Clippings

When I submit my draft to Lauren, she gets the big red pen out for any passage that takes too much off the pace. I went through some of my writing from today and decided to make the cut myself.

I’ve been asked a couple of times to post examples of these clippings here. I’m usually reluctant because often I use them later, or they contain spoilers. Every now and then there might be a bit like today’s post which is (almost) pure atmosphere. I’ve kept a little bit of it in Cool Hand. It does have a meaning and a message, but it’s not really a spoiler, so here it is. If it’s popular, I’ll look for others.

Amber’s waiting for Felix to come down from the mountain behind Coykuti Ranch. She’s at the little cemetery behind the ranch house, where Felix’s wives and his son are buried. She’s talking to Martha, Felix’s sister, who wasn’t very talkative last time they met. Martha’s been clipping the hedge…

“Felix said he didn’t know why it’s called the tree of life,” I said, stroking my fingers through the leaves.
“That’s because he’s dumb,” she said. She took a brush and began to work gently on the headstones. I went around the semicircle of the hedge, picking up clippings that had gotten away and waiting for her to continue.
“Candy didn’t want headstones,” she said quietly after a while. “She planted the hedge, made it like it is; a mother’s arms reaching out to comfort. She wanted all the pack’s dead to be buried here, one on top of the other. No markers, because we’re all just pack in the end. And she wanted this tree.”
She sat back on her heels.
“You know, parts of the yew die and rot and feed the rest of it. It lives off itself. It makes itself new from all it has ever been. The pack’s like that. It’s all the things it’s ever done, all its loves and hates, all its desires and fears, all its triumphs and failures.”
I got goosebumps. I finished the circuit of the hedge and put all the bits I’d collected into the bags. Then I went over the Candy’s headstone. Martha had moved to the next, and I traced the fading dates with my fingers, like I’d done the first time I saw them.

“The pack gives and it takes away,” she said. “If it needs you, it feeds you. It needs Felix. He’s strong like an ox. But me? I’m just around, and I been around for a long time. That means I’m getting old for a werewolf.”

“Some just stop changing and die. Some take up dangerous sports until their reflexes let them down. Mostly, we start to listen to the wind and we hear the last call.”
“Come here,” she said and pointed up the hill. “Look over there, beneath the trees. Tell me what you sense.”
“It’s dark.”
“Go on. Feel. Smell. Just say the words as they come to you.”
“The wind from there, it’s colder.” I drank the scents in, rich and sharp. The more I concentrated, the more I could untangle them. “There’s hot dust, cool pine, dry timber, wet earth.”
“More! Smell it. Taste it.” Her fingers were like claws in my arm.
“Earth. It’s slow. It’s cold. It’s full of life. Just…paused.”
“Yes. Cold earth. All still, underneath. It seems to us that life bleeds away into the earth, but that’s nature’s trick. You never die, but you’re gathered up. Like the yew feeds on itself, the pack remembers and you never die.”
“Now, close your eyes, and listen. Listen with your whole heart.”
Silence that had form and movement, nebulous as cloud, came rolling down the hill.
My eukori reached and blended with the Call and stretched and stretched, thinner and thinner.
“Listen!”
Trembling. Something just beyond my reach. Sighing – singing; there were words on the wind. Too soft, too faint to understand.
She shook me and my eyes snapped open.
I was leaning into the hill. I’d forgotten to breathe.
“That’s where I’ll go,” she said. “I’ll follow the song. Next winter or the next or in ten years’ time. Who knows? I’ll go to my wolf and I’ll run and run until I’m so tired I can’t run any more. Then I’ll lay down beneath the open sky and rest. And by and by, I’ll be part of that song.”

 

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About Mark Henwick

I was born in Africa and left out in the sun too often. An early interest in philosophy and psychology was adequately exorcised by tending bars. And while trying to enroll in a class to read Science Fiction full time, I ended up taking an engineering degree which splendidly qualified me to move into marketing. That in turn spawned a late onset career in creative writing. When not working, I get high by the slightly less conventional means of a small light aircraft. My first book, 'Sleight of Hand' is available on Amazon at http://amzn.to/Sa0D3n

15 responses to “Clippings”

  1. Jon.Gray says :

    Wow!

  2. Sharon Sayegh says :

    Oh, I really, really like the atmosphere in this, Mark! :o)

  3. Michael Bonn says :

    Mark, this is some great stuff loaded with evocative imagery and causes me to think about the impact of living a long time and contemplate how growing “old” for a wolf shifter compares to an Athanate. While this is possibly atmospheric, it is not fluff and still has information content that adds to our understanding of what they face.

    So bottom line for me is that if this is what you are clipping out, I can’t wait to read the story you are weaving in Cool Hand.

  4. Mark Henwick says :

    Thank you all for your very positive comments! I have the first part in, up to where she’s tracing the letters on the headstone.

    There’s then a section of dialogue that moves a couple of threads forward, followed by a tiny pause, and finally the appearance of Larimer and a scene which is a key plot section.

    I’ve had the second bit in and out and in and out in that tiny pause. I came down on the decision that it slows things too much. I guess, with the response here, I’ll see what the beta readers say.

    I’ll post another clipping shortly, which was originally in Wild Card – not an atmosphere section, a character development section, the opportunity for which has kinda passed.

    Thanks again. It’s often difficult for me to judge a piece when it’s just me sitting here talking to myself 🙂

  5. Robert says :

    Personally I think it’s all great writing, and I like to see more abstract and conceptual stuff in the book I’m reading. Go, go, go all the time is superficial and boring. On the other hand I can definitely see that this is definitely at a slower pace than some of your stuff.
    Whether it “slows it down”, versus being an appropriately slow point depends on the rest of the section. What i would say is that slow and thoughtful bits like this are absolutely necessary in any decent book, either to enable the reader to get their breath back, or so that they can appreciate (and feel), the accelerated pace of the “exciting bit”.
    Pacing is as much about change as anything else. To me, if you’re going to include the first bit, which is already slow and thoughtful, you might as well include the second bit. I certainly wouldn’t cut the thing wholesale. Maybe you can tighten up incrementally the back and forth where Amber is stretching to feel the song, rather than totally eliminating it – that concept of itself is worth including as “world development”.

  6. Libro Vore says :

    Certainly, it’s your call, but I agree with prior comments that the vignette was powerful and provided a bit of insight into the philosophical aspects of being a werewolf. I suggest that this sort of information strengthens the world you’re building, and so is valuable on that account, but also offers another area of Amber’s powers to explore at a later time. These ‘What could he have meant by that?’ fragments make up one of the things I like most about your books. Please continue to include them.

  7. Mark Henwick says :

    Thanks Robert & Libro

    I’m rushing on at the moment with the next section of the book, but with the replies I’ve got here, I know I must go back and see if I can ease that tingly feeling back into the conversation between Martha and Amber. Maybe a slightly trimmed down version, as you say.

    I will continue to put ‘cookies’ hidden in the text, where you only realise what they mean or how important they are later in the novel or series 🙂

    I must also be careful to gather them all up! Sometimes I do in the first draft, but the text gets taken out in revision, and then I’m left with the false memory that the cookie has been explained.

  8. smawbvj says :

    As humans,we are always rushing from one thing to another, never taking time to see, hear or feel anything around us. Which is exactly what Martha wants of Amber, not only in the terms of death but life in general. A blind person can describe odors and sounds better than a person of sight because they are the lifelines of the blind. (Humans should take the time to experience what nature has to offer). Your passage is the lifeline of the werewolves and gives the reader knowledge of a big part of their lives that would be missed if you cut-out this section. Maybe a small trim would work.

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Thanks. I’m trying to sketch out a way to use this lesson from Martha in the main plot – maybe in the next next book. I’ll mention it when I’m sure what I’m doing.

  9. Robert says :

    Apropos of nothing much, I have two questions for you …
    Growing up I seem to remember authors being very canny about mentioning nothing that anchored a (modern) story in time and place. No mention of the hottest new actor (or actress), or talking about a film that had just come out. (Exceptions made for old classics like Casablanca or Wizard of Oz). Equally product names were avoided – again with the exception of cars manufacturers – Ford, Audi – but rarely the model type, or weapons (H&K, Berretta, Colt etc). Coke etc being used in a generic rather than specific way.

    These days however – especially in Urban fantasy, I see “real things” mentioned a lot more. I have to say it bothers me a lot, especially when people (actors, politicians or “celebrities”) are talked about.

    Do you have an opinion on this.

    Secondly … as it happens I am going to Denver tomorrow, for a week (with the possibility of a permanent move in the future). Any suggestions?!

    • Mark Henwick says :

      I have opinions on lots of things! 🙂

      There has been a shift to naming names. I don’t think it’s exclusive to UF. I’ve seen a lot in crime and thrillers as well. Lots of books in many genres quote real lyrics and poems. Also places get more mentions these days – da Vinci Code for example is like a travelogue.

      Why avoid it? Well, real people and real companies might object to your use. Real places and real products require careful research. If I write about the gear that engages the 4 wheel drive on a Ford F150 (or whatever), you can bet I’ll have people emailing me pointing out that the 4 wheel drive is permanently engaged (or whatever).

      I have had, for example, a knowledgeable reader point out to me that Amber would be unlikely to refer to gun magazines as clips. He’s right and I went back and changed the text.

      If you name a celebrity positively and they do something awful, then you get a negative effect.

      So why get so specific? I don’t have a particularly good reason, but I have some mini-reasons. It helps me visualize what’s happening and what everything looks like.It *feels* more descriptive and less generic. Sometimes it makes me sound as if I know more about something than I actually do. 🙂

      Sometimes it is intentional and has a purpose. The H&K Mk23 SOCOM is a monster and I chose it deliberately as the gun Amber would favor.

      Denver…enjoy. Check out if there’s a concert at Red Rocks. The place is amazing. I’m very wary of suggesting restaurants or bars that are not in the usual ‘must visit’ lists because I find they change too frequently, and I haven’t been back since 2011. I intended a visit this year, but I’ve been too busy. If anything else comes to me, I’ll email.

      • Robert says :

        Mark – I actually wasn’t thinking that you were one of the offenders. Naming weapons and cars can make things very realistic (except when they give one of the characters a limited edition vintage Ferrari (pet peeve)).

        The other day however I was reading a book (can’t for the life of me remember which or what), when the female protagonist came out of a named movie and compared her boyfriend to Brad Pitt. Then in a later scene she described a female antagonist she compared her to an actress (one I admittedly hadn’t heard of). It’s these sort of real world comparisons that throw me out of the writing.

        I suppose the problem is when you mention something “real world” and it seems unlikely. For example if an author gave some random guy off the street a fully auto H&K UMP, it would be jarring because my immediate reaction would be … where did he get THAT from. I doubt you can buy one at Walmart (or even your local specialty gun store). On the other hand it is reasonably easy to believe that Amber might have access to those sort of goodies.

        (And really, Brad Pitt? C’mon talk about unoriginal!)

  10. gallandro83 says :

    Loved the snippet. I know that I can’t wait for more of the series

    I don’t know how it fits with the overall story as far as cutting it goes because I can’t tell how important the feeling of that “voice” is.

    I will say that I personally love the little bits of a book that give that extra insight into the character and how they view the world. Anything that helps clarify and reinforce the aspect of your character and how they see the world is something that I love about books in general since it is the only medium that truly allows this; it’s part of why I like reading.

    I will say that in my own sense the series needs some slow scenes that will allow some of the various plot points still floating around to be addressed/aired so that readers know where things stand. In my own mind I’m waiting to hear about the following:

    1. Did Amber’s recent eukori mingling with her kin allow her to recenter on “good” feeding?

    2. Is Diana going to come back into the picture and help Amber soon?

    3. Will the Athanate nature continue to force Amber into relationships of both sexes or was it something particular to Jen that she focused on? I can’t imagine that it is easy to write in any more Kin relationships but is this set in stone or will her changing nature continue to ask for more Kin?

    4. Melissa’s death has yet to really been dealt with. How will it effect everyone? Will we ever know just how Dr. Nobel lured her out and did he imitate someone to frame them in any way? Will the pack need to make any recompense to Amber for her loss?

    5. Just what did Tullah’s parents do when Amber ran over there? Was her breakdown helpful/harmful to Hana (wolf spirit guide)? It seems Hana is her Adept spirit guide but then what are Tara and Speaks-to-Wolves?

    6. Is Amber still in good standing with the Denver PD? Will Ops 4-10 be released from military service? How many Naga’s remain after the Denver operaion and did they all bug out for Matlal/Baliskos? Was Peterson captured and will the superior officer be identified? Was the 4-10 group able to save any documents and will they release these to the FBI or keep them themselves?

    7. The former Matlal vamps and toru are still in the city but were seen speaking to Gray? Will that be a problem and just how much longer will House Farrall have before she either needs to produce them or kill them?

    8. I don’t think Amber got back in contact with her Mom was she aware of the allegations of her being crazy?

    9. Did Amber’s sister Kath successfully get her declared mentally incompetent and will that spell trouble for her business/life?

    10. Will Amber ever have time to meet with Pia and David to work on Athanate skills and review the House rules/duties?

    11. Now that Amber has become a wolf and felt the pack call is there anything else she needs to know about being a were?

    12. What happened with the charm bracelet that Tullah had givern Amber back in the earlier books and is its design similarities to the necklace significant?

    13. Did Olivia’s mark change and will that help her with her first shift at all like the change in David’s mark allowed him better control of his Athanate side?

    14.The question of Dragon Spirit guides to the Chinese obviously caused a stir but will Skylur pursue questioning of Amber over this issue? The Altau Adepts seemed also interested in this development will they be an issue?

    15. What happened to the Warder organization in the US? Did the show of the secret brain-washing have any other effects on the security issues? Is this an Athanate ability or something cooked up in conjunction with the Naga’s and similar to the experiments done on Amber.

    There are other small issues that I haven’t listed but the amount of small plot threads that need to be tied off and addressed is fairly long and doesn’t show any signs of stopping soon.

    gallandro

    • Mark Henwick says :

      Wow, I love it when a reader homes in on these kind of threads and asks about them. As you also mention there are a *lot* of threads, and this kind of list gives me valuable feedback on which of them are foremost in your mind (and need to be tied up or progressed sooner).

      Now..how to reply? Most of these are being addressed in Cool Hand, and the way they’re being addressed is important for the plot of the novel and the series. I try to avoid spoilers.

      Let me sleep on it, and I’ll respond more fully, but most of it is going to be ‘wait and see’.

      I may put the list and my reply as a post and see if anyone else has favorite threads.

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