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Miserere is now available at Audible.

My short story "Naked the Night Sings" is only one of the many fine stories in the urban fantasy anthology Manifesto: UF, edited by Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann, Angelic Knight Press, 2013.

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"Filled with show me now and tell me later prose, [Miserere] was one of the finest debuts of 2011 and remains a novel that I remember details from nearly three years later." Justin Landon, Tor.com

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« Gender Bending Entry #2 The Ballad of Sophie Nu | Main | Gender bending along with a contest »
Thursday
Dec202012

Gender Bending Entry #1 by Jamie Sears

Due to large amounts of spam, I have to moderate all comments. Don't panic if you don't see your comment show up immediately. I'll release them as soon as I can and they will show up in batches.

Please don't break my website.

Here we go ... remember the rules: comment on whether you believe the author of this excerpt is male or female.

Bearna by Jamie Sears

Bearna waited outside the Norki's tent, knees in the dirt, back straight. The faint smell of marking-paint drifted towards him from the other side of the flap, and the after-taste of clan magic lay heavy and sharp in the back of his throat. Thoma was sitting by the spirit-fire inside, discovering his calling. When the Norki was finished with Thoma, it would be Bearna's turn. Bearna was the last; five friends had gone in before him.

Bearna had looked forward to this day for two years. Two years ago he'd become a man in the eyes of his People, and the Norki had begun watching him for the signs. He might emerge from that tent a healer, a farmer, maybe even a soldier. Only Norki knew what was to come. Bearna had done his best to do a bit of everything, but he knew what he liked best; he liked to make things. He made his Na's bracelet so it wouldn't fall off anymore. He made a better grinding stone, tied to a stick, so the women's arms didn't get so tired. Bearna couldn't guess what calling the Norki would choose for him. There was no such calling as "maker."

A pebble dug into Bearna's kneecap. He didn't dare shift. His Na and Da watched from under the western stone-tree. This day was the culmination of all their efforts with him, their proudest day, as long as Bearna brought them no shame. Bearna knew that his Da wanted him to be a fisherman, like himself. Being a fisherman would not be so bad. Bearna liked the cool feel of the water against his legs, the achievement of pulling in a net full of fish. But if he were marked as a fisherman, he would create some better tools.

The tent flap moved and Thoma walked out into the clearing. His narrow face showed the marks of a soldier. Bearna smiled; that was what Thoma had wanted. Thoma never stopped talking about the others downriver, how they had cheated during their last raid. Thoma longed to sneak up on the others the same way, take their nut stores and smash their cooking pots. And if there was fighting, well, so much the better. Thomas smiled at Bearna and moved to the side where his parents waited.

Bearna swallowed and stood. He walked toward the Norki's tent with even steps. Once marked, his future would be set. Suddenly he missed the last two years and their freedom and possibility. His stomach twisted inside him, but his feet were sure. He moved aside the flap painted with purple birds and brown toads. Inside, smoke rose lazily from a small fire. The Norki sat cross-legged, rocking back and forth, his head thrown back so far that his white hair brushed the dirt. He was speaking to the spirits; Bearna must not interrupt. He took his seat with as little noise as possible.

Enough time passed for a song, and yet the Norki continued to rock. Bearna wondered what the spirits said and how they said it. Bearna could only see what was there in front of him and hear what was plain to hear, though he'd seen signs of spirit-talk in Thoma. Thoma could tell when a storm was coming and where the snakes were in the jungle, but he was better with his spear. Bearna smiled again, remembering Thoma's soldier marks and his joyous face.

So much time passed that Bearna began to think of climbing the northern stone-tree and looking over tops of the trees. He thought of the clouds, and how they drifted across the mountain tops so far away. He wondered if there were truly a lake on the other side too big to cross. In truth he believed no lake too big to cross. The problem clearly lay with the water-crafts. People needed better rafts. If a raft could cut through the water as a spear cuts through the air, it would go faster.

The Norki stopped moving and stared into the fire, drawing Bearna away from his makings. Surely the Norki could see in him some possibility. Why had it taken so long?

At last the Norki shifted and looked up at Bearna. His eyes, light as gold, shone in the firelight. He raised one bony finger, still colored with red paint, and pointed. "No marks," he said.

Bearna sat and listened to the spirit-crackle between them. He didn't understand what the Norki had said.

"No marks," the Norki repeated, lowering his hand.

"I must have a calling," Bearna said, feeling childish for pointing out something so obvious.

"No calling," said the Norki. The wrinkles around his eyes deepened as he spoke, as if it made him sad.

"Then what shall I do?" Bearna felt the panic rising now, chilling his stomach and drawing tight around his throat. "What shall I tell my Na and Da?"

"That is for you to decide. I have spoken."

"I can't go back outside." Bearna's fingers dug into the skin of his legs. "Not without marks."

The Norki sighed now and lifted a clay pipe from a bed of leaves. "Share with me first, then." He lit his pipe with a straw. Earth-flavored smoke puffed around his mouth. As Bearna accepted the pipe he tried not to let his hands shake. This was simply a nightmare, a bad imagining. When he drew that harsh smoke into his lungs, he would wake on his hammock in his family’s tent.

He coughed. The acrid weed tickled Bearna's mind and buzzed in his ears, but still he sat inside the Norki's tent. Still he had no marks. He puffed on the pipe a second time, for courage. He remembered once, many years ago, a young man had left the tent with no marks. Eyes glassy, he'd stumbled directly into the jungle, never to be seen again. Bearna had been very young at the time, and whenever he had thought of it, he reckoned the young man had done something terrible and deserved his naked face.

"It is time," said the Norki. "Go to the place that has called you."

"Where?"

"You know where."

Bearna stood on shaky legs. He didn't want to shame himself by asking a second time, or worse, by begging for some marks to display. He thought of his friends and envied every one. They were proud members of the clan now, with jobs to do. Bearna moved toward the flap, his throat too tight to swallow. He pushed it aside and stepped out into the sunshine.

He heard someone gasp. As he took another step, he heard a whisper and running feet. He didn't look, instead turning toward his parents. They stood as they had before, under the stone-tree, their eyes now wide with alarm. Na's smooth golden hand covered her mouth. Da reached out and gathered Na close to him, speaking to her in a low voice. Na shook her head no, but Da kept talking, looking at Bearna's approach out of the corner of his eye. A tear slid down Na's cheek, but at last she nodded.

Bearna stopped in the shadow of the gray stone and breathed a sigh of relief. They would be able to tell him what to do. They would tell him where to go, and when he could come home again. But as he came to a stop, Da and Na turned their backs to him, facing the tree. Though Na's shoulders shook with sobs, they did not acknowledge him. He was not clan. Bearna felt like a wood-tree that had been eaten inside-out by ants, except for his heart. His heart was still there, heavy and wounded, filling up the empty space.

A rock hit Bearna's shoulder. He turned, not raising a hand to protect himself. He no longer cared about that, but he was curious who had hurt him.

Thoma stood ten paces away, another rock waiting in his hand. "Leave now, animal," he said. His dark eyes showed no compassion, no memory of life before the marks. The red paint on his face had dried. Tomorrow it would flake away, but the color would remain forever.

"Thoma, it's me."

Thoma sneered. "Does the animal speak?"

Bearna shrugged and shuffled to his family’s tent. There was nothing to say, no way to prove his worth, now that the Norki had sent him out with a naked face. He went to his hammock and gathered his things, paltry as they were. A few stone tools for small makings. A smooth, flat rock he'd found useful in the past. His knife and slingshot. Shells that he used to trade with the others, when there was no fighting. He wrapped it all up inside of a skin, grabbed his spear, and left.

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Reader Comments (231)

Female, although not strongly
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessie
Female
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCyndi
Female.

Because of the way other characters are described through the main characters eyes.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous
Female

I can tell you got some top-notch writers for this as I am really curious about what the character does next.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRowanmdm
Female
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJazzlet
Female
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatie
Gut reaction: male
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex
Female! Couldn't tell you why, though. I had points where I was unsure, but after thinking about it I made up my mind.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKat
I think the author is female
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeter B
Female.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEvan
Female
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrbnschwartz
Male
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commentervictoria
My guess is female. Too much color to little substance.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoy
Female. The characters are concerned with details and emotions that I can't imagine a man noticing.

This is an awesome experiment. As a female writer who hopes to someday manage to capture a "man's voice" for at least one of my stories, I'm really excited to see how this turns out.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel Ariel
Female
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDimSkip
Female.

As someone else already pointed out, the imagery is less visual, but dealing with other senses, and that feels more female to me. Specifically the smell at the back of the throat and the feel of the water on his legs.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIsabella
Female.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLektu
For whatever reason - Male.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBob Blough
Female.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKelly
I think its a male
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermmriter
Female
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCEM
This is a tough one.

I'm going to go with female. The faint note of despair that was present throughout the story just felt decidedly female to me.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRemy P
Female author I think. There's something about the word 'simply' in ,"This was simply a nightmare, a bad imagining." That leads me to think that.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMiraz Jordan
Female
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDG
I'd have to say female, but I'm already doubting my ability to tell the difference between authors based on sex. I'm thinking now it was mainly confirmation bias.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVauric
Female
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheGolden
Female
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCurtis B.
I'll go with the herd and put in a vote for 'female', cause why not. It's hard to tell from a shorter sample, though. If the gender is apparent in the writing it usually takes me most of the novel to come to the conclusion.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermegazver
I would say female. Again, no reasoning why, just a feeling.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMadxHatter0
Guessing female, but only because it makes me think of Cinda Chima's writing.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
My guess is that the author of this extract is female.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZafri M
My gut tells me: Female. I honestly can't say what make me thinks it's a female but I suppose if I had to pick, I'd say it's because of the high level of emotions going on...? Oh well, my answer stands: FEMALE
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie B.
I suspect female. Very well written!
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterron
Female
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura
I can't decide either way.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjanetl
Female.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda O.
female
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercronan
A suggestion to the blog owner: maybe add a suggestion/reminder in bold on the top of the experiment posts to not skip down to the comments until you've read the story and made up your mind about the gender on your own. I suspect there's some bandwagoning involved here at this point.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermegazver
Really want to read more..... know that is not what you asked but ..... ok my opinion at the moment female.... just on instinct alone...

looking forward to more
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGregory Lincoln
I'll go with male.

Mostly because I didn't feel strongly either way and the high number of people saying "female" for reasons that are stereotypic of how many people claim that women write just annoyed me. These reasons are generally either nonsense (people projecting their own prejudices and preconceptions onto works by women) or are used to say that women "don't write as well as men" or that women write in a way that "men can't understand". Not that people are necessarily doing that right now, but that is how it usually seems to happen.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermarchingbando
Female.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBellaTuk
My first instinct was female, and though I was kind of swayed by something in the end of the passage I'll stick with that guess.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhoenixFalls
Female - can't tell you why.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterromsfuulynn
Female.
December 20, 2012 | Unregistered Commenternumberdance
My guess is a woman, mostly because it reminds me of Harry Potter and Full Metal Alchemist in style. I usually find that stories featuring male heroes are better written by a woman oddly enough.
I don't read much books by women, but that's because the majority I see usually has a romance plot included which I hate reading, but when I do find a story by a woman I like, I'll read it regardless. Heck I enjoyed reading Frankenstien knowing that a woman wrote it.
If this were a real book and not a short story for a contest, I would so read it.
December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDouglas Freer
Female. I would like to read the rest of this.
December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNatalia
Male. I wonder how many males guess female and vice versa?
December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLynn
Female. The plot and writing remind me of Lois Lowry.
December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Slim
Female - but that's not a very strong feeling.
December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEve
i think this was written by a woman. mostly hard to say, but that's what i lean towards.
December 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa
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