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I haven’t touched Steel Butterfly: Part One since I sent it off to the Awesome Team Beta a couple of months ago (in fact I haven’t written a word of fiction since I typed The End), but that was the plan. I wanted to let it sit and not do too much conscious thinking about it until I was ready to dig into revisions–and I knew (or felt, or vaguely apprehended–more likely, given my usual MO) it would need revisions a-plenty.

My feeling or vague apprehension is borne out by initial reports from the betas: the beginning is rough, the world-building sketchy, and the main character not as likeable as I had fondly imagined. So, that’s okay; now I know what I need to fix. But I’m not going to dive in just yet (for one thing, a couple members of the expeditionary force have yet to report back), for another I’ve got art deadlines, and for a third I want to give it time to cook in my subconscious before I bring it back to the fore.

I don’t know how other authors work, but for me a lot of the thinking about my stories goes on in the background while I’m doing other stuff. It’s like soup: you chuck in the ingredients, turn on the fire, and then let everything simmer and meld. Sometimes you might chuck in a couple extra things while it’s cooking, to make sure you’ve got the balance of flavors right, but mostly you just leave it alone.

What that means in practical writing terms is working on other stuff entirely, taking notes when a concrete idea bubbles to the top of my brain, and just generally being on the alert for neat ideas I can toss into the soup. I’m reading a book called Samurai Sketches (tales of samurai from the end of the Edo period) that is happily congruent with some of my needs (plus it’s just interesting!), and a blog post about Final Fantasy IX helped bring some of my world-building thoughts into better focus. That doesn’t mean my soup is going to be Final Fantasy-flavored*, or have big chunks of samurai in it (how far can we take this metaphor?), but storytellers are omnivoracious, and every thought, word, experience, goes into the soup one way or another.

The omnivoracious author on the hunt for more ingredients...

The omnivoracious author on the hunt for more ingredients…


 

*It doesn’t mean it’s not going to be Final Fantasy-flavored either, given what a tight grip FF4 still has on my imagination.

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In a move completely ripped off from Dragonlance, I decided my heroes should move undetected across the countryside by dint of disguising themselves as travelling performers–well, Evion would disguise himself as a travelling performer, because that’s the kind of thing he would be into–and it became this whole sidequest distraction-thing.  I quite liked some of the writing, but it was bogging the story down, and so it had to go.  (I let Evion keep the outfit, but it became less of a disguise and more of a practical way for them to earn some much-needed coin.)  (It looks like some of the original’s pretentiousness crept into this bit as well, and I try to weed that stuff out whenever it crops up.)

_________

Evion’s hat hit the table with a heavy clank, landing in the midst of a litter of dirty rags, metal polish, a whetstone, a pitcher, and other suchlike paraphernalia, not to mention the remains of Aine’s dinner: some crumbs on a plate, and a half-empty teacup, its contents forgotten, now stone cold.  Aine gave her dagger (a new acquisition) another pass along the sharpening stone, glanced along its edge, shaved a few hairs off her forearm, and nodded in satisfaction as she put it away, and only then looked up into his eager face.  She had meant to keep her expression stern, but one glance at his enormous grin called up an answering smile of her own.

“A good day?” she said.

Super duper chibi Evion, circa 2001.  The flamboyant outfit is now a disguise and not an overt classic FF reference.

Super duper chibi Evion, circa 2001. The flamboyant outfit is now a disguise and not an overt classic Final Fantasy reference.

“Indeed!”  He stripped off his gloves, and dropped them onto the table and himself into a chair.  “The Red Wizard,” he said, sinking back into its dubious embrace and closing his eyes, “is the most talked about performer in Brene–in all of Foras.  My reputation has preceded me, and my fervent admirers throng the streets, shouldering each other aside in their eagerness to shower me with coin.  In fact,” he added, cocking his head to peer at her with one eye through his hair, which had fallen into his face, “one of the local potentates sent a lackey to tender me an invitation to perform for himself and his honored guests at a banquet tomorrow evening–an invitation couched in the most flattering terms, naturally.”

Aine’s hands were busy gathering up the flotsam of her labors.  “And what does that mean to the rest of us?”

Evion’s other eye opened.  “Are you asking me for a translation, or for the repercussions?”

“I’ve been with you long enough, I almost understand the way you talk now,” she said, lips twitching.  “Repercussions, please.  We’ll be staying here another day, then?”

“We’ll be staying longer than that if we can’t find a ship and a captain crazy enough to take us,” he responded.  “Or until the compass changes directions.  Again.”

When the first city loomed up before them, Aine had wanted to go around, but the compass, with its usual perversity, had swung round to point directly at its high stone walls.  Evion had delighted in the compass’s whimsicality then, crying up the pleasures and advantages of civilization (clean clothes! hot food! beds!), and to Aine’s objection that they had no funds for such luxuries, replied with six most ominous words: “Don’t worry; I have a plan!”

And she had to admit, it seemed to be working.  She had objected at first that his act would draw too much notice to themselves, but in fact the opposite seemed to be true: folks’ eyes slid right past her without a second glance, and when Evion dressed in the simple clothes of an ordinary citizen and not his ridiculous “Red Wizard” garb, none of the crowd who had shouted so eagerly for his tricks the day before gave him a second glance.

“It’s not me they care about, you see,” he explained (this was in the second or third town along the coastbound road, after a long day of performing in the parks and on the streetcorners of the town, and against his usual custom he was drinking ardent spirits, a strong, clear liquor with a fresh, vivid smell, said to be the local specialty), “not me at all.  It’s the costume, and the tricks.  What with–everything–” he waved the hand with the empty glass in it, and the barman at once reached out and poured him another measure, “people just want some–some color, some hint of bitter things.  Better things.”  He hiccupped.  “Give them the appearance of wonder, and they won’t bother themselves about the deeper truth.  You follow me?”

“Not really.”  He had happily dived into an explanation, and she smiled and shook her head, but she wasn’t really listening.

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