“How the God Auzh-Aravik Brought Order to the World Outside the World” is out this week at Strange Horizons!
This is a bit of second-world mythological fantasy, with flayed gods and applied theology. I’m really happy to share it with you. And! It’s been illustrated, by Patricio Betteo, in an amazing illustration which matches exactly the tone of the story. I’ve never had work illustrated before — I’m incredibly excited and pleased.
The god Auzh-Aravik spat into her flayed palm and turned the saliva streaked with blood, out onto the earth. Where it struck it sizzled. The god was pleased by how the soil writhed and struggled, enlivened by her fluids; she smiled, skinless lips crawling back from skinless teeth, visible tendons straining.
Before it was stolen, the skin of Auzh-Aravik had been inscribed with all the laws of heaven. Tattooed on her calves were the equations for the orbits of stars; written across her belly was the commandment to increase; her shoulderblades were scalpels of poetry. All rules of obedience and desire made up her right cheek; all commandments of justice and prohibition made up her left. She was the proudest and the most accomplished of the gods. She was envied for her beauty and despised for her rigor; the other gods called her the Ornament of Heaven and did not mean it flatteringly.
Naked to the muscle, she stood at the edge of the world.
This story came out of Mary Robinette Kowal’s weekend-long Short Story Intensive writing workshop, which I did in January 2015. It was a great experience — I learned a lot about plotting, and a method of brute-force thumbnail outlining which did a neat end-run around all my issues about getting from concept to sequence-of-events. I definitely recommend MRK’s classes to anyone who wants to intensively think about short story writing for a few days, especially if you work well under high-pressure production conditions (which I do. 🙂 )
One of the homework assignments in the class ends up being ‘write an entire story right now’ — after quite a bit of preparation, so it’s not exactly being drowned in the deep end of the pool — and this was the story I came up with. I picked a mythological structure because I knew it could give me scaffolding on plot beats when I needed to work fast — and because I wanted to try writing in a different, highly stylized register.
In a sense, doing those two things (selecting a structure that has built-in rules, and a register that has strict boundaries) was my attempt at using aspects of writing technique that I’m good at to prop up something I’m not so great at. I am a very voice-y writer, and I like structure tricks. Turns out if you put those things together, you can fake having a grasp of sequential plot events!
I’m not sure what world Auzh-Aravik and Saam-Firuze are gods in, but I definitely want to go back and find out sometime.