The Prince of Endless, pt. 1

The tricky thing about stories: You have to start somewhere. Though they are continual streams of thought, action, dialogue and description in the mind of the author, the story itself must have a jumping-off point (or jumping-in point). This can be an art form all by itself. Pick the wrong spot and you can either confuse the reader or put them to sleep with plodding (if necessary) detail. (Does anyone really remember what Tolkien said in 50 pages of Hobbit description? We just remember that they’re kind folk and we like them for being odd.)

The starting point for a world seems just as awkward and problematic. Do you spend a few paragraphs describing moss on a boulder, a peculiar fish in the sea, symbols etched artfully into the hilt of a dagger?

Since your world contains your story, it seems reasonable to use that story to describe the world, which then helps inform the story. (A tale about the crunchies in a cat’s litter box probably doesn’t fit in a realm of airlocks and thruster issues.)

So, where the hell do you start?

Bowness Summit, Lake District, UK

For 25 years (yes, that long) part of my brain has existed in the fantasy realm of Verisye. Dragons, dwarves, fighting with swords, all that stuff. Once this place was created (in high school, thanks in part to Elmore and Easley paintings and the Dragonlance chronicles) my brain gave it a sort of permanent-resident status. It couldn’t be un-created. (Excavators: Turn about, go bother the neighbor.) Not that I wanted to undo it or give it up in any way. The place was fun. Possibilities were endless, and I was King (or God). For once in his life, Justin had his own set of rules and victories. For an audience of one, it was a pretty sweet show.

As the initial concept expanded (and expanded and expanded) the overall story focused on two people: Valessha and Dirkennion. Theirs is a love story set among extraordinary times. (More on that later.) There’s also the significant problem of an unstoppable enemy (Kalimoraith, a fun villain) and why said bad guy shows up on the doorstep of a rather orderly world. (More to come.)

About three years ago, we had a series of foggy mornings right after Christmas. (I love foggy mornings, when my creative engine leaps right into fifth gear.) So over the course of a week, sitting in my leather chair in the foggy quiet (before the kids rose) I penned the scene outline for a new screenplay. (I think in terms of cinema, so this just made sense to me.)

Immediately, this became the story before the big love story and problems with Kalimoraith and so forth. A title of The Prince of Endless popped up and stuck. It’s like it was all etched into stone tablets and my brain took snapshots.

And how to start this story? Where?

How about two town constables (police) investigating a boat-wreck in a swamp?

 

–To be continued…

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Harlaxton Manor, Once More

I return. A place of dreams, of uncertainty, of innumerable futures.

Harlaxton College main gate sign

A house of magic, of grand echoes, of bizarre days and secrets passageways and secrets, of home.

Great Hall, Harlaxton Manor and College, United Kingdom

A fortress of ambition, of lectures, of rainy mornings and garden cats, of lousy food and Snooker and launch points, and of friends.

Harlaxton Manor and College, United Kingdom

I return. Twenty-three years later, 5,000 miles from Home, the scents and feels and the voices carried on British wind are like I’ve never left. I am forever grateful.

Harlaxton Manor and College, United Kingdom

Harlaxton Manor, United Kingdom

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Oversimplifying

On FaceBook the other day, there appeared an ad which a younger, less-mature me would’ve gotten really pissed-off about. It was for a weekend writing retreat (hundreds of starry-eyed writers crammed into a conference room) where someone could ostensibly learn to write a novel in 40 hours. Four-zero hours.

When I thought about it (and this feels like a gimmick sale) this would only make sense if someone gets the bones and structure and a few character details in place. Then, their story is done. (Well, not really.)

To get the bones and structure worked out is to simplify the overall narrative and arc into elemental terms. “Man falls in love with woman” becomes “boy meets girl” and so on. Naturally, life is that simple, isn’t it?

For fun, I decided I’d try it with “Endgame,” a war/sci-fi novel told from the perspective of my heroine, sniper Captain June Vereeth. (Probably 2,000 hours of work, all told.)

(The story starts in the middle of a battle, when Vereeth and company are defending a fuel dump on a Hoth-like world.)

snowy mountain peak with treetops in foreground

Girl (Captain June Vereeth, in the midst of battle) shoots bag-guy enemy commander.

Girl meet boy (Dhani, equipment tech) in cave during battle.

Girl re-joins best friend (Prubius) and boss (Joffe) in battle.

Girl is nearly killed by falling, exploding enemy craft.

Girl and best friend are nearly killed by cave-in. Boss dies (crushed).

Girl, best friend, boy and two others are trapped, cut off from battle. Boy’s arm is pinned.

Girl, as ranking officer, orders removal of boy’s trapped arm (lest boy dies).

Girl tries not to panic, orders party to find a different route back to Base (main route is compromised).

Girl and party are saved from cataclysmic blast (fuel cache detonation) when bad guys penetrate the Base.

Girl wonders what to do (party is without maps or radio and is stranded 70 million miles from friendly territory).

Girl orders party to push on, mulling options and the war itself and the opposing side.

Girl and party emerge from cave tunnels, look back to see volcanic-blast aftermath of Base explosion behind them.

Girl and party are surprised to see planetary defense rockets (which were delayed by cyber attack) suddenly launch skyward, aimed at bad-guy cruisers in orbit.

Girl and party are nearly crushed by many tons of falling debris (those bad-guy cruisers).

Girl and party move on, knowing bad guys will be back (and will be as surly as ever)…

 

Okay, so this story doesn’t break down into really simple statements, after all. But it sure was fun to write!

Endgame cover by Greg Simanson Designs. Cover shows characters, rockets and a woman's eye against a green-ice background and twin suns, orange lettering. "The war begins" is added at the top.

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Mishap

It’s going to happen–that catastrophic rip or crunch. I’m not a graceful person to begin with (ordera drunken moosae) and the statistics don’t work in my favor.

The other day, minutes into my pickup soccer game, I collided with another, more experienced player named Paul. It was nobody’s fault, as we were going for a loose ball. He held up a little bit (it is a pickup game where we don’t even keep score) and I’m grateful that he did. His knee went into my upper shin. That he was a step farther into his run made his body the hitter and mine the “hittee,” I guess. If it had been knee to knee, it could’ve been catastrophic for me. If he’d been going a little faster, as in full sprint, his patella could’ve snapped my tibia in two. It hurts. It happens.

(Ironically, contact took place above where the shin-guard I wasn’t wearing would’ve ended, so there’s no if-onlys regarding a few ounces of molded plastic.)

Justin Edison's legs showing a lovely soccer-related bruise

Ouch

Keith Jackson was fond of saying football (American) is a game of inches. In truth, all of sports (and much of life) has outcomes depending on tiny distances covered–or not–at a high velocity. Lionel Messi, the absolute wonder, has made a career of juking defenders and squeaking the 22-centimeter ball through with the slightest half-centimeter margins. For someone like him, that’s the difference between an attack interrupted and a keeper thinking obscenities (as he tries to stop what is largely unstoppable).

A teammate named Alex once took a rocket-ball to the face–hard enough to bloody his nose. As a slow-motion camera would’ve shown, if the opponent hadn’t struck it cleanly, or at just that moment, the ball would’ve scraped Alex’s cheek or ear, instead. He was fine, after the leaving the field, but I’m sure all he remembers is the blur coming faster than human perception allows.

For myself, this time, I got lucky. Though I’m not a high-traffic player (people with better skills are suited to that) some unfortunate collision or foot-twist is going to happen. Pain and injury are part of the risks.

The best advice I ever got from someone outside the family was, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” For sports, as I tell my soccer-playing kids, the risk of injury qualifies as small stuff.

When I take the field tonight, like always, I’m going to focus on the fun of the Beautiful Game. It’s a healthy addiction, as guys put it. Amazingly, the second I step onto the field, I won’t be limping or considering the what-could-happens. Sports are sports, and I’m happy there.

 

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Gems of Philadelphia

Olde City. Fezziwig’s ice cream. An excellent pub an Race Street. A flawed bell.
I try to enter any travel experience with eyes wide open, so I didn’t know what to expect on my first visit to America’s one-time capitol. My thoughts were, to no small degree, tinged by Bruce Springsteen’s sad, iconic “Streets of Philadelphia” which accompanied the 1993 Jonathan Demme film. (I was a relatively-cloistered eighteen-year-old when the movie came out.) Since then, tales of angry sports fans, crime statistics, a mean-streets boxer’s saga, and Mark Bowden’s Finders Keepers were my windows on a city that seemed forgotten. (Maybe it was thought of as New York’s lesser cousin, which is inaccurate.)
Tree with cool roots, foliage and brickwork in Philadelphia park
The Philadelphia I found was a trove of gems. We stayed in the Wyndham Historic District (very nice staff, great rooms, no complaints) which sits among the brick and cobblestone of the original city. The presence of Benjamin Franklin is everywhere, from his oversized bust beside a fire station to his actual grave (steps from the hotel) to his namesake blue bridge across the Delaware River. The guided tour of Independence Hall was short and sweet. I’m no history buff, but it was pretty amazing to be standing in that room looking at that furniture where the magical birth of our country took place (at least, in codified and legal form). Of course, we also took in the Liberty Bell, which is as much about the Abolitionist Movement as anything. Seeing the actual symbol of something so representative and positive was a first for myself and the kids.
A dessert-first sandwich board outside Fezziwegs Ice Cream, Philadelphia
Our discoveries went on. We stumbled upon brand-new Fezziwig’s Sweet Shoppe and quickly decided they offer the best milkshakes in the known world. (Their sandwich board outside compels one to indulge a little.) Olde City Grille offers excellent pizza, Stromboli and Spanakopita. The Race Street Cafe is really a pub worthy of any British city, tasty food modernized to present day. Beyond, the Race Street Pier juts out beneath the behemoth light-blue of the Franklin Bridge. Elfreth’s Alley, a centuries-old residential street, begs to figure prominently in novels. Lunch at Reading Terminal Market is a crowded but worthwhile mess of options. Nearby are numerous parks and green spaces for a few minutes of peace and contemplation (and shade for hot summer days).
Across town, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a gorgeous building flanked by amazing statuary (including the famous Rocky figure, removed to street level).
Side branch of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Yes, there are still problems and more than a few ruined people. The Delaware River is dominated by industry and rusting ships. The city is, naturally, far from perfect.
Many faces I saw, however, were happy and vibrant despite the heat and weight of the past. Philadelphia seems to be rising steadily, her people buoyed and her diverse gifts celebrated.
Sometimes, if we choose to focus on the positive of an experience, that’s what we’ll get in return. And we’ll feel welcome there.
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