Monthly Archives: March 2012
If you are like me and writing science fiction and fantasy, take a gander at the link at the end of this post about world-building.
I am not a huge world-builder. I mean, I have thoughts on what is going on in the “worlds” in which I write, and I see places in my mind that I, in turn, describe somewhat organically as my characters live and operate within them, but I’m more of a character-builder.
My worlds are not too foreign or different than this one. In fact, in my first novel, The Time Minders, it is our world – just a bit into the future and not as dark as the one to the right. The not-too-distant future, by the way, is fascinating to write: to write what is so familiar with just a touch of the foreign, just a breath of the next step(s) in technology and social mores. In my fantasy novel, Kingdoms of Blood & Magic, the kingdoms are what I call medievalesque, and they have issues and similarities to many such stories. I put my own spin on the kingdoms’ religion(s) and politics, however, and I show the personalities of the settings, like they are characters themselves. But I haven’t drawn any maps or keep whole separate journals on towns, villages, roads, taverns, etc. (I don’t know, maybe I should? Hmm.)
So let me know what you think about world-building:
Back at the coffee shop with the daughters this afternoon….waiting too late and didn’t get any of the special pesto pasta . Oh well, the chicken salad sandwich and peanut butter cookies were delicious, and the latte, of course, was its usual fantasmic!
It’s Friday. I did a smidgen of writing today and plan to do more as the girls play and goof off for the rest of the afternoon.
I finally wrote a scene that I had been having a hard time getting into my head – for a month or two, actually. It was the coronation of young King Mycaelus II from my young adult fantasy, Kingdoms of Blood & Magic. I think I was having problems with it for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that this book seems to be taking on a quality that I hadn’t originally anticipated. It is making all kinds of statements on organized religion – specifically organized Catholic Christianity.
The story takes place in a fictional set of kingdoms, and the people within are medieval-esque. Many of them seem to be quasi-Christian, as well. But the story is full of magic, and the magic has some sort of odd symbiotic relationship with the church. I really don’t know how this happened. That part of the story has just, sort of, written itself. Now, I know that a book about magic with Catholic overtones is going to end up pissing a bunch of people off, and I apologize in advance. On the one hand, I know that the Catholic church solidly denounces magic, so relating magical power to the church, in my story, already sets me off on devil’s ground. On the other hand, bastardizing the Catholic church and vilifying it in any way is unfair and untoward, and not my intention. I do not intend to make a statement on the evil of the church. Far from it.
I am a faithful person, a Christian. I may not be Catholic, but I’ve always been fascinated by church history. Of course, some of my faith will bleed into my fiction, even my fantasy fiction. I don’t proselytize, though – not at all. I like diversity of religious belief, and I enjoy holding up all of our liturgies and practices to mirrors on a regular basis, lest we become more engaged in ritual and less engaged in the faith and the caring for our fellow man. I hope that this is what my book does. I hope that the good and faithful people in my book, magical or not, shine through for their loving kindness, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof.
So all of this was a discourse on why the coronation scene was hard to write. I used a version of the traditional coronation liturgy of the Church of England, the one most recently used for Queen Elizabeth back in 1953. Of course, I altered it to fit my fictional “church” that governs and regulates magic for the Kingdom of Ander. I needed to preserve the pageantry and solemnity but clearly fantasize it. This was a challenge – to make something familiar but slightly alien at the same time.
The coronation scene was also hard to write because I have a couple of characters who were not cooperating. There is extreme animosity right now that my male hero has with the new king. In my head, I had originally thought that that animosity would come much later on in the book, but it seemed to flare up right at the beginning . . . and rear its ugly head throughout the coronation scene. I went ahead and went with it. No sense fighting with fictional characters; you’ll never win.
And that will bring me to my last bit of commentary on this sunny day. I am finding more and more that my fictional characters, created BY me, are their own persons. I think I have a handle on how they will feel, what they will do, and their story arc, but I really don’t – not really. I seem to set the world up for them to live in and then let them do their thing – and write it all down. This is a bit unnerving, isn’t it? It creates the inevitable comparison of author to God, which is most certainly NOT my intention. But, since it is almost holy week, I guess it’s apropos, and helpful for me to . . . in some miniscule way, fathom my Creator. We are all set loose upon this earth with free will and our own wayward personalities. We do as we will and as we please. Sometimes we impress; sometimes we frustrate; sometimes we agonize our creator.
Just like my characters do to me.
Just like my daughters do to me, come to think of it . . . I did have to share a whole bunch more of my chicken salad sandwich than I wanted to with my oldest daughter, and when I went to take another bite of my youngest daughter’s peanut butter cookie, I was firmly admonished not to.
Back to writing. AT least I have the latte all to myself.
Do you have a place to go to get away from it all – to write, to dream, to breathe?
Some of us don’t have the option of escaping our daily lives for long, or at all, really. And we must make do with the snatches of peace and silence and reflection that we can snag here and there. I try to write when the kids are in school, or after they are in bed. Sometimes I write with them hustling and bustling around me. But I wonder what it would be like to escape for a few days or weeks, to write . . . with no one laying any claim on me but myself . . . so that I am free to put my dreams down on “paper” (digital) without guilt or distraction.
I follow Neil Gaiman via his blog and on Facebook and Twitter, because he writes about the writing experience and all the little abnormalities he encounters or considers, that somehow feed into his creativity. Recently he finished up a sojourn in Kentucky, in some isolated area, just writing. Apparently, even the great Neil Gaiman occasionally loses his writing mojo and must look for it in a quiet, sheltered place. I believe he’s back home now, but I’ve enjoyed reading about how he tried to lay low and remain incognito, while the locals talked about that “odd British fellow.”
Here’s a passage from his blog that I found heartening for me, as a neophyte novelist. Perhaps you will all find it as encouraging as I did.
This was some fascinating, if not exactly unexpected, information. Read the link if you’re curious about the “birth of a novel.”
A friend of mine lost her grandmother recently. Her coffee shop is now filled with plants and flowers. Several people brought food to her and her family.
This has made me think about our mourning and consolation rituals. This is what we do. We bring the family food and flowers. Why food? Well, because usually a funeral means lots of company and they’ve got to eat. Bringing food frees up the grieving family from having to cook. Why flowers and plants? Well, that’s more complicated.
Bringing new plants does help a smidgen in filling the void left by the passing of a loved one. A new plant fills a room with new life. Greenery is refreshing. Flowers smell good and give us some sensory satisfaction during our anguish. I always prefer to give someone a living plant rather than cut flowers. Cut flowers don’t last long, and when they die, sometimes that just makes you feel sadder. A living plant lasts for a while – provided your thumb is even a teensy bit green – and lets you bask in the small sense of the pleasant for a bit longer.
Plants also have their own traditional and historical meanings. Aloe is thought to bring luck. (It certainly brings healing.) Basil brings wealth and is thought to exorcise evil. (I am thankful for that. I have a lovely lemon basil plant in my kitchen window.) A white chrysanthemum is for truth; orange is for friendship. Clover represents the Holy Trinity. The yellow spring forsythia bush is for anticipation. (Or as they say in Rocky Horror: antici . . . . . . . pation.) One of honeysuckle’s attributes is supposedly psychic powers. (Gotta remember that one for my novel….) Ivy is for fidelity and affection. (Except poison ivy, of course, which is clearly for animosity and hatred.) And lavender is for longevity. [You can find all of these and more at Plant Meanings by Helen Kirkup, Master Gardener.]
When considering plants, I am, of course, reminded of Ophelia’s mad discourse on the subject after Hamlet casts her off and her father dies: There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies. that’s for thoughts. There’s fennel for you, and columbines: there’s rue for you; and here’s some for me: we may call it herb-grace o’ Sundays: O you must wear your rue with a difference. There’s a daisy: I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died: they say he made a good end,—
As a writer I am fascinated by the meanings behind everyday things, especially living things. I like that the dogwood, with its reddish brown stains on each white petal symbolizes Jesus and his crucifixion wounds – which is especially interesting since it is nearly holy week. The pomegranate recalls the story of Persephone, Hades and Demeter, from Greek mythology – and the determination of the seasons. And according to some practitioners of feng shui, many fruits have important properties: peach = immortality & luck (have you seen the artificial peach trees in Chinese restaurants?), grapes = abundance & wealth, apple = peace, health & harmony (an apple a day, anyone?). Don’t even get me started on the various cultural and historical meanings behind onions and garlic! (They both do much, much more than ward off vampires!)
Consider the popularity of the new Hunger Games movie. Those of us who have read and studied the books know that Suzanne Collins formed a vital contrast between the characters from the districts, who had natural names (many of them based on plants and flowers = good), and the characters from the capital, who had Roman names (to symbolize “civilization” and its bad, as well as good, elements).
I find it interesting that we do more than appreciate plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables for their own sake, for their own beauty, health and freshness; we have also given them deeper, richer and symbolic meanings. These meanings may come from our primitive earth religion roots, but they are still very much alive today in one form or another, as we give living things to our friends who are sad, or beautiful things to the people we love.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying. (Herrick)
My dogs are contained in our yard by Invisible Fence. It’s pretty effective. The only time one or both of the dogs got out was when I had their leashes on too loose and they weren’t getting shocked. Then they developed some bad habits of ignoring the shock when we fixed that problem and had to retrain them. But now they’re good and don’t venture out of bounds.
That said, this morning when I went outside to feed and greet them they didn’t come running to the front porch as they normally would. I was scared as I looked first in one direction and then the other and still couldn’t find them. I was panicking. I did not have time to chase them down in the neighborhood and chain them up and retrain them. Urgh! But, luckily Mosby stuck his head around the corner of the house. He was filthy. I saw his sister’s butt sticking out of the fenced area around the air conditioning units. She too, was filthy. They were in the middle of a hunt, and didn’t need me disturbing them.
They had tunneled under that fencing and around the base of the AC unit. As I walked around to see what they were up to, I noticed a large gray rodent take off running. I thought it was a small ‘possum – turned out to be a very, very large rat. It was no match for Mia and Mosby working together, however, and it died a pitiful, tragic death this Sunday morning.
Upon our return home from church this afternoon, my seven year old daughter, who clearly isn’t squeamish, decided that its carcass lying in the yard was an eyesore, so she tossed it by its tail into the woods. I promptly told her to go wash her hands.
Now the dogs are back on the porch, probably bored, keeping watchful eyes out for any other animal interlopers that may be lurking.
So far this spring, the great hunters have bested three (at least) lizards, a bird, several large bugs, and now – their piece de resistance – a rodent of unusual size.
Just a short commentary before I get back to a combination of writing, a few small household tasks (wouldn’t want to break my precedent of “really” doing housework) and hanging with my daughters . . .
Every Spring I think this. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Whoever the guy was who named the Redbud tree and the Purple Finch has a lot in common with my husband – color blindness!
Witness for yourself:
As with all things regarding words and mental images, folks, when you write, when you NAME something, when you are intending to paint visual accuracy in the heads of your readers – make sure you get it right, okay!
Enough ranting about nature for one day.
Although I am trying to blog once a day (except sometimes only once on weekends) I am just too dang tired to blog today…having stayed up waaaaay too late writing/editing last night. Three hours sleep doesn’t cut it for me, folks.
So, instead, I thought I’d share something someone else wrote today. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Here’s Jim Butcher, super fantastico author of a whole bunch of wonderful books, including one of my favorite series: The Dresden Files, with his “Most Important Thing an Aspiring Author Needs to Know.”
Do you have favorite quotations about books? I have several. Here are some good ones, some things to ponder, and my ponderings on each one.
‘Classic.’ A book which people praise and don’t read. ~Mark Twain
I relate to this one, because of all the books I was assigned in high school and college (especially college) that were “classics” that bored me to death. I decided after I got my Bachelors in English that I had no wish to pursue a Masters or Ph.D. in literature, because I was so tired of professors dictating to me what I need to read. I never did by the Nortons. I never will. I got my degree in Education instead, and enjoy 10+ years of teaching English at a community college, where I helped other people write and appreciate books – classics or not.
There is an interesting distinction between adult romance novels and young adult romance novels. It’s an obvious distinction, of course, and it has to do with sex.
Well, actually, it has everything to do with sex.
But more specifically, it has a lot do with teenaged girls’ perceptions about sex.
Here’s the thing: In adult romance novels, the sex is pretty much the whole point, with the between-sex parts being better or worse, depending on the skill and intelligence of the author. Okay, that’s not fair. There are often some really good stories in there, and women need the story to really “feel” the sexy parts. It’s the romantic in us. It’s the obvious side of us that needs to be in a “relationship” to open ourselves up to the sex. We want to fall in love with the male hero. We want to sympathize with the female heroine. We want to feel the peril of their love amidst whatever chaos the author creates for us. And amidst that chaos, we want the sex.
(Here’s the point in reading this blog post where you ask yourself, how many times is she going to use the word “sex” today?”)
But in young adult romance, for the most part, the sex has to be glossed over, or held back, or handled symbolically, or left out completely. As a result, the story has to be a bit more engaging for the teenage girl reading it (or the adult woman, as the case may be.) I cannot help but feel that it gives girls a false notion of boys. (Much as I appreciate t leaving out the gratuitous titillation.)
I just had a conversation with my tween. I told her that she was very pretty (whether she realizes it or not), and that boys are going to start paying attention to her in middle and high school. (Actually, I said that her dad and I might have to beat them away with a stick.) I also warned her that boys really are only interested in one thing – trying to get into girls’ pants. She laughed. She said, “Dad wasn’t trying to get into your pants, was he?” I said that by the time I met dad, he was truly interested in marriage and was old enough to consider settling down, but that that was only because he wanted to get into my pants.
Then she said, “What about the knights in shining armor? They weren’t trying to get into the princesses’ pants.”
“Actually, they were, hon, except the princesses weren’t wearing pants.”
These handsome champions in YA romances are good guys, for the most part, and willing to wait. They don’t pressure the girls.
They provide a disservice to young literate girls everywhere. Just a warning, if you are a young girl interested in a young guy and he’s saying everything that you want to hear . . . well, he wants to get into your pants. Don’t believe me – ask your dad, and your brother, and your male cousins, and your preacher, and your boy neighbors, and the janitor, and the clerk at the convenience store . . . and . . . , well, you get the point.
Why am I blogging about this? Well, there is a romantic element in both of my YA novels that I’m working on, and I MUST remember, while I’m writing, that I have to weigh two things: portraying teenaged boys realistically and portraying teenaged boys attractively to teenaged girls. In other words, they can’t be obvious dogs – they have to have charm, wit, and grace in their pursuit of getting into a girl’s pants.
I spoke with an agent recently who assured me that YA literature these days is all about “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll,” that “anything goes” and no concept or theme or storyline is out of bounds – so long as the age of the protagonist is comparable to the young adult reader. Well, then. Hmm. But I simply cannot bring myself to write sex scenes between teenagers; I simply can’t. I’m a prude, that way, I suppose. So there is a lot of thinking about it, considering it, but not acting upon it . . .
I guess my teenaged boy characters are going to have to be unsatisfied, for now.