Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Breakfast Challenge, and Camp NaNo Report

So, here's a fun thing. Camille LaGuire issued a challenge on her blog: write about your characters at breakfast. (Or, for readers, your favorite characters at breakfast.) She starts off with a post about her young gunslinger couple, Mick and Casey, and what breakfast is like for them. I imagine that breakfast for Silas and Lainie, from Daughter of the Wildings, is probably pretty much the same.

The main character that came to my mind when I read this challenge is Professor Roric Rossony from The Lost Book of Anggird. The Professor has some interesting eating habits, and breakfast plays an important part in the first section of the book. Here's one of my favorite scenes (please remember that this is not the final version; all mistakes and bad writing will be corrected by the time this is ready for release):

(The setup: Professor Rossony and his newly-hired assistant, Perarre, have been at Morning Lecture, a quasi-worship service, and have just arrived at his office/apartment to begin the day's work.)

 When they reached the Professor’s third-floor apartment, the Professor asked, “Will you join me for breakfast, Miss Tabrano?”

She joined him at the dining table, which was set for one and laid with tea, plates of golden pastries, and fresh fruit. All she had had to eat earlier was some burnt toast and undercooked bacon, typical fare for the Assistants’ residence hall.

The Professor took a second place setting from the cabinet over the sideboard and brought a second chair over to the table for himself, then poured hot tea from the white porcelain teapot for her and then for himself. The housekeeper must have been there just moments earlier for the tea to still be so hot. Perarre took a warm, sticky fruit pastry, and broke off a piece and popped it into her mouth.

“Now, Miss Tabrano,” the Professor said, “can you tell me Aeldric’s five aspects of Balancing with gratitude?”

Perarre stopped in mid-chew. The Professor, she noted, was eating his pastry with his knife and fork, not his fingers. Self-consciously, she wiped her fingers on her white linen napkin and swallowed her bite of pastry while she tried to think. She seemed to recall Aeldric’s name being mentioned during the lecture, but she hadn’t been paying enough attention to remember what else had been said. Still, this was basic; every student in the College of Magecraft learned about Aeldric’s Five Aspects their first term. “Um…”

“Come now, Miss Tabrano. You should know this, and if you have forgotten, you need to refresh your memory.” He recited the five aspects to her, seemingly without even thinking about them, as he cut an apple into thin slices and wiped his fingers on his own napkin, which appeared as immaculate after he used it as it had before. “what did the Lector say about these five aspects today?” he asked.

It was no use. “I’m afraid I don’t know, sir. I was thinking about a letter I’m planning to write to my sister.”

The Professor ate an apple slice with his knife and fork.  “I know you are not trained as a Balance theorist, Miss Tabrano, but if you are to be able to assist me in the research I will be undertaking, you will need to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the essentials of Balance theory. I can teach you the things you will need to know, if you will attend the daily Lecture and be prepared to discuss it afterwards. Otherwise, your admittedly admirable skills as a translator and Reader will be of limited use to me. Do I make myself clear?”

Perarre silently reminded herself of adventures in foreign lands and exceptional Jadean lovers. “Yes, sir.”

“Very good. Allow me, then, to tell you what was said this morning.” The Professor related what the Lector had said about Balancing with gratitude, explaining why he agreed or disagreed with the Lector’s points. Was this what he did during Lecture, Perarre wondered, critique the teaching? And what was that accent he had? It bothered her that she still hadn’t been able to identify it.

“And what is your conclusion, Miss Tabrano?”

“Um. I think…” What did she think? At some point, she had lost the thread of what he was saying. “I think that what you say makes more sense. Feeling sufficiently grateful for the Benefactor’s gift can’t make up for an incorrect Balancing spell.”

He gave her a piercing look over the rim of his teacup, then set the cup down. “You don’t have to agree with me merely because I’m your employer, Miss Tabrano.”

“I’m not, really,” she said quickly. “I think you’re right. If the magica is a physical phenomenon that has its own natural laws, your feelings about it don’t matter if you break those laws.”

He gave her an approving look. “Very good. I think that if you will pay attention during Lecture every day, you will benefit greatly from our discussions and gain the expertise I will require of you.” He fastidiously dabbed at his mouth one more time with his napkin, then rose from his chair.

Professors in this land (the Vorunne Dominion) are a privileged class, and Professor Rossony is one of the elite of the elite. As part of his compensation for his work, he is provided with the best of everything in living quarters and food. This is entirely different from what Perarre is used to, as an Assistant at the University. Her position is roughly equivalent to a post-grad assistantship or research position, which doesn't quite come with the same status and compensation as that of a full and widely-renowned professor. So she's glad to join him for breakfast even if it does mean getting grilled at the same time over what was said during Lecture!

Tea, pastries, and fruit appear in this meal; later on, when Perarre has been consistently in the habit of eating breakfast with the Professor for some time, the meal expands to include bacon and eggs, bread rolls, and even oranges. The Vorunne Dominion includes areas that have the right climate for growing citrus, but because of the limited growing season and the costs in shipping them, oranges are still something of a luxury item. However, nothing is too good or too expensive for one of the Dominion's most renowed Professors.

Professor Rossony is also notable for his extremely fastidious habits (notice the eating the apple with a knife and fork; he eats bacon the same way, too). He has good reasons for having such habits; they're his way of coping with what is later revealed to be a difficult and chaotic childhood and adolescence along with other challenges that he faces. He seeks to maintain absolute control in whatever areas of his life he can to compensate for devastating things that were/are out of his control.

I like the opportunities this scene provided for some interplay between the Professor and Perarre as they get to know each other a little better, how she's chagrined to notice the difference between his fastidious manners and her own more careless style of eating (this contrast carries over to many other areas besides eating), and the fact that the Professor feels no hesitancy to push her, a female, to stretch herself intellectually, and that he offers her the respect of telling her she doesn't have to agree with him. Later on, breakfast becomes an opportunity for Perarre to show her displeasure with some of the Professor's behavior, by declining to join him at the table, and for him to offer an apology (buttering a hard roll for another person can be an act of contrition).

This is just in the first part of the book. Then the Professor delves too deeply into things he shouldn't, and everything goes kablooey (literally?), and then breakfast becomes an entirely different matter, when you're on the run for your life. But it was fun to use the morning meals in the first part of the book as a chance to develop the characters, show what their lives are like at the University, and start to develop their relationship. Maybe it's just me, but I can see just a little bit of the chemistry between Perarre and the Professor starting to bubble up in the scene I quoted here.

Camp NaNo update:

On Friday and Saturday, various issues, including trying to fix a broken printer, dealing with wonky writing software, and the need to do a massive grocery shopping trip, kept my numbers down. Here's the report for the last few days:

4/11 - 1518 words
4/12 - 343 words
4/13 - 753 words

Total word count so far: 13,348/30,000

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