The author blog of C. J. Ivory

Tinkerer with words. Dresser-Upper. Adorer of Steampunk and VictoriaNoir fiction. Occasional Lawgineer.

The Chrysalis Experiment

In 2011, I will attempt to be striving to taking part each week in The Chrysalis Experiment. The Chrysalis Experiment provides weekly prompts for short fiction pieces (1000 - 10,000 words). 

I've always found short stories a challenge, since a lot of the drama and humour in my novels comes from developing a character in a particular way and then dumping them into absurd situations. A writer doesn't have that luxury in shorts/flash fic, where the action happens (practically) from word one and ends about a dozen pages later.


I recently read, though, that mastering short stories is crucial for serious novelists, because (according to the writer) each scene in a novel should be as perfectly formed and considered as the short story. Oh bugger. 


Thankfully, the lovely ladies at The Chrysalis Experiment are on hand with weekly prompts, support and and whip-cracking. You can read more about Chrysalis here, including how to join in the fun.


Lo and Behold (well, just "Behold", really, since I don't have a soundtrack to this thing): 
*Language warning: some of my stories will contain casual swearing.*

31st March 2011

Prompt -Fall into the ocean. Revel in it.

Wow, and I thought I was going to write a cheerful one this week! Moral of the story: don't read The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen before embarking on creative endeavours. Unless you want to end up with a dark allegory about death and grieving.

Here it is then...




Eulogy for the Water’s Daughter

King Triton stroked his beard, luxuriant and wispy, floating and teased by the ocean currents. His hair had always been a source of pride, a testament to the awesome virility of the sea king – but oh! foolish beard, dallying with the water – what could it tell of sorrow?

“Sorrow,” he repeated softly, and looked about the Great Hall to see if he’d been heard. It would not do for a son of Poseidon to succumb to the frailty of his age.
And yet, on this day, he could summon none of his power. Today he mourned for Ariel, his sweet Ariel. The long life of a mermaid had stretched before her – and what had she done? She’d left him. Chosen death.

The sea witch appeared, and Triton started. He could never get used to the look of her – her ghastly human form, swimming like a frog. She had to kick her legs manically, mechanically, just to move about in the water. So why had she taken on that form? Was it that she knew he secretly longed to touch her peachy skin, smooth like a seal’s pelt?

“I come with gifts of comfort,” she said. “On this day of remembrance.”

He turned away. He couldn’t help it. It was her voice – the voice of his daughter. “I would dash out my own eyes if I thought it would remove you from my sight,” he muttered.

“Your eyes? But it is your hearing that defeats you,” she replied, swimming closer to him. “You would rip the tongue from my mouth if you thought you would get her back.”

“You tempt me, witch.” But he knew he would not do it. She was the moon to his underwater sun, as vital to his kingdom as his trident. And now she carried that voice! They’d called it the most intoxicating voice in the world. Yet his foolish Ariel had sold it, and with it, her life. “Why?” he muttered.

“Because you are getting old,” the witch crooned in his daughter’s voice, sitting in his lap. She tangled her fingers in his beard. “She sought a younger man. Is it very unbearable, Father?”

“Do not talk to me like that!” He swung a hand and knocked her away.

She did not fall, of course; but swam unconcerned before him.

“Leave me be.” Even to his own ears, he sounded defeated. His youngest daughter had thrown away her life on – what? A heartless man; a man who had trusted his judgement – wrong-headed, pitiful, human judgement, as it turned out; a man who’d fallen in love with the wrong princess. “Go on with you, witch. Your taunts are unnecessary – I lost her to that mortal prince, and nothing you can say can make it worse.”

“Oh, Triton.”

He flinched again as his Ariel’s voice floated so beautifully from this imposter’s mouth.

“Oh, Triton,” she giggled, kicking herself towards him and grasping at a lock of his hair. “You didn’t lose her because of the mortal prince. You lost her the day you let her rise to the surface.”

He grasped his own hair, tried to pull it from her grip, but succeeded only in dragging her closer to him. “All my daughters have gone to the surface,” he said. “And all but one has returned.”

“Your favourite,” the witch returned, winding his hair about her wrist. “The one you kept locked closest to your heart. The one who longed to escape.” She settled once more into his lap. “Come, Triton. Let us mourn together.”

“You will not comfort me,” he hissed. The touch of her human skin made his flesh recoil. “It is because of you that I will no more see my daughter.”

She inclined her head. “Yes, that is right. You gave her life, Triton, and I took it away. But let me ask you this: who has caused your suffering – you, for binding her with a suffocating love; or me, for releasing her from those bonds?”

He wanted to push her away, but his arms were weary. And the witch was right: he deserved to suffer this indignity. He had not been the father he should. Hadn’t he always known that Ariel longed to escape? The king remembered his fear as she’d swum away on her fifteenth birthday, so fresh and excited. The cold finger upon his heart as he’d waited for her to turn and wave, to remember him. The heaviness upon his shoulder, when she didn’t.

*

When he awoke, it was late. A page stood before his throne, nervously. “Your majesty,” the man said. “The guests have arrived to honour the princess.”

And they had. While he had slept they had filled the Great Hall, and now watched him silently – row upon row of expectant faces. The sea witch sat near the front, in the place of honour. It was wrong, he thought; wrong to honour her. But he hadn’t the strength to protest.

The King of the Seas took up his trident. “You who have something to say: speak.”

And they did. One by one, his daughters, wives, and friends. They spoke of Ariel; her youth, her kindness, her goodness.

They talked until Triton could feel the words buzzing about in his head, until he could feel himself being crushed by their weight. Until he could stand it no longer.
He rose to his feet. “She was not good,” he cried. “She was not dutiful.”

The hall fell silent. He could see his daughters, their faces upturned towards him. He could see his wives, their faces turned away. “She was my daughter,” he thundered, banging his triton down sharply on the smooth floor. A crack appeared in the mother-of-pearl floor, and zigzagged across the hall. “She had one duty – and she failed.” His voice grew huge, booming about the hall. 

“I will not mourn her death! I will not wail for her departure,” he shouted, letting the water about him shimmer with the power of his voice. His daughters put their hands over their ears; his wives screwed up their faces in horror.

“I am Triton,” he shouted towards the cavernous ceiling, as the first cracks appeared in the wall. He had become shrill, tearful, an old man barking at the moon. “You will obey me, my daughter!”

Triton lifted his arms above his head. His long hair coiled, and sizzled through the water. “Ariel,” he shouted, his voice becoming so loud that his subjects began to swim, frantically, out of the Great Hall, trying to hide themselves from his dreadful power. “Ariel – you will return to me.” And two bolts of not-lightning cracked from his fingertips, shattering the roof of the Great Hall, shoving the water before it into two huge waves, which crashed and rolled away from its master. The huge waves raced to the land above the seas, where it would drown the mortal prince in his bed; drown his new wife, and all of the kingdom.

The Great Hall was left split open in the plains of the dry seabed-desert, dazzled by the light of a terrible sun. Within the shattered remains of the hall, Triton’s subjects fell to the floor, succumbing to the drag of the ground beneath them. They flopped, and gasped upon the shining floor; tried to cover their bodies from the burning sun.
Triton collapsed back onto his throne, wheezing the unfamiliar air. He felt the pain of the sun and the wind as he looked out upon his subjects. “Fall into the ocean, Ariel,” he panted. His voice was weak, ancient. “Come back to me.” 

Across the rubble picked the sea witch. Her strange human legs, with their stubby toes and turned-down feet, allowed her to step over his glistening daughters, his dying wives. She came to Triton and she touched him. She stroked his bedraggled beard, his hair hanging limply across his shoulder. “I can hear the water,” she told him, in that voice, the most intoxicating in the world. “It will return soon. And then I shall comfort you.”

She waved a sleek pink arm over the scene before him. “I shall comfort you all.”




19th January

The Week Three prompt was "I knew there were spells for THAT. I just didn't know you could buy them on E-Bay." As you will see I used it more as a springboard than a blueprint :).


When Lydia was fourteen she got a book of spells, badly bound, from a well-meaning aunt. She’d thought the cover was cute, the aunt said, as she handed over the Taiwan-manufactured tome. Besides, it came with a pair of lipstick-pink “Divinity candels” (as it was spelt on the box), and she knew Lydia loved pink.

Lydia didn’t. Lydia hated pink.

The first time she opened the book she cut her finger on page 18, Cursing Your Enemies. Lydia came up with a curse of her own, and shut the book. She never thought about it again. 

Until twenty years later. There’d been some trouble with Cat; a girl who was once her bestie at university. They’d had a falling-out, as her mother used to call them. It was over something stupid, of course – some he said, she said bullshit that never got sorted out. Now there was no chance of them ever giggling over lattes or catching a Hugh Jackman movie.
The trouble was, they still worked together. 

And the other trouble was, Cat knew Lydia’s secrets. 

She didn’t have many secrets, but Cat knew all of them. The time Lydia accidentally peed in the back seat of her boyfriend’s mum’s car (just a little, but you know, it was still pee). How she once took twenty dollars from her grandmother’s purse to buy cigarettes. What she really thought about Jill, their manager, who never seemed to shower (Lydia couldn’t walk into her office without gagging). 

And not just that. Bad stuff, too. How she had a one-night stand a week after her boyfriend dumped her, because she thought if she got pregnant he’d think it was his. 

When she thought about them all, side by side in Cat’s memory, Lydia had to admit the secrets looked pretty bad. She could sort of see them, lined up in her ex-friend’s brain, slotted in next to each other like diseased ducks at a shooting gallery.

Anyway, Cat was going to spill something, sooner or later. She’d started to have lunch with Jill, though how she could stand the smell was beyond Lydia. It was only a matter of time before Cat shared Lydia’s personal views on hygiene, theft from grandparents, paternity issues; and whatever.

It had to be stopped.

The book, with its cheap cardboard cover, was buried amongst her old school things. God knew why she’d kept it, she thought as she dug through torn history notes and graffitied pencil cases. The spell book was tucked under a school copy of The Great Gatsby which she’d never opened.

It was pretty much still in its original condition, except that page 18 had a fingerprint in blood, dried brown. Two pages after that was what Lydia needed.   To stop someone from gossiping, the book advised, name a doll after the person. Take the doll and sew its lips together with thick wool.

Sounded easy enough, and there was a flattened Raggedy Ann doll at the bottom of the next box Lydia looked in. As she sewed black wool in zigzag stitches across its mouth (face pushed in and crumpled from loss of stuffing), Lydia started to hum.

*

She wasn’t humming three days later when she walked into the lunch room and saw Cat having coffee with Jill. The way they stopped talking when Lydia walked in – suddenly, right in the middle of a sentence – made a mockery of every stitch through Raggedy Ann’s mouth.

*

There had to be a spell that would work, she thought that night, as she tore the black wool from Raggedy Ann’s non-lips. Raggedy smiled up at her, a line of holes around her puckered mouth.

Stopping a gossipy bitch, Lydia typed into the search bar of her internet browser. After a moment she removed: -y bitch, and hit “Search”.

The problem was that everything required fricking candles. The lipstick-pink ones that had accompanied the book were years gone, and Lydia wasn’t a person who planned for power cuts. Finally she found a spell that only needed a picture of Cat. She wasn’t about to ruin that one from their skiing holiday, because it was sentimental: Lydia had been a lot thinner then and she’d lost those expensive sunglasses in the meantime. Instead she drew a picture of Cat on a piece of refill paper.

She scrunched the lip part of the picture up and chanted If only gossip from your mouth will fall, then nothing will fall from it at all. She felt like an idiot, really.

And it didn’t even work. Two days later Cat and Jill passed her desk as they went out for lunch together. Jill gave Lydia a significant look. Smelly bitch, thought Lydia, and opened up a new internet browser. Silence rumours, she typed.

That night she mixed three drops of blood in a glass of water. It was supposed to be blessed water, but Lydia didn’t know where to get blessed water, so it had come from the purifier. I am as irreproachable and untouchable as this water, were the words. Saying them thirty times was hard because she was coming down with a sore throat. She sipped hot lemon and honey. 

*


Silence my Enemies, she found the next day. She’d seen Cat outside, having a smoke. Cat was alone, but all the same she’d given Lydia a smirk. Shut up shut up shut up, Lydia thought as the spell downloaded. It was seventy-five dollars.

For two days she couldn’t tell if the spell had worked, because she’d woken up with a fever and had to stay in bed. During that time she collected more spells. They were saved in a file named Cat. Raggedy Ann looked on, smiling benignly.

*

When she got back to work, there was an email from Jill. I would like to speak with you. Lydia went to the bathroom. Shut up shut up shut up, she chanted silently.

“Lydia? Are you OK?” It was Cat, coming out of a stall. “You look terrible,” she added.
Lydia narrowed her eyes. Shut up shut up shut up. But she did feel terrible.

Back at her desk she replied to Jill’s email. I think I have the flu. I’m going home again.

*

“You’re a very ill young lady,” the doctor said sternly. “I don’t think you should be out of bed.”

She asked him what was wrong with her, voice puffy like a stranger’s.

“Laryngitis, I’d say.” He shook his head. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you lost your voice com-plete-ly.”

*

Lydia got home. She collapsed on the bed. Reached for her laptop.

Curse on a bad doctor, she typed in the search bar.






The Chrysalis Project Entry Survey

What are your current writing habits?  Do you have any larger projects in the works?
I aim for at least 500 words in my current Work in Progress. Some days it's a lot more, some days I just scrape in there. Some days I avoid eye contact with my computer.  

Name three things you love about your own writing and three skills that you would like to work on this year.  Do you have a list of writing goals for 2011?
Oh gosh, I hate to answer questions like this. Alright: three things I love. Thinking, thinking... OK, here goes:
  1. I love when I can inject humour into my pieces, even if it is grim or jaded/cynical humour. Heck, even cynics need to laugh, right?
  2. I love that I can create people out of thin air. I'm a recovering bossaholic, so it's nice to have non-real people who I can order about to my heart's content.
  3. I love when the plot just falls into place. It doesn't always. But sometimes when I'm tryingto work out a plot hole, the solution will just hit me, and half the time the ingredients (the right character, a chance remark) is already part of the work in progress. I suppse, when it all falls magically into place, it's almost like a mystial experience. (Yes, I realise how silly that sounds.) 
Three things to work on:
  1. This year I want to make sure I have the fundamentals of storytelling right. Which sounds very wishy-washy, but I think there's the world of difference between a good writer and a Good Author, and that difference comes down to the craft of story-telling: when to reveal information, how to maintain story pace, and so on.
  2. I am also trying my hand at satire, in a novel I started during NaNoWriMo. I haven't written satire before, so it's a bit nerve-wracking. I am not a funny person at parties, and I can't tell an actual joke to save myself... wish me luck :)
  3. I would also like to work on remembering to write down ideas as they come to me. I lose more ideas by thinking "Ah, I'll write it down later; I won't forget".



What do you find inspiring?
I really find it inspiring to hear about the successes of other writers. When I first began writing, I was worried I would be a sour-grapes kind of person ("Why is everyone having success before ME?!"), but I've found it so wonderful to hear about the successes of my friends and colleagues. (Talk to me again in a year, if I haven't got a contract from a publisher, right?) 
Related to this: I ADORE cover art. For those who haven't come across this phrase before, cover art is a picture of what the published novel cover will look like; the publisher sends to an author for his/her OK. 

What sort of things do you currently do to improve your writing?
I am an absolute grammar and language geek. Seriously. I read Strunk and White for funsies. One of my favourite non-fic books is Stephen Pinker's Language Instinct
Also, I read a lot of fiction, and widely. I really believe that there is no better thing an aspiring author can do than read a lot, and in different genres. I average a full-length novel a week, which is not Superman-styles, but its a reading-rate that I enjoy.


7 comments:

Trisha said...

Hi Charlotte, just added you to our 'participants' page, with a link to this page:

http://chrysalisexperiment.blogspot.com/p/friendstest-subjectsorgan-donors.html

So glad to have you aboard! :D

Trisha said...

Oh my gosh - this story was wonderful! It sucks when a friendship goes sour like that, esp. when spite is involved after the fact ;) I loved all the different spells she looked up. When I saw "It was seventy-five dollars", I winced. hehe. poor gal.

Charlotte Jane Ivory said...

Thanks Trisha! For me, this challenge was about expressing the grim humour of the situation in as few words as possible.
I really think short stories are a great way for writers to hone their skills, and at the moment I am concentrating on learning to write in spare, but expressive, language.
Thanks to you and The Chrysalis Experiement team for giving writers such a fun opportunity to improve our skills!

muso-blog-hog said...

Hi C ~~ what a great interpretation of the prompt. I enjoyed your story . I think I must check out The Chrysalis Experiment ~~ it seems interesting .

Trisha said...

WOAH. your story for this week was AMAZING! definitely dark and gloomy like you said. but I am so curious as to where it would go if it continued, i.e. is the Sea Witch gonna be queen? :D

Great writing!

and it puts the Little Mermaid in a very interesting new light I must say ;)

Charlotte Jane Ivory said...

Thanks Trisha! It's funny, in my mind the sea witch started out as a character, but as I wrote the story she morphed into an allegory for death. So when she promises to "comfort them all", it's a bit more menacing than the words might suggest.
Maybe this symbolism doesn't come across enough. Hmm, I never know with short stories how far to go - you want to get your point across but you also don't want to thump the reader over the head with it! Still, I guess it's all about practising and getting feedback :)

Trisha said...

Well, maybe she's going to be Hecate, goddess of the Underworld! :D