a year in stories::twenty four

As I already announced where it needs to be announced, my fifth novel, To Live will be published by Perfect Edge Books. I’ll talk more about that on another day, I think. Maybe this weekend. I’ll make a proper post about it, the way I did with Noir: A Love Story.

Today’s story is actually a true story, which is pretty unusual for me. It probably didn’t happen exactly like this, but it did happen, and not very long ago. There are crimes committed on our southern border that are unconscionable and they’re happening more and more frequently after having never been a problem before.

A River


He was born past the edge of an empire, on the otherside of the river. For all his life, people told him of opportunity just a river away. How, if only he had been born on that side, he would have been wealthy, beautiful, with all the world open to him. He had seen uncles and aunts cross that divide, the mothers and fathers of friends, their elder siblings, even entire families disappear across the river.

He dreamt of their happiness. How J– was probably an actor or singer now, on the cusp of celebrity. How even a janitor across the river can be a millionaire.

For long days he stared across the river. Soldiers patrolled, but not many, and not often. They carried guns but never shot them, never even aimed them.

As he grew he began to understand the dusty land of his home was not so bad. That there were opportunities and lives even here, beyond the empire. He stopped staring across the river and when his friends told him how they’d escape there, to the empire, to be rich and famous and successful, he just shook his head and told them the only difference between here and there is the direction we look to see the river. They laughed at him, reminded him of how he sat all day watching, calculating how he could make it across, slip past the empire’s guards, become a part of the empire.

It was the television that changed his mind, that told him his people were hated there, in the empire. He was foreign, illegal. The questions came then: why do we dream of sneaking across? why don’t we do it safe and legal? why is life like that up there but like this down here?

The answers came and he hardened, only fifteen years old. His dreams changed and he turned from north to south. He saw the problems of empire and beyond and he became determined. Determined to change his land, his people.

The more he learnt of his land, of the corruption, the greed, the poverty, the obesity, the less he blamed the empire or even those who led his country. He stopped blaming anyone or anything.

His studies became serious. Day and night he studied and began to excel at school, never reaching top of his class but by the following year his future took on shine and that shine spread over everyone around him.

He solved problems. It became his only goal. The uselessness of blame, he would say, is that it is stagnant. We need to forgive and move on and create the land we want. The world we want.

There was a classmate who he had loved long but never spoken to until he saw her alone by the river staring as he once had. Sitting beside her, he asked her what she thought of the empire. The girl said the usual things, that there was hope and opportunity there. He nodded and asked if she wanted to go there. She laughed. The sound crossing the river, blooming into the air, and she said, No, never.

It was then that he fell in love with her.

The girl had lost an aunt and a brother to the empire and all they got back was money. Not much money but enough for her to perhaps one day escape the border, go to university in the capitol or somewhere else. He asked if she would go to the empire for education and she said she would maybe go further south, to places where the empire’s shadow fell less cruel.

It became habit. They met in the evening to stare across the river and imagine the ways they would never go there. They talked about lands across the oceans, of different empires and what it meant to be an empire. What it meant to be a subject or colony or former of either to an empire. They talked about the color of skin, the power of language, and, after weeks of this, their talk turned to love.

It was not until the week before he turned seventeen that he said those words to her and she said them back, through heaving gasps in the back of his father’s truck under a dry hot sky.

Smiling, she in his arms, he talked about their future. No longer individual futures branching away, but one single path for both of them to walk, hand in hand and steps in sync. He talked so long she fell asleep in his arms, pressed against him, and as he grew harder, he licked the back of her neck, the sweat cold there. She moved, felt him pressed against her back, and turned to meet him. She said those words again, the ones he needed and before he took her home to sneak back into her mother’s house, he had loved her again, and then one last time.

He walked alone the next morning along the river’s edge, throwing rocks into its current, not even bothering to look at the empire when two great claps burst over the water followed by two more. When he collapsed, bleeding and lifeless, the rocks dropped from his hands and the last sound he heard was the laughter of those from beyond the river.

When we discovered my son there was rage and fear and sorrow so immense my wife tried to drown herself in that river. We organised, though. We did what he taught us to do, my son. Angry and burdened by sorrow, we sued the empire and the men who shot my son. Imperial Agents ending the life of a boy, and for what? Amusement? Practice?

We still don’t know. We were thrown away and ignored because, though the crime began within the empire, it ended here, past the river, and so the empire washed its hands of us. Of my son.

All because he was born on one side of this river and not the other.

Inspiration found here and here.

the next big thing

So several people have tagged me in this sort of thing and I’m meant to do it [meant to do it yesterday/a week ago yesterday] as it seems everyone’s doing it. Just about everyone I know has already done this so I won’t be tagging anyone else. Anyrate: selfinterview!

1) What is the working title of your next book?

To Live

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea came from a thousand different ideas falling into the same idea. I’ve been planning, in a sense, a new world for most of my life. It’s going to be the setting for several novel[la]s and sort of what all of this is for, all the writing: to one day be good enough to create a new world, new lives. And so everything and everyone has fallen into it, from way back when I wanted to be a cartoonist or a videogame designer [when I was, like, ten to fourteen] all the way up to now. It’s built on a mythology that all my other books, the ones that take place in the real or realer world follow.

But, anyway, it was meant to be a quick 20,000 words about a man who accidentally becomes a demon and the little girl who follows him through the world while a war occurs offscreen while an ascetic castrated monk follows them. It ballooned well past 20,000 up nearer to 100,000 words and I think I managed to capture everything I meant to do, even if it took me five times as long to do it.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy. It’s sort of an inverted epic fantasy taking place in a steampunk world. There are dragons and gods and angels and demons and species between human and animal and airships and metallic men and wizards and people of various races and cultures and technologies. It’s about imperialism and war and Death and dying and living and what it means to be human–especially that. To be human.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

There are essentially three characters that the novel follows and one of them begins at infancy and goes well into old age so I’ll just stick to them.

Sao, who the novel circles around though I wouldn’t really say the novel’s about him. He’s the core in a lot of ways. Anyway, hard to say exactly who should play him. He’d have to be an asian actor and I suppose he’d have to be played by a few actors as we begin at his infancy and move into adulthood. I’d prefer the actors to be Japanese because that’s what his culture is modelled after, so maybe Joe Odagiri as an adult. As a child I would’ve said Yuya Yagira but he’s an adult now, too, so maybe he could play Sao as an adult.

Aya would be played by a few actresses starting in childhood and moving to adolescence and then old age. As a child I’d pick Quvenzhane Wallis and as an old woman I’d choose Toni Morrison and just pretend she’s an actress.

My nameless monk could be played by just about anyone because he needs to be somewhat androgynous, hairless, and pure looking because he never says a single word until. Maybe Cillian Murphy fifteen years ago. I’d have to find some unknown, probably. Maybe that little kid from The Road.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In a world where gods still live and dream, To Live is a story about language and love, mythology and morality, and what it means to be human as it follows three people’s journey through a world torn apart by war.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Those aren’t really the same things, but it won’t be selfpublished, though I’ve no idea who’ll publish it, though. Hopefully someone cool and somewhere I can be proud.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Two weeks.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Hm, in a sense you could think of it as George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire told only from perspectives of those without power. Imagine one of those novels narrated by a kitchen maid or a farmer or a vagabond and you’d sort of get a feeling of it. It’s a bit more contemplative, maybe a bit in the vein of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun or Samuel R Delany’s Neveryon. It’s concerned more with simply what happens on the page or even what’s expressed by the characters. It’s a novel about the disenfranchised, I suppose.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My whole life. Everything has been leading to me finally diving into this world, as I said above. This is the first novel there, but I’ve several short stories and a novella that also take place there with many more novel[la]s and stories to follow. It’s a world and now we live in it and though the stories aren’t explicitly connected, they all happen across the same globe, in different countries and continents and time periods. It’s been inspired by everything I’ve ever read and watched and listened to. Every videogame I ever played, every novel I’ve fallen in love with, every song I couldn’t get out of my head, every time the world seemed like too much, every time I feared I was too dissimilar, too foreign, too everything I wasn’t meant to be. It’s my whole life and it’s To Live.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Dragons fly, gods die, new ones are born, war everywhere, love here and there, sprinkles of happiness in a world where little goes right. It’s a novel about hope, and, because of that, it’s tragic, but hopefully beautiful. It’s the most realised thing I’ve written. It’s what I’m most proud of and it means the world to me. I typed through tears, through nausea, through pain, all selfinduced. I love every word in it and I’m afraid of every space between them.

To me, it’s perfect and I hope one day you’ll see it.