“What do you despise? By this are you truly known.”

When I first read that quotation in Dune twenty years ago, it struck me as something true and profound. It’s been incorporated into my worldview so long and so thoroughly that I don’t always notice the words themselves, even if they’re there at the back of my mind.

It’s one metric by which I judge others and myself, and it’s something that’s been in my head a lot lately not only because I am re-reading Dune and realizing what a formative book it was for me, but also because of everything going on in the world right now.

We live in an age of militant, polarized opinions. Some people share their opinions online; others go out to protest. Either way, this is always the question I ask.

Knowing Better Isn’t Doing Better

I started posting excerpts of Stars Fall Out when I was halfway through the draft. As a result, I haven’t posted excerpts of a lot of the early action that defines the book, including the main character’s use of a magic vial that allows travel from one place to another via a natural body of water.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that knowing better isn’t the same as doing better. I like stories with intelligent characters, but I also like characters who fuck everything up and get in their own way.

I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive.

This post is the third excerpt in a sequence that I’ve posted over the last two weeks. Here’s the first and second, which involve stealing the vial and discovering that it’s damn uncomfortable to use.

You’d think I would be smarter this time. That I would bind up a change of clothes so they wouldn’t get wet. That I would pack money and bread. That I would bring a map or compass.

Instead, I was less smart. I packed none of those things, and I barely even concealed myself. “I’ll take it from here,” I had told Tirsan when we came in sight of my home. “You’re tired.”

Then I had waited half-behind a tree, and watched as Tirsan walked away, the limp still present in his step after all these months.

I ran almost to the bridge, then slowed to a stroll so I wouldn’t draw attention to myself. But when I made it to the water, when I filled the vial and chugged it down, I practically dove in.

Water swept me down and crushed me, squeezed my rib cage, until I washed up elsewhere, free of the city, free of all of it.

Infinity, was what I thought when I looked at the beach.


That Awkward Moment When Your Stolen Magic Vial Actually Works

Last week, I posted a short excerpt from Stars Fall Out in which my main character runs like hell after stealing a magic vial from her sister’s professor. All she knows about the vial is that it’s supposed to allow travel from place to place if one uses it to consume water from a natural body. She doesn’t know the finer points of how this works or how to choose the place you go to.

She also doesn’t know that it’s going to be uncomfortable as hell.

Darkness.

Darkness rushed around me, and water burned wrongly in my nose. I flipped, but stayed perfectly still. Or the world flipped, and gravity—

The rushing-water-darkness thrashed me up and away from it. Gravity and ash hit me at the same time.

Ash. I couldn’t see it, but the sensation of it had come to me immediately, plugging my nose. And my forearms were buried in it. My legs floated uselessly behind me, while my arms and upper body were buried in the cold, crumbling remains of a campfire. My fingers crawled around, breaking pieces of old wood as I dragged myself fully onto the shore and collapsed on my belly directly over the pile of coals. Pale hints of light came from somewhere, and my eyes tracked to them automatically.

I blew my nose onto my sleeve, messy and childlike, and wondered, stupidly, if anyone had seen. Still on my belly with my hands and elbows in the burned out fire, I gave myself to the count of twelve, and then rolled onto my back.

This was not my home.


It’s been two or three years since I last did the Index-Card-a-Day challenge, but since I’ve been meaning to do more watercolor sketching, I decided to try it this year with time limits on how long I spend per card.

I’m not a car person, so I can only describe what passed by me on my walk in my rural New England town as a retro-future, cyberpunk Indy 500 car with strips of neon green lights blinking along its edges.

It was blasting not the synthy industrial action music that is its birthright by genre, but one of the more emotional Goo Goo Dolls songs.

There’s a saying about dressing for the job you want, not the job you have. It sounds suspiciously like the kind of thing a high-end suit manufacturer might have come up with.

Anyway, I’ve accumulated quite a few outfits that make me look like a sci-fi character, so I’ve been following that dubious piece of advice either way.