Things are going well for Icarus Down. As Erin notes, the story has passed Sorrow’s Knot in the race. We now have to set down what the finish line for the race is. We’ve tentatively settled on 50,000 words. So, to see if ornithopters really will beat zombies, stay tuned.
I am feeling good about where I am, now. The story does feel like it’s coming together, although there is still a lot of questions to be answered. This is the period of great discovery, when the story takes shape in your hands, and you really feel the power of creation. It is my favourite period of writing a book.
Erin’s Sorrow’s Knot is also going well, although the pace has slowed down because Erin has reached a particularly intense part of the plot. She knows where the story has to go, and she knows she’s writing good stuff, but for her it’s still particularly difficult in doing such intense things to her characters. This period will be difficult for her and may require a lot of fretting. But I know she’ll get over it and the result will be magic.
I, on the other hand, seem to have less trouble in killing off my characters. Case in point, consider the scene below. This takes place early in the storyline while Simon is recovering from his extensive burns (suffered here). As the morphine kicks in, he retreats into his memories and we learn more about his life, growing up in the spider web cities of the canyons. Read on…
“Simon? Are you with us? Wakey-wakey!”
I surfaced from dreams of blindness and pain, and blinked up at a mottled white ceiling. I gasped, surprised to find myself breathing. How did I get here? The last thing I remembered was the snapping of my parachute cords, and the screaming pain of my blackening skin. Or, perhaps it was just me screaming.
My skin! My body! My— I yanked my arm from beneath the covers. Big mistake.
Pain surged through me. My vision swam. I was dimly aware of someone taking my bandaged arm and holding it there while I thrashed. A woman’s voice said calming words I didn’t really hear. With a free hand, she turned a dial next to a sac and a tube hanging beside my bed. And my thoughts turned… murky. The pain went away. I didn’t see it go.
The person let go of my arm and looked down at me. I saw a white tunic, a sympathetic face, and dark hair caught in a hairnet underneath a white cap. On the white cap was a pale blue cross. The thin black band on her sleeve jumped out like an exclamation point.
Rachel, I thought. Rachel was taking care of me.
Of course she would.
Darkness took me. I burrowed into my memories. I burrowed deep.
I remembered school. I remembered kneeling on the carpet with my friends while the teacher read a book. I remembered the grey light from the window glinted off the plastic pages.
I remembered Rachel snatching the toy ornithopter from my hands.
“Hey, give it back!” I ran after her as she dodged between the play equipment, holding it out and making buzzing noises before yanking it away as I swiped for it. Giggling, she dodged away, but I had her cornered.
Then she ducked behind Isaac.
I skidded to a halt in front of him. He stood, arms folded across his chest, smiling at me. I did not like the way he smiled.
Then he lunged forward. “Boo!” he shouted. And I fell over.
Isaac laughed. So did other children around him. Rachel didn’t.
“Rachel! Simon! Isaac!” our teacher barked. We looked up from our struggle. “Come back to the circle and sit down. Now.”
We slunk back and joined our classmates. The teacher opened the plastic book to the first page. “Now, children. Let us tell the story of Iapyx and Icarus Down.”
We gathered around the teacher’s feet, eager. Already, we knew this story by rote.
The teacher straightened up in her seat, and smoothed down the paper spread as she held it up to us. Then she took a deep breath. “Speak of the planet we left behind,” she said, her voice solemn.
“Mother Earth. Blue marble. Yellow sun,” we replied, in a unified chant. “Crowded. Polluted. Depleted. We had to go away.” The page spread showed a blue ball suspended in black, tall grey buildings, and people upon people, rubbing shoulders.
“Speak of the ship that bore us away,” said the teacher. The page showed a great ship in the vacuum of space, segmented like the bones of a fish. We saw the bridge leading the way, thirteen gigantic pods strung along its spine, and the gigantic engines at the rear.
“The Icarus,” we intoned. “The great ship, bearing our thirteen cities to our new home.”
“Speak of the time that it took,” said the teacher.
“Years we travelled, and many years more, jumping from system to system. Child learning from parent and grandchild from child.”
“Speak of where we were going,” said the teacher.
“To the farthest reaches of space. Towards the brightest star in the heavens.”
“Speak of the work of those who went before us.”
“The way was prepared. The planet was ready. We only had to land.”
“Speak of the accident,” said the teacher.
We lowered our heads, all as practised. “We appeared too close to the sun. The Icarus burned. The thirteen cities escaped, and landed, while the great ship crashed and vanished into fog.”
“Speak of the first days,” said the teacher.
“We set out our cities,” we replied. “We explored our surroundings. We started to grow our crops.”
“Speak of the monsters,” said the teacher.
“They attacked in the fog. We drove them off, but we could not see them. So we raised our cities out of the fog forest and into the twilight.”
“Speak of the now,” said the teacher.
“And so we’ve lived, between fog and fire, between darkness and light. Suspended in our great metal webs.”
“And so we will live…?” the teacher prompted.
“For tomorrow,” we finished.
Smiling, the teacher closed the book. We all sat back, and looked eagerly at the classroom door. It was time for some of us to go. The teacher looked up at us and scowled. “Simon! Stop pulling Rachel’s hair! Rachel! No hitting Simon! Isaac! No hitting Simon either!”
She stood up and came over, but we’d managed to extricate ourselves from each other by then. And, fortunately, the classroom door opened, and there were our parents, waiting for us. I ran into my mother’s arms and she wrapped me in a warm hug. Then she held me out to look at me. “Little Simon!” she said, beaming.
I endured the chuckle of Isaac, behind me.
“Let’s go see Daddy,” said Mom. “Let’s have lunch.”
I took her hand as we walked through the corridors and out of the vocational school, into the city. We waited in the line-up for the elevators, finally getting aboard after several arrivals. I laughed as I felt my stomach lurch when we descended, and lurched again when the elevator stopped descending and shifted sideways. Through the windows, I caught glimpses of the city as it shot past: the flash of welders in the factories, people working in offices, people enjoying the greenery in the Great Hall. Finally, we reached our destination, and the doors opened.
We stepped out onto a viewing gallery at the very end of Iapyx. Here, the city narrowed to a point, while all around us, a spider’s web of cables stretched on to the cliff face. The great canopy above bent down over us like a descending blanket. I pressed my face to the glass.
The cable splines stretched out before me. It was a view I’d been familiar with almost from birth, but my young mind, newly awoken to the glories of shapes, picked patterns out of the criss-crossing struts. There was a diamond. There, a triangle. And a square. Beyond, the ornithopters buzzed in from Daedalon and Octavia, bringing more supplies.
Mom knelt down beside me and pointed past my shoulder. “Can you see Daddy?”
I stared out at the workers, crawling and clawing their way along the net of wires that tied our city to the anchor. Suspended over a sea of white, it was as though they were clinging to the only real thing in the world. I remember thinking, one only had to let go, and they’d experience weightlessness.
I looked back at Mom. She smiled at me and pointed out the window again. Then her face changed. Her eyes widened.
I looked out the window and saw a flurry of activity along the splines. Workers were running, crawling, or clawing their way towards someone, who dangled awkwardly from the cable. That… that couldn’t be Dad… could it?
“No,” Mom breathed.
The workers clambered closer.
“It’s okay, Mommy,” I’d said. “If he falls, the clouds will catch him.”
Then my father parted company with the cable, like a pear dropping from a tree. Against the white backdrop, it looked like he was floating, twisting in midair.
The clouds caught him. They didn’t give him back.
My Mom screamed. And screamed.
Yes, Simon is an orphan. Erin once wondered, why is it young adult and middle grade literature feature so many stories with parents who are either dead, or constantly away, or terminally inept. And the answer she came up with was that, otherwise, they’d get in the way. And why wouldn’t they, really? As she notes, she’d get in the way of a speeding train if our daughters were on the tracks. That’s true of most parents, I think. And while that’s good for parents, it’s not good for the story, because if parents get involved on behalf of their kids, quickly the story becomes less about the kids and more about the parents.
I’m pleased with how I was able to incorporate Aurora’s parents into The Dream King’s Daughter. Dawn has an actual story arc that contributes to Aurora’s tale without obscuring it. But for my other stories, I’ve always struggled a little figuring out where and how to set the parents aside. Here, I drop Simon’s father off a cable.