history, writing

The Night Sky Sings of Cheesy 80s Pop Stars

Once again it is Wednesday, and once again I have neglected to post much to my blog save for a reblog of pretty pictures. Ah, well. I’m busy promoting books about cats and surfing Reddit and agonizing over what to write on my work in progress. Which brings me to …

Devo 2008.05.31 005

Devo? I’m showing my age here, but I remember when Devo’s Whip It was on the air. And every time I hear the name of the writing Work in Progress challenge I’ve become a part of – WIPpet – I think of Devo’s song. Ah, how my friends and I danced to it. Back when the band didn’t look quite as old as the guy in this picture!

Anyhoo. The WIPpet challenge is hosted by K.L. Schwengel. Basically, you post a snippet of your current project which in some way relates to the date.

As such … HistoryOrb.com tells us that on December 11, 1719 the first recorded display of Aurora Borealis occurred in the New England colonies of North America.

Now don’t go getting all excited. My current WIP takes place in and around the Mediterranean in the early 700s AD. I doubt you could see such sights there. However, you can look up into the sky, which is what knight errant Justus and troubled street urchin are doing in this snippet. It takes place aboard a ship, as they journey to the Holy Land …

The Aurora Borealis over Norway.
The Aurora Borealis over Norway. Source: http://earthporn.reddlr.com/

One clear night, after an entire day spent becalmed, he stayed up on deck and taught Tristan the constellations as he had learned them from childhood: the three kings, the princess and water bearer, the charioteer, the big and little dogs, the raven and cup and the cross. Tristan laughed at the story of the dogs, who nipped and chased one another all up and down the heavens, pulling the princess’s veil off and tipping the water bearer’s vessels in their play.

“My youngest brother always liked that one the best,” Justus admitted on a sudden melancholy note. “He would beg Father to tell it again and again. He never seemed to tire of it, though Father told it the same every time.”

They fell silent, both of them watching the path of a meteor that flared before blinking out of existence. Tristan lay on his back next to Justus, the lean gangling length of him still and relaxed, save for his restless fingers, which fiddled with the end of a rope hanging off the mast.

“Your father sounds like a patient man,” Tristan mused.

Justus’s voice was a low and quiet noise against the background murmurs of the sailors on watch. “He was known for his patience, and his good judgment. When the peasants had a dispute they always accepted his rulings without argument.”

Justus conjured his father’s well-loved face in his mind – the graying hair and lines around his eyes, his stooped posture and long stride. The aching well of grief within him opened, a void that churned and rolled. He turned from it.

“And your father?” Justus inquired, when it seemed that his voice had steadied. “What was he like?”

Tristan looked at him for a long moment, but Justus could not perceive his expression in the darkness. When he spoke his voice was quiet, and tinged with wistfulness and pain. “He was a large bear of a man with a deep growling voice and huge hands and a frizzy black beard. He talked loudly and drank with gusto and he left my mother alone for months at a time. She would cry, sometimes, from loneliness. But when he was home it wasn’t all that much better. The two of them would often scream at one another and throw things. I was too slow ducking more than once. The neighbors were always complaining about the noise.” He gave a rueful little snort. “My father was rough in speech and manners and, truth be told, he didn’t like me much. He beat me more than I deserved. When he died, it was a relief in some ways.”

Tristan’s stark description of the man shocked Justus. He wanted to say he was sorry, that no father should heap violence upon his son, that he was justified in his relief at the man’s passing. He knew better than to say these things, though. Tristan was like the dog who challenged the pack leader, attuned to weakness of any kind, reacting with swift anger and violence when he found it. Justus knew his type well – had seen such men before and knew how to deal with them. So he kept the words of comfort in his throat, though he felt them struggling there for a long time.

Comments, reactions, impressions, constructive criticisms – all are treasured, should you choose to provide them. Visit my fellow WIPpet participants here:


16 thoughts on “The Night Sky Sings of Cheesy 80s Pop Stars”

  1. This is awesome! And I love the last paragraph, that look into Tristan from another character’s eyes that lets us know so much. Wow. I was totally lost in this. The only thing I missed was the sound of the ship creaking, or the sails rustling, but those are minor nits.

    And that is most certainly not Devo!! Can’t be. They don’t age. Just like us. 😉

    1. Ooooh – most EXCELLENT idea about the creaking of the ship and so forth. Thank you so much for this! I agree that such details would make the scene much more powerful! LOL, yes, Devo no longer looks quite as cool and quirky as they did back in the day. Now they just look kind of weird!

  2. Nice excerpt, Xina! Really good characterization and great insight on the part of Justus. I was a bit confused, though, by your description “street urchin” — it had me thinking Tristan was a little kid, but then the way he describes his father is more like a grown man. So I think my expectations were off.

    1. Most excellent point about the “urchin” description. I’ll have to keep that in mind for the future. Tristan is actually about 16 years old, so not a little kid and not quite a grown man, at least in Justus’s eyes. Thanks for the feedback! It’s invaluable to me!

  3. As always, Xina, this is a lovely excerpt. I do agree with Kathi about wishing there was a little more of a sense of the ship itself, a sense maybe that Justus’ finger must move a touch more here and there to follow the star pattern because of the rocking of the boat… Maybe a drowsy sense.

    The age thing… I take it that Tristan is in his tweens to early teens? Otherwise, yeah, his phrasing doesn’t ring quite right. Love the way Justus has him sized up though.

    1. Thanks so much, Eden! Yes, Kathi touched on an important point – I’m so happy that she did and that you reaffirmed it. Ooooh – a drowsy feeling would be so appropriate! Yay! I’m excited!

      And yes, Tristan is about 16 years old. Justus is about 20, so not a huge age difference, except that Justus feels like his guardian.

      Love your insightful comments!

  4. The Northern lights picture you got is very pretty. 🙂

    I like the contrast between the men’s fathers, how both Justus and Tristan get a little emotional, but for completely different reasons. And I like that Justus feels compassion for Tristan, like real, brotherly compassion, but keeps it in. It’s not the “bummer, dude” that is usually expressed.

  5. This was lovely Xina. Great scene-setting – I got a real sense of them being on a ship. Also loved the characterisation and how much we got to know about Justus and Tristan through their fathers and their thought processes.

  6. Loved it! 🙂 From the outset I got a really strong sense of the characters and the description of the constellations was beautiful without being too wordy or ostentatious. Can’t wait to read more! 🙂

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