The draft of The Poison Eater is complete, and is currently in the hands of my editor and publisher, who will come back to me and tell me all the things that I need to do to make it great. In the meantime, I’m working on a Numenera adventure for Gen Con called The Skein of the Blackbone Bride (no spoilers) and a short story to accompany our underwater Numenera book, Into the Deep.
I started this story this afternoon. Here’s an excerpt from the draft, which I’m currently calling Wrecked (that feels a little too on-the-nose, so it will likely change). Beware: here there be typos, I’m sure. And ghost crabs.
*art by Cathy Wilkins
This is where she died.
“Almost died,” Garil would say. Except that Garil did die here, and so he doesn’t say anything anymore, does he?
You left me here, she thinks as she shimmies down the seaweed-covered tether toward the wreck. The thought is followed by expletives, but not tears. You can’t cry this deep down in the ocean, she’s discovered. Well, you can. But you shouldn’t. There are some things they don’t tell you in training, because no one who is still left knows to say them. Don’t cry. Don’t trust. Don’t move.
Her weighted boots hit the side of the structure with a dull thud that reverberates up through her body. As soon as she lands, her right foot floats loose, sending her sideways through the water. She’s still got hold of the tether, by some lucky stupid instinct, and she tightens her grip on it, pulls her foot up to look. The back of her boot has automatically ejected the weight somehow; there’s just a blank space in the heel. The weight wasn’t magnetized—they’re not Therasti; they don’t have that kind of money—so she’s sure it’s rolled all the way to the bottom of the wreck by now, and is ruining some poor crustacean’s day right about now.
Hope you’ve got one hell of a shell, she thinks.
Normally, she hates tying herself to the wreck. It’s heavy and cumbersome and—and you almost died because of it last time. That too. But the boot thing is a problem—her hand is already aching from gripping the tether, trying to keep herself from spinning around it. So she brushes long strands of seaweed back until she finds one of the reality spikes that someone else has driven into the side of the wreck and uses the cable from her belt to hook herself in.
Ethne’s six-eyed jybril circles and circles, clacking its sharkmouth, swishing its giant tail. The chittering sound of its rows and rows of teeth comes through the water, through her waterbreather, through the voicepieces she wears in both ears—one for the base, one for Ethne.
She clicks her jaw to the right. The movement turns on the voicepiece on that side. “Get your brehm-brained predator off of my back,” she says. “Before I kill it.”
“Good luck with that!” Crackle. Fade. Return. She bets Ethne’s voice is always full of static, even when they’re not a thousand feet under the surface. “She can swim—”
She clicks him off again. Why she bothers, she doesn’t know. Ethne’s a child. A child who thinks he’s able to control a ten-foot long insatiable predator just because it hasn’t eaten anyone on the team yet. It’s only been two weeks. Give it time.
Once, Ethne told her that he was surprised the jybril—he has a name for the creature, but she can’t remember it—hadn’t bumped her for a test bite yet, because it was attracted to the color red and her dive suit was red. She’d wanted to bump him for a test bite, but had merely turned her suit on dark mode, shining every light that it had right into the lenses of his fisheye goggles. She didn’t quite understand how light worked down here, but she didn’t deny the tiny pulse of happiness she felt when he’d pushed his hands over his eyes and ended the conversation. He wasn’t a bad kid. But he was definitely a kid.
They sent me down here with a child, Garil. And then the string of swear words that always seem to come after his name now. Spitting them out like bad seeds. She worries that she’s developed a syndrome. She hadn’t been topside in six weeks. She has forgotten the color of air. The smell of the sun. Can no longer remember what her own voice sounds like, beyond the burble and hiss of breath and breather.
The jybril is too close, brushing by her with just a few feet to spare, and she waves it away. Which is a mistake. It’s not some little fish, easily scared off by an odd motion. Its teeth are nearly as big as her hand. It circles, long tail sliding by her. She compresses, doesn’t wait to see if it comes back around, and drops herself through the first hole she sees in the side of the hull.
This is my writing process. Do not try this at home kids. It sucks.
Oh, a cookie.
No, not here. Other room.
Decide it’s cold.
Oh, I haven’t looked at FB in forever.
Story about trees that sleep.
Cool idea. Bookmark for future story.
Look at stuff I’ve already written.
Decide ugh I am the worst.
Oh, cute dog.
Play with dog.
Aw, cute dog…
Find first word.
Despite that, I am closing in on the shitty first draft of this novel. It is shitty and that’s what it’s supposed to be, because shitty is done, it is complete, it is killing the editor and the panic in my head to put the words down. Plus, beneath the shitty, I can see the shine. It’s like when your dog eats glitter. Ew, but also, oooh, shiny!
Here’s some of the “ew shiny.” Possible spoilers for The Poison Eaters ahead. Kind of. Keep reading at your own risk.
The shadows that walked at night kept her up, creeping on the edge of her vision. Maeryl, with her fingers broken and bloody, sat on dunes beside her.
“I didn’t recognize you at first,” Maeryl said. “I couldn’t find you in the blackweave.”
Her voice was metal and Talia realized her mouth was too. Teeth and tongue and the black hole of her threat. Her face was covered in metal bandages that shone with red from the inside. The braids of her hair were black serpents tied off with their own pink tongues and the black of her eyes were spiders that fluttered their legs like lashes.
Her eyes bulged through the bandages, became vermillion buds that bloomed open to pink insides.
“You’re dead,” Talia said.
“You’re saying the obvious,” Maeryl said. “Say something different.”
She was petting Khee with gloved hands. Gloves that were hands. Carved from someone else’s body and sewn to her arms at the elbows. They billowed, fabric or synth or skin. Inside them, things small and black shifted and scuttled.
The thing that wasn’t Maeryl flicked a hand and ran it down Khee’s back. Except it wasn’t Khee, not really. It was Khee gone inside out, the red of his flesh a raw and ruddy skin. Sutures, puckered and pink, ran along the lines of his shoulders. The creature shifted, and something inside went the other way, broken and bulging. His eyes were unseeing, white and thick, run with mucus. His snout lifted—the entirety of it nothing more than two rows of long, skeletal fingers that came together like teeth. Sharped at the ends. He sniffed the air and blood spattered from the holes in his bones.
Or maybe it was
the creature said in something that had once been Khee’s voice but now was bitter acid in the bowl of her stomach. Talia put her hand over her mouth, trying not to retch.
“Why are you here?” she asked with a mouth that no longer worked.
“You know,” the thing that was Maeryl and not Maeryl said.
“Here’s your ocean,” the thing said. “Beware the salt.”
Finwa, Poison Eaters. May the moon meld you and may you shine.
Even those of us who write full-time sometimes have to put projects aside for long periods of time. Recently, I had to put my novel, The Poison Eater aside in order to finish up another book I was working on (The Torment: Tides of Numenera sourcebook). I’ve talked before about how I like to have multiple projects going at the same time, but one of the side-effects of that is that sometimes one of those projects moves to the forefront (due to deadlines or other needs), and you have to sink deep into it and focus on it solely for a while, pushing everything else to the side.
Now that Torment is finished and off for editing, I can move The Poison Eater back to the front burner of my brain. Of course, that is HARD to do after so much time away. I find myself saying, “Who is the character? What does that look weapon like again? What the fuck was I thinking here when I wrote those? Oh, I had an idea for this chapter, but I’ve totally forgotten it.”
This is the point where many people give up on their books. It’s HARD to go back to it. The sparkly bits have lost their shine. The path is overgrown and full of thorns. The characters you loved have started to fade into ghostly paper dolls. You can’t remember what happens next, and you are sure you screwed up whatever came before.
But here’s the truth: very few people have a life where they can work on their novel non-stop. Life intervenes. Someone gets sick. Work explodes. Summer arrives and you spend your days down in the dirt with seeds and soil. There are a thousand ways to step off the novel path — but there are also a thousand ways to step back on. It’s hard, yes, but not as hard as it looks. I promise.
I have a whole bunch of techniques for picking a novel back up and finding my way back into its dark woods. I thought I’d share a few in case you find them useful.
Beyond all of those suggestions, I come back to what I always come back to: just do that shit. Seriously. There’s a moment where you have to stop worrying and wondering. Just know that you’re going to screw it up, be okay with it, and write anyway.
Which is what I’m going to go do right now.
~Moon meld you, poison eaters.
I’ve been playing around with some ideas for character creation in Predation. This game is going to be tons of fun!
Self-Evolves: Through the magic of bioengineering, lab-grown organs, and cybernetic additives, you have become something far better than human. Something smarter, faster, and more adaptable. Call it neo-human, survival of the fittest, or just bad-ass—whatever it is, you’re able to exploit these superhuman skills to the fullest.
Predates: You’ve long dreamt of being the ultimate predator and now you’re on your way to achieving that goal. Claws and teeth are just the beginning, thanks to advanced surgical techniques, body modifications, and 4D printing. Sure, everyone else can ride a dinosaur or fight a dinosaur…but you? You can become a dinosaur.
Walks with Dinosaurs: You’re not so sure about other humans, but you and dinosaurs are like this. You just get them—and they seem to get you. Through training, technology, and an uncanny understanding, you can get dinosaurs to do your bidding. Ask them to fight for you, forage for you, or just roar on command to entertain* your friends.
*scare the crap out of
Plays God: Sure, you’ve got all your eggs in one basket—but those eggs are going to grow up to be tiny T. Rexes and that basket is a test tube. Your knowledge of gene-splicing, cloning, animal husbandry, and other forms of creation is beyond compare. No one builds, breeds, or blueprints new species and creatures like you do.
Interested in Predation? Jump in on the Kickstarter here!