Writing tigers

Writing about the tiger

The writing tiger, recalling the persimmon The last time I wrote about tigers, it was about how a particularly greedy selfish one helped to create the sun and the moon, and whose blood dyed buckwheat roots red. This was the very first story I can remember hearing about tigers when I was a kid, and so I spent a lot of my childhood thinking that they were sort of the Big Bad Wolf equivalent — the predatory animal that lurked in the shadows to eat misbehaving children.

And while in Korean culture, tigers are considered benign guardian spirits, some aspects of Buddhism considers them a symbol of anger — whether the transformative sort or the mindless kind. Sources vary, of course. But for my own (very basic, at this point) research, it seems like that is the thread that reconciles the stories I heard growing up versus the much more noble and dignified beast that one sees in the wider cultural beliefs.

Because see, other than the sun and moon story, the other two folk stories about tigers that I remember from my childhood were all kind of — not. There’s one that I don’t like very much, about a man who is so angry at his puppy for essentially being a puppy that he leaves it for tiger bait. The story ends happily for the man (and for the dog), but not so much for the tigers.

The one that charms me till this day, though, is the story of the tiger versus the dried persimmon.

(As a side note, I really dislike dried persimmons. That is not a taste I ever acquired. These days I really do like red bean and sesame candies, though it took me years to get over my childhood betrayal, where I bit into a red bean popsicle thinking it was chocolate.)


The dried persimmon story, though, goes a little like this:

One night, a tiger was slinking around a small human village. His hunting that day had been poor, and his belly was empty. His pride was low enough that he was hoping some of the humans had left something out for him to scavenge.

But as he was searching, he heard the sound of a young child crying, and he was drawn to that noise. As he lurked, he could hear the mother, increasingly frazzled, trying to soothe her child. Finally, perhaps driven to a snapping point, she cried, “If you don’t hush, I will feed you to the tigers!”

Of course this excited the tiger very much. While he was not a man-eater by preference, he was very hungry, and a child was far easier than an adult. He lurked as close as he could, his stomach growling and his tail lashing as the child began to cry. He could hear the mother moving around the small cottage and he was certain that at any moment, she would open the door and bring the child to him.

Instead, the mother said, “Shhh, shhh, here’s a dried persimmon for you.”

And at once, the child stopped crying.

The tiger was stunned. What sort of thing could be so incredible, so terrifying, that it would stop a child’s tears more than the threat of a tiger?! Surely this dried persimmon was a beast so great that — even though he had heard of no such thing — it might even pose a threat to him. He held his breath and strained his ears, but still he heard nothing. The dried persimmon had succeeded where he had not.

This in turn weighed on his mind as he turned to look around. What if the dried persimmon was also lurking in this village? He had to be sure to avoid it. So he flattened himself to the ground as best he could, and began to carefully creep his way out. As he went, through, a sudden weight dropped upon his back, nearly knocking him to the ground.

The dried persimmon had come for him!

So he ran as fast as he could out of that village, as fast as his legs could carry him, thrashing as he ran to try and knock the dried persimmon off his back. He bucked, he reared, and he roared; he ran straight into the woods and it was only after that he was able to free himself from the terrible being pursuing him.

And once he was free, he swore he would never, ever return to that village ever again.

(As it turned out, the thing that had fallen upon him was a thief who meant to break into the house he was lurking around. The poor man had dropped down, not knowing a tiger was under him, and once holding onto the tiger, he was too frightened to let go, knowing that the beast could easily attack him in its confused rage. It was only after the tiger entered the woods, and the thief was able to grab a tree branch, that they were both saved.)

After that

And now, my own personal writing tigers — the beasties that I am torn on how to tackle, lest I be sacrificed to the dried persimmon.

Which is to say, I’ve honestly been going back and forth on what I want to do with this blog. I miss blogging! I miss writing in my own voice, versus my narrative voice. But as far as writing meta goes, I don’t think I’m the sort who can give advice; nor am I someone who’s great at writing reviews. I feel like I do a lot better giving that on a 1×1 basis. I’d like to do some blend of short flash fiction and chatting about the thing.

If anyone else has input, I would love to hear it. ╰( ・ ᗜ ・ )╯I’d love to write more short things, but I’d also like to be able to chat with people. Please let me know!

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Thinking Positive

A ray of sunshine umbrellaI’ve been thinking a lot about writing and my own relationship with it lately.

Storytime diversion

There’s a story about a woman whose life is consumed by constant worry. One of her two children is an umbrella seller; the other makes and sells straw sandals. During the summer, one of her friends remarks on how nice the sun feels.

“But I am worried,” the woman said. “My son who sells umbrellas needs the rain, and he must be having a difficult time.”

Eventually the seasons shifted and the rains came. The woman’s friend commented that it was now surely the season of the umbrella seller.

“But I am worried,” said the woman. “My son who sells sandals needs the sun, and he must be having a difficult time.”

So her friend said to her, “You have to stop fretting about such things. Rather than worry, when it is sunny, think, ‘oh, how nice! My son will be able to sell a lot of sandals today.’ And when it is rainy, think, ‘oh, how nice! My other son will be able to sell a lot of umbrellas today.'”

And the woman learned the power of positive thinking from this, and was forever happy.

But then,

…Sounds kind of nice, doesn’t it? Like all we’d need is to always think on the bright side of things and then everything will be okay. We’ll be happy forever.

But of course life is more complicated than that. A few weeks ago I mentioned that the general state of the world has been really difficult on my creative drive. And since then I’ve definitely been able to pick up the pace somewhat! I’ve actually started writing regularly again. I’ve got a story about a hapless cambion who’s getting pulled in against his will to care about a very charismatic almost-vampire, and I have a story about a newly-awoken incubus who keeps accidentally seducing people. He tries to cover up incidents with clumsy owl imagery. Beyond that, I’ve got a story that just needs a final edit pass before I can submit it, about a princess who isn’t really a princess falling for the fairy who kidnapped her prince. (All of my writing wants to be a fairytale on some level.)

I even have a brand-new story for preorder, a fairy tale about a guy who wants to be a knight and goes to rescue a prince, only to find the situation is very different from what he expected.

And this is something that I am extremely nervous about, because — for one, it’s a much shorter story than I usually write (about 25K words) and deals with some elements of transphobia. And while I had people read it over for sensitivity issues, that isn’t a guarantee that I will have written it properly or well. I can think of a whole host of things that I am anxious about within this story alone. (Though, let’s be honest, I feel that way about anything I submit, whether it gets accepted or not.)

And honestly, I’m really scared about that. Of course my friends will give me the benefit of the doubt; they know me, and they will trust that even if my best isn’t as good as it could be, that I’ll learn and move forward from that. But as soon as you write something and submit it, it becomes part of the larger, wider world. I have no guarantee that anyone will read it, and I have no guarantee that they’ll like it. Of course I would love it if they did; hell, I’d be ecstatic if everyone read my stories and everyone loved them. Unrealistic as it is, that’s the not-so-secret wish in my heart.

I’ve talked to a number of people about this story since the jitters about it started. I’ve talked to friends with more experience in the field, I’ve talked to my girlfriend (who is my first beta reader in everything original I write), and I’ve talked to friends experienced in other fields of art. They’ve all been very lovely and encouraging, and I’m doing my damned hardest to try and actually believe them. It won’t be the end of the world if a story pans, or if I made mistakes in how I handled the subject matter.* I’m still writing and I’m still trying to get stuff finished up and sent and pushing forward.

* I should note that I would very much like to learn how to improve my handling in the future. I know it’s not anyone’s responsibility other than my own to learn, and I am definitely committed to that.

“Instead of thinking, yikes, there’s a story that’s coming out and what if people don’t like it, I want to think, ‘oh, how nice! I’ve got a new story coming out, and hopefully people will like it.” …Is what I know I should be telling myself, but it’s hard.

How do you handle your nerves? What are your methods for happy distractions?

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[fiction] bul-gae

Or, the sun gets a dog. Building off from last week, and because I am trying to get into the swing of writing shorter (1000 words or less) contained fiction, have something relatively short as a first try.

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Korean folklore, the sun and the moon

(And the eclipse.)

On Friday, I jokingly said to my girlfriend that everything about my heritage is “the South” before I moved to the PNW — I was born in Florida, raised in Texas, and both sides of my family come from South Korea. My parents met in an arranged group date, then hooked up again a couple of years later after they both came to the US for schooling, and there they stayed. According to my mother, she clashed with baby me a lot in trying to have pride in a heritage that felt extremely distant and alienating, growing up in a series of very white-populace bubbles.

Ultimately, though, the way my mom won me over to caring more was by buying me a couple of books on Korean fairytales, folklore, and legends. From very early on, I’ve been into fairytales, and folklore, and general mythology; even my interest in the horror genre centers a lot around urban legends, and the modern day mythology that our society builds. As much as I grew up reading very European-centric fantasy and genuinely enjoyed it — still do! — I do find myself going back to those first stories I remember reading.

For example, thinking about the eclipse that’s coming on Monday, let’s talk about how the sun and the moon came to be.

Of course every culture has their own take on this, but the Korean take goes that a single mother is devoured by a tiger on her way home from something — work, a market, something that required her to travel some distance from her home — and the tiger, greedy for more, decides it would very much like to eat her children as well. It disguises itself as her and manages to trick the children, a brother and a sister, into letting it enter the house, but as soon as they realize what’s going on, they flee. As it pursues the children, they pray for the heavens to send them a rope to help them escape.

“For those who are pure of heart and intention, let this rope be strong and steady, but for those who are wicked, let it be frayed and brittle.”

That was the gist of it. And of course, being good kids, they were able to climb all the way to heaven, while the pursuing tiger falls to its death. (Incidentally, this also supposedly explains why buckwheat roots are red: the tiger’s blood stained them that color forever. That was in the version I read, though the variations I’ve read since don’t include that fact. I remember it, though, as one of baby-me’s first exposures to how casually brutal and capricious the world of mythology and fairytales could be.)

But the children do escape. They make it to Heaven safely. But they cannot simply stay there without contributing to the society above the clouds. Ultimately, the Emperor sets the boy to driving the sun and the girl to driving the moon, but the girl, kindhearted but timid, is afraid of the dark and has to switch places with her brother. And she’s a very modest girl, too shy with all the people looking up to admire her, so she began to shine brighter and brighter, until it became impossible to look at her straight on.

(That’s also a thing that later versions I read don’t usually mention. But I’ve always thought it was a nice touch; sun deities are usually bold and proud, so one would assume they would want for people to look at them! Instead it’s this shy young girl who isn’t sure what to do with the attention she’s getting.)

On the other hand, the story that Korea has to explain the reasons behind an eclipse was that the king of a dark kingdom — maybe the underworld, or maybe some strange distant land — is sick of suffering in the darkness, and so he sends a pack of his dogs to steal the sun and the moon for him. The problem is that when the dogs bite at the sun, it’s too hot, and when they bite at the moon, it’s too cold. Eclipses result from the attempts to fetch these things for their master, but those are doomed to fail because of the temperature of those bodies.

In this story, the personification of these heavenly bodies is absent, though I like to think that perhaps there’s some proactivity going on with that brother and sister. I mean, they escaped a tiger that had gone a step further than the Big Bad Wolf; surely they could do more to protect themselves.

You know what? I’ll come back to that one.

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Baby steps, maybe

I’ve been having a hard time of things lately.

And that feels sort of wrong to say when, in terms of my actual personal day to day life, things are fine. My partner is loving and supportive, my friends and family are healthy or getting help, my day job is boring but steady, my cat is cuddly. Even the hellish weather we’ve had in Seattle for the past couple of weeks has cleared up to cooler smoke-free air (for now).

But if I’m honest, I’ve been having a very hard time engaging on a wider scale since November 2016, and I’m sure people can get why in two guesses or less.

Of course I’m not naive enough to think that it’s a shock that racists still exist in the US. I grew up as one of maybe six Asian students in a “rich white bubble” community in Texas. I was the only Korean. The kids got better about it as we got older — or maybe they just learned to hide it better — but that’s not really the sort of thing you just forget, even as time goes on.

Except I guess it is, on a national level.

Again, it does feel stupid and overdramatic to put it in blunt terms: that ever since the 2016 US presidential elections, my creative drive and drive to socialize have dropped to a trickle, if even that. In my heart I really want to do this thing! I have achieved my dream of being an Actual Published Author and past-me would be in awe and jealous. But there’s also the social aspect of it, where one has to network and do what one can, both to help out others in the community and promote oneself and in that… I have completely flubbed. Both my girlfriend and one of my oldest friends have told me it’s not too late to start doing it, but it feels incredibly daunting, especially in the light of the world right now. How can I talk about “hey, buy my novel, buy my novella,” when the country seems to be on the verge of imploding and taking the rest of the world with it?

(I realize this might be dramatic, again. But to try and keep abreast of politics in the world today is to be exposed to constant doomsayers, and it’s difficult to pick what is the “truth,” such as it exists. Maybe things aren’t so bad. But especially in light of what happened in Charlottesville yesterday, that’s especially hard to believe.)

I’ve finally started taking steps to start writing more seriously again — I have been doing the bare minimum since November, with occasional better days and (much more frequent) cheat days, where I just used things I was editing instead of actual fresh words. And that does feel pretty good! But the writing has always been the easiest part for me. It’s the part where I have to overcome my own inclination towards shyness and wallflowering that has always been difficult, and remains harder than ever.

And that also feels selfish to say. I’m not the only writer who’s shy and anxious. I’m so far from remarkable in that that it’s laughable. The problem is that I have been letting it get the better of me — pretty much since Ravenhearth was published. I keep expecting that magical moment to come where it’s like yes, this is what I should do, this is how I engage! and that’s silly. I know it’s silly. Plenty of others have managed it, and I admire them immensely. Just maintaining a twitter feed with other writers is amazing to me. Those people are so cool! I want to be among their number someday!

But it’s hard to reconcile selling my stuff (softer things, fairytale stories, worlds where the issue isn’t if a boy kisses another boy or a girl kisses another girl but always something else, societal or personal) when we’re in a world where politicians are blustering us to the brink of nuclear war, and the government hems and haws about condemning actual literal white supremacists murdering people in broad daylight.

This isn’t really an excuse. I know that in the end it’s on me to either step up and deal with it, or else resign myself to being unknown and glossed over. I’ve known that for a while, and I’ve been trying my best, at least, to pull myself up out of that even in spite of the disaster of the world outside. I’m doing it slowly, and who knows what will become of me, but I thought at least I should lay that all out, as an introduction and an apology and maybe a greeting.


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[Tuesday Freewrite] The Scholar in the tower

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[novel sidestory snippet] a boy and a hound

“Write a story about Nikolas and hounds,” my girlfriend said.

In spite of my best intentions, the dog dies at the end.

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[novel sidestory snippet] untitled #3

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[novel sidestory snippet] untitled #2

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[novel sidestory snippet] untitled #1

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[freewrite] Fire from the sky

Fire came on a Sunday morning, sharp and steady. It fell from the sky like rain, and it trailed smoke that lingered like clouds in an otherwise clear sky. Most of it fizzled out quickly in the air, whistling into nothingness. Where it struck the ground it steamed and hissed and left blackened charred spots, which crisped and flaked off with the wind. No one knew why it had come, or what had triggered it: only that it was steady and inescapable, and those who were caught outside when it came were burned badly, unless they managed to flee very quickly for safety.

Broadcast stations were overrun by terrified reports. TV evangelists thundered that this was a sign of the End Times, and it was proof that God was finally bringing his judgment down upon the deeply sinful world. Soon the angels would descend, they claimed; they would come and shepherd off the true believers into the bosom of heaven and leave the rest of the world to burn.

But the fire ended on Sunday evening, as suddenly as it had begun. People crept outside to survey the damage in the light of the fading sun. Everything smelled of smoke and ash and all the things that had burned, bitter and black. There were scars left even in stone and concrete, and places where glass had melted and warped. Some of the debris was left for Monday morning: it was too late to do anything now, they said. Some things would need to be checked in full light of day, they said.

On Monday morning, the fire came again. People stood at the windows and watched as it rained down from the sky, and the smoke was thicker than it had been the day before. More if it hit the ground than before. Smaller fires caught in the dry grass and sputtered and smoked, but they faded out quickly enough.

Again the TV evangelists beat their breasts and screamed. Further proof! Soon, now! Soon the time would come when the true believers were saved and the scum that had abandoned their faith would be punished for their foolishness.

But again, the fires stopped on Monday evening. This time, people came out and tried to clear away what they could — the ruined cars were towed (when they could be), the worst of the clutter in the streets were swept away, and people stopped and looked at each other in confusion. There was a silence in the air that felt more like anticipation than curiosity. Some people murmured to each other, low and nervous, but it was the sort of night for quiet, for wondering and for worry.

Would the fire come again on Tuesday? Everyone looked at each other and nodded: of course it would, somehow, whether people were prepared for it or not. The countryside was already burned in so many places; cities were pocked and blistered and ruined as if a thousand years had passed in the space of two days. How much worse would it be when the third day of fire came?

But it did not. Tuesday dawned sunny and bright, but without any more fire.

This was the calm before the storm, the evangelists roared, before their listening crowds (and how much bigger those audiences were than they had been just a few days before; rows and rows of seats that had stood empty on Saturday now swelled, and there wasn’t enough room to accommodate everyone). After this, oh, after this the fire would return, greater and more terrible than before; the whole world would drown in flame; fire would sweep everything and rebirth the world into something pure and new.

There was no fire on Wednesday, nor again on Thursday, nor Friday. Nor Saturday.

When Sunday came again, there was rain.

The skies billowed thick with dark black clouds, and for a moment the whole world held its breath, waiting–

And there was rain. It was cool and it was sweet and there was no sting of fire to it, no brimstone or smoke or anything terrible. People who were caught out in it — and there were very few, after the mishaps of the Sunday and Monday before — were only soaked to the bone, with nothing worse to show for the event. The soot was washed away in places, and in others it had been burned in too deeply, and the world watched through its warped melted windows.

People inhaled. People exhaled.

The world went on.

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[In Other Words] Topsy-Turvy

Whoosh, and it’s only Wednesday.

This whole rolling week has been just a little off-kilter for me so far — nothing tremendous or off the rails, but just enough oddities that I end up listing when I should be on solid ground.  On Friday I ended up going out with roommates, and that was fairly nice and relaxing, though I ended up a little stomach-sick later.  (I have a delicate stomach even at the best of times; it’s apparently just a legacy of my family.)  The weekend was fairly fine, though on Sunday night, I went to bed early with the tiniest of headaches … and woke up almost four hours later with the most excruciating migraine I’ve had in years.  I literally woke up unsure who I was for a few seconds, because it felt as if my head had split into some hideous alien creature of pain.  I ended up actually viciously ill for another couple of hours, and I have to say that whatever evolutionary point led us to the ability to have migraines, I don’t want it, take it back. 。゜(`Д´)゜。

Of course, being sick for two hours in the middle of the night meant that my Monday was extremely off — I can function all right on six hours of sleep, but not it’s broken up in between.  I spent most of the work day plodding through what I could and dead-eying my screen; I was deathly afraid of the migraine coming back (since I had woken up with a head that still felt delicate, like one wrong step would send me crashing back into pain).  I also made sure to buy Excedrin after work so at least next time, I will be more prepared.

Tuesday I was still kind of recovering; it was mostly my stomach at that point.  I don’t get migraines — or even headaches often — but stomach troubles are an old recurring midboss in my life, so I settled for eating light and eating a lot of candied ginger and muddling through.

Today my alarm didn’t go off at its proper time — I checked my phone and everything was working; the alarm was on and correct, it just … hadn’t gone off.  I am proud of myself that I still managed to get to work less than ten minutes late, which was really a combination of living very close to my office (on the other side of downtown) and super hardcore rushing to get myself out the door.  My cat was probably very put out by this, since he seemed to think that me being in bed longer meant that I was going to stay home and cuddle him; when I came home earlier he proceeded to yell and then crawled into my lap to yell even more.

So I have been mostly making it through — hopping on one foot more than not, though at least I am still plugging away at keeping up with my writing.  Somehow, in spite of all the other hiccups, that has been going relatively smoothly; I am already over halfway to my monthly wordcount goal!  (Which is just # of days in the month x 1000, so it’s fairly easy to remember.)  I made a fairly big push during the weekend, and even though I fell short of my actual total goal, I came close enough to feel satisfied that it’s a real and possible thing I can do.  At least I can still be productive.


Tonight, though, I’m going to bed early and no one can stop me.  (What a life of luxury, being an adult …)

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[flashfiction] About Falling

One of the first things you learn is how to fall properly, whether it is by lesson or by necessity. There are proper ways to hit the ground so that nothing fragile takes the brunt of your weight. It’s bad enough, of course, when someone strikes you across the face; there’s no need to add a carelessly-snapped wrist or ankle on top of the bruises. You’ve seen people who’ve taken longer than sooner, and the consequences that follow. It’s just something that you learn–but like all lessons, it can also be forgotten. Time passes and you’ve fallen enough times that there are brittle places that have cracked and flaked open. Then something soft creeps along and winds its way into the core of you, and the next thing you know, you’re walking flat-footed as if the world under your feet is solid, smooth walking from here to eternity.

You have no one but yourself to blame when things fall apart. You misstep and put your foot through the fragile parts of things you let yourself believe were strong enough to bear your weight. The ground rushes to meet you, and you know: you’ve forgotten how to land.

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[In Other Words] Scheduling (part two?)

So after two months of a roughly-outlined Real Adult Schedule, I have come to a few conclusions:

1.  I really genuinely do feel much better when I have one, even if the lazy kid in me chafes at keeping tabs on my free fun times;

2.  I am intensely more productive with one, even if it’s really just kind of the bare-bones of one;

3.  Sometimes, it makes me sad, in the same way a lot of things about settling into adulthood makes me sad.

Points one and two are things that I have always sort of known about myself, even if I really rebelled against it for a long time (and, as per point three, I do still complain about in my heart), even if the “schedule,” as it is, is barely a real thing.  “Assuming I get home around 6, I will have about an hour to unwind/get dinner prep started, then dinner, then eating, then a couple of hours of free time, then an hour or so of writing*, then a shower, then unwinding, then bed.”

* It’s not a straight hour of writing, even.  I usually do two or three 15-minute sessions, using focusbooster, depending on how long it takes me to hit the first 1000 words.  Some nights it happens faster than others.

It’s not something I have sat down and meticulously planned out (I have still not mastered dayplanners; I don’t quite understand how one can meticulously plan out one’s day without losing precious time in the process), and of course it’s pretty flexible (sometimes we go out to eat or order out; sometimes I linger with my timewaster games longer than I probably should), but just by having one I’ve seen a huge improvement in my actual productivity.  At the beginning of the year, I had a bit of a boost in terms of writing fic, but even then, I was sometimes barely hitting even the baseline minimum of 750 words a day — now I’m averaging about 2000 words, and it’s not something I’m straining that hard to manage.  (Again, some days are easier than others.)  It’s only about forty-five minutes extra in a given day, but I’ve been impressing myself, at least!

At the same time, though, it does mean I have to compromise on some of the other things I would like to do.  A friend of mine started up a new game that looks interesting and fun, and I would like to join!  … But I’ve already sort of hit my limit in what I can reasonably juggle, between the game I am already in, recharging time (the joys of being an introvert even with regards to online interactions), offline things, and writing time.  I don’t want to go back to skimping on the writing, especially when I feel like I’ve finally hit a point in my own personal discipline that I can keep up with things!  It was a choice I made deliberately and willingly, and intellectually I know it’s definitely going to be better for me in the long run.*

It doesn’t mean I don’t feel a whole lot of wistfulness when a large number of my friends are having fun with a new shiny thing.  It’s a lot like the metaphorical kid outside of the candyshop, with my hands and face mushed against the glass, wishing there was a way I could go inside and afford everything I want.  Only instead of candy, it’s a new thing to do, and instead of money, it’s time and energy.

* A friend of mine linked me to an article the other day that mentioned that the “sweet spot” for self-published authors is to put out a new book every 2-4 months.  Yikes.  While I have the confidence I could write 50k words regularly every 2-4 months at this point, whether or not this would be a completed story that I can hand over to my betas is another thing entirely.  That’s something I’m working on.  One thing at a time, I guess.

Part of me is seriously considering seeing if I can juggle things, though the other thing I know about myself is that a more forgiving system — one that says, “no, it’s all right, you don’t need to push your activity levels, it’s meant to be relaxing” means that it will, in fact, be the thing I put off, which in and of itself is not very fair, either to the thing itself, or the people that I would be interacting with within that system.  I don’t have such a demanding daily schedule that it’s another unpleasant stressor on everything else; I have enough freedom that I do need the restrictions or else I just end up flopping out.  Even in fun things, apparently, I need something to essentially keep me honest.

When I was a kid, I thought that adulthood meant there would be just some switch that went off in my awareness and suddenly I’d be all right with being responsible even in my free time (because even that far back, I had some inkling about the sort of lazy personality I have).  Now that I’m actually of an ostensibly adult age, I’ve found that the only thing that’s switched is that instead of my parents nagging me to do things and be good and get stuff done, it’s my own internal sense of responsibility and reaction.  Maybe in the end, instead of just playing an adult in my dayjob, I have actually truly become one.

How distressing.  (´Д`)

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[freewrite] The East Wing Ghost

From the writeworld prompt: All you’ll ever be is a poor little rich boy.

But why is that?


During the hours between midnight and three in the morning, a woman walks the length of the East Wing.  All of her pale hair is in disarray, and there are dark stains across the belly and the hem of her nightgown.  She wears a veil over her face, but anyone who sees her knows her for who she is: the Madame, Estelle Leclair, and God rest her soul, for her body has been resting in the earth for the past ten years.  Though she makes no sound, she will stop in front of every door and put her face in her hands, and her shoulders will tremble, and then she will move on to the next.  On particularly windy nights, her voice echoes like a lost and lonely thing: my boy, my boy, where is my boy?

And the tragedy of the situation is that her boy — the son that died just a scant few months before the Madame herself — was likely waiting for her to find him on the other side, in the cradle of the heavens.  She cannot hear his cries over her own, and while a priest might be able to give her some measure of peace, the Monsieur refuses to summon one.  It is romance; it is his way of keeping her close, even though she has already gone on before him.  Surely, after the Monsieur departs his own deathbed, he will take her by the hand and he will lead her home.

Alexis had asked about the ghost of the East Wing once; his mistake, he thought later, was that he had asked Julien, and not his father.

“If it is her,” he said, his face grim, “then let’s pray to every sweet saint that she will move on.  She’s been trapped here for far too long.”

Alexis thought this was rather excessive; Julien, after all, had at least known her for far longer than Alexis himself.  He had a photograph of her in a locket, and the knowledge from her old maid that she had preferred lilac over rose in her perfumes, and he had his life, but nothing more than that.  It was not fair that Julien could not hope, at least for Alexis’s sake, that their mother truly did walk the East Wing, as if she meant to stay close to them even after so many years.  Even if she was gone, she was close.

He had tried several times to catch her, bringing a blanket and a pillow and bedding down in one of the empty guest rooms and leaving the door open, forcing himself to stay awake during the long hours of the night — but he always found himself drifting off shortly after midnight, so that if Estelle Leclair did make her appearance, he always missed them.  Perhaps if he actually slept in the room that had once been hers — the room where he had been born, the room where she’d died — he would have better luck, but his courage always failed him before he could quite make it to that particular room.

And then, one night, Alexis woke at some point when the world had gone dark gray and soft.  He could not say what exactly it was that had roused him from sleep, though his heart was pounding hard and fast in his chest, as if the lingering cobwebs of his dreams were nightmares.  He glanced at the clock and saw that it was just shortly after midnight, the twenty-first, the birth-day of his lost half-brother, who had died before the servants could even have any stories to tell about him.

The impulse struck him like a bolt of lightning, and his heart, which had just begun to calm, started off again.  He slipped out of his bed and tiptoed out of his room, down the length of the West Wing and to the East Wing, his heart in his throat.  For the first time, he felt well and truly awake, so alert that he was on the verge of vibrating out of his skin.  When he reached the East Wing, he pressed himself against the wall, and he peered down the hallway, which was lit by the silver glow of the full moon.

Someone stood at the end of the hallway, in front of Estelle Leclair’s old room.  Alexis gasped before he could help himself, and clapped both hands over his mouth.  He could see the shape now, tall and slim and graceful, and he could see how the moon glittered on the pale strands of her hair, the gauzy gossamer of her nightgown, and more than anything, he wanted to run to her, to throw his arms around her knees and say, Mama, Mama, I am here, I am your boy and I’m here.

He’d even taken one step, preparing himself, and then he heard a voice behind him:

“Alexis, what are you doing here?”

At once he turned, and there was his father, handsome and proud and clever, who was truly all of the very best things that Alexis wished to be.  He was dressed as if he were heading out to a party — or perhaps returning from one; an adult’s life seemed to be full of many parties, some of which lasted long and late into the night.  He made a noise, then remembered his hands over his mouth, and he removed this and he said, “I am looking for Mama, Papa.”

“Are you?”  He raised an eyebrow, and then he looked down the hallway.  “But she is not here, Alexis.  She left us long ago.”

“No,” Alexis said.  “I saw her, Papa, she was right–” And then he turned, and — of course, Alexis Leclair, you foolish child! of course! — the length of the East Wing hallway was empty.  Even so, he lifted a hand and pointed, and he swallowed several times because his throat ached, and he said, “She was there, Papa.  She was there, and I saw her.  I just wanted to be able to see her once.”

“Of course you did,” his father said, and this was why Alexis loved him, because he was kind and he was indulgent — not like Julien, who frowned and said scathing things and could not even tolerate a brief moment of whimsy.  “And perhaps she was here, for just a moment.  But she must away to her own sleep, and so should you.”

“But I am not tired.”

“Aren’t you?  Then that’s troublesome.” His father stroked his chin for a moment, as if considering, and then he knelt down, putting both of his broad hands on Alexis’s shoulders.  They were so large and warm, and Alexis thought that he could easily be swept up and carried in his father’s hands with room left over.  His father looked him over, thoughtful, as if inspecting him, and so Alexis straightened up as much as he could and lifted his chin and tried to look as very adult as he could.

His father smiled then, slow and thoughtful.  “Then,” he said, “would you like to come to my study?  I think there are things we could do, perhaps, to tire you out.”

“Your study?” Alexis squeaked, his eyes going wide.  His father’s study was a forbidden place, where neither he nor Julien were allowed (though of course not Julien; he was not even the proper son of the Monsieur Leclair!).  It felt like an invitation to a strange new world, one that, perhaps, held secrets that might be equal to the memory of his mother, faded and dim as she was.  “Of course, Papa!  I would love to!”

“Oh, good,” his father said, and he kissed Alexis, first on the forehead, then on the mouth, and then on the mouth again, warm and firm, and Alexis giggled a little before he could stop himself.  There was a strange little flip in his belly, like something was waiting to catch fire, or to take flight.

His father smiled as well, warm and secret, and he took Alexis by the hand, and he led him away.

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