Marcin Dolecki, Philosopher`s Crystal (Prologue)

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Illustration by Rosann A. Portes

“Commissioner, has lucid dreaming ever happened to you?” Tassatarius asked.

“Yes, Your Majesty. I have found myself in such a situation more than a few times,” the short, graying man in a midnight blue uniform replied, standing by the Emperor’s ebony writing desk.

The large cabinet beside the table was mostly empty. Behind the Monarch, sitting in his opulent armchair, there was a bookcase where along the edges hunched two carved gryphons, a vintage clock in the corner, and a world map in a golden frame on the wall.

Wespe had always felt uneasy when his Lord asked him peculiar questions like this one.

“And when it happened, did you ever talk about it with the people in your dreams?” the Emperor said, slowly turning pages of a notebook in a blue, leather cover. “Did you try to convince them that you were only dreaming of them?”

“I do not remember… but no, I do not think I did,” the Commissioner stuttered.

He did not know which of his answers would be safest for him.

“Perhaps, you should have done so? Don’t you think? It could be quite…” The ruler did not finish, instead he just smiled enigmatically, and whispered, his eyes disapproving, “Perhaps you have already made a serious mistake?”

“It is very… likely…. I do believe it is worth trying,” Wespe answered with a short hesitation.

“What if you do not get another chance?”

He knew that the Emperor was toying with him – he also knew that Tassatarius, who at this time was in his seventies, frequently entertained himself in this manner, which had already led to the death of many of his subjects. The Commissioner had even heard of an incident when the ruler asked one of his generals who had been complaining to him about a rival, “If I could solve your problem quickly or in a subtle yet slow way, which would you prefer?” The general had chosen the first option and the Emperor had him executed the next day. No one had dared ask what would have happen if he had chosen the second possibility, but – most likely – the Monarch would have simply killed him some days or weeks later. In such situations quite a lot depended on the Emperor`s mood, and it was always extremely difficult to guess. Some had speculated that his appearance in silver robes indicated that he was about to implement sudden judgements – but that day Tassatarius was wearing gold attire.

Wespe had brought this mysterious notebook – found by chance in the flat of two former university professors – to the palace, as he believed correctly that it would be of some interest to his ruler. He also expected that by doing so, he would once again find favor with the Emperor; nonetheless, he could also lose his position at court altogether, or even more than that – his life. Still, he had resolved to take the risk, which Tassatarius always encouraged, and was now beginning to regret his decision.

The Emperor placed the notebook on his desk and looked the Commissioner in the eyes. Wespe gulped, reaching for the top button of his uniform jacket to make sure that it was done up. He felt himself shrinking under the piercing gaze of Tassatarius, yet he was not able to shrink down small enough to become invisible. It appeared that this dreadful moment would never end. The lines of wrinkles on the Monarch`s face resembled a map of an evil land. The Commissioner felt drawn into this treacherous terrain by the old man’s blue, mesmerizing eyes. The ticking of the clock became louder causing him to feel a terrible headache. Wespe could hardly stand to continue this life on the verge of existence.

“This notebook is signed with what appears to be a first name only, ‘Oscar.’ You will find out who the author is and, if he is still alive, you will bring him to me,” the Emperor said finally.

“Of course, Your Majesty. I shall immediately interrogate the people to whom the notebook belonged,” Wespe assured.

The corner of the old man`s mouth twitched as he reached for a cup and poured himself some coffee from a brownish jug on the writing table, taking a small sip. He never ever invited his subjects to have a cup of coffee with him.

The Commissioner looked across at the object on the Emperor’s desk: the famous scepter. Tassatarius carried it with him always. Wespe had heard that it was a dangerous thing, but no one was able to explain how so. Papers covered the scepter, and only a tiny part of it – a fragment of a silver tube with a diamond at the end – was visible. Still Wespe knew what it was.

The Emperor noted his curious gaze towards his desk, and then for a moment stared once more at the officer, and ordered, “You may leave.”

The Commissioner popped himself up like a suddenly released spring, saluted, and left the chamber; the two gryphons watched him motionless. It was not until he found himself outside the palace walls that he felt slight relief. There a big, black car was waiting for him. A door silently opened, Wespe stepped in and slumped into the back seat of the vehicle where he wiped his face with a handkerchief.

“Is everything okay, Commissioner?” the driver asked.

“Go to Zera Yacob Street. And no questions,” the officer ordered, closing the tinted car door as his driver sped off.

 

Joanna Maciejewska – A Good Reason to Write (in a Second Language)

[The first guest post – M. D.]

Over seven years ago I decided to start writing in English, which is not my native language. It’s not even the language of the country I lived in since my childhood or the language spoken in my family house.

I haven’t started learning English before turning seven, when my parents signed me up for private classes offered after hours in my primary school. They thought it would be beneficial for me to start learning since the regular language classes wouldn’t start until I turned 10 (nowadays, this approach changed and children start learning second language as early as 3), and the language taught in my school was German.

After some initial struggles, I got grasp of it and it soon became my favorite activity. It was also something I could explore on my own, via songs and video games (oh the times of Atari and early PCs, how much vocabulary I’ve learned back then!), so even though I continued my classes, and then picked English as my main foreign language in high school, I’ve also learned a lot outside of the formal teaching environments. Then, the university time came and I’ve discovered… how much more there is to learn, but I still enjoyed English greatly.

After about 13 years of learning the language, when I moved to Ireland, I still felt at loss sometimes: different accents (including people who spoke English as their second language), slang, regional linguistic peculiarities I came to love, and other things.

I’ve been using English all that time, at work and at home, with my partner, who was an American, but I still kept writing fiction in Polish, in my native language. On occasion, my stories would even appear in magazines or anthologies.

It was my partner who first told me “You should write in English”. With the confidence of someone who knows it’s not as difficult as I would think. But I, of course, hesitated, well-aware of how little I knew and how much there was to learn, but in the end I decided to try. After all, trying couldn’t hurt, right?

So I wrote my first novel, and by the time I hit the end, after over 115,000 of words, I could already see the improvement of my grammar, vocabulary, and style. So I kept writing. I also started reading on style and rules of writing in English (which many times differ from the Polish ones), and tried to understand this whole new land of words I ventured into. I read articles, joined discussion groups, and did my best to find my footing.

Twenty eight years after I first started learning the language itself, and seven years after I made the leap to start writing fiction in it (I don’t count class assignments, because they have little to do with being literary), I improved more than “a lot”, but I’m still nowhere near I want to be.

That’s why when people consider writing in English as their second language, I cheer on them and encourage them, but I also remind them to make the decision for the right reasons. Stories of spectacular successes fuel the dreams and desires, but it’s easy to forget that behind most of them there was a tale of long and tedious work, of learning the language and about writing itself.

So if you want to write in English (or any other second language), go ahead, it’s both a great challenge and a great experience, but do it for the right reason, not for the elusive desire of instant fame. My reasons came from my life: I wanted to share my stories with my partner and I lived in an English-speaking country, so they helped me to be persistent in pursuing my goal.

And what would be your reasons?

*

Joanna Maciejewska was born in Poland, and spend there a bit over a quarter of century there before moving over to Ireland, where she lived for 8 years. She currently resides in Arizona.

Joanna writes fiction in both Polish and English and been published in main Polish magazines (“Nowa Fantastyka”, “Fantasy, Science-Fiction i Horror” and “Esensja”) and anthologies, both in print and digitally. She has short stories in English published in Fiction Vortex and the anthology “Of the Dead and Dying: Tales of the Apocalypse”.

You can find her on Twitter: @Melfka and Goodreads, or visit her site at Melfka.com.

What Makes a Fiction Book Successful?

Photo taken from this site

I have been wondering – like a lot of other people – why some fiction books become successful (I mean primarily science fiction and fantasy genres).

There are three essential elements: the created world, its greatest “attraction” and the plot. If they are presented in a skillful, interesting and balanced way, the author has literary talent. If he/she has a lot of luck, he/she will probably succeed.

I suppose, the second factor is the most important here. It should have the greatest potential to inspire readers` imagination – even beyond the original author`s concept. It should be powerful, profound and with the multiplicity of aspects.

I will give five examples:

J. K. Rowling: the greatest attraction (tga): Hogwart – as the building, institution and community.

P. Pullman: tga: souls as external entities in animal forms – dæmons.

S. Lem: tga: the conscious, living ocean.

P.L. Travers: tga: Mary Poppins.

J.R.R. Tolkien: tga: the temptation of power.

Without these elements of their imaginary worlds, all listed writers might have remained relatively unknown.

I could compare reading a great book to visiting a house – with the author as my guide. He/she might awake my curiosity by presenting his/her splendid architectural concept, rooms, the most attractive, amazing element, and inhabitants – in an intricate, unconventional way. All these factors are important for creating a unique climate of the place. Nevertheless, I would probably pay special attention to the most attractive element (it could be for example: a room, object, inhabitant, or event). And the entire author`s world may become alive also in my imagination for a long time.