soma, palling the mind with direst imaginings. The soldier parted his lips to speak but no sound there escaped; he merely looked on, stunned to speechlessness. Fists balled like stones at his side, trembling with agitation. How, he thought, could she not remember?
Avarr turned to the woman and gestured to the soldier with his half-burned cigarette.
“Lady Leofflaed, may I introduce thee to Gunvald Wegerferend. It were he that slew Grim-Claw, Chief of the Gray Hordes of the North. Impressive, no?”
Leofflaed’s eyes grew wide, her body tense and still, her breath catching in her throat until a muted gasp escaped therefrom.
“Please… excuse me. I’m not… feeling well.”
Eadwulf lowered his goblet, furrowing his disorderly brows.
“What’s this now, have ye taken too much port afore the meal?”
“No, my dearest,” she turned full away from the still-standing soldier as she addressed her liege, as if she might wither away beneath his gaze, “I… do not not know what has come over me, some allergy perhaps, a fever of the seasons.”
Her facade fooled none but a few of the serving maids who cloistered round their ward, one of them fanning the lady with an empty soup dish, all the better to dispel whatever had befallen her. None spoke and, at length, the Lord intoned softly and somberly, “Well, get ye gone then. Off to bed. Off.”
The Lady left without another word as an uneasy pall settled over the feast. After the last footfalls of the Lady and her entourage had vanished up the well-varnished steps of the keep, The Baron rose and took Gunvald by the arm.
“Join me for a smoke upon the terrace.”
“But… the feast…”
Gunvald glanced over his shoulder and found Eadwulf’s beady eyes affixed to his own, sullenly regarding them with growing suspicion from beneath craggy brows and matted locks.
“I and our kindly guest wish to ply our senses to the crisp night air, by your leave.”
The Lord looked on a moment, his suspicion melting away almost instantly into a look of sadness then bewilderment, then comprehension. He nodded, “Ah, yes, yes, of course. Give him the goodly tour of it!”
“So I shall, my lord. So I shall.”
The two men, the baron and the landsman, left off out of the great hall to the whispering of the inner court, the distance rendering the sounds unintelligable.

Forging The Mappa Mundi | Part 1

Of the essentials of a story, characters, theme, style and setting, the latter is perhaps the most difficult for new or dilettante writers to manage. Take for example this first paragraph excerpt from the short story Family Gathering by Paul Beckman from Fictive Dream (a excellent site).

The laughers come first. They always arrive early and announce their early arrival to the hostess who isn’t ready yet for company. They think the hostess will laugh along with them but she won’t. She hasn’t finished cooking, dressing, or putting on makeup. She tells the laughers this and they respond with guffaws. Guffaws are infuriating to the hostess. Meanwhile the host has his first drink of many. The laughers are his wife’s family, not his, and drinking is how he tolerates them.

Though the prose is good, never once does one get a sense of place — one understands that ‘the laughers’ and ‘the hostess’ abide in a house, but we have no idea what the structure is like in anywise. We are not told whether the house is big, small, old new, black, white, brown or purple, classical, neoclassical, modern or experimental; nor do we know what rooms are where nor how they are laid out. All that we know is that some people arrived at a house. The rest of the text is similarly vague as pertains to spatiality. It should be noted that carto-spatial descriptions within a text are not intrinsically necessary; for example, in a poem, wherein the chief aim is to stir some specific passion or passions, one need not delve into particularities of geography; the same goes for something like a hallucinatory scene or dream sequence wherein reality is “off.” However, in a story, particularly in a longform story with a specific setting, it is absolutely pertinent to establish some kind of definitive geographic layout otherwise all movements will be rendered indecipherable.

Compare the previous paragraph to the flash composition The Crossing by Philip Scholz:

“Buenas tardes,” the guard said.

“Hello,” he replied, not ready to try his Spanish. Which greeting was the guard using?

“What is your business?” the guard asked.

“Vacation.” He had no intention to return.

“Your passport, please,” the guard said, holding out his hand.

He handed over the fake one, hoping his shaking hand wasn’t noticed. This was the test. He had to stay calm.

The guard reviewed the passport without a word. Finally, he flipped it closed.

“Welcome to Mexico.”

Exhaling, he took back the passport and kept driving, now a country away from the wife whose throat he’d slit.

Whilst this piece is far shorter, is establishes geography far more quickly and decisively and, most importantly, without going out of its way to do so, by which I mean, at no point in the text does the narrative flow stop for geographic descriptors, rather, they are woven into the narrative in such a way as to maintain it and drive it forward to its terminus. In the latter piece, the author accomplishes placeness through “passport” and “guard,” as well as “Welcome to Mexico” all without ever saying “airport” — which is a testament to the fact that the general cartospatial shape of things is all that is fundamentally needed (in conjunction with some slight induction and deduction from the reader) to establish the mappa mundi — the map of the world.

On Typeface: Size, Selection & Distraction Mitigation

In any new writing project font type and size are key and the aim and medium of the project must be judiciously taken into consideration. Other than the obvious rule: avoid crazy and/or unreadable/difficult-to-read fonts, there are a couple of guidelines which, if followed will make one’s project move along more fluidly.

Firstly, fonts become standardized for a reason and that reason is generally that those which become widely used do so because of their readability and aesthetic dimensions (later, convention will gird them from change or modulation). The most popular fonts are those that have remained the easiest to create and which bring the most readability to their attendant texts. Some of the most popular fonts include:

  • Garamond (Claude Garamond, 1530)
  • Baskerville (John Baskerville, 1757)
  • Didot (Firmin Didot, 1784-1811)
  • Bodoni (Giambattista Bodoni, 1790)
  • Akzidenz Grotesk (Brethold Type Foundry, 1896)
  • News Gothic (Morris Fuller Benton, 1908)
  • Times (Stanley Morison, 1931)
  • Helvetic (Max Miedinger, 1957)
  • Sabon (Jan Tschichold, 1966)
  • Minion (Rober Slimbach, 1990)
  • Myriad (Robert Slimbach, Carol Twombly, Christopher Slye and Fred Brady, 1992)
  • Georgia (Matthew Carter, 1993)
  • Mrs Eaves (Zuzana Licko, 1996)
  • Gotham (Hoefler and Frere-Jones, 2000)

If one is writing a print work (such as a short story collection or novel) then the font type needs to be one which can be printed without losing clarity in relation to size and the size needs to be relative to the size of the page (accounting for bleed). This is generally not something which one will need to worry about if one is working with a competent and established publisher (as they will typically do this work for you), but it is quite important to understand if one wishes to engage in wholly independent self-publishing (where one will not only write the book, but design it, print it and market it as well).

If one is writing a text for the internet then multiplatform dispensation needs to be considered, for instance: how will the font look on desktop as opposed to mobile phones and tablets? How will the font “hold up” on different screens with different resolutions?

Note that these decisions should be made only after the writing project is completed, not during. The reason for this (general) rule is that it is disadvantageous to juggle typefaces in the middle of the writing process (regardless of the content of the project) given that in doing so one’s attention will be regularly split between the narrative under-construction and the peculiarities of the font and how they match or are found to be discontinuous with the themes or style of the project. That being said, it is best to pick one font and commit to it throughout the entirety of the text-work so as to mitigate aesthetic distractions, renovating the design of the text and making it internet “friendly,” (or offline program “friendly”) only after it is complete whereupon a considerable amount of time will have been saved.

Dawn: Tokyo’s Innovative Avatar Cafe

Though the standard line in terms of machine-job integration has been “the robots are taking your jobs!” this is not true in relation to Dawn (Diverse Avatar Working Network) ver.β, a peculiar cafe (open from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.) located in Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan, which is staffed by humanoid robots. Unlike the automatons at contemporary factories, the robots of Dawn are ‘avatars’ which are controlled by disabled workers who, shorn of their mechanical incarnations, would find it difficult to work and interface with broader society.

B-13
OriHime-D delivering pastries to a patron.

The four-foot tall robot-avatars, developed by the start-up Ory, are referred to as OriHime-D and are operated by individuals with severe mobility impairments (such as ALS) who control them from the comfort of their homes. As the beta in the name suggests, the current iteration of the cafe is a trial run that ends Dec. 7 with a full opening in 2020.

Rothfuss, Writer’s Block & The Myth of the Author

The well known and impressively bearded fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss (best known for his Kingkiller series) once said, “-people talk about writer’s block all the time, as if it were real. And it’s simply not, the truth is, it is simply hard to write sometimes. The same as any other professional or creative endeavor. But if a plumber called in and said ‘Oh, Gregory! My muse does not speak to me today. I fear I cannot plumb,’ you’d be like ‘Well, we’ve got a contract.’”

He further elaborates, “You say ‘writer’s block’ and people are like ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ It’s like you’ve just said ‘I have meningitis.’ It’s like, ‘Oh fuck, writer’s block, did you get some amoxycilin for that?’ It’s not a thing. It’s not a thing. But here’s the thing. Here IS the thing,” Rothfuss said. “You write with your head. You could break your leg and then still write. But if, say, your dog has fucking died, that’s in your head. If your relationship is a mess. If you have a mood disorder (which, statistically, you’re six to ten times more likely to have if you’re a writer). If you have either diagnosed or undiagnosed depression, or any of the myriad host of things that can legit go chemically wrong in your brain. Or if it’s just your life is shitty or your dad is sick, or like, maybe the Republic is crumbling and there’s an autocrat in power.”

“-the reason I push back against the myth of the author, is if we keep going ‘Oh, you’re a magical unicorn and you have a magical unicorn disease called writer’s block,’ it keeps people from correctly identifying what might really be going in their lives, in their minds or, honestly, in the world, that’s affecting their ability to produce art,” Rothfuss concluded, “I don’t think writers’ block exists. I think undiagnosed mood disorder exists.” (This note rings with the personal, as Rothfuss himself has struggled with mental illness).

We would concur with Mr. Rothfuss’ general position (and his extremely eloquent novel, The Name of the Wind, well attests to his considerable prowess in fiction). We have found that, regardless of whether or not we hear the glorious silken voices of the muses, in so far as we persist, in so far as we are steeled of purpose and mind, the words come all the same. We give them no quarter, allow them no shade, no harbourage whatsoever; we force them out and imperiously direct them to the page. We would, however, note one important exception taken with Rothfuss’ excellent analysis, namely, his contention with the myth of the author. Now when he says, the myth of the author, Rothfuss does not mean that authors do not literally exist, that they are merely myths, but rather that the author is no more elevated than the ironmonger or the electrician, the fishwife or the bag-handler. This rings of falsity, for it is not the baggage handler or the chimney sweep who echoes throughout time and who can, if sufficient in their powers, change the entire fabric of a town, nation or empire. Which is not, of course, to denigrate the laudable, indeed indispensable, work of those previously mentioned professions, but rather to say that when fiction is bad it is near worthless, but when grand, it is something which can scarcely be matched, much less surpassed, by any other field of endeavor; for it is fiction, myth, that has guided and girded the whole ambit of the world and without it purpose-as-such itself should like as not melt into the air.

OVERLOOKED FUNDAMENTALS OF FICTION WRITING (PART III)

Passive & Active Character individuation

The accent, cadence, lexiconical reach and narrated description of a character all lend themselves to differentiating them upon the page from every other, however, the former three are oft neglected by burgeoning writers. This is usually a by-product of theme fixation and character repetition and should be guarded against. Having all of your characters speak the same is wrongheaded for obvious reasons and lends itself to a narcissistic reading (even if that reading is incorrect) by the audience; the assumption by critical readers will be – generally – that the author is simply asserting himself through a panoply of different avatars to better pound some pulpit or another. Very tedious and often, quite condescending.

Active individuation is any portion of a story which has a character actually doing something that differentiates him or her or it from the rest of the cast. Manner of speech (and thought, if there are to be internal monologues) here is paramount. If you are from a coastal US region the intricacies of other state accents will be largely foreign to you and likely be beyond your ability to reliably and authentically recreate. If you are writing a story surrounding a poor youth living in the deep south of the US and have little knowledge of the south, for instance, then you’ve some legwork ahead of you. You must study the language of the area, the collective mannerism and phraseology, hammer out the regional accents and home in on a very specific model of speech and stick to it throughout the entirety of the story. Linguistic active individuation is made doubly difficult due to the tendency for most people to write in much the same fashion in which they speak. Social media is a testament to this, where dialectical tendencies can be observed in real-time breaking down along fairly predictable national, ethnic and racial lines. Also of importance, after having garnered a handle on the dialects one wishes to employ within their story, is to take a measure of the dialect continuum to be utilized, where it becomes less intelligible to other groups of your fictional world and where it ends completely and trammels off into total unintelligibity.

A dialect continuum is any geographically contained series of varied language groupings which are all, to some degree, intelligible (though not mutually) to every other member of the total language block. In the US, the English language is the primary “block” whereas all of the various different variations thereof, such as southern, Ebonics, New York and the transcontinental accent, make up the variations of the block, or the sub-blocks of the primary language and though, not mutually communicable to all other sub-blocks, each block can be reliably understood to communicate on the most rudimentary of levels. Taking this real world example of language variability into your own stories will help to add a level of both immersion and believability which simply will not be able to be achieved without it.

Passive individuation, we shall define, as any portion of the story which defines a character through something other than their direct action, from some source that is beyond their agency. The most common form of passive individuation is narrative description of the character, such as, “Franklin was a stocky man, graying about the temples, some forty years of age, with a wrinkled brow and a surly grimace perpetually distorting his wind-chaffed and pitted face.”

Here it is important to establish visual motiffs, whether they are movements, some portion of their physiology or some notion or mythos concerning them which is propogated by some other portion of the cast. For example, in my latest (and as yet unfinished work) the novel, Tomb of the Father, there is a ominous character who stalks and hunts down criminals, he wears peculiar bracelets, adorned all with bells and everywhere he walks there is a faint jingling preceding his steps. I utilize this aural motif at subsequent sections later on in the story to establish both a eerie precursor to his appearance as well as a vector which forces other characters within the novel to recall their interactions with him; for example, one of the principal characters is passing beside a merchant who is hocking chimes and their metallic chittering reminds the character of the ominous man. Such symbolic motifs are imminently useful for establishing a particular tone or mood and are highly underutilized in modern literature wherein most authors will rather satisfy themselves on spoken themes and rigidly articulated talking points, this can be fine but is inherently inclined to wax either stale or obnoxious.

OVERLOOKED FUNDAMENTALS OF FICTION WRITING (PART II)

Overlooked aspects of character and theme

Whilst bearing the overwhelming importance of world inconsistency in mind we will now turn our attention to characters and their portrayal. A good fiction writer must be a good actor, his characters must not all be but mere extensions of his own idiosyncrasies, if so the characters will assume a kind of bland and unconvincing uniformity, becoming not separate entities, but rather, component parts of one overbearing hive mind with a totalizing consistency of thought. Characters should all have their own inner lives unless you have a reason within the story to portray them “flatly.” For example, you might wish to portray a nameless “random henchman” type character in a comedy tale to parody action genre-convention, with its seemingly endless host of utterly incompetent and drone-like shock-troopers who are curiously never daunted by the fact that their masters continuously send them up against foes girded by the indomitable power of plot-armor.

Two good examples to compare and contrast for the purposes of elucidating “well rounded” characters and “flat characters” can be found in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged respectively. In The Fountainhead all of the principal characters (and even most of the minor characters) are distinctive, both in terms of their thoughts, words and deeds whereas in Atlas Shrugged nearly all of the principal heroes are facsimiles of John Galt (with the sole exception of Dagny Taggart) and all of the principal villains are echoes of James Taggart (with the sole exception of Dr. Robert Stadler). A repetition of a certain character type is problematic because it necessitates a repetition of theme. In the case of Atlas Shrugged it is established that John Galt believes that a kind of enlightened selfishness is not only good, but the highest moral good. Since nearly all of his compatriots in the novel speak, act and think exactly like him (to the point of being indistinguishable upon the page without moniker) one knows precisely what they’re going to say and what they are going to do. Furthermore, this tendency breeds a (often unintentional) preachiness which is both extraneous and irksome; there is, after all, only so many times and ways one can repeat “selfishness is the highest good” before the reader is inclined to inwardly shout, “By the underbelly of Apophis, I get it already!”

If your purpose, in writing any particular story or portion thereof, is to convince your audience of something, it were better that you restrain from incessantly beating them over the head with your ideas, as that is about the least convincing thing you could do. Furthermore, regardless of your purpose, the aforementioned type of character repetition (and thus, theme repetition) breeds stilted and unbelievable characters who will utterly bore all as the reader has already met them a dozen or more times before! As with films, there are some books that are so profoundly bad they’re good precisely because they’re so humorously bad, but whoever heard of a book so boring that one simply must read it?