Thank You for Running on Dunkin

In these days of coronavirus isolation, I already miss my Thursday morning writing routine.

I stop at the Dunkin Donuts closest to work, and every week it’s the same order: large iced cold brew, three creams, less ice, and a power breakfast sandwich with added bacon. I’m not much for routines in general, but I’ve grown superstitious about this one: I haven’t changed my order in over a year, and I even have specific sections of my drive where I’m allowed to listen to writing podcasts, and others that are book mix CD only.

It’s the same table every week, and if those public works guys with the truck are there, it’s the adjacent table, and I give them the sidelong shifty-eye until they leave, and I swoop over in three trips with my computer and my numerous index cards.

I say “hi” to the some people and eavesdrop on others, and they’re the same people every week. I watch the same young cashier flirt with the same old women and thank them for running on Dunkin.

And then I stop noticing the other people so much as I finish my sandwich and get into a good flow. I always aim to finish a scene, and succeed often enough. On the way to work, I play “Outsiders” by Franz Ferdinand. It wasn’t on purpose, at first, but it comes after the most repeated song on the book mix, and it turned into a victory lap, if driving in a Corolla through four lighted intersections and then backing into a parking spot counts as a victory lap.

It meant more last year than it does now. With the kind of work schedules my partner had, some weeks it was my only time to work on Stars Fall Out. Still, it was one of my favorite parts of my week, and it felt like the bastion of my writing discipline.

These days, we all have things we’re going to miss or already miss. This is one of mine. A little, mundane piece of my week that I miss a great deal.

That Time I Discovered My Character Has Coronavirus

a mostly blue index card outline taped to an exterior door
Today’s excerpts brought to you by the deck door portion of my Stars Fall Out outline.

The other day I reread some of my recent scenes in Stars Fall Out, for reasons of both continuity and procrastination. Given the current, pandemic-type situation we’re in now and all the emphasis on hygiene, I saw the scenes in a new, corona-tinged light. A theory popped into my head, the type of theory one tends to develop after watching something like The Lord of the Rings dozens of times. In my case, it’s not a movie I’ve watched dozens of times, but a book that I’ve been working on diligently for about a year-and-a-half now. Either way, it’s a story I’ve had a great deal of exposure to. Unlike the coronavirus, at least as far as I know. The theory, of course, is that I gave my secondary-world character coronavirus. As it happens, I have plenty of shifty, circumstantial evidence to support this theory.

Exhibit A: Face-touching

“Can you confiscate things?” I turned back to Piroszehlt, and the question burst from me so suddenly that he startled, and his arm dropped off my shoulders. “You might have been right,” I said, though I didn’t have the time for this, “about being the same person. I know you.” I scrambled to my feet, and offered him a hand. “But you don’t know me, not as well as you probably think. Can you confiscate things?”

“What?” He too stood. “Tyatavar, what is this about? What things?”

“Magic things. Ghordaa’s things. Zanhrori got him kicked out of his lab, and he’s investigating. You’re involved, right?”

“Yes,” he said slowly, “I am.”

“Then,” I said, pointing down the hill at the university, to where Ghordaa and my sister navigated the walkways and crowds of students searching for something, someone, and most likely me, “can you confiscate his things, if you need to?”

“Yes,” Piroszehlt said with more confidence, if not understanding, “I can confiscate things.”

“Good,” I said, reaching up to touch his cheek with three fingers. “Because I do like this face of yours, and I’d rather not see it get hit again.”

On rereading, it does also come across kind of clunky. Too many saids. But I’m not editing it for the sake of this blog post because a) I don’t fiddle around with stuff like that before revision and b) it involves the love triangle, which might mean it’s too cheesy to exist anyway.

Exhibit B: Further face-touching

Leaning back in his chair, he touched three fingers to his cheek, stared up at the ceiling, and let that sting.

Tyatavar.

They were as painfully well-matched as a gritty patch of ice and the raw palm you caught yourself on.

Exhibit C: Reference to being out-of-breath

“Do you want to keep it?” he’d asked as we blinked in the sunlight, waiting for our eyes to adjust. He held out the glass anchor wrapped in ratty old fabric.

“The dress? You should probably burn it.”

“You’d be better suited to the task,” he’d said, and shook his head. “Oneiromantic fire. Can you stop doing amazing things for a couple days and let me catch my breath?”

When I wrote it, I assumed that last line was figurative. But I don’t know, maybe he has a virus-related respiratory problem?

Although I’m definitely not taking my story this direction, it’s interesting to think what the consequences would be if this character did actually have coronavirus. Less than a week after the last snippet, he has to give a statement at a hearing with at least two dozen people in attendance.

That might not go so great.

Running up all the stairs in an enormous tower would probably also not go well. Nor would the day-long walk to reach the airship.

On the other hand, I’ve written in the draft that the city of Nirsuathu is a pain to enter and leave. Perhaps the virus wouldn’t spread throughout the Northern Provinces.

Yeah. The other Northern Provinces are sounding pretty good right now. Or any secondary world, for that matter.

When you Google “goat injuries” for book reasons because you need to get a guy out of an animal pasture so his wife can talk to her would-be-lover about some perjury they’re going to commit…

…and then a week later you still have six browser tabs dedicated to goat injuries, even though you decided not to go all plot devicey like that.

That’s writer life.

Back in November, I set myself the goal of either finishing Stars Fall Out or writing 25 scenes. I did my 25 scenes, but my planned ending has taken many more words than I anticipated. Now, at the beginning of March, I think I’m at a point where I can say I have a month of work left. This time, I’m basing that on the rate at which I’ve been finishing scenes since November, and that I can much more accurately count how many I have left.

“Can’t you make another one?’

“Do you have any idea of the intricacies of creating that particular item?”

In fact, I did not. For all the reading I’d done, for all the notes I’d found scattered in his various places of work, I still had found nothing that explained how his vials worked.

What I had found instead was his attempt at a book of aphorisms—his answer to the widespread popularity he was certain his magic would enjoy. Everyone would look to him not only as the creator of a new magical discipline, but as a fount of wisdom in all areas. It combined abstractions about shadowmantic theory—long paragraphs as winding and impenetrable as a hedge maze—with advice on sleep, diet, and the raising of children. Rise with the sun. Meat only on Athuday. He’d even written rules of etiquette for how to treat oneiromancers once his own magic supplanted theirs: treat them with the bemused kindness one would show an elder, but the distant wariness one would show a strange dog.

“You’ve yet to teach me how the vials work,” I said at last.

I’ve aimed to structure Stars Fall Out as a slow-burning story where everything explodes at the end. I’m still on the first draft, so it’s hard to say whether or not I’ve succeeded on the slow burn. But I’ve definitely reached the exploding part: in the past week alone I’ve written an arrest, an interrogation, a confrontation between two points of a love triangle, and finally, a jail break.

I caught him by the wrist a little over halfway up to the planetarium. High enough up the tower that we had cleared the buildings around us, and we stood before windows bursting with sky and lazy sunlight.

“We’re alone now,” I said. “Can you tell me what this is? Why did you break me out?”

“Break you out? That was an elegant feat of clerical sleight-of-hand.”

“Noted. Why did you do it?”

“Because you had a smart idea some weeks ago, but no way to execute it properly.” He must have noted absolute incomprehension in my expression because he continued on, “The magic test, Tyatavar. Why did you retake it?”

I hit 200,000 words on Stars Fall Out. A fair chunk of this is worldbuilding, brainstorming, deleted scenes, and bits that popped into my head for the next two books. Still, figuring 250 words per page, I’m somewhere between 600 and 800 pages. As my partner eloquently put it:

“Your book is fucking long. You keep fucking writing.”

When I publish this thing, that shall be my blurb. Here’s another quick excerpt, from my main character’s third experience being interrogated by an imperial oneiromancer:

“I’m sure you’ve heard rumor of my three fearsome beasts. They’re in the adjoining room. Waiting. Hungry.”

“Isn’t one of them on a mush diet?”

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking that fearsomeness and a mush diet are mutually exclusive. I could tell you things about Emperor Lirghala that would freeze your heart, and you can count his teeth at a glance.”