Sharon X Wong

Writer of words. Builder of worlds.

Author: sharonxwong Page 1 of 6

Every Heart a Doorway Analysis, Chapter 1: Coming Home, Leaving Home

Warning: Here be spoilers.
In Chapter 1, our heroine Nancy arrives at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Recently returned to this world from the Halls of the Dead, Nancy is greeted by the eccentric Eleanor, and then placed in a room with rhyme-loving, hope-dashing Sumi. When she finds out her parents have switched the contents of her suitcase, Sumi steals her luggage. Nancy follows.

Character and Point of View

“The habit of narration, of crafting something miraculous out of the commonplace, was hard to break. Narration came naturally after a time spent in the company of talking scarecrows or disappearing cats; it was, in its own way, a method of keeping oneself grounded, connected to the thin thread of continuity that ran through all lives, no matter how strange they might become. Narrate the impossible things, turn them into a story, and they could be controlled.”

This opening paragraph is a great set-up to the whole story, both in terms of character and theme. Let’s focus on character for now. By the end of the passage we find out this is still Eleanor’s point of view. This thought is hers, and the description that follows is her narration of her own story. So we not only get a lovely description of the setting, this description is tied to character.  

The advantage of having Eleanor open the chapter is that we get to have a good look at Nancy, our protagonist, without Nancy having to describe herself. It’s also a sign to the reader that we aren’t going to be deep in Nancy’s head all the time, so we won’t be jerked out of the story when the point of view shifts. Note we don’t get a description of Eleanor’s clothes until Nancy sees them. This makes sense because Nancy would note them, while Eleanor would not.

As we move on, we get to know these characters better, mostly through dialogue. Everyone has their different way of talking. Everything out of Sumi’s mouth is almost poetry, and I imagine all to be in that sing-song voice some children are wont to use. Eleanor at least makes sense, but she certainly rambles as well, and clearly confuses Nancy. Nancy talks the least. Because we’re in her head, we see that there is a lot that she is thinking that she doesn’t say.

Themes

Let’s revisit that opening quote, especially the last line: “Narrate the impossible things, turn them into a story, and they could be controlled.” That’s all well and good, but who controls the story? This turns out to be an important question, as the story you tell about yourself usually doesn’t match the story other people tell about you.

In this chapter, we see a few instances where the stories other people tell about Nancy, the assumptions they make about her, don’t fully match up to who she is, the story she tells about herself. The first, rather small example, is Eleanor being uncertain of her choice of room. She assumes that since Nancy went to an underworld, it must be a Nonsense world, but then notices the precise way Nancy handles her luggage and wonders if she might be wrong about that. Often when we meet people, we make up stories based on what we know, and those often turn out to be incorrect. This is also the case when Sumi assumes Nancy dyes her hair. In this case, Sumi touches a nerve. Nancy’s hair and the story behind it is important to her, and she gets angry about the idea that it could be any other way.

We see the real dangers of other people’s stories when Nancy discovers her parents have repacked her suitcase. Nancy’s parents have a wildly different story of their daughter – for them, she was kidnapped and returned as somebody they didn’t know. They view her changes as negative, whereas Nancy views it as finally becoming herself. As they are her parents, they have some power to enforce their story by switching her clothes out for ones they think are more suitable for her. This is hammered home by their note. They think she is, as Sumi notes, somebody else’s rainbow. Nancy’s parents think they have the right to decide who Nancy is, and they are going to do what is in their power to help enforce that. Will it work? Is that right? We’ll find out going forward.

Mystery and Plot

I want to use this section to talk about the murder mystery elements, and on the surface, there aren’t any of those in this chapter. I will just note that I don’t think it is an accident that Nancy comes from the Halls of the Dead. This is a way to highlight that death is going to be a large part of the story without shoving it in our faces. Likewise, Eleanor’s ‘joke’ that roommates might murder one another becomes foreshadowing in hindsight. It’s also a sign that many of these people don’t get along, thus hinting at the social dynamics that will cause some conflict in the coming pages.

In conclusion

Like any good first chapter, this one is mostly set up. It asks the big questions, introduces the major characters and their voices, and builds the world. Next time we will meet some of the other students here, and whether their stories are their own.

Every Heart A Doorway: Chapter By Chapter Analysis, Introduction and Prologue

This is new series in which I analyse Seanan McGuire’s novella Every Heart A Doorway, chapter by chapter. Every Heart a Doorway is a story about a boarding school for children who have come back from the fantastical journeys to other worlds. Whether it be the Halls of the Dead, a world of insects, or the setting for every gothic horror ever, each child had found a world where they felt at home, and now have to deal with the fact they aren’t there anymore. (Also, they have to deal with the fact that they’ve had experiences most people wouldn’t believe.) Also, there’s a murder mystery.

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Things I Learnt from Hotel Fulcrum

I’ve finally finished Summer at Hotel Fulcrum. This is the longest work of fiction I’ve completed by a long shot (probably the next longest would be under 2000 words). So this is a really big achievement for me, and a project that I’ve learnt a lot from. Specifically, the following:

Never publish a work in progress
I mean, I don’t regret publishing Hotel Fulcrum as a serial, because doing so gave me a schedule to stick to. But it’s obvious that what I have now is not what I started with, and I need to rewrite it a lot. Also, the added pressure to make it publish-worthy without actually being able to do so (because I was still working through the story) is not something I want to repeat. I admire fanfic and Wattpad writers who can just post every week and apparently still keep a story together. It’s not for me.

Scheduling and planning works (even more when the schedule is external)
I’ve been a pantser for a long time. But I’ve found a general plan does help me not write myself into a corner. And having goals for where in my story I want to be at a particular time works. Especially when I’ve told people I was going to publish every fortnight. That was helpful. There have been times where I’ve set time limits for my novels, only to throw those deadlines out the window. Couldn’t do that with this one which ultimately helped me finish it.

Editing is the Scariest Part of Writing
For me, at least. There were definitely times when I put off editing, or simply published without a final read-through, because the idea of rereading what I’d written and finding out exactly how much it sucked was not something I wanted to do. When I’m writing, there’s less pressure to make good words, because I know I can fix that in editing. However, when I’m editing, that safety net is gone. Editing is the safety. And yes, I am aware I can edit multiple times, (and I did), but that doesn’t take away the fear, seemingly. Especially when a deadline is looming. I’m going to have to dig into that and find ways to deal with it.

What Now?
I’m going back to focusing on short fiction, at least for the first half of this year. I’m hoping to have an anthology done by mid-year. About half the stories are already written, so on the bright side, there isn’t much left to do. On the not-so-bright side, most of that work will involved editing.
In terms of the blog, I have another series planned, but it’s more along the lines of book analysis rather than my own work. Stay tuned!

New Years Resolutions

Yes, it’s a cliche. Yes, most people abandon these things before February. I don’t care. I’m doing it anyway.

I’ve had a surprisingly good track record with New Years Resolutions. Last year’s one was setting up and posting regularly to this site, and aside from taking a break in November, I did pretty well at that. In a previous year, I fulfilled my resolution to cycle from Bag End to Rivendell using this tracker (to be fair, I used an exercise bike so I will admit that it may not have been entirely accurate). It does help that the things I’ve chosen don’t require massive amounts of effort, and can be sustained throughout the year. Something to keep in mind.

Here’s my list:

  • Finish editing Summer at Hotel Fulcrum: This is less a Resolution than it is my immediate goal. (It was supposed to be my December goal. Never mind.) I’m more than halfway through my second pass, so soon my previous posts will look very different and you’ll have to read them again. Sorry.
    Deadline: 13 January
  • Write and compile an anthology: I’ve been looking over some of my old stories, and noticed a common theme in a few of them: they tackle the issue of death and what lies beyond. So I’m going to write a couple more stories to flesh that out, and try my hand at putting together an e-book with the (working) title Beyond Death. If all goes well, I will attach this as a freebie to anyone who signs up to my email newsletter.
    Deadline: 1st July
  • Regularly send an email newsletter: What’s the point of having a freebie to sign up otherwise, right? Very few people have signed up so far, but to be honest, I’m astounded and privileged that there have been people letting me into their inbox. So I will be writing and sending a newsletter every month, just for them.
    Deadline: Ongoing. Every Month.

Out of the three, I think the anthology is the biggest and scariest goal. This will be my first foray into formatting a book for publication. But I have a timeline, I have a plan, and it’s going to happen.

I think that’s one of the key things to keeping resolutions. Never entertain the thought that they might fail.

So here’s to the New Year, and success to your every endeavour.

Let’s go.

Summer at Hotel Fulcrum, Part 12: Earth’s Magic

This is the final part of my fortnightly serial. If you missed Part 11, you can read it here.

Part 12: Earth’s Magic

Janet sat up and waited for the world to stop spinning. 

“How did you get here?” Telar snarled. His white cloak was slightly smudged, and it had settled on his body, still for the first time. 

Janet blinked. The room was mostly empty, but there were still chairs and tables stacked in the corners. Tendrils of tarnished silver stretched from the walls, pulling other threads with them. Was he calling other magic to this room? She stood up. That was going to end.

Just as soon as she could figure out how to end it.

“You’ve been behind all of this,” she said. “Since the beginning. Hela didn’t know how Robin and Paxton got through — you let them through somehow. That’s why you knew they were here.” She could see that the door they had come through had vanished. In fact, there were no doors in this room at all. Her heart sank. There was no way out.

“Why would I want to do that?” Telar was moving his hands, forming something with the strings.

“To keep this place out of balance. You wanted to make it all more unstable, until the doors closed, and nobody but you could fix it. Or at least to the point where you could convince Smith that nobody but you could fix it.” Janet was aware she was babbling, but she needed to stall. “Then when I tried opening one, you plucked us all out and put us near Hela, so we’d be caught. Only that sent the entire hotel to breaking apart. Maybe you wanted that too.” Telar flung out a net of magic in Janet’s direction, but she ducked and rolled before it could settle around her. “I just don’t understand why you want to do this.”

“You don’t understand a lot. This isn’t your world. You don’t belong here. This isn’t your fight.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Janet eyed the walls of the room as she talked. The threads here that weren’t dark shone bright gold. “Are you trying to get all the portals to open here? What? You want to make your own hotel here, one you can rule?”

“Of course not. See how little you grasp.” He flung another net of magic at her. Janet ducked beneath a table. The strings around her moving. Were they protecting her?

She had to keep him distracted. If she had learnt nothing else about magic, she knew it required concentration. “That’s what it seems like you’re doing. Stupid plan, if you ask me. Smith or anyone else could just put the portals back when you’re not looking.”

“They can’t control the portals. And once I’m done bringing the worlds together, they won’t be able to put anything back.”

“Bringing the worlds together?”

“That is what should have happened before, during the war. What would have happened, only they built this place to stop it. This time, I can choose which parts of each world to keep. I will be the one in control.”

“What will happen to Earth?”

“Who can say? Perhaps it is destroyed. Perhaps it will simply be left to drift alone, without magic. It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes it bloody hell does!” Janet took some deep breaths, trying to focus on the golden strings, to untangle them from the black. She couldn’t move them. She couldn’t concentrate. Her head throbbed.

“I’ve let you be a nuisance for too long.” Telar flung another ball of magic at her.

This time she couldn’t dodge. It was too fast. On instinct, she went to block it with her hands.

String of magic sprouted from her fingers, knocking Telar’s magic out of the air.

Telar stared. “That’s impossible.”

The strings that sprouted from her were pale gold, tinged with green, a colour she had not seen before. Her magic. Janet smiled with a confidence she didn’t quite feel. “Of course it’s possible, because I’m the anchor.” She focused her mind, and the strings stretched forward. Telar brought the tendrils from the walls in towards her, trying to snuff out her magic. She didn’t try to stop him. Instead, she sent her threads through the gaps, through the dark web of magic, until they came out the other side. She flung all of her strength into her magic, parting the black threads, forcing a way open.

In the wall, a door formed. It swung open just as soon as it took shape.

Smith stepped through. He was taller than Janet remembered, taller even than Telar. He wore a black cloak over his suit. “I am disappointed in you, my son.” He thrust out a hand, and Telar went sprawling on the concrete.

“Disappointed?” he coughed out. He raised his head off the floor. “This is exactly what you did, my lord, when you left. You think nobody wants to follow in your footsteps?”

“When I left, I left to protect the people of two worlds. When you left, you only cared for yourself. You would have destroyed two worlds — possibly three — in your quest for power. It is time you faced the consequences.” He clapped his hands together, and strings of red-tinged silver flowed from him. They pulled the dark magic away from the walls, back into Telar, and surrounded Telar until he was barely visible. Smith turned and ushered two workers into the room. “Take him to my office and see that he touches nothing on the way.”

Only when Telar was out of sight did Smith look at Janet. She stood with her back against the wall. “He’s your son?” 

“I will explain, Miss Ling,” said Smith. “But first, could you please put the portals back where they belong, and set this all back to normal?”

“I don’t know how.”

“You do. You’ve already done so. You can see how it all works now. The roots remain. They just need to be untangled. The magic knows where it needs to be.”

Janet shook her head, but she could see in a sense what he was getting at. She could see past the strings now, to where they were tied to the world. Her world. They were wrong when they said Earth had no magic. Now she could see that, she could see the general structure of the place. The portals were the largest spells, and bent the shape of the magic around them, so she straightened those out first. A push with her mind was all it took to set them moving. Smith was right. They knew where they belonged. As soon as they were allowed to drift, they slid back to where they were supposed to be. After that, it was simply a matter of untangling the other strings in the same way. Soon, everything was straight and orderly.

Janet looked up. Smith looked down on her with a small smile on his face. She was on the floor. She didn’t remember sitting down.

“How on Earth did you do that?” asked Hela from the door. 

”I’m not entirely sure myself.”

“I think,” said Smith, “that some explanations are in order.”

Hela placed her hand against the doorframe. Janet’s vision of the magical strings was fading slightly, but she thought she could see a silver ripple beneath Hela’s hand. After a moment, Hela said, “That’s really it. Everything’s back to normal.” She stared down at Janet. “What happened?”

Janet stood up, words stumbling over her lips as she tried to make sense of the last few hours. Smith cut her off. “Telar was trying to bring Himmeria and Durridel together into one space. Miss Ling stopped him.”

“I did? You were the one who took him down.”

Before Telar could respond, Hela said, “Wait.” She leaned against the wall, looking as tired and confused as Janet felt. “Why would Telar want to bring the worlds together? How could he have gotten this close without you —“ she glared at Smith — “knowing about it?”

“He wanted a world he could rule. One where he could make the rules. It didn’t exist, so he set about making one. As for my knowing about it — well, of course I knew about it.”

“Wait, what?” said Janet. 

Smith raised an eyebrow. “This is my place. I know all that occurs within these walls. I knew he was making things less stable, that he was trying to bring more people through, including the refugees that Janet granted shelter to.”

“You mean Robin and Paxton?” said Janet blankly. “You knew about them?”

“Telar couldn’t have let them through!” Hela burst out. “He is a guest. He has no authority. Or at least he had no authority, until you gave it to him.”

“He already had some measure of it, through me. Of course, he never had as much power as he thought. But I did not have the authority to banish him with only my suspicions. I couldn’t take action until he had shown his hand. So I let him do so.”

“What do you mean, through you? He isn’t really your son?”

“No. But he is of my lineage.”

“Huh?”

“Mr. Smith was once the Overarching King of Durridel,” said Hela. “He kept that position until the end of the Great War between the worlds, when he gave his place up to manage this place between the worlds. Sir, what you did was reckless. If Telar had succeeded —”

“You do not need to chastise me. I am capable of doing that myself.” Smith sighed. “I gave him free rein, confident that I would be able to stop him when the time came. I was wrong. He had woven his magic into the very walls, to seal himself from me. When it came down to it, I could not get to him. I am lucky that Janet was there.”

“Lucky? Are you sure that was what it was? You didn’t manoeuvre me into the exact place where I could stop him?” Janet thought back on the weeks she’d spent worrying about being found out, worrying that at any point, they would kick her out for what she’d done. And all the time, he knew! He’d been manipulating her this whole time.

“Yes, I was lucky. I didn’t know you had such a grasp on your magic. Normally anchors do not use their own magic, only link to the essence that makes up the portals.” Smith gave an embarrassed cough. “I supposed I should tell you the truth. I hired you because you seemed particularly unsuited to this role. You were looking for a temporary job, and out of all the candidates, you seemed most uncomfortable here. Had I hired someone who could bring stability, Telar would have been less likely to act. I did not expect you to form the connections you did here, and to master the magic of the place so quickly.”

Janet stared at him. “Paxton taught me,” she said faintly. “Paxton and Robin, who felt like they weren’t welcome here, because of you. Hela nearly turned them out! You let them think they weren’t meant to be here. You made me feel like I wasn’t meant to be here, like I was on the verge of being fired. All so Telar could mess things up?”

Hela asked, “What will happen to Telar now?”

“We will return him to Durridel, where he belongs. The current Overarching King should never have exiled him. He will find a fitting punishment.”

“What will happen to Robin and Paxton?” asked Janet.

“You have granted them shelter. You made an exchange with them. So they will have shelter here until they decide to leave. If they wish to go to Himmeria, they will have to seek agreement from the Council first.”

“And me? I mean, you can’t really fire me for doing things you already know about. But you obviously never meant me to actually be good at this, so —”

“Miss Ling. When I hired you, the hotel was already unstable. Nobody would have been able to set it to rights, especially with Telar working to upset the balance. However, you exceeded my expectations. You managed to link to the magic here with hardly any help, and you opened a door where I could not. We owe our lives and livelihood to you.”

“He doesn’t like to admit it,” said Hela, “but we need you here. We can’t fire you.” She shifted. “I owe you an apology. I shouldn’t have tried to get that knowledge out of your head. If I had known about this, I wouldn’t have. That knowledge belongs there, and you belong here.”

“Huh.” Janet ran her hand along the wall, feeling the magic that ran through it, that ran through the whole building. It knew her. “I’ve never been needed before.”

“You will stay, won’t you?”

“I’d like to see Robin and Paxton first. I need to know you’re not going to throw them out without telling me or something.”

“We wouldn’t —“

“I don’t know that I trust you fully yet. I want to see that they’re fine.”

***

“Janet!” Cory ran across the lobby and caught Janet in a full embrace. “You’re all right!”

“I think I am.” Janet managed to stay upright. “It’s good to see you’re fine.” 

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

Janet smiled and stepped out of his embrace. She looked past Cory and saw Robin and Paxton standing at the reception desk. “What happened to you two?”

“The hotel was breaking apart,” said Robin. “We couldn’t take more than a few steps without being taken somewhere else. And we couldn’t control it. Finally we came out here, and she —” Robin gestured at Felicia — “set a freeze spell over everything that entered. Trying to make sure nobody moved around too much, I think. Of course we struggled, but she said we could stay once everything was sorted. Promised to give us a proper room for as long as we liked. We don’t even have to pay.”

“They already made their exchange with you,” said Felicia. “That’s the check-in done. Here’s your key.” She laid a large silver key on the desk.

“So what are you two going to do now?” asked Janet. “Go back and see if things have changed there? Or are you going to try to get into Himmeria?”

“Actually we thought might stay here, at least for a while,” said Robin. “It will take a while for both worlds to settle down and become stable. Things in Durridel might improve, or they might not.”

“We never really wanted to get to Himmeria,” said Paxton. “That just seemed to be the only place that might be safe. But it’s safe here now.”

“Not to mention Paxton’s talents might come into useful here. I might try my hand as a server. We’ll see how that goes.” Robin smiled. “What about you?”

Janet looked around. They were all looking at her. The lobby, once so grand and forbidding, now seemed comforting and familiar. “I can’t work here as often as I have been,” she said. “I start uni again in a few weeks.”

“But you will keep working here?” asked Cory. His eyes were hopeful.

Janet looked at Smith. He’d lied to her. He’d deliberately made the place less stable just to catch Telar, endangering people in the process. Could she stay here, working with him, knowing that?

Then again, if she walked away, she’d never be able to change that. This was her place now. She had to look after it.

“As long as I never have to go through this type of thing again,” she said, “I’ll stay and be your anchor.”

Smith nodded. “A fair bargain.”

***

Angela dropped her luggage when she saw Janet. “Hey!” she called, and they hugged. “It’s been ages.”

“Yeah. How was Europe?”

“Oh, it was fantastic,” said Angela, and launched into description after description. It wasn’t until they had reached the car, loaded the luggage, and were driving out of the carpark that Angela stopped and said, “But what about you? How was the new job?”

“It was alright. Pretty uneventful,” said Janet, and turned the car towards home.

That’s it. Thanks so much for reading! Let me know what you thought below, and sign up to my newsletter for more updates and insights.

Summer at Hotel Fulcrum, Part 11: Traitor

This is the eleventh part of my fortnightly serial. If you missed Part 10, you can read it here.

Part 11: Traitor

Janet got to her feet and looked around. She had never seen this room before. There was a desk to her right, and in the left corner, a bed. A dark suit was draped over a chair. This must be Hela’s room, Janet realised with an uncomfortable start.

Hela was between her and the door, angrier than Janet had ever seen her. “Explain.”

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Summer at Hotel Fulcrum, Part 10: Portal

This is the tenth part of my fortnightly serial. If you missed Part 9, you can read it here.

Part 10: Portal

When Janet came in for her shift the next day, she was greeted by an unusual sight: an empty receptionist’s desk. 

“Where’s Felicia?” she asked Hela.

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Update and Thoughts on Editing

So I haven’t posted anything lately. This is partly because I was caught up in NaNoWriMo (I won, but only by not sticking to a single project, which is still a win in my book) but also because I’ve been distracted by a number of other things. But I’m back! And I have plans.

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Empty Restaurant: A Poem

Empty tables stand
under glowing orange globes.
Wine glasses glisten.
Doors open, letting
cold air blow in, shivering
people order, then
leave when food is done.
Kitchen returns to quiet,
prepping for the rush
that may never come.
Waiters waiting wistfully,
seats remain empty,
the whole building waiting to
be filled with diners to fill.

Summer at Hotel Fulcrum, Part 9: Meetings

This is the ninth part of my fortnightly serial. If you missed Part 8, you can read it here.

Part 9: Meetings

Smith’s office was larger than Janet remembered it. It was the same room — there was the mahogany desk, with the scented candles and the dim lamps, and the carpet was the same shade of blood red. Instead of being a small close space, though, it was now large enough to fit everyone here. That included every staff member Janet had seen, bar Felicia, who had stayed at the receptionist desk fielding questions. Magic again. If she focused, she thought she could see the threads of magic that had changed the room’s dimensions. They gleamed silver-red. Was that what Paxton had meant when he said she’d be able to see the colours, or was it simply that they were reflecting the colour in the room?

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