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24 May 2006 @ 07:35 pm
Fanfic: Lost  
Title: Lost
Fandom: FMA (anime version)
Character(s): Sheska
Pairing: None
Rating: G
Warnings: Spoilers for episodes 25 and (if you squint) 38.
A/N: Not my first finished FMA 'fic (and certainly not my first foray into creative writing -- that was thirty-odd years ago), but the first one to make it out of beta. Critique welcomed. Crossposted to nebroadwe.


They promised to initiate her into the mysteries of cataloging -- of assigning subject headings, correcting series tracings, even editing name authority records -- after she served her novitiate in circulation and the stacks. The lure of discipline drew her on as much as the love of books; perhaps, once she understood the rubrics, she could employ them at home and arrange her own collection into solemn order. As above, so below.

But the old desire proved too strong -- the hunger, not for knowledge, but for rhetoric. Words entrance her: the workaday prose of school texts as much as the skylark flights of lyric or the measured music of story. Every subject has its proper colors, its Tullian delights. She thought herself a connoisseur until she began to browse the books she shelved. Central Library's First Branch was a revelation of language that humbled her spirit as it exalted her mind. The formal phrases of law preserve terms from tongues centuries dead, verbal insects in amber; the cryptic sentences of alchemical treatises wind back on themselves like ants threading a spiral shell. Dizzied, she turned to military and police reports, blunt and precise yet dense with jargon. Dictionaries offered no help -- she suspected an oral tradition, the subtlest ward of a closed community. Daily she knelt in the niche between a concrete pillar and the little-visited case marked 741.58-757.32, conning pages, hoping for further enlightenment to emerge from abundance. Caught there once too often, she was dismissed -- without penalty (for they did not know how many secrets she had absorbed along with the words she loved) but with a kindly warning: The librarian who reads is lost.

Now she sits at home, surrounded by the dullest of texts: telephone logs, shipping lists, movement orders, duty rosters. Deception is easy to hide when information is scattered and words are measured out with strict economy, proliferating only by repetition. If this is art, so is painting the lane markings onto streets. She almost despairs of finding the pattern, except that she knows one exists. He saw it -- he must have done, before he dismissed her without even a word of warning.

Unless his death was itself the warning.

She ignores it as she ignored the other. Her anonymity protects her, or so she thinks. Knowledge is power only for the powerful and she is no one: ex-library clerk, ex-civilian contract employee (grade E). Who will notice that the bookworm has turned until she succeeds in her task? She is forging a weapon for other hands to use -- no, preparing a speech for a trained advocate to deliver. With words of fire and thunder he will identify the murderer, picking him out of the crowd with an unerring finger, stripping away every specious defense until the dog cowers naked beneath the eye of Truth.

Except that Truth eludes her. She has no talent for analysis; the conclusions she draws read like tabloid headlines (ALIENS INFILTRATE FUEHRER'S STAFF!) not epideictic. She glares at the reports she has reconstructed until the words blur together. No epiphany visits her: the Muses are silent. She drops her head to the desk with a wail that ends in a sob. She cannot fill this role any more than she can wear his spectacles and see as clearly as he did. But nobody else seems able or willing to try -- not his wife nor any of his colleagues nor yet his soi-disant best friend. She pushes herself back upright and wipes her glasses on her shirt; then she selects three documents at random and lays them side by side, scanning for keywords. For the pattern. For a clue to lead her through the labyrinth.

She reads and reads and reads and is lost.

[Disclaimers: Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi) was created by Arakawa Hiromu and is serialized monthly in Shonen Gangan (Square Enix); the anime of the same title was directed by Mizushima Seiji and story-edited by Aikawa Sho. Copyright for these properties is held by Arakawa Hiromu, Square Enix, Mainichi Broadcasting System, Aniplex, Bones, and dentsu. All rights reserved.]
c_b_syndromec_b_syndrome on May 25th, 2006 12:05 am (UTC)
Wow. I feel.... Humbled. That was amazing.
The Magdalen Writingnebroadwe on May 25th, 2006 01:29 am (UTC)
No, no, no, come on -- this is your chance to do unto your beta what your beta does unto you! Point out the flaws (isn't "strict economy" a bit of a cliché? what the [censored] is "epideictic"? it looks like an adjective, at any rate, so why do I have it sitting in parallel with a noun phrase?); mention the good bits in passing (like the line, "If this is art, so is painting the lane markings onto streets" -- notice the absence of fancy language, form following function), and end the whole with a slightly condescending "I'm sure the next draft will improve." Great Ghod, woman, Mark Twain kept a specially-sharpened pen nib just for occasions like this. Unless you've achieved nirvana sometime in the past month, you have to be harboring some negative feelings about editors. Let them out! Go nuts!


I do admit to having posted this in part out of a desire to prove that I can do, as well as teach. I'm glad you liked it. More may follow, if my local betas cooperate.


c_b_syndromec_b_syndrome on May 25th, 2006 01:39 am (UTC)

Well, I think that cleared up any confusion! I'm glad we had this talk!

*is giggling insanely right now*

Honestly, I am a horrible Beta! I write by instinct and how it sounds in my head (which is WHY you have so much to say about my [our] stuff, those voices don't always talk good)

Sometimes the little cliches are just fine. They have their uses. They wouldn't have become cliche otherwise.

And from dictionary.com: epideictic

\Ep`i*deic"tic\, a. [Gr. ?, fr. ? to show forth, display; 'epi` + ? to show. Cf. Epidictic.] Serving to show forth, explain, or exhibit; -- applied by the Greeks to a kind of oratory, which, by full amplification, seeks to persuade.

Sounds about right to me.

I just enjoyed the flow and imagery of the piece. It -sounded- like Schiezka.

And dah'link, I adore editors who don't need to be whapped with a clue-by-four. Trust me, if you come up with a crit that I disagree with, I will let you know ;)

I tend to go by the FDA reasoning, "When it doubt, throw it out". ie; most of the time, someone with a better command of the english language corrects me, I'll follow the corrections because I know my limitations (no college degrees in English, here, sorry)
The Magdalen Writingnebroadwe on May 25th, 2006 12:46 pm (UTC)
Well, I think that cleared up any confusion! I'm glad we had this talk!

Anytime. It's not good to keep these things bottled up.

Honestly, I am a horrible Beta! I write by instinct and how it sounds in my head ...

One reason I enjoy/loathe beta-ing is that it forces me to become conscious of what, precisely, makes it fun or not fun to read something. Narrative energy comes from a lot of different places -- plot structure, character development, rhetoric -- but at the bottom it's all about which words are chosen and how they're arranged. Figuring out how to express that with some specificity has helped me to become more attentive to choosing and arranging my own words. But there's also the instinct thing: that weird moment between "What next?" and three pages of scribbled notes. For that, I can only give thanks to my own Author -- so often it doesn't seem to have anything to do with me, even though it's my brain coming up with the words. No wonder the concept of Muses exists.

And dah'link, I adore editors who don't need to be whapped with a clue-by-four.

My local beta is pretty adept with the Big Foam Cluebat, herself. 'Tis better to give than to receive. :-)

Mac: FMA - Play Royfictionalizedme on May 25th, 2006 02:18 am (UTC)
It's very nice to read a fanfic and know, without a doubt, that you could not have written it any better. I bow to superior writing! *bows*

As above, so below. Never thought of it as a possible librarian credo, but I like it! Witches and librarians, look out.
The Magdalen Writingnebroadwe on May 25th, 2006 12:26 pm (UTC)
"As above, so below." Never thought of it as a possible librarian credo, but I like it! Witches and librarians, look out.

Wicca, astrology, alchemy, library science ... they're all occult disciplines. (Someday I want to write a story in which someone is shocked to discover that the Necronomicon is shelved in the open stacks -- until it's explained to them that it's actually been rebound to look like a duplicate copy of the 1898-1899 volume of PMLA, and that the dust bunnies down there make excellent guardian beasts ... )

Morbid Bibliomancerhitchhiker_42 on May 25th, 2006 02:39 am (UTC)
I thought your fic was quite spiffy. I can really relate to Sheska because I work at a library and I'm a huge bookworm myself. I think your voice is very unique, and I loved the fact that you used Sheska, since she's one of my favorite characters. I was wondering if you chose the number of the stack that she was doing her reading behind on purpose, since 741.58 would be a graphic novel.
The Magdalen Writingnebroadwe on May 25th, 2006 12:22 pm (UTC)
I think your voice is very unique ...

That's one way of putting it. :-) The prose here is a lot more formal and purple than my usual wont, although it's been bleached down quite a bit from its alpha state. I thought a slightly elevated style would be appropriate for Sheska, since she not only reads a lot but also seems the kind of character who would "read" her own life. The bit where she imagines a cross between Cicero and Perry Mason taking out Hughes's murderer went through quite a few rounds of overly-excited imagery before settling into its current form.

I was wondering if you chose the number of the stack that she was doing her reading behind on purpose, since 741.58 would be a graphic novel.

Ding! I was wondering if anybody would catch that; I went looking for the Dewey classification of the FMA manga once I realized I was going to have Sheska hiding in the stacks to read. One of my possibly less-salubrious writing habits is tossing in lots of pretty obscure ... in-jokes isn't quite the right word. In-references? This one seemed to attract things from my misspent days as a classics minor, including a pair of refs to the story of Daedalus. (The currently in-beta 'fic -- high-concepted as "Pinako asks Hohenheim his intentions toward Trisha" -- has a title cribbed from Shakespeare and four paraphrases of lines from Hamlet -- not because I want to draw any explicit comparisons to Hamlet -- although, come to think of it, there are a few vague parallels -- but just because I can. And to see if anyone pops up and says, "Hey! Shakespeare!" :-)

c_b_syndromec_b_syndrome on May 25th, 2006 12:34 pm (UTC)
The visual medium industry calls them "Easter Eggs" ;)

And that was cute. I didn't catch it, but I -should- have thought to look it up. Nicely laid, there!