The Comfort of an Old Familiar Story

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I’ve been rereading some older stories I wrote so I can finish a series of them, and I have this nostalgic coming home feeling as I read through them again.  It’s been really nice, since I’ve been struggling to write a bit lately.  I decided to return to, and hopefully finish, a fan fiction series I spent a lot of time on right after graduate school.

I’m not going to get into the fandom part of this, but my series focuses on original characters and the cannon side characters rather than the main cast, so it leans heavily toward original even though it’s fan fiction.  I use fan fiction as a place to experiment and explore.  It’s a way to practice my craft, and share a good story, and I don’t ever want to profit from that, even accidentally, which is why I don’t usually talk about it here on the blog.

I wrote most of the series of fics between 2009 and 2011.  There are a few I continued working on for the five years after that, but much less frequently.  In the past couple years, I’ve started rereading them with an eye toward finishing the series.  I just wrote the last two chapters of one that had been incomplete for years, and now I’m reading the next partially finished one so I can work on wrapping that up too.  There’s something so comforting about reading a story I already know.  It’s been a while, so there are lines that surprise me, or startle a laugh out of me, but for the most part, I’m reading a story I already know.  It’s a little like going back and rereading my favorite book.  I know I love it, and I can look forward to that as I read it again.

One of the pieces of advice I often see for authors is to write for a very specific audience.  You have to keep that audience in your mind as you write.  Your work might appeal to more than that narrow definition, but the more concrete your audience, the easier it is to write something specifically for them.  I’ve always found that my ideal reader (my intended audience) turns out to be myself.  I write stories that I want to read.  There are a lot of things I want to read, so there’s broad appeal (hopefully) for a lot of my stories, but first and foremost I’m writing for me.

This is especially true of fan fiction.  I think most fan fiction authors are really writing it for themselves, but I extend that thought into my original works as well.  When I reread a draft, I enjoy it, because I’m writing precisely the kind of story I most love to read.  It doesn’t much matter if it’s a fan fiction or an original work.  If I don’t enjoy rereading it, odds are good I’m never going to finish it, revise it, or edit it for publication.

It’s been a really hard year and a half, and I expect it will be a fairly hard next six months with the various transitions ahead of me, so I’m trying to take comfort in the familiarity of a story I know and love, and with luck that will translate into writing an ending for it once I’m finished rereading.  Returning to my old fan fiction haunts feels a little like coming home after a long time away.  I’m reconnecting with friends and readers, and I’m reconnecting with the characters I created to share the world of the series I loved so much.

Where I Find Inspiration

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I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking and writing about process, habit, and other parts of my creative life.  Today, I want to take a little time to think and write about inspiration.

First, let’s talk about what I mean by inspiration.  I’m not talking about the motivation to write, or the push to start a project.  I’m talking strictly about the ideas side of things.  Writing, like most art forms, involves a process that gets you to completion, but the creative idea, the inspiration for the story or character, can come from a variety of sources and through a variety of processes.  Said another way, this post is going to be about where my ideas come from, their source if you will, rather than how I get them written down.

There’s a saying that comes up in most writing communities I’ve been in: There are no new stories, just new ways to tell them.  This is to remind you that there are so many stories in the world about so many things, that nothing is truly original anymore, it’s all informed by the stories you’ve been exposed to, but also that this isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t make your story any less worthy of being written.  Only you can tell the story you want in the way you want to tell it.

Most of my examples in this post are going to come from the Western Literary Tradition, because that’s the one I was taught in school and while I’ve branched out to try to read works from other cultures, most of my experience is still with Western stories.  Any story about star-crossed lovers is likely to invoke comparison’s to Romeo and Juliet, anything where a character kills their father will bring up references to Oedipus Rex (with or without the accidentally marrying your mother part).  Even major corporations do this as they’re making new stories.  Take the Lion King movies as examples.  The original is a retelling of Hamlet.  1.5 is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are DeadLion King 2 is Romeo and Juliet.  I’ve definitely done this in the past.  I’ve retold an older story, or at least borrowed heavily from one.  And that’s not a bad thing in and of itself.

The special magic I bring to the equation is how I tell the story differently.  What’s unique about my star-crossed lovers?  How is my retelling of the hero’s journey different from every other hero’s journey before it?  (And let’s be frank, most stories can be boiled down to a hero’s journey.)  That’s where the inspiration comes in.

I draw ideas from all around me.

When I’m creating a character, I may borrow a piece of their description from a favorite character in a book and a piece from someone I know in real life.  I may give them a verbal quirk one of my friends uses, or one of my own.  I may put someone in an outfit I saw while I was out shopping, or one hanging in a store display.

When I’m creating the plot my characters move through, it’s informed by everything I’ve ever watched or read.  I can use the tropes and ideas that are familiar from a star-crossed lovers’ story to set up an expectation that’s how things will end, and then subvert that idea by letting the lovers triumph and find a happy ending together.  When I’m writing an epic fantasy set in a medieval like society, it’s hard not to reference or draw on popular works that have gone before me, like The Lord of the Rings.  Even if I haven’t read the books or watched the movie in years, that series is so foundational to fantasy in the Western Tradition, that I can’t really avoid comparisons or overlap because so many other fantasy stories I’ve read draw on it.  I may not do it intentionally, but there’s going to be something that could be pointed to as similar.

The same is true for how I create my world.  How I decide the magic (or science) of a vampire works in my own fictional world will draw on the original legends, on Dracula, and on a number of different modern vampire novels, stories, and movies I’ve read.  This will extend to role-playing games as well.  I try very hard to mix and match and bring my own original spin to things and make something relatively unique, but there are some things that are going to overlap simply because that’s what is thought of as a vampire.  After all, if they don’t drink blood in some way, are they still a vampire?  How I construct the nature of my world (or my vampires, werecreatures, fae, etc) will have repercussions for the plot as well.  Dracula would have been a very different book if the character hadn’t had some way to mesmerize his victims.

There are a lot of ways that my characters, worlds, and plot lines come together in unconscious ways.  I don’t always realize where the inspiration came from or where I’ve read an idea before.  There are also ways that I do this very consciously.  Many of my stories are a way of sharing something about myself.  A lot of my main characters are women, and a lot of them are white (or would be default read as so in most cases).  This is partially because that’s my identity, and thus the one I feel most comfortable writing about.  I’m not saying that everything my characters go through is based on my own life, but usually at least a few bits and pieces of the problems they encounter, be they external, internal, or interpersonal, are things I’ve experienced or struggled with.

Another way I consciously draw inspiration from the world around me is trying to add diversity to my cast of characters.  In the US at least, most readers will assume a character is white unless there are specific ques in the text telling you they aren’t (like a physical description or a mentioned nationality).  My particular writing style is fairly descriptive.  I know basically every physical characteristic and detail of my characters if they get any substantial amount of page time, and while I don’t tell readers all of it, I do try to give enough to invoke an image that will be at least similar to my own image of the character.  I’m doing to mention hair color and style, eye color, and skin tone.  I’m probably going to tell you about the kind of clothes they wear.  Something I’ve been trying to be much more intentional about since my first book is to make my fictional world better reflect my actual world in the abundance of diversity it contains.  I want there to be a possibility of readers seeing themselves in my books, even if it’s not the main character.

This effort to diversify extends beyond the obvious (in the US) demographic of race (which I need to continue working on).  I want to include diversity of socioeconomic backgrounds, religion, gender identity, sexuality, age, and life experience.  (That isn’t necessarily the full exhaustive list, just the major ones I focus on a lot.)  Sometimes I’m doing this before I even start writing (I tend to have ideas for characters before I have the idea for the plot) and sometimes I look back through a draft and see where I can insert diversity in ways that help give my world more vibrancy.  This can involve quite a bit of subtle tweaking to make the changes fit well into the existing narrative, but that’s work I’m happy to do to improve my story.  And it’s work I know I could get wrong, so it’s something I want to pay a lot of attention to during my editing phase by getting a diverse range of readers to give me feedback on how well I’ve done portraying various characters in ways to look realistic and respectful.

When you boil it all down, I get inspiration from everywhere.  I take inspiration from the world I live in, the stories I’ve read/watched/played, the things I’ve experienced, things others have told me about that they’ve experienced, dreams I’ve had, or artwork I’ve seen.  I have a half-drafted novel that came about entirely due to an image I saw posted online ages and ages ago.  If I ever published that one, I’ll be thanking that artist for the inspiration, even if I can’t find the original image posted anywhere after all these years.

That may have turned into a bit of a ramble, but I hope it at least gives you a sense of where I draw my inspiration from.  Are there specific places you find inspiration or a particularly good story about where you found inspiration for a work?  I’d love to hear about it.

Image Prompt Response 078 – Meeting the Enemy

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I chose the image of the spider as inspiration for today’s 20-minute sprint.  Using characters from the project I started for Camp NaNoWriMo back in April.  For a little context, Hannah is from our modern world and was transported into the fantasy world in the scene below.  I’m trying to leave out most of the world building stuff for this exercise, but hopefully the character and story parts will come through alright.

Title: Meeting the Enemy

After weeks of travel and training with both the locals and her fellow Champions, Hannah was ready to meet this being from another plane to figure out how she could protect this world from it.  She still wasn’t entirely sure she bought into the idea that the only way to do that was to kill the creature.  She also wasn’t entirely sure what the previous Champions described when they defeated their opponents was death.

She’d asked to go alone, since everything she’d learned seemed to indicate that she should be relatively safe but any of the local people could be killed just from getting to near this thing.  She’d been a little surprised when everyone agreed to that plan, but there she was, walking alone down the streets of the empty city.

The buildings weren’t very tall, maxing out at five stories, but they had a certain charm to them.  They all had the kind of embellishments she associated with Victorian era homes, but the architecture she’d expect in an Asian country with the wooden structures, sliding walls, and easy ways to add ventilation.  It was an interesting combination, but she liked it.

She’d been told that the being had arrived a few months ago, and had attacked anyone that came near it, and managed to drive the inhabitants out of the city entirely before taking up residence near the center of town on the central tower.  They’d all said that it was twice the size of the larger animals they used for riding and pulling carriages, which made it about twice the size of an ox.  Hannah held the Scepter loosely in her right hand, and had a slim sword hanging at her side.  She’d enjoyed fencing in College, so she’d kept with it recreationally since.  The locals seemed to like that she had something they saw as martial training.  She still wasn’t used to the weight of the real sword compared to a fencing foil though.

When she came to the end of the road and walked into the main square, she paused and looked around.  The Champions had indicated that she should know the being when she saw it.  There was something about humans like her that could recognize the other-planar beings.

Hannah looked across the paving stones and didn’t see anything.  She did have the strange feeling that she was being watched though.

She examined the fronts of all the buildings, looking for signs that one might be inhabited.  And then she looked up at the tower itself.

The tower was made of a pink stone that glittered slightly in the bright mid-day sun.  Hannah’s eyes tracked upward, admiring the carved ornaments at the corners of each story.  And then she was looking at the top story of the tower.

It was a spider.

That was her first thought.  It was just a spider hanging down between her and the tower.

Hannah shifted to one side, but the spider didn’t move.  It was resting against the tower, it’s black body gleaming in the light and the yellow markings along it’s back and legs seeming to shift and move as she looked at it.

The spider lifted one leg, and Hannah saw the shadow of it move against the tower.

It was a spider.

From front legs to back it was nearly two stories long, which made it about ten meters she guessed.  That made the body itself about ten meters long.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Hannah said out loud.

The spider’s head moved.

You do not run from me.

The voice wasn’t something she’d heard.  It was more like how the previous Champions spoke to her from the Scepter.

“You can hear me?” she asked, curious if it understood her.

They all run from me.

“You tried to eat them, of course they ran from you,” Hannah muttered.

I was not trying to eat them.

“Well, it sure looked like it to them.  And that means you can hear me and understand me.”

Of course.

“So, why are you here and what do you want?” Hannah asked.  If it was intelligent, she might as well ask the questions.

I did not choose to be here.

“That makes two of us.  So what do you want now that you’re here?”

Hannah saw the spider’s head tilt one way and then another.  It was a mannerism more like a dog or a cat, when they were trying to listen to their human talking to them.

What do I want?

“Yeah, what do you want?”  If the answer was to go home, maybe she didn’t have to kill it.  Hannah rather liked spiders most of the time.  They were useful.

Image Prompt 078 – Spider and Botanical Garden Path

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It’s the Second Friday of the Month, so today is an Image Prompt day.

I’ve included two images to work from.  Pick one (or both if you’re feeling ambitious) and write something inspired by the image.  You can use something in the image, the feeling it invokes, or whatever the image makes you think of.

If you write a piece and end up posting it somewhere online, please link back to it here on a comment so we can all enjoy it too.

I’ll be posting my own piece next week.

Image Prompt 078-01 RenFest Opening Day 2012-10-06 205

Image Prompt 078-02 Daniel Stow Botanical Gardens October 2010 004

Happy Summer

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This is going to be short and sweet because I’m traveling this week (for the first time in a very long time) to visit family.  I hope all of you are enjoying a lovely summer (or winter if your in the other hemisphere).  Remember to be kind to yourselves, and to quote one of my favorite people, “do whatever you need to be healthy, happy, and well.”

Here’s to everyone having a lovely weekend!

Creative Ruts and How I Get Out of Them

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Everyone struggles and falls into creative ruts sometimes.  This has happened to me so many times I probably don’t remember them all.  It might be that I can’t find a way forward on a particular project, it might be that life has gotten me so stressed and twisted up that I can’t find time for my writing or creative projects (which usually just makes things worse and turns into a vicious cycle), or sometimes I’m just not feeling particularly inspired for a while.

I have different strategies for different kinds of creative ruts.

If I’m struggling with a specific project or story, one of the best strategies I’ve found is to step away and work on something else.  The problems I’m dealing with in that project stay in my mind as I work on something else, so when I come back to it, I often find there’s a solution waiting there, having simmered on the back burned for however long.

If it’s life stress, or worse a cycle of life stress, I’m struggling with then I have to be very intentional about correcting course.  I have to intentionally carve out time for myself amid the stress.  This might be time to pamper myself a little, which can take as disparate forms as baking a treat, dyeing my hair, or giving myself permission to binge watch a show for half a day.  This might be carving out time for the project itself by turning off my phone, putting on headphones, or moving to a different location all together.  I’ve found that, for me at least, when it’s life getting in the way, the problem won’t just resolve itself over time.  I have to make a solution.

When I’m just not feeling like working on something creative can be the hardest struggle to overcome.  I’ve found from experience that pushing myself to keep writing, sewing, or whatever creativing I’m doing, is likely to end in frustration and a product I’m not happy with.  So, when I get to that point, I often just need a break.  I have to be careful not to let that break get too long, but a day or even a few days, distance can really help.  After that, or sometimes instead of it, I try for small attempts.  Can I write a sentence or paragraph?  Can I just do one seam or press anything that needs it?  Can I try to just spend five minutes on the project.  Sometimes it’s five minutes of pulling teeth and I put the project down again.  Sometimes I end up spending an hour or longer and get out of my rut.

In this last situation, I also sometimes combine strategies.  I’ll carve out specific time and either put on my headphones or go to a place specifically to write.  This combined strategy tends to work best with writing.  Other creative endeavors usually respond to the try for five minutes method turning into a longer session.  One of my strategies for trying to sit down for at least five minutes of writing and switching projects is to work on a prompt.  Sometimes that will be one of my image prompts, sometimes it’s one of the may prompts I’ve collected on Pinterest over the years.

This last strategy seems to have worked this time (I’ve been struggling to write for the last month, but have been doing pretty well this week since I started this prompt).  I thought I’d share the beginnings of this prompt, which is fairly typical of the type of scene I start a project with.  Dump a character into trouble, and get to know them as they get themselves (or get help) out.

The Prompt:

Write about the dragon who rescued the princess from the knight.

The Scene:

Princess Velya didn’t know how her father’s men had missed Sir Godfred’s ill intentions.  She’d been bringing up her concerns about him for months.  No one took the words of a royal princess seriously though, so here she was.

Her wrists were bound in front of her and tied to the pummel of her saddle.  Her faithful gelding, Strider, had been killed in the initial skirmish when Sir Godfred and his group of soldiers ambushed her party in the forest.  She’d just been out for a little exercise for her and the horses.  Strider had done his best to get her away, and fought hard when the soldiers tried to take control of him.  She’d been so proud of his loyalty until one of them thrust a spear into his chest.  She was never going to get the sound of his dying scream out of her head.

Velya had managed to slide off the side Strider wasn’t falling toward, to avoid injury, but she’d only made it a few steps before she was surrounded and roughly wrestled to the ground.  They’d held her there, struggling and yelling until they’d subdued or killed the rest of her guards and attendants.  She wasn’t even sure who had survived and who perished.

She ground her teeth as she stared ahead of her at Godfred’s back.  He was a power hungry, cruel man, and she wanted nothing to do with him.  He’d been one of many knights to seek her hand, and one of the few she’d told her parents very clearly would not be acceptable under any circumstances.  Her father had even agreed that he would not be considered, since there were so many suitors and most of them were higher ranked and better favored among those at court besides.

“You will regret this,” Velya murmured to herself.  “I will make sure you regret this.”  She would fight with everything she had to make sure whatever foul plan he had didn’t come to fruition.  She would not be used as a weapon against her parents, and she would not allow such an oaf as Sir Godfred to use her against her kingdom.

When they left the forest, and the buildings began to loom ahead, Velya’s jaws tightened.  The monastery.  He’d brought her to a church.  If he’d paid off some of the monks, or gods forbid, the abbot himself, then there was nothing stopping the thrice damned man from trying to force her to participate in a marriage ceremony.  With enough witnesses, it would be upheld even if she was under duress and her parents hadn’t sanctioned the marriage.

Velya looked around, trying to think of a way to escape.  The soldiers had a strong hold on the reigns of the horse she rode, and it belonged to one of them anyway, so she was unlikely to get it to bolt for her.  Once they were inside the church yard there would be very little chance of getting away cleanly, especially if they closed the gates behind them.

Velya tried to remain as still as possible, holding her head high to appear the haughty princess assured that they wouldn’t harm her, while still searching for any means of escape.  She wouldn’t let Sir Godfred win.

When the gates clanged shut behind them, Velya flinched.  Damn them all to the seven hells for putting her in this position.  If she’d been doing anything but riding, she’d have been better prepared to defend herself and her people.  Her father had her trained in unarmed combat, as well as the sword and the use of daggers and other such small weapons.  When she was out riding there were always half a dozen or more of her father’s guards with her, so she didn’t carry weapons of her own.  It would have looked to suspicious to the common people who might see her on the road or in the fields or forests.  She wasn’t supposed to be an armed royal like her brother or father.

They stopped her horse near the entrance to the monastery.

Velya leaned forward and got a good grip on the pummel of the saddle.  If they wanted her off this horse, they were either going to untie her, or bring the whole saddle down with her.  She would not make this easy and she would not let them make it look good.

“Time to come down, princess,” Sir Godfred said as he dismounted.

“I will do no such thing,” Velya said, her voice easily carrying across the yard so that everyone could hear her.  She could see some monks in the doorway and still more over near the other buildings.  She would make sure there were plenty of witnesses to her displeasure.  “I will not follow orders from a knight who has disgraced his position by taking me against my will.”  Let him chew on that.

Sir Godfred made a tutting sound, like you would use when a child was misbehaving.  “Do not be willful, princess,” he said, his own voice pitched to carry as well.  “We must see that you are unharmed after your fall, and the monastery was nearer than the palace.”  His voice dropped as he approached her, these words for her alone.  “Do as you are told, and my men need not harm any of the monks here,” he threatened.

Velya stared him in the eye as she replied, her voice loud and firm.  “I would not have fallen if you and your men hadn’t intentionally slain my horse in an attempt to capture me,” she declared to all within earshot.  “You will release met to return to the palace,” she continued, even as he reached for her.  “You are an oath-breaking traitor, and I will not go along with anything you want me to do.”

Sir Godfred’s hand closed over her wrist, the metal of his armored glove digging into her flesh as he gripped hard and pulled.

He was a fully trained and armored knight, and she was but a slim girl with a little training in self-defense.

Velya found herself sprawled on the ground beside the horse.  Her hip and shoulder hurt where she’d landed on them.  It was probably a miracle she hadn’t hit her head as well.  Or maybe she had learned something from the unarmed combat training about how to fall without hurting herself.

“How clumsy of you, your highness,” Sir Godfred sneered.

Velya clenched her jaw.  No one was saying anything or raising an alarm.  He must have paid them all well to look the other way.

That’s when she head the roar, and felt the strong draft of wind beating down on them from above.

Looking skyward, she saw one of the great dragons descending from the sky, it’s powerful call shaking her very bones as it descended with strong flaps of its large and powerful wings.

The horses scattered as they screamed.

Velya curled herself into a ball, praying none of them would trample her in their haste to get away.  There were several heartbeats of chaotic sound and motion and she prayed to the gods to spare her life.

Once the horses were gone, Velya uncurled and looked up.  Sir Godfred was staring up at the sky as one giant, three-toed foot descended right for him.

Velya didn’t even have the presence of mind to scream as the giant foot came down, Sir Godfred between two of the toes where he stood above her.  The giant claws dug into the dirt on either side of her, and then she was being lifted, the foot tightening down around her as she heard the giant wings beat against the air and felt the sickening lurch as the dragon leapt skyward once more, taking her with it.

#

Sapphire knew her brother would be furious when she arrived home, but she couldn’t just lay there in the forest and listen as the princess of the local kingdom declared herself captured by an unfaithful knight.

She’d acted before thinking it through of course.  She could have just threatened the knight and made him release the princess.  She could have raised her voice in alarm and distracted the men, but no, she’d flown in, scooped up the princess, and flown off.  What was she supposed to do now, except take the girl back home to get her brother to help her sort it out?

Sapphire landed on the rocky outcropping near the top of her brother’s home and very carefully deposited Princess Velya on the rock before stepping back.  She didn’t know how the princess was going to react to all this.

Sapphire let out a breath of magic and her form shifted and morphed, shrinking her to the size of a horse.

Princess Velya sat up and looked around.

“Wow, it’s beautiful,” she said, her eyes caught by the view from the rocky outcrop.

“Yes, the views of the valley are quite spectacular from this high,” Sapphire replied.

Princess Velya’s head slowly turned so she was looking at Sapphire.  “You got small,” she said, blinking quickly.  “You…Did you…save me?” she asked, looking suitably bewildered.

“I could hear what you were saying to the knight,” Sapphire replied.  “I thought it best to remove you from his presence so I could find out what was really going on.”

“Thank you,” Princess Velya said, her words coming out with such force that Sapphire actually took a step back.  “I think he was going to try to force me to marry him or some such,” Princess Velya went on.  “I’m so grateful for you taking me away from him.”

“You are most welcome,” Sapphire replied.  Oh good.  The Princess wasn’t upset with her.  That was very good.

“Sapphire?” her brother called, stepping out of the door that led inside the cliff.  “What’s going on?  You weren’t supposed to arrive for three more days.”

“I’m sorry to impose on you early, brother.” Sapphire said, turning toward him.  “But it became rather urgent that I arrive,” she added, tilting her head to hopefully draw his attention to the princess.

“Oh, you brought a guest,” her brother said.  Standing stock sill.

Her brother, unlike Sapphire, did not look much like a dragon.  He was only about four feet tall in his natural state, his body built more like a salamander or newt than like a horse, and yet he stood more like a man.  He was at least blessed with the scales of a dragon, his in a deep green, and all the protection and magic that came with their shared heritage.

“I’m very sorry for intruding,” Princess Velya said, shifting so she was kneeling on the rocks rather than half laying down.  “Sapphire has just rescued me from quite a predicament.”

Emerald looked at her, his bright red eyes glowing slightly with intensity.

“She had been captured,” Sapphire said.  “Removing her from the situation seemed like the obvious priority.”  At least it had at the time.  Returning her home probably would have been the smarter course of action, but it was too late for that.

“In that case, please come inside,” Emerald said.  “We can see to any hurt you may have and provide you with clean clothes before returning you home.”

“Thank you,” Princess Velya said with a smile for them both before she moved to stand.

She made an odd sound in her throat as she did, her face going suddenly very pale.

“Are you well?” Sapphire asked, moving closer.  “You can lean on me if you need support.”

“Thank you,” Princess Velya said through tightly clenched teeth, reaching out to put a hand on Sapphire’s shoulder.  “It think the fall from the horse hurt me more than I realized.  Putting much pressure on my left leg causes a great deal of pain.”

Emerald glanced at Sapphire, his look inscrutable to most humans, but Sapphire could see the dozens of questions in his gaze.

“The knight pulled her from the horse,” Sapphire explained.  She’d been very careful when she picked up the princess, even in her haste, to make sure she wasn’t causing any damage to the girl.

“And I’m incredibly grateful to you for rescuing me from him,” Princess Velya said.  “I should be able to walk with a little support.”

“You probably shouldn’t,” Emerald said.  “Walking on an injury only makes it worse.”  His glance at Sapphire held very different questions this time.

“I could carry you on my back,” Sapphire offered.

“That seems presumptuous,” Princess Velya replied uncertainly.

“It is simply the easiest way for me to carry you inside,” Sapphire replied, crouching down so the princess could easily sit upon her back.

“Come now,” Emerald said, taking Princess Velya’s hand.  “Let us help you inside so we can tend to you properly.”

Thankfully the princess nodded and carefully sat side-saddle style on Sapphire’s back.

Sapphire stood slowly, making sure the princess had her balance before following her brother inside.

As soon as they were through the doorway, Emerald clapped his hands and called out orders to the servants.  A bed was prepared and supplies for healing the princess, and food and drink were brought.

Sapphire followed her brother to the nearest guest suite and walked the princess directly into the bed chamber before slowly crouching down.

Emerald steadied Princess Velya as she stood and helped her the two steps to sit on the bed.

“We’ll take good care of her,” Maria, her brother’s housekeeper, said as she breezed in with two maids behind her.  “You two go on and make sure a message is sent to her family.”

Sapphire did as she was told, making her way back to the hallway.

“I’ll send a sprite,” Emerald told her as soon as the suite door had closed behind them.  “I will inform them that we have rescued the princess from someone who was causing her harm, and that she will be returned as soon as her wounds have been tended to and she is fit to travel.”

“May I take her?” Sapphire asked.  She wanted to see the princess safely home.

“I will inform them that the princess will arrive home by dragon,” Emerald replied.  It was always best to announce themselves in advance so as not to frighten anyone.

“Thank you,” Sapphire replied.

“And as soon as the pixie has left, you are going to tell me everything,” Emerald responded.

“Yes, brother.”  He was only worried for her.  Sapphire knew that.

Image Prompt Response 077 – Unnatural Fog

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I chose the image of the morning mist and the edge of a wooden dock for my twenty-minute sprint today.

Unnatural Fog:

Riley sat at the edge of the dock, looking out at the morning fog that clung to the river.  It had been three days since he woke up to find the river and their small trading post surrounded by dense fog.  It was as if someone called down a cloud to cover them, and it hadn’t gone away.  Normal fog dissipated over the course of the day, the heat from the sun dispersing it.  Not this fog.

“Whatcha thinking?” his sister Kiley asked as she sat down beside him.  As usual, she’d arrived without a sound or warning.

“This isn’t natural fog,” Riley replied.

“We all know that,” she replied.

“We haven’t seen anything on the river in three days either,” Riley said.  “There should have been a few traders, maybe even an inspector.”  They were actually overdue for a government inspector.  As an official, government-sanctioned trading post, they had to be inspected twice a year to make sure they were storing goods properly, posting information according to regulations, and not letting anything pass through without documentation.  They’d had their yearly audit back in the fall, but it was well into spring now, and usually the inspection of the facilities themselves happened well before summer.

“They might have just missed us and decided to come back on their return trip,” Kiley said.

“But that doesn’t explain seeing nothing on the river for three days,” Riley said.  “Or the fact that you can’t hear things in the fog like normal.”

“The quiet is eerie,” Kiley agreed.

Normally, when there was fog on the water, sound seemed to carry further and louder than usual.  It was impossible not to hear another boat, even if you couldn’t see them properly.  Fog made navigation dangerous, but this fog seemed even worse.  You wouldn’t even hear another boat coming until you were right on top of it.

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” Kiley added after a while.

“We could,” Riley countered.  Neither of them was much of a magic user on their own, but when they worked together they could accomplish some pretty impressive rituals.  Clearing out the fog with a strong wind or a fire spell was conceivably possible if they worked together.

“You know father would never let us,” Kiley replied.

Their father was a little overprotective and a lot worried they’d be taken away if their abilities with magic were discovered.  Their mother had been conscripted by the government when one of the inspectors found out how good she was with magic.  They hadn’t seen her in ten years.  They got letters occasionally, so they were pretty sure she was still alive, but she wasn’t allowed to come home.

“I just get a really bad feeling about all this fog,” Riley said, pulling his knees up to his chest and hugging them tight.  “It feels wrong.”

“I know,” Kiley replied, shifting closer to wrap and arm around his shoulders.  “It’s not natural and it makes my skin crawl a little.”

“It feels heavy,” Riley said.  “Like if I’m not careful it will smother me entirely.”

“I know what you mean,” Kiley replied, rubbing his arm.  “If we have to do something about it, I think a fire spell out over the water makes the most sense.”

Riley nodded.  A magical water spell, which fog would be, could be negated by a fire spell to a certain extent.

“We should wait until it matters though,” Kiley said.  “If we go a whole week without a boat.”

Riley nodded.  They often went a few days between boats, but a week was unheard of.  It would definitely mean something was wrong.

“And maybe we’ll ask forgiveness instead of permission,” Kiley added.

She was right that their father wouldn’t approve of the idea of them doing a spell to clear the fog.  It would make it too obvious that someone else in the family had a talent for magic.  Riley didn’t want to be taken away from his home, but sometimes he wondered if he’d get to see his mother again if he was conscripted by the government too.  He barely even remembered their mother.  He’d been five and Kiley eight when the official came for her.

Image Prompt 077 – Fog at the Dock and Sun at St. Ives

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It’s the Second Friday of the Month, so today is an Image Prompt day.

I’ve included two images to work from.  Pick one (or both if you’re feeling ambitious) and write something inspired by the image.  You can use something in the image, the feeling it invokes, or whatever the image makes you think of.

If you write a piece and end up posting it somewhere online, please link back to it here on a comment so we can all enjoy it too.

I’ll be posting my own piece next week.

Image Prompt 077-01 Morning 05-08-27 003

Image Prompt 077-02 Day Two05-05-10 101 St Ives

Life in a Time of Pandemic: What is Normal?

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Before I get started, the usual caveat.  This post will be talking about the COVID-19 pandemic.  If that’s not something you are interested in thinking or reading about at the moment, please leave with my blessing.  I want my readers to take care of their mental health first and foremost.

I’m based in the US, where vaccines are fairly plentiful, and demand is fairly high to get them.  Yes, there are pockets of people who are suspicious, scared, or confused, who are choosing not to get vaccinated, but most people I know are doing so.  My entire family (whoa are old enough) have gotten the vaccine.  I’ve had my two doses, survived the side effects, and am now considered fully protected.  I even have a positive antibody test thanks to a recent blood donation, so I can attest to that part of the vaccine I got actually working.

I’m looking forward to being able to spend time with friends and family who are also vaccinated.  I’m looking forward to feeling safe going to the grocery store or doing other errands.  I’m even looking forward to going back to working in a physical office even though it means having a commute time again.

What I’m not looking forward to is the uncertainty, and the urge to go back to “normal” when that wasn’t a very great way for things to be.  I take public transit to work, so going back to the office means getting back on a public bus.  I’m more worried about that than I am any other part of returning to work.  I take an express regional route, so it’s mostly other commuters like me, who I expect are the kind of people who got vaccinated as soon as humanely possible.  But there are also students and other community members on the bus.  I don’t know if all of the other people on the bus with me will be vaccinated, which means I need to assume they aren’t.  That means masks will remain an important thing for my commute.  While the science so far indicates that I’m at a very low risk of catching or spreading the virus since I’m vaccinated, that chance isn’t zero.

This likely means that my normal is going to look a bit different from before.  I’m going to be taking a later bus into the office and a later bus home.  I’ll be working slightly outside the normal 8am-5pm business hours of my university staff job.  I’ll be eating dinner at the office those days.  The good news is that my boss is willing to be flexible, and knows about my concerns with the public transit and that I can’t afford to park on campus.  Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to because sitting in the car aggravates my back issue more than sitting on the bus does.  (I’m not sure how much I’ve talked about this on the blog, but I have a chronic back issue that causes numbness, tingling, or pain in various places down my leg when a nerve is pinches between my vertebrae.  Sitting is one of the worst things I can do for it.)

So work isn’t going back to normal for me.  My boss is planning for us all to start having some amount of work from home time regularly.  Something like one day a week.  I think that part is going to be quite nice.  Having one day a week (hopefully a regular day that I could then move around if I wanted) when I can not have meetings scheduled, and not have to commute, and be able to focus in on my projects and my own work and focus less on everyone else.

Thinking through the return to the office, and what that means for the routines and good habits I’ve developed over the past year, has me asking, once again, what normal is.

Normal is what we’re used to.  It’s seen as “average,” and it’s seen as desirable by most people (at least for their definition of normal).

Normal is not standard across all people, all cultures, all races, all economic strata, or any number of other demographics or group designations.

Normal is a human construct.

Normal isn’t what’s right, or just, or desirable for everyone.

Normal is what feels routine, familiar, and in many cases comfortable.

Even with all of that, I’m not entirely sure what normal means.  I know what normal used to be for me.  I know what normal is for me now.  I don’t know what normal is going to look like in a few more weeks, months, or even years.

Everyone is talking about getting back to normal, but I don’t want to go back to the normal we had before.  I want wearing a mask outside your house when you are sick to become normal and stay normal.  I want staying home when you are sick (and being paid to do so to encourage that) to be normal.  I want the flexibility and understanding that physical and mental health come first to be normal.

Normal right now looks so different from someone with a front-line essential job that can’t be done remotely.  Normal meant a year of risk, and frustration, and fear.  Normal meant a year of having to try to enforce the local guidelines to keep everyone safe when customers, coworkers, your boss, or any number of others weren’t following the guidelines and were being unsafe.

Normal for me, meant not going outside much, not seeing friends in person, spending a lot of time on Zoom calls for work and for socializing and fun.  Normal meant spending a lot more than 40 hours a week at my desk at home looking at computer screens.  Only 40 hours of it was work, but a lot of my outside of work things also happen on my computer, so there has been a lot of time at my desk, and I’ve had to work very hard to make mental distinctions between work time and not work time.

When restrictions about movement and travel have been lifted, and we figure out what normal looks like again, I hope it comes with clear lines between work and the rest of my time.  I hope I’ll continue to see my friends regularly.  I hope I’ll be able to find new ways to revive old things that I miss but can’t have back in quite the same way as they were before.

So much has changed internally for me over the past year, that I don’t want to go back to the exact same external reality we left when restrictions started in March 2020.  I want my society and culture to have learned from all this.  I want things to be better.

While I might only be able to control a very small amount of what my new normal looks like.  If I do everything I can to make it what I’m hoping for, then maybe I can get close.

On Creation and Completion

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I’ve been thinking a lot about my creative processes and what I get out of them lately, in case the past few regular posts haven’t made that obvious.  My creative process looks a bit different for free-form things like writing than it does more concrete things like sewing or cross-stitch.  These are the three types of creation I’ve been doing the most of lately, so they’re what’s on my mind.

My writing processes are all over the place, but I take more joy in the drafting stage than most other parts of the process, including actually finishing something.  With cross-stitch and sewing it’s a bit different.  I enjoy the process.  The individual steps and seeing the project come together are enjoyable, but seeing the final finished project is a huge rush all by itself, even if the last thing I did was super easy and only took a few minutes.  That act of completion is just so amazing.

So, for my writing, I seem to enjoy the creation itself the most, but for most other crafts, the completion of the project is the most enjoyable part.  I find this interesting.  And I think it might have part to do with the fact that a writing project doesn’t always look or seem either complete or incomplete, especially when it’s just words on a screen, but you can tell with just a glance if a sewing or cross-stitch pattern is complete or not.  A little less so at the end stages when you’re doing finishing work, but certainly during the bulk of the project it’s either in pieces or has big gaping holes with no color or stitches.

All of this got me thinking about why I create.  Why do I want to make things or write stories?  Part of the answer is that I enjoy the act of creation.  I love making things.  Whether it’s new words, a new shirt, a teddy bear for someone, a cross-stitch that makes me smile when I look at it, or a cardboard creation to keep the cats from getting at the cords under my desk.  Believe it or not, that last one brought a lot of satisfaction with it.  I could get at my cords easily, but the cats could no longer walk on the power strip where there’s a switch they could accidentally flip to turn everything off.  It happened once, my cat was not amused by the yelling and cursing that ensued.  We’re both much happier with this new arrangement.

Sometimes I’m really proud of the final products I make, like the Regency gown and Spencer jacket I made so I could fit in with the bridal party at my friend’s Regency themed wedding.  Sometimes, it’s just the satisfaction of making a solution with no extra costs, like that cardboard cord protection.  Sometimes I’m writing a story just for me, and never plan to share it with anyone.  Sometimes I’m writing a story I want everyone to read.  But no matter what the motivation is, I enjoy the creation process.

Taking joy in the process as well as the finished product is one of the best things about making of any kind.  Yes, you have an awesome thing when you’re done, but you also spent time (sometimes a huge amount of it) doing something you enjoy.  Sometimes, when the editing is hard, or the ideas aren’t coming, I need that reminder that the creation isn’t all about the end product.  It’s about the process and the enjoyable time (and sometimes friendships) I make along the way.

I think what I’m trying to say, is don’t forget to take joy in the process, and if the joy is gone from the process, maybe it’s time for a break to make something else for a while.  My writing has been a bit of a struggle lately, but I’m finding a lot of joy (and some peacefulness in my own head) from working on cross-stitch projects (mostly gifts for others).  So, I’m trying not to stress the lack of writing progress right now.  Trying to force it can lead to stress, so doing my one or two sprints in the morning is enough.  And if every few weeks I miss a day entirely, that’s fine too.  There’s only so much creative energy and time, so at least I can spend it on the project that’s giving me joy.

With the state of the everything right now, it’s important to be compassionate with yourself, especially when it comes to your hobbies and the things you’re doing because you want to do them.  If it’s no longer enjoyable, a break might serve you better in the long run.