An adventure in goal-setting lead to this realization…

I was behind on my promises, both personal and public.

For the last twenty days, I have revamped my goals, improved how I follow through, and created habits to sustain a lifestyle that I enjoy, by taking a few simple steps.

 

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Too Many Goals, Not Enough Routine

The truth is, I have too many goals, and a long list of projects that need my attention.

For those of you new to Paper Palaces, I am currently working on a twelve-novel saga. I am also a teacher.  

Managing time is paramount, and with this many priorities, there are days where I am left exhausted. Ask any teacher or author.

Managing time is a big deal. It is often the difference between excellence and mediocrity.

During February and March, I found it harder and harder to finish what I wanted to accomplish. I call this time of the year the “February slump” due to the nexus of days without sunlight that precedes all school-related deadlines. 

Recently, I have worked on two lifestyle changes that have super-charged my mental health and approach to productivity: a clear morning routine, and a consistent journaling routine.

A Clear Morning Routine and a Consistent Journaling Routine

The newest changes were inspired by ModernHealthMonks video on a 7-Step Morning Success Routine. 

After watching the video, I thought about how I lacked a productive morning routine outside of the usual “get ready for work and out of the house” plan.

In my case, the first step was sitting down and figuring out my personal goals.

I had to sit down and ask myself, if I accomplished three things this year, what would they be? They were:

  • Contribute more to the wedding planning process with my fiancé
  • Finish writing The Witch’s Uprising and The Staghorn Crown by the Summer of 2018.
  • Being healthier

Those translated into these three goals for the year:

  1. Make meaningful contributions to the wedding and our future marriage daily.

  2. Writing as many books as I can in 2018.

  3. Creating causes and conditions for a healthy body, mind, and speech.

Next, I made three daily habits that aligned with my goals, as suggested by the ModernHealthMonk.

  1. Check in with my fiancé and our wedding notes every day to see our next actionable step.

  2. Write every day.

  3. Do at least 10 minutes of with healthy movement or exercise, light or heavy,  daily.

 

I then tried to find ways to work this into my daily routine. This was the easiest part to plan, but the hardest part to implement. Checking with my fiancé was easy. In fact, the wedding planning process feels better by the day. Health has been no challenge at all, and finding a consistent writing schedule has been the most challenging.  

I have started every morning with a 20 minute Qi-Gong routine and replaced my coffee with green tea. For a point of reference, I was drinking close to a full pot of coffee a day. This little switch changed my mood considerably! 

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A Typical Morning

At 5:40 am, I do 20 minutes of Qi Gong movements.

My body feels loose and limber. The aches and pains from yesterday, the heart palpitations of the morning, and my endless barrage of thoughts leave me, almost effortlessly.

From 6:00 – 6:40, I have a series of five minute tasks:

  • I write down my top three goals of the year, and I think of three positive memories, usually involving my brother, my parents, or my friends.
  • I then spend five minutes writing three sentences towards any writing project I am working on, or whatever else will come to mind. This exercise helps me “rip off the bandaid” and start the day with activity. 
  • I then sit for 5 minutes and go through my agenda hour by hour, reacquainting myself with the yesterday’s promises and ambitions, and resolving to complete them.
  • I do a small chore to keep our apartment in good shape.
  • I boil water and unload the dishwasher.
  • I steep tea and make toast.
  • Then I set aside ten minutes to just eat breakfast before showering, dressing, and leaving for work.

By the time I leave for work, the routine takes me 90 minutes – less if I am in a hurry or need to cut back the time.

I have literally never felt more calm and ready to start my day after going through these motions. This routine ensures that I take care of my body, eat breakfast, and start the day accomplishing a few small, but important things.

A Consistent Journaling Routine

When I learn something new, I take notes. At 7:00pm, I journal.

There are no time constraints, and there is no minimum to be met. At 7:00pm, I just journal. I enjoy the simplicity of that idea.

If I know I will be somewhere at 7:00pm, I schedule journaling time into my day, wherever it fits. Usually, it’s best a few hours before bed.

The Realization

The realization? I can accomplish what I need to if I truly prioritize my tasks and execute them within the timeframe available to me. Doing this takes discipline, but setting these goals and following through is definitely worth it.

-Curtis


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My First 20 Followers: A Note of Gratitude to Readers, Old and New

Thankful For My First 20 Followers!

It may seem like small potatoes to some people, but Paper Palaces has just surpassed twenty followers. I am very grateful for this milestone. Those of you who currently read and follow Paper Palaces, thank you for your interest and support!

Approaching 2018:

As we near 2018, I have many plans for this blog, and I will try to post meaningful content regularly. At the same time, I will keep my post frequency within 1-3 times a week for the sake of both quality and sanity!

New Types of Posts:

Process Posts / Updates

For those of you who don’t know, I am writing a twelve-novel fantasy saga, and I will be documenting the process here on Paper Palaces. You can read preview chapters of these novels on Tablo. Or, you can join the Facebook Group: Books of Brylennia.

Curiosity Posts

As I continue to write my novels, I will occasionally write in-depth posts on specific books, materials, and curiosities I encounter. These posts usually relate to fantasy, fiction, and my novel research. For example, I am drafting a post on medieval armor, as the topic is related to my series.  Curiosity posts will focus on one aspect or subtopic at a time (e.g. design, character arcs, literary elements, crafting methods, etc…).

Of course, some posts will be a blend…

Much of what I read and write relates to one or more of my projects.  As a result, some posts are blends.

See my latest example of a blended post:  How One Children’s Fantasy Book Inspired Me to Rethink My Artistic Process…

Interested? Hit that follow button, or Join the Facebook Group.

If you want to staying updated, you could follow me on WordPress, and each post will be delivered to your email or reader. You can control the delivery frequency.

Alternatively, you could join the newly created Books of Brylennia Facebook Group.  I will update this group with the most popular / relevant posts, news, and materials related to the process of creating and publishing my fantasy series. You can post your own content too, if you think our community will find it useful.

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In all cases, I hope you enjoy the content. I’m very grateful for any readers.

Thanks!

-Curtis

How One Children’s Fantasy Book Inspired Me to Rethink My Artistic Process…

Lyra’s Oxford

Philip Pullman published his trilogy, His Dark Materials in 1995.  The three main books in the series included:

Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the U.S.)

The Amber Spyglass

The Subtle Knife

Lyra’s Oxford is a companion novel to the set, along with Once Upon a Time in the North. When I was looking through my book collection, I found an old copy of Lyra’s Oxford in my bookshelf. It was sandwiched between a few other paperbacks I’ve neglected over the years. This edition is simply beautiful in the way it is designed and executed. It is this design that made me take a step back and rethink my creative process.  Take a look at the photos below:

The artwork is the most striking aspect of the book’s visual appeal.  Jon Lawrence, illustrator and engraver, contributed these visuals to the book. The aesthetic is amazing. For me, I can’t resist the look of woodcut and engraved design, nor can I resist the appeal of engraver as a metaphor.

Engravers work on their products with sustained effort over a long period of time, eventually rendering an intricate whole from thousands of little creative decisions.  The parallels to the writing process are pretty obvious.

Jon Lawrence’s work inspires me.  The artwork, layout, and overall aesthetic of this edition urged me to sit down, slow down, and rethink what I do.

Mapping Out A Story

In the center of Lyra’s Oxford, a neatly creased fold-out waits for readers to discover its secrets. This unassuming piece of paper is folded into eighths, with the facing page entitled “The Globetrotter,” a “Series of Maps for the Traveller.”

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The Globetrotter – Lyra’s Oxford, Philip Pullman

As the reader unfolds each section, the pages reveal publications, sketches, and advertisements that directly and indirectly allude to characters in the whole His Dark Materials series. It is an outstanding example of keeping continuity within a series.

When fully unfolded, one side of the fold-out  features a tricolor of Oxford, rendered in gorgeous engraver’s print. This style reminds me of the woodcuts of Will Schaff, another artist whose artwork I enjoy. The other side features a plain grid-style map of Oxford. Of course, the map is not the “real” Oxford. This is the Oxford of Lyra Belacqua, the main character in Pullman’s series. Still, there are similarities between both Oxfords.   

 

I felt a surge of curiosity when I first opened the map. My eye was drawn to each cartouche, emblem, and ink-lined street.

 

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Fold-Out: Jon Lawrence, Lyra’s Oxford

 

Lawrence’s work does a great job at mapping out a story without even telling it. I imagine the collaboration between Pullman and Lawrence was riveting; or, at least I hope so! While I looked at this map, I thought about a comment my fiancé made in my early journey of planning The Staghorn Crown, a fantasy quintet that follows the lives of four girls as they come of age in a magical fortress called the Stellaria.  As I drafted the first scenes of The Staghorn Crown, Laura turned to me and said, “I assume when this is published, you’ll have a map of this place.”

Of course, I had a very specific idea of what I wanted the Stellaria to look like, but I had not thought about hiring an artist to make it. Until then, I had made my own sketches of rooms, towers, and ancient keeps.

After my encounter with Jon Lawrence’s engravings, I could enrich the reading experience of my novels by having these maps available. My search for the best artist to render them is underway, and I continue to sketch in the meantime.

Keeping My Goals, Changing My Process

What is my  largest take-away?

I learned that I need to periodically slow down and look at the bigger picture. How will my own books provide an experience for the reader? How can I make my own writing immersive? After all, I enjoy the experiences provided by Pullman, Martin, Gaiman, Rowling, Barnhill, and Nix,  and feel inspired whenever I read them.

Lyra’s Oxford gave me the space to sit down and rethink my creative process. I have so many questions:

How do I craft fiction with excellent continuity? How many revisions will this take? I write this, smiling and knowing that it will take enough revisions to make me happily exhausted.

Part of this blog is documenting this complex process.

For those of you new to Paper Palaces, I am a self-publishing author and teacher.  My overall goal is to write a twelve-novel fantasy saga. In 2016, I created the world, mapped out the books, and treated the project as a hobby. My fiancé and I traveled to England, where I was inspired by the beautiful seaside town of Whitby and the Yorkshire Moors.  After that, I had to create these books. It’s become a little bit of an obsession.

While this dream began with a student’s response to a writing exercise, it has since grown. I hope it keeps growing. In the end, creating these twelve books is about sharing a great story with others. I have decided to keep the same goals, despite add one important aspect to my practice. I am thankfully spending more time slowing down.

The Goals I will Keep, No Matter How:

  • To complete the series and build a readership over the next six years.
  • To release preview chapters and installments of my work online to readers, patrons, students, and friends/family.
  • To become part of a writing community so I can see, appreciate, and share the magic of writing.

I hope the little decisions I make along the way are guided by these larger aspirations.


To stay updated on my books, consider joining the Books of Brylennia Facebook Group, where you can connect with Laura and me on the process of writing, editing, creating this fantasy series, and self-publishing. You can post your own contributions too. Join us on the journey. 

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Are you a teacher who writes?

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Are you a teacher who writes? It’s a simple question. I am, and I’m proud.

With a profession as important as teaching, I often feel like 100% of my time should be dedicated to my job. Most of the time, it is.

I’ve spent many Saturdays and Sundays grading papers and reading young adult novels, preparing lessons and tweaking those final-yet-impactful details that make a good lesson great. To be honest, I love the lifestyle, but sometimes I want to work on my own projects.

While most teachers can sympathize, teacher-writers often have an extra variable to add to the work-life balance equation. When do we dedicate time to our creative projects? When can we chip away at the looming manuscript in our living room? Is there a happy blend of teaching and writing?

I’m sure there is. At the end of the day, I’ve found what works for me. 

Are you a teacher who writes? How do you do it?

  • Leave a comment, I’d like to know.
  • If you have a blog or twitter, feel free to leave a link!

Saturday Writing Session # 2 – Take-aways from five hours of writing

Paper Palaces Saturday Writing Session (1)For those of you who don’t know, I’m a middle school teacher who is also trying to write a twelve-book fantasy saga in my spare time. It’s the most amazing job in the world, as I get to work with children and their writing. To do my job correctly, I need to be efficient and dedicated. Likewise, my writing practice should follow the same principles.

When I come home, I usually grade papers, work on novel-related projects, and spend time with my fiancé. I have to budget my time; it’s just a necessity. My career has its own schedule, calendar, and set of deadlines. As a result, managing my work life is often easier than finding the time to manage my writing projects.

Until a few weeks ago, I tried to write every day. For two years, I wrote in the morning. Last year, I wrote in the evenings.

In a previous post, I explored the benefits of sitting in one place for six straight hours and writing fiction. I talked about my first six-hour session and why I chose to write in a cafe of all places.

One of the largest findings from my six-hour Saturday session was how incredibly happy I felt.  This made sense. After all, writing is, to me, one of the best activities that a human being can choose to do.

Take-Aways from Today’s Session

Today, I wrote chapters for The Staghorn Crown, my serial novel for patrons on Patreon. I found the five-hour session was useful. Here are some take-aways:

  • I walked into the cafe with a blank page and an empty stomach. I walked out, five hours later, with a sandwich, two coffees, and 3,500 words of useable material.
  • The hour I spent revising felt easier than usual, as I had created solid fiction during the previous five hours.
  • Fewer passages needed pruning.
  • Scene-to-scene continuity was clearer.
  • I felt accomplished earlier in the day.
  • My writing deadlines are now impossible to miss.
  • My fiancé, who also happens to edit The Staghorn Crown seems to like this new approach as it frees up time during the week for us to enjoy each other’s company.
  • I’m happy.

If you like what your reading, consider following this blog, liking a post, or joining the Books of Brylennia Facebook Group.

Stay updated on my books, by joining the  Books of Brylennia Facebook Group. You can connect with Laura and me on the process of writing, editing, creating this fantasy series, and our methods of self-publishing. You can post your own contributions too. Join us on the journey.

Why I wrote for six hours on Saturday and will definitely do it again!

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On Saturday morning, I woke up at 5 a.m. and groggily prepared myself for six hours of writing. Fueled with two large coffees, and ready for anything, I opened my laptop, sat down, and produced 6,000 words (4,500 of which I’m willing to keep).

By lunch, I was running around my apartment, sharing my happiness with my fiancé. In the process, my excitement may have annoyed my cats!

This overwhelming feeling of productivity after a successful writing session is familiar to most authors and writers. Usually, I am a very slow writer. I spread my work out over the course of days, methodically planning, plotting, editing, and revising in an almost-meditative state.

To make matters worse, I’m huge fan of daily writing calendars and events, and I am often hooked by thirty-day challenges. However, if I want a balanced life with happy friends, family, students, and of course, a happy fiancé, I have to plan my time thoughtfully.

Throughout the last month, I have spent hours and hours of my time grading papers and attending to other areas of my work and home life. As a result, my regular writing hours became more and more irregular.

I attempted to fix this with a daily schedule, which lead to awkwardly written prose and disjointed scenes that needed to be rewritten. This has happened to me before, and my usual solution is a binge-writing session. Thankfully, I learned that I am not alone.

After a listening to this self-publishing podcast interview with author Steve Windsor, I learned that he typically writes for hours on end. Instead of writing in smaller chunks for several days a week – or having a quota of 500, or 1,000 words per day – Steve writes for longer sessions, often producing the highest word count he can.

In his podcast, he mentions sitting in a cafe for six hours and aiming for 15,000 words. This idea of planting yourself in one place, for hours on end, without the distractions of social media, commitments, or household chores thrilled me. It was inspiring to hear a different message for a change. I think longer writing sessions will be my new norm.

As I move forward and continue to work on my nine-novel series and prequel quintet, I’ll post about the experience here. I think I may have found a process that works for me.

Do you have a process that works for you?

Please share in the comments, link a blog post, or tweet your idea to @staghorncrown on Twitter.


Remember to like, comment, follow, or share via social media!

Where have the posts been? What is “A Thousand Watchful Eyes”?

A few years ago, while working with students to create real and believable characters, I came up with an idea for forming a short story contest at our school. The contest involved creating a piece of flash fiction, no longer than a page.

Students were asking how to develop a character and a story in such a short space, so we began going over the ever-so-practiced Show, Not Tell exercise, where all the writers involved attempted to show or imply as much about a character as possible without explicitly stating the facts through boring sentences.

How an idea matures…

Students began to grow their own ideas into longer works, editing them and revising them throughout the year as part of an ongoing writing project. Many of the kids thirsted for fun wordplay, and soon after, I began asking myself why I hadn’t written more in my spare time.

As a result, I began the 40 Scenes in 40 Days project on Paper Palaces. Much to my embarrassment, it didn’t last that long, as I had no complete story to motivate my writing – just scenes. This all changed when one of my students asked me a question a few weeks later, “Whatever happened to Aurelia and the Crystal Dagger?”

He looked at me with wide eyes.

“That was just a scene I did in class to show you a couple tricks,” I said. He gave me a look that only the most serious of middle schoolers could give. It communicated the same feeling as when students begged for no homework or hope for longer summer afternoons.

“You should make it a story,” he said.

I went home that weekend, and after drinking several cups of coffee, thought why not? It was then that I had an idea which grew over the course of two years. I mapped out nine novels for a young adult fantasy series, under the working title A Thousand Watchful Eyes. This is my most current project, and I have never felt more thrilled to create as I do now.

What does this mean for the Paper Palaces blog?

From this day forward, this means that Paper Palaces will continue to have book reviews, opinion pieces, teacher-related content, and fiction, but the largest difference will be this:

Paper Palaces is now a home for A Thousand Watchful Eyes. With every step of my journey toward publication, I plan to build a readership that is vast and diverse, proving to my students that there are so many types of people in the world that value reading and writing – not just teachers!

-Curtis


If you want to show your support, you can follow this blog, or join the Books of Brylennia Facebook Page.  In either case, enjoy the stories and articles to come.

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40 Scenes in 40 Days: Day 11

Hajime: Before The Desert

Hajime had cocooned himself in his apartment for two days. He wondered how long it would be before Wit found out about Shawn, but luckily for Hajime, these two days away from work were already scheduled. No one would expect anything from either one of them. Still, he didn’t even wanted to try to leave town. This would of course look suspicious, and Hajime wanted to steer clear from any confrontation with Wit until he knew what exactly to do.

Anyone who did not know Hajime would not be able to tell he was an enforcer. His hair had started to grow slightly longer than regulation cut – looking more like an ex-athlete or a fitness-centric civilian than anything else. His clothes were plain on his days off. Although he liked the feel of dress clothes, he preferred to look like everyone else when the work week was over. But most of all, Hajime was not at his desk, looking over files in the kitchen, or watching the news like most enforcers would do to get ahead. Anyone who walked into the apartment would find him – not right away, but after a few minutes of looking – wrapped lightly in a bed-sheet in the corner of his room next to the bed stand. He was watching the window as the sunlight came in, thinking of the main land.

Most of his thoughts followed the same patterns – his family, his wife, his daughter…the town he had left them in while he worked the Regions. It would be another two years before he was given retirement leave, unless he voluntarily left. This was not unheard of in his line of work, but most men had ambition and would not leave early. He once had ambition too when he was young, and he wondered if he had somehow traded his wife and daughter for it. For a long time he believed they were the cause of him taking up work, but now he was unsure why he did any of it.

Clouds obscured the sun and his thoughts were interrupted. This happened periodically. The sound of the faucet would distract him, or a garbage truck would crash outside. Somehow his mind would lapse to the last moment he had seen Shawn, the processing plant, the steel containment drums, the sound of water rushing, but his mind would not let him fully see the whole picture. And it was that stubborness of the mind that kept him cocooned in his room. He could barely remember the day before, but he remembered the important bits.

Each time he thought of Shawn, he wondered if he made the right choices, taken the right steps. He imagined being there now, reliving the previous afternoon. As if swept up by a dream, the sunlight would break through again and he would stop thinking at all about it. Perhaps the light gave him an excuse to think of happier things, or perhaps he was prolonging the period of time between denial and acceptance.

In all cases, Hajime had made a decision. He would take his time today and recoup, and then, tomorrow, he would gear up and drive back to Region Three. He could find some answers, even if he had to go out to the outskirts of town. If anything happened to him, his family would be notified, and he had specified in Wit’s contract that no details of his death would be disclosed. This was one of the nicer features of his career. Even if they considered him a traitor, they wouldn’t tell his family. He was sure this was for business reasons more than some act of integrity.

He thought of his daughter again, and then the offender. In a haze, it seemed as if the two were similar, although their physical builds and look were completely different. Maybe it was their shared habit of defiance that bridged the two of them in his mind. No matter what it was, Hajime needed to let it go. If his name was to be cleared, he would need her, and if he wanted any answers, he would need her alive. He preferred the latter scenario, but only for the relief that clarification could give him.

 

40 Scenes in 40 Days: Day 10

Claire: Disconnect

Claire was overtaken by a creeping sense of betrayal as she fell down the stairs. Each step felt like someone was pummeling her with stones. When she reached the bottom, she had wished there was some way to slow down time to make sure she had fallen correctly, but there was not. She tried to prop herself up, but her whole body seemed to scream out in a flash of pain, the epicenter of which was based in the left side of her body – more specifically her wrist. She could put no pressure on her left palm or hand, forcing her to prop herself up using her right side. She looked incredulously at the loose appendage; her left wrist had dislocated. She could not move it, not without feeling severe pain, but she had little time to dwell on her discomfort.

Two steps from the door, and she would be free for now.

She could make it if she tried, and she knew that if she stayed behind, he would finish her off. She shouldn’t have trusted him in the first place, cursing herself for being arrogant enough to know another person’s motivations. Could anyone really tell what anyone else wanted anymore? Had she ever been able to?

She pulled herself up as quickly as she could, first pushing the ground with her right arm and hand, and then lifting herself to her feet. When on the other side of the door, she began running. Light attacked her eyes, and she made her way across the city as if by luck, dodging past people in the crowd as some gawked and others ignored her. In a city so large, chases were common, and people took for granted that other people’s lives were not their business, regardless if any injustice may have been exacted at any given moment. Anyone being chased deserved it; anyone shot deserved it – not because it was right, but because it was easy to ignore. A soft feeling pushed through Claire, a feeling she could not name. It was almost nostalgic and sad, but excitingly revealing as if reaching some step toward enlightenment that other people hadn’t. It was only a half-understanding, but it felt like great knowledge, nevertheless. She was coming to terms with the gradual explanation of why it was so easy to be anonymous in Region One and Region Two.  For in that moment, as she ran, Claire had glimpsed the lack of care that most citizens had towards each other.

She had once had this same apathy when she was younger, remembering that it was too easy to live within the bubble of her own commitments, problems, and desires, and like so many people trying to make it by in their lives, Claire was mostly concerned with that basic level of survival and comfort that all humans crave. Sera was the only person to have changed that for her, but only marginally. A pang of guilt filled her stomach. As she ran, very few people cared, and no one stopped the man chasing her, and Claire knew it would remain this way.

“Stop!” yelled the man.

Yet barely a face turned for his sake. Not a soul tried to tackle Claire or bring her down to help the man, but just the same, no one came to her aid. With each panting of her breath she felt more and more alone in a world of people that were disconnected from each other. Some would not even look up from their screens or silence their earpieces. She past one boy whose eyes were glazed as she ran; his music leaked from his earpieces to her ears in a blur of incomprehensible sound. There faces passed, and she ran from him to another face, and then another, until she lost count.

In any other case, she would have considered ducking down an alley and climbing up one of the fire escapes, but her hand was now useless, and she found herself losing balance as she ran while cradling it with her good arm. A trash can crashed to the ground after she bumped it with her right hip and spun her body into another path. Garbage scattered across the streets, and a few rats moved from piece to piece with great concern for what they could scavenge. The shoppers nearby eyed mannequins in the window, without as much of a turn of their heads or whisper to their children. There was bargain today, and it was good.

 

40 Scenes in 40 Days: Day 9

Case 0783: Spheres of Influence

Hajime’s office was two doors down from the interrogation room that Wit had used for most enforcer-related processing. At this hour, few enforcers worked in the building – only the one’s that had pressing cases or wanted to make their way up in the business. It was Hajime’s turn to bring the coffee from the end of the hall into the projection center.

With each step, he tried to bring himself to a point where he could tolerate staying another hour or more. Working with Shawn, training Shawn, had taken a toll on him. He passed by the interrogation room, it’s door ajar just slightly enough for any person to see that it was empty. He tensed as he walked by, almost clenching his left and right hands and spilling the coffee.

“Careful,” said Shawn. His accuracy for knowing where Hajime was at all times sent prickles up Hajime’s neck. Shawn continued manipulating the data files with his hands, moving as if conducting an unseen orchestra while digital lights swarmed in front of him. Hajime admired his gracefulness, as he felt too old to move so quickly. However, he knew that Shawn could also miss finer details, and this gave him the comfort of not being totally obsolete.

“Which case are you reviewing?” Hajime asked. He had caught the case number in his periphery: 0783. Still, he thought to ask Shawn. It was important to let new enforcers take the lead on some cases.

“Six men were charged with assaulting an enforcer just outside of Region One,” said Shawn. “The offenders were subdued and searched by Wit personnel. One was shot.”

“What did they want?”

“Personnel found propaganda from a resistance group,” said Shawn, rotating the projection so that Hajime could read it.

“Nonsense,” said Hajime. He sipped his coffee.

“Are you saying that the information was fabricated?”

“No.”

“Are you implying that our employers lied?”

There was a long silence between them, as if all the ideas and words they could exchange had been put on hold. Shawn’s last word had punctuated the air suddenly, sounding more like a statement than a question, and Hajime knew better than to walk into a trap.

“Of course not,” he said. “Are you?”

Shawn’s eyes widened for a moment. The silence filled the room for a short time. The lights of the projections spun slowly around the room. As Shawn seemed unable to say anything else, Hajime decided to take initiative. He  put his hand up and swiped the air vertically against three projections. Pages of information faded into darkness.

“What are you doing?”

Hajime zoomed in on one particular document – the testimonial of the five remaining men, and then he delicately pulled up another document which contained the official summary of the incident.

“What did they want?” he asked Shawn again.

“They found propaganda –

“No. Look at the testimony.”

“They wanted to distribute propaganda.”

“Take a look at their testimony,” said Hajime. “You’re not reading into it.”

“They pleaded innocent,” said Shawn. “And everything happens out of order. They said the enforcers shot first, but anyone from the resistance would say that to weaken the integrity…”

Hajime’s eyes half-opened as if listening to a child tell a story that had little matter, weight, or significance. Shawn waited for Hajime to say something, but again, the room was quiet, only the soft hum of the projectors. “Wouldn’t you plead innocent?” Shawn asked, “Wouldn’t you lie?”

Hajime scoffed. “Not if I was resisting. If I was resisting, I would simply state my message.” He paused again. “What do they want?”

“I don’t know,” said Shawn.

“They are not resistance,” said Hajime. “At best they are drifters, maybe barflies that insulted enforcers who had too much to drink. You know the type. One provokes an enforcer, and the enforcer gets angry, and…” Hajime motioned with his index finger, a mock shot in the air.

“That would never happen,” said Shawn.

“Don’t be a fool,” said Hajime.”We are just people at the end of the day, and people are just as unpredictable as the next, regardless of what side they think they belong to. The enforcer is lying. The drunks were just avenging an idiot friend.”

Shawn looked away for a moment as he mulled over what to say. “How can you tell? The file is airtight.”

“That’s how I can tell,” said Hajime. “How often do cases come in neat packages? Sooner or later, you will learn not to trust anything so pristine.”