A moofable feast.

Be brave enough to burn and you'll be brave enough to fly.

Now We Are 36
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alexandraerin

I have had a seriously up and down week. However, the week is at an end. I had two weeks in a row of updating Tales of MU twice a week, following a schedule. My fiction-writing word count is over the proverbial nine thousand, as they say dans la belle internet. I got a shiny check for $25 and a contributor’s copy of Circlet Press’s Nights of the Round Table, a book I wasn’t even aware was getting a print edition. (They probably told me, but I’ve been incommunicado. Sorry!) I started a new story that is a lot of fun to work on, wrote a poem of which I am very proud, and issued a challenge for writers.

It’s a good week, and a good start for the year.

Back in May, I had an introspective late night moment on Twitter when I was on the verge of giving up on everything, and I decided instead to double down, to stop listening to the critical voices within and without, and to do the things I wanted to do, that I knew I could do. I reflected on the fact that I was almost 36, an age that is a perfect square, and that a year later I would be 37, a prime number; perfect, going into the prime of my life.

I said that this was going to be the year that people sat up and took notice of me, this was going to be the year that I retook the title some people called me back when few knew who I was, that of “most prolific author on the internet”… or one of them, anyway. The internet is a big place.

I don’t think I said it in so many words, but part of the subtext was: this is the year where I start making enough money to actually live off again.

The stuff with my phone has been discouraging. The fact that my personal Patreon did not immediately catch fire when I announced my big plans is also a bit discouraging, if not fully unexpected. I had hoped that my short story reprint-a-thon in the days leading up to the end of May would give me a boost, but it really didn’t. I have the impression that few outside my existing supporters paid attention to it.

I’m not sure what to do about that. That’s really my biggest obstacle. Back in the day I spent money advertising Tales of MU and it found the right audience and caught on, but I did the same thing with previous projects and they didn’t. There is no magic formula for success. Among the reasons that I decided to self-publish, ages ago now, was the fact that all the platitudes about every manuscript finding a home if it’s good enough are just platitudes. There might be a right place for your work, but you might never find it at the right time. There could be audience demand, but it might not be concentrated in the way that any publisher would feel confident trying to reach it.

You can do everything right and still fail.

My decision to go my own route was not based on any notion that it would assure success, because this is true no matter what you’re doing. Rather, the idea was that it would make success or failure less of a binary. Whether I ever made a living, or any money at all, my work would be out there being read.

And my work is out there, being read.

And I have made money at it; I am making money at it.

And for a while, I did make a living off it.

As a wise weirdo once sung, “I’m going to go back there someday.”

At least that’s the plan. If I don’t make it… well, like I said: you can do everything right and still fail. But by the same token, even if I fail, I can still do everything right.

We’re a third of the way through the month. Coming up in this month, there will be more Making Out Like Bandits, more Tales of MU, more humor and satire, and a wholly original short story. Some of it (the further installments of Making Out Like Bandits and likely the short story) will only available to my patrons. Others will be freely readable for the public, like Tales of MU.

As I very recently observed on Twitter: if 1 in 1,000 people who like my work can afford to pay me a $1 for it, what I want is more people reading it, not for the 999 to feel guilty about their lack of support. Guilt and shame are powerful weapons but terrible motivators. If you read my work, if you like my work, I want you to feel proud of that, and of me. I want you to brag about me, to boast about me. I want you to see your friends and followers who haven’t yet heard the good news as one of today’s lucky 10,000, as they say dans la belle xkcd.

It’s true that I need more money. But the horse comes before the cart, and the horse here is made out of eyeballs and the cart is made out of money. Okay, that’s kind of horrific. It’s like a political cartoon drawn by Hieronymus Bosch. Never mind the horse or the cart. The point is that in the process of writing this, I have figured out that I should be focusing on building my audience and letting the money follow from that, rather than haranguing everyone in earshot for dollars.

Thanks, internet. You’re a real pal, you know? Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re an awful cesspit of ignorance and hatred.

Anyway, long story short: happy birthday to me. This is now officially (well, not officially, but you know) my year. If you want to do something nice to help me ring it in, I posted a list of suggestions in the middle of the night: http://www.alexandraerin.com/2016/06/i-say-its-my-birthday/

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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I say it’s my birthday.
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alexandraerin

It’s been a mixed week, with some great highs and pretty sweeping lows. If you want to help give me a boost as I enter into what I really intend to be an amazing year for me as a writer, you can give me a gift in any of the following fashions:

  1. Help send me to WorldCon! It may or may not make the world a better place (this statement has yet to be evaluated by the FDA), but it makes the sad puppies howl and the rabid ones foam at the mouth. http://www.gofundme.com/ae2worldcon
  2. Support me on Patreon! You’ll get a ton of original content every month, and help me pay my day-to-day living expenses. http://www.patreon.com/AlexandraErin
  3. Buy me something nice! My Amazon Wishlist has fun stuff, necessary stuff, big stuff, and little stuff. https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/3K5TGO7OL84A8
  4. Just throw some money at me. Money: I need it to live. http://www.paypal.me/AlexandraErin
  5. Buy a DRM-free copy of Angels of the Meanwhile. It doesn’t benefit me directly, but goes directly to one of the most important people in my world, Pope Lizbet. It’s a phenomenal collection of poetry and prose that I am honored and proud to have brought to life, and not enough people seem to even know about it. Honestly, if one thing in this list could blow up overnight, I’d like it to be this one. http://www.angelsofthemeanwhile.com

 

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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This is not my day.
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alexandraerin

So, when I decided to skip getting a replacement for my dying phone through an insurance claim when I was planning on upgrading in less than a month, I took the money I had set aside for the claim and used it to buy a budget brand smart watch and a protective case.

The new phone arrived yesterday, and I was on tenterhooks using it without any kind of protection. I didn’t carry it around the house, didn’t really use it beyond set-up, etc.

Today the case arrived, and so the first thing I did was pop it in… or attempt to. I had a hand spasm while trying to maneuver it in, and dropped it. It landed face down, and the screen cracked in multiple places. The cracks run the length and width of the screen, and it’s spider-webbed in one corner, though still usable. In fact, with a non-bright background, it’s possible to miss the damage (as I did on my first inspection).

As far as I can tell, the phone’s usability is not impaired, but I fear that ignoring it will lead to troubles down the line as the cracks spread. I spent some time today investigating possible options with Jack. AT&T no longer does screen replacements. I can file an insurance claim, which will get a replacement phone rushed to me, but require a deductible of $50 or more (can’t find any specific info on what deductible for what devices). My phone’s manufacturer will replace the screen for free… if I mail it to them, paying the postage both ways, and am willing/able to go without a phone in the meantime. Buying a replacement screen and replacing it myself or having a third party repair shop do it is apparently far more expensive than doing the insurance route.

So we’re going the insurance route. I’m not happy about this, especially since it turns out that a budget brand smart watch is a pretty terrible buy. If you’re ever tempted to spend $30 on a smart watch, you’ll probably do better allocating that money for any other purpose, including a regular watch or thirty tacos. My thought was that maybe for that money, it just wouldn’t do much, and that was okay. It turns out it has a bunch of features, few of which work. I thought “As long as it gives me a way to check the time and read incoming messages without digging my phone out of my bag, I’ll be happy.” So far, it’s just the time thing. So, again, basically a watch.

I took a gamble on buying something cheap and I knew it was a gamble, but it was a gamble based on the idea that I wouldn’t need to use my mobile insurance. And now I do. If I hadn’t dropped the phone, I’d be shrugging it off as a lesson learned kind of thing. As things stand, though, it feels less like a lesson than a punishment. And I know that in truth it’s neither, it’s just a bad stroke of luck, a confluence of things that happened. And it’s not even that bad. The phone still works, the insurance claim works in such a way that there will be interruption in me having a phone.

It just took a lot of the wind out of my sails, I guess is what I’m saying. I’ve been on edge about my phone dying, and then I got the replacement and it was taken care of, and now the process has been extended.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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STATUS: Wednesday, June 8th
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alexandraerin

The Daily Report

Yesterday was a very up and down day, as I’ve already blogged. People who follow me on Twitter probably noticed how tense I was. My replacement phone is already reported to be out for delivery today, though, and that alone has had a huge effect on my state of mind. I woke up today wanting to do something positive to kick off the day, and as I often do, I sat down in front of my computer with no particular plan in my head, and as I often do, I came up with something awesome: a gender-free story challenge.

The monetary prizes I’m offering are coming straight out of my pocket. It should be easy enough to earmark the necessary funds out of my Patreon when the contest ends, but if you like the idea enough that you want to support it in some way, my tip jar is always open (http://www.paypal.me/alexandraerin). If this is successful, I’d like to do other similar contests in the future, both to encourage more diversity in writing and to get to people to write and post stories that they might think would be hard to sell. I’ve set a goal on my Patreon of doing a quarterly writing challenge once I hit $500.

Financial Outlook

I’ve enjoyed being able to contribute money to the household in the form of buying groceries and ready meals in the past couple weeks, something I haven’t really had the opportunity to do lately, and I was also able to bid in an auction for Con or Bust (and won a Jaymee Goh original handbag for a mere $20), but I am now personally about tapped out, not counting what’s in the kitty for WorldCon in August. My phone-related expenditures yesterday (sales tax on the phone itself, an off-brand case and budget smart watch) used up the last of my major paychecks for the month of June, and I’m not expecting another big payday until the end of the month.

I’m not broke; I have a bit of money coming in that I can use for incidentals, and I do have a bit more padding than I usually do at one week into the month, but I really do have to think of it as padding. I am on track to be starting July in even better shape than I did June, and hopefully I’ll be able to build on the padding.

Just so everyone is clear about why I’m tracking my financial situation in my status posts now: I’m tracking my financial situation. You can send me money. I’m a crowdfunded author. You can always send me money. But if I put information up on my blog, some people have a tendency to react by trying to figure out what they’re supposed to do with it. The answer is nothing.

The model here is, if you like what I’m doing and would like me to do more of it and you can afford to do so, send me some money. Not because I’m broke or you feel sorry for me, but because you value my work and my presence.

(I will also accept money to spite my self-proclaimed enemies, but that should be sent to the con travel fundraiser they tried to shut down.)

The State of the Me

So far, so good?

Plans For Today

This week is a complicated one. Gearing up work stuff, getting the household back in shape after WisCon (and months of ennui and depression), and it’s my birthday. There’s basically no day this week where I’m not going somewhere or doing something, while also writing and posting. So this day more so than any other I’m kind of making a “flex” day. I’m going to write, I’m going to do stuff, I’m probably going to start on tomorrow’s Tales of MU chapter, but… no plans. No demands. No deadlines.

In other words: no rules, just write.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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De-Gendering Stories: A Challenge
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alexandraerin

In one of my WisCon panels (about “calls for inclusion” for trans and non-binary people), I made the assertion that gendering our language is a habit and that frequently requires more work than using gender neutral, but we don’t know the work because it is a habit. I could offer as evidence my habitual greeting of “hey, folks” versus “hey, ladies and gentlemen” (which is longer) or any gender-specific greeting (“hey, ladies”) that requires me to make observations and/or assumptions about my audience. There’s the counter of saying “hey, guys” as gender-neutral being easier, but that requires us to accept that the masculine default is universal enough to be counted as agender, and if we accept that, we’re still taking the roundabout way to wind up using gender-neutral language.

In another panel about trans narratives, I talked about what a watershed moment it was for me when I realized how many CRPGs in the 80s asked you to define your character’s gender and then did absolutely nothing with that information. In most versions of the Ultima Trilogy, your character was a blobby stick figure. Nothing about how your character appeared or was referred to by the game changed based on whether you labeled the character M, F, or (in Ultima III: Exodus) O. It asks you this information, it stores it somewhere, and then it does nothing with it.

Why does it ask you? Because the tabletop roleplaying games on which it was based have a space for it. Because it’s assumed that you need to know this to relate to the character. Because it’s a habit.

We do live in a gendered society, one which tends to gender us whether we accept it or not. The gender of a character can be an important part of a story. It can mean something. But the presumption that it must be known in order to relate to the character…

Back in the 90s, I hung out in one of the original, HTML-based Geocities chatrooms. And there was a person in the room who refused to disclose their gender. I say “refused” because people took it very personally and got very insistent about it. I was not that politically aware back then, nor fully in tune with my own gender identity, but I did find it strange that so many people—mostly men—would assert that it was basically impossible for them to talk to somebody if they didn’t know if they were a man or woman.

“I need to know how to relate to you,” was how one of them put it.

“I need to know how to treat you,” is what none of them said, but what I suspect many of them meant.

I was thinking about this person the first time I decided to try writing a story without gender. There had been times I’d dropped a character into a story without referring to their gender. I’d written stories where the narrator/protagonist’s gender was not immediately clear (which, believe me, caused some readers terrible confusion and mixed feelings when they found out they had been “tricked” into identifying with a woman, even though I didn’t intend any such deceit; it simply hadn’t come up yet).

I’ve only written a handful of stories with multiple characters and actual dialogue between them in which gender does not come up. My short-short “The Sweat of their Brows” (which appears in Angels of the Meanwhile) does not contain any references to gender. The similarly themed “You, Robot” does not gender any human characters, though one of them reflexively refers to an agender robot as “he”. The titular story in my collection The Lands of Passing Through (Amazon Kindle version, multiformat bundle) is, I think, my longest such work. The story “To Live Forever…” in the same collection is a story told in the form of a monologue, or a conversation in which the more minor participant’s part is implied, silent video game protagonist-style. Neither the speaker nor listener is gendered. While I like that format, there are some limits to the stories that can be told in it.

The interesting thing about the other stories I’ve mentioned, the ones that I told in a traditional third-person style but without gendered pronouns or other references, is how people receive them. If I tell them up front what I’m doing, I sometimes hear that the writing is stilted, forced, and unnatural. I’ve never once heard such a complaint from someone who wasn’t primed going in for anything to be unusual. Not once. Not only do people not notice the lack of gender, but in many cases, their mind glosses over it to the point they assign gender to the characters and assume that this is part of the text.

I’d love to see more writers exploring this kind of writing, so here we come to my challenge: write a story of any length with at least two characters and no references to their gender.

There are many ways to do this, none of them wrong. You can simply avoid using personal pronouns in the narration, as most of the stories I referenced above do. You can use a gender neutral pronoun. You can write it in first or second person, allowing one of the characters to be referred to by gender-neutral pronouns such as I/me or you. The lack of gender can be part of the story (agender characters, distant characters communicating via text, a character whose identity is obscured and unknown) or it can be incidental. It can be a short vignette or dialogue, it can be a classic story with a beginning, middle, and end. It can be a story where the lack of gender is the point, or it can be a story where it’s incidental.

If you undertake this challenge and you post your story somewhere (your blog, Tumblr, a fic archive), please send a link to it to my email address blueauthor (Where? At…) alexandraerin (Neither Wakko nor Yakko, but Dot) com, with the subject heading “Gender Free Writing Challenge”. On July August 1st, I’ll post a round-up of links to the stories I have received by that point.

To encourage participation, let’s make it interesting. I will award prizes of $25, $15, and $10 to the story I enjoy the most, second most, and third most, respectively. Depending on how many responses I receive, judging and award of the prizes may not happen until later in the month. As English is the only language in which I am a skilled enough reader to judge stories, I can only provide prizes to stories that are in English or have an English translation. I know there are languages in which the challenge portion of this challenge is trivial, but to be considered for the prize, the English version must also be gender neutral.

You don’t have to be an author of any particular skill or career level to participate. If you are a creator with a Patreon (like me), I would encourage you to post your entry to your Patreon feed so that anyone reading the round-up will know where to go if they like what you have to offer and want more of it.

Update: After receiving initial feedback on what was a very spur-of-the-moment idea, I have extended the deadline from July 1st to August 1st in order to encourage more participation.

Update June 9th, 2016:

See this post for some clarifications regarding the rules and suchlike.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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A Birthday Wish
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alexandraerin

So, it’s my birthday on Friday, June 10th. Want to do something nice for a disabled trans indie author? Drop some cash to send me to WorldCon 74, in Kansas City. This is the fundraiser that ticked off someone so badly they spread a rumor I have a “full scholarship” to the con, which put a brief hold on payouts from the page at what might have been a crucial juncture.

Who would do such a thing? I honestly don’t know. Not specifically. I do know that my satirical coverage of the Hugos last year didn’t make certain self-identified “Puppies” of varying temperaments very happy, and I doubt very much they like the idea of me on the ground at this year’s Hugo ceremony, where I can continue skewering their rhetoric with my signature aplomb and panache.

That’s the thing about these reactionary cliques: they say they’re in favor of the free speech and the free market, right up until people start saying things they disagree with or spending money on things they don’t like. Well, here’s a chance to show them what you think of that. Just think of every dollar you send as a rolled-up newspaper to bop them on the nose… not that you should do that to a real puppy, of course. The difference between actual puppies and adult human beings throwing a tantrum because they’re being told that science fiction and fantasy belong to everyone is that the humans really should know better.

Go to http://www.gofundme.com/ae2worldcon to help. And if you can’t afford to pitch in or you already have, you can help by spreading this!

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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A (Very Brief) Self Inventory
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alexandraerin

Despite having had what is, by all objective counts, a pretty good week so far, I’ve been anxious and irritable, and I had the idea to do a sort of self-inventory post about what is bothering me, both to put it into perspective and to calm the voice that is telling me I have no right to feel this way when things are going well.

As soon as I started thinking about it, though, I realized that pretty much every item on the list would come down to the same thing: phone troubles.

Can’t easily have my calming soundtracks playing in my earbuds throughout the day when my phone is unreliable.

My phone’s Kindle app is the most comfortable and convenient way for me to read books.

I use my phone to stay connected to people in a way that’s more manageable than the computer.

Basically, my phone is an important part of my daily routine and my self-care.

If it had just broken outright or gotten lost, then I would have dealt with the problem immediately. Because it was in a downward spiral, though, I put off actually doing something about it until it got “really bad”, and as a result, I prolonged the experience. Dealing with it meant dealing with customer service and the insurance claims process, which is also stressful.

So basically, it’s a combination of one of my biggest anxiety/stress management tools becoming suddenly available/unreliable in a way that adds more anxiety and stress.

I did actually bite the bullet and deal with it this morning, and I just this moment got a notification that the new phone has already shipped. Super awesome, given that I was quoted a delivery estimate of June 10th-14th. There’s no delivery estimate on the order tracking yet, but it says it’s being overnighted, which means either tomorrow or Thursday. I expect I’ll still be on pins and needles until it arrives, and then I’ll probably have another anxiety spike when I have to deal with setting it up, but at least the end is in sight?

And, seriously, everything else is going well.

 

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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STATUS: Tuesday, June 7th
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alexandraerin

THE DAILY REPORT

Yesterday was a pretty kick-awesome writing day, with a word count for fiction in excess of 3,000 words, split about evenly between new project Making Out Like Bandits and Tales of MU. While I am happy with my output, I did not quite accomplish everything I wanted to yesterday (I’d hoped to finish the MU chapter, and there’s a charity project I need to wrap up my contribution to). It took me longer than I’d expected to get into the swing of things during the day. Fatigue and soreness took their toll.

This morning, I dealt with phone nonsense this morning. It was firmly in the “don’t wanna” column the whole time, but… had to. The general flakiness was getting worse, the habit of getting caught in a battery-draining reboot cycle went from “every once in a while” to “daily” to “several times a day”. After looking at the options, I decided against filing an insurance claim to pay $50 for what would likely be a refurb when I was a month away from my contract’s end, when I’d planned on upgrading… and which I now realize is also my next travel time (it’s the 3rd of July, and we’re spending that weekend with my family).

Non-writing-wise, yesterday, I took stock of where I want to be with the Tales of MU schedule. I feel like I could be doing three times a week, but I also feel like I need to have some reserve capacity. I would also like to be able to offer my MU patrons a premium like seeing the chapters a bit early, which is easier to do if I’m writing two a week versus three (and might give me a better chance to catch slip-ups like “father” for “mother” in the chapter last week, before they go live for the whole audience). I’m still going back and forth about whether to operate that way. I expect I’ll decide next week. Either way, it’s going to be a Tuesday/Thursday update schedule for the time being.

FINANCIAL OUTLOOK

I took the money I expected to spend filing an insurance claim and instead bought a budget offbrand smartwatch. I might regret that, but I’ve been missing the functionality on phone of having a window-view case thing that let it function like a pocket watch, and the options for my new phone in that area are not appealing. I’ve never seen myself as a “smartwatch person” (and was never much of a “watch person”, back in the day), but as the kind of outfits I wear don’t tend to have much in the way of pockets, it can be tedious to dig my phone out to check the time or other simple information requests. I’m also trying to get more into the habit of accessorizing, and having a functional accessory I wear every day seems like a good way to make that work.

I’m trying not to be discouraged that my Patreon total is basically just sitting there. I have been doing not much with it in any kind of organized fashion for basically a couple of years now, and I’m only a week into my first month of actual operations. Yesterday I re-wrote the page to make it more clear what I’m offering, and I also added a patron-only story installment. I’ve been telling myself that there will be a spike of interest when I get my first new short story up later in the month, and again when I do my first monthly zine. I’m honestly not sure what I’ll do if there’s not. Something different, obviously. Just not sure what.

I think it’s something like this: I can get people very interested in supporting individual things I do. I feel like if I created different funding platforms where it’s: “Give me $1 a month for queer romance.”, “Give me $1 a month for political discourse.”, etc., I’d have a lot more people giving me a dollar a month. But if I say, “I do all these things. Give me $1 a month to support any or all of them.”, that’s less compelling. It’s a perception problem, basically. When I was teasing Making Out Like Bandits, I had people tell me in so many words they’d pay money to read that; so far, as near as I can tell, no one has. Because instead of a button that says, “Pay money to read this.”, there’s one that says, “Pay money to support this author and you can read many things.” I don’t know how to solve this, but neither do I have the time or energy or unique email addresses to create an individual Patreon for all the individual things I do.

I mean, the zine thing might change that. Pulling together everything I do and packaging it might make people go, “Ohhhhhhhhh. All this in a month, for $1? Sign me up!” But I need my month’s content for that to happen. So I’m trying to be patient and not give up on the model before I’m able to launch it properly.

I really am in better financial shape as of this month and next month than in preceding months. But not where I want to be, nor where I expected to be.

The State of the Me

A little lingering fatigue. Not much. I slept well last night.

Plans For Today

Have a chapter of Tales of MU to finish and post. Between having some errands to run and business-business to take care of (the phone thing, ordering new business cards), I’m not planning on doing much else, creatively, today.

 

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

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Making Out Like Bandits – Part 1
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alexandraerin

Making Out Like Bandits

A serialized novella by Alexandra Erin.

PROLOGUE

The battle began at first light.

“Raged” is the poetic action or emotion typically ascribed to a battle, but it was not accurate in this or most cases. The battle did not rage. It panicked. White hot xenophobic hatred and red-hot patriotic fervor had gotten the soldiers into the camps and then onto the field, but it would not take them any further.

That vantage was far enough for the soldiers to see plenty. From there, they could peer across the valley and see row after endless row of enemy soldiers, too distant to make out any details save for three that could not be ignored: the soldiers across the way did not look so different from those to one’s side, there were a lot of them, and they were all armed.

For well over an hour two sides each stood there in their neatly ordered rows, which is to say in the rows into which they had been ordered, and then from somewhere far in back of one of the lines, the word was given and signals went up and orders were issued and just like that each of the two great armies lurched to life like a well-oiled machine that was rapidly disintegrating under pressure, because even the best lubrication can only take one so far in life.

The battle panicked, and it panicked on all morning, masses of foot soldiers running into spears and volleys of arrows and each other. Neither side had uniforms, but instead each unit had devices on their hats or shields or coats that theoretically served to identify them to their allies in other units, provided they were visible and not lost and even known to the ally in question in the first place, assumptions that became shakier and shakier the longer the battle panicked.

By midmorning the early fog had burned out of even the lowest of the valley, but it had been replaced by dust and smoke. The turf was strewn with corpses and stomped into mud. The survivors of both sides existed as scattered bands under the control of isolated officers, mostly minor nobles, assuming their commander had not succumbed to enemy action or sudden desperate mutiny.

Even those soldiers who had disposed of their officers could not escape the battle, though. Moving in the open meant being visible and being visible meant being vulnerable to fusillades of arrows or stones. Even creeping about the lowlands and skulking in the brush was not safe, for whenever a body of soldiery met another, the frantic melee that resulted was frequently brutal to both sides.

So the battle panicked on through the afternoon and into the evening. Sunset did less to quench the terror than it did to quell the battle, as it made the archers and catapults all but useless. The surviving infantry, most of which no longer held any illusions relating to sides, fled under cover of darkness in whatever direction seemed most appealing. Some of them made it back to the fortified encampments behind their lines. In a few noteworthy cases, they did so on purpose.

The brass hanged enough of these poor fools who straggled back into camp over the next several days to serve as a warning to anyone else who might have a similar idea. The charge was, of course, dereliction of duty. It must be imagined that the leadership on each side would have preferred to hang those among its ranks who did not return, but as the saying goes, one prosecutes deserters with the army one has, not the army one wishes one had.

Neither side had lost many soldiers in the valley, as they counted such things. It had been an expenditure of resources more than it was a loss of them, and there were plenty more where they came from. Losing the cavalry or, worse, the horses, would have been quite a blow. Losing the stands of archers or the artillery crews would have been unthinkable. Serious losses among the elite, experienced troops at this stage of the war would have been unforgivably sloppy, which is why no such forces had been committed in a way that exposed them to unnecessary risk in this early offensive.

Among the less valued troops, the casualties on both sides had been about equally brutal. A draw of that sort was not ideal, but it was acceptable. Every dead soldier on the other side was one that need not be killed later, and if it cost a soldier to achieve that, so be it.

They had not been professional soldiers, those expendable masses, but a mix of conscripts and volunteers. That was to say that most of them individually had been somewhere between a conscript and a volunteer. It’s a grand old life in the army, they had been told. It’s a way off the farm, a way out of debt or indenture, a way to become something.

For some, it certainly had been. Of every seven likely sorts who had been rounded up, handed a spear or club, and marched into the valley of death, one had become a corpse. Two more would die of wounds or disease within a week. Two more would succumb to illness or starvation over the coming months. Of the two that remained, one would certainly be pressed to ride into the jaws of death again, while a lucky one in seven was estimated to have deserted in earnest and broken away cleanly. Though how most such individuals fared cannot be known, we must imagine the breakdown to be somewhat grim in contrast to the rosy picture we have painted thus far.

Our story concerns itself with two of those lucky one in seven who were luckier than most. It does not begin the day of the battle, or the day after it, but the day after that, when a young soldier who had possessed the great good fortune to fall facedown just above the waterline of a weed-choked pool woke up.

CHAPTER 1

Des woke up to a pounding pain in her everything and a distinctly earthen taste filling her mouth and nose. She could see nothing, and she was cold, so cold. Her first coherent thought drove any semblance of further such thought from her head: I have been buried alive.

She started screaming, then stopped as her involuntary flailing produced splashes. She was neither bound up within a coffin–a luxury she had never in her life imagined she would ever have in death–nor pinned under loose earth. She was lying prone, more or less flat, amidst a bunch of trampled weeds and reeds at the edge of a muddy pool. Most of her was in the water. Had she fallen even a few inches back, she might have choked to death on filthy water without ever regaining consciousness.

She tried to push herself up, but found she could not. Her whole body was one cold, wet bruise. There was no strength in her anywhere.

I might have died in battle, might have drowned in my sleep, might have had my throat slit by battlefield brigands without ever waking up, but now I get to die of exposure, slowly…

“You’re awake.”

A hand found Des’s, and then her other hand, and then she was sliding free of the muck and onto solid ground. Helped into a sitting position, she found that one half of the world was a painful mishmash of too-too brightness and the other half of the world was still buried in darkness. She reached up to touch the left side of her face, and found it tender and unrecognizable.

“I think it’s just swollen shut,” her savior said. The voice was husky, low, little more than a whisper in a volume, but more forceful. Turning her good eye towards the speaker, Des saw only a backlit silhouette. “We can’t know what it looks like under the swelling, of course, but the overall shape of the thing makes me think the basic structure must still be intact.”

“Structure?” Des rasped.

“Of your eyeball. I don’t think you’ve lost it, or will lose it. At least not anytime soon.”

“Well, that’s a comfort,” Des said, then coughed a harsh, short barking cough that felt like she’d just sandpapered a scab off the back of her throat. How was it possible for her to be so wet and her throat to feel so dry?

“Drink,” the other person said, tipping an almost empty canteen into Des’s mouth. “There’s more, but you’ll need to drink slowly or it might roil your stomach and you’ll lose more water heaving it up.”

“Sounds like you’ve done this before.”

“Oh, yes. Once.”

“Once?”

“You’re not the first one who’s woken up.”

“How many survivors…?”

“Just you and me, that didn’t crawl away or die soon after. They sent troops through, regular troops, to slit throats. You’re lucky that your weapons had already been stripped, your boots waterlogged, and you fell in such a way that you looked drowned. No one messed with you.”

“Nor you,” Des said.

“I was hidden. I was safe. I could see you were breathing, but they didn’t look that close.”

“You could see…?” Des squinted her good eye. It had slowly been acclimating itself to the light of the land of the living, and the image of her savior was starting to resolve itself into a slender form wrapped in a dark green cloak. The features were angular, almost severe.

The ears…

“You’re a half-elf,” she said.

“I’m not half of anything.”

“Sorry,” Des said. “Well, I feel like half of nothing myself, right now, so we have that much in common.”

“You’re clever enough for a drowned rat.”

“Most people are,” Des said. “I’m Des. What do I call you?”

“What do you?”

“What?”

“Call me.”

“I don’t understand,” Des said.

“Find a name for me.”

“Why…”

“Name me. First thing that pops into your head. First thing you noticed about me, thought about me.”

“Whisper,” Des said.

“That’s what you call me, then. Whisper.”

“So what do we do now, Whisper?”

“Get the hell out of here,” Whisper said. “The wolves missed us, but there will be vultures next, and then rats, and each subsequent sweep by scavengers will use a finer and finer comb in order to find what pickings the last one passed by.”

“I don’t know if I’m ready to move…”

“We’ll go slow, but go we will,” Whisper said.

“You sound fairly confident of that.”

“I am,” Whisper said. “It’s neither my destiny to leave this valley alone, nor yours to die here.”

“Isn’t it?”

“No, I’ve seen it.”

“So if I laid back down out of the mud until the feeling came back into my legs, the vultures and rats and all them you were talking about, they’d leave me alone?” Des said. “Or would their knives turn back from my throat, so as not to upset the great destiny you saw for me?”

“I didn’t say it was great, but it’s certainly better than the alternative,” Whisper said.

“Fair enough. But if it’s my destiny not to die here, wouldn’t it be in my interest to stay here? I could live forever.”

“Assuming you weren’t just dragged out of here in chains, sold as a slave and worked to death in a mine, or hung as a deserter,” Whisper said, “you still might die here. It’s not your destiny, but it could happen. The fates pick our paths and they may set us in motion, but they do not control us. If you wish to die here, I think you will find it quite easy to do so, far easier than the alternative.”

“What the hell. My mother said I always have to do things the hard way. Help me up. I expect I’ll be leaning on you most of the way.”

“I expect you will be.”

 


 

This is a preview of a story written for the patrons who support me on Patreon. New draft segments are published on my patron feed as they are completed. You can read chapter 2 here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/making-out-like-5731594, by subscribing for $1 a month or more.

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

This entry automatically cross-posted from http://alexandraerin.dreamwidth.org/731870.html. Comment hither or thither. Void where yon.
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Patreon updates.
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So, I have been rewriting my Patreon profile page to try to better reflect what I’m doing and what people will get, and I have also taken the time to add a new $5 reward. As long as I’m compiling what I do in a month into a zine for my patrons and as long as I’m planning on selling copies of that zine as an e-book, I thought I might as well offer something a little more exclusive for the patrons who exceed the bare minimum. The trick is, what? While I fully intend to be known once again as a highly prolific author, there’s a balancing acting in not over-promising.

So what I came up with is not more stories or poems but a bit of commentary added to the regular zine, sharing glimpses of inspiration and process. Something sort of in-between liner notes for an album and director’s commentary for a movie.

This is what I’m pledging to produce each month in exchange for your support:

  • A minimum of one short story per month.
  • A minimum of one poem or flash fiction story per month.
  • A minimum of one humorous piece or work of satire or parody.
  • Some volume of blogging, tweeting, opinion, and analysis.
  • New material for at least one ongoing longer fiction project.

The current “ongoing longer fiction project” is called Making Out Like Bandits. I teased the concept on Twitter and then wrote 2,000 words of it, which I posted yesterday in an unlocked post on Patreon. I’m about to make a cross-post here.

 

Originally published at Blue Author Is About To Write.

This entry automatically cross-posted from http://alexandraerin.dreamwidth.org/731531.html. Comment hither or thither. Void where yon.

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