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Fire in the Mind

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Dec 27th, 2010
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A few days ago, while reading, I hit a sentence that arrested me.

The sentence was this: “Now let’s go dig for stars.”

I was reading George MacDonald’s, At the Back of the North Wind–a fantasy story about a  young boy named Diamond who goes on adventures with a mysterious being, the Lady North Wind.

At this point in the story, Diamond was dreaming he was standing on a hill, and several angelic creatures approached him, one of which spoke the line that caught my attention. Out of context, the line could mean a million things. Even in context the possibilities were legion. Was it just a way of saying they were going to dig up lustrous gems? Or maybe in this dream-world stars fell from the sky and burrowed into the earth’s loam. Or maybe the hill Diamond was standing on wasn’t on the earth at all–instead, perhaps it was on the exterior of a cosmic-sized shell surrounding the entire universe, where a person could crack through and take the stars fixed to the inside curvature of the shell.

Or maybe they wanted to exhume a bunch of dead actors from a Hollywood cemetery. Unlikely, but still…

I stopped reading there. Throughout the rest of that day I couldn’t keep the phrase from echoing on in my mind, suggesting new interpretations and realities. It reminded me of the way fireworks sometimes have chain reactions, where one burst of light spawns a new burst which in turn spawns another, and so on. You could write a dozen different stories from this one concept .

George Macdonald himself may have been inspired to write this book in a similar fashion. The idea of being “at the back of the north wind” comes from ancient Greek sources, like Herodotus, who believed that if you traveled far enough into the freezing north, you would eventually go behind the source of the North Wind (Boreas) into a land sunny and bright.

And that is one of the most wonderful things about speculative fiction–to go somewhere you’ve never been before. Which can sometimes be the same thing as escaping, but isn’t necessarily so. Sometimes it is a vital and thrilling exploration.

Writing Level-?: That dog cannot swim.

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Dec 13th, 2010
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The other day while coming home on the metro, my wife looked over at me and said, “What are you doing?”

Busted. Her question yanked me out of something I now realize probably looks kind of creepy. A little crazy perhaps. I wasn’t even conscious of how obvious it was until she called me on it: I was standing there, staring out the glass into the tunnel, talking under my breath, mouthing complete sentences. I do this a lot lately. Walking to and from work. Standing in the elevator. Sitting at my desk. I mutter things like, “Yesterday I ate chocolate.” Or “That dog cannot swim.”

Only, it’s in mangled French, because that’s where I am right now. In France. In the beautiful city of Lyon, the gastronomic paradise of things like quenelles, charcuterie-ized donkey flesh, and of course delicious regional cheeses. The game development studio I work for, Arkane, has an office here. I’ve been here for nearly three months, and will be here for another three months, at least. My family and I are loving it.

The downside: it’s lobbed a grenade into my writing routine.

Back home in Austin, it was easier. I had my own space to write. I wrote in the morning before work, or sometimes in the evening. I had a semi-consistent pattern. But here, it’s more like guerrilla warfare—hit and run sessions where I snatch 10 minutes here, a half-hour there. I have no fixed position from which to give battle.

Instead, most of my time and energy is consumed by the very busy (and tremendously exciting) phase of the project the dev team is currently in, not to mention the added strain of our family adjusting to living on a different continent. Then, add to that the fact that I’m also trying to learn how to speak the language. Hence, the weird self-mutterings my wife witnessed.

I’ve gotten to the point where can carry on basic, albeit halting, conversations with people. Afterwards, like a someone stewing over an argument, I replay the entire exchange in my mind, reforming the phrases I should have said, correcting mistakes, re-hearing the sounds they made to pluck out the words I missed on the first pass.

Because when a native French person speaks at full speed, it’s hard to catch everything when you’re brain isn’t accustomed to the way the language sounds. Where exactly did that one word end and the next one begin? Plus, French has this beautiful, but maddeningly difficult, feature called liasons. Generally, you don’t pronounce the last consonant of French words—that is, unless the next word begins with vowel. Then it’s like a combo-ing moves together in a fighting game. Game over for me. Here’s a typical encounter:

Work colleague approaches me and a rapid, unbroken wave of nasally yet silky sounds flow out of his mouth. Something like:


If I’m not ready, it takes about a second for my brain to go, “French! He said something in French. Quick—transition!” At which point I start repeating the sounds he made in my head. A few words crystallize at a time:

“NOUS allonzalahboolansherree. TU vuvanear AVEC NOUS?”

We’re going somewhere? You with us?

Meanwhile, my colleague is still looking at me, starting to register amusement at the semi-stunned look in my eyes that happens while my brain is furiously decoding the French signal. A few seconds later, I’ve got the message nearly translated and I’m about to respond, but he decides to have mercy and switches to English (because everyone I work with speaks passable to superb English, smarty-pants game developers that they are):

“We’re going to get some lunch at the bakery,” he says. “Do you want to come?”

Dammit! I almost had it! Too slow. But, I respond with a sheepish, “Oui.”

Okay, maybe it’s not quite that bad. But it is taxing. Just listening takes significant effort.

So, anyway, all of this is partially the cause for my recent silence on the interwebs. But the writing continues to make progress (in fact, I’m working on a few exciting things I hope to be able to post about soon), it’s just an irregular, lurching, sort of progress, until things once again resemble some version of normal.

Until then, Ce chien ne peut pas nager, mais il peut retenir son souffle pour longtemps.

About Me

Ricardo Bare
Austin, Tx

Ricardo Bare is a writer and game designer living near Austin, Texas. Currently he works as a game designer for Arkane Studios, which in 2012 released Dishonored. Ricardo started his career in the games industry working on the Deus Ex series, winner of the BAFTA and numerous other Game of the Year awards.

Ricardo is the author of Jack of Hearts and Fool of Fate, the first two books in a young adult fantasy series.


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