Exposition Smasher

I wrote this as an exercise in breaking up an exposition lump. The lesson itself is from Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin, which features the most rewarding studies and technical workouts I’ve ever tried in a book on writing. In this one, Le Guin gives you several paragraphs of summary and your job is to relay as much of that info as possible in a scene without clogging it up. I’m not going to post the original chunk of exposition (go buy the book, it’s pretty great!) but here’s what I came up with.

***

Footsteps echoed through the stairwell as Khale reached the door at the top of the tower. The door was a sturdy, wooden, iron-fastened thing; quite old-fashioned. The soldier reached for the ring of keys dangling from his belt, then paused. It was always him doing Jussa’s dirty work. The Minister wouldn’t go anywhere near this tower if he could avoid it.

‘Queen’s Guardian’, my arse, thought Khale as he fit the key into the lock and pushed the door open.

Afternoon sunbeams poured through an open window, a cool breeze whistling through. It was a cozy room, outfitted with an array of shelves that sagged with the weight of books and a writing desk loaded with stationary and pens. A white rug from Umbrioch stretched across the floor. A fine leather chair sat upon it, a relic from a wealthier era. Camped in the chair was another of these relics: Dialpha, Queen of Harath. She peered over the top of the book she was reading. “Sir Khale,” she said, unsmiling, “so kind of you to grace my study.”

Once, Dialpha had been the image of innocence and beauty in the kingdom, even after King Pell had disappeared in the first war against Ennedi. Now she was a figurehead without a husband to rule and a decade civil war had eaten away at her youth and carved lines in her features. She was a husk, a shadow of the woman she had been

“There are rumors, My lady. Rebels in the palace,” Khale said, not one to stand on ceremony nor small talk. “I’ve been assigned as your full-time warden until Minister Jussa believes you are safe.”

The queen’s expression didn’t change. She slapped the book closed. Dust flew, sparkling in the sunlight. “A warden? How kind of Minister Jussa to think of me in these troubled times.”

“You safety is paramount, my lady.”

Dialpha rose from the chair and went to the shelves, replacing the volume and idly poking through several more, running her fingers across their spines, tilting one here or there to peek at the cover. Khale stepped into the study, gaze flickering back and forth. Locked up in the tower, the queen fended largely for herself aside from her meals and she kept no handmaidens. Not that Jussa could afford them, anyway. Khale had never heard a word of complaint from her. She was probably happy enough to be alive at all. Or, the warden mused, she had given up all hope of freedom and was already dead inside. Save for the furniture and the two of them, the study was empty. Khale went to the window, one hand resting on his dagger hilt. You could never be too careful these days.

The south side of Harath stretched out beyond the horizon. First, the white palace walls, then thatched roofs of the city houses, then the walls of the city, and specks of forest and rolling fields beyond all that. In the city below, people busied themselves on the streets, shoving aside the beggars and the sick and the grievously wounded who seemed to grow in number with each passing day. It was hardly the city Khale recalled from his youth. He could catch the rank stench of the streets, even all the way up in the tower.

The warden turned his attention to the tower itself, running his gaze and his fingers across the wind-worn bricks and discolored stones beneath the window. Khale frowned. There were scrapes and scuffs and even ragged holes in the stones beneath the window. The wall had felt the bite of metal.

“Are you to stay by my side at all hours, sir Khale?” Dialpha asked. Book shuffled.

Khale still stared at the damaged wall. “Until the rebel threat is quelled, my lady,” he said.

“Ah. I’ve come to enjoy my privacy, you know.”

“Who has been here?”

A pause. “Pardon?”

Khale whirled to face her. The queen had frozen, hand lost within the shelf. “Someone has been climbing the outer wall. Who was it?”

Dialpha drew her right hand from the shelves. It held a dagger. She launched herself at her warden. For such a frail woman, she was quick. Her attack dragged across him, laying open his tunic and carving a line of blood into his flank. Khale grabbed her arm and grappled until the dagger clanged to the floor. Pain exploded across his side and his ears rang from her screaming.

A shadow blotted away the sun. Something crashed against Khale’s skull and he hit the floor in a daze. A few throbbing instants stretched into what felt like years and the world tumbled in his vision. He staggered to his feet. The queen was gone.

“Tits of the nine,” Khale swore, stumbling to the window. Nothing below. But, above… Khale craned his head in time to see a dark shape climb onto the roof. He heard sounds above. Footsteps. A deep squawk Four palace guards burst into the study, wielding short, stabbing spears. They gaped at the injured Khale, the bloodied rug and the distinct lack of Queen in the room. “The roof, the roof,” Khale said, clutching his wound.

The brightest of the guards pointed to a trap door in the ceiling, and they dragged the writing desk underneath it. Khale pushed them aside, climbed up and unlatched the door. Blue skies streaked with white met him on the other side. Grunting with effort and pain, the warden hoisted himself onto the roof. Wind whipped at his face. He was just in time to watch a trio of black, winged shapes gliding toward the mountains. The queen’s red train of hair floated from her perch atop the central flier.

Khale’s stomach folded. Queen Dialpha was heading east, towards Ennedi.

***

How did I do? Furthermore, if this were a scene in a novel, would you want to read further?

 

 

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Greece is the Word

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Last week I got my tickets for the Up The Hammers festival, taking place in Athens in March 2015. I know it’s ten months away, but HOLY SHIT GREECE, people. Fuckin’ GREECE, like are you even kidding me? Every time I look at my ticket, shining and silver, I get a little higgly-piggly-wiggly feeling. You know, down there. Greece has been a bucket list destination ever since I saw Disney’s Hercules as a little gaffer. A land of ancient heroes, larger-than-life monsters and vast temples? The country was practically made for me. I’m gonna be back in University when the trip happens so I’ll probably have to keep it simple, two weeks or less. Whatever. One full week of nerding out in the Agora and the Acropolis, book-ended by two weekends of Heavy Metal bliss. For a geek like me, it don’t get any better.

Thus far, my top attractions of Greece are looking something like this:

– Delphi + Temple of Apollo

– The Temple of Hephaestus

– Gorging myself on slow-roasted lamb smothered in tzatziki

– Getting hammered in taverns that are older than my country

– Seeing Atlantean Kodex, Doomsword, Manilla Road, Omen and many more!

– Island-hopping with my European mates

If anyone’s got some travel tips for a mild mythology+history buff in regards to the city of Athens and surrounding areas, I’d love to get in on them. Please. Teach me your ways.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Tygers of Pan Tang

You think you know how to rock? You don’t. You think you know how to roll? Get bent.

Sit down and strap in, ’cause John Sykes [Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake] wants to give you a lesson in riffcraft. This is NWOBHM from the glorious early 80’s when “Heavy Metal” was barely a squabbling toddler raised by an abusive Ritchie Blackmore and “Hard Rock” was something more substantial than an empty Black Sabbath shirt and an Orange amp.

Everything about this album rules. Extra Penbanger points for horizontal-striped blue/white t-shirts, burning solos, hip-swangin’ vocals and some serious wink-wink-nudge-nudge action to Michael Moorcock.

“If you mess around with fi-yah, you’re gonna getcherself burned”

I Remember Ragnarok

I turn the corner at Falconer Street and crash into someone running full-tilt the opposite direction. My elbows scream in pain as they rake the ice. I roll to my knees, cussing and grunting. Mist seeps from a nearby storm drain. It’s one of those nights where the city lights reflect off the flying snow and the clouds, nearly as bright as day.

The dude who ran into me is still standing. A bear of a man; bearded, broad, leather-clad. “Tyr! There you are,” he rumbles, swooping down and effortlessly hauling me to my feet with one arm. His other arm is carrying a sword. Shining. Sharp.

“Whoa, whoa!” I say, backing away.

He opens his mouth to speak, then stops when we hear the pad of many feet, coming fast. The big guy runs in the direction I came from, shouting at me to follow, and I do. My arms burn from my fall. A pair of howls rip through the snow and dance in the wind, deeper and more bloodthirsty than one I’d heard in any movie.

“Don’t look back,” the man says.

We duck around and into the alley behind Penny’s Pawnbrokers. The older guy whirls around. He’s got a gaping shadow where one of his eyes should be. His half-gaze lingers on my hands. “Your sword, Tyr?”

“Er–”

“Nevermind. We hold our ground,” He says,  shoving a long dagger hilt-first into my hand. “You take Garmr, Fenrir is mine. The others shall be here soon. What I wouldn’t give for a sturdy oaken shield on my other hand, eh?” His good eye lights madly beneath his brow.

“Listen man, I don’t know what–” I stop talking because a pair of shadows block out the streetlight glow. Blue-black fur, matted. Slavering jaws. Teeth.

Fenrir is mine,” the one-eyed old man repeats before closing the gap between himself and the wolves in a wild leap. His broadsword cuts through the falling flakes. I run before the blow lands. I hear the thud of steel against hide and flesh, the snarl and snap of battle. They die away behind me until the only noise is the crunch of snow beneath my feet. I know how that story ends.

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Tuesday Reads

tuesdaygrass-southamerica

I like to have one non-fiction and one fiction book going at any given time. I’m about halfway through both of these, as of 8:00am on this rainy morning.
“Days of Grass” is a sci-fi novel documenting the lives of a colony of humans hiding beneath the ground from alien invaders who conquered the Earth nearly 150 years ago. Think what “War of the Worlds” might have been if the aliens didn’t get sick and die like a bunch of wimps shortly after invading. Protagonist is a plucky lass who walks the talk and likes to break the rules.

South American Mythology has been an interesting read thus far. They separate the continent into seven regions based on the distribution of myths. There are a handful of myths that permeate (almost) the entire continent and many of their “heroes” are bungling tricksters who seem to create the Earth by tripping over their own feet and making a great goddamned mess of things. Some of the legends aren’t anything special, but a few have made me laugh or say “holy shit, that’s crazy” out loud. Some of these myths get pretty sexual, more so than your average Greek/Roman/Norse myths.

What are your Tuesday reads?

Music School

Practice Room 3B

Nothing ever sounded right these days. He ran his fingers up and down the neck of his guitar; his Les Paul with the battered red finish and ebony fretboard. It’d been with him since his seventh birthday. A gift from a wealthy uncle.

His buddy Dan once said that you start by ripping other players off until you can’t anymore. You get to that one lick you can’t learn, that one tiny latitude of skill you can’t pinpoint, that one insurmountable wall you can’t climb or demolish. You’ll say “fuck it” and you’ll come up with something new. You invent your own voice from your own limits.

Dan had called it “finding the truth within your lies”, or some bullshit.

Someone – a girl, strummed soupy chords and crooned in the room next door. He could hear her faintly through the walls, a voice like thick smoke. She didn’t sound quite like anyone else. The young man scowled.

How did it happen? Those notes, the arrangement, that sound?

Were they buried inside her all the time?

He put his guitar down and let her playing seep through the walls around him.

What lies did she have to tell before she found her own truth?