Sesskia’s Diary, part 66

21 Lennitay

Still no progress.

22 Lennitay

I’ve found something I don’t understand—no, that’s not true, I understand it perfectly but I—this is stupid, I’m so tired from practicing the th’an that I’m not thinking straight. I came back to my room directly after dinner, because of the aforementioned tiredness, but I wasn’t sleepy; in fact, I was restless.

So after trying to fall asleep for about twenty minutes, I gave up. I didn’t want to get dressed again and go to the common room, so instead I walked down to the observatory and sat on the ledge and let my feet dangle, and looked out over the pile of dusty gems that is Colosse in the light of the setting sun. It’s a beautiful city, but then most cities are, from a distance.

I put my hands on the pillars so I could lean out farther, and my left hand brushed something soft that wasn’t leaves. It was about waist-high (my waist) on the pillar above where the staircase begins and was the same color as the pillars. I picked at it, and discovered that it was a roll of paper the length and diameter of my middle finger.

I unrolled it, and remembered I couldn’t read their language just as I had it open and could see lines of meaningless, tiny script. So now I know how Vorantor and Aselfos communicate; there’s really no other explanation for this. The note was hidden exactly where Vorantor always stands, exactly where someone standing on the hidden staircase could tuck it away without himself being seen.

It explains why I never see them together, why I never find Vorantor wandering the halls like I do. They must only meet face to face when one or the other has something that’s too long to be entrusted to a note.

But now I have a problem. If I take the note, that could reveal to Vorantor that someone knows he’s plotting something—for example, if he and Aselfos have a regular communication schedule. Vorantor might conclude that the note blew away or fell down the cliff, but that’s too big a gamble for me to steal a note that might not have anything of importance in it.

The bigger problem is that I don’t know who I’d take it to. Cederic is the only one who knows about my suspicions, but he might be angry enough about my snooping around to refuse to help me. I certainly can’t take it to any of the other Darssan mages without involving them in something that could be dangerous; I trust them, but none of them has the right outlook for this, which is to say, none of them are devious and paranoid enough.

So I had to leave the note where it was, though I did conceal myself and wait long enough to see Vorantor retrieve it. Confirmation of my theory, but I still don’t know what to do about it. I’m going to observe a few more nights, see if those notes come with any regularity, and see if a solution presents itself.

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Sesskia’s Diary, part 65

20 Lennitay

Small setback—not sure how thick to make the thread. Lots of experimentation until Terrael suggested practicing the th’an until that’s successful, then working out how large it has to be for the kathana. Terrael is definitely the brightest of us all and I’m pretty sure he’s angling to be a Kilios himself someday.

Gaining control over the fire pouvra. Dinner was unexpectedly nasty, but they had some of that cold creamy stuff for dessert and that made up for it.

Nobody likes a critic…

…especially writers who are, as I was yesterday, facing one final round of line edits on a manuscript that’s been through four beta readers and two line edits by different people. Taking criticism is hard, which is why I rarely read my own reviews. Reviews are for readers, not authors, and a reader’s criticism comes too late to make a change to the book. I find that deeply frustrating, hence the policy.

But criticism in the early, pre-publication stages is essential, and it’s not something you should simply ignore. The problem is finding critical readers who share your vision. There’s a sometimes fine line between someone who points out flaws in what you’ve done and someone who wishes you’d told a different story and gives you feedback accordingly. Having a thick skin when it comes to listening to criticism is key to telling the difference. It’s also important how someone gives criticism. In one of my previous critique groups, there was a person who positively delighted in telling people what they’d done wrong, laughing like it was funny that they’d made mistakes. It never mattered whether that person’s points were correct; the net effect was humiliating to the writer on the receiving end. Some beta readers do the same thing, but in a vicious, cruel way, trying to tear you down. Neither of these are worth wasting time on. The critique process ought to be uplifting, centered not only on making a manuscript better, but on helping a writer learn and improve her craft.

My own problem with criticism isn’t taking it so much as taking it too well. I have a very bad habit of, when presented with a correction to the text, immediately rethinking everything surrounding that part of the story and believing that the correction is right just because someone else thought so. Not all corrections are good ones. Not all changes are an improvement. Whether because a reader missed something elsewhere, or didn’t understand what you were doing, or simply didn’t know enough about the historical background of the book, corrections can be wrong. While it’s important not to reject comments out of hand, it’s also important to remember that this is your book and you’re the one who’s going to live or die by whatever’s in its pages. Sometimes you really do know best.

I have between four and five beta readers, each of whom brings a different viewpoint to the manuscript. These are people I trust to be both clear and accurate in their comments, even when they’re telling me things I don’t like. I don’t take all their suggestions, though I do consider every one of them. Sometimes a comment on a specific passage leads me to consider the issue more globally; sometimes I can tell one of my readers missed something important and I go back and fix the other thing instead. But I think I’ve been lucky in never having had a beta reader who was a clear mismatch for my book, or who didn’t understand what exactly a beta reader’s supposed to do.

Line edits are different. In the case of the manuscript I was working on yesterday, the two line editors were assigned by my publisher. I’ve met one of them online; I have no idea who the second one was. And I immediately saw a difference between the two. The first could tell what I wanted for this book and was very good about suggesting changes that brought it closer to that ideal. She lacked a knowledge of the historical period I’m writing in, but was aware of her lack of knowledge. In fact, that made the book stronger because she asked questions that someone not familiar with the English Regency period would ask, pointing out places where the story would be opaque to such readers. And she made a lot of changes that made me squirm, but I was forced to admit she was right.

The second one wasn’t nearly so pleasant. Some of his or her changes were good, and one change in particular made me look at the manuscript differently. Unfortunately, this person also introduced errors into the text, made corrections that showed they didn’t know much about the time period, and had a very strange theory of paragraphing. I found myself feeling very hostile toward this unknown person, angry over the errors, angrier (because I have contrarian tendencies) when they were right about something or made a change that was better than what I’d come up with.

I have sole control over the final version. It would have been easy to just reject every one of those edits on the grounds that some of them were bad and I was angry over this person’s presumption. But this is part of criticism too–not letting personal irritation get in the way of making the book better. So I groused a lot about it to my husband, and I accepted the places where that reader was right, and rejected the things that were wrong. And then I moved on.

Write. But don’t write in a vacuum. Someone is going to criticize your writing. It’s so much better to receive that criticism when you’re still in a position to do something about it.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 64

19 Lennitay

Made fire like a string of burning thread, first attempt. It’s actually easier than the other version of the pouvra and takes less concentration. Drew everyone’s names in the air to show off my own language’s alphabet until Vorantor insisted I get down to work. Everyone annoyed with Vorantor, including his own mages. Cederic not-so-secretly amused.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 63

18 Lennitay

Well, I did sleep, eventually, and woke clutching this book against my chest, just in time to hide it under my pillow when the servant came to rouse me. She was aghast at the vomit, which did smell horrible, and brought in a couple of other servants to clean it up and bring me water and some soft, tasteless food—they think I’m ill. I didn’t correct that misapprehension. I couldn’t face the mages again. I’ve never felt so low in my life. I was certain they were all going to be killed because I couldn’t master that one tiny thing that was so crucial to the kathana’s success, and every time I closed my eyes I still saw that woman’s face, only after that nightmare, sometimes it was Sovrin, or Audryn, or one of the other Darssan mages. I ate a little, then set the tray aside and curled up facing the wall, my hand on this book under my pillow.

The door opened, and a moment later Cederic said, “You are not asleep. And you did not tell me everything. What happened when you were with the God-Empress?”

I rolled over to look at him. He was dressed in the white robe and black trousers he still wears to work in even though, as Terrael had told me, he’s entitled to wear red as Kilios (Vorantor’s people wear brown and gold, and they always look as if they’re going to a party compared to the simple Darssan uniform). “I don’t want to talk about it,” I said.

He came closer until he stood next to me. “Whatever happened is making you ill,” he said quietly, “and will continue to do so as long as you allow it to fester inside you. Tell me.”

So I sat up and told him everything, keeping my eyes on my clasped hands, managing not to break down when I described the collenna master’s murder. I think I glossed over the thing about the th’an because I was still overwhelmed, or he didn’t think it mattered, because he didn’t seem interested in that. He listened silently until I was finished and looked up at him finally. He wasn’t looking at me; he was staring out the window, his jaw clenched and his face impassive. “Tell me I’m wrong about all this,” I said. “Tell me I’m wrong that everyone’s safety depends on me.”

He shook his head. “You are not wrong.” He looked down at me and said, “Lie back,” and put the tips of his first and middle fingers in the center of my forehead and pushed a little. I lay back on my pillow, wondering what he had in mind, but he walked away and leaned on my dressing table the way he had on that table when I translated the Eddon book. “This is not a burden you should bear, but I cannot take it from you,” he said. “But I may be able to ease it.”

He came back to my side and reached for the neck of my shirt, opening it slightly to expose my throat. “This will make you sleep, and will keep you from dreaming,” he said, “and it may also clear your mind to make your task easier. Do not go wandering tonight, Sesskia. That is not a request.”

I nodded, and felt the tips of his fingers brush my chin as I did. He pressed up on my chin, baring more of my throat, and I felt the lightest pressure as he traced th’an on my skin, there and then across my forehead. I immediately felt sleepy, the good kind of sleepy where you’ve worked hard all day and your muscles are relaxing, and the last thing I felt before I dozed off were his fingers brushing against my cheek.

It was nearly dark when I woke, rested and happy as I haven’t been in days—weeks—and with the nightmares a distant memory, sad, but something I could deal with. I sat up, which drew the attention of a woman sitting on the floor next to my wardrobe, who hopped up and bowed to me repeatedly. She explained, in between bows, that she would bring me food and it was the Kilios’s instructions that I not disturb myself. Though I did use the chamber pot in the kiorka as soon as she disappeared; I doubt Cederic meant me to exercise superhuman control over my bladder. I ate sitting up in bed, and now I feel sleepy again, but I wanted to write all this down before falling asleep again. I owe Cederic a debt.

Now that I’m thinking more clearly, I realize that I took on too much responsibility for what is ultimately the God-Empress’s evil. It’s true that she expects results out of the kathana, and it’s true that as soon as I master my th’an, we’ll be able to perform it, which means that it’s also true that everything depends on me. But it’s not true that that means I hold everyone’s lives in my hand. It’s not true that I would be to blame for any deaths resulting from the God-Empress’s dissatisfaction with how her priest-mages are performing. All of that is to her damnation. I can’t do more than I’ve been doing, which is learning to use a kind of magic literally alien to me. And I haven’t given myself enough credit for what I have accomplished, which is successfully scribe a th’an in only ten days without five years of preparatory penmanship exercises first. I know I can do this. And I refuse to let the God-Empress cow me again.

Sesskia’s Diary, part 62

17 Lennitay, very early

The drink gave me nightmares. Everyone in that eating place had the dead woman’s face, with that look of confusion she wore just before she died. Then they all fell down and shattered like the plate into ruby shards that the God-Empress stitched into her clothing, except they became golden because it was a honey day—I have to remember this, I know it’s important and I can’t sleep again until I’ve written it all down—it was a honey day, and I had to dress in gold and perform a kathana by myself in worship of the God-Empress, and the kathana was to write all over Terrael’s body and

I just threw up Audryn’s drink. I’m writing this huddled in bed. I don’t dare sleep again.

Face-Off Interview with me!

So Charity over at aTransParentMom  interviewed me for her Face-Off series, which is a hoot–I recommend looking at some of the other great interviews she’s done with writers. It was really fun, and as part of it I’m also doing a Rafflecopter giveaway for both SERVANT OF THE CROWN and RIDER OF THE CROWN! Check out my interview and find out why Peter Davison is my favorite Doctor!

http://atransparentmom.com/2015/11/12/face-off-with-melissa-mcshane/

Sesskia’s Diary, part 61

16 Lennitay

Dreamed about the soldier twisting that collenna master’s head until her neck snapped. Woke in the dark and couldn’t get the see-in-dark pouvra to work, then couldn’t sleep without seeing the dead woman’s face. Cederic once again unavailable. I should have just pushed my way into the conversation, but I couldn’t bear the thought of that, of looking like I go running to him for every little thing. Another day of failures. I asked Audryn if she knew of anything that would help me sleep, some th’an or other, and she brought me a sweet, oily-tasting drink. I’ve only sipped a little of it and it’s making everything fuzzy. It should help.