Azalea Dabill grew up in the California hills, building forts in the oaks. Homeschooled, she read The Young Trailers and fantasy adventure to her siblings. Now she enjoys growing things, old bookstores, and hiking the wild.
Never finding enough tales of adventure, romance, and mystery in the world, she non-fiction, medieval historical fantasy, and just plain fantasy.
Words hold so much power.
It is a library find that I ended up getting because I so appreciated the clean, deep humor, original writing, and mesmerizing adventure.
If you have never read it, you are in for a treat. It’s biggest, grandest book I’ve read all year in the fantasy genre.
Here’s a sample:
Aedan turned and scurried off before being sent on his way with more than words. But before he reached the end of the aisle, the big voice rang out with paralyzing authority, “Stop!” His feet stuck fast, as if gripped by the deep carpet. He swallowed and turned around, fearing that he had damaged something. The man was holding the book. Aedan prepared to run. “You were reading this?” “Yes, sir.” The man regarded him. “This is not likely reading material for someone your age. Did you understand it? Was it instructive?” “No, not really,” Aedan admitted. He could have said more, but all he wanted was to get away. “I thought not,” the man said, returning the book to the shelf and lining the spine against its neighbors with absolute precision. “As I said, this is no place for boys. Don’t let me find you meddling here again.” Something about the injustice of the man’s conclusion bit Aedan. He had endured enough injustice for one day and drew himself up. “I didn’t understand it because it makes no sense. How could catapults have sunk Lekran ships anchored near Verma? I knew an old sailor and he used to tell us about how shallow the water is there because of the reefs. The ships would have been half a mile out. Even our big thumper catapults don’t have a range like that. I think the ships were sunk in some other way – like maybe they got blown onto the reef – and someone is trying to make it look like we pounded them. “I also can’t see how seven hundred soldiers could march twenty miles through a dense forest during the night to defend a town by morning. Even during the day, with a bright sun, it’s difficult to go fast and to keep going in the right direction through forest. I think the soldiers set off a day or two before the beacons were lit. Must have been some commander’s lucky guess. Now this historian wants to make it look more solid-like, as if our defences don’t need luck. This is supposed to be a book about facts and it seems to be loaded with fairy tales written to make us look invincible.” The big man’s face did not look like it was accustomed to showing surprise, but it was getting some practice now. “How old are you?” he asked, walking up with giant strides. “Almost thirteen.” The man studied him. “For a twelve-year old boy, you have quite a mind for detail. I’ll grant you that. Not many have uncovered the problems with this book so quickly. How did you learn of such things? Who taught you?” The unexpected interest the man was showing caused his face to seem less severe. It revealed a deep sincerity that made Aedan want to talk, to share some of the weight he carried. “I used to speak with the old soldiers a lot, and I read a lot. My mother taught me and my friend …” – Aedan couldn’t bring himself to say her name, not today – “taught us to read. We read many stories and histories. I agreed to discuss the stories with her if she discussed the battles with me. So we knew all the great battles in detail, all the great generals.” “I would like to meet this friend of yours – ” The man stopped short at the look on Aedan’s face. Aedan coughed to clear his throat and swallowed a few times. “I tried to save her, but I couldn’t.” The man waited, so Aedan continued. “They were Lekran slavers. They took her as a sacrificial substitute because she had noble blood.” He pressed his eyes shut. “When I’m grown, I am going to tear that trade to pieces and sink what doesn’t burn. Every one of those murdering priests is going to meet his filthy god. She was the kindest, gentlest person I’ve ever known. As soon as I am strong enough I’m going to bring them justice and make sure they can’t take anyone else the way they took her.” The man dropped to his haunches and looked Aedan in the eyes. “Revenge is a selfish pursuit full of empty promise – I would know,” he said. “But you speak of justice, of defending the innocent by felling their oppressor. I see that anger is still fierce in you, but I believe you’ll learn to temper it with wisdom.” He stood to his full height. “How will you reach this strength you need? Who will train you?” “I wanted to become a marshal …”
Dawn of Wonder: The Wakening Book I pg. 162 – 164, 4th Edition
I hope you can either find this book at your local library, get it used, or purchase it to support the author, who is working hard on the subsequent books.
“We are then able to answer in some manner the question, “Why have we no great men?” We have no great men chiefly because we are always looking for them. We are connoisseurs of greatness, and connoisseurs can never be great; we are fastidious, that is, we are small. . . .
“When Diogenes went about with a lantern looking for an honest man, I am afraid he had very little time to be honest himself. And when anybody goes about on his hands and knees looking for a great man to worship, he is making sure that one man at any rate shall not be great.
“Now , the error of Diogenes is evident. The error of Diogenes lay in the fact that he omitted to notice that every man is both an honest man and a dishonest man. Diogenes looked for his honest man inside every crypt and cavern; but he never thought of looking inside the thief. And there is where the Founder of Christianity found the honest man; He found him on a gibbet and promised him Paradise. Just as Christianity looked for the honest man inside the thief, democracy [a Republic] looked for the wise man inside the fool. It encouraged the fool to be wise. We can call this thing sometimes optimism, sometimes equality; the nearest name for it is encouragement. It had its exaggerations – failure to to understand original sin, notions that education would make all men good, the childlike yet pedantic philosophies of human perfectibility. But the whole was full of a faith in the infinity of human souls . . . and this we have lost amid the limitations of a pessimistic science. . . .
“It was a world that expected everything of everybody. It was a world that encouraged anybody to be anything. And in England and literature its living expression was Dickens.
“He was the voice in England of this humane intoxication and expansion, this encouraging of anybody to be anything. His best books are a carnival of liberty, and there is more of the real spirit of the French Revolution in ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ than in ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ . . .
“Whether we understand it depends upon whether we can understand that exhilaration is not a physical accident, but a mystical fact; that exhilaration can be infinite, like sorrow; that a joke can be so big that it breaks the roof of the stars. By simply going on being absurd, a thing can become godlike; there is but one step from the ridiculous to the sublime.
“Dickens was great because he was immoderately possessed with all this; if we are to understand him at all we must also be moderately possessed with it. We must understand this old limitless hilarity and human confidence, at least enough to be able to endure it when it is pushed a great deal too far. For Dickens did push it too far; he did push the hilarity to the point of incredible character-drawing; he did push the human confidence to the point of an unconvincing sentimentalism. You can trace, if you will, the revolutionary joy till it reaches the incredible Sapsea epitaph; you can trace the revolutionary hope till it reaches the repentance of Dombey. There is plenty to carp at in this man f you are inclined to carp; you may easily find him vulgar if you cannot see that he is divine; and if you cannot laugh with Dickens, undoubtedly you can laugh at him.
“I believe myself that this braver world of his will certainly return; for I believe that it is bound up with realities, like morning and the spring. . . . I put this appeal before any other observations on Dickens. First let us sympathize, if only for an instant, with the hopes of the Dickens period, with that cheerful trouble of change.”
G K Chesterton, from Charles Dickens: The Last of the Great Men, pg 11 – 12, 17
If you have not read the above book, it is well worth reading. It has astonishing correlations to our present time and stirs thought and courage.
Thank you for visiting, I hope you found it worth your while.
What is it, and why is meaning vital to us as writers? Why should we look for it where it grows in our work, clarify it, and hone it? Why should we care?
How do truth and the life-changing meaning that arises from our stories impact our characters, both in their world and our own?
I haven’t seen any writing book dig into the subject of how truth impacts our characters and creates meaning as well as Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn From Actors.
I’ve had hours of profitable fun looking into Brandilyn’s writing techniques because they are based on the reality of truth and lie, good and bad, wrong and right in the human heart. She shows us how to grow ‘true’ characters that reflect reality with clarity, whether we write fantasy, contemporary, memoirs or any other genre.
I have felt the impact of truth and meaning in books since I first began to read when I was quite young, but for a long time I could not pin down or express why some stories left me with a sense of hope, exhilarating beauty, and strengthening courage, while others left me with a feeling of cumulative despair, disgusted by ugliness, and fearful of life. What made the difference? How was it done? Why?
These questions have only grown clearer since my tweens. Their emerging answers are a big part of what drove me to write YA fiction. Lately I have been mulling over what I can see of these answers. They relate to prevalent thought in our age: that truth is relative to you, and meaning is what we make it.
So much destruction comes from this.
Good stories deal with truth and error, testing the validity of individual people’s ‘inner truths’ against each other and a universal framework of inherent truth apparent in everything around us, in the way the world works. Acting on the belief or premise that good and evil are interchangeable to any degree never works well in fiction, nor in real life. Calling evil ‘good’ creates a muddle where all is shifting sand and there is nowhere to stand.
The fact that this thinking defies logic, conscience, and experience quite effectively counters the idea that good and evil are the same – for the thinking head as well as the feeling heart. People who seek to rob the words, ‘good’ and ‘evil’ of meaning by saying they are interchangeable, in the end act as if there is no real meaning in the world, nothing that does not change to conveniently fit their surroundings, like a chameleon. This results in their speaking nonsense and fostering chaos, and ends in despair because it is far more of a fabricated fiction than stories.
It is an absolute fiction, if you will.
The presence of true good and true evil, clearly identified as not being the same, are necessary to create a solid story. We all realize on a gut level that some things are wrong and some right. Just as a lie, though a small lie, is nothing more or less than a lie. A small untruth cannot be true, or you deconstruct language and the reality it reflects.
Truth is vital to living in reality.
Conflict arises from the opposition between real good and real evil. It is true that good and evil are often mixed in us as well as in our characters, but one never becomes the other. The smallest bit of evil remains wrong, just as iron and clay may be mixed and set in a mold, but even the tiniest grain, though it appears part of an amalgamated whole, is yet itself. And pursuing even a grain of truth has potential to lead to great good.
And the actions of evil men, though the men themselves may have some good in them, cannot be allowed to destroy others. Evil demands conflict, and well we know it, in the interest of right, conscience, and hope of real peace. As it is in life, so it is for our stories.
Truth is not relative but absolute in relation to us, whether we believe it or not. This becomes unavoidably apparent in fiction.
Core ‘truths’ we believe are tested in our stories when our character’s actions prove them good or bad as they act from the inner values or core truths we operate from, with tangible spiritual and physical results. This is why great classics of every genre are so powerful. Meaning arises from the interplay of truth with what we believe – wrong or right – with what others believe, and what we both do about it. In the great stories we recognize the battle of our hearts and hands.
Brandilyn’s book has a lot to say about seven vital aspects of meaning, how to uncover our characters’ secrets, how to reveal these truths to our readers, and how meaning arises from it– all without getting philosophical. The ramifications of what she teaches gives us a huge potential to craft and forge and design what we once created by feel alone, when we were half blind to truth and meaning.
She digs into:
How connection at the level of truth is essential between the character and the reader. Secret # 1 – Personalizing, “discovers a character’s inner values, which give rise to unique traits and mannerisms that will become an integral part of the story.” (Pg. 12) She calls these inner values or beliefs “core truths”, which have meaning that our characters act on. (Pg. 22) This extends into traits, or attitudes, and to mannerisms that reflect a character’s reaction and grows yet further. As she says, “The beauty of this personalizing secret is that the process creates the entire character, both inside and out. Still, this is only the beginning. In the following chapters I’ll show you how the inner values and traits you’ve found through Personalizing lay the foundation for further discoveries about your character and your plot as a whole.”
Truth goes far deeper than the surface actions of a person, empowering that person and everything they do, building the meaning of the story as a whole and directing its impact. Meaning powers our story into fictional reality.
This leads us to Secret # 2 – Action Objectives. Every Action Objective is based on an inner value, or core truth. Every core truth holds meaning, which is a fascinating force that drives our entire story on every level, from the characters, to the conflict, the plot, the story’s climax, and its accumulation of meaning to the reader. Brandilyn uncovers the four D’s that touch them all: our main character’s overarching Desire, obstacles that Distance them from it, then circumstances that force the Denial of their desire, and finally, the Devastation of their desire.
As she says, “Once you’ve determined your Protagonist’s Desire, ask, ‘What happens if she doesn’t achieve it?’ In other words, what are the stakes? … often it’s not just the character’s way of life at risk, but loved ones as well. In a “high concept” story, the whole world’s existence may be at stake.” (Pg. 54)
Both failure and achievement of the Action Objective has real meaning and propels the story forward. Exploring the truth of who a character is and what they believe in the face of challenges and contradictions clarifies and deepens the meaning of our stories.
Secret # 3 – Subtexting in dialogue reveals the truth of its underlying meaning. Brandilyn’s techniques make it easier to do this while increasing tension. “Without an inner reason for existence, lines in a play [or book] will be simply words, recited by rote, lacking believable emotion. When an actor looks beneath the lines to fully understand a character’s desires and fears – the subtext of what is spoken – the words spring to life. … They express a character’s strengths, weaknesses, passions. They bare a human soul.” (Pg. 91) “In subtexting the real communication is artfully woven through description into the context of the conversation.” (Pg. 95)
In other words, bursting with buried meaning, layered meaning, and nuanced meaning, subtexting reveals truth.
In Secret # 4, Coloring Passions, often variable and seeming highly contradictory, the truth of our human emotions requires exploring the many shades of feeling that collide in our hearts.
So Brandilyn shares with us, “Stanislavsky likens a human passion to a necklace of beads. Standing back from the necklace, you might think it appears to have a yellow cast or a green or red one. But come closer, and you can see all the tiny beads that create that overall appearance. If the necklace appears yellow, many beads will be yellow, but in various shades. And a few may be green or blue or even black. In the same way, human emotions are made up of many smaller and varied feelings – sometimes even contradictory feelings – that together form the ‘cast’ or color of a certain passion. So, if you want to portray a passion to its utmost, you must focus not on the passion itself, but on its varied components.” (Pg. 120)
Exploring truth versus lie in all their degrees creates complex characters: such as the truth of twisted, dying love that can reveal itself in hate (Pg. 126), or where the contrast between Jean Valjean’s steady empowerment after his heart was changed by mercy and Javert’s pride and unenlightened conscience, are clearly seen in the height and depth of their meaning. (Pg. 135)
Truth and meaning give us the endurance and growth of Eamon despite horrific evil in Anna Thayer’s The Knight of Eldaran series, shines the light of hope throughout the lands of S.D. Smith’s The Green Ember series, instills the will to live beyond ourselves in The Wingfeather Saga, and shows how stories like these can draw our hearts to goodness in Andrew Klavan’s The Great Good Thing. But how do these authors communicate from their hearts to ours?
Secret # 5 – Inner Rhythm, deals with ‘hearing’ our characters’ rhythms, both the rhythm of their actions and the truth of their emotional motivations, and using these to weave a potent picture. Brandilyn puts it succinctly. “Once you are ‘hearing’ the Inner Rhythm, you can blend it with your character’s personalized traits and mannerisms, and with his Action Objectives for the scene, to create action that is believable and full of emotion.” (Pg. 158)
Facial expression and other body language of a character create powerful telltales that reveal truths to us, but we must hear those rhythms in our character and translate them clearly, or our reader won’t be able to feel them, though we outright tell them. It’s like watching a movie without the music, or hearing the music and the script alone without the actor in play. But when the music is there with the actor, and both translate the script, you find yourself within another heart, swept inside the story.
Some words encapsulate truth and our translation of it better than others. Secret # 6 – Restraint and Control, are pivotal to cutting away the confused, the vague, and the extraneous words that destroy, hide, or bury the truth of what our character feels, thinks, and does, and consequently – muddies or clarifies the meaning of our story. Restraint and Control also correlates the beat of the words and sentences with the dominant rhythm of the scene, whether it is the inner rhythm of emotion or the outer pace of the action.
“If a scene is weak or moves too slowly, it may be the result of superfluous or poorly chosen words – words that blur the focus of the scene and slow the pace. Through Restraint and Control a novelist learns how to use the best words to flesh out characters, create an aura, and move the scene forward.” (Pg. 175)
Words either deaden meaning or sharpen it.
But how can we explore truth we do not yet know, find meaning we have not yet experienced, in a character we feel is alien to us? Emotion Memory – Secret # 7, is a way for us to plumb the depths and heights of every character, from heroes to villains.
As Brandilyn says, “Time to get personal. To this point, we’ve focused on your character. By now you have a clear understanding of how important it is to know your character from the inside out. We’ve discovered who he is – his inner values, traits, and mannerisms. We’ve discussed his Action Objectives, his Inner Rhythm, his motivations for Subtexting, the widely varied colors of his passions. Now we’re going to talk about you. Like it or not, the truth is this: your character’s emotions begin with you. You are the well from which every passion of your character – every tremble and smile and tear and jealousy – will be drawn.” (pg. 200)
So, the truth of our character is the culmination of ‘who he is’ and ‘what she means’ to our story and the world. The act of lending our life and heart and breath to a character leads to our discovering them – and ourselves. At the least, in seven aspects of truth and meaning.
To recap, connection at the level of truth is essential between the writer, the character, and the reader. Second, every core truth holds meaning, which is a fascinating and driving force behind our entire story. Third, subtexting in dialogue reveals the truth of concealed meaning. Fourth, often variable and sometimes seeming contradictory, the truth of our human emotions requires exploring many shades of feeling that collide in our hearts.
The fifth aspect deals with ‘hearing’ our characters, the rhythm of their actions and the inner truth of their emotional motivations, then using these to weave a picture bursting with life. In the sixth aspect, restraint and control cut away the confused, vague, and extraneous words that destroy, hide, or bury the truth of what our characters feel, think, and do. Our skill in this muddies or clarifies the meaning of our story. The seventh aspect reveals how we can we explore truth we do not know yet, discover meaning we have not experienced, and bring to life a character who is alien or unfamiliar.
So why pursue good meaning in what we write?
Our story stands on solid ground – in truth revealed as our characters grow, truth woven throughout the human spirit and mind, truth given birth in action, and the meaning arising from uncovered rhythm, clarified by the right word, honed by judicious cutting – meaning stands on the reality of truth. As our villains discover, and our heroes learn, meaning built on lies, on false reality, fails when it is tried in conflict. We must dare to see truth and its meaning, dare to name it, dare to act on it. Dare to live in it.
Because it’s true.
Because we want to present others with a real picture of hope and goodness that exists to overcome evil and despair.
Because we desire to illuminate each person’s potential, explore who we are, and truly experience the world and the universe.
Because, if we are a Christian, we dare not hide him who is our hope and the hope of the world.
Because we live by faith alone, through God alone, in Christ alone.
Because no human was created to be silent.
Truth is the only solid ground under our feet. The sand of lies heaped beneath us will betray us the moment we are tested and discover we have no solid footing. Why is this important?
Because it points to truth and lie, and the meaning of both impacts far more than ourselves. Truth and meaning are vital to our existence, to the life of the world. They make up the very fabric of the universe.
So, what do you think of truth?
Where do you think meaning comes from?
Why does it matter to you?
Suggested reading: C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, chapter 1.
My most recent clean fairytale adventure is Kenley Davidson’s Shadow and Thorn. My latest great Sci-fi is Ronie Kendig’s YA space fantasy Brand of Light. Psst. Keep this a secret, I got these from the library. My favorite haunt.
A Wise Word:
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.*
Have a wonderful rest of the week,
Azalea Dabill Crossover – Find the Eternal, the Adventure
I was privileged to read the work she is in the process of publishing. It is a solid read, and I don’t usually read Gothic, or thought I didn’t.
Often mistaken for the horror genre (my misinformed opinion), or associated with it, true Gothic is as different from horror as peas and apples, though it may have threads of horror within.
Reading this work and talking with Charlotte, I was pleasantly surprised, entertained, and educated on what a good Gothic story is.
Classic Gothic stories like The Woman in White, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre have elements of the fantastic in them. I thought that as a fantasy reader you might be interested in discovering what true Gothic is all about: the mystery, the beauty, elements of grandeur and suspense and layered meaning in a rich tale.
As for reads that inspire me, I’ve been enjoying Sarah M Eden’s The Lady and the Highwayman, and A Victorian Naturalist Beatrix Potter’s Drawings from the Armitt Collection by Eileen Jay. Next on my list to read is Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear, K. M. Shea’s Apprentice of Magic, and C.J.R. Isely’s Ranger of Kings.
And for our Encouraging Word till next time:
Don’t forget the power of good stories in all their forms. From the anecdote you tell your neighbor and have a wonderful, delightful laugh over, to the long fantasies of Tolkien. Great stories that admire goodness, that define truth within the context of life, that hold up joy and homey comforts in contrast to danger and darkness or just the weary, dull evils that pound at us every day, bring wonderful things into my heart. And I hope into yours. When goodness and truth come in, truly in, badness is on it’s way out. The impact of story reaches a long way, no matter the genre.
Are you reading great stories, sharing good things with whoever you can around you? What about your life? What are you doing in your story? Is your inspiring action helping someone get through the day, are you furthering the good things you see and hear, are you pointing those who watch you, talk to you, or value your opinion toward truth and goodness and joy? Everyday happenings matter as much as big issues, for the big things are most often a compilation of the small; they are the tumbling pebbles that start the avalanche of stone.
Truth, goodness, and joy.
Just the fact that you believe in such things, absolutes as they are, can be challenging these days. But the truth is worth believing. And it is there even when we do not believe, for it is true, and therefore very real. Which is self-evident, and a comfort.
Even if we don’t think we make much of a difference, or do as much as we should, are we aiming at a great goal, are we taking a step up that mountain that looms before us? All great journeys, in life or books, begin with a step then build on it with one more, and one more – until the journey is accomplished. And in life we needn’t go alone. The Author of all absolutes yearns for us to walk with him.
I am happy to have you by my side on our journey with good books, and glad to be at yours. Have a great week!
Azalea Dabill Crossover ~ Find the Eternal, the Adventure
It’s a dangerous world, attempting to tread water in the ocean of words, let alone swim in these times where “cultural appropriation” and “cultural insensitivity” may blow up in our faces, after a mere brush against the drifting mine.
This is true for writers and readers alike.
One of those avid readers, squarely in the camp of enjoying new and fascinating stories wherever I find them, I have a few words in defense of us readers and writers trying to navigate the “cultural appropriation and insensitivity” minefield.
Take any movie set in the early Middle Ages, or any book. As far as cultural accuracy goes, most of them could be accused of insensitivity because they have not been historically accurate or true to the culture throughout their work. Yet it does not necessarily follow that they are culturally insensitive, or seizing the culture for their own.
The producers, story writers and authors are trying to communicate a time and place filled with people that stir our imaginations to fire.
The great stories call us to adventure, to love, to fight for good and conquer bravely. They are trying to help us understand a different culture, a different person, at the level of heart and soul. To do this to the best of their ability, they must at times use words or customs that did not even exist in those times they are creating a story about, or they must adapt them to our contemporary understanding. If they were true in every detail, we would completely miss some important character motivations and scene meanings because we had no idea that what we saw or read had a specific meaning, and we would possibly understand less than three words in ten because of old style language.
This is true whether we are English, American, or any other culture going back in our own history. If we are going back in time and crossing cultures, say from the American to Korean Middle Ages, there is an even larger cultural gap. But that does not mean our minds and hearts cannot meet despite the obstacles. Story is made to bridge the ocean gulf between us: whoever we are, wherever we are, whenever we are. The purpose of story is to communicate.
But what does it communicate? That is key to discover, so we can disarm the mines planted by those who love discord and do not respect peoples’ created differences with grace, who do not see that the very differences between us may be the source of every individual culture’s beauty, riches, and usefulness to the wide world. Admiration, respect, and appreciation bring every word and gesture in all forms of communication to life. Without that motivation, every word and gesture is dead, or worse, an explosion waiting to happen.
I use my own work as an example here, since I know my own motives better than those of any other communicator. Like any writer of past times and historical fantasy, in Path of the Warrior, the first companion story in Falcon Dagger, I am swimming between cultures. But it is dangerous.
This was kindly brought to my attention by my friend Jenn Rogers and her daughter, who are fans of Kdramas and all things Korean. I have never seen a Kdrama, though I plan to remedy that. My love for Medieval Korean culture started with my introduction to Tae Kwon Do years ago, and the martial history of the Land of the Morning Calm.
The martial focus was what I especially respected and explored on behalf of my main character in Path of the Warrior, an honorable exile from Korea, named in his native land Ryu Tae-shin, though his name was changed in my other stories, which did not detract from his honor but added to it, since he bore an insult with graceful nobility, because of necessity. That necessity was bearing up under slavery, and not confusing those who he knew would read of him later. He kept his name Tae Chisun, because he made the name – the name did not make him.
Despite any inaccuracies, of which I am sure there are at least a few, since I am seeing across cultures and time to Ryu Tae-shin’s story, I am attempting to bring to life a noble man, one I admire, who cares about his people, his family, and others. I am trying to share, across cultures, my appreciation of one who defends the right. Any mistakes in the work are mine, of course.
But do inaccuracies of naming, (which I have attempted to fix to the best of my ability), or historical settings or mannerisms (sometimes subject to poetic license), or outright ignorance, mean that this story of a man who sacrificed everything for the lives of his people appropriates the Choson culture or is insensitive to it?
Does it communicate that Koreans are bad in some way, more than other cultures? Does it claim they think exactly like I do?
It is a story born of admiration for a strong people in a time of conflict.
That is my opinion, supported I think, by Hwarang Ryu Tae-shin himself. But you will have to discover for yourself if you can stand in Ryu Tae-shin’s boots and wrestle with the fierce conflicting loyalties between his sworn oath to his Kuksun overlord and his oath to save the love of his life and his people.
Would we put our lives on the line for right?
Some things, like our desire for justice, our love or hatred of truth, our depth of love tested by fire, our willingness to sacrifice for others, is the same in every culture. Mind you, I do not say we think down the same wave, or row the identical path to those values. The customs, mannerisms, and circumstances may, rather they will, differ. Completely leaving aside what we believe about who we are, where we come from, and where we are going, or our religion.
But we are all human, and our hearts are fashioned from cuts of the same sail, each loosed on the sea of life from our individual islands and continents. We can sail together, all the brighter and more formidable in array for our different flags, painted sails, or pennons.
If we detonate the mines between us with well-aimed ordnance, disarm them with the truth of the story, or on the occasion when there is truth in the accusations of appropriation or insensitivity, if instead of cursing the dark we light a candle of communication, we can retain and grow mutual respect and admiration for the greatness of every people. We can swim without harm through the minefield, and our hearts and hands meet in understanding.
We can enjoy our intriguing idiosyncrasies, our various culture strengths, and help each other overcome our different weaknesses, for everyone has them.
Each person is made in the image of our Creator, the master of the waves, of every land, every heart. He made equality. Meeting another heart and mind in the sea of thought, across the waves of life, is an invaluable gift.
May we overcome every wave and mine between us. For the sake of us readers, who love brave adventure and goodness, and also to encourage those who communicate these human truths to lighten our darkness.
Or, as my Tae Kwon Do Grandmaster, Tae Hong Choi, and Grandmaster Vince Church, would say, Pil Sung! Certain victory through courage, strength, and indomitable spirit.
This month of March I’ve been working on Path of the Warrior, the first entry in Book III of the Falcon Chronicle series.
Here is a sneak peek:
We wrestle with memories to find meaning.Without knowledge we live in emptiness, for life and death have no purpose. Memories give sight through the mists of time. Where do I come from and where am I going? The watermarked parchment rustles. I read words written in quill and ink and a man’s soul.
The night was dark and warm as blood. Unseasonably warm, as the maples had not leafed in the courtyard. On nights such as these the tiger walked unheard. Tae Chisun rolled the silk-smooth paper in his hands and tucked it into the message case.
He took the lamp from his table and handed it to his messenger. He did not mind darkness and silence, not when he had his sword and his hands and feet. “Rangdo, run fast, and we may yet preserve our people.”
His student nodded, his thin face sober, and ducked out into the driving rain. Embroidered with black sigils of officialdom, the band tied about his head directed water away from his eyes and down his back.
Tae rested his hand on his long sword, the hilt familiar under his fingers.
To his people of the Land of the Morning Calm, the tiger symbolized strength and protection. His brothers in the hwarang, the full flower of the warriors of his people, worshipped that tiger spirit, and followed Seon, the Zen. They fought with sword and bow, hand and foot, with a prowess that even the Hsuing Nu heard of on their far Northern steppes and respected.
Now he must fight with his heart, mayhap every drop of his blood—against enemies within and without.
Did his messenger know he carried Tae’s life and that of his people in his hands? Tae resisted the compulsion to draw his blade. It would be an easy thing to follow, to ensure loyalty.
He let his fingers slip from the sword hilt. He had known before he began his message to Jun-ho Tsing, rebel kuksun of the five thousand massed outside the gate, that one rangdo with a false tongue walked among his two hundred. Tae’s heart beat heavy in his chest.
During training, his students emulated his every hand strike, feint, and sword-blow as he led them in the honored techniques of Subak and Taekyon as the sun rose over the rim of the world, glinting flame on the water of the river they practiced beside. Over time they grew strong. Their feet flashed high in jumping kicks and sent their mounted opponents’ hats of horsehair spinning to the ground. The punches of the most adept cracked ribs like dry pine—could crush an attacker’s throat—shock the heart so it ceased to beat. Their open hand strikes knocked a man senseless, disrupting the nervous system, or in precise combination brought the touch of death.
His rangdo—two hundred students who aspired to become hwarang, as he was. Tae had thought every one of them sought to serve his kuksun’s family, their village, their land. Sought to serve with the same honor as the favored Tae Chisun—who held the hand and heart of their kuksun’s daughter, Huen.
Tae’s breath stopped a moment. Favored. Yes, he was. And with the dawn he would be Kuksun Paekche Kim’s most esteemed hwarang—or he would be dead.
Surely his most trusted messenger was true. Would his rangdo carry his offer to Jun-ho Tsing of the five thousand? Or would he try to rise above his rank and take the message elsewhere, yearning for Kuksun Paekche Kim’s favor? Did his messenger believe with the kuksun that it was an honorable path to fight to the last child? The other villages would follow Paekche’s example.
Tae grunted. Taxes always went to an overlord, be it king or kuksun. Better that it was to rebel Jun-ho Tsing than the lord of death. The village had little food left and many rangdo, who ate much. Tae swallowed. He had not tasted the hot bite of Huen’s fermented cabbage and spice for days.
He stepped out into the wet dark and shut the door. Who knew the undercurrents between the villages better than its protecting kuksun, with his hwarang and rangdo warriors? The rebel Jun-ho Tsing would need them all to oversee his new land and people. So Kuksun Paekche Kim might live, and his brothers, down to the lowest rangdo. Satisfaction tugged at Tae’s mouth. Life—and his Huen’s smile.
He would see her live—if it meant his own death. His mouth tightened. He had a task yet to complete. Rain misted against his face, the budding maples smelled sweet.
He carefully wrapped his sword-hilt against the wet and slipped away.
Molten fire shone along his blade in the light of the lamps from his old master’s open door. The door yet quivered on its hinges.
Tae kept to the shadow.
Standing under the square door-arch in his leather and cane armor, Woon Chong said nothing. His mouth pulled up in a sneer and he drew his weapon, stepping down to meet Tae. No one stirred behind the carved porch pillars, no voice or clatter of dish came from within the house.
Tae retreated farther into the dark; the light must not blind him. He kept his weight even, not lifting his feet from the mud. He must feel his way along the earth; avoid the stray branch, the deceptive puddle, the rock that would turn.
Woon Chong shifted his heavy frame, circling him, a floating feather. Noiseless, he lifted his blade from his side, slicing up and across Tae’s body in an adder-swift strike. But Tae was not there to be gutted.
Woon Chong rained heavy blows on him, precise with hate. Steel grated on steel and sparked. Tae’s blade gave before his hwarang master’s, deflect, attack, and deflect—until the moment Woon extended his arm. Tae struck his wrist. Woon Chong’s sword spun away and thudded to earth.
Tae locked Woon’s arm behind him, his blade at his throat. His master did not dare try to throw him. His chest heaved under Tae’s hand; his breath whistled hoarsely. Not for Tae, the mountain-cat playing with the mouse.
He gripped him hard. “I am sorry.”
When Tae returned to his command post the rain had washed the blood from his hands and the tears from his face. Dawn was near. The traitor had struggled and pleaded. But he could not let Woon Chong live. Such a one would betray again.
Tae swallowed hard. The same might soon be said of him.
And they must not find him with Huen, or she would be accused. When he first saw her he had been rangdo to hwarang Woon Chong.
That morning, his master ordered him to display the way of the sword with one of his brothers, to show their skill before the kuksun’s daughter, who walked through the courtyard.
She had been such a bright spirit, her cheeks soft as a slender peach, her deep brown eyes reminding him of those of a water-deer. Her words to her maid when she saw them, before she brought her hand to her mouth, were swift as the red that crept up her neck, a rosy blush on her golden skin.
With a sudden rush, Tae had disarmed his brother in a moment. Huen laughed at the surprised rangdo’s stare of disbelief at his empty hand where his sword had been. And red-faced Woon Chong ordered Tae to strike his brother with the flat of his sword. Tae stopped after three blows.
Woon yelled at him to continue, and Tae bowed, held out his sword hilt and said, “I did not teach my brother the sword aright.” He bent across his brother’s back and took the rest of his master’s instruction.
As Tae returned from washing his bloody back after the sword lesson, he contrived to pass near Huen. He overheard her quiet aside to her maid. “That rangdo has a spirit about him. A tiger, yet with the gentleness of the deer …”
She said it thoughtfully, words that would be cause for blood coming from any other mouth. Tae thought her rather perceptive. He had bowed deeply, straightened, and met the sardonic gaze of his kuksun, who stood just beyond his daughter.
Tae touched the rough wood of his command post door. From the beginning, Woon Chong had sought to protect his place as hwarang, driving the rangdo under him mercilessly, without care for life, limb, or purpose. No warrior among them attracted their kuksun’s notice without paying a price to Woon Chong. From then on, Tae performed his master’s toughest tasks. They had made him strong.
Tae bowed his head. Even now he did not lift his sword without reason—and held it until his task was finished. His master had been the last.
He wiped his eyes. Woon Chong had thought to kill those hwarang of rank around him and sell the villages to Jun-ho Tsing. To gain a new kuksun who would place him at his side, as Kuksun Paekche Kim had not. One who had reached enlightenment would call him demonic—one who walked with greed and hate.
Tae stepped inside the command post, wiped his blade, and slid it slowly back into its wood sheath. His own journey had not begun in truth.
Before his test to become hwarang he went to the Chin mainland to study scribing, medicine, and the arts of war. His questions had been many. Why did he yearn for joy? Why did life and the earth feel broken?
In the Chin place of learning he found answers to his questions of the stars. A man, shunned by the rest, had showed him the Book of the I AM.
Tae settled himself against the command post wall and laid his sword before his feet. Seon, as his people put it, did give power. Inhuman strength, to both flesh and spirit—but never the power to dispel his darkness. That grew ever heavier.
Tae smiled wryly. Strange that one could seek enlightenment, the end of delusion, and be so deluded. Caught in so much darkness that there was no light to see it.
The pages of the Book had reflected as a pool the ugliness of his hate for Woon Chong and the other dark things crowding within him. Turning his face toward the Buddha, drinking the power of Zen, did not change their existence. He caught back a short laugh.
And after what he discovered, he could no longer petition the spirits of river and hill or follow the way of the Zen. He had beaten the man who asked him why a warrior feared the truth.
But it haunted him, would not leave him. The promise of meaning and purpose kept him close until he read the Book further and was answered.
The Master of the stars gave the path of meaning to all things he created.
Tae’s throat closed. He had known he could never attain rightness as the Master of the stars was right in all things. Compassionate, just, pure, strong, the Master of the stars was good. Loving men, he existed in himself. Tae was evil, and condemned. But then love and sacrifice expunged his darkness.
He knew swords. The Book’s edge was keen, dividing the pure from the impure. But unlike any other sword, the Word within the Book’s pages also healed.
The Master of the stars paid his blood-soaked debt and sent him on to live, to love, to grow in joy. He was not master of his own fate. He was not God. But the Master of all cared about him, walked with him, taught him to wield the sword in both worlds, in the realm of spirit and flesh. The pieces of the universe slid into place. He had asked pardon of the man who showed him the Book, and they parted as brothers.
Tae tipped his head back against the wall and shut his eyes. He took truth and left the power of Seon, the Zen. But it was not comfortable, dividing intentions, and hearts, and men. Though life held much suffering, his lord overcame it. His Master would bring him to his land of joy in the end, where suffering ceased forever. That time might be very near.
The thin cane door bent under the blows. “Open, in the Kuksun’s name!”
Tae lifted his head from his knees. The door burst open.
They took his sword and seized him, two men for each arm. Six guards marched him between them into Kuksun Paekche Kim’s presence.
Tae knelt one moment before the guards forced him down. He would die with few faces to witness his dishonor—Paekche gave him that. He raised his head.
Paekche’s mouth was flat, his black eyes hard. A frown wrinkled his wide brow beneath his black hair in its simple warrior’s knot, bound by a green silk band stitched with the sigil of the house of Kim.
Had Huen’s hands fashioned that band with pride and joy? Tonight her father would bring her sorrow, whatever he decided. Tae let out his breath. If his blood were of the house of Kim, however distant, it would be easier to convince his kuksun. But for that there was no remedy.
“My Kuksun.” He leaned forward, baring his neck in trust, whether his kuksun raised his sword above him or no.
“Why?” Paekche growled. The stinging blow of his hand numbed Tae’s cheek and rocked him back on his heels. The carefully shaven lines of Paekche’s beard framed the sides of his square chin.
“How could you give us to Jun-ho! Do you seek higher rank so fiercely? Is the spirit of the tiger dead in you? Has the leader of my hwarang turned his back to his enemies?”
“I do not give our people to Jun-ho Tsing, I give them life.” Tae’s jaw hardened. “A man’s heart is not determined by his rank. And the tiger—in spirit we run together, and bow to the Master of the stars alone.”
“So, you raise your name beside the tiger’s, and seek my seat?”
“No, most honorable Kuksun. I fight for our land, and for you. That both may endure.”
Paekche paced back and forth on the dais. His silk slippers whispered over the polished wood. His robes loosed the scent of cloves, star-anise, and musk.
“Did your lord of all not die without lifting his hand for his kingdom?” Paekche’s voice was harsh.
Tae could not stop his back from stiffening. The guards pressed down on his shoulders, but let him rise to his knees, so long as he did not lift his gaze in this moment. He strove to keep the heat from his voice. “He died for us, honorable Kuksun. And he rose from death to build his kingdom—in our hearts—in any who wish purity and strength.” He let out a weary breath. “He holds my heart in his hand.”
“As I, your Kuksun, hold your body.”
“Yes. As does Huen, who holds my heart also.” Tae lifted his gaze. “My Kuksun—I seek Jun-ho Tsing’s face that you and Huen may live, and the house of Kim. He will need you. There is no need for blood.”
Had Jun-ho Tsing even received his rangdo’s message? Two might not be enough. Tae prayed with all his might one got through. “As for the stolen burial land, though our ancestors remain in our memory, bones cannot speak, or touch, or laugh. Their dust sleeps; though that earth is sacred, would they not rather we walk in life, than for our blood to water the ground where none can touch them?”
Paekche lifted his hand. The men holding Tae’s arms stiffened, their fingers binding as steel. The sixth guard stepped forward, a moon-blade halberd in his hands.
It was his answer. Tae’s chest tightened and his breath came short. He bowed his head. He had one thing left to lose.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt of Falcon Dagger Bk III, Path of the Warrior
Below is a sneak peek at Kingdom’s Fall rough draft that I have been working on a little this week in the midst of attempting to record Fantastic Journey, a book giveaway or two, and a wise word for February.
With a dark scowl, Brother Rolf hunted bright fall leaves blown in from the road off the church stoop. He swept fiercely. The wooden broom handle nestled in his grip, heavy as his old spear shaft. The wide entry-stone under his feet stretched two chill lengths into the walled court under the warmth of a new sun that peered over the walls of Bolton Abbey and streamed past the open gate. His breath shot in a thin cloud above the lowest step of the north transept tower.
A shiver raised his freckled skin where his thick wool sleeves did not protect him. The chill of the stone beneath the edge of his black habit pierced his bare toes. He moved faster, chasing an errant leaf, red as his hair, vibrant as the dew spangled dawn.
If a leader did not soon rise from the Northumbrian mists, stones sister-kin to the icy, glistering dark granite beneath his feet would mark the last resting places of his people. The kingdom was weakening.
Brigands harried the strongholds north of the Humber River as he did the leaves. With few to stay them while the king lay ill, such raiders grew ever bolder. Even Lord Dain Cieri of Cierheld, leading the north lords from his stronghold walls of uncommon stone, did not have enough armsmen to guard every hold between the ancient Roman Eagles’ great North Wall and the Humber. The brigands melted like frost when chased, yet seemed always to know where to strike. And with talk growing in the north against the south lords, the unrest in Britannia might mean more than brigands. It might mean war.
Turning, Rolf swept the last crimson beech leaf from the side door with a vicious stroke. Though the brigands had not yet struck near Bolton Abbey, it was their nature to hunt the vulnerable. Even though, unlike some church holdings, his brothers of the abbey had little in the way of riches. Even their dedicated church utensils were not of gold, but bronze. Abbot Alton would not keep gold when their people were hungry. Rolf smiled a little, then his scowl crept back. He was slipping indeed, not to have suggested to Abbot Alton the looming possibility of attack.
A thudding of small hooves and a soft, heavy step against the dirt of the courtyard rang loud at his back. Rolf swung around, continuing the swift motion of his broom in a level stroke.
A man leading a donkey ducked the twiggy end coming for his head and swung in return, the blur of a long weapon coming at Rolf from the left. His heart in his throat, Rolf sprang to the edge of the step to soften the full blow, bringing his broom across his body in both hands. Blade struck wood with a dull thud. Rolf blinked. The weapon did not bite, for it was sheathed in leather. And the face beyond it . . .
His breath of relief became a growl. Knocking the blade to the side, he dove down the steps and thrust the broom handle at his attacker. The donkey reared and backed. Its giant owner quelled it with ease, wrapping a long arm about the donkey’s gray neck and twisting his body to let Rolf’s attack slide past.
“Cease, little brother!” Dark eyes twinkled above a bristling black beard and a large, misshapen nose. That pot of a dented helm and the big feet in leather boots caressing the earth—Rolf knew them both.
A merry laugh rolled from the man’s wide chest beneath a mat of curly dark hair between a thick neck and gaping tunic. “Ye’ve not lost all yer’ skill.”
Rolf glared at the black-haired giant, who again whisked the sheathed blade about to rest at Rolf’s throat. Rolf squinted. The plain hilt marked his own blade—or the blade that had once been his.
-Kingdom’s Fall rough draft excerpt (this book will be part of Falcon Dagger – cover in the sidebar)
And if you missed the newsletter, here is an encouraging word of wisdom for February:
Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it. And He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your judgement as the noonday.
Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who carries out wicked schemes.
Cease from anger and forsake wrath; Do not fret, it leads only to evildoing.
This is so encouraging to me. That God would have me do what is right and fight injustice where I can, first in myself and then in my world. And that I can then rely on Him for the final outcome, that He will bring justice to all.
God bless you!
Crossover ~ Find the Eternal, the Adventure
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