August Newsletter: The Irish Embankment

So there I was, blind, on a bus between Dublin and Newbridge Ireland. My face and belly were numb; my fingers were tingling claws. Images flashed past the window– trees, houses, curving roads – but none of it helped me; it was all going too fast.

I tried to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, but how could such small tubes as my nostrils supply the air my lungs needed? Each gasp left me with less oxygen than before and nausea filled my throat like wax. The Irish fields beyond the window of the double-decker bus were blocked off by dense trees, and I couldn’t focus on anything far enough away to sync the signals from my eyes and inner ears. We’d brought a jar of anti-nausea medicine, but it was empty. I couldn’t throw up. I had nothing to throw up into. It was just like that plane the first time we flew with our oldest daughter to the US. I had thrown up on that plane – all over my own lap – just like I would throw up two years later, because of the cancer. I couldn’t see. I couldn’t feel my hands. I couldn’t vomit. I mustn’t vomit.

The bus stopped and I boiled out of my seat. I hooked the big suitcase in one claw and dragged it, myself, and Pavlina out of the bus.

We disembarked onto the soggy grass of a roadside embankment opposite a movie theater and some kind of logistics center. We were about a third of the way to our destination. The bus driver told Pavlina that our tickets would be good for the next bus to Newbridge. “Just tell the driver you got travel sick. Happens all the time.” 

We stood there on the soggy embankment of Ireland for an hour and a half, stuck between a science fiction convention and a friend’s wedding. It was enough time for the muscles in my forearms to stop aching, and to come up with a new story.

Yeah, here’s the fun part of the newsletter! At the scifi convention, Pavlina and I enjoyed an edifying conversation with my agency uncle the author and screenwriter Peter Morwood, in which he held forth on his life in the UK, the US, and Ireland (“Every place I go, they think I have the accent of the other”), his vacation to a hot springs in Sweden (“The hot water to the back of your head knocks the ideas loose”), his mixing of hot sauces (“they’re like cocktails”), and a series of novels he’d written marrying Russian history with Russian folklore. He reminded Pavlina of one of her high school teachers and she had a blast.

I did too. Honestly, I was a little jealous of Peter and a lot jealous of his wife, Diane Duane. She wasn’t at that party because she was the guest of honor for the whole damn Worldcon. She had, Peter told us, lived for ten years in Ireland before absorbing enough to write an urban fantasy about the country.

Now, standing there on that embankment, waiting for that bus to Newbridge, I told Pavlina that I could do that.

“You did already,” she said. “It’s called TheSultan’s Enchanter.” My agent and I had spent the convention talking to editors about it. But what I wanted to do was something more like what Peter and Diane had done. Folklore and real life. Dirty frustration made bearable by the unexplained. Hm…

I told Pavlina about an idea I had for a communist-era panel block, the city residence of fantasy creatures from the Bulgarian countryside. Everyone else is leaving the villages, why not the zmeyove and samodivi? Why not Baba Mechka and Perun? In what sort of apartment dwells the Wife of the Sun? Where does Krali Marko keep his horse? And who repairs the elevators?

The chichkoto na vhoda, what you might translate as “the old man of the entrance,” is responsible for collecting money from residents to maintain the common spaces and infrastructure of the building. The Chichkoto is an old man, though. His responsibilities are particularly heavy in this block, which is also the Axis of Worlds. He needs an assistant, and his nephew doesn’t seem to be doing anything particularly worthwhile over there in London. “There isn’t need in this world for yet another barista, Nikifor! Hayde come back to Sofia and help me to Hold the Entrance. Bring fireproof gloves.”

The brain is an amazing thing. It is possible to force yourself not to throw up. You take the nausea, the regrets, the bad memories and knowledge that you’re terrifying your wife and she’s been through way too much already and you press it all back down your own throat. You plug yourself up so nothing can escape. Then you hyperventilate and nearly pass out. All that energy has to ground itself somewhere.

And we caught the next bus, don’t worry. The hotel in Newbridge had excellent whiskey. The wedding was lovely. We bought anti-nausea pills for the trip back home.

Taking out the trash

A kestrel on a cool breeze

I’m glad I looked up

Of course, I’ll have to keep Chichkoto shelved for the time being. Another thing I did at Worldcon was meet with my agent. I asked her what I should be working on and she gently suggested that I should work on the thing I’m being paid for.

So I’m going to dive back into Interchange. Now it has its own page and its own playlist. I’m thinking I’ll focus in on the load-bearing scenes of the alpha draft, lay their supporting structure through the other scenes, and polish up a full-length draft that I can send to you. Whenever I think about it, I get a pang. It’s like somebody is poking the underside of my heart. Scary, but also a little thrilling. 

Bees lick maple leaves,

Aphid honeydew, and dust.

Don’t waste that sugar.

In other news, remember the Sahara Seas project? I shelved it because it was too big. It’s still too big, but Damátir Ando (aka Conciliarityoftepat, aka Yuk-tepat) made a writing system for the fictional Hurro-Urartian people I have settling in the Nile Delta. It’s called “cursive cuneiform.”

Also, I finished my part of a project that involves TyrannosaurQueen, wrote a new beginning for Centuries Unlimited (read it here!), talked with someone about the script for Wealthgiver‘sThracian language, crossed my fingers for Sultan’s Enchanter, and did a final read-through of…something I hope to be able to tell you about very soon. August was busy! September will be busier.

Circles against blue

Rumbles, speech, and twittering

A swift wags its wings

Oh! And how could I forget the next line of our story? I’ve been anguishing over Thracian definite articles, but I feel pretty good about the verbs.

Igapve ainē kesa ebru, aizi, byzaskâ,

There were once a kid, a nanny goat, and a billy goat,

Asnē ivâlvant ta iten uper kâpea pe ta ve abbrinken.

who wanted to go up a hill to make themselves fat.

Ag varze* pe itēn dai uper kâpea dai, idase ta kuren ainē opē strymē**.

To go up the hill, they must cross a streaming river.

I’m not going to tell you how many hours I spent on figuring out that all those verbs should end with “-en.” Let’s just smoothly transition into book recommendations.

The Midnight Line by Lee Child was my first Jack Reacher book. Maybe I’ll go back and read the 21 books that come before it. There was some good stuff in there about opioid addiction.

Good to Great by James C. Collins has a dumb sense of humor, but there are a lot of good ideas in there, even for an English teacher/writer who works alone. One is “it’s not harder to be great than it is to be mediocre. It’s easier to be great.” I also have a hedgehog concept now. 

Frank Sinatra in a Blender by Matthew McBride is a noir thriller that just barely stops itself from being too horrific for me to read. But it isn’t too horrific. It’s actually pretty fun.

Semiosis by Sue Burke is the very successful debut of an agency sibling of mine. It’s less a novel than a book of short stories, each of which recounts another generation of the history of a human colony on an exoplanet. I had trouble with the beginning, which has some climate change doom-and-gloom, but once I skipped ahead to chapter 2, I had fun. I need to skip first chapters more often. There’s some very good speculative biology here, too. The animals and plants feel very real, and lovingly developed.

How Children Succeed by Paul Tough is about scholastic skills other than academic ones, such as the ability to continue to push. I don’t entirely agree with it (the beginning makes it sound as if the author thinks academic skill makes no difference) but I think the author is talking about something real. It’s a good companion to Good to Great, coming at the same idea of mastering a skill by making the process of mastery inherently rewarding.

Queenof the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood. In this one, Phryne seduces a young scallywag! Also, there are elephants and Scottish folk music. Favorite line: “you’ve made yourself quite the Napoleon of crime, haven’t you?”

Archer1999. My favorite is Mr. Deadly.

There’sa Moon Upon the Left I found myself singing this song to myself in Greece and I needed to look it up.

ASlip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett. A deep, melancholy book. Pavlina bought it, started reading it, and demanded I join her. I’m glad I did – Pratchett’s philosophy about fiction and the word is a lot like mine, and his process has been very helpful. But the last third of the book is about his death. It was depressing, not to put too fine a point on it. In his foreword, Neil Gaiman frames Pratchett as a creator driven by carefully pressurized rage, and Pratchett’s own writing seems to support that picture. I’m going to try to harness joy instead. So it’s good I read this book. Stay tuned for the more careful review I plan to share on my website.

And talk to you next month


*Ag varze is a cool construction I stole from Phrygian (ag argou) and Ancient Greek (ex érgou). The literal meaning is “from work.” The Thracian word for “work” comes from the name of the North Macedonian river Vardar, which might have once been vard urdas, or “working water.” English “work” is cognate to it, the Greek, and the Phrygian.

**I’m very proud of opē strymē, which may actually be a real phrase from the real Thracian language. Opē comes from the name of Rhodopi Mountains (rhyd-opē = “red-river”) and strymē comes from the names of many places including the Struma river in Sofia and the much recommended Strimion hot springs in Kyustandil. Related to, of course, English “stream.” The opē doesn’t have a cognate in English, but it does in Celtic languages, which gave us river names like Avon and Afton.

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