I’ve just found this track by Harry Lightfoot, and it fits the mood of what I’m writing perfectly:
I know music is intensely personal, but do you have music in your life? To write to? To dance to? To just hum along to?
I’ve just found this track by Harry Lightfoot, and it fits the mood of what I’m writing perfectly:
I know music is intensely personal, but do you have music in your life? To write to? To dance to? To just hum along to?
Remember that post about info dumps? Well, I’ve just cut two, and it’s breaking my heart. One of them was a cute little scene that I really enjoyed writing, but even as I wrote it I knew what it’s ultimate fate would be.
The other though…the other was about how Kaati picked a primitive lock with the claw of its little finger. I spent well over a week refining the description, trimming it, massaging it, loving it. But this morning I finally admitted the truth: describing the lock and how it was picked had absolutely nothing to do with the story. It may have added a little unnecessary background to the story, but nothing substantial. Nothing necessary.
So I killed it with those bloody great shears. But as the pieces lay twitching on the cutting room floor, I realised that I could write a post about them. Just in case anyone ever needed to know how an ancient lock worked…mwahahahaha!
Okay, ahem, way back in the mists of time, the Egyptians invented a lock that looked something like this:
The yellow bar is the locking bar. It goes through the door and into the doorframe. At the top of the locking bar are three holes and a long slot. When the locking bar is lined up correctly, the three pins inside the lock drop down into the holes in the locking bar and stop it from pulling out of the doorframe. Effectively this keeps the door ‘locked’.
As you can see from the diagram, the pins do not extend all the way down into the locking bar. This is so that a key can be pushed through the slot. The key has three teeth, each of which lines up with one of the ‘pins’.
When you want to unlock the door, you insert the key and push it up so the pins pop out of the locking bar, allowing it to move. You can then pull the locking bar out of the doorframe with the key:
To make the lock work for Kaati, however, I had to simplify the design at bit. This is what the iVokh lock looks like:
Instead of three pins, the Vokh lock only has one. When Kaati sticks its small finger in the keyhole, the tip of its claw fits underneath the pin. When it pushes its claw up, the pin slips out of the locking bar and unlocks the door.
-grin- I feel better now.
I’ve been writing this damn sequel for years now, yet the beginning has never satisfied me. Or perhaps I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t right, that one of its hearts was missing. Sorry, small pun there.
Anyway…after the umpteenth rewrite of the beginning, I gave up trying to massage the existing story into shape and sat down for a rethink, another one. I knew that Kaati [the Apprentice from book 1] had to meet a character called Death in book 2, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t work out why Death would be at that location.
Everything I tried felt contrived. Either the social constraints didn’t quite work, or the internal motivation of the characters didn’t gel. I knew I was on the right track, but for my internal bullshit-o-meter to be satisfied, everything had to slot into place with a sense of ‘oh…of course.’ But it wasn’t. And then…
I remembered something I’d written ages ago, and suddenly I felt as if a key had turned in my head, a key that made everything else slot into place. And this, with a slight change of emphasis, is that key:
The Master of Acolytes stared at the closed door in dismay. The Assistant had promised to speak to the Yellow, but something about its response had not rung true. Its expression had been too polite, too controlled…
As if just humouring self, the Master thought with an unaccustomed spurt of anger. Its hand rose, but the anger faded before it could knock again.
Surely the Assistant wouldn’t dare ignore the request of a Master?
Of course not. The Yellow would never allow its Assistant to overstep the bounds like that.
Nevertheless, as the Master of Acolytes headed back towards its own quarters, it decided to check back in a day or two, just in case. Because whatever the Yellow’s Assistant might think, finding a healer-seneschal was important. Very important.
The Master did not hate the Traders. It did not even object to sharing the Settlement with them, however it did fear another Great Unrest and knew the Guild would never be truly safe while all communication with the outside had to go through the Quartermaster.
All the eyries had to communicate through the Trader Quartermasters, but at least they had Seneschals of their own and were not forced to share an eyrie with the Traders.
The Settlement, however, had never had a seneschal of its own. Ever since the Great Unrest, the Guild of Healers had debated the value of employing a non-healer as their seneschal, but the move had always been stymied by the need for secrecy, and trust. Out in the eyries, Seneschals bonded with their Vokh, so their loyalty was unassailable. In the Settlement however, the Guild could only form such a relationship if its seneschal were also a healer, and so far they had not found any.
They had tried and failed, for two hundred years, because the two talents seemed to be mutually exclusive. An iVokh could either heal, or speak mind-to-mind, never both.
Or so the common wisdom said. The Master, however, had never been completely convinced by the common wisdom. Despite past failures, including its own, it still believed a healer-seneschal was possible, but only if the iVokh possessed both talents in sufficient measure before the Quickening.
Finding iVokh with the mindspeech was relatively easy as the talent tended to manifest itself at a young age. The talent for healing, however, was much less straightforward and seemed to need the shock of the Quickening to reveal itself. Thus, creating new healers was always a hit or miss affair. Often those who seemed to have the most potential turned into the worst disasters. However the records showed there had been exceptions, even to this rule.
Before the devastation wrought by the Rogue, healers had always arisen naturally, but their numbers had been few, and only the most powerful Vokh could claim them. After the death of the Rogue and the Great Nine, however, the new Nine had decreed that the remaining healers had to be shared by all the surviving Vokh. That was how the Settlement, and the Guild had begun.
In the hundreds of years since then, the Guild had perfected the Quickening to the point where most candidates survived the process. Picking good candidates, however, still involved a great deal of guesswork as very few displayed clear signs of talent before hand.
Of course wild talents did crop up, even now. In fact, the former Blue had been one such talent. Sadly, it had never shown the slightest ability to mindspeak. The young Tanner though…
A shiver ran down the Master’s spine as it remembered how close it had come to dismissing the claims of the Senior from Deepwater. How could a Tanner’s apprentice possess even one of the great talents much less two?
Yet, right from the start, the young Tanner had demonstrated an uncanny ability to soothe the newborns placed in its care. When asked how it did what it did, it said that the newborn were simply uncomfortable; once their needs were met they settled down easily. What it could not explain was how it always seemed to know which particular discomfort to ease.
But the Master knew. Despite the young Tanner’s small stature, and the lingering stench of the Tanning pits, it possessed the ability to feel the newborn’s discomfort. It was something all Healers had, at least to some extent.
Of course, feel alone did not guarantee that the Quickening would trigger the full range of healer talents. Some could feel but not control the ability enough to actually heal. Others, like the Messengers, could feel but were not distressed by another’s pain.
Nevertheless, the Master was convinced that a natural ability to feel was the best indicator of latent talent. That was why it had arranged for the young Tanner to take the position of Acolyte at Needlepoint. The Triad assigned to the Needlepoint eyrie was lead by a Raised Senior of exceptional ability. If anyone could bring out the youngling’s latent abilities it was that Senior…
Who could guessing? the Master thought as it entered its own quarters and closed the door behind it.
Needlepoint was one of the best hidden eyries in the north, yet the Seven of Five Rocks had taken it anyway. Neither the young Tanner nor the Triad were harmed, but in raids, anything could happen, especially if the Triad attempted to save its Vokh. And now the Challenger was heading north as well. It seemed to attack eyries at random, but those it chose were destroyed utterly. If the Nine did not rise soon, the Challenger would decimate the north as it had the south.
Something had to be done. The Guild’s one chance of securing a line of healer-seneschals could not be left to chance. Returning the young Tanner to the Settlement was vital, no matter what the Assistant to the Yellow might think!
Apologies for the long excerpt, but I just had to share.
I was checking my emails after dinner when something made me open my spam folder. The first few items were genuine spam, but then I found an email from Chris Graham [aka The Story Reading Ape] alerting me to a brilliant review of Vokhtah. If this were fiction, you wouldn’t believe it!
“They were now just two frail iVokh pitting themselves against the might of the wild.”
Vokhtah is a difficult but rewarding book. If you like unusual conceptions of extraterrestrials, this is for you. Once you’ve read about half of it, the complexities begin to clarify themselves, but two readings are needed for complete understanding. For example, it took me quite a while to grasp that the Blue and the Messenger were the same individual, and I also didn’t realize that there were two traders’ caravans wending their way to Needlepoint – I thought the Junior and the Messenger were in the same caravan and I got confused. Part of the problem is that the characters don’t have names, only titles. In her end matter, the author addresses this – it seems there is a taboo in this culture about enunciating your real name.
Vokhtah is a grim and forbidding planet; it has two suns, one a hot white star and the other a red dwarf. Sometimes they both shine at once, creating a climate of extremes. The planet is populated with an assortment of mostly vicious and predatory lifeforms and that includes the intelligent ones, who prefer to consume their food animals live. It’s a tribute to the author that she can take these basically repulsive intelligent lifeforms and make them sympathetic. And I would recommend that any human ship of exploration steer clear of the planet Vokhtah – humans would probably be seen as prey animals!
My guess would be that the Vokh evolved from bat-like creatures – their ability to echo-locate is mentioned briefly. They have wings (which contain their lungs), so most of them can fly. They have two hearts. And they are telepathic hermaphrodites with seemingly magical inner powers, like mind-healing and also mind-killing (their Healers are also trained as assassins). There are two variant species – the Vokh (large and dominant) and the iVokh (meaning literally “small Vokh”). The Vokh have a serious flaw – breeding is consummated by means of violent rape; nobody wants to bear an offspring because the “female” always dies in childbirth (this doesn’t occur with the iVokh).
However, the people have a strong sense of honor and obligation – if you accept help from someone, you incur an obligation and if you don’t fulfill it, you are ostracized. In the second half of the book, after the episode at the Little Blue River, the main characters – the Messenger and the Apprentice – are shown developing a sense rare in these people – empathy, an ability to relate to and care about others with whom one has a relationship, beyond the obligations of the code of honor.
All this just scratches the surface of the author’s astonishing creation. I should also mention that the book is a cliff hanger, and no second volume has yet appeared.
I must say a few words about the language. Unfortunately, the Kindle version has no Table of Contents and so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the author provided a brief treatment of the language in the end matter. It seems to have no pronouns, and verbs are consistently rendered only with the present participle form, all of which helps to create the alien language effect. Certain words used in the text are self-explanatory, like “ki” for “no” and “s’so” for “yes.”
There is one etymological gaffe that I can’t help commenting on – the explanation of the word “boot” (a foot-covering). The character doesn’t know what the word “boot” means and it’s explained as a contraction of “bucket for foot.” And yet that derivation would be impossible since the iVokh aren’t speaking English. You have to assume that the Vokhtah words reflect a similar construction, which the author could have fabricated.
But that’s only a quibble – don’t be deterred! This really is an amazing book and while the culture may not be palatable to everyone (you need a strong stomach sometimes), I definitely recommend it to any serious reader of science fiction.
The review was written by Lorinda Taylor, also known as The Termite Writer. Some days just get better and better.
Soundcloud is getting to know me too well. Caratacus was one of the tracks it recommended for me this morning. I listened and fell in love!
Caratacus was composed by Dirk Ehlert. He may become a new favourite composer too. Still listening to some of his other tracks.
Soundcloud also recommended an epic but disjointed track that immediately made me think of ‘The Seven’. I can’t say I like it, but I know precisely where it fits so I had to create a new playlist in which to save it.
If you’ve never given Soundcloud a try, please do. It’s free [although I believe there is a paid version?] and only interrupts with a commercial maybe once in an hour. Not bad at all. And its recommendations are eerily accurate, at least for me.
Well, I’m off to do some volunteering. Have a great day. 🙂
Music has always been a vital part of my writing because it speaks directly to the emotional and creative side of my brain. In a very real sense, it puts the logical side to ‘sleep’. For me, that is a necessity because technical writing comes so much easier.
But finding the right music for the right story has never been easy. Until today.
I give you, ‘The Journey of a Scarecrow’, by Indie composer – Jean-Gabriel Raynaud:
The instant the Scarecrow track began to play [on Soundcloud], I knew precisely who it was for. The quirky playfulness screamed ‘Acolyte’!
For those few brave souls who read my scifi/fantasy novel, ‘Vokhtah’, you may remember the small iVokh who worked for the Healers in Needlepoint. The Scarecrow is its signature song.
For everyone else, here’s a short excerpt from the book that introduces the reader to the Acolyte:
The Female was fast asleep when the steady drip, drip of the timepiece was joined by the scrape of wood across sand.
It was a small sound, as was the gap that appeared between the edge of the door and its frame. The gap was just wide enough to admit two twiggy fingers tipped with blunted claws. The fingers strained at the wood to no avail.
A dull thump sounded from the other side of the door as something heavy hit the sand. Two more fingers appeared and four blunted claws dug into the wood as the fingers jerked at the door. Each jerk widened the gap a little further until persistence finally triumphed, and the opening became wide enough for a small black face to appear.
Everything about that face was small, except for the eyes, which glowed huge and golden in the soft, blue light of the chamber’s single glow-worm.
After darting a timid glance from left to right, the face disappeared only to be replaced a moment later by a small black rump. Over-sized, jet black wings swept the sand as the hunched shape of the small iVokh backed into the chamber, dragging a sloshing leather bota. The water sack was almost as tall as the iVokh itself.
Diminutive by any standard, the healers’ acolyte looked more like an iVokhti than a fully-grown iVokh. In fact, the only parts of its anatomy close to normal size were its wings, and they seemed far too large for its small frame.
The Acolyte’s lack of stature was accompanied by a corresponding lack of strength. The Junior mocked its weakness at every opportunity, but the young iVokh prided itself on never failing in its duty. Clever and resourceful, it compensated for the weakness of its body by using the power of its wings. Only rarely did it have to rely on brute strength as it did now.
Bent over the bota, struggling to regain its breath, it stiffened as derisive hoots sounded from the outer cavern.
The Acolyte’s hide took on a hot, yellowish tinge. It did not like being closed in with the female, but it liked listening to the Junior’s oh-so-witty barbs even less. Pulling itself upright with a jerk, it grabbed the leather handle of the door with both hands and pulled. Embarrassment was a powerful motivator, and the door closed quickly.
The Acolyte features in Book 3 of The Suns of Vokhtah. Unfortunately, I’m still on book 2. That means I mustn’t allow myself to listen to this new music until I’m ready to write the Acolyte’s story… -cries quietly-
I hate these games I have to play with my subconscious, but my muse is temperamental at the best of times. At least now, I have a lot to look forward to.
Anyone else play games with their muse?
As a reader, one problem I’ve always had with plot driven stories is that the motivation behind pivotal events is often paper thin. The author wants Character X to do something or be somewhere because the rest of the plot depends on it. A flimsy excuse is offered, and the story moves on, usually without me. I’m fussy, no apologies.
Well, imagine my dismay when I found that I was in precisely the same situation with book two of Vokhtah. 😦
I’m a pantster by nature, meaning I don’t like to outline, but the second book of a series inevitably constrains how freely you can write because much of the world building and ‘rules’ have been set in concrete as part of book one. You can’t suddenly unwrite details that are no longer convenient.
And that’s the problem I’ve been tiptoeing around for weeks. I have a character who calls itself Death*. It appears in book one as the assistant to the Yellow. In book two, however, I need Death to be at the entrance to the Settlement when Kaati** arrives. The trouble is, for higher level Messengers*** like Death, gate duty would be seen as a dreadful punishment. I’m talking maximum humiliation here.
So what could Death possibly do that would result in such a public punishment?
I already had some of Death’s back story and the world building from book one, but the ‘crime’ and its motivation eluded me. I tried to fudge it, but my subconscious wouldn’t let me. Every time I sat down to continue the story, I’d find myself going over that scene, again and again and again. Yet no matter how much I polished the words, it still felt like a bloody fudge so last night I spat the dummy and decided to delete the whole scene and start from scratch.
Oddly enough, I had a great night’s sleep, and this morning I started writing the outline, yes the outline, with a clear head. Two thousand words later, I finally have all the background and world building needed to explain Death’s motivation for being where it needs to be. Yes! 😀
I won’t spoil the story by giving it all away, but I will explain some of the world building that emerged. It revolves around the Guild of Healers and how their Council works. In a nutshell, the Council is made up of a total of seven Councillors who are the most powerful Healers in the Guild.
But Councillors are not chosen solely on merit. When a Councillor dies, or disappears [as happened with the leader of the Blue faction****], a replacement is usually chosen by a vote amongst the remaining six Councillors.
Now this is where things become interesting as the Councillors are divided into two dominant factions. Those in the Yellow faction believe that all Vokh abominations must be killed. Those in the Blue faction believe that not all abominations are dangerous. In fact, they believe that some abominations actually decrease the aggression of the Vokh and thus should be allowed to live and breed.
And finally there’s the Green. It has no faction of its own and its purpose is to break any deadlock between the two major factions. In the past, Councillors chosen as the Green tended to be strictly neutral. In book one, however, the current Green tends to side with the Yellows more often than the Blues. In book two, it continues to side with the Yellows until Death does something that really ticks it off.
If the Green lends its vote to the Blue faction it will cause a deadlock in the selection of the seventh Councillor – i.e. three Yellow faction members versus two Blues plus the Green.
In situations where the Council is deadlocked, the vote must be thrown open to the entire Guild. If that were to happen, the Yellows might still manage to get another Yellow voted onto the Council, but it would not be a certainty, and the delay could seriously disrupt the Yellow’s plans [the Yellow is the leader of the Yellow faction].
I can’t tell you what Death did, but it works perfectly with the Machiavellian politics of the Guild and its own, personal motivation. At this point I have no idea how much of this world building/back story will end up in the actual book, but at least I’ve stopped fighting my ‘muse’, and we’re both happy for the first time in weeks!
The sun is shining, the wind is mild and my Sunday is turning out to be a really good day. Hope you enjoy your weekend as well.
* Both Vokh and iVokh keep their personal names secret, and in public are known solely by rank or profession.
** Kaati is the young Apprentice from book one. Book two follows what happens to Kaati after parting company with the Blue/Messenger at Needlepoint gather.
*** Messengers are Healers who act as ‘enforcers’ for the will of the Guild of Healers. They are distinguished from ordinary Healers by their ability to inflict pain without suffering any of the empathic consequences that affect true Healers.
**** The leader of the Blue faction was known as the Blue. This powerful Healer left the safety of the Settlement to stop the guild from shooting itself in the foot. See book one, Voktah.
I asked for your help, and you gave it, making Kaati so much better than I could have hoped. Thank you, one and all!
And here’s the proof….ta dah!
If you click on the picture, it should open in a new window where you can see it at full size…I think. -fingers crossed-
Thank you again. You guys really are the best.