River of Mnemosyne Challenge. Second Muse: The Forensics of Spume

One of the double doors of the Inn swung open wide, just as Tarwen and Rowan set foot on the front porch. A man, clad in a leather apron and sporting a bear of a beard and an apple red nose waved them in.
“Come inside lads. We don’t bite. You want food, drink; a cozy bed? We got it. Hurry in and let’s shut out the night!”
Rowan studied the friendly face of the man, which was three quarters hidden under an unruly mop of hair on top and the beard on the bottom. They stomped into the main room where men of all ages were clustered around trestle tables. Young boys, half the size of Rowan, were handing out wooden plates filled with slices of pie; bowls filled with stew; and wooden cups filled with ale. Four musicians were tending their instruments in the back corner by the fireplace. A staircase wound its way up to the second floor on the other side of the roaring fire. More men were sitting at the bar, toasting each other. Rowan almost felt faint. The smell of the pies was too much.
“I reckon, I can get you some of the nourishments?” the bearded man said. “Name’s Patrick, by the by. Welcome to my abode.”
Tarwen and Rowan followed Patrick to one of the less occupied tables. Not two heartbeats later there was stew steaming in front of them and a slice of pie and a cup of ale beside that. Patrick sat down across the table and watched them tuck in.
“You’re cutting it mighty close, lads,” he said, pointing his head toward a giant hourglass on the bar that was slipping the last kernels of sand from the upper glass into the lower.
Several other men who were sitting at the table, looked up. Rowan felt their stares, felt them judging his sweaty homespun shirt with the patches and stains, his calloused hands with the dark moons under his nails, and his hair, that was coming out under his cap in such a way that it was clear he was in need of a trim. They were looking at Tarwen the same way. But instead of putting his head down and trying to hide, his brother looked them straight in the eyes.
“I’m sorry we’re running late. We’ve come all the way from Galen of the Glen. It was a four-day march and we didn’t have many pointers. My name’s Tarwen and this is my brother Rowan.”
The men at the table looked now wide-eyed at Tarwen and Rowan. Patrick slapped his knee.
“Brother, you said? You’re brothers?”
He got up and moved behind the bar. After he rustled there a bit, he came back with a large, leather-bound book. He busied himself with going through the thin pages, first flipping them forward, then going back and following rows of writing along with his index finger.
“By the sorcerer’s tail, Mortimer, look at that. For one-hundred-and seventeen years not a peep out of that village, and now they send brothers?”
The man addressed thus smirked at Patrick. He removed his hood and Rowan could see that he had brown hair with gray patches and wore several rings apiece in each ear. His face was weather worn and he had piercing green eyes. He extended a hand. Before he could say a word, an old drunk man barged into the group at the table, his cup sloshing ale over everyone.
“Patrick, did you put the dishwater into your barrels? All I got was foam! Where did the ale go? And it tastes like goat besides. That’s a rotten way to treat your friends and companions!”
Patrick stood and banged a fist on the table. It made all the bowl and platters clutter and a cup or two tipped over.
“My ale is the finest, most exquisite in all the realm. I take great care with the brewing and storing and distributing. How dare you insult my establishment! I’m cutting you off right now. And if you say another word you can go back to the hut!”
The old man pointed at the hourglass.
“It’s too late for that.”
Patrick grabbed the man’s cup. He smelled the remnants of the ale.
“There is nothing wrong with this ale at all.”
The man turned to go. As he passed by Rowan he whispered.
“It’s still a sodden affair with the foam.”
Mortimer raised his hand.
“Can we please be done with the forensics of spume and turn our attention to the task at hand?”
Rowan looked at Mortimer. The man had not even raised his voice above conversational level and still he had managed to quiet down the whole Inn. Aside from that, Rowan was still trying to figure out what he had said. Both Mortimer and Patrick used words that were long and important sounding and made no sense to Rowan at all. He wondered if somewhere in the pub they had a book of important words and how to use them. Mortimer now clapped him on the back.
“I guess official introductions will have to wait. Do you know the song of welcome? Did anyone teach it to you?”
Rowan nodded. Tarwen took the opportunity to shake Mortimer’s hand and try out a smile.
“Yes, the mayor taught it to us. He taught us a few more songs, gave us our packs, gave us instructions to come here and told us we had got to go. So we went.”
“Now there are two good lads,” said Mortimer. He turned then to the staircase, as all the other men did. They began to sing in voices as deep and rumbly as the thunder in a moonless night and as high and clear as first bells of the morning, a song so old that the words only sounded slightly like the words spoken day in and day out. Rowan felt a shudder going down his spine and then he and Tarwen joined in, trying to remember the right sounds and being lifted by the song in the same breath.

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River of Mnemosyne Challenge. First Muse: The Seventh Goddess

Tarwen and Rowan slogged through the underbrush at dusk. They were at the end of enduring a pressingly hot day; even being in the woods where shade was plentiful and thankfully some of the springs were only reduced to a trickle and not all dried up.

Now, as the sun receded the air was finally more breathable. Rowan adjusted the straps of his bulky pack and wiped his brow.

“How much longer, you think?”

Tarwen turned his back to him. He had little droplets of sweat on the bridge of his nose and his face showed traces of dirt where he had wiped away sweat before.

“I do not know any more than I did twenty steps ago.”

Rowan swallowed once more, his mouth dry. His feet shuffled forward and kicked up brittle earth that once had been mud. He followed Tarwen, who again had picked up speed and was scanning the tree line left and right from the path.

The sun vanished behind the hill altogether and the sky turned from light blue to gray. As soon as Rowan smiled at the evening, he heard the humming of mosquitoes in his ears. The first of many of their bites came right after. Still, Tarwen kept walking.

“It’s going to be completely dark soon,” Rowan called out. “Shouldn’t we make camp?”

“There is a nice, full moon out. I told you, we need to be there on time.”

Rowan shook his head and kept marching. After quite some steps, Tarwen held up his hand. He looked around, sniffing the air. He turned a full circle, slowly. He kneeled down and pressed his ear to the crusty ground.

“It’s here. It’s got to,” he announced. He turned once more and pointed into the forest.

“That’s the path.”

Rowan planted his feet beside Tarwen.

“I see no path nowhere.”

“It’s there. It just hasn’t been used in a while.”

“But didn’t you say others were coming as well?”

“Maybe we’re the first?”

Rowan scratched his head.

“So, first you hurry me for days, so that we won’t be last and now we’re the first?”

Tarwen put his hands on his hips.

“If you keep complaining like a little swaddle boy, I will send you home and that will be that.”

He walked off into the forest where he had indicated the path to be. Rowan drudged behind, making sure he did not lose sight of Tarwen’s pack.

It was proper night by the time Tarwen raised his hand again. The moon darted slivers of pale light through the rustling trees and the searching hoots of an owl made Rowan’s skin crawl. He wanted to be sheltered and safe, not out and about in the uneasy company of hidden night prowlers. He felt too much like prey.

He closed the distance to Tarwen in careful steps. Tarwen pointed to something in the underbrush.

“There. Do you see it? There it is.”

Rowan squinted.

“Oh, now I see it. But it’s dark. No light, no nothing. Are you sure this is the right place and the right time?”

Tarwen brushed a small branch aside and walked forward.

“Is it the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year after the darkest day or not?” he asked.

“Yes, everyone said so,” Rowan replied.

“Then it is the right time and this has got to be the place.”

They both walked up to the small, straw decked hut that was located beneath thirsting pine trees with brittle needles. Once there, Tarwen looked inside and Rowan walked all around it.

“It’s tiny,” Rowan said.

“And empty,” Tarwen added.

“This can’t be it,” Rowan concluded. But Tarwen was leaning forward and rubbing dust from a sign by the entrance. The sign itself seemed to be made of some sort of metal. It was too dark to tell what sheen it had. Tarwen moved the sleeve of his right arm over it several times. Then he angled it toward the moonlight so he could read.

“What does it say?” Rowan asked.

“It says: ‘Wake me up and be welcome,’” replied Tarwen.

Rowan scrunched his nose.

“That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

Tarwen grabbed the door handle and opened the door with an energetic pull. He walked into the hut and once inside, turned a full circle. Rowan shrugged and followed after. He reckoned that a hut was better than nothing in the forest in the night. Even if this wasn’t the Inn they were looking for, it was warm and dry and had a door you could close. He pulled the straps of his pack over his weary shoulders and sat it down. Tarwen was examining the walls and pulled out his flint.

“Grab that candle from that shelf, will you?”

Rowan staggered to where Tarwen stood.

“You have cats eyes. I didn’t even see the shelf.”

Tarwen worked the flint and Rowan held the massive metal candleholder with the black candle inside it close, so that the wick would catch a spark and would ignite the candle. After several tries it did.

The candle flickered to light and the hut was bathed in a warm, orange light.

Rowan smiled at his older brother. Tarwen had once again kept him safe.

Tarwen was about to take his pack off when the earth shook. The hut wobbled and spun. Crackling noises danced in Rowan’s ears and the air smelled as if they were standing right in a rainless thunderstorm. The kind that was responsible for killing whole flocks of sheep on the mountainsides. The candle was blown out with a whoosh of air. Then the rattling and shaking stopped. All was silence and darkness.

“What by the sorcerer’s tail was that?” asked Rowan.

“Shhhh!” Tarwen pointed to the door.

“I think I hear singing from out there. And there is light coming from the gap under the door.”

Rowan’s spine tingled. The little hairs on his arms and the back of his neck stood up. The candleholder with the extinguished candle was shaking in his hand. He carefully set it down on the floor.

Tarwen walked to the door and slowly opened it just a crack. Then he let it open wide and he stepped outside. Rowan followed behind into a small clearing illuminated by a great number of lanterns that were hung in the trees. Opposite from them they saw a massive house, built from strong lumber and thatched with moss. Its windows were illuminated from the inside and another huge lantern hung by the front door. Music and people’s laughter trailed its merry way from the house to the brothers and the smell of baked pies came with it. Rowan inhaled deeply, his mouth watering. Still, he was rooted to the spot.

“It can’t be. Where did all this come from? I walked around the hut and there was nothing!”

Tarwen looked a bit pale around the nose.

“I think we did what we were supposed to. We woke it.”

He shouldered his pack again and walked forward. Rowan put on his pack as well. He reached out and held his brother’s arm.

“Do you think it wise to go there?”

Tarwen pointed at the brass sign swinging at the front porch.

“This is where we need to go. No matter how strange the journey.”

Rowan took a closer look at the sign. His brother was right. They had arrived at the Inn of the Seventh Goddesses.





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Stop destroying books!

Yesterday a famous youtuber destroyed a copy of a book and handed out the pieces for a charity event. I found so many things wrong with this event, but I only want to focus on one thing right now. That one thing is the willful destruction of a printed book.

I love to read. I love books. I love to have books around me. Books are my friends. I have meaningful relationships with glue, ink and paper. Seeing the destruction of a book affects me on a visceral level. I have the urge to take the book away from whoever defaces it and slap that person. Of course I won’t do that, but I want to.

Having this blunt display of destruction for charity yesterday is not even the only instance where I have cringed on behalf of mutilated paperbacks.

I have noticed lately that many people use printed books as material for their art. They cut books up. They sculpt stuff out of them and they make the books unreadable in many ways. I consider that more instances of destruction.

If looking at a shelf full of books is considered book porn, then looking at those art pieces should be considered book horror.

Once you destroy the integrity of the story, you destroy the magic of that particular book. I don’t care how pretty it looks, you just killed it. So, stop it.

Books only work when the reader can access the story. The author of the book has left her or his side of the dialog and the reader adds her or his side by reading, thinking and imagining on the presented material. In that process the reader gets to know the writer and bestows certain amounts of reverence and respect, depending on the level of amazement the reader has with the book.

If a book is made unreadable, there is no way for this process to happen. The author is deemed worthless or inconsequential and no respect is shown. And if you tear a book apart because you don’t like it, you are also tearing into an author and demean their creative spirit and their very existence.

Behind every book stands a person who has put considerable amounts of work into it and who had the courage to put it out there. Destroying their work is easy. It doesn’t take much talent to find fault in the creation of others and feel superior. What I see in the destroyer, however is a total lack of constructive or creative power and a lack of respect or understanding for fellow human beings and their hopes and dreams.

Destroying books is callous and bad. Stop it.

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On writing – A review

Recently I read Stephen King’s ‘On writing’. I would recommend it to everyone; not only to people who try to get words on paper or screen.

Why would I do that? Because this book is more like a friendly conversation than a ‘how to’ book. We don’t need another ‘how to’ book anyway. There are a good lot out there. A few of them are essential and worth reading; many are superfluous.
What King does in this book is different. He is not so much interested in the ‘how’. He is more interested in the ‘why’.

In the first part, he shares his childhood and adolescent memories and shows us the circumstances of his life that first turned him into an avid reader, and then into a writer. In his case poison ivy, a supportive mother and the possibility of earning extra cash had a lot to do with it. He takes us through his early successes and mistakes and shares good advice he got along the way. This part of the book feels like you are sitting with him in the den by the fire. You have a drink and he tells you a story.

The next part of the book comes down to the nuts and bolts of the craft. Here he tells you about grammar and the necessity to know it and support networks and the necessity to have them.

He gives writing examples, both good and bad, both his own and from other authors and he analyses them with you. He is not afraid to name names and hand out reprimands and praise. The man has specific opinions and by golly you shall know them.

I especially liked him describing the actual process from having an initial idea to turning it into a working story. King is a proponent of a character driven, evolving story and not of a plot driven one. He throws characters into horrible or ridiculous or challenging situations and sees what develops. His stories work with ‘What if’ questions. “What if this kind of person has to deal with this kind of thing?”

The detailed description of this process was dear to me, because I use this approach as well. I had an euphoric ‘yes, exactly, that is what I do’ moment. But I think even if you are a plotter, this book has merit.

King also talks about getting published, but because the industry has changed so much, it looks more like a history lesson. I am sure though that the core principles he mentions still hold true.

The part that follows is the most personal and heart wrenching. King describes in detail the car accident that almost killed him in 1999. He tells you how precariously close he came to dying and how much pain he had to handle during his recovery. Why does he mention all this? Because writing this book helped him with the recovery and with keeping on.
The book ends with two hands-on parts. The first is a demonstration on editing. Here we get to see the first few pages of a later published story in its very first draft version and then in the first edited version. King explains exactly why things got cut, rewritten, or left standing. He lets us look behind the curtain, so to speak and I admire his courage to do so. The last part is a book list of books he liked.

I understand that this book is not very streamlined with a beginning, middle and end. You can read parts of it and skip others. It doesn’t have that textbook ‘how to’ character. But I like it, because it feels personal. It feels like there is a writer there, who cares a great deal about his craft and about his fellow human beings and therefore shares what he has come to know.

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On reading

I have been in a book club for a few months now and I find the experience very beneficial.

So far of the books we read, I really liked two, I really disliked two and I mostly liked another. One of the two I deeply liked was the book that I suggested, so that might not really count. So what is so good about reading with a book club?

First, I read books that I would normally never pick up. I have my favorite niches and genres and I like to find my books there. I mostly read science fiction, fantasy, and young adult books. I rarely venture into other isles. There is of course the occasional historical fiction and literary fiction book, but I dare you to find me in the romance or mystery section.

Now, with the book club, I read what the other members suggest. And that might be very far away from what I would have picked. So this is broadening my horizon quite a bit. At least one of the books I would have never picked ended up on my favorite list. And guess what? It came from the mystery section.

Also I get to introduce my friends to genres they probably would not pick. I am getting them to read young adult and I turned one of them into a fan of that category already.

Another perk is, that I have to think about those books. I have to be able to articulate why I did or did not like them. I have to sort through my reactions and figure out if the topic of the book captured my attention, if the writing style was working for me and if I would read anything from this particular author ever again. I am learning and I like it.

A positive side effect is, that this helps me in my work. I get to know what works and doesn’t work for me in reading. I can use this information in my writing.

Then there is the whole scheduling aspect. We are going out and meet to discuss a book. We make the book, and by that books in general, the center of our attention. And for someone who likes books as much as I do, that is deeply satisfying.

Lastly, sharing your thoughts about a book is a social aspect that I usually don’t get so much. Reading is usually a solitary activity. I read a lot and think about what I’ve read, but because nobody else in the house has read the book, I usually don’t talk about them. There are exceptions, of course, but talking about a book is not a regular thing. With the book club I know that there is someone else out there too, reading the book and that we will talk about it later.

So yes, I consider reading within a book club time well spent.

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Going nuclear

The continued outpouring of radiation from the Fukushima power plant makes me very nervous. Radiation has been pouring into the ocean for two years now and continues to do so. The first wave of radiation will float all the way to the US coast by next year. In the meantime it has changed all life in the Pacific ocean forever.
I know that forever is a rather big time unit, but the half life times of radioactive materials are in the tens of thousands of years, so measured by the average human lifetime it is pretty accurate.
Radiation will burn organisms on a cellular level. Radiation gets into everything and everybody. It will turn your cells into crazy cancer machines, and it will kill you. And it will not go away. What is happening in Fukushima is changing the world as we know it.
And guess what? Nobody talks about it.
There are blips about it on the news every now and then, yes. But there is no public outcry. There is no scientific enlightenment campaign to tell people about certain risks or facts.
We hav learned that the company lied about the initial contamination and that the actual contamination is much worse than previously said. We nod to that, because we have become used to companies doing this after environmental disasters.
We had some hero stories of workers going in and shutting down parts of the plant and facing deathly radiation levels while doing so. We did not get any follow up on those.
I remember Tschernobyl. After the accident it was on the news for months. Fukushima? Not so much.
Could we please have an informed debate about this? I have many questions. For example, is it still somehow safe to swim in the pacific next year, or is this going to be a deadly radioactive bath? Do we need Geiger counters when we eat fish from now on? Would it make sense to give little kids iodine to protect their thyroids? How does the amount of radioactive contamination compare with the ones of Tschernobyl or the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? How much of a real threat is this and where does the hype begin?
I think it is important to remember that this is a human problem. It is not an environmental problem. It affects us. If we don’t have food anymore and if we don’t have clean water anymore, we will become extinct. I would rather have that not happen for a long, long time. Earth will adapt to going nuclear. It has done so before.
Or like George Carlin said: “Don’t worry, the planet’s fine.”

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The social in social media

I keep hearing from people who do not get the social in social media.

Statements like: “I do not need to advertise every little tidbit of my life”, or “This is only for self-absorbed folks”, tell me that the person in question does not understand twitter or facebook or tumblr.

Social media are used by many to advertise and get the word out and yes, there are some self-absorbed people on it, but I bet the majority of people just want to be connected.

Most people I know are the type who are on social media because they are genuinely interest in the lives of their friends who live too far away to visit.

People who use twitter nowadays used to be the people who first got phones in their houses when those became available.

They are the people who used to write letters and kept writing letters and waited by the mailbox for responses.

They are the ones who remember birthdays and details and the lyrics to the song that everybody sang that summer.

People who use social media want to communicate. They want to take part in the world. And sometimes they are able to help others who are thousands of miles away to make it through the night.

I do not see anything self-absorbed in this.

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