Friday, December 30, 2011

Miscellaneous Paraphernalia: Kindle Fire is Fantastic

I can't believe I haven't posted since December 5th. It's just been one of those months, you know? But at least all of the frenzied preparations led to what would arguably be called the best Christmas the McCabe household has ever had. I've been cleaning up the debris ever since.

Among other things I got a much needed upgrade in computing power. A brand new computer with... lots of fancy stuff that my husband could tell you all about. But alas, all of my documents are still on the old computer and I'm not sure when I'll be able to get them transferred over. That includes my current WIP so I'm a bit at a loss when I start thinking about writing. Though I've written an outline for a short story that I started working on yesterday.

My husband got both an IPad and a Kindle Fire for Christmas. He's been having fun with the IPad so I've had the opportunity to play around with the Fire. Now, I've really loved my regular Kindle since I got it. The convenience of carrying all those books around in a little package is the best thing for readers since... words. Plus there's all the free and affordable books on Amazon. I've been in heaven.

But, guys, the Kindle Fire is AWESOME.

I've seen a lot of people say they just can't imagine switching to an ebook reader because the paper book experience is too different and too special to them. I can certainly understand that sentiment. I've always loved the way that paper books appeal to the senses. The way they feel and smell. And the early Kindle models certainly were a huge departure from that. My regular Kindle, with it's little keyboard and the flat way the screen displays the text, almost looks more like a glorified calculator than anything else. So while I love its convenience, I'm not enamored with how it feels to read on it.

The Kindle Fire is completely different. Now, I'm not very tech savvy so I don't know what the technical difference is between the way the screen displays in the Kindle and the Kindle Fire, but the Fire's text looks much more like all those books on my shelf. Is it the font? The layout? The way the screen is lit? I don't know, but the display looks so much more like a book. It even has the book's title at the top of the screen.

Of course the most obvious difference is the lack of buttons. You operate this baby by tapping and waving your hands like a Jedi. (And yes, that does make my inner geek squee a little.) And it struck me almost immediately how similar the motion I make whenever I turn the page on the Kindle Fire is to the actual motion of turning a physical page. The moment I realized how close the Fire had brought me back to the experience of reading a physical book (as compared to my regular Kindle) I knew I was hooked forever.

And I begin to think that this is the device that is going to convince all but the most die hard physical book devotees. This is the one that is going to tip the scales for now and forever. Once you go Fire you don't go back. (Speaking of which, you don't mind if I sort of commandeer your Kindle Fire, dear, right?)

Plus on the home screen you can see a nice two inch tall cover picture of all the books on there. And you can make them spin round and round. My son loves that. (He's not the only one.)

Millions of people have been getting new Kindles for Christmas and the ebook market this next year is going to soar. I'm very hopeful about the future, especially the future for self publishing authors. 2011 has been a rough year for me in many ways. (It's always tough adjusting to a new baby in the house.) And my writing which I had been so fired up about a year ago really suffered. But I've begun to make more progress again this fall and I'm absolutely determined to publish in 2012.

My goal for 2012 is to get my first novel and as many short stories as I can manage self-published. I'd like to get the first story up before the end of February and then move faster after that. (I still have to learn a lot about the actual mechanics of doing it, so I'll give myself some slack for the first one.) I am going to spend time write and/or editing every day. It doesn't have to be a lot of time, but it has to be time spent making forward progress. I want to get to a place where I have the discipline necessary to write more than one book a year. 

I hope you'll all be here to encourage me during the year ahead. I'll do my best to encourage you as well. Good luck in 2012!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Insecure Writer's Support Group: You Don't Need Validation

Disclaimer: This post is liable to be controversial. Please note that even though I fully intend to self publish, this post is not meant to be a self publishing vs. traditional publishing post. It is not meant to advocate one path over the other. 

As I have wandered and explored the blogosphere for these many months there has always been a certain trend among writers that disturbed me. This is the desperate need for validation.

Aspiring writers, as a general group, tend to be obsessed with getting the approval and acceptance of all the right people in traditional publishing. Writers rewrite, reshape, and polish themselves and their work over and over and over again just to get a nod from certain people in the industry. They query and submit and grovel before these literary behemoths. They wait and wait and wait and then are rejected and then do it all over again as many time as it takes. "Just one acceptance and I'm in," they tell themselves.

Why do they do it?

They need acceptance and they need validation from the system before they can consider themselves real writers.

I came across a blog post yesterday which shouldn't really have astounded me and yet it did. It was entitled "Dear Agent". I've seen many such "dear agent" posts but this one was the most piteously sad. You see, the bulk of the post was little more than a video of the song "I Want You to Want Me" by Cheap Trick and the words "This about sums it up". The main verse of the song, of course, goes like this:

I want you to want me.
I need you to need me.
I'd love you to love me.
I'm beggin' you to beg me.

The singer also goes through a list of the things he's willing to do to have his feelings reciprocated:

I'll shine up my old brown shoes.
I'll put on a brand new shirt
I'll get home early from work
if you say that you love me.

I say the post was piteously sad, even though the author almost certainly meant it at least partially in jest, because even if you try to laugh it off, this is exactly how many, many aspiring authors approach traditional publishing.

Do you see the problem? I do. Here it is: publishing is an international business and authors are approaching it like a romantic relationship. They are approaching it from an emotionally needy position. They want to be wanted. They need to be needed. They'd love to be loved. They'll do just about anything to get that validation.

But today is the Insecure Writer's Support Group and I am here to tell you that you don't need their stinking validation.

Now, I am NOT saying that you shouldn't traditionally publish. I'm saying, don't go into it from an emotionally needy position. I'm saying, don't treat publishing like a relationship. I'm saying, don't grovel or rewrite yourself just to get a publishing deal. It's not worth that.

Validation is something that ultimately, if you persevere, you will get from your readers. From their reviews and their letters of thanks. Don't look for it from people who only care about the saleability of your writing. Look for it from the people who buy your writing just for the joy they find reading it.

Right now it may seem like you'll never get to that place. And perhaps, if you focus on trying to please and impress the industry instead of just selling books in a business-like manner, you won't. But if you stop looking for your validation from them and become more secure in your role as a supplier of a product that there is an increasing demand for, you can succeed and achieve great things.

Believe in yourself.

I realize that this is a somewhat hard post to swallow so here is some validation that is good for everyone.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thoughts on... Prologues

I wrote a prologue for my book this week. It kind of changes the focus of the book in general so now I'm going to need to lightly edit the 3 1/2 other scenes I had finished to match the tone. I don't really mind that. I felt they were missing something anyway. I'm hoping that my prologue will give the main story context and more driving force. I like stories that are clearly going somewhere, not stories that meander or that I can only guess what the point of them is.

But here's the gamble I'm making: the prologue (and the epilogue that will accompany it) make the "main story" essentially one long, complex flashback. The prologue/epilogue are thousands of years later than the main story. This is a format I intend to employ with a least a few books in a series. Each book's "main story" will be a stand alone story, but the prologue/epilogue from book to book will be connected.

Now, every time I see prologues discussed on blogs and forums and such the advice is "Better safe than sorry." In other words, steer clear of them. But I think that part of being a good writer is knowing your target audience and that means knowing the genre that you're writing in. As often as not, the general advice about writing that you find here and there isn't aimed at any particular genre and yet the tropes and expectations from genre to genre are so varied. I think you need to think about when such advice may not necessarily apply to you because of what you write and who your audience is.

I write epic fantasy. And while I haven't read everything the genre has to offer, it seems to me that prologues are an accepted and welcome trope of the genre. And many prologues in epic fantasy will involve some sort of inciting incident from the distant past that set the events of the main story in motion. Large passages of time are usually not an obstacle for epic fantasy readers.

Of course, what I'm doing is sort of the opposite of that. It's entirely possible that essentially making the plot of my book one huge chunk of backstory to the prologue and epilogue will be an unpopular move. I'm one of those weird people who can never get enough of backstory. I just want to know everything and anything that ever happened related in anyway to what is going on now. I fear that I'm an anomaly and that the vast majority of people aren't as obsessed with the history of fictional worlds as I am. Ah well, I can only write the kind of story I would like to read.

Alas, the prologue of 1957 words was my only progress this past week. But it's better than nothing, right? I'm going to try really hard to make more progress during the coming week.

How about you? Do you enjoy prologues? What do you think is the greatest danger of including a prologue?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Reflections

I wasn't going to do one of the "I'm Thankful For" posts that are happening all over the place right now because as a rule I am a practical, anti-sappy person. It's not that I'm not grateful for everything in my life. It's just that I don't usually feel comfortable expressing such emotions to the world at large.

But this has been an emotional week for me. Possibly it will help me to deal with the various conflicting emotions I've been experiencing by writing about them. Possibly I'll regret it. Only time will tell.

You see, some weeks back I became aware that I was pregnant... again. Now, some of you may recall that all the way back in April, during the A to Z challenge, I had a brand new baby boy. Born March 30th and now approaching 8 months old. So getting pregnant again so soon wasn't really something I wanted to happen. No, definitely not. The last pregnancy, my fourth, was pretty hard on me. So once it became clear that I was going to have to go through that again I was pretty upset. And I spent some weeks mentally and emotionally trying to deal with the situation.

On Tuesday of this week I had an appointment with my OB/GYN and learned that I had lost the baby.

It's hard to describe the warring emotions that go along with something like this. On one hand there's relief. Knowing that I don't have to be uncomfortable for 6 straight months, sleepless for 2 or 3 (if I'm lucky) more, and frazzled for years from raising two babies so close together. (I've already done this once and it's hard.) On the other hand, I had a baby and now I don't. A baby who will never smile and laugh at me, never have Daddy sing a lullaby, never find its place in the weird cosmos of our family.

It was still early enough in the pregnancy (only about 10 weeks) that nothing had really changed. We hadn't told anyone. I hadn't yet formed that unique bond. So on one hand, it's a good thing that it happened early when my body can take care of it without a procedure and we can just return to live as usual. On the other hand, I don't know how I'm supposed to feel.

But today, during our little Thanksgiving at home (with just my sister-in-law and family with us), I felt distinctly thankful for and in love with my children. They aren't perfect. They're little hellions most of the time. But they are so very alive, brimming with vitality and personality and unconditional love.

Luthien Tinuviel our intellectual 8 year old who has debated for some time whether she wants to be a geologist or a zoologist when she grows up. She has finally decided that geology is more boring. Right now she is sitting on the couch writing a Thundercats/He-Man crossover story starring her cousin to be a Christmas present in a month.

Maedhros James our intrepid 4 year old. He who never saw a problem he couldn't solve or an obstacle he couldn't overcome. Perhaps if we directed his ingenuity at cancer or peace in the Middle East his tired parents could stop fighting this war of attrition over whether or not he's going to manage to destroy our house by age 5.

Fiona Rose our 3 year old fairy changeling. Fiona is a combination of ethereal beauty and an attitude that says "your mortal rules hold no sway over me" that has us convinced that she's really one of The Fair Folk. She can switch between sweet and loving and spiteful and fiery faster than you can say sidhe.

Corwin Benedict who will be 8 months in less than a week. He seems to instinctively know that my sanity wouldn't survive having four children if he wasn't as sweet and good and perfect as he is. Somehow he came into our house of noise and chaos and fit right in without a fuss. He truly is a blessing.

I am so thankful for all these wonderful children I share my life with. And for their father, the only man I could imagine raising a family with. For now, there will be no fifth. But perhaps in time (hopefully when the middle two are safely at school for much of the day) we will find find ourselves making room for more.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thoughts on... Word Count

I did not write everyday this week. (Sadface.) Well, it's not easy setting aside time to write as a mother of four. This past week I had managed to sit down in the evening to write after the kids were in bed a few times. I wrote out a scene in my notebook and the next morning I typed it up. That worked well. But there always come days when after the kids are in bed for the night my brain is just totally fried and I can barely put two sentences together. Yeah, that happened a few times this week as well.

So I'm still working out my schedule. Fitting writing time in around my kids' crazy antics is... problematic, but probably doable. Possibly when they are "napping" in the afternoon. (My kids no longer sleep, they wait. Except for the baby who is an angel.) The real problem is getting my mind to focus on the writing after being harried by them all morning. BUT! If I save my shower for after I put them in their rooms and shower before I write, that's always been known to help get me into the creative frame of mind. (This plan will have to wait a few days though since right now our water heater is broken and there are no hot showers. Sob.) I can totally do this! I can be a writing mom!

Anyway, I am still 2759 words ahead of where I was before I started writing in earnest again. I also have a new map of the region my current WIP begins in. Since ultimately it will traverse a good portion of the world, I'm working on a larger world map as well. I like having maps. It helps me to visualize the plot.

I've been thinking about word count this week because I honestly have no idea how long the story in my head is. For all you people doing NaNo right now, 50,000 is called a novel. But I'm writing an epic fantasy which are often expected to be around 100,000 words. Fantasy readers seem to like our door stoppers.I'm not really sure what my goal is for my WIP.

I read recently that these are the word count definitions used for the Nebula (Science Fiction) awards:

  • Short fiction: under 7,500 words
  • Novelette: 7,500-17,500 words
  • Novella: 17,500-40,000 words
  • Novel: 40,000 words and up
 And I know that in the world of ebooks, shorter works have had new life breathed into them. Indie authors tend to decide the price of their books based on their wordcount. You can download short stories for .99 easily. (You can also find novels for that much, but I ask where do you go from there?) 2.99 seems to be one of the go to prices for novels. (But novels how long? Shorter novels?) While I remember reading that a successful fantasy writer, Michael J. Sullivan, put up his fantasy series for 5.99 and had marvelous results. (Which makes me wonder, were these the typical door stopper fantasy novels? Does that mean fantasy readers are willing to pay more because they expect more?)

But what occurs to me is the potential in a system where price is a factor of how long the work is. You needn't write with a certain word count in mind. You don't have to say to yourself "This is a novel so I need to squeeze 100,000 words out of this story idea" or "This is a novella so it needs to be between 17,500 and 40,000 words". It seems to me that in such a world you can just write the story however it works in your head and then count the words and say "Oh, 70,000 words, I guess this one is a novel" or "This one came out to 8,000 words, should I call it short fiction or a novelette?" (I kinda really like the word novelette, by the way.) And then set your price according to what you have to offer and clearly state it in your product description:

This is a novel of 60,000 words or roughly 240 pages.

That's using the standard 250 words equals a page, which isn't really accurate, but a good average. I think I'd price such a novel at 2.99. If I did end up with a door stopper of around 100,000 words I'd probably go with 4.99. Just under 5 dollars seems a good limit for a good little future indie author like me.

So at this point, the point of all this is, I don't have an ultimate word count goal. I'm just going to write and write until the story is done and see what I have at the finish. I find that idea very liberating.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Study of Fantasy: William Morris and The Wood Beyond the World

In my ongoing quest to learn the history and understand the development of the modern fantasy genre, I come early on to William Morris, who wrote in the late 1800s. Morris only dedicated his prolific pen to writing fantasy novels for a short time before his death, but his accomplishments were what truly spurred the genre into being. In a few short years he wrote such works as The Wood Beyond the World, The Sundering Flood and The Well at the World's End. I chose to read the Wood Beyond the World because, honestly, it was short. Much shorter, at least, than The Well at the World's End.

The story revolves around the man called Walter who is betrayed by his wife and so leaves home to go on a trading voyage on his father's ship. News reaches him when his father dies and he prepares to return home, but along the way his ship is lured to the land of the Wood Beyond the World. He finds his way eventually to the house of an enchantress who lures men to her on a regular basis. But first he meets and falls in love with her maid/slave and the two of them vow to find a way to escape her clutches. Ultimately, after Walter plays along at being the Lady's boytoy for a while, the Lady, her previous lover and her Dwarf servant all end up dead and Walter and the Maid escape. 

They have to make their way through a valley of savage giants (the Bear Men) and then come to a kingdom where the King has just died without heir. The curious custom of this kingdom is that when they have no clear line of succession, they wait for the next man to come from the mountain pass leading to their kingdom, then they take him and test him. If he doesn't pass the tests, he dies, if he passes he becomes king. Needless to say, Walter passes and he and the Maid become King and Queen and the founders of a new dynasty. And they all live happily ever after. 

The first thing that stands out immediately about Morris' writing is that he uses intentionally archaic words. Being a medievalist he throws in plenty of thees and thous and, a new one to me, the verb "wot" (sometimes "wottest", seriously) which from the context I take to mean to know. It makes the prose pretty dense and not in a good way. Aside from the archaism, his prose is very straightforward and expository and so it fails for me one two levels. First, it is not clear and easy to understand. Second, it is not beautiful, it has no lyrical rhythm and makes no use of imagery or illusion. It is because of Morris' prose that I decided I really couldn't bear to read The Well at the World's End, even though I had originally planned to. The Wood's one saving grace is that it is relatively short, whereas The Well is one of those door stoppers. 

The second thing that stands out about the novel is that it gives a strong impression of being a Mary Sue type story. If you're not familiar with the concept of the Mary Sue, it's a story where the main character is basically a substitute for the author. (Is there a different term for when the author is a man?) This usually results in the main character being practically perfect in every way and also getting everything they want. I think we can say as much for Golden Walter. Walter does suffer a misfortune at the beginning of the story (his wife is apparently cheating on him) but this is more or less a page right out of William Morris' life. His beloved wife fell in love with one of his close friends, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, and commenced a long standing affair with him. One can imagine that at times Morris wished that he could sail away to an enchanted land to forget about his heartache. During the rest of the story William/Walter meets the perfect woman of his dreams who is utterly devoted to him to the point of murdering for his sake and then becomes the BEST KING EVER. So, yeah, it reads a little like a personal wish fulfilling fairy tale. Not that I can particularly blame him. 

The third thing that strikes me is that it's a bit unfair to its women. Two of the main characters are women, but they are only ever referred to as the Lady and the Maid. Seriously. Now, I'm no feminist, not by a long shot, but... THE ONLY CHARACTERS THAT HAVE ACTUAL NAMES ARE MEN. So yeah, that irks me a bit. 

Still, William Morris is important for two reasons. His works where the first to be set in an imaginary world instead of just in a dream world, fairy land, foreign land, or future of our world. As a result, he was a huge influence on the next generations of fantasy writers including Lord Dunsany, E.R. Eddison, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. 

In addition, Morris' fantasy romances were self published by his own Kelmscott press and were examples of his own philosophy of craftsmanship. (Notice how gorgeous the book in the picture above is.) Morris was the founder of the Arts and Crafts movement which championed traditional craftsmanship that was simple and elegant in design and form and true to the materials in use. Kelmscott Press created some of the most beautiful books in existence based on these principles. 

Recently, I read a post at The Daring Novelist blog that talked a bit about the potential within the world of indie publishing in jump in on that Arts and Crafts philosophy to take part in every aspect of the creation of your book and make it a true work of art. To be, as a commenter on that post said, an Artisan Writer. I find those ideas incredibly exciting. Camille says she's going to elaborate on those ideas in a future post and I'm really looking forward to it. I would love to be an Artisan Writer.

Next analysis: Lord Dunsany and The Gods of Pegana

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekend Musings: I R Writer

 So, I have a confession to make. For many, many months I've been stuck in a rut. It was the "I want to be a writer, I talk a lot about writing, but I don't do much actual writing" rut. Anyone else know that one? And honestly, I think it was because of the blogging.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm soooo glad that I started blogging. I've gained so much from it The amount of stuff I've learned is positively overwhelming. And the amount of fun I've had must surely be sinful. So I don't regret a moment of it and I've no intention of stopping. But there does come a point of non-productivity where it suddenly becomes a lot easier to sit and read blogs because holy crap there's so much you still don't know and you'd better learn it all before you put pen to paper again lest your WIP be one smidgen less polished than it could be if you knew everything.

I never thought that consciously, but being confronted with the vast amount of information on writing blogs that I didn't know before has had a sort of freezing effect on me. My mind constantly asking, are you doing it right? Are you sure you're doing it right? What if you're doing it wrong? What if you're doing ok, but you could be doing it much better if you just read all these writing tips?

So, I'll be honest, it's been a while since I actually wrote any prose connected to my work in progress. As I said in my last post, my creativity had stalled and it's because I'd started thinking too critically all the time. I've been too concerned with the format of my stories as a future series when I haven't even managed to write one novel yet.

Then something happened this past week. I sat down and wrote a new opening scene for my WIP. I wrote it out in my notebook first and then typed it into my computer from my notebook, doing light editing along the way. And it felt good. More than that, I liked the finished product. And so I remembered that I am a writer. Not just a plotter. Not just a worldbuilder. But a writer and most importantly a storyteller.

My goal for this current round of A Round of Words in 80 Days (don't talk to me about Nano, I don't do well with hard deadlines) is to get back on track with actual writing. I want to, by the end of this session, be regularly writing for my WIP everyday. I want to actually make progress as a writer. I started to make some progress this week. And I feel hopeful that I can keep it up. I really felt in the creative zone when I was typing up that first scene. I'm excited.

To help keep me on track, I've decided to only post here twice a week. One brief (briefer than this one) status report on my WIP for Row 80 on the weekend and one other longer, hopefully interesting and thought provoking post during the week. I'm putting a serious limit on the amount of blogfests I'll sign up for too. I've been a bit too compulsive about that in the past. That's the plan. Hopefully by the end of this ROW 80 I'll be seriously involved in my current WIP. I have high hopes for this one.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Creative Energy: Renewable, but not Limitless

First, apologies for my absence and for missing the later half of the Rule of Three Blogfest. I had an unexpected interruption to my internet access which made finishing it pretty much impossible. I will try to post a conclusion to it this Friday. I don't want to leave the story hanging especially since I know that some of you were enjoying it. Though I confess, my heart isn't in this one and I'm still not sure how to end it.

I've really been suffering lately from a huge slump in my creativity as far as my writing goes. And I've finally made the tough decision to acknowledge what was draining my creativity away and to do something about it.

Back in June for Alex's It's All Fun and Games blogfest I mentioned that I've been playing The Lord of the Rings Online for over 2 years, after having gotten hooked on MMORPGs a couple of years before that. One of the things that I loved about LOTRO was the large community of extremely creative individuals that I became involved in on the server Landroval. Landroval was the unofficial Role Playing server and there was always a lot going on. It wasn't long before I got caught up in the world of RP and exploring the depths and corners of J.R.R. Tolkien's lore through my characters. I learned A LOT about Middle-earth during my time in LOTRO and became something of an expert on Tolkien's Elves. I even got into the habit of hosting somewhat involved RP events open to the whole server.

Performing the Music of the Ainur
And then there was the music. You see, LOTRO has this unique system that allows you to use 9 different in game instruments to play music. You can freestyle it manually through the buttons on your keyboard, or you can create special musical notation files (abc files) that allow you to play complex pieces of music in sync with other players. Over the past two years my husband and I have become experts at creating these files (which involves maneuvering the music around to make it work within the musical limitations of the game) and have run our own band doing regular concerts. And, I must say, we were awesome at it. We could take any piece of music out there (in midi form) and convert it into a fantastic sounding abc in game. I converted everything from Beethoven to the Beatles to (one of my most recent songs that I'm uber proud of) Time Warp from Rocky Horror. I converted the Nutcracker Suite and it was amazing. I converted most of Carmina Burana and used that, along with other music, to recreate the story of the creation of the world of Arda (what Middle-earth is only part of) for a special performance in game. It was the most amazing thing I've ever done.

That was in September. And it dawned on me that I was pouring so much of my creative energy into LOTRO and its lore and music that I barely had any left over for my writing.

Because, my friends, creative energy is not limitless. I think sometimes we tend to think it should be. After all, creativity is just this ephemeral thing. It's just ideas. But it's not just ideas. All those stupid people who are always asking authors where they get their ideas from are getting it wrong. EVERYONE has ideas. Every single person. People have ideas about all sorts of things all the time. But a writer, a story teller, is someone who takes an idea and makes something real out of it. We take a thought and make it into a story. We are craftsmen and artists and we have to apply massive amounts of energy to our work to make it into something concrete and lasting.

It takes a lot of work to write a story. And you have to be careful how you use your creative energy, because it can so easily be used up on things that are not as important. Like blogfests and challenges and fanfiction and role playing events and music that only exists in a virtual game world.

I've loved LOTRO and the people I've known there and the experiences I've had and the amazing things I've accomplished. I think that I've been a positive force there. I know I've given a lot of myself into that game. But I can't do both. I can't be Fionnuala the Minstrel and Sarah the Author. I don't have enough creative energy for both and I'm no longer afraid to admit that. I realized that I had to choose between them.

Farewell, Middle-earth
I will miss Fionnuala the Minstrel and I'll always be grateful for the time spent in that community. The people I met in LOTRO will probably never know how grateful I am to them for all the support and encouragement I've received over the past couple years from them. All the times when they complimented the stories I wrote about my characters and praised my music and were awed by my events. All of that is what gave me the confidence to finally, after so many years, consider taking writing seriously and make a real effort to become an author. I cannot thank them enough.

But it is time for me to focus on being Sarah the Author. There are so many stories in me. I want to tell them. I want to share them with the world. I want to finally do it. No more excuses. This is the future I want. I'm going to go make it happen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

MonsterFest: Apep, Enemy of Ra

The month of October is MonsterFest brought to you by Sommer Leigh and today I'm going to post about the mythological monster that is the inspiration for the Big Bad in my fantasy universe.

Apep is the serpent god of Egyptian mythology. Though you might have heard of him by his Greek name, Apophis. (Any Stargate fans out there?) He was an embodiment of darkness and chaos, the enemy of light and order. Apep was a prominent figure in the cosmology of ancient Egypt but was a deity whom people worshiped against rather than worshiped.

It was believed that Apep lived in Duat, the Egyptian underworld and that every night he would attack the sun barque carrying the god Re and his party in an effort to swallow the sun. Some stories said that he waiting just over the western mountains and would attack the sun as it set. Others, including the Amduat or Book of the Underworld, said that Apep waited for Re in the Tenth Hour of the Night to swallow him up before dawn. Apep had a hypnotizing stare that he used on Re and his entourage while damming up the river that the sun barque traveled on with his coils. Yet Re had many defenders with him to help fight off Apep, including the god Set, and so everyday they managed to defeat Apep once again so that the sun could rise in the morning.

Though it seemed to the Egyptians that sometimes Apep could escape from Duat and attack Re during the day and even sometimes succeeded in swallowing him for a few minutes before Re's defenders cut him free. That was how they explained eclipses of the sun. Other natural phenomenon such as earthquakes and storms were also explained as times when Apep got the upperhand in his battles with Re.

In order to aid Re and the other gods in their daily battles with Apep, Egyptians priests would engage in certain rituals such as the annual Banishing of Apep. During this ritual an effigy of Apep was made and imbued with all of the evil of the land. It would then be beaten, crushed, smeared with mud and burned. There was also a text called The Book of Overthrowing Apep which gave instructions for the spells and rituals that would help defeat Apep each day.

Apep was viewed as a very powerful god and earned some awesome titles such as World Encircler, Evil Lizard, the Serpent of Rebirth (since no matter how many times he was defeated, he always came back to life), and my personal favorite Eater-Up of Souls (he was thought to devour the souls of men who traveled in Duat).

Thus Apep is the model for the creature of chaos who, along with his family, will be the primary villains in my fantasy saga. Pretty good inspiration, don't you think?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Feeling Lonely in the Blogosphere

You ever have those times when you're feeling down about something and you know that your feelings aren't really logical or fair but knowing that doesn't make them go away either and you just feel like if you don't get it off your chest you'll scream? It's like this, I know what I'm about to say might not go over well. But if blogs aren't for revealing all your dirty secrets to the point that no one likes you anymore then what are they for, I ask you? So here goes...

I'm sick to death of YA.

And when I say that I don't mean I'm sick of reading it, because I'm not sure if I ever have read any. I don't even know where YA starts and stops. But I'm sick of it being... just... everywhere.

Some days it feels like all anyone in the blogosphere writes is YA and they're constantly talking about it and praising it and acting like it's the best thing since the advent of civilization.

And I get it, you know? My logical mind totally gets it. But every time I click on a blog post that's just going on and on about YA this and YA that... I just feel like I'm on the outside and I'll never fit in.

Because YA, to me, is somewhat lower on the totem of important things than, say, ceiling fans and laundry baskets to pick a couple of random things in the room around me that I could definitely live without.

I'm pretty sure I never really read YA. At least, not in the "I'm going to read the crap out of this book because it's YA and YA is awesome" sense. When I was a teen I pretty much just jumped right into the adult section. Man, I remember clearing out the Shakespeare section of the library after my first encounter with Romeo and Juliet in Freshman year of High School. (I also remember accidentally picking up a somewhat risque romance novel set in 18th century France that my mother would definitely not have approved of but that's another story.)

So I guess while I can acknowledge it intellectually part of me doesn't understand why everyone is obsessed with the doings of obnoxious teens. I mean, I wasn't, not even as a teen. I preferred to read about adults. And another part of me can't quite wrap my mind around why so many adults want to both read and write about teens as their chosen career. Seriously? Don't you want to leave that awful decade behind you just a little?

But really this isn't about YA,  it's all about one very simple thing: I feel lonely in the blogosphere.

I came here to meet and mingle with people who are passionate about the same thing I am passionate about: writing stories. And I have. I've met tons of you and you're all fantastic.

But sometimes just the commonality of "we're all writers here" isn't quite enough. Sometimes I really want to find and get to know people who are passionate about Fantasy. And I have. The Patform Building Campaign gave me a list of dozens of writers who consider themselves writers of fantasy. But I go through those lists most of them end up being writers who write YA Fantasy which... I have very little interest in. And then another large percentage of them end up being writers of Urban Fantasy or some kind of Paranormal fiction. (Or both at the same time!) Which again I have very little interest in. Another group of them will be writers who categorize themselves as writers of "Science Fiction and Fantasy" but all the evidence points to them being mostly Sci Fi writers.

And I don't have anything against these writers. Obviously all of these subgenres share a connection. But Urban Fantasy and Paranormal and anything YA... I just can't even feel a good spark of interest in. I like Sci Fi, but it's not a genre I could ever be passionate enough to write in.

I have to admit that actually I am looking for people who are passionate about Epic Fantasy, or Imaginary World Fantasy. And even more specifically I am hoping to find other people who have a deep love for sub-creation and mythopoeia. Basically, I desperately want to find other people like me. Because I feel very much alone with my passion for a certain type of Fantasy. And that scares me. Sometimes it makes the little voices in my head say, "Maybe you are the only one. Maybe your stories will never sell."

My rational brain knows that can't be true. The Lord of the Rings wouldn't be the most popular Fantasy novel ever if that was true. But doubts have an awful way of sticking with you no matter what your rational brain says.

But besides all of that, there is just a part of every person that wants to befriend others who are like them, who think the same ways and love the same things. Sometimes the broad categories aren't enough. "Writing" isn't enough. "Fiction" isn't enough. "Fantasy" isn't even enough anymore. I crave the fellowship of people like me, who have a deep love and abiding passion for mythopoeic (literally: myth making, fantasy that attempts to create whole mythologies and is influenced by our real world mythologies) sub-creation (a deeper kind of worldbuilding) for adults.

Is it too much to ask?

Perhaps it is. Perhaps the writing blogosphere will always be mostly YA writers. But at least this little rant has helped to relieve some of the oppressiveness of the loneliness.

I hope all of you YA lovers can forgive me.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay it Forward... or Backward? or Sideways?

Considering the number of participants and the fact that this badge is probably all over your dashboard, I doubt have have to explain what this particular blogfest is about. But, let's be honest here, three blogs out of the 200+ blogs that I'm following is an impossible choice to make. It really boggles my mind. So what I've decided to do is recommend the three most useful blogs I follow from professionals in the publishing business. These blogs have changed the way I view everything about publishing. They've given me so much knowledge and insight and helped me to really see a clear path forward. They've helped me immensely so I hope they help you.

If you read just one blog about the publishing industry and all the changes going on, read the blog of Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Every Thursday she writes a post in a series called The Business Rusch and it is, quite seriously, the best thing since sliced bread.

From her most recent post:

In this blog over the past few years, I’ve been detailing the changes as they’ve occurred. I’ve been trying to impart my knowledge as a former (and current) publisher, an award-winning book-and-magazine editor, and a bestselling writer to all you folks as the changes occurred so that you would have the information you need for the choices that you have to make.

Read through her articles and you will learn so much about the history and current state of the publishing industry that it will boggle your mind. This fantastic lady knows what she's talking about, she's been in the industry and seen in from many sides for decades. She's not just a writer who managed to get a few published books, she's a professional who has built a career in publishing. She's a smart and savvy businesswoman.

Ms. Rusch emphasized that the industry is radically different than it used to be. It used to be that there was only one path to getting published. One size fits all. Now there are many paths and every writer has to choose the one which is right for them. But you can't make that choice unless you understand your options, understand the business. She encouraged writers to learn about the publishing business so that they can take their careers in their own hands and make the right choices for themselves.

I know that, having read her blog obsessively for some months now, I certainly feel better armed to faces all the choices and challenges ahead. I can't possibly recommend it highly enough.

My second recommendation, which easily matches my first for usefulness, is the blog of Dean Wesley Smith. He's another industry professional: best selling author, former editor, former publisher. Dean is actually Kristine's husband and it's a wonder that their house doesn't burst into flames from too much collected sense. He writes a few insanely useful series on his blog: New World of Publishing, How to Think Like a Publisher, and Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. Killing the Sacred Cows is probably my favorite because one could just as easily call it "Debunking the Logical Fallacies of Publishing" and I'm like Spock in my love of logic.

His point is that there's been a lot of faulty thinking perpetuated by the publishing industry over the years, most of which is beneficial to publishers but dangerous to authors. Dean, despite having worked as an editor and publisher, has his loyalty firmly with the writer and so he actively works to help us overcome these illogical ways of thinking that publishing has ground into the writer, hoping to help us step up and take control of our own writing careers, to be smart businesspeople with our writing. I guess he's developed a bit of a reputation as a reactionary in some circles, but as I read his posts I can detect nothing but solid knowledge and experience, good sense, and reasonable advice.

He's a defendant of and advocate for writers everywhere, wanting us to get the most out of our careers that we can, and I appreciate that.

Finally, I recommend the blog of Robin Sullivan, Write to Publish. Robin is another savvy businesswoman. In this case, she was successful in other fields first before becoming a publisher and publicist for her author husband, Micheal J. Sullivan. She worked hard to make him successful in the arena of self-publishing first, but now she runs a small press called Ridan Publishing. I like Robin because she recognizes the worth in multiple paths to publishing success. She's not a self-publishing only advocate, or a small press only advocate, or a traditional publishing only advocate. She works in all those arenas (having secured a nice 6 figure deal for her husband's self published books with a major publisher) and has success in all those arenas.

Her blog offers a lot of practical information and tips. She monitors the market and the industry and often posts her findings in hard numbers. She also offers great tips to authors from how to pick a title, whether to use a pen name, to branding, to how to use social media to increase your author presence and much more. It's definitely a valuable resource for writers.

I really hope that some of you will explore these blogs and get as much out of them as I have. It's because of them that I feel confident about my future as an author, that I know how I want to create my career. Good luck and happy reading!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Rule of Three Blogfest, Week 2: The Lady

This week's entry came in at 595 words and falls under the prompt "One of the characters is revealed to be not who he or she is."

Week One can be found here.

The Lady

“What now?” asked Khrusostom as he slung the strap of his lute case over his shoulder.

Bulsara shrugged. “I guess we’ll have to find the Lady.”

Khrusostom eyed him skeptically. “Tell me she’s actually an acquaintance of yours and not just someone you’ve spotted with a heaving bosom.”

“Neither. But I’m beginning to wonder why she set me up to this.”

Khrusostom bowed his head. “Lead the way.”

Bulsara cocked his hat and approached the nearest doorway. When a young woman answered he leaned into the doorway close to her and started speaking in intimate tones. When he returned to Khrusostom he pointed across the town to the north.

“That way.”

Dawn was peaking over the skyline when they managed to huff and puff their way up to the imposing facade of a great grey house on the edge of the Assart forest. Bulsara raised a fist and banged on the door, to tired to put on his charm. A serving man in a coat with its buttons askew answered.

“I’m here,” Bulsara panted, “to see the lady of the house. We met yesterday and she requested some music.” He brandished Khrusostom’s lute case. “Bloody woman, why does she live so far from the town?”
The serving man showed them a small chamber kept for visiting bards. His tone made it clear he didn’t approve of anyone coming to the Lady’s home at such an ungodly hour.

“Well, it’s her fault I haven’t got a bed in the Inn so stuff it, Stuffy,” Bulsara muttered.

Khrusostom smiled. “My partner is irrational from fatigue. Tell the Lady that we are grateful for the room and that we await her pleasure on the morrow.”

By the time the summons of the house’s mistress arrived it was evening and Bulsara was pacing like a caged animal. Bulsara growled and glared as they were guided to a large hall full of well dressed men and women. On an elegant couch a woman in the frilliest and (Bulsara rhymed in his head) silliest dress he had ever seen. She smiled at him through garishly painted lips and uneven teeth and asked for a song.

Bulsara stood immobile and wide eyed before suddenly slipping into his “court minstrel” persona with only slightly less ease than usual. “My Lady!” he cried. “A song I wrote this very moment in praise of your beauty.”

Khrusostom fitted his lute comfortably into his hands and began playing a traditional song from Bulsara’s homeland, which he always sang in these situations. Being sung in a foreign language, his subjects never knew that it was really a husband’s lament at being stuck with an ugly wife. They went through their usual court catalogue for the better part of an hour, but something felt wrong to Khrusostom. Bulsara’s performance was not as smooth as usual and his eyes constantly scanned the crowd. Then it was over.

The Lady praised them and petted them and then sent them away promising another night’s stay and payment in the morning. They slunk back to the little room in the servant’s wing. As the door closed Khrusostom rounded on Bulsara.

“All right, friend,” he said. “Tell me what’s going on here.”

Bulsara gave him a dark look. “That was not the Lady I met. Yet... it must have been.”

There was a light knock on the door. Khrusostom opened it to a slight girl in a simple, blue shift. Her long, golden hair dingy from dust. Bulsara leapt up.


She put a finger to her lips. “Be quiet and follow me.”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Study of Fantasy: Beginnings lead to Phantastes

Hey, remember waaaaay back when I posted about doing an in depth reading study of the modern fantasy genre from its beginnings until today? I haven't forgotten, promise. I'm still doing it. Why is it taking me so long?

One word: Phantastes.

Now when I sat down to read up on the history of modern fantasy, I wasn't exactly sure where to begin. Fantasy author, editor and critic Lin Carter, who wrote the book Imaginary Worlds, seemed to think it didn't properly start until William Morris. The History of Fantasy wikipedia (that fount of all knowledge) page included such stories as "A Christmas Carol", "Alice in Wonderland" and practically everything Hans Christian Andersen wrote as the beginnings of fantasy in the modern era. But I was looking for the beginning of fantasy as a recognizable new genre which I don't think those stories do. A Christmas Carol as supernatural elements, true, but I don't believe it is the supernatural that makes fantasy. Alice in Wonderland takes Alice to a fabulous imaginary world full of wonder, but doesn't treat Wonderland like a real place. Hans Christian Andersen, as wonderful as his works are, is clearly writing modern fairy tales, which I maintain is different than fantasy even if subtly so.

Wikipedia also recommended John Ruskin's The King of the Golden River, which I did read. (It wasn't hard, being quite a thin volume.) But this too seemed to follow the fairy tale conventions too closely to be true modern fantasy. Also there was Sara Coleridge's Phatasmion which in 1837 was described as "the first fairytale novel written in English". Definitely intriguing. But I bypassed it for one simple reason: it was very difficult to find. Not online. Online you can find it right here (and I'll probably read it one day) but I don't really like to sit around reading novels off my computer. I wanted it either in book form or on my kindle. So Phantasmion will have to stay on the back burner for a while.

Then there was George MacDonald. Lin Carter obviously considered him a pre-modern fantasy genre writer, a writer of modern fairy tales. However, I decided to start with him for one strong reason: his work was, by the admition of the authors and popular consensus, a huge influence on J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, two of the most influential fantasy authors of the 20th century. MacDonald's book Phantastes had the advantage, as well, of being widely considered as the first book of its kind written for adults. So in the end I decided to start my study there.

Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women
by George MacDonald

I'll come right out and say it: this was a hard book to read, and I'm no slouch about reading literature from other centuries. Language wise it's not difficult as some books this old are, and I actually highlighted quite a few quotes from the story in my kindle. It's told in first person point of view and the entirety of the story is about the main character's wanderings through fairy land.

It begins on the main character's 21st birthday, when he comes into possession of his late father's desk. He opens it up with a key and in a little nook he finds a small fairy lady. (Seriously.) This fairy, who is apparently his grandmother according to wikipedia's plot summary though I didn't get that from the text myself, helpfully(?) transports him to fairy land and he spends the rest of the novel wandering around there. 

The problem with the story is that this is about all you can say for any sort of coherent plot. The rest is incredibly episodic, doesn't have any sort of internal consistency and no driving force or goal. Though there are certain recurring elements. Anodos, the protagonist, finds a marble statue and sings it to life but then she runs off through fairy land and he spends a good part of his time trying to find her again. He has an encounter with his shadow which proceeds to follow him through fairy land and though this shadow is portrayed as a sinister force it is not clear exactly what threat it poses to Anodos. There is also a knight in rusted armor who is apparently Sir Percival but again I missed that in the text. Anodos meets the knight a few times during his wanderings, is saved by him from a malevolent force, finds out that the knight is the one his marble lady truly loves, and ultimately becomes his squire. 

At one point Anodos finds himself in a fairy castle which has no other visible inhabitants. And it is during this interlude that he decides to, and I'm not even exaggerating this, completely recount for his readers a book that Anodos reads in the library of the castle. This story of a man named Cosmo and his magical mirror (Seriously.) is somewhat more interesting that Anodos' adventures, which at this point isn't hard. Eventually Anodos finds that his marble lady has once again become a statue in the castle and he manages to free her with his singing a second time but she runs off again. The most interesting episode of Anodos' wanderings, in my opinion, was hen he randomly encounters two princes who be befriends and joins in their quest to slay three ravaging giants. The two princes are killed in the process however and Anodos ends up wandering again. Then he is captured in a tower by his shadow for no discernible reason and then freed for no discernible reason by the rusty knight. 

While serving the knight Anodos sacrifices his life for no discernible reason and dies, lingering in the realm of fairy land in a state of perfect bliss for a little while and uttering some of the creepiest lines ever written. 

"Ah! my friends," thought I, "how I will tend you, and wait upon you, and haunt you with my love."

Eventually, though, he wakes up in the real world, 21 days having passed and goes back to his life, wiser for the experience.

Needless to say, I found the lack of direction in the plot very tedious, which is why it took me FOREVER to finish reading this book. In hindsight (and after you get to the ending where he's... floating around as some sort of blessed dead waxing eloquent it's much more obvious) that this book really isn't a fairy story, it's more of an allegory of spiritual truth. I get the feeling that if I went back and reread it with this in mind, instead of taking it at face value as a story, I would enjoy it more. The prose is often very beautiful and MacDonald puts some very insightful words into his character's mouth. I've found myself highlighting (such a great kindle feature) many passages in this book.

But is it not rather that art rescues nature from the weary and sated regards of our senses, and the degrading injustice of our anxious everyday life, and, appealing to the imagination, which dwells apart, reveals Nature in some degree as she really is, and as she represents herself to the eye of the child, whose every-day life, fearless and unambitious, meets the true import of the wonder-teeming world around him, and rejoices therein without questioning?

As in all sweetest music, a tinge of sadness was in every note. Nor do we know how much of the pleasures even of life we owe to the intermingled sorrows. Joy cannot unfold the deepest truths, although deepest truth must be deepest joy. Cometh white-robed Sorrow, stooping and wan, and flingeth wide the doors she may not enter. Almost we linger with Sorrow for very love.

The first I knew the delight of being lowly; of saying to myself, "I am what I am, nothing more."

I learned that he that will be a hero, will barely be a man; that he that will be nothing but a doer of his work, is sure of his manhood.

In the end I'm glad I read it. It made me realize that the "person finds a secret way from our world into another world" isn't a cliche of the fantasy genre invented for wish fulfillment. It's a direct descendant of the ancient myths and legends where men and women often get taken or go willingly into the Otherworld, the realm of the faerie. This seems so obvious in hindsight, especially since I have read many, many such myths and legends from Celtic tradition, but I honestly had not thought about it from that angle before. As much as I love Narnia (one of the great achievements in fantasy in the 20th century) I was getting a bit fed up with that kind of story, the "portal story" as it's called. But now I think this is rather a problem with some modern versions of the portal story and not with the motif itself. Particularly fantasies where the relationship between our world and the imaginary world is unclear, comprising an incomplete cosmology.

My conclusion is that Phantastes is rather dry as a fantasy novel, but well worth at least one reading, especially if one knows what one's getting into. It's an important stepping stone in the transition between fairy tale and modern fantasy.

Next time: The Wood Beyond the World by William Morris

Also, check in tomorrow for my second installment of the Rule of Three Blogfest story.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Rule of Three: Week One Entry

Without any ado, here is my entry for the first week of the Rule of Three Blogfest.

The Singer

The note began in the bottom register leaping and bounding in long, luxurious steps to reach the sky. It rang through the smoky Inn drawing all heads in his direction. In the shadows behind him, Bulsara’s partner strummed out a chord on his lute, and Bulsara began singing.

Dear husband, dear husband I’ve baked well thy bread,
I’ve washed out the stains from thy garb
And into them I have poured all of my love
so that nothing shall bring you to harm.

The lady’s eyes had sparkled playfully as she had approached him in the market place of the town of Renaissance that morning. “Bulsara of Farhad, I’ve heard of you. They say you can make a room of hardened men weep with the sweetness of your voice. But can you cause a room full of drunks and gamblers to return home to their wives, and give them the love they deserve? Can you make a man regret his acts and change his nature?”

“An interesting challenge, my lady,” Bulsara had said as he bent low over her hand. “To even attempt to change a man’s nature through one’s own power is a dangerous thing. It should not be attempted.”

Yet husband, oh husband, where are you this night?
Where are thy boots by the door?
What keeps thee away from thy wife and thy child?
Away from thy cottage so poor?

The lady had laughed. “I see, Sir Minstrel. I see that you cannot do it.”

“My lady! You are trying to tempt me with an appeal to my pride. But I have been in this business long enough to ignore such things,” Bulsara had scolded her.

Husband, oh husband remember thy child!
Remember thy wife all alone.
Remember that thou left us here in the night,
alone with thy knife and thy gun.

“What can I offer to entice you,” the lady had teased. “Jewels? Gold? A peacock feather for your hat?”

Bulsara had grinned. “A kiss.”

Dear husband, dear husband, I kept thy bed warm.
I kept thy bed warm til I died.
Though now it is stained with the blood of us both,
who would fain have been by thy side.

Silence descended on the room. There were no tears among his audience. But here and there the brutish faces began to show concern. And one by one, in silence, they left their seats and went out the door. 

“Nicely done,” the lutist said as he packed away his instrument. “Do you think you actually made a difference in them?”

Bulsara shrugged. “My voice can affect their emotions, increase their guilt, inspire them, but it can’t actual change their nature. At least, I don’t think so.”

“I suppose we’ll find out.”

The Innkeeper emerged from the tap room holding a tray full of foaming mugs. He took one look around the room and yelled, “Where are my patrons?”

Bulsara and his partner looked at each other, grabbed their gear and made a run for the door.

“Fantastic!” cried the lutist. “We’ve lost our place again!”


I'll be honest and admit that I had no idea what I was going to do when I sat down to write this... THIS MORNING! Yes, I'm a procrastinator supreme. I've been thinking about what kind of story I might write for a long time, but never had so much as a tiny spark of inspiration. I had also forgotten that there were going to be prompts for each week. Fortunately, I happened to accidentally fit one of them with the above story, that of having a "humorous circumstance". Also, this is the first time I've every written any type of poetry that wasn't for a grade. I don't do poetry. I barely even read it. But I think this came out fairly well, for me anyway.

I think I have some idea now of where I want to take this story in the following weeks, so check back on the 12th, 19th and 26th for the rest of the story.

Edit: I didn't realize we were supposed to post word counts. The above entry is 510 words. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

IWSG: Fears about Originality

Today is the Insecure Writers Support Group! When we flood the world wide web with our pathetic tears. Or hopefully not. Last month I shared about my eight-year-old daughter's inspirational writing habits. (She is, by the way, still at it. Just the other day she received a new diary and did she start writing about boys in it? No, she started writing a story called "The Adventures of Luthien and Dot" about her and her new baby cheetah stuffed toy. It also features some of the Thundercats.) But today, ah today! I am feeling a bit apprehensive myself and I'd like to share a little bit about what's worrying me.

I love ancient history and mythology. Like, a lot. I'm a little bit obsessed with Ancient Egypt in particular. And thus history and mythology is a huge inspiration for and influence on my writing and my worldbuilding. What worries me is this:

Is it an influence to the point where I am just rehashing history and mythology and not being original at all?

This has been a concern for me for a long time. It's always there under the surface. For some time I thought I had defeated it. But recently I read a book with tips for writing fantasy where the author made the argument that if you are taking names from history and mythology and not making up your own names for your fantasy world, then you are a hack. And thus all the old insecurities reared their ugly heads and yelled, "We're baaack!"

Names are a difficulty for me, I admit. I love names. I appreciate a well turned name, made up or no. But I've never been good at inventing them. I'm no Tolkien. So I've been appropriating names from history and from mythology to use in my world. Akhet, the name of one country in my world, is the Egyptian name for the horizon. Another land is even less inspired, Breizh is simply the Breton language name for Brittany. The island of Palis I adapted from an early name that Tolkien made up but never ultimately used. (Which was an intentional homage to his influence on me.) Character names are no better. Narmer was the name of a very early Egyptian king as was Menes. Sollon is Solon, the Greek politician and philosopher, with the oh-so-clever addition of an L.

But of course names aren't the only problem. I am also concerned that I am following cultures too closely. Since the beginning I intended Akhet to take much from Ancient Egypt. But I intended to pick and choose how much of real Egyptian culture I wanted to use and make up the rest. The problem is that I love almost everything about Egyptian culture and now I'm concerned that Akhet will be little more than an obvious and shallow copy.

Ultimately, am I taking too much from the real world, and not making my world original enough? The thought haunts me. Tolkien is my role model as a worldbuilder and it's clear that he took his inspiration from northern mythology and literature. Yet he took it and somehow made it wholly his. I worry incessantly that I will fall miserably far of this ideal.

So there you have it, ISWG. Any words of encouragement for me?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Awards and Challenges and Blogfests Oh My!

Today is for playing catch up! I've been so out of the blogging loop, just barely hanging on, during the month of September. But now it's October and I think I'm ready to get back into the game!

First things first, even when I dropped off the face of the blogosphere and didn't post for a while, I had a few blog awards come in. That really made my day, coming back and seeing that. Dawn Allen and Kadie Kinney passed the Versatile Blogger Award on to me. And Deniz Bevan gave me the Liebster Award. Thanks, ladies! It really means a lot to me that you enjoy my blog enough to pass an award on to me. (I have this weird feeling that someone else gave me an award too, but I can't for the life of me remember where it was from. If it was you, please remind me!) It's traditional to share seven things about yourself with the Versatile award, but instead I'm going to share this awesome video:

And I'm passing both awards on to everyone in my Fantasy Campaigner group, whose blogs I need to visit more often.

Amanda Leigh Cowley
Leann D. Baldwin
Christine Tyler
Michele Helene
Notes from the Jovian Frontier
Rachel Morgan
J. A. Bennett
Mel Flowler
Stephanie at Word by Word
Heather McCorkle
Roger Eschbacher
Rebecca Ryals Russell
Alberta Ross
Eileen Wiedbrauk
Liz of Home is Where the Cat Is
Andrew Leon
The Golden Eagle
Concrete Pieces of Soul
The Kelworth Files
Ninja Owl
Hektor Karl
A. B. England

The final round of the year for A Round of Words in 80 Days has started this week and I'm giving it another shot. I failed spectacularly last time and learned the truth behind the old saying "Ambition should be made of sterner stuff". I'm going to curb that ambition this time, while still setting myself a goal that will give me a challenge.

My goal is to write everyday. And I don't mean blog posts or challenges or worldbuilding notes or outlines. I mean that I need to write narrative for one of my WIPs everyday. I'm not setting a word goal, because my days are just too unpredictable for that. But if I can manage to first establish writing something everyday for 80 days then hopefully it will become a habit and I can start setting myself word count goals in the future.

That's my hard goal. My soft goal to go along with that is that I would like to complete a short story, have at least a basic outline for all of the stories in my Apotheosis Cycle and finish worldbuilding the lands of Palis and Akhet. But these goals will be the icing on the cake.

Anyway, wish me luck! I'll be trying to keep my blog actually updated as to my progress at least once a week this time.

And last bit of business: blogfest announcements!

Tomorrow is the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group hosted by the fantastic Alex Cavanaugh. I know a lot of us could use the encouragement.

This week the Rule of Three Blogfest finally kicks off. You can post your first story installment either Wednesday or Thursday. I'll be posting on Thursday due to the IWSG.

Sommer Leigh is holding a month long MonsterFest where you can sign up any day during October to write a post about any type of scary creature from stories. I'll be posting on the 24th about Apep, the serpent god of Egyptian mythology, and how I'm using him as the inspiration and source of the Big Bad in my fantasy world.

And I'm spent. Have a great blogging and writing week!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Caitlin Nicoll in the Spotlight

Today there is a little interview with me over at E.R. King's blog for Blogging Mentor Monday.  The thought of me as a Blogging Mentor when I still feel so new to this is a bit laughable, but I decided to play along anyway. It's my first interview which is very exciting.

To go along with that auspicious event, I've decided to post the very first interview I've given today. I really should have posted it earlier, but well, that's life. Here's Caitlin Nicoll of the blog Logically to answer my questions.

A "semi-accurate photo representation" of Caitlin.
1. Tell us a ridiculous story about yourself. (It doesn't have to be true.)

Back about maybe twelve years ago, I was watching TV with my mother (we had the strangest conversations in front of the TV), and she turned to me and said, "when I die, I want a Viking funeral." She then proceeded to tell me the exact plans she wanted; who was going to shoot the first arrow, where it was going to be located, and so on. At the time I just rolled my eyes and nodded, "Ok, mom." Then about four years ago, under cover of night, with the tide high and one of us on the lookout for staties, my family gave her a posthumous Viking funeral. We even had a teddy bear effigy with a skewer for a sword. After all, a viking needs his sword in Valhalla. Yea, Erik the Red would be proud.

That's very touching and very epic.

2. What genre do you write in and what is it that draws you to that genre?
I write fantasy and science fiction. I don't know what exactly it is that draws me to them. I think it's the chance to create new and amazing things--creatures, countries, cultures, myths, people. I like to create. the bigger, the better. that probably sounds like a weird answer.

Not at all! I suffer from the same urge to create.

3. Tell us a bit about the WIP you are most passionate about.
that would be my fantasy, the Lunatic Fire. Let's see, it has love, war, revenge, jealousy, death, epic battles, vengeful gods, godlike heroes, mortal heroes, fire demons, strange myths, sword fights, awesome powers... basically if the Iliad and the Lord of the Rings had a love child and that child reproduced with the Princess Bride, you would get the Lunatic Fire.

LOTR+Iliad+Princess Bride=Win

4. What's your favorite piece of writing advice?
Read, Read, and read.

Can't go wrong.

5. Traditional or Indie Publishing? And why?
Right now I'm still considering traditional, mostly because I don't really have time to do all the work required for a self-pubbed author to get my book out there. Plus there is an indescribable feeling about holding a physical copy of your work in your hands.

With your name in embossed letters. I agree.

6. Pantser or Plotter? And why?
I'm a little bit of both, but mostly I'm a panster. The majority of my pre-writing plotting is done in my head. I like to have a general idea of where I am going but I usually just let my creativity flow.

Sounds scary. ; )

7. What do you think your strongest writing skill is?
My imagination

Good answer!

8. And your weakest?

I sometimes have no patience for revision or editing. I would rather be doing other things. Oh look, that tree would make an awesome sketch. I feel the sudden urge to draw.

Your drawings are beautiful! Take a look at this example.
What Caitlin did with the paper she won in my giveaway.

9. Do you view writing as more of an art or a craft?
Art. I am an artist after all.

Good point. See above.

10. If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you?
Elizabeth Taylor. Oh, you mean some living? Maybe Karen Gillan. Yea, definitely her, but only if she kept her accent. We don't exactly look alike, but I think she could pull me off brilliantly. 

Not living is fine too. Everyone should be played by Elizabeth Taylor. 

Thanks for answering my questions, Caitlin!  

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Legend of Epic Proportions

I am posting a day late for Margo Lerwill's I AM LEGEND blogfest where we are invited to talk about with is EPIC LEGEND about our WIPs.I thought I was posting on time and then I remembered that today is not the 29th, it is the 30th. Sigh. Hopefully I'm not too late to enter the contest to win either a copy of Donald Maass’s The Fire in Fiction or George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons.

I'm excited to talk about the EPIC PROPORTIONS of my WIP. What was, several months ago just a single planned novel has blossomed into something far greater. Instead, I am writing a saga of stories meant to resemble the ancient mythic cycles.

It begins in the days of early history when Men all lived together with the Gods in four great cities on an island in the center of the world. It follows Men through the centuries as they are spread across the world, chased away from their paradise home by a terrible enemy. Cities are built and destroyed, civilizations rise and fall, heroes are born and then die. The saga will cover hundreds of years. And it in the end it will all lead to an EPIC CONFLICT.

But this isn't just a story about men. In the tradition of ancient mythology, it's a saga about Gods and Men, about their relations with each other and how they shape the world together. In my world, gods are not just in the background. They are characters in the story whose actions affect everything around them.

And in the midst of a world still being shaped, where cataclysmic events wreak havoc upon men and men rain destruction upon each other, the gods themselves are on their own quest. They seek the prime mover, the increate, the source of all things.

But there is an EPIC VILLAIN standing in the way. Erresuma was born out of the death of chaos, I said, but that's not entirely true. There was one being of pure chaos who refused to die, even as his world condensed and exploded, he clung to life, refusing to be reborn as he was meant to be. He lingered on, barely alive at first, he slumbered in the center of the world until the day that he awoke to find that everything he had known was dead and gone and in its place a world of light and order. And as he raged against this new world he vowed to destroy it and return it to the chaos that he loved.

My goals are certainly ambitious on an EPIC scale. Like Tolkien, I want to create a world with a whole mythology. What he called mythopoeia. I want my readers to be able to feel the depth and history of the world. Right now the working title of my saga is The Apotheosis Cycle. And by that you can glean a bit of where the stories in the cycle will be going. Hopefully the finished product will be as EPIC as I envision it in my head.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pushing Too Hard

I don't know what happened. One morning I just sat down and opened up my blog dashboard and my brain shut down. Have I been pushing myself too hard? Getting involved in too many things? Joining too many blogfests and challenges? Probably. It feels like the creative center of my brain just shut down. Probably from overwork. I feel like I haven't accomplished much. But when I think about it rationally, I realize that for the past several months I've been enjoying a spurt of creativity greater than any I've experienced so far in my life. Then one day it just gave out on me.

I closed down my dashboard and I've barely looked at it since. I missed Alex's blogfest. (Sorry, Alex!) And I failed to return interview questions by the date my interview was supposed to be posted. (My apologies, E.R.!) But I desperately needed to walk away for a little while. I have barely read a blog or thought about blogging for over a week and, honestly, it felt good. In hindsight I see that I was running on fumes for the first part of this month, barely getting by, not receiving the inspiration I've grown accustomed to. If I even so much as thought about my stories my brain would slow to a sluggish crawl.

I realize what a real danger pushing yourself too hard can be. Unfortunately, it's a tendency of mine. I've been pressuring my brain to come up with new ideas, new material. I've been attempting to create an entire world in my mind. I've been demanding much of my creativity, but not feeding it enough. It finally said, enough is enough.

I think this is why it's so important for writers to continually read as well. Reading feeds our creative brain. The more story it soaks up the more it understands and can produce. And thus it's important to give it a steady stream of new material. New stories, new ideas, new techniques to take in and process and add to your author's toolbox.

It's been several months since I read something new that was really good, good enough to fire my own imagination. (Though I have to admit, that last rocket boost from Lord Dunsany kept me going a good long time.) Which is probably why my creativity started to sputter and die. But recently the final book in a trilogy that I found quite fascinating finally came out and as soon as my husband was done with it I dived in. And despite its flaws, this book has been like a feast to a starving man for my imagination. Particularly since the plot happens pretty much entirely in Hell and the author spends a fair bit of time world building the various circles and regions therein. This is of interest to me because one of my novels will have large sections devoted to action happening in the underworld of my fantasy realm. I've learned a lot from this author's treatment of a similar type of landscape. The wheels of my creative brain are starting to spin again.

I was even able to open up blogger and write this post without my brain turning to goo. Though, admittedly, I feel way out of the loop now. I'm not even going to try to catch up on most of the blogs I've missed. I'm just going to look ahead and get back into the swing of things going forward. I've got blogfests to prepare for! And I've learned something from this whole experience. Don't push your imagination too hard without giving it regular meals. And take a break when you need to.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

'If I Could Be Anyone, I'd Be...'

Today the world wide web is going wild to celebrate the launch of Talli Roland's new book Watching Willow Watts.

About Watching Willow Watts
For Willow Watts, life has settled into a predictably dull routine: days behind the counter at her father's antique shop and nights watching TV, as the pension-aged residents of Britain's Ugliest Village bed down for yet another early night. But everything changes when a YouTube video of Willow's epically embarrassing Marilyn Monroe impersonation gets millions of hits after a viewer spots Marilyn's ghostly image in a frame.

Instantly, Willow's town is overrun with fans flocking to see the 'new Marilyn'. Egged on by the villagers -- whose shops and businesses are cashing in -- Willow embraces her new identity, dying her hair platinum and ramming herself full of cakes to achieve Marilyn's legendary curves.

But when a former flame returns seeking the old Willow, Willow must decide: can she risk her stardom and her village's newfound fortune on love, or is being Marilyn her ticket to happiness?

Watching Willow Watts is available today on Amazon and Amazon UK. Check it out!

For this launch party you get to come as whoever you want to be. After much thought and deliberation, I decided I'd come as Officer Aeryn Sun from the SciFi show Farscape.

You see, I'm not really much of a party person. How are you supposed to dress for these things? Black leather clad and gun wielding, right? (My husband says yes to that, I'm sure.)

Though she has been known to get gussied up on occasion...

Though I think I'll stick with the leather and guns. Aeryn Sun is a trained soldier conditioned to obey orders and bred to eliminate weaknesses, including emotions. However, over the course of the TV series she becomes one of the few good examples of the strong woman character as she makes a stand for what she believes is right and ultimately ends up embracing her roles as wife and mother as well as freedom fighter.

That way I'll be ready to act if there's an armed communist uprising while we're having the party.