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.

Me: Time to print a 1,125 page draft.

HP Officejet Pro, 95 pages in: Align the printheads. DO IT DO IT NOW.

I’m on one of the final climactic scenes of Stars Fall Out, and have ended up in a situation where my female main character is,  in a not at all tongue-in-cheek fashion, trying to break a glass ceiling.

I reused a file folder that had previously been labeled “Bitter Machines Flash Fiction.” Since the new label didn’t entirely cover the old one, it now says “Health Insurance Flash Fiction,” which is the worst, most boring, and also most soul-chilling and existentially dreadful type of flash fiction there is.

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.


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.