I honestly don't know what happened to last week's post. I tried to tell the touching tale of how my dad helped me out when my tire went flat at work, but for some reason the computer didn't want me to. I'm really sorry.
Everyone's heard the expression "TMI," or Too Much Information. It usually has to do with personal information or, at least in my family, bodily functions. But writers have their own version of TMI, and I'm going to call it AUR--Accidental Unwanted Research.
I have the habit of Googling every little question that comes to me while I'm writing, and today, one of those questions was how long hair grows if left uncut. I turned to Wikipedia, which gave me a wonderful history of long hair--along with the unwanted information that, in medieval Ireland, men prized long hair. It was actually a crime to cut a man's hair without his consent.
Interesting, yes. But also disturbing.
In Where the Clouds Catch Fire, I never really give a description of Alynn's father, Rowan. We learn that he has a braided mustache, and that he has a tall and wiry frame, but that's about it. Well, I (of course) have my own mental picture of him, and it certainly didn't include long hair.
Actually, he originally had red hair. Then, I realized that almost every other male in the book has red hair, so I made him blonde with red facial hair (yes, that's a naturally-occurring thing). So I'm already dealing with some cognitive dissonance when I find out that the average Irish guy had hair like Legolas.
I actually turned to Legolas for inspiration, because he manages to make long hair look less stupid. The secret, I suppose, is having it pulled back so it doesn't frame the face. That would also make sense in Rowan's case. He's a smith, so he can't have his hair falling down in his face every five minutes. And maybe adding a close-cropped beard to his mustache would make him look a bit more manly, too.
The only thing is, I can't find a decent picture of a guy with long blonde hair, a red beard, and a braided mustache. I can hardly find pictures of guys with braided mustaches.
Accidental Unwanted Research is both good and bad. It's good because I can now add another element of historical accuracy to my writing. It's bad because I now have to go back and change things. But changing a book is one thing; changing my mind is another. I'm glad I don't give much reference in the book to how Rowan looks. He's not a very major character; it doesn't matter that much anyway. Perhaps it's in everyone's best interest to let them figure out for themselves what Rowan looks like.
And no, he doesn't look like Legolas. Their hair is the only thing they have in common.
Have you ever done any Accidental Unwanted Research? And what's your opinion on guys having long hair? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
It is not until the next day that I meet the deaf and dumb man again. Standing before a leathersmith I find him, trying to trade barley for a belt without the faculties of language. The leathersmith grows impatient with him--no small fault to him--so I barter a deal for him. The mute smiles his thanks.
"Which tribe are you from?" I ask, as if he can hear me. "Your coloring suggests Darsidia." For this mute is a man whose skin tans rather than burns, and I envy him. The day at sea has turned my nose and cheeks into an atrocious red, painful to touch. The Darsidians tend to tan easily; I pray he is not one of them. But the Darsidians have no use for a man without language; he would have been killed long ago by them.
He motions me to follow him, and he leads me to the beach. There, he stoops to write in the sand. He uses strange letters, but I recognize them as the Latin hand.
I cannot read runes, let alone the Latin hand. I shake my head and erase his words; I have no time for guessing games. Rather, I draw my sword. I would duel with him.
Upon my drawn sword the man gazes, and he does not move. "On your feet," I tell him. "Have you not a sword of your own? Have you no knowledge of combat?"
I suppose he does not. He stands, but slowly, and looks poised to run. His eyes are wide, but he takes an axe from his belt. A simple farmer, I remind myself, would have neither the need nor the means to purchase a sword. My own Neckbiter cost me dearly. An axe can fend a sword. I make one swing at him, and he parries awkwardly, as if he is chopping wood. Perhaps a man can be literate or a good swordsman, but not both.
The mute's eyes are wide, and he trembles. "You are afraid, aren't you?" I ask, as if he could respond. I drop Neckbiter and approach him as I would a wild animal. "Your feet ought to be set wider apart, and crouch a bit." I use my foot to nudge his own apart, and I crouch to model the swordsman's stance. A wonderful change comes over him, and I watch closely. His eyes are still wide, but his face does not show fear; it shows relief. He laughs a bit.
I laugh at him. "You thought I was going to kill you, didn't you? I'm not quite that heartless. Now bend your knees a bit, or else you'll lose your balance."
I bend my own knees and motion for him to do the same. He does.
I take my sword again and swipe, slowly, an upward diagonal stroke across his chest. He parries.
Another diagonal stroke is parried. He is like a child, watching my every move, copying me. And just as he watches me, I watch him. I try to guess the exact moment when he will switch from defense to offense, and make a swipe of his own. But he never does. He parries my blows and takes a few knocks, but I am careful to tap him lightly.
When I thump his chest a bit too forcefully with Neckbiter's broad edge, he drops his axe and steps backwards. He has trained enough for one day, anyway. What sort of parents did he have, who neglected to teach him to defend himself?
As we leave the beach, he tears a strip of bark and carves into it with his knife. He hands it to me, smiles, and disappears into the crowd.
It is not until evening that I find a man who is fluent in the Latin hand. He translates the strip of bark for me:
"Thank you for the lessons. Magnus."
I am grateful to set foot again on land when morning comes. The harbor is filled with boats from six different islands, but none are of Diaparn. They are wise to harbor their own boats in Idir's Fjord.
Idir's Fjord is named for Idir the Bold, the chieftain who took the island from Gythia. There was hardly a battle for it, the Gythians being weak-willed in the name of peace and diplomacy. It is easy to find a Gythian in a crowd. They are the short ones, the beardless ones, and the ones whose weapons are frail from disuse. And, as I survey a group of such men who drip with seawater, the ones also who cannot build ships. We unload necessary supplies quickly and leave a guard for what is left. The rest of us hurry quickly to the plain where the Lawspeaker is already speaking.
Today, this first day of Althing, is the day the Lawspeaker recites one-third of Orkney's laws. For three years, our Lawspeaker has been Steingrim Hvitserkson, a man of Diaparn. His voice is strong, and it carries well across the plain, as he speaks of cattle and price regulations. I ignore most of what he says. I am tired from a night of rowing, and I want nothing more than sleep. And so I stand, hidden in the crowd of men, and close my eyes.
A sudden jolt startles me. Has the Lawspeaker finished already? I glance around until I see a man swatting at a bee; he must have bumped into me by accident. I scowl and contemplate scolding him, but he turns and opens his mouth to apologize. From him comes no sound. Instead, he raises a hand and lowers his gaze. Perhaps he does not wish to interrupt the Lawspeaker.
"There's no shame in whispering an apology," I hiss, "especially to Einar Shattersword!"
The man looks up, nods respectfully, and turns back to the Lawspeaker. Is he daft or insolent? My sleeplessness fades into ire. I shall have my satisfaction, just as soon as the Lawspeaker finishes his oration.
Steingrim's voice carries well until the very last word he speaks, when he nods and abandons the stage for Chief Idir the Bold himself to take it. "Welcome to the seventh annual Althing of Orkney!" he announces. He is a powerful man, tall and sturdily built, with a forked beard and a steely gaze; his words seem to be orders rather than greetings. "You are welcome to all Diaparn has to offer you. Bathe in our pools, feast on our food, and entreat our men for the young women you fancy. All but the Haunted River is open to you."
"You've still got a water-draugr?" someone shouts.
"We do," Idir retorts. "If you value your life, you'll keep your distance. But you're welcome to anything else. Now, let the celebration of Althing commence!"
As soon as the crowd begins to dissipate, I grab the insolent man who jostled me. "What is your name?" I demand.
The man stares at me with eyes as wide as a young child's. Finally, he raises a shaking hand, points to his ear, and shakes his head. He then points to his mouth and shakes his head.
"Can you not hear me?" I demand.
He does not respond. What else am I to expect from a man deaf and dumb? I feel stupid and offer my hand. He looks at it for a moment, then shakes it. He has the strong grip of a farmer.
I look at the rest of him. He is thin, clad in dark trousers and a dun-colored tunic. He might be a poor farmer, deaf and dumb, or even a half-wit. But I can see intelligence in his face, even if he has no language to express it in.
If I am to fight, I need to learn the expressions of the face and body. I must be able to read a man's next move before he makes it, simply by reading his face. Who better to teach me than a man who has no other means of communication?
I shall keep an eye on him. He might prove useful to me.
Three things in my life are extremely annoying: canker sores, my little sister, and electronic devices.
I love my computer probably more than is healthy. I use it several hours a day for writing, schoolwork, and occasionally pleasure. I started saving up for my first computer when I was ten years old--not so I could play on it, although I did a bit of that too--but so I could write on it. I didn't want to go through the hassle of writing a book in a notebook then erasing every single word I wanted to change. And if you wanted to add a sentence or a scene in the middle of a page, what did you do?
I didn't get internet access on that first laptop--a purple HP purchased by my late grandmother--until I was twelve or so. Then, I could use it to research. I could look up any useless fact I needed to in a matter of seconds, rather than waiting until the next time Mom took me to the library, then forgetting what I needed to research and ending up with a Boxcar Children mystery instead of an herb book.
That's about where the usefulness of electronic devices ends.
First up, tech wastes time. Sure, they shorten a few tasks--typing is faster than handwriting, and emailing might take less time than a phone call--but having your brain kidnapped by Pinterest can lead to three hours of mindless scrolling through cat memes and How to Train Your Dragon fanart. Three hours that could have been used to clean house, weed the garden, or do pretty much anything else productive. I'm guilty of this, too. Unless you're super-disciplined, it's far too easy to get sucked into the World Wide Web and only come out for snacks.
Screens themselves aren't the greatest for you. I wrote a paper on the use of technology in schools in my junior year of high school. I researched quite a bit and realized that staring at electronics isn't good for peoples' mental or physical health. Besides the obvious eye strain and headaches caused by the excessive use of technology, we also end up with bad posture, weight problems, and trouble sleeping. All of these things can, in turn, cause more problems. One of my sources even said that the mental effects of too much screen time could resemble a mental disorder.
I use an app blocker on my phone called Stay Focused. It limits how much time I can spend on each app and even shuts off certain apps during certain times of the day, meaning I can't watch YouTube or Google anything after 10:30 p.m., when I should be sleeping anyway. Technology is kind of like chocolate cake. It's good in moderation, but too much is more trouble than it's worth.
What's your favorite use of technology? Do you think it's too widely used in modern America? Let me know in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don't forget to like us on Facebook!
Things have changed since I started working at Domino's about six weeks ago. I'm lucky--I've never worked past 11:00, and I have my mornings free to do school. Not everyone who works here is as lucky as I am--some of them work two jobs, and others have families to support. Understanding a few things really helps you appreciate the people you love most in life--that is, the people who make your pizzas. Who doesn't love them?
Give me a battle. Give me a weapon. Give me anything but a ship. But if you give me a ship, let me row until the oar breaks, for I need something to distract me from the waves.
The sea holds power. It hides Jormungund, the Serpent of Midgard. It breaks boats and takes lives, and it churns the stomach of the strongest of men. Even I, Einar Shattersword, am subdued by its power. We have sailed for a day and part of the night, and I have taken nothing but ale. With wet clothes and an empty stomach I ply the oars.
"Give Grettir a turn," says the man behind me.
"We draw near to Diaparn," I said. "Let him sleep until we get there."
"We've an hour yet, Einar. You are slowing."
I pull faster on my oar. "Do you call me weak, Sturla? Take your place at the prow and see if you can spot land."
Like a goat on the mountains, Sturla stands and walks to the prow. A sword fits better in my hands than an oar, and I am more at home on land than at sea. But I will stand by my countrymen and row, for even the best swordsman of Hrafney is nothing if he does not help others.
"The gods grant us favor!" Sturla calls. "A quarter hour to land, brothers!"
If the gods wanted to favor us, they would not have put waves on the water. With tired eyes and slowing arms I row, for I have rowed more than my share. I pray I will be able to fight tomorrow. Much I have practiced since last year's Althing, and I will further seal my name as the name of the greatest swordsman in Orkney.
Sturla wakes Steinbjorn, our chief and the captain of our Longship. He stands at the prow and calls directions. I continue to row, though my shoulders ache and my left hand grows raw. My right is used to holding my sword; only a blade can chafe it.
We do not go ashore tonight; rather, we cast anchor in the harbor and wait for sunrise. It is unwise to enter a man's house at night; how much more a man's island! But Hrafney is allied with Diaparn, and though they are a small tribe, they are strong. It is on Diaparn that the first Althing was performed, and now, seven years later, we meet again.
When the anchor is cast from the ship, I lay with a bundle of clothes as a pillow. My stomach rolls with the ship as waves toss it, but I am weary from rowing. There is a battle between sleep and nausea to determine whether I will spend this night in Valhalla or Niflheim
.My sword Neckbiter is at my side. It is precious to me. In my first battle--a raid on an English town--I broke my sword on a man who wore chainmail under his tunic. It is that day that earned me my name Shattersword, and it was that day I vowed to own the strongest sword in the North. I paid good money for Neckbiter, and it never leaves my side. I have also a spear, and a bearded axe, but spears and axes are not given names. I glance to make sure their metal glitters in the moonlight beside me; no one has stolen them. Good. A slow and certain death will meet he who steals from Einar Shattersword.
Sleep wins my battle; I rest in Valhalla tonight.
--A note for the reader from Lukas McCamden.
There are those who say that spring is the season of new life, and I quite agree with them. But logically, if spring brings life, then autumn (the antithesis of spring) should bring death, and with that I disagree.
I enjoyed autumn as a lad. After a summer of books and rote studies, I was glad to venture to the fields with my father and aid him with the harvest of oats and barley. One of the grandest feelings in the world is to look at a shock of barley, or a sack of oats, and know that you accomplished it jointly with those you love. I have fainter memories of being particularly small--perhaps five or six--and digging for beets during a rainstorm. Whether I found more joy in playing in the mud or unearthing another vegetable I do not know, but I remember our herbalist Brother Nolan scolding me for my untidiness.
Now that I am an old man, the harvest is harder on me than it once was. The sickle grows heavier faster than it did once, and I have learned to make use of shovels to spare my back. And yet I face it with the same joy I did when I was first let loose in them, for harvest means food, and did not Solomon list food as one of the joys of life?
My days in the fields have taught me much, but chief of its lessons are patience and hard work. And indeed, the two go hand in hand. Tilling the soil is hard work, and manuring the fields more difficult still. As the days grow warmer, the new growth must be hoed. All this means work, aye, but patience also. For if I were to lose patience with the fields (as I nearly have many a time), I would dig up the seeds I had planted, and my work would come to naught.
Summer passes. The seeds become plants, and the plants bear their own seeds, but they are green and unripe. And then, as the days begin to grow shorter, and the wind blows brisk even at noon, I take my sickle and shovel. More work, aye, but a work well rewarded.
It is the same in many areas of life. We work hard, and yet unless we add patience to our work, it will come to nothing. Well does Paul tell us in Galatians that we will only reap if we faint not! And when we persevere and receive the reward due to us, it is only fitting that we rejoice and give thanks. And then, as a farmer in winter, we rest, but only until spring. Then, we set our sights on a new task, on a new prize, and we pursue it with vigor and patience.
Now that I have Alynn with me, I will have to plant twice what I am used to. Twice the work, but an infinite reward; I am hard-pressed to find something in this temporal world better than sharing a meal with a kindred spirit. Perhaps, though, I will teach her how to reap a field, so that I will once again look upon a shock of barley, or a bag of wheat, and know that I had the aid of my family in its production.
Today is my first day as a full-time college student. I'm screaming internally.
I'll find a short story for you. But I have to take a moment and sort out my mental bookshelf. And, since Mondays are going to be busy for me for a while, I might start posting short stories on Tuesdays instead of Mondays. I need to see what a typical Monday is going to look like first. Because, since today is the first day of school, nothing is normal.
And please, I only have so many plot ideas inside me. If there's a short story you want to read, let me know, and I'll try to write it for you. At the moment, I'm running low on ideas and will start writing fan fiction if nothing else comes to mind. Not fan fiction of my own work, mind you. It will probably have something to do with How to Train Your Dragon, because I've a college student, and I'm allowed to be in a fandom.
I'm sorry. My brain doesn't want to get back in the swing of things.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.