Sesskia’s Diary, part 6

Later, same day

I’m in a different room now, one of the bedrooms lining the inner curve of the corridor. I learned in following Terrael—but I’m getting ahead of myself. Terrael did come back, after maybe half an hour, and gestured for me to follow him. The women didn’t stop me leaving, though I saw one of them look at the other with this expression that said she thought it was a bad idea to let the strange woman wander around with no one but Terrael to supervise. Terrael didn’t seem worried that I might run off. I don’t know what to make of him. He’s young enough, I’d guess eighteen or nineteen, that he might not be sufficiently cynical yet, but…I don’t know. He has this air of eager confidence about him I just don’t understand. But he’s polite, and he’s trying to communicate with me, and in general I’d feel bad about knocking him down and running away. So I just followed him. Continue reading

Sesskia’s Diary, part 5

15 Senessay (I think)

I’m calling it tomorrow because the light went out at some point, and I finally fell asleep on that horrible gritty mat, and when I woke I felt better. Rested, at least. Two of them came in before that and grabbed my arms, and marched me down the hall to one of the interminable doors, which turned out to be some kind of commode. There was a porcelain basin like the ones I’ve seen in some of the big manors, only this one didn’t have water sitting in the bowl, it had water flowing through it so it was constantly cleaning itself. I was glad to see it, because I was starting to have a pressing need to piss and there wasn’t anywhere in my cell I could relieve myself. So someone is thinking of my needs, at least on that level.

They also brought me food before I slept, a couple of slices of a kind of dark bread I’d never tasted before and a bowl of thick, spicy red soup with beans and some grain that looked like wild rice, only white and bland. It was filling and strange, and if I didn’t know I was in some other country before I’d be sure of it now. Food is one of the things that varies most between places. I’m trying not to be worried that I don’t recognize it, because that means I am definitely far from home, and I don’t know how I’ll get back. Continue reading

Sesskia’s Diary, part 4

Still 14 Senessay, probably (though without the sun, who can tell?)

Well, that was a waste of time. And it started so well, too.

The mind-moving pouvra worked, which was a relief; after that first failure, I was a little afraid I couldn’t use magic at all, even the fire summoning, and I didn’t want to be trapped here with no way to defend myself. The lock was strange, with tumblers that moved not at all the way I’m used to, and I would’ve bet I knew every kind of lock there was, after all these years of opening them. If it hadn’t been for the mind-moving pouvra, I might not have been able to open it at all, even with my tools, which got left behind with my pack in that old barn. I used the see-through pouvra on the door, which makes a two-foot-wide hole in whatever I’m looking through—not really a hole, it just seems like it, and I’m the only one who can tell it’s there. Continue reading

Sesskia’s Diary, part 3

14 Senessay (maybe)

I’ve managed to keep this book hidden so far. I don’t know where to start or what happened, maybe the new pouvra did something, because it’s too big a coincidence otherwise. Everything hurts, not just my arms but the whole rest of my body, and my stomach feels like I’m going to throw up again, though they haven’t fed me since I did. The door is locked, but when I try to use the new pouvra to pick it, my body just aches more. I can’t focus. I need to start at the beginning.

I think it was nearly dawn when I woke feeling like I needed to take a piss. So I got up, or thought I did, but I felt as if I were stretching like taffy at a carnival, like part of me was still stuck to the ground and the rest of me was being pulled away from it. That made me think I was having a dream, but I’ve never dreamed so real before, and my arms still hurt, which I didn’t think happened in dreams. And I still felt this need, though by this time I could tell it wasn’t my bladder; it was just this pull, and it was starting to hurt. So I stood and let it pull me for a bit, thinking it might hurt less if I didn’t fight it. The air looked thick, like heat waves only sideways to the ground, and when I turned around I saw they surrounded me and even went through me. That was when I panicked. I ran for the door, but it was like wading through the tide, only hot and dry and stronger than any tide off Thalessa ever was. I know I tried swimming and I tried going in other directions, but it didn’t matter, it just kept pulling me away from wherever I tried to go. Continue reading “Sesskia’s Diary, part 3”

Sesskia’s Diary, part 2

13 Senessay (later)

It worked. I made the bunk in the corner lift off the ground and I didn’t even tear anything, though my arms hurt afterward as if I’d used them instead of the pouvra. Then I practiced working the lock, which was harder because I had to picture what it feels like to use the picks on it—I still can’t look inside things instead of through them, though I haven’t given up on that—but eventually I could lock and unlock it with the new pouvra faster than I ever did with lock picks. Of course, it’s only the giant one on the barn door, and it’s probably a hundred years old, so it wasn’t exactly a difficult lock—I’ll have to try again on something more finicky. I can’t help remembering being caught in Wirstan for stealing that stupid woman’s purse, and how they would have shut me away for good if I hadn’t found a couple of skinny iron nails to pick the lock with. No more worries about having my tools taken away!

I’m feeling a little low, the way I always do after I learn a new pouvra. It’s as if I put so much of myself into figuring it out, then learning to bend my will to the magic, that everything else feels like a disappointment. There’s still time to sleep before dawn, when I’ll have to move out again. This barn smells musty, and the hay is all stale and prickly, so I assume it’s been abandoned for a while, but I don’t want to take the chance that someone will come along and want to know what I’m doing here. People on the borders of Balaen don’t trust travelers (how well I know that!) or even anyone who comes from anywhere more than half a day’s walk from their home. And I’ve come so much farther than that.

This is also the time when I wonder if I wouldn’t have been happier just staying in Thalessa, working at the fishery, which was awful but at least it was steady work. But that lasts about two seconds before I remember the smell of fish guts, and that tiny hovel that I could never keep clean, and Mam getting drunk all the time and then begging me to forgive her, over and over again. I couldn’t have stayed, anyway, not once this magic took me over and I started doing things I couldn’t keep hidden. Besides…

I was going to write “it’s beautiful” but that’s wrong, it’s powerful and terrifying and when I use one of the pouvrin it fills me to bursting, and I wouldn’t give that up for anything, however dangerous it might be. But it’s not beautiful.

Sleep, now. I haven’t decided where to go next. Maybe Barrekel, it’s nearly harvest time and they could probably use some hands out at those big plantations. I’ll need to start saving for the winter.

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Read from beginning

Sesskia’s Diary, part 1

BOOK SIX

13 Senessay

I’m going to try again tonight.

If I’m wrong, this could be my first and last entry in this new book, the sixth record of my travels through Balaen and beyond. Probably will be my last entry, considering how that last test left me pissing red for a week. But I think I know what I did wrong, and I feel pretty confident. Mostly confident. Terrified. No one’s ever going to read this, and I’m not sure why I keep writing, except to have someone else to talk to, even if it’s myself. I hope that doesn’t mean I’m going mad.

I don’t even know if these preparations matter. None of the ancient writers agreed on anything, and they all swore by their own methods. Fast for twelve hours. Sit by a puddle of water in which the moon is reflected and meditate. Burn three kinds of incense. Take off all your clothes—I’m definitely not doing that, even if I am the only one around. The best I could do was find common threads and then use my instincts—that’s something they all did agree on, that magic comes from who you are, at the core, and all this incense and water and fasting and nudity are supposed to make you more yourself. Or something. Anyway, I need this pouvra, and I’m willing to try anything at this point.

Maybe I am mad. Any one of these pouvrin I’ve learned could get me executed, if I wasn’t torn apart by a frenzied mob first. It’s hard to believe there was ever a time when magic wasn’t feared, but I have all these stories that say otherwise. Maybe I should have taken up a career as a traveling tale-teller; it would be less dangerous. Though with the kind of stories I’ve learned, I’d probably be just as likely to get killed, suggesting maybe magic isn’t as evil as all that. I can see why people think it is. The pouvrin I’ve learned are a little frightening—I can summon fire, or water, and I can see through things, and I think I might be able to walk through walls, though I’ve only done that once and I’m afraid to try it again. Suppose I went solid in the middle of something? And if I do this right, I’ll be able to make things move without touching them. I hurt myself trying, last time, but—I’m stalling now, aren’t I? No sense putting it off any longer. If I can make this work, they’ll never be able to trap me again.

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Sesskia’s Diary: An Introduction

The story that became Sesskia’s Diary was something I played with for about a year without getting much further than the opening scenes: a woman appearing in a vast cavern, surrounded by people who don’t speak her language, possessing an unusual magic and therefore fought over by several factions who want her power for themselves. It seemed like it had potential, but I couldn’t make it work. Then, sometime in July of 2014, I had a stray thought: what if I told this not only from my heroine’s point of view, but as the diary she keeps during her travels? I’m certainly not the first to think of this, so I’m not claiming to be marvelously original, but somehow it struck me as exactly what I needed for this story. I wrote a few “entries” as an experiment, and a week later the story began to flow. It was a fascinating experiment, and when I started keeping a regular blog, it occurred to me that it might be fun to publish it as a serial on the blog. And here we are.

Just to avoid confusion, I’ll explain that yes, book six is where the story begins, and you’re not missing five other books. It will become clear very quickly why the story begins where it does. Also, some of Sesskia’s entries are very long, and may be divided by me into shorter pieces for ease of reading. Aside from that, I’m going to let Sesskia’s story unfold the way she wrote it.

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Forget About the Rope

ropeSeveral years ago I was in a writing group with a bunch of friends. We’d take turns bringing stuff we’d written and having everyone else critique it. One of mine was a chapter from a young adult fantasy novel I was writing (that will never see the light of day). In that chapter, the two protagonists stop at an inn for the night. I described it as something like “not very high-class, but better than sleeping on a rope.” This was a detail I’d read somewhere about old flophouses and it amused me, so I thought I’d use it as a throwaway line.

Not one person believed it.

Everyone in the group said it was impossible. I repeated that I’d read this in an historical context and no, I wasn’t making it up: in some really cheap lodgings, people would sleep either by sitting on a bench and leaning against a rope strung across the room, or simply hanging on it in flophouses when the beds were all full. They accused me of either misremembering or, yes, making it all up. I gave up and just took the detail out. It annoyed me, because I knew it was clever and interesting and I of course knew better than they did, but I took it out.

Weeks later I got a phone call from one of the people in the group, who was very excited. “We saw it,” she said. “The rope. It was in a movie and people were sleeping on it. You were right.” I forbore gloating. Much.

Now, just because something’s in a movie doesn’t mean you can count on it to be true—often it’s the exact opposite. And the truth about the rope story, historically, is more complicated. Some of the records about it can’t be sourced. Some people who refer to it, like George Orwell who in Down and Out in Paris and London reported this as one of the cheapest lodgings in London (the “Twopenny Hangover”) never actually saw it. I’ve seen a picture of men sitting on benches, leaning up against a rope, dating from the 1930s, and I’ve found a song by Paul Graney called “Tuppence on the Rope” that refers to the practice, and that’s pretty much it. So would I go to the mattresses for this particular detail? Not really. But that’s not the point of the story. The point is that in historical fiction writing, I’ve found that sometimes I have to forget about the rope.

It’s kind of a hard call to make. At one extreme, it implies that you can never, ever write something true that someone without a lot of knowledge about your historical era might not believe. And there’s always going to be someone whose knowledge ends just where your obscure fact begins. This is where good beta readers come in. In researching my Regency fantasy adventure series, I came up with some historical facts I thought were cool that my beta reader said “That sounds too modern. No one will believe you didn’t just screw up.” And she was right. Real experts on the Regency period might know the truth, but the average reader would just believe I was wrong. And I didn’t need those details. So I forgot about the rope.

But that’s not really the point of this story either. It’s not about trying to game the system, working out whether something you’ve written will throw certain readers. What really happened was that I came up hard against the reality that there were some details I was including simply because I was showing off what I’d learned. I wasn’t writing for my readers; I was writing for the experts who would know I’d done my research and, I don’t know, pat me on the head and give me a cookie for Getting It Right. And that’s bad writing no matter how accurate your facts are. It’s one thing to have a visitor to Almack’s in 1812 make a comment about how no one’s going to introduce a new dance there in her lifetime as an Easter egg for those who know the quadrille and the waltz are coming along soon. It’s another to put Captain Gronow in your story solely to establish when that happens. For me, forgetting about the rope is all about examining my own motives. Am I doing it to look cool, or am I doing it to write the best story I can?

The writing group is long gone, but I still have those friends. They haven’t forgotten the story of the rope. For different reasons, neither have I.

NEW RELEASE—The Smoke-Scented Girl

The Smoke-Scented Girl

My new book, THE SMOKE-SCENTED GIRL, is available today! Set in a world very much like our own Victorian England, it tells the story of Evon Lorantis, a magician of the country of Dalanine who invents and refines spells for use in his country’s war against an implacable, seeming unstoppable foe. When the government brings him a mystery–a rash of fires, hotter and stronger than anything anyone’s ever seen–Evon sets out to discover what, or who, is causing them, hoping to be able to turn them to their country’s use in the war. But the truth behind the phenomenon is far stranger than Evon expected, and the woman responsible for the fires bears a secret that really might be able to win the war for Dalanine–if they can learn to harness it.

I really enjoyed writing this book. I wanted something that evoked the feel of early Victorian England, pre-Industrial Revolution but post-Regency. In Dalanine, magic is a commonplace, and even those who don’t study magic will have access to a few spells, particularly the communication spell that only requires a mirror and knowledge of the person you want to talk to. So in this world, magic takes the place of technology, and in Evon’s time people are just beginning to see practical, external applications of it, such as radiant heating and a form of X-ray “machine.” Eventually I plan to write a sequel featuring Evon’s best friend Piercy, who is a secret agent masquerading as a dandy and, like Evon, needs a change in his life.

Here’s the book for Kindle and in paperback.