On Catfights and Cliches

I could have chosen to write this post a couple of different ways. I could have framed it as a feminist criticism of a certain tired trope, and drawn on my own writing as an example. In fact, that’s what I intended to do when I came up with the idea for this post.

But I just finished a week of non-stop, intense academic work, and then I went to the Dean’s Christmas party and broke the cardinal rule not to eat English pizza because I’d had too much wine and not enough sleep, and then I sat on a plane for eight hours, came home, and fell on my face.

I’m tired.

So instead I’m just going to talk a little bit about two of my characters, and why I made some of the choices I did in writing them and their relationship. Continue reading

Friday Flashfic: The Contest

While working on the WiP, I had my protagonist, Kel, say something of a throwaway line: “I can make anything into a competition”. But then I got to thinking about how it might actually be true…so here’s a little backstory episode from Kel’s youth (I imagine her to be around 12 or 13 here).

Kelisin slowed the movements of her needle and glanced up under her lashes. The library had fallen into silence, but it was not the companionable silence of siblings passing the cold winter hours indoors together. It was instead the sullen silence of four children forced into activities they loathed.

Mother and Father were both away, visiting one of the coastal towns, which had been devastated by a bad storm. Considering that it was past  Longnight and well into the coldest weeks of winter, most of the courtiers had gone home to be snowed in with their families.

That left Kel and her siblings in the care of –joy of joys — the lady Ainsley. Who had some unfortunate ideas regarding the appropriate occupation of one’s time. So Kel was embroidering, Athan and Leslin were reading, and Petar was doing sums set by his tutor. The lady Ainsley herself was writing letters. And as she was a firm believer in “quiet reflection”, none of them were allowed to speak. The only sound was the scratching of pens.

As Kel stared, Petar looked up from his parchment, meeting her gaze. Slowly, his eyes drifted toward each other, until they crossed entirely. Kel snorted, trying to hold back a laugh.

“Children,” said Ainsley warningly. Continue reading

Friday Fiction: Beautiful and Intelligent

Another excerpt from the WiP. Kel has been invited to tour the barracks and review the troops with Iasor, the Valloran King. Teoden, Kel’s sort-of-fiance and Iasor’s nephew, is also present.

They were lined up in rows upon rows, soldiers shining in mail and plate over rich red tunics. First a company with swords, behind them one with pikes, behind them a group of archers. At the very back sat cavalry upon fine horses, which pawed the ground impatiently.

“This is the current company of the palace guard,” Iasor said, a wry amusement suffusing his words. Kel continued to stare. “There is also the guard of the city, and some few miles along the river is the station-post for the central division of the Valloran army.”

So many. The Valloran palace guard was twice the size or more of its Tamorlan equivalent. And this was only a portion of Iasor’s army.

Valloras might have stood a chance, alone against the rebels. A large and well-equipped army, acres of farmland, and fairly sheltered borders. What it lacked was access to trade routes, especially as the rest of the peninsula fell to the anarchists, and that Tamor could have given it.

Kelisin followed Iasor to the viewing platform, and watched numbly as his soldiers paraded past, performing complex marching maneuvers and presenting arms. It was a deliberate show of power. Iasor was saying to her I have what you want. Which meant…

“Enough,” she said quietly.

Teoden, on Iasor’s other side, turned at the sound of her voice. So did Iasor. “Did you say something, cousin?”

“I said, enough.” Teoden was making frantic shushing motions in her line of sight but she ignored him. “Obviously you wish to impress upon me your military might.”

Iasor stroked his short beard. “To what end?”

“You wish to show me how you have the very thing I need, the thing I have been asking you for this past week.”

“Beautiful and intelligent. You’ll want to be careful with this one, nephew. Very well, Kelisin. I have shown you what I have, and what you want. And now?”

Kel turned to look over the still-marching soldiers. I’m coming, Bria. “And now we will discuss what it is that you want.”

Iasor clapped a hand on her shoulder, and she staggered a little under the force of his hand. “Ah, cousin,” he said warmly, “I thought you’d never ask.”

Friday Fiction: Checkmate

This week, an excerpt from the princess novel – a lighter-hearted interlude toward the beginning of Act II.

Kelisin frowned, moving her rook forward two squares to take Tavaril’s bishop. “You’re a terrible chess player.”

She had found the set in a drawer in her borrowed bedroom. It was plain, though made of fine materials. Since then Kel had taken every opportunity to play with Tavaril or Teoden; when neither was available she played herself.

“I have other talents,” said Tavaril. “Yours, apparently, is being humble.”

“Oh, most certainly. I’m much greater than I think I am.”

Tav’s delighted laugh bubbled forth, and Kel felt her mouth creeping up into a smile. It was hard to be anything but happy around Tavaril, who – despite growing up in the Valloran court, immersed in its ridiculous mind games – regarded everything with equanimous pleasure.

“It’s good to see you smile like that — Oh, now I’ve done it.” Kelisin felt the small smile slip from her face. Tavaril leaned forward, catching hold of Kelisin’s arm. “It’s all right to be happy.”

Kel shook her head. “I know. It’s just…never mind. Let’s keep going.” She lifted an eyebrow. “You’re afraid to lose again.”

Again? Excuse me, but we weren’t all raised from birth to fight complex intellectual battles with pieces of marble.” Tavaril tossed her head. The beads at the ends of her braids clicked together. The sound drew attention – when she tried that gesture in front of the young men of the court, it never failed to turn heads.

“I’m not some young lad you can distract with a hair flip and a pretty pout,” Kelisin warned. She waved her hand over the board. “Make your move.” Continue reading