How do you write a book? Well, you sit down with your laptop or a notebook and a pen and start putting words down on a page. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Well, after attempting to do this — write a book — I can tell that even though it doesn’t require any physical activity (unless you count the numerous trips up and down the stairs to get uncountable cups of tea, coffee, and hot chocolate or the pacing from wall to wall that you think will help with your writer’s block even though it very clearly won’t), it’s quite the journey.
But why am I talking about writing books here? Well, if I wanted to save my face, I’d say there’s one reason: because book writing is a great analogy to adventuring. But because I like to keep it real here, even if it means telling on myself, I’m going to add a second reason: because I have come to the point where I have yet another mild block — and this time, I can’t get out of it and deliver a beautiful description of an adventure to save my life, as you might have noticed in the past few posts. I want to present the adventures as amazing as they were, and trying to write about them when I know I wouldn’t do them justice just seems like a great disservice to both them and you, my dear friends.
And so here I am instead, pleased to announce that after seemingly infinite hours of coffee and pacing, I have finished the first draft of what I hope will be a book in the future. It currently stands at just over 105,000 words and if I actually did the math (which I might), I could probably tell you how many hours it’s taken so far.
This isn’t my first attempt at a book. I’ve started and gotten halfway through many manuscripts. The only other one that got anywhere close to this word count is Petrichor, which I still plan to finish, and which I might have shared an excerpt from before. Petrichor currently stands at 20,000 words. So you can see why putting together 105,000 words for Music to My Ears, which, yes, is the name of the manuscript for now, is such a huge accomplishment.
(I did the math; it takes me roughly 4 hours to put together 2,000 words, therefore, writing the first draft of Music to My Ears took me roughly 210 hours of writing. This, however, doesn’t account for all the hours spent thinking about and plotting the story or researching events and concepts that appear in the manuscript, and in no way does it represent the final amount of hour I will have to have invested in it if I want to see it in some final, readable form, let alone published.)
If you’re still here and reading this slight mess of a blog post, I thank you, dear friend. I’m going to share a few short excerpts from the book. If you happen to have feedback, please, feel free to share it with me. Until next week!
*I do realize that without context, these excerpts probably won’t make any sense or be as entertaining as they might be in the story. They’re also excerpts from a very first draft, so keep that in mind when reading. I’m actually curious what genre you think this book is after reading these!
Part 2, Chapter 13
The weekend rolled around, unannounced, unexpected, and almost completely ignored by everyone, including Zala. It was on Sunday when Mary came early in the afternoon to pick her up from the park that Zala realized she’d worked her days away without realizing how much time passed — but also without remembering that she should not be able to do all this. It wasn’t about the physical work. She’d learned already that she was, in fact, a little stronger than she’d always been led to believe. It was about the work she did with other people. It was about coordinating a group of volunteers — and not failing at it. Not one of them smirked when she was talking. Not one of them ignored her advice. Not one of them treated her like something less.
Who was this girl they seemed to respect? It couldn’t have been her. The Zala she knew herself to be was laugh-worthy, weak, and useless. After all, her own mother didn’t forget to remind her that often enough.
Her mother. She should check WhatsApp to see if she’d sent some messages or tried to call. Maybe, just maybe, to say something that would counter her own voice playing in Zala’s mind on repeat, telling her that she wasn’t good enough, that she was nothing.
She opened the app. As expected, a bright red number told her that there were thirteen messages waiting for her, plus six missed calls.
Hello sweetheart, how are you doing?
Did you have a busy weekend?
Why aren’t you answering, Zala?
Too good to talk to your own mother?
Well, do as you will. Just tell me you don’t want to talk to me, you don’t have to pretend you’re busy, I know you’re not, somebody as useless as you can’t have that much work.
Did you find some new friends? Someone who’s so much better than your own family? Just wait, once they see who you really are and how disgusting and sick you are, they’ll leave you. Don’t come crying to me when that happens.
Zala’s mother went on and on, each message worse than the one before. Instead of quieting the voice that reminded Zala of her worthlessness each and every day, the messages helped it scream loudly in her head.
But wait. This last week… she hadn’t heard the voice once. The past week, busy as she was, exhausted as she was, she was also happy.
She was herself. And she wasn’t weak or laugh-worthy.
She was strong and respected. She realized that, in fact, during her whole time on Kangaroo Island, there were only a few very rare moments when her own mind called her useless or pathetic.
She worked her butt off. She was stronger than her mother or herself thought. She was a goddamn human, and good or bad, useful or useless, she deserved to be treated like one.
We have fires here. I’ve been busy helping in a local wildlife park saving the animals. Beau actually started to pay me double the amount we agreed on because of how much work I’ve done. I’m not useless to them. It’s the new year soon. Have a happy new year. And Dad and Lucy, too. Love you all.
Before she could change her mind about the ‘not useless’ part, Zala pressed send.
On Monday, she walked into the Wildlife Park. As she was checking and adding tasks to the list of things that needed to be done, two of her volunteers showed up, together with Jiji.
“They’re saying the fires are well-contained and under control! We should drink on that today,” Jiji said as she stormed into the office. “Beau is picking up supplies from the ferry today —“
“Yep, I put that on the list.”
“And Matt needs to check on the two kangaroos from yesterday —“
“Told him already, he’s with them right now.”
“And we have to check on supplies of privet —“
“We’re taking care of that in a moment.”
“Okay okay. God. You’re a treasure. You see guys? That’s how we do it!” Jiji ran out of the office, leaving the door open after her. Zala was about to take the other volunteers to the little room where they stored all the bird-related supplies when Jiji flew back in.
“… appointments?” was the only thing Zala heard.
“Meeting with the press at eleven, although I forgot which paper.”
Jiji was gone again even before Zala finished the sentence. Despite the echoes of her mother’s words still bouncing around in her head, she had to smile. This was her element. And even if she was a useless piece of a pathetic human to her mother, or even if she was a useless piece of a pathetic human, as a matter of fact, she didn’t think she was a useless piece of a pathetic human to Jiji, or, for that matter, to anyone else she’s met on Kangaroo Island.
Part 3, Chapter 10
“I want you to come to work with me today,” Zala said after Paxton opened his eyes into the dark room. There was a little bit of light coming in from the doorway, but it was apparently too early in the morning for any light to be coming in through the window.
“What?” Paxton asked, and it could have meant any of the many questions that immediately popped into his mind. What are you doing in my room? (Zala had been in his room exactly once before, and it took some convincing on his part that it was totally okay for her to come in.) What did she mean by coming to work with her? (Like, was she asking him to accompany her on the bus as usual? But she’s never woken him up for that, why start today?) What would I do at your work? (No, seriously, what would he do at her work if she meant for him to go all the way to the sanctuary with her?) And the most burning question of all; what time is it? (Because, seriously, who gets up even before the sun? Besides Zala, that is.)
“Come to work with me today.”
“Surprise,” Zala said and chuckled softly before leaving his room. Paxton reached for his phone to check the time but changed his mind mid-motion. Better not know. He dragged his body out from the bed and stumbled into the bathroom, shielding his eyes from the light that was way too bright.
He could say no to Zala and go back to bed. That sounded like a good idea, indeed. Beyond tempting. But while he was considering this option, his body moved on its own, brushing his teeth and getting dressed.
He stumbled into the kitchen drawn by the familiar scent of coffee and discovered that Zala had made breakfast already; toasts with almond butter and apple slices and scrambled eggs. His mouth started to water at the sight. How did Zala manage to prepare all this food already?
“What time did you get up?” he asked.
“Not too long before you,” Zala said, and even though it didn’t answer Paxton’s question, he decided to leave it at that. Again, probably better not to know.
They left Lone Pine soon after, Zala taking half a day off, and headed to No.5 for lunch and more coffee because Paxton wasn’t over being woken up so early in the morning.
“Zala! Great to see you, man!” Oliver called out from one of the tables he was helping out the moment they walked in.
“You too! How’s it going?”
“All good, all good. A bit busy here. Go and help yourself to anything you’d like!”
Zala thanked Oliver and slipped behind the counter while Paxton seated himself at one of the bar stools.
“What would you like? Don’t be afraid to go wild, I kinda miss making personalized crazy coffee,” she asked Paxton, a wide smile plastered across her face, while wiping a few coffee stains off the counter with a wet cloth. Before Paxton had the chance to say anything, an arm wrapped around his shoulders and somebody sat down on the stool next to him.
“Well if it isn’t our Zala! How are you doing, babe?”
It was Neil. Paxton had half the mind to shove him off the stool. It was most likely his ‘babe’ comment, but he didn’t exactly love the guy before, either. He felt his lips close into a tight line, and he wanted to roll his eyes. Zala on the other hand looked up at Neil, suddenly expressionless.
“And you are…?” Even the best poker players in the world would have envied her the poker face she was able to pull off.
“Ah, you guys still pretending to be friends?” Neil said, and Paxton felt the words stab just a little more than they should have.
“I’m sorry can I help you, sir?”
“Well, since you’re offering…”
“I’m not, and it’s going to be an extra five dollars surcharge for the ‘babe’ part.”
“Well, just plain old coffee then. And make it sweet.”
“How sweet?” Zala asked, throwing the wet towel into the sink.
“As sweet as you,” he said a lazy smirk painted across his face.
“Sorry, I don’t have enough salt for that.” Paxton had to chuckle to himself. The tension he felt since Neil made his appearance melted as if by magic. Under Zala’s reign, Neil was completely harmless.
Oliver finally made his way back behind the counter.
“Hey, Olives,” Neil greeted him. How that guy could even think this was smooth, Paxton had no idea.
“Holy hell what are you doing here? And I told you a hundred times not to call me that.”
“But it’s so cute,” Neil kept smiling.
“Just take your coffee and go before I put rat poison in it.”
“Aww, you don’t have to be so prickly, Olives.”
“I’m sorry, but as you’ve just heard, your absence is required,” Zala stepped in.
For the first time since his arrival, Neil looked puzzled for a few seconds while Paxton started to smile. Oliver didn’t even attempt to keep a straight face.
“I don’t have much idea what you just said, but I didn’t like your tone. What about a kiss as an apology?
“Eff this, this is too much. Actually, no. I can’t even give a fuck anymore. This is ineffable,” Zala rolled her eyes as turned around to wash the cloth in the sink and hang it up over the tap to let it dry.
“I don’t think you know what ineffable means, but okay.”
“No, no, I know exactly what it means. For example, your dedication to making everyone’s life hell is ineffable, just as your absolute inability not to be an asshole.” Paxton couldn’t decide whether the annoyance he heard in Zala’s voice was real, or whether it was just a trap (which he really wanted Neil to fall into). Either way, it seemed that he was starting to get under her skin, and Neil apparently noticed it, too.
“Look, I understand that speaking in… not your mother tongue must be challenging sometimes. It’s okay, hun, nothing to be embarrassed about,” Neil purred. “For example, I bet you can’t compose a sentence without the letter A!”
In that moment, Paxton wished he was a sports commentator and this was a real battle. He knew exactly what he would be saying into the microphone. Neil had very clearly underestimated Zala’s language abilities and, with that last sentence, dug his own grave. Zala was either going to destroy Neil in Shakespearean fashion or do it like that guy in a movie that walks away from an explosion without looking over his shoulder. Oliver probably knew it, too, but he didn’t say anything.
“Fuck you,” Zala said without missing a beat. Boom, Oliver mouthed, mimicking an explosion with his hand.
Part 3, Chapter 20
“I loved Mulan as a kid,” Paxton said.
“Really? I’ve never seen it.”
“Do you have a favourite Disney movie?”
“No, not really. Never really watched Disney. I think I saw one or two of their movies but never really liked them.”
Zala sipped on her tea as if not liking Disney was the most normal thing in the world. But what was childhood without Disney?
“Want to watch a movie?” Paxton asked.
“I don’t know what Disney movies you watched but before you say no to what I’m about to suggest, let me just tell you why I really love Mulan.”
Zala giggled, and even though it was a quiet sound, it felt as if it filled the whole room.
“What about we watch it then and I’ll try to guess why you really like Mulan?”
Halfway through the movie, they moved to Paxton’s bed for more comfort. Not that sitting on the ground at the coffee table was that bad, but being able to lay down on the soft mattress beat shivering in the chill of the main room.
Zala didn’t say nearly anything the whole time besides “Mushu is so relatable, I love him.” Her eyes seemed to be glued to the screen every time Paxton peeked in her direction, and it was hard to decipher the emotion that settled on her face with “Reflections” and stayed until the credits started to roll.
“So, what did you think of Mulan?” Paxton looked at Zala. Her eyes were heavy with sleep that crept up on her during the movie.
“She’s… very… I think Li Shang is a great character.”
“Oh. Why do you like him?” Paxton pulled the blankets up for warmth when he noticed Zala’s arms were covered with goosebumps.
“He liked Mulan even when she was a boy,” Zala mumbled, her eyes closed. Paxton stayed silent for a few moments, until Zala’s breathing evened out and her face relaxed. She looked more peaceful than ever. Paxton didn’t doubt she’d still be able to tear into pieces anyone who would dare to provoke her, but at the same time, seeing her so vulnerable, he realized he’d gladly do the same if anyone so much as looked at her with the wrong intent.
“I like you, like that, too, you know?” he whispered, powered off the laptop, and turned off the bedside lamp.
Part 4, Chapter 4
As Zala’s dad drove slowly through the snow-covered streets, the town started to look familiar, friendly, even. Zala recognized the fountain he fell into one summer when his mother convinced him to wear a bright yellow dress in exchange for an ice-cream. He was trying to fish out the coins people threw in for good luck, thinking that luck was all he needed to start liking the dress. Looking back at it, it wasn’t a wrong dress, only a wrong day.
The square itself didn’t change much; storefronts and houses wore the same paint they had for a hundred years, and Zala was able to recognize most of the establishments. Except for one. At the very end of the square, on a corner of a street that divided the square from a park, a big sign read Qafé. It was in modern type, black and white, nice and clean design. But it wasn’t the design or the spelling that caught Zala’s attention, it was the big rainbow flag that hung above the door, shifting lazily in the breeze that ran through the streets.
Maybe he knew what he was going to do after all.
Part 4, Chapter 9
Zala spent the night in a strange state of emptiness. Sleep avoided her for as long as it could, and when it finally made an appearance, it stayed only for a few moments, and was present only as much as a ghost would be. Zala could see through it, could see the bare walls of the nearly empty room, the moonlight streaming in through the window, the reality she wished was a dream.
Maybe if she just opened her eyes, she would find herself in her bed back in Sydney. She would turn around and find Paxton sleeping next to her, breathing slowly, swimming through his own dreams. She would hope he was dreaming about something beautiful, and look at him for as long as it took her to calm her heart down, stop the tears collecting in the corners of her eyes, and fall back to sleep.
A warm breeze came in through the window and played with Zala’s hair. She’d cut it short, and it tickled her forehead in her sleep, bringing her to the surface of her uncanny dream. She felt an arm laying over her waist, its weight comforting on her skin. She opened her eyes and tried to free herself, gently, not to wake Paxton up. He shuffled in the bed and mumbled in his sleep. A soft smile spread across Zala’s lips. She got up and walked over to the window. Up in the sky, a million stars were dancing.
It was just a dream. A tear of relief slid down her cheek.
It was an unknown sensation that woke Zala up into the dark early morning. It was a sensation so foreign she thought she was still sleeping. A drop of warmth left the corner of her eye and traveled across her cold skin to her ear. Another one spilled across her nose, tickling as it hesitated on the ridge just for a moment before dripping down to join the first one.
The pillow pressed against Zala’s cheek felt slightly sticky on her skin. She brought her hand up from the sleeping bag and touched the fabric. It was wet. She got up, untangling herself from the sleeping bag. She found a sweater and put it on to help her battle the cold, then walked across the hall to the bathroom. The light flickered on and revealed her reflection in the mirror.
Her eyes were red and puffy. She touched her cheek and swiped away the lone tear that was being pulled down by gravity. A new one appeared in the corner of her eye to replace it. She dried that one off, too. But more came and Zala was helpless in trying to stop them. She gave up and leaned on the sink, looking at her reflection, strangely foreign, strangely personal. The person looking back at her wasn’t her. But she was closer to her than she herself had ever been, with tears streaming down her face freely.
For the first time in forever, Zala was crying.