I got thinking (dangerous, yes I know)…
Reading all these blog posts for the ROW reminded me about the reasons that writers need to read other writers. It’s a reminder that I need frequently because of how easily enraptured I become with research books and articles and news stories, etc.. It sadly is also a reminder I need frequently I realize because I tend to avoid reading fiction for pleasure. And realizing this, I spent a little time trying to understand why.
Let me explain. I love stories. I love fiction when I read it. But I rarely make a point of picking it up from the shelf and opening it.
The “obvious” reasons seem so trite. “I’m too busy” or “I just haven’t found the right books, I guess.” Even when they might seem true, I knew there had to be more to it. And there was.
First, a small explanation of the type of reader (and viewer) I am: I re-read books. A lot. I re-read The Lord of the Rings♦♦ thirty-five times before I was twenty. I’ve re-read Lisanne Norman’s Sholan Alliance series around ten times now. Glen Cook’s Black Company series, Jeffery Carver’s Starrigger novels, Nancy Drew ♥♥ and Hardy Boys, Agatha Christie and Tony Hillerman… If I like it, I re-read it.
And I re-watch it… I’ve watched Babylon 5 enough times that my husband, who got me into the series, doesn’t want it on anymore. I’ve re-watched M*A*S*H, Jayce & the Wheeled Warriors, Chuck, Star Trek, the Indiana Jones movies and the original three Star Wars movies more times than I should admit.
Now, despite the large quantity of cheese here, there is a point beyond the fact that I really should expand my horizons more. And it isn’t that I am as obsessive about the stuff that clicks with me as my son (and he’s five, and this sort of behavior is expected from children). It’s that it takes a little extra nudge to break the pattern. Thus, one reason for my joining the 50/50/Me challenge.
♦♦ I recently discovered that I’m not the only one this silly. On Reddit about a month ago I met someone who was starting his/her fifty-third re-reading of LotR.
♥♥ This link ended up being a treasure trove! I loved the Dana Girls too. Yeah, I like my cheese. Here’s more!
Going back to the whole “why” thing though, there is (and for me this is the biggest issue) the sad fact that I don’t enjoy most (new to me) fiction anymore because I can’t stop analyzing it long enough to just enjoy it. I understand the value of critiques, and I appreciate the insight gained by reading a great book and understanding how the author did that “great thing” but when read always feels like I have to do a thesis on it, it’s just not fun anymore. Unless you like writing theses. Frankly, the idea is terrifying to me.
I’m already seeing it happen now with my first 50/50/Me choice (not even a fiction book). I’m a little over 3/4s through it, and already I have nine pages of notes on the book for a review. And until I wrote that last paragraph, I never thought to ask myself “Why?”◊◊
When does the pleasure come into play?
Am I wrong to expect some when I open a book?
Or am I destined to see the narrow-brow, eyes-peeking-just-over-the-rim-of-her- glasses-as-she-looks-up-from-grading gaze I’ve experienced from all but one of my English and Literature teachers whenever I said I was enjoying X story? Am I destined to hear the “Oh? Why?” or the “Try exploring the reasons behind Anakin’s decision to destroy the Emperor more deeply. Yes, I’m sure he does know that he’s made a bad choice for long enough; and I’m sure somewhere he is beginning to feel a need to protect his son from the same fate. But why now? Why not at the beginning of Return of the Jedi? Why did he wait while his son suffered for so long?” in head forever? (My short answer? Because Lucas wanted it that way.)
So, there it is… I don’t read enough fiction. I don’t enjoy it enough anymore, even when I love the story and put it in my re-read pile. And it’s something that I want to change, something I want to regain.
◊◊ At least this had an easy answer: I feel I need to be able to explain my reasons for whatever I say in the review if asked; I need to write the review, because I need to ‘prove’ I read the book (50/50/Me is based on an honor system, but I’ve already had the internal Voice of Doubt say “That’s too much; you should pick some smaller amount.”¤¤); and if I have all these great notes, maybe I can use them someday in a story (I have LOTS of notes, everywhere).
¤¤ Funny how the VoD sounds just like my mother!
And now another slice of fiction by me
In a follow up of sorts from my post last week, here is another section of that fan-fiction I lovingly call the Was Long Variation. No, it’s not the most descriptive title really, but it helps me.
Of my main characters, this piece deals with mostly Atyr. Continuity-wise it occurs within the week after the last piece. I hope you like it.
The Temple mothers had taken to visiting more often since her company had gone. Atyriia simply watched and waited until the Sieress Mother chose to reveal her intentions. While she watched, she did her best to ensure her home and family would not be found in err–any more than they ever had been, at least.She knew how her children felt about her reticence. Only Adrian had the slightest understanding of her reasons for staying quiet. And her daughter only knew the vaguest of childhood memories. To her children, she had all but surrendered to the evil that had taken over her faith.
The truth seemed worse, but she was only one person, no matter how much strength others credited her with. Until she saw a sign from the captives, she wouldn’t risk moving. They were all she had, all she could risk, if she was to save them from the damnation to which they’d been cursed. She would not risk her children on their account–selfishness on her part perhaps–but it was all she could do. Or bring herself to do.
When Sieress Mairun arrived one evening after supper with a squad of huerna, Atyr greeted the woman warmly. She left the children in Shenta’s care. She gathered her cloak and left with the priestess. She said not a word, not to her children, not to her escort once she walked out of her home.
When the car stopped, she waited for one of the huerna to open the door before she got out. She stood still as the guard bound her wrists and ankles. Another secured the blindfold. She raised her head to make it easier for them to clasp the collar around her neck. She wriggled her toes to test her slippers against the ground. She moved when they pulled at her tethers. And so they entered the holy city.
After perhaps a hundred and twenty steps, the expanse of the courtyard seemed to narrow. She felt the cooler air of the south walls. They’d passed three distinct gardens, she thought, her nose still wrinkling from the second with its strong scent of junipers and pine.
A soft spot, an indentation of some kind. Was it one she’d felt before? She let herself tip slightly as if off-balance so she could shift her weight and step an inch to the side. Yes, she decided. The paving stones were carved, very old, very worn carvings, but she thought they made letters. The seam where her heel now rested marked a definite division between words. Not her tongue but something older…. Tinsii, she suspected. At last, a real clue.
She centered her thoughts on her reading. Her craft, she held in check tightly. Her empathic gift could give her search away now that she was finally putting pieces of the puzzle together. She stilled her mind, directing her thoughts to a degree she suspected would impress her Vulcan brother-in-law. Just knowing how little time she had kept her focused on her work.
If only Fate hadn’t brought her son home….
She discarded that thought. She couldn’t allow herself to feel anything for them now. If she allowed herself to think of them, if the interrogators found any door in…. She told herself she was doing her duty. She was serving the Bright Lady as she had sworn to do so long.
She never allowed herself to repeat the oath she’d actually made within the Temple walls where it might be learned.
They left the night air and entered…a building? No, a tunnel, she decided. At most a close hall of stone and mortar.
Exactly twenty-eight hobbled steps ahead, a turn left (she was certain this time despite being spun in circles), another fifteen strides, then the floor dipped–there was a crease in the floor, a shifting of the tiles? Were these the tunnels below biatha Sukaan? They’d walked far enough to have reached the school, she decided. The recent quakes could explain the changes, the heaviness, the smell of fresh dirt.
She continued tracing her path, though she began to question whether she moved in straight lines. The huerna were not gentle, letting her leg chains drag until they hobbled her, then jerking them suddenly from one side or the other. How many times had she tried to build an accurate map of her journey to Contemplation? She strained to hear the soft whistle of an electronic device that might betray a camera. She memorized the breaths of those that she walked with until she was certain of when they passed another person on their journey.
Somehow she managed to keep count of every step before they stopped. Atyr fought down her elation. Her silence must be taken as numb resignation.
Wax, wood char…the threatening warmth of too many candles in a closed space. Several sweetly scented bodies drew near, bodies that had been cleansed in the perfumed waters of the Temple springs. The scent was cloying, and her nose refused to differentiate one from another.
She heard a dull clank, then the next as a huerna snapped her leg iron to the pillars. She knelt, not waiting to be forced to her knees. When she felt the tug, she raised her arms. Two clicks and her wrists draped against their shackles. She continued to remind herself of her duty. This was what was demanded and expected of her; she would not refuse.
Someone removed her blindfold. She closed her eyes, shielding herself from the glare. Her nose twitched. Someone had sprinkled incense into the candles.
Another scent drew her attention.
They’d brought out one of the captives for this evening’s Lesson. She wished her sense of smell was sensitive enough to distinguish them as AJenna’s was, enhanced as it was by the woman’s bond to Spock. Her own Callings, while supportive in their own ways, had never gifted her with such abilities. And while Kieri’s Healing seemed to have enhanced her own skill, she would rather suffer the days of injury as she had for so long than have lost Alanii’s calm and focus. Or the man’s conviction that in everything there was good to be built on and the trust to allow that good to blossom on its own…
Without that man she’d have succumbed long ago.
Resentment stirred deep within her at her meekness. She opened her eyes, denying the pain she felt and looked up at acknowledge her captor.
High Sieress Twan KiToru sat on the pedestal before her. The elevation of the woman’s chair ensured Atyr had to pull all the muscles in her neck to meet the woman’s gaze. She nodded once, slightly. She had been queen since the day she was born and, no matter how much had been stolen from her, the honor of her post was her birthright. She refused to surrender that.
Her pride amused the gathered Faithful. So much the better. If they saw foolishness, ineffectiveness, helplessness, then…. She stilled her thoughts and returned her stare to the robed woman on the daïs.
“You will eventually learn your place, ‘Yriia,” the High Sieress murmured. “As will we. Will you rise above your taint or continue to wallow in it against the wishes of the Bright Star That Guides Our Journeys? I worry for your soul, child. My predecessor entrusted you to destroy the spawn cursed upon you by that Alentriian half-breed. You failed her. Did you believe that your dereliction would never be discovered? Or that such a misdeed could be simply forgiven?” The priestess paused, her manner clearly demanding silence.
Not that Atyr intended to give the woman an explanation.
Those dark eyes, black with everything unclean Atyr could think of, drilled into her. She stilled herself, mind, body and spirit, to avoid looking away. While she waited Seiress Mother to speak her peace, she visualized that foulness flowing through her, past her, vanishing in the empty beyond.
“No, you are not that naïve,” murmured her captor, her gaze lazily dropping to admire her robes before returning to her with the edge of an indolent scold. “You act with simple animal instinct, no more or less than this creature here. Determined, as the beast is, to ensure the survival of your flesh and blood.” The woman motioned to her right, but Atyr didn’t look. She’d know soon enough which of the creatures had been brought for her.
The High Mother didn’t hold her gaze this time. Atyr wondered if the woman ever thought of what she was doing. No woman to hold the station of Temple Mother had ever looked her in the eyes, save Twan. She closed her eyes and relaxed her craning neck, while keeping her shielded gaze heavenward, Her reasons, her answers, were for the Bright Star alone, she repeated to herself. She had no purpose with the others here. If she was to be judged, then All That Was Divine would be that judge, not this mortal woman with her mortal flaws.
She heard the High Mother shift sharply in her jewel-encrusted chair, heard the woman clear her throat. Then silence resumed. She continued to remind herself of her duty and devotion to all that was good and proper. She served without regret, she served without protest. She served willingly.
Finally the priestess moved again. “Animals can and must be disciplined for their own good as well as the good of others, child. If you cannot rise above the animal within you, then we must subdue it until it no longer threatens your divine spirit. Tonight, perhaps you will be brought back to us. Then you will be able to go to your home and remind those you love of their duty to the Singer of all Songs. You will tell them of Her love and Her merciful forgiveness. You will tell them to pray to Her from now on, to not trust in mortal failings, even your own. You will let them know that you would rather they denied you and your desires than see their souls blemished by your taint, or see them suffer for your sins.”
Atyr held her calm by a thread. Finally, it had come to this. It had been inevitable, she reminded herself. If that helped direct her course, so be it. She would do her duty. She would serve without protest.
The pillars shifted, first tilting forward. Soon she felt herself pulled face forward to the earthen floor. The metallic whine grew louder. Her chains relaxed. Wood ground on wood, scratching up dust clouds as the beams crept in. The posts creaked, splinters flew as they caught on the uneven floor. She held her prone position as long as she could before the rough beams pressed her wrists and ankles in toward her body. She relented and drew them in, settling in a huddled crouch. Better she not add broken arms or legs to the evening’s tally. Injuries did not deter the Faithful from the execution of their duties.Memories of past times she’d been forced in this position spun through her mind. She held herself as firm as she could. If she lost control of her fear….
She forced herself to crane her neck, to look around her. She took in any detail she could, the wax filled wood of the sconces, the young acolytes looking nearly faceless in their indifference. She took in everything, except the identity of the captive that sat perhaps five strides from her. She could hear him now, the occasional pull he made, the rustle and clink of the irons that held him. His keeper murmured reassurances to him; perhaps the woman stroked his hair, perhaps she remained a disembodied voice in his ear.
Her attempt to ignore the inevitable added to the amusement of her captors. One of the acolytes smirked, and the girl’s tutor made no motion to rebuke the child. On seeing that Atyr knew she needed to regain some power, even if it was the power to say she would face what was to come without fear. No, she was afraid. No matter how many times this happened, she would always be afraid. But at least she could face what she feared.
Her resolve almost failed when she looked at the pet they’d brought out. She glanced to the High Mother. What her own gaze showed she could not be sure: horror, dismay, certainly disgust….
Twan Ki Toru laughed. “I was listening to the Temple Archives earlier today when I heard reference to your original raising as Queen. The Sieress Mother of the time gave you this pet as a gift to ensure your return to the Brightstar after you had spent so much time among the Ill-born. I’m told his training was very thorough. Given the long years that have passed since you last took a lesson with him, it must have been. We must make better use of him in the future.”
A shiver moved down her body in slow motion. She started reciting one of her cup-brother’s meditation verses, hoping that trying to pronounce the Vulcan words would distract her enough from the memories that had surfaced. She got as far as cthia and found a measure of peace.
What brought the calm was not so much the mantra, but reflection on the captive himself. She knew too well what most of these poor creatures had suffered just during the Flight of Tralan. And those, she knew, had been taken captive near that time.
This creature–this man–had been a prisoner of her own people for at least ten years before that. Likely longer, given she doubted the Temple mothers of her childhood were as skilled at perversion as these women, trained as they now were by their saviors.
Now she almost spat–thinking of the Fanqtianarii always evoked distaste. This time she had to restrain herself doubly so. She wondered, not for the first time, if maybe she should have left the captives behind rather than make the bargain for their lives she had.
Had she known her people had been acting in the manner of the Fanqtia all along, she would have acted sooner, no matter the risk. Better death than to have supported such foulness, even by turning her eyes.
It cannot be undone, she told herself. Instead, she had to do what she could and do it soon.
She glanced over at the pet, feeling the waves of craving, of lust and need, of fear and frustration that came off the creature. For an idle moment she wondered what he’d been like as a man rather than this filthy, half-starved wretch.
“Give him a bath,” she said suddenly.
An odd stillness settled over the chamber. She could swear even the pet seemed shocked by her demand. The High Mother shifted in her chair; the woman’s satin robes rubbed against the grain of the velvet cushion sending up sparks. The woman lowered, her voice almost a hiss. “He stays as he is. You never seemed to mind when you took your ill-born lovers from Acaria.”
She almost acquiesced, but something in her renewed her resolve. She’d started this, she may as well see where it took her. At the worst, she’d get nowhere, perhaps a beating. If she passed out sooner, it was no loss. “They, at least, saw a shower before I let them in my bed. How can you speak of protecting me from the unclean then force this upon me? The body may only be a vessel for the soul, but a taint on the body blocks the light of divinity from reaching within. Give him a bath.”
She locked her stare with the High Mother this time, though her neck protested every second of the effort. At last the robed woman gritted her teeth. She waved imperiously at a small covey of Faithful gathered to her left. “Cleanse the beast well. I do not wish our queen to have cause to believe that his tainted blood caused her failings.”
Atyr closed her ears to the wails of the poor creature as he was dragged away. Perhaps the wretch had believed her a reward for his behavior; perhaps he’d been trained to seek captive prey. She didn’t know. She did know that his distress was palpable. Cold analysis blocked most of it out. But since she’d come to realize how much the poor creature had suffered, it was hard to deny his pain, even to protect herself from his projections.
The huerna were efficient. She glad of that and not merely because she was at the limit of her resolve. If she failed, she wanted the end to be a quick one. There had already been too much lingering.
She’d only studied a few inches in the swirl of gems on the High Mother’s chair, when they dragged in the pet again. His skin, pale from years in captivity, displayed bright red streaks from the scouring he’d received. What had once been an unremarkable tangle of gritty brown now gleamed a brilliant tumble of gold curls. He tossed his head, spraying those around him with water droplets.
Atyr blinked. Were these better circumstances, she would have found him rather handsome. Tall, lithesome…. She imagined that his build would have been much as Alanii’s were he in his prime. His features were comely enough even in ill-health, suggesting a natural softness of line and form. Doe-brown eyes completed the effect.
She glanced at the High Mother, forcing herself to not smile. Particularly when she noted the same appreciation she felt in Twan’s eyes. She gave the woman a nod, managing, she hoped, to seem imperious. “He will suffice. Thank you. Now I can believe you do truly care for my immortal soul, teacher.”
She bowed her head before the snarling woman on the daïs saw her grin.
I’m stopping here before the end of the scene. Still toying with some of the rest…