« June 2003 | Main | August 2003 »


More from the Unwritten

Another passage the author was often not-writing concerned Gillamunde, the only child of the Duke-Governor of New Arden. Plump, pretty, bland, really, she is frequently underestimated.

What she wants is to have a role in the diplomacy the region desperately needs more of.

There's a scene—not quite a scene, maybe just a beat—where she is in a room, cool, with columns and marble and a big library table [I seem to have a thing for big tables]. She is wearing a red silk dress I've never seen on her before—I thought she only wore Alice blue.

The dress is quite plain, well-fitted in the bodice, with a full skirt. Gillamunde's hair has been artfully curled by her maid. We don't see her face—the scene is like a movie shot taken through a French door or around the edge of a screen of some kind. She moves between the table and another piece a furniture, perhaps a globe stand or a low bookcase. She's holding a letter or document of some kind.

I suspect it is the original copy of the treaty with the People. This document has been interpreted many times, and with each recopying and rewording has become quite diluted.

Gillamunde has spent the morning searching through her father's records to locate this original, which she now has read and taken notes on.

Her expression, if it could be seen, would be quite grave and her stepmother would tell her it was unbecoming. Her stepmother is not a bad woman, but she focuses on matters that exasperate Gillamunde. Even now Gillamunde realizes she will soon be called to the table for a meal she is too preoccupied to enjoy eating, much less keep her mind on a conversation studied in its lightness and lack of content.

What she is trying to decide is if it will be worth the consequence of absenting herself from luncheon, in order to draft a brief about the Treaty of Penfell's Chance. She decides that it will be worth it if her father reads her notes and takes warning.

The issues, as she sees them, are threefold. First, the Treaty is about to expire. Though generally believed to be for an indefinite term, the original document states clearly that the agreement would be dissolved after the passage of 224 years. This would put the Treaty's expiration in the early part of next year—just a few months away.

Second, for the Treaty to be renewed, the current tribal leader and both his father and his oldest child must be present, to ensure that that all the generations are heard from. This could prove difficult as the People have sent their prince out of the Wilderness and no one is exactly sure where he is now.

Third, and this would take a bit of explaining, the folk of New Arden were daily breaking the laws governing the use of the delfinor meadows. Too many bundles of delfinor sprigs were being cut and delfinor was being cultivated in greenhouses as well, which was strictly prohibited. Rumor had it the King was interested in exporting the tea in addition to the dye and that he was setting up a commission to study whether there was a comercial use for the roots of the plant, as well as the leaves and berries.

Any and all of these enfringements gave the People grounds for war.



July 26, 2003 in snippets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack



It was absurdly simple, the idea that if you wrote a page a day that in a year you would have accumulated enough pages to make a book.

Absurdly simple, but each day a page didn't get written. This went on for 21 days, or perhaps years. The unwritten pages amounted to over twenty books. More than 700,000 pages. They were a heavy burden for our author.

Things got better the day she decided to throw the twenty unwritten books in the trash.

This was difficult — how do you discard what doesn't exist? There were no physical pages to tear out of notebooks or virtual ones to delete from a data file. Even "the trash" had to be made out of metaphor.

The pages possessed their own reality, however. She'd "written" them in her mind, driving the car, wind in her hair, words unfurling. The narratives were clear and strong, better than any actual words on a paper page.

Now it was time to let them go.

Some she had forgotten completely, so it was if they were already gone. She had only to delete the mental bookmarks for where they had been.

Some she felt she ought to "re-read."

There was a conversation under a tree; a couple wrestling and falling into the water.

There were two people watching a troop of soldiers winding through the forest. The two people were a man and the woman of different, unearthly, races, lying with their elbows on top of some uncomfortable prickly stuff growing on a ridge above the path. The woman was about to find out that the man beside her has a doe's heart.

There was a scene of a boy sitting at a table. It's a big table, so big that every time the house it stands in has changed hands the table has remained. It is too big to remove through the doors; it is too strong to take apart. The boy's family bought the house for that table. It was of the perfect size and importance for holding seances. That's what his family does — they talk to dead people for a living.

Most of what goes on during these gatherings is cleverness and a knack for reading people — reading what they expect. His mother was especially good at reading what people wished for.

That an actual knack for clairvoyance and precognition existed in the family was generally accepted. It didn't occur in every generation, but never completely went time-out-of-mind. In the boy's present-day family, he was the only one with the true knack. So, with the group sitting around the table, the boy sees many others there, too.

Ghosts look much as their former selves did in life. It's as if eternity took all the days of a person's life, all the outfits and hairdos and zit outbreaks and everything and sort of averaged them all together. The ghost's image was this cobbled-together composite. It worked out that a ghost was never the worst or the best of what a person looked like in life. Merely an average. A golden mean. And just the slightest bit transparent and apt to disappear at the edges.

On this particular evening — no, late afternoon really, that time of day that in summer begins to be a bit blue, like the powder on certain moth-wings, like the shadows on the page that never got written — a seance was taking place.

Brick's mother had her eyes closed and she held hands with the people to either side of her. The whole group held hands around the table, except for Brick. He was holding hands, but of the two ghosts that pushed between him and the real flesh and blood people. So while Brick's hands lay on the table in hand-grasping position, they appeared empty. To him his hands felt cool. Ghosts weren't extremely chilly, but they lacked temperature.

His mother was trying to visualize a woman's father, that she very much wanted to hear from.

"I'm getting someone, someone with a J, someone named Joe?"

"Steve," Brick corrected. Steve had joined them in the room, standing beside Brick's mother and whispering to her, but to no effect.

"Joel was my uncle," the woman who wanted to see her father obliged them by saying.

"He's there, too. With Steve," Brick's mother suggested hastily.

"Daddy?" said the hopeful woman. Steve had glided around the table, looking at all the flesh-and-blood people in turn.

"I almost didn't recognize her," he told Brick. "She's gotten much fatter than I remember."

"Steve says his little girl is all grown up," Brick translated.

"Yes, all grown up. His little girl that he loved so much."

The seances had all begun to go like this. Mother would ostensibly lead them, but Brick would inevitably be called upon to relay information to her.


One page laid to rest. 699.000 to go.

July 22, 2003 in snippets | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Anglo-Saxon carvingIt is a Kingly Thing

I first found this book while babysitting, so I was at most sixteen. The parents had a wonderful study where the wood was all oiled and the books marched up every wall to the ceiling. I don't know how I happened to notice The Earliest English Poems, a small, slender volume, but I read it straight through after my charge went to bed.

Other readers might have different favorites, but mine was and is the very first poem in the volume, a fragment suitably called "The Ruin":

This description of a deserted Roman city, written on two leaves badly scarred by fire, may well stand at the gate of a selection of Anglo-Saxon poems. The Romans had held this province for four centuries before the Angles came; and they had been gone three hundred years before this poem was written. It was to be another three hundred years before the Normans reintroduced the art of massive construction in stone to these islands. The Anglo-Saxons usually referred to Roman ruins as 'the work of the Giants'.

—from the introduction
by Michael Alexander


You really have to read it to appreciate it....


Well-wrought this wall: Wierds broke it.
The stronghold burst....

Snapped rooftrees, towers fallen,
the work of the Giants, the stonesmiths,

spacerRime scoureth gatetowers
spacerrime on mortar.

Shattered the showershields, roofs ruined,
age under-ate them.
spacerAnd the wielders and wrights?
Earthgrip holds them—gone, long gone,
fast in gravesgrasp while fifty fathers
and sons have passed.
spacerWall stood,
grey lichen, red stone, kings fell often,
stood under storms, high arch crashed —
stands yet the wallstone, hacked by spacerweapons,
by files grim-ground...
...shone the old skilled work
...sank to loam-crust.

Mood quickened mind, and a man of wit,
cunning in rings, bound bravely the wallbase
with iron, a wonder.

Bright were the buildings, halls where springs ran,
high, horngabled, much throng-noise;
these many meadhalls men filled
with loud cheerfulness: Wierd changed that.

Came days of pestilence, on all sides men fell dead,
death fetched off the flower of the people;
where they stood to fight, waste places
and on the acropolis, ruins.

spacerHosts who would build again
shrank to the earth. Therefore are these courts dreary
and that red arch twisteth tiles.
wryeth from roof-ridge, reacheth groundwards....
Broken blocks....

spacerThere once many a man
moon-glad, goldbright, of gleams garnished,
flushed with wine-pride, flashing war-gear,
gazed on wrought gemstones, on gold, on silver,
on wealth held and hoarded, on light-filled amber,
on this bright burg of broad dominion.

Stood stone houses; wide streams welled
hot from source, and a wall all caught
in its bright bosom, that the baths were
hot at hall's hearth; that was fitting...

Thence hot streams, loosed, ran over hoar stone
unto the ring-tank....

...It is a kingly thing


--trans. Michael Alexander


Can you hear that? Doesn't it just make your blood fizz? I already liked poetry, but never felt it was something I could write. The sound of this caught me before I'd acquired too many bad habits, and made me a gift of poetry that was informal, but still written by ear.

It is a kingly thing


July 1, 2003 in influences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack