Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Let Me Fly Away News: Write Well Award

I am pleased to announce that "Let Me Fly Away," a story about growing up and moving on, which was published in Silver Blade has been included in the 2015 Write Well Award Anthology!

Currently you can find a version on Kindle, and there will be a print version available soon. This looks like a sumptuous collection of stories that will "touch us, amuse, intrigue, resonate--stories take us places we have never been, make us think, and that we cannot forget."*

On behalf of myself and Hagengard Studio (and that illustrator of mine) I want to extend sincere thanks to the editors at Silver Blade for believing in the story, and Rick Taubold for his work on compiling the anthology

*from the Write Well Award About Us Page

Update: I wrote too soon, there is a print version available as well!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Districts of Hagen

There is a brief, and for the moment, satisfying description of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hagen elsewhere on this Webtraption. I point this out for two reasons: this press is of course named after the city and Hagengard Studio is preparing the final work on its second novel release: The Shadow Well. As I am assisting with divers aspects of publishing this novel, it occurred to me that unlike The Nightingale's Stone, The Shadow Well takes place almost entirely in Hagen and it would be helpful for readers to have a quick guide to some of the various neighborhoods that make up the city.

Hagen itself is a vast city. At the time of The Shadow Well it is one of the largest in Europe, but it was, of course not always that way, and like many great cities, it grew out of several smaller towns. Let us take a quick tour:

The Juttrock

Considering how flat the country is around the mouth of the Elbe, this geological formation is strange indeed, a chunk of granite left on the shore of the North Sea. The Juttrock sits on the end of a peninsula—formed by the Bendbow, Hagen's wide, natural harbor, and the Elbe River. It served as a natural fortress for the first settlements of Hagen. In time the old homes and halls disappeared and were replaced by government buildings, the richest Hanseatic halls, and the Chartermen's Club, where the real power plays were carried out. Karl Yangler learned this first hand at the start of The Shadow Well.

The Old Business District

The Old Business District grew up at the foot of the Juttrock and was where the first businesses and markets started. It is still the home of excellent old style restaurants, such as Shermahorne's where Karl Yangler and Theresa Darl attempted to unravel the mystery of Karl's assignment. Don't miss the Skaus at Copping's Chop House.

The Market District

As the City grew along the Bendbow,  it was natural that all manners of markets— ranging from produce, meats, imports, furnishings and anything else—would grow and thrive here. The Shadow Well centers around a luxurious birthday party, and every luxury from the world could be purchased here. Especially if you possessed a Letter of Credit from Kanute Eldredsohn.

The Temple Platz

I have spoken of this place before: occupying the center of Hagen, it is the home of Hagen's Great Library and the Temple of the Old Religion.  By the time of The Shadow Well it had become a place for entertainments, banking, and other worldly pursuits. If you have the time, I recommend the Eel Soup at Feldsham's.

The View of Hagen's Bendbow from Marckstan Dale

Marckstan Dale

While one of the oldest parts of the City, by the middle of the 17th Century, the Marckstan Dale had fallen into rich decay. There were still powerful, wealthy families there, such as the von Hippes, but most of these families had passed the zenith of wealth and prestige. Trudi and Oscar von Hippe of the Heusermarck were the last of their line,  having no issue. But even this fact did not prevent certain problems regarding succession and wealth.

The Barbican

While London's is justifiably famous, Hagen's is older and vaster. The heart of the Hanseatic Maritime power, it also featured a rough nightlife for sailors from all over the world.


Located east along the Bendbow, Stook was where seasonal ship builders made their craft and launched them owing to a wide, gently sloping approach to the sea and a sharp drop off in the water. This allowed for deeper and deeper draghted ships to be built there. Since the wharves of Hagen could only handle so much traffic, eventually Stook also became a shipping point, but it remained somewhat aloof, a working district that saw very little activity during the night.


While the Barbican had its certain charms, Fosthorpe grew south of the Temple Platz until it reached the Elbe and the South Wharves, collecting many who could not afford to live elsewhere in the great city. As such, it is home to the Theatre District, and immigrant neighborhoods. Of interest in The Shadow Well.  Hagen had a tradition of public baths stretching all the way back to the Julian Exiles, but the Finnish immigrants to Hagen blended their love of saunas into the mix. The Kaunismaaki Ecdysium was just such a place, where one could find peace, a good scrub and perhaps a lutenist.

Danish Town

Originally, a settlement of Danes, (hence its name) it lays south and beneath the Juttrock on the Elbe. While it still possesses a few wharves and piers, Danish Town is now mostly known for the student, faculty and servant communities that grew since the founding of the University of Hagen in the 13th Century. Amusingly, this location was chosen since many of the Old Danish houses had "collected" artifacts from all over the world, many from Christian monasteries to the south.

The Fair and Carnival

To the east, along the Thing Ride, and technically outside the City Proper lay the great fairgrounds of Hagen. Every  late summer, the Great Fair and Carnival is held here offering a wealth of agricultural accomplishment along with a more sensual and sometimes lawless set of diversions. A good place to slip away from old lives or perhaps purchase a pair of eyes, as Leena O'Niall and Trudi von Hippe can respectively tell you.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Working Dreams and Balms

At some point I drifted out of the unsound of deep sleep and met a block of wood. It was tall, perhaps eight feet by two feet and it was not only old, but also in my way. Wind-worn and weathered by the beat of salt into the grain, it had been living by the sea for a long time. But it lacked the utter woodghost aspect of drowned driftwood: sand smoothed skin, limb-twisted, the brined ancestral bones of the peoples.

No, the block was hewn by some purposeful hand. The morning fog, a sea breath, surrounded me and the block. I heard the water nearby, dully lapping in that strange whisper that waves make when they are close and cannot be seen.

A rivulet fell somewhere. From a gutter? There were no eaves, or sluices near. A horse pissing on a flat rock? No, that was just a saying, I told myself. The noise disappeared, and then the block and I stood there for a long while. I did not really know how long, and hadn’t paused to stop and think of it, nor ask the block.

I turned, and found myself standing in a low-rimmed tub. I was still on the beach and my grandmother came to me then. She ordered ne to strip naked. I did so.

In a basalt mortar, she pounded pork fat, pine needles, fragrant herbs, marten’s bile until it was a uniformly speckled unguent and scooped it up in handfuls and began to cover me with it: her old knobbed skill-fingered hands worked every bit into my arms, legs and body. I shivered in the cold.

She did not say anything, but seemed to study me through narrow dead eyes.

When I looked away from her face, I saw the fog had thinned, but not disappeared. More blocks of wood, all embedded in the sand, waited in a crooked line up into the mist.

My conscious mind began shouting in the other room, beating on the door.

I am awake and writing this now. My grandmother's ministrations were helpful, albeit horrible smelling. The work never stops. There is always another submission to make, another promotion, another person to contact. Does Grandmother's protective balm inure me to the hurt, the rejection?

I write this as a prayer to overcome the ocean of indifference and silent blocks of wood.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Less is More (Sometimes)

“Less is More” is a phrase most often associated with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and the Bauhaus school of minimalist design. The earliest use I can find lies buried in Robert Browning’s “Andrea del Sarto.” Doubtless there are others because insofar as paradoxes are concerned, it’s a fairly easy construction: take an idea and put a form of “to be” between it and its opposite. As with many koanish phrases—and one that is self-demonstrating—it has become near and dear to proponents of any artistic craft.

Those who know me understand that it is a problematic phrase for me because I simply don’t believe in it. That is not a mere excuse to be a lazy writer and not edit, but as Dumas pointed out, “all generalizations are dangerous, including this one.” Most often, those who prefer minimalism will use it as a relentless razor, so that like Occam’s little cut-throat, it takes a life of its own beyond its original application.

In defense first: A simple thing is often the hardest to do. Le mot juste is often a difficult thing to find, and crowding it with verbose, often elephantine phrasing spells the death of much good prose. Unless it is about elephants, perhaps.

Additionally, over-doing any artistic endeavor, whether it is painting, writing, music or cooking, often serves as an unconscious cloak of mistakes. And then there is the problem of just leaving your mess around.

Many of the verbal qualifiers that we use in everyday speech are just that when you leave them in writing. Speaking of “just,” I understand it is a dirty word. It lies on a supposed dung heap of phrases along with “I feel that,” “Indications show,”  “Interestingly enough” and a legion of other “hedging” phrases. I disagree. With any maturity and brains a good listener will just glide over the phrases, the same way we barely pay attention to credits in a film. If you want to learn more, simply visit the wonderful Language Log to read about it. And remember, dung can also be valuable compost.

I like to think of these phrases as warming up. They get your tongue and brain moving and words are actually coming out of your mouth which is a good way to begin communicating. Do you start an automobile in gear? Of course you don’t. But once you have shifted from park or neutral, the rest of your thought follows along enough.

Many writers do the same thing, although it may not just be phrases but paragraphs and entire chapters that starts the literary car moving. One very dear friend of mine usually has to write three or four pages of prose to get to the interesting part, but she needed to do that to get there.

The great advantage of writing is, that unlike speech, you can revise it. Another metaphor comes from construction: does a concrete mason leave the forms up? Of course not. They serve their purpose in shaping the liquid material. Once it sets and cures, the forms can be stripped off and discarded.

Kristen Steenbeeke:
This removal of “language forms” is one of the main thing editors can help with in line editing, which is a refining of a writer’s particular style. As I mentioned elsewhere, editors are indispensable to the writer. Like any human relationship you need to find one that understands you because they will perform the miraculous feat of making your thoughts sound better.

Working with an editor is an ongoing process and dialogue. Write your heart out onto the paper in a bloody mess, but when you revise think of what your editor might say. After her work on The Nightingale’s Stone I can often hear Kristen Steenbeeke's sardonic voice: “you’re leaving that in?” I've learned to recognize my own phrases when they stumble across the page thanks to her pointing out previous examples. Writing is art, it is craft, but it is process and the more you write, revise, and pay attention, the easier it is to not “put needless words” in. Or chapters. (But you'll still need them to work on your text once your 'finished'!!)

However—and you knew that was coming—sometimes a mess can irrupt into stories with glory. I suspect that the fascination with minimalism has nothing to do with a priori “value” but is a historical trend that began with the Modernists and continues on to this day—refined in the craft workshops of MFA programs and ateliers of genre fiction.

I have grown to weary to count out how many exceptions I can list when I listen to a writer, editor, or even an agent declare their blessed Rules. Rather, I like to think of them trying to work with established, beloved works of literature.

Even though it stands as one of the most important foundation texts in fantasy, do you think any New York publisher would let The Lord of the Rings stand as written in this day, let alone bother to look at it at all? The Craft People would want the story to move and get rid of all that mucking about in the Shire, the Old Forest, and the Barrowdowns. And yet, as I grow older, that is my favorite part of the book. I don’t want to go to Mordor any more than Frodo does. I want to savor the landscapes, the walking pace, the earthenware jars full of flowers and water in the House of Tom Bombadil.

This is only one example. I am sure you have a few books on your shelf that have wonderfully long, irrelevant, over-written, distracting stretches of writing in them. They are precious and we writers buy them with great pain.

Be careful, is all I suggest. Remember that while "Less is More" may be apt, "More is More" remains tautologically correct as well.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Forth and Back

At sunset on the sparsely peopled runs, the upper car decks are empty—the best place to be alone. I evaded the man by retreating here.

“You look like you’ve had a long day,” he said. He had a beer and a round face.
“I haven’t, but thank you for noticing.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—“
“—we seldom do.”

I do not know if he was nice or not. I cannot know this. I only know my heart no longer desires the trouble of finding out.

I came here to be alone.

Upon a time the ferry was just the ampersand between here and there. In the land of the dead, Charon ferries you across Styx only once. But for the living, we cross and recross. I suspect that like Washington State Ferries, life does not have a beginning or an end. The Puget Sound is like Lethe: we often forget who we are, where we are, when we are.

For this reason I try to stay away from the commuter hours—when lots of people are doing something very similar. They come from the same bank, or financial firm, a construction company, or other office. Depending on the time of day they either drink coffee or get a round of beers in the galley. They sit and talk about work or children. I learn what they do by wearing silenced headphones and listening to them. I know where their children are going to college. There is gossip, some of it complaining of gossip. They flavor these conversations with the bitterness of coffee and hops. These are the measures of a journey.

For those unused to these waters and lands—who come to simply ride the ferry back and forth—the novelty of the repetition affords a certain beauty and allure. The tourists wander and gawk. They come from places without water, perhaps. I especially like the large groups of women dressed in carousels of color. They drift on the deck considering, murmuring approval or dissent. Their anklets tintinnabulate. Americans wear baseball caps whose bills, like the roving eyes of flounders, travel around their heads in different points depending on their age.

I watch the seagulls ride the currents of air that waft off the superstructure. Does this even make them happy? For me, happiness requires its binary opposite to be understood. I do my best to reject this formula. The birds simply fly and are.

The ferries are not so much about the outside, although they sail there. It is the kind of outside they float through: an iteration and specifically, between two places. The ferry moves between a rock and a hard place. It shuttles between the Devil and the Puget Sound, which is also deep and blue.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Standing Under Time

Time, as something we fall through like a haze of cottonwood fluzz, does not exist. 'Time' is a convenient name that we ascribe to an ontological experience. To say even that this experience “shapes” us gives the name a certain agency that is questionable, if not dangerous. But language such as I have used is not very interesting. It lacks context. Time as the flow of water will do nicely, since it is the metaphor Heraclitus offers us.

The Nightingale’s Stone
is an important book for me because it describes occasions wherein I “stood under” Being and Time through heartbreak. It is often all too easy to describe past experiences of Love as illusions. This is nonsense. The fever and confustication that Love causes makes nearly everyone an unreliable narrator—if you believe in absolute truth—because none of our narratives can be trusted. That river, Time? Too much of it passes under the bridge we are standing on.

If you pick up the book, you will notice that my conversations with Anton take place in the present. Or at least what passes for it in words, which means I used the present tense. My description of what brought me there was all in past tense. The reason was simple: the subject of narrative concerns what was. The act of narration concerns what is. Like all simple things, I have not figured it out.

All writers must face Time. I do not mean narrative time, or nonlinear vs. linear time, but the words I choose to describe those times. If I am alone, which I am as I write this, and there was a time when I was not alone, how do I accurately treat that experience?

What if the place where I was coupled—and single—is the same place? What if it is a moving place? The place ‘moves through Time,’ but it obviously moves in space because it is a Washington State Ferry. This adds a further dimension: that of iteration, because the Washington State Ferries lack bow and stern. They simply have “ends.” They go back and forth. It is interesting that in English, one begins with the return, but from where?

“Back and forth” seems to call for the present tense. There is an implied immediacy, and since the present is actually timeless, going back and forth in present tense reflects how some ontological truth that lies beneath our fragile conceptual framework of space, time and causality. If I describe my lover’s infidelity in present tense, it throws the reader into the immanence of that sorrow.

That is one facet you may choose. Another facet is that my lover is long gone—an interesting temporal collision. His last lies, and what I had to return to him liberated me. I was miserable, but am now grateful for it. Have you noticed that Time often hinges on that conjunction ‘but?’

Or should I mix times? Should I add a future tense? Thinking back to when I had some inkling of how happy I would be when he was no longer in my life? Would I do this all again? Or would the ferry be something truly different, if only for this chronological epiphany? How would Heraclitus describe the Puget Sound?

Rules? Useless in this case. I have to write it out and then read it out loud, for the ear is often the best judge of how the heart philosophizes.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Welcome to the Family

Oscar and Trudi von Hippe: from The Shadow Well
Siblings are strange beings. Like many members of our immediate family, we have no choice in our relationship to them. As such, it often seems like the relationship is defined in terms of absolutes. Either we are inextricably bound to them, or we sunder ourselves from them utterly.

But that is not always easy to do.

This illustration is from the forthcoming novel The Shadow Well, and this is David's interpretation of Trudi von Hippe and her brother Oscar. The climax of the novel occurs during a masked party in celebration of Trudi's birthday, but Oscar had designs of his own.

Oscar is being facetious here, for he had little desire to welcome anyone to his family, for that would mean parting with a portion of the von Hippes' wealth. And his sister.

If you are curious about her veil, I would recommend re-reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil." The points of connection are general, but very important. As for her eyes? Well, you'll have to read The Shadow Well.

(Look for more of these previews of the novel, due out in early February, 2016)