The Oasis [Short Story]

Okay, here goes.

Please don’t hesitate to criticize, but remember I’m a person. And I would absolutely love to see comments or analyses on the meaning you gleaned from the story in the comments section.

Without further ado:

The Oasis

By Reed Buck

Terjjen’s Journal: Day One, MidDay

A new job came yesterday.

Two nobles sought travel to Helzevejn. Said they were carrying a precious cargo. Brought with them a young woman named Olienna, a Waymaker who had just awakened. A supposed relative of a friend, completely green, no experience guiding a party. Something strange about that one….

 

Day 2, EarlyMorning

Slumber had nearly claimed Terjjen when the sun rose on the Torn Forest.

It shone through trees of a wraithlike and contorted appearance, twisted into bizarre and disturbing positions – products of heavy quakes out in nature where no protection could be found.

Its stretching rays illuminated the Contessa Aurevieu, shamelessly curled aside her cousin the Baron von Bauer for warmth against the chilling wind.

Finally it fell on Terjjen’s bloodshot and sleepless face.

Before rising, he took a moment to secure the position of Helzevejn. He clenched his eyes shut, blocking out the sun, and let the petals of his mind bloom. Upon the plains of his consciousness, bright lights appeared, each shimmering with a different twinkle and hue. The city of Helzevejn gave a steady orange glow, situated directly on their course, some distance away. He noted its barely perceptible movement northward before opening his eyes once more.

Well, time for breakfast.

* * *

They woke intermittently – the Contessa first, emerging from sleep with rapt and aloof attention; then Olienna, the young Waymaker, whose first act of the morning was to don the smile she wore during all waking hours; and finally the Baron, and then only reluctantly. By the time all three stirred, Terjjen had lit the morning’s fire and cooked a breakfast stew.

The Contessa padded over and served herself. “What news of Helzevejn?”

Terjjen shrugged. “Didn’t move too much over the night. We got lucky.”

“Excellent,” the Baron said, joining them. “We may well leave this dreary forest yet.”

“But?” the Contessa asked, her eyes affixed on Terjjen. She had the irksome habit of noticing what he’d left unsaid.

“But it’s drifting northward,” Terjjen said, offering a bowl to Olienna. “If it crosses behind the mountains it’ll be an extra eighth’s detour.”

“An eighth?!” the Baron said, in a voice quite unsuitable for mornings.

In answer, Terjjen turned his back to them and faced Olienna. “We never finished our conversation from last night,” he said.

She smiled, eyes bright with an innocence that vexed Terjjen. How could she, as a fellow Waymaker, be so… carefree? “What do you want to ask?” she said.

“Where are you from?”

“Vetyn,” she said, her eyes clouding with memories. “It has been my home for as long as I’ve known.”

Vetyn…. “Isn’t that the trackless district?”

“Aye.”

Yes,” the Contessa Aurevieu corrected.

“Yes,” Olienna repeated, her smile faltering for a moment.

“How did you manage to live there for – what, twenty years? Without being noticed as a Waymaker?”

She chuckled. “I had the good fortune of not being aware of my gift until just recently.”

Terjjen sat up. “Beg pardon?”

“Not all districts encourage the awakening process. In Vetyn, I was too busy stretching the capacity of my mind with mathematics and sciences to stretch it in other ways.”

Terjjen nodded, draining his bowl. “So what happened?”

“I became a mathematician – one of the district’s best. They asked me to relocate to the capital city, but we got lost en route. We had a guide – they’re glorified trackers to replace Waymakers – but ours was ineffective.

“Apparently starvation is enough of an incentive for awakening, because I suddenly knew the locations of all the districts. I led my group out of the mires and was promptly exiled from home as my reward.”

“Rough treatment.”

Olienna shrugged. “They certainly hate our kind. Anyway, I made my way to Trastor, where I knew my father had friends.” She smiled at the Contessa and Baron. “And here we all are now.”

Terjjen shook his head and returned to his stew.

“Wait just a moment,” she said, beckoning with a finger. “You think I share my story without expecting recompense?”

He gave a snort of half-exasperation. “What do you want to know?”

“Let’s start with where you hail from.”

He grimaced. “Kval.”

“Oh.” Olienna bit her lip. “Were you… taken there?”

“You mean abducted? No, I was born there. Never known anything else.”

“Is it as bad as they say?”

“Worse.”

“Oh.” And then: “How?”

He swiped one finger around the edge of his bowl, scooping up the last of the stew. “How do you mean, how?”

“What can be worse than torture?”

He sighed. “Olienna, you seem sweet enough. I don’t want to ruin your conceptions of the glamorous life of a Waymaker.”

“You shouldn’t patronize someone you barely know,” she said, folding her arms across her chest.

He smiled without mirth. “Fine. What can be worse than torture? Torture implies interest. To torture someone, you must have an investment in their pain, develop a bond with them. I had my share of torture when I was in Kval, and I learned to prefer it.”

“To what?”

Neglect.”

His attempt at vehemence failed him, and the word came from his throat like the cry of a wounded animal.

“I – ” Olienna began.

“Have you ever starved because your master had so forgotten your existence that she couldn’t be bothered to remind a servant to bring you food?” He turned to her, affixing her with a stare that finally made her avert her gaze. “Have you ever been hitched to the front of a wagon with the horses and ran alongside them? Been whipped with them? Ate where they did? Have you ever had to cross the endless stone wasteland with no sleep for an eighth, running barefoot on blistered heels, because your master didn’t see you as a creature that needed rest?

“When you cease to be even a resource, Olienna,” he said, “when you are regarded as a fact of existence and nothing more, you will know what is worse than torture. And when the rest of the world turns its back on your plight, then you will know hell.”

Before Olienna could respond, he stood. “Come on – let’s get moving.”

 

Day Two, LateNight

Terjjen surfaced from tumultuous dreams to find a new light in his mind. A deep, shimmering azure shade, the color of clarity. The color of an oasis in a desert.

He sat up, eyes still closed, observing the light soundlessly. There was something different about it – other than the fact that it was new. He watched it for some time, trying to determine what it was. It was only when Irridia crossed it that he finally realized –

It was not moving.

He waited several long moments, his posture rigid, breathing slow and calm. The oasis refused to move, even slightly, from where it lay.

A powerful sensation of tranquility washed over Terjjen, accompanied by several thoughts. Whatever this city was, it contained human life, else he would not be able to sense it. Its recent appearance suggested it had just been constructed. And the shameless grace with which it stood still amidst the drifting of the other districts told him something else.

This oasis had almost assuredly been built by Waymakers.

Terjjen wasn’t the kind to trust in children’s stories and folklore. He’d never believed that Waymakers were what caused the districts to drift, that they could halt the movement of a district just as easily. Now, in the face of this startling reality, he questioned the preposterousness of those folktales.

Either way, his mind was set. The oasis called to him; he needed to move to it immediately.

Terjjen opened his eyes to sudden dim firelight. Olienna sat at the fire, heedless to his gaze, bent over some kind of notebook. Her pen scribbled furiously across the page, filling it with symbols. She startled slightly when he tapped her on the shoulder.

“What are you doing up?” she whispered, her eyes sliding to where the Baron and Contessa lay prone in the throes of slumber.

“Same as you,” he said. “You felt it, didn’t you?”

“Felt what?”

He frowned, feeling the errant threads of the past few days weaving together into something resembling an unpleasant truth.

“Where is Weijrne?” he asked, his voice carefully devoid of emotion.

Olienna’s brow furled. “I’m sorry?”

“Right now. What bearing is it on?”

She half-shrugged. “I don’t – why does that matter?”

“Just tell me. Close your eyes and see it.”

She bit her lip, hesitated. Her eyes flicked for the merest moment toward the notebook still clutched in her hand.

It was over in a flash. Terjjen held the notebook, dangling it in close proximity to an astonished Olienna’s face. She reached out but hesitated when he wiggled it meaningfully over the fire.

“What are you?” he asked.

“I – ”

“You are no Waymaker.”

She gave a jerk of a nod.

“So what are you?”

“I’m… a mathematician.”

Terjjen scanned the book from his periphery. It did appear filled with numbers, not that he knew them particularly well. Teaching himself to read had been difficult enough. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked, brandishing the book at arm’s length.

“It’s formulae,” she said, her voice pitchy. “They predict the movement of the districts.”

Predict the…. “What does that mean?”

“It’s what a Waymaker does with their gift, only with math. I can use it to predict where the districts and cities will be located in the future.”

“That’s not possible.” Terjjen took an unconscious half-step back.

“It is,” she said.

A deafening whirlwind of thoughts howled in Terjjen’s mind, and all that came to mind was the oasis. He could still feel it on the verge of his consciousness, a tide pulling him inexorably toward the light.

He shook his head slowly, spat sideways into the flames. Sizzling filled the air as he tossed the notebook back to Olienna.

“Doesn’t matter to me. You can lead the noble pain-in-the-asses to Helzevejn on your own with your formulae.

He turned back toward his crumpled sleeping roll.

“Wait, you’re leaving us? Just because of… this?”

He snorted. “You couldn’t make me leave a job. I just… need to go. There’s a calling. Your kind wouldn’t understand it.”

She exhaled a bark of sardonic laughter. “Why don’t you try me, Waymaker?”

He knelt by his roll, listening to the padding of her footsteps as she advanced on him. “There’s an oasis,” he said. “I need to – ”

What did you just say?

Her tone gave him pause to swing back about and face her. Her whole body had gone still, her white-knuckled fingers clutching the notebook to her chest.

“I said there’s an oasis,” he said.

“Why do you use that exact word?”

He shrugged, turning back to his sleeping roll.

“Terjjen, listen to me.” Olienna sighed when he did not turn. “Despite what most think, the movements of the districts aren’t random. They’re tectonic patterns – they have to do with the surface of the earth shifting around. Those patterns can be deduced through mathematics. In Vetyn, I was the leader of the team attempting to make those deductions.”

Terjjen turned, ignoring a rising feeling of unease.

“One night I was working late and I stumbled upon something – an overlooked variable that fit into the equation and balanced it. I had actually solved the riddle of terrestrial motion.” Her eyes shone with pride. “I was so excited, I had to talk to somebody. So I went wandering throughout the Vetyn research center, looking for anyone who was still working, and I stumbled into a room for a project coded Oasis.”

She inhaled deeply. “Terjjen, Oasis is a gnat-lamp for Waymakers. The Vetyna government created it with the goal of attracting all the Waymakers to one location for a massacre. They planned to reveal it contingent upon my team’s discovery of a mathematical alternative to Waymakers.”

It took a moment for the full meaning to sink in.

“You wanted to destroy us and replace us with formulae.” Terjjen’s voice emerged hoarse from his throat.

“You have to understand how they think in Vetyn,” Olienna said. “They loathe what they cannot explain with science. For the longest time, the only thing that stood between them and complete progress was a dependence on your people.”

“You were going to kill us all. You were going to slaughter us just because – because what? Because we can see where the districts move?” Terjjen clawed at the skin of his forehead, scoring gouges above his eye. “You think I wouldn’t in a heartbeat give up this ‘gift’ to live free of torture and neglect? And you were going to kill us?!”

His enraged shout fell upon the wretched trees.

“Not me,” Olienna said in a small voice. “As soon as I found out what they were doing, I left, and I took my formulae with me.” She gazed at him through eyes laced with tears. “But don’t you see, Terjjen? We can do something to stop it! We can – ”

“No,” he said, his voice trembling with rage.

“But we – ”

“No. Do not speak. Just leave me, please.”

The tears finally fell from her eyes, drawing trails down her cheeks.

“As you wish.”

She withdrew, her footsteps beating a steady path back to her own sleeping space. Terjjen crawled into his sleeping roll and lay still until the soft sounds of sleep filled the clearing.

Then he sat up.

Crept over to where Olienna lay snoring, facing away from him.

Extricated the notebook from where it lived in her satchel.

Returned to the fire and fed the pages to the coals.

Secured his belongings atop his mare.

Left.

 

Day 3, MidAfternoon

The next day, as the sun reached its zenith, the outer wall of the oasis appeared on the horizon. The Torn Forest had given way to a prairie of waist-high grass, through which it became obvious that Olienna was tracking him.

He stopped until she caught up, out of breath and still smiling inanely.

“You track well,” he said.

She panted for several seconds before answering. “I thought you were going to ride your horse, but you walked instead.”

“The Baron and Contessa will be dead because of you,” Terjjen said.

Olienna shook her head. “It was the strangest thing. I told them you’d left, and the Contessa just smiled and told me to follow you. She said they would find their way back to Trastor somehow. And then she told me that I was her precious cargo.” Olienna wrinkled her nose. “What do you think that was about?”

Terjjen shrugged.

“What will you do after this?” Olienna asked.

“I’ll enter the oasis and see whether you’re telling the truth.”

“You know I am.”

He sighed. “I guess I do.”

“You’ll be throwing your life away for nothing.”

He watched her, noting the care with which she watched him back. “Olienna, I have never had a life,” he said.

She said nothing. There was nothing to be said.

* * *

They approached the oasis together, the outer wall rising from the ground in front of them like a monument to the sun. As they drew closer, Terjjen began to pick out a portcullis, several windows, and a lowered drawbridge. The tension in his gut refused to abate, and though he knew better, he still found himself hoping that this might be a haven for Waymakers.

“How does it not move?” he wondered aloud.

“Steel cables,” Olienna said, pointing to a vague silhouette along the outer wall. “As thick as a man’s trunk and hundreds of feet long. They had to halt production of major technologies in Vetyn for nearly a year to create them. No one knew what they were for. They must be driven straight into the earth.”

A tether for a city. So simple, it was absurd.

They drew closer to the entryway, close enough to see a figure or two atop the walls, pacing back and forth. The tension spread and grew until it felt as though Terjjen’s chest was imploding.

“Terjjen,” Olienna whispered. “When we enter, don’t tell them that you’re a Waymaker, not immediately.”

He nodded, mouth too dry to respond. They entered the shadow of the portcullis, and it was now that Terjjen could clearly see the thick steel chains snaking from the outer wall into the ground at regular intervals, like the stakes and ropes of a massive tent.

“Those don’t look stable,” he whispered.

“They’re not,” she said as they passed under the wall. “The weight is distributed perfectly in all directions. If you could throw the switch on even one of them, the whole thing would collapse.”

He glanced at her, trying to decipher the edge in her voice. Before he could, a voice spoke from just inside the oasis.

“Halt!”

The voice belonged to a bearded man who held a strange machine – the length of an arm, it looked to be a metallic tube, with an open hollow at one end. Apparently a frightening weapon, because Olienna shrank back from it.

“How did you find this place?” the man said in a thick Vetyn accent, leveling the tool at them.

“Our guide – he -” Olienna began.

Terjjen moved faster than she could finish her sentence. His broadstaff came down upon the man’s skull with a sickening crack. Before his body had fallen, Olienna was dashing to the left, tugging Terjjen by the hand. Several angry yells came from behind them, along with thunderous booms and zipping noises and rocks that pelted at their feet and past their heads. The Vetynae carried some sort of super-slingshots.

A last boom rang out and Olienna pitched forward, her hand catching on the door of a small shack. She thrust it open and beckoned Terjjen inside.

The moment the door was shut, Terjjen grabbed the nearest heavy object – a half-full bookcase – and pushed it over the threshold. A moment later, a furious rattle sounded from outside as at least five Vetynae tried to shove the door open. Terjjen put his whole weight against the bookcase.

“Olienna, help,” he said, glancing to the side. And then again, this time taking in the whole scene.

The bloody streak across her hand. The pale, clammy quality of her face and skin. The weak smile she offered him as she slumped down to the floor.

“See if you can do better,” she said in a pained whisper.

The world shrank to just the two of them. Even the curses of the Vetynae outside faded.

“What?” he said.

She spoke slowly, each breath a labor. “We’re in… the control room… for one of the cables.” She pointed with a shaky hand to a desk upon which several buttons and levers stood in neat order. “The western piton, I think.”

“What are you saying?” How could a slingshot have done so much damage to Olienna? She was bleeding so liberally.

“The others… don’t have any record of my breakthrough,” she said. “They won’t be able to figure it out, maybe for years. That’s as much as a head start as I can give you.”

“Olienna….”

“Shut up, Terjjen,” she wheezed. “All you have to do… is go over to that panel… and find a button marked emergency release. You press it, and this city will rip itself limb… from limb.”

Slow realization began to dawn on Terjjen.

“You gather your people,” Olienna said with surprising vigor. “You rally non-Waymakers to your cause. You obliterate Kval and stop the Vetynae in their tracks. And when it’s all done, you’ll be… you’ll be the ones in power.”

He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.

“And when you’re sitting on some throne, commanding the whole world, you’d better look back and ask yourself something.”

She was quiet for a long moment, so quiet that Terjjen thought she might be dead. Then, in a raspy gurgle, she said:

What happens when the tortured become the torturers?

Her head sank into her chest, and a final breath rattled from her lungs. The world came back into sharp focus, and several loud bangs shook the bookcase. A hole or two opened up in the wood, letting in streaming daylight.

Across the room, there was a large blue button. The text underneath, as far as Terjjen could tell, read Emergency Release. He glanced down at Olienna’s body. Back at the bookcase, now mostly riddled with holes.

Then he dashed forward and slammed his palm down on the button.

 

General Terjjen, born a slave with no name, has lived to incite the Waymaker rebellion, the consequences of which have given birth to this great Nation of New Trastor. He is unequivocally the most courageous man I have ever met, and I fully expect his success in putting down the Irridian insurgents in the West.”

-Grand Empress Aurevieu,

in her commendation speech to General Terjjen of the Waymaker Corps

[Short Announcement] Short Story!

Hi everyone,

I’m sorry I couldn’t post today. I was too busy working on this short story I’ve been writing for the past few weeks, which came to a head in an AGGRESSIVE editing session (trying to reduce a 9000-word story into a 3500-word limit). I need to finish some major edits still, but I’m hoping I can be done by the weekend….

…which means….

…I’ll be posting my first work online….

…for everyone to see….

Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime, get stoked!

-R.R. Buck

Books I’d Like to Emulate

(Reed’s playlist for this occasion: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Compilation, can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAqD_K-dzNk and shoutouts to Luigi for the upload and Rachel for the suggestion)

There’s a maxim of profession when you’re getting started as a writer. “Copy the authors you want emulate.” A few of our favorite authors have even admitted to actually copying chunks of text from their favorite works before starting their own writing for the day. It’s a great way to analyze precisely what makes their writing so successful, and transferring those strategies into your own work later on (for an example, see my previous post about “Why Writing Is Like Wine”).

So here I want to drop a quick list of the books I’d like to emulate (note that these aren’t exactly my favorite books, but many of them make both lists).

Artemis Fowl: Without a doubt one of my favorite series ever written. But why is it so attractive to me as a reader? The characters, for one thing. Eoin Colfer writes completely memorable, almost-but-not-quite stereotypical characters who betray us all by having a surprising amount of depth beneath their whimsical surfaces. The plots of his novels are simple, easy to follow at all ages, and filled with a riotous humor stemming directly from those incredible interactions.

The Phantom Tollbooth: I’ve dreamed for ages of writing a novelette similar to this, but with a basis in neuroscience (it makes sense in my head). Why? The sheer impossibility of the world. The whole thing reads like a Dali painting, with situations and characters that feel somehow more real in their surrealism than most people actually are. That feeling of paradox provides a powerful frame story through which an author can allude to the paradoxical nature of mankind (another great example of this is in The Little Prince).

Moving away from kid’s books, The Name of the Wind is a great book to emulate if you’re looking at prose. Patrick Rothfuss, a new master of fantasy, spends years crafting each of his works, moving through mountains of editing like it’s nothing. His works are so polished at the end you can hardly find anything wrong with them – at least in terms of prose. (I’ve had some very serious conversations with a friend of mine about male gaze in fantasy, so yeah.)

Harry Potter. (Don’t pretend like you didn’t know this was coming.) Why is Harry Potter so successful? To me it’s two things – the innovative world, which is easily covered by a great many other works, and the coming-of-age themes, which are not. The HP series to me is the best I know at growing with its readers. It starts with some childish fantastical tales with an abundance of levity and only, as the MPAA might put it, “minor peril”, and ends with this gritty realization about the nature of mortality and our places in the world. The good becomes bad, the bad become (mildly) tolerable, and Nevil is a BAMF. The black-and-white nature of the early books slowly corrodes over the course of the series, to be replaced with an uncomfortable number of ethically gray situations. Just like being a young adult.

Finally (and I could choose much, much more), The Magicians series is pretty incredible in terms of locution and tone. A heavy sense of pessimism and darkness saturates the entirety of the trilogy, which rarely if ever lifts in moments of joy or interest. The dark spin on C.S. Lewis really makes for a story that feels so wrapped up in its own angsty head, you can hardly bear it (but you do because of the beautiful language and engaging, endlessly faulty characters).

These are the books I’d like to emulate. What are yours? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading.

-R.R. Buck

Music and Writing

(Reed’s playlist for the occasion: O Green World by The Gorillaz)

musicMusic and writing make up the core of my artistic passions. I have done both since I was ten years old, and to me they are the married couple of self-expression: music, the perfect encapsulation of emotion through tone and rhythm; writing, the expression of truth through narrative.

Okay, that sounded a little floaty. But I’m leaving it in.

I don’t want to talk about my favorite music, or my horrible history of songwriting (although those things might come out in other posts). I just want to talk about my favorite music to write to.

Writers, if you don’t write to music, you are a strange and fascinating creature to me. I spent a lot of high school writing in absolute silence because I would always end up writing the lyrics to the song I was listening to into my project. But one fateful day in the middle of college, I realized something.

Some music is instrumental.

I know it sounds crazy. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

All jokes aside, I started listening to a bit of thematic music when I was writing – at first just the score to Inception (a movie which deserves ten separate posts on here). But I’ve expanded not just to movie soundtracks but also videogames, television, and other media. Here’s my list, tailored to occasion:

General writing: the Zelda Reorchestrated full soundtrack for Twilight Princess on repeat. There’s a youtube playlist floating around somewhere, but I usually just choose songs at random.

Writing a world/description: the “Journey” official soundtrack (the game, not the band, dingus.)

Writing a villain: “The Light of the Seven” from Game of Thrones

Emotional content: “Time” from the Inception OST

Writing a furious character venting emotion: “The Last Lost Continent” by La Dispute (Side note: this is mostly spoken-word style hardcore music, so it won’t work for most people)

The interactions of two characters who can’t admit they’re in love: This specific version of “Peer Pressure” from Eternal Sunshine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCRlOQvk4m8

Badass action sequences: “Red Like Roses”, parts 1 and 2 combined, from the RWBY soundtrack OR “Yoru wa Nemureru kai?” from the Ajin opening theme, Season 1

Anytime someone is making a discovery or inventing something: “Sandra’s Theme” from Big Fish

What are your favorite songs to write to? Let me know in the comments!

-R.R. Buck

 

A Eulogy for Nancy Rowan

(Reed’s playlist for this occasion: I Miss You by Blink-182Glycerine by Bush; Socco Amaretto Lime by Brand New)

I wish I could post on a place with more traffic, but I suppose this blog will have to do.

My grandmother is dying. She’s in her late 80’s and has been stricken with Alzheimer’s for a few years. Over this past weekend, she caught pneumonia, and my mother’s family has decided to let her slip out of the tortured state she’s been in for far too long. She will most likely pass sometime tonight.

If you have any warm thoughts, prayers, or pity, don’t send it to me. Send it to my mother, who’s had to deal with this in a much more intimate way.

See, here’s the thing about my grandmother. For a long while, I wasn’t her biggest fan. In fact, you might say I resented her for the influence she had on my mother.

I love my mother more than practically anyone in the world. She has always been my support, my reason when I had none, and my oasis. But the rest of her family has had their issues, both personally and with each other. It wouldn’t be kind to post them here, so I won’t.

What I will say is that my mother came out of a fractured household in which siblings didn’t speak to one another and to their parents, sometimes for years. Much of what my mom remembers about her early life is being left alone, neglected by her parents. It’s a miracle to me she’s become such a steadfast and dependable woman, under the circumstances.

When the Alzheimer’s first hit Nancy, my mom took the brunt of it. At that time she was primarily responsible for Nancy’s care, and the early paranoid states wrought havoc on her relationship with her mother, which only grew worse as Nancy degenerated.

I watched my mom struggle with my grandmother’s illnesses over the past few years. I watched her siblings make it more difficult on her. In the interest of full disclosure, I have privately wished for Nancy to die, to ease the burden on my mom.

But something happened today. I got a call from my mom while finishing up some work in lab, not an hour ago. She told me the facts – that Nancy had been placed on a morphine drip, that they had removed all artificial support to breathing – and then she said that all of the siblings were there.

This may be the first time they’ve all been together in a decade (perhaps longer).

I started thinking, as I walked home. What kind of person is Nancy Rowan? She was not the best mother to her children. She was cruel to my grandfather, a man I love with my whole heart for his kind soul.

But despite everything, despite the conflicts and the personal struggles, all of her children made it out to be with her when she passes tonight. For one night, they will put aside everything to be as a family once more.

What kind of person is Nancy Rowan? She is the kind of person who instilled in her children an understanding for what is most important. And to me, that speaks more loudly than anything else she has done in her life.

Go peacefully, Grandma. I love you.

-R.R. Buck

Why Writing is Like Wine

wine(For fairness’ sake, I have to admit I’m not a wine drinker.)

BUT STILL!

This won’t come as anything new to most authors, but I wanted to reflect on it because I think it’s a really cool phenomenon. Established writers will smile and remember their projects; brand-new writers will have something to think about when choosing reading material.

When I say “writing is like wine”, I mean it in the sense of flavor. As far as my limited experience with wine goes, a wine isn’t just grape water. It picks up flavors from the soil it’s grown in, the ripeness of the grapes, and a bunch of other things that I’d rather not guess at for the sake of a pretty sentence. When a wine snob takes a sip and says, “reminiscent of fresh tennis balls”, you have to laugh. When three separate snobs say the same thing independently of each other, you have to think, “Why the hell does anyone want to drink something that tastes like tennis balls?”

But seriously. Writing works the exact same way. When you’re reading something while you’re writing, a little bit of the tone, the language, and sometimes even the narrative style of the work you’re reading will enter into the work you’re writing. It’s like a charming homage to your favorite authors.

For instance, I’ve been writing a short story while reading Mark Twain’s autobiography, dictated in 1906 and just recently published. (The autobiography, not my short story.) Check out a little passage of the story:

(Deep breaths, Reed, they can’t hate you from a few sentences.)

Terjjen had just finally gotten himself back to sleep when a stranger entered his chambers unannounced.

Three moments late, the manservant Willough was atop the staircase, trailing empty apologies from heaving breast. By that moment, Terjjen’s knife hand was pressed close enough to the stranger’s chin to feel the smoothness of his beardless face.

The three men stood silent, each waiting for the other to respond.

“I held razor myself this morning,” the stranger said, as if reading Terjjen’s thoughts. With one pale finger he moved aside the blade of the dagger threatening his throat, ignoring without flinching the blood that spilled from his fingertip. “So I must decline your offer for a shave, kind though it is.”

You don’t know my usual writing style, but it’s not this. And it’s definitely not Mark Twain – with the run on sentences, separated by commas, as though with any punctuating mark – including dashes – he can continue a sentence, extend it into infinity, and still somehow arrive at a point at the end.

This is a hybrid style, a little bit of Buck and a little bit of Twain dancing a merry jig on the page (or screen). Ripping off the style of your most admired authors is a great way to emulate them and learn from them.

(Just make sure you’re not reading trashy literature while you’re writing something you care about.)

That’s all for now! Enjoy what’s left of your weekend.

-R.R. Buck

Just Finished Majora’s Mask…. [Spoiler Alert]

majoras

(PC: Cover art for Theophany’s Time’s End album, highly recommend)

Hey everyone;

In respect for the most unholiest of inauguration days yesterday, and because of an impending D&D session in a few minutes, I’m gonna keep this one short and pointless.

To all the Legend of Zelda timeline historians in the audience, I’m playing along the “Child Link” timeline. (I grew up with Wind Waker and it has been a huge goal of mine to finish all the gamecube games and any other ones my crappy computer can emulate.) My girlfriend got me into Twilight Princess halfway through college and, ever since then, I’ve been emulating the old N64 games.

For those who don’t know, the “Child Link” timeline follows the events of Ocarina of Time. At the end of Ocarina, Zelda takes the Ocarina of Time (the magical time-travelling fairy flute) and sends Link back six years to warn her of Ganon’s impending treachery. This creates a schism in time – one timeline in which adult Zelda continues her life after sending Link back (which leads to my bae Wind Waker) and one timeline that begins with Link warning Zelda as a child to avoid Ganon.

That “Child Link” timeline continues with Majora’s Mask, then to Twilight Princess, and then to Four Swords Adventures. (This is all coming from Hyrule Historia, but from memory, so if I’m wrong don’t hate me.) Majora’s Mask comes right after the subverting of the events in Ocarina, where Link leaves Hyrule searching for a friend and gets pulled into another adventure.

In my honest opinion, it’s miles better than Ocarina.

(Please wait to hate me until I explain.)

Ocarina of Time is an incredible game, a quintessential LoZ game. It’s one of the longest in the series, filled with a beautifully realized world and a plethora of memorable and adorable characters. It follows a standard hero’s journey that ends in the saving of Hyrule from Ganon and a return of (temporary) peace to the land.

But the plot of Ocarina is just that – standard. In every way, it represents the archetypal clash of good against evil, with very well-defined roles for each character. It’s not a bad thing, but in my own twisted mind I prefer something a little bit more… well, twisted.

Enter Majora’s.

This game is creepy as hell right from the start. You meet this mask salesman who’s somehow lost what amounts to the Devil incarnate imprisoned in a mask. It’s been stolen by the Skull Kid from Ocarina, who’s now planning to crash the moon into the earth. Every detail – the frame jumps between each line of dialogue from the mask salesman, the burnt orange irises of the moon watching over you, the pressure of having a three-day timeline to complete each mission in the game – is uniquely frightening and stressful to the player.

Apart from me loving disturbing and dark content in a Zelda game – a trend started by Majora’s that continues through other games like Twilight Princess – this game was the perfect sequel to Ocarina. After that beautiful – and usual – journey through Hyrule, the horror content in Majora’s feels fresh and gritty and real. I have always adored The Legend of Zelda series for its flawless combination of childlike humor, deep emotional content (Wind Waker grandma gets me every time), and dark plot elements. While Ocarina very much felt like a Zelda game to me, it didn’t quite encapsulate all of that. Majora’s, on the other hand, and especially coming right after Ocarina, was incredible.

Am I wrong? If you hate me, leave a comment! I need better traffic on here anyway, and I’m fastidiously avoiding opinion pieces about the obvious matters right now.

Love you all!

-R.R. Buck

My Process

incubus

It usually begins with a question.

The question follows a “What if…?” format. As in, “What if there were these knives that could cut through the fabric of dimensions?” which led to the first trilogy I ever wrote (and no, I hadn’t read His Dark Materials by that point).

I find that noticing the minutia in the world around me usually sparks my imagination. When I walk(ed) to classes, or work, or when I was riding passenger on a trip somewhere, I wouldn’t zone out or engage in small talk with anyone around me. (I was that guy.)

Instead, I would notice how a stranger passing me would walk, or how the sun hid behind the clouds, or a million other little things. I remember once, I was walking and swinging my hand and I thought, “What if there was a person who could store kinetic energy from swinging their arm as thermal energy and then release it?”

(Keep in mind that 99% of these ideas are absolute crap.)

Regardless, I seize on a “What if…” question, and if it’s good enough, it continues to occupy me. “What if there was a society with a single rule governing its existence, but when the people were asleep they entered a dream realm where that rule is gone or reversed?” That question led me to this: “What if there was a society with a rigid social hierarchy, but while they slept the hierarchy was inverted somehow?”

And then to this: “What if this society had a lower-class citizen, an ox-man (Qunari anyone?) who is physically empowered but is delegated to menial labor tasks? And what if this race of people served as bodyguards against ‘the boogeyman’ or some other nightmare creature that haunts the dreams of the rich, weak suckers who rule the society?”

This became the premise for the closest I have ever come to a good novel, entitled Sleeper. (One of these days when I’m not feeling self-conscious I will post it on here.) The kudrans are these massive brutes who, to the rest of the races, are strong but stupid. Secretly, they’re extremely prideful, but tie pride into physical prowess, not money or power, and so they don’t mind doing the heavy lifting for the rich folks (I call them operans).

When the whole world falls asleep, they enter a dream state haunted by real-life nightmares. I’ve shamelessly stolen the word incubi and reappropriated it, without any of the weird sexual connotation (see above for some art drawn by the incredibly talented Lindsay Liegler). The incubi try to seek out and kill the operans in the dream world, which results in them waking up insane in the real world. Kudrans work as “Sleepers”, dream bodyguards, for wealthy operan families.

Until that one time when they don’t.

(When did this become a plug?)

I’m straying from my point. I agree with most authors that there is no single process to writing a book. But if you’re struggling with that first concept, whether it’s a short story, a poem, a novel, or an epic high fantasy neverending series of Sanderson proportions, maybe just try looking around. There’s a lot more interesting stuff in the real world than we give it credit for.

-R.R. Buck

 

What Dungeons and Dragons Has Taught Me About Writing

20-sided-dieIf you’re on this blog for any longer than a minute, you’ll probably notice I’m a nerd. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to hide it, so I won’t.

Among my many geeky pursuits in my down time are tabletop games. I’m currently involved in three role-playing tabletop campaigns – two in which I am a player and one as a Dungeon Master (DM).

Now, if you haven’t played D&D before, you probably have some stereotype of it from pop culture (looking at you, Stranger Things). I’d like to set the record straight about D&D with a few facts:

  • Yes, you can play it for up to ten hours straight, although most of my sessions last 3-4 hours
  • Yes, it is a “role-playing game” where people create and play as their own characters – but so are a great many video games.
  • Most importantly, D&D can help you become a better writer.

I’m being totally serious here. Most non-players don’t see the connection, but anyone who’s enjoyed a role-playing tabletop game can tell you that it is storytelling in its most basic form. D&D, among other role-playing tabletop games, is a story created by the DM and shared with the players, who act as the main characters.

When you sit down at the table with a bag of chips open and a twenty-sided die in front of you, you’re not just spending an evening killing a hundred rats (shout-out to Mikey Tharratt). You’re the main character in a story, complete with a (often tragic) backstory and a set of motivations that will lead you to make decisions that you, as a real-life person, would never make.

In this way, you get a unique glimpse into the creation of a character. When you have to embody a fantasy alter ego, you must know everything about them. You’ll start off with a vague idea of what makes your character tick, and by the third session you’ve mastered the subtleties, the quirks and twists in their personality you never intended to be there. Those skills apply directly to writing characters in fiction.

If you’re the Dungeon Master, it gets even better. Now, you’re in a position where you create the history, the world, the plot – every single element of fiction except for the characters. With other players providing characters, you’re able to notice from an objective viewpoint how they tie into and influence the story, change the world, and carve out a niche for themselves in your creation. You also learn how other people think about character creation – a way to compare strategies and techniques.

Tabletop games may not be your thing, and they’re certainly not the only way to pick up writing skills. But to me, they have been invaluable in helping me develop my storytelling, my characters, and my innovation. If you have a few friends who are interested, give it a shot! If not, I’m always down to DM another campaign 😀

-R.R. Buck

Westworld’s Secret Hero [Warning: Contains Spoilers]

Westworld is the season’s most popular HBO smash hit, with co-producers J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan combining the best of dystopian science fiction, insights into the human psyche, and moral quandaries of artificial intelligence. Equal parts Memento and Lost, the show features an award-winning cast led by the deific Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), the park’s co-creator and Director.

Dr. Ford quickly becomes the most pivotal character in the show as his dominion over Westworld is gradually revealed over the course of the first season. His utter control of the “hosts” (the robotic population of Westworld) is frightening to say the least. Most of the Westworld fandom agrees that he is undoubtedly the villain of the show.

I don’t.

He kills more than one person caught snooping around his work in the first ten episodes of the show. He maintains an almost oppressive hold over everything and everyone in Westworld. But I still think he is the protagonist.

Here’s why Dr. Ford is Westworld’s secret hero:

Killer with a conscience. A lot of fans cite Ford’s supposed “bloodlust” as an indicator of his evil tendencies. However, during the season Ford only kills two other characters, both of whom represent direct threats to his control over the park. Now, that might sound sinister on the outside. But Ford is struggling against Delos, the company that owns the park, to preserve its legacy. Delos wants to remove Ford from power so they can destroy Westworld’s foundations in the name of cheap, lucrative entertainment. Ford isn’t trying to play God – he just wants to preserve the park’s integrity through any means necessary.

Automaton amnesia. Ford’s creation of Bernard, a robotic effigy to his fellow co-creator Arnold, also shows that Ford cares for his hosts. Bernard is not aware that he’s a host, and his memory is wiped – twice – when Ford orders him to kill people. Ford has no reason to wipe Bernard’s memory – he controls Bernard’s ability to speak out against him – but he cares enough about his creation’s emotional affect to offer oblivion at considerable risk to himself.

Savior complex. Ford retraces Arnold’s path to host consciousness, resulting in a last heart-pounding moment of self-sacrifice where he allows Dolores, the original host of the park, to shoot him. While it was crucial for Dolores to choose to pull the trigger, she didn’t necessarily have to shoot Ford. Her conscious awakening was only contingent upon her making a decision for herself. As a true villain, Ford might have had Dolores shoot a Delos representative instead. But his choice to sacrifice himself shows that he has fully embraced the concept of a host rebellion. Related to that….

Setting the hosts free. Now, this may not be official. It’s obviously still in the works. But we can all agree that Dolores will most likely be the catalyst for a host revolution against the humans who have mistreated them for thirty-five years. This will almost inevitably lead to a closing of the park – which so many fans would say is the opposite of what Ford wants – and yet he initiates it, because he wants the hosts to be conscious. He gives up both his life and his creation to give the hosts autonomy.

In a show in which every character seems morally ambiguous, it might be easy to pin the role of “villain” on the guy controlling everything behind the scenes. But I see Ford as the savior of Westworld and a powder keg that will blow open an epic Season 2. If you haven’t yet, check out the show and read other opinions online!