Monday, February 28, 2011

Lessons from a High School Musical

Yesterday I went to the local high school's production of Les Miserables. Now, I'm sure the fact that I've read the book (unabridged!), am a huge fan of the musical (I think I have it mostly memorized), and was up there myself on that same stage 10 years ago (and miss it) colored my experience. But I couldn't help feeling that, try as they might, these high schoolers were totally inadequate to the task of portraying one of the most complex and deeply human stories in literature. The singing was decent, with a few highlights that made up for the awful bits, but the acting was atrocious. Where was the director these kids needed? Anyway, like any obsessed writer, I took a few lessons away from the evening. Disclaimer: as a reader and writer of fantasy, everything I will say will apply most strongly to that genre.

1. Conflict does not equal shoving.

Here's a summary of how all the conflict was portrayed in the play: people shoving other people around the stage. And when I say that I mean that ALL negative character interaction devolved into shoving. Seriously. It began with soldiers shoving prisoners around a lot. All right. That makes sense. Then there was a whole crowd of factory workers shoving each other all over the place. Ok... that scene is supposed to break into a fight between Fantine and one of the worker so that still makes sense. Fantine as a whore struggling with a prospective client meant  whole new levels of shoving. I can still justify this. But it was when Fantine began chasing Jean Valjean all over the stage in order to shove him while he's trying to help her that it went too far. She literally ran across the stage after him multiple times in order to shove him while explaining to him that it was his fault she had fallen into prostitution. It got completely ridiculous later on. Eponine is in love with Marius! Why is she shoving him so much?!?

Ok, kids, look. Maybe things are different in high schools now than I remember them. But is shoving really the way you respond to every kind of conflict? Even mild conflict, simple differences of opinion, seemed to result in shoving. Perhaps they think shoving each other around on stage in front of a large audience means they are cool or edgy or mature? I don't know. My mind is still reeling.

And this put me in mind of some stories I've read in recent years. Not that there was rampant shoving involved. But I feel that some authors tend toward depictions of violence in their works in the same way these high schoolers tended toward shoving. Conflict is about so much more than physical violence. There can be whole worlds of conflict in a look or a word.And filling your work with blood, devastation, death, war and horror does not make your story or you cool or edgy or mature. It makes you, in my opinion, a lot like a high schooler.

2. Portrayals of Sex and Sexiness do not make you look more like an adult.

I think it's telling that a lot of these kids only REALLY got into the "acting" when they got to pretend to be whores. Then suddenly girls who had been standing around like cardboard cutouts were all contorting their bodies in ridiculous ways in an attempt to "out sexy" each other. But it wasn't just during the "Lovely Ladies" scene when there was some excuse for it. No, every time there was positive interaction between two characters of the opposite sex the girl would inevitably be writhing around on stage in ways that must seem very sexy to high schoolers but seem very awkward and silly to me. (Well, I'll give the girl playing Cosette a pass here, she was cardboard pretty much the whole time.)

I get the impression that to these kids sex equals maturity. I get the impression that this is true of some writers as well. They seem to think that if they include lots of sex in their stories it makes them more of an adult and makes their books more edgy and mature. (News flash folks, there's nothing more immature than irresponsible sex.) When two characters can't have genuine interaction without the air crackling with sexual tension or falling into bed together at the next possible moment... you're just proving to me that you have the same emotional range as a high schooler.

3. If you're not mature enough yourself, you shouldn't be trying to portray complex issues of humanity.

Les Mis is an incredible show based on an incredible book. The book explores all sorts of mature themes like inequality, the struggle for freedom, mercy and forgiveness, falls from grace, redemption, love, death, sacrifice. The musical creates a lot of beautiful music that echoes these themes as well. Quite honestly, none of these kids were up to the task of portraying these themes well. They're far too young and inexperienced to understand these things. They did their best, I'm sure, but they really should never have tried. Les Mis just isn't good fodder for a high school musical.

There are some authors in the same boat. Perhaps they're young or just inexperienced. But they really aren't mature enough to be exploring the things they're trying to write about. Authors attempt to expose the true horrors of war but have never actually seen war outside of a TV screen. Then they dare to call Tolkien's depiction of war too light, fit only for children. Would you say that to Tolkien's face knowing that he survived the trenches of WWI and knows more about war than you ever will? I guess this is the area that I feel "write what you know" has some merit. Don't write beyond your own maturity level and don't write about issues that you can't truly comprehend due to lack of experience. In my opinion, you'll just end up looking like an awkward high schooler.

Well, now that I'm done being a wet blanket, I'll leave you with my favorite song from Les Miserables, Stars...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Rather Pathetic Blogfest Entry

Blogfest! So, when I put aside my shyness to participate in the Bernard Pivot Blogfest I realized how fun they are. Now I've lost all my inhibitions and signed up for several. I had to make myself a list... except I have a bad feeling that I've signed up for one which I proceeded to totally forget about. Hopefully I can figure that out before it's too late.

Anyway! Today I've signed up for the Nifty Fifty blogfest held by Anstice (Tizzy) Potts at the Impossible Dreams blog. The idea is to write a post that has something to do with the number 50 in honour of her reaching 50 followers. Easy, right? Well, I have to admit, I am not interesting or creative and had a hard time thinking of something "fifty-ish" to write about.

But Tizzy happens to share a last name with my maternal grandparents, whom I love very much, which made me think about my grandfather. My Grandpa Potts was like a father to me but unfortunately passed away many years ago. They never reached their own 50th anniversary, though I know they would have if not for his illness. So in honour of Tizzy's 50 followers and my grandparents' 50th anniversary that never was I would like to share one of my favorite Traditional Irish songs. It's a really charming look at a little Irish couple who have reached their Golden Jubilee.

The Golden Jubilee

Way down in the County Kerry, in a place they call Tralee,
A fine old couple they lived there called Kate and Pat Mc Gee,
They were going to have a party, on their golden jubilee,
And Kate says she to Pat Mc Gee, come listen here to me.

Put on your old knee breeches ,and your coat of em'rald green,
Take off that hat me darling Pat, put on your old caubeen,
For today's our golden wedding,and we want them, all to know,
The way we looked when we were young,just fifty years ago.

Ah well I do remember,when we danced on the village green,
You held me in your arms dear Pat,and called me your colleen,
Your hair was like the ravens wing,but now it's turning grey,
Come over here old sweetheart dear,and hear what I have to say.

[Repeat Chorus]

Ah well I do remember when first I was your bride,
In the little chapel yonder there where we sat side by side,
Oh good things we had many,of troubles we had few,
Come over here old sweetheart dear,and here's what we must do.

[Repeat Chorus]

And here's a video of The Irish Tenors, some of my favorite singers, performing it. (Ha! I figured out how to embed the video all by myself!)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ancient Egyptian Quote of the Week

Today's quote is an excerpt of the Morning Song that would be sung in an Egyptian Temple by the Priests and Choristers as the sealed sanctuary that holds the cult statue of the god is opened when the sun rises.

Awake (O great god) in peace, wake peacefully.

Wake peacefully, wake beautifully, in peace! Wake to life, oh (god of this city)! The gods rise early to honor your soul, oh august winged disk shining in the sky! It is you who break the seal in the heavens and spread gold dust over the earth, who come to life in the east and vanish in the west and sleep in (your temple) each day.

Your eyes spread flame, your eyes light the darkness! Your brows wake in beauty, oh radiant visage that knows no anger!

May you wake peacefully... and spread gold dust over the earth.
(Quoted from Serge Sauneron's The Priests of Ancient Egypt.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Elemental, my dear Watson!

When it comes to creating a magic system for a fantasy novel, it seems that many, many writers are drawn to the Classical Elements. Those would be Earth, Fire, Air, and Water. (Heart! Go Planet! Woah, I just totally dated myself.) I don't know how many stories and movies have used this type of system, but it seems to be everywhere. In early concepts for my fantasy world I used it as well. I came up with one of those "there are all these different lands and the people in the different lands have different elemental powers" ideas. Eventually I realized how unoriginal it was and I dropped it.

It has occurred to me to wonder why this theme is so prevalent. What is it about the Classical Elements that inspires people? Is it the feel of a connection to nature? Or is it the feel of power over nature? A little of both, perhaps? It's undeniable that the elemental model speaks to us on some level.

However, I made the decision to abandon it. Originality is important to me. And while I realize that originality today rests more in how you develop an idea than in the actual substance of the idea... I still think that the Classical Elements have been done so often in so many ways that it would be impossible to avoid comparisons. So I dropped all of the worldbuilding I had done so far and started from scratch.

But I still needed a "magic system" for my world. I intensely dislike stories where things are explained by simply saying, "It's magic!" but the magic its self is never explained. To me there needs to be rhyme and reason to magic in a fantasy setting. But I also dislike it when the magic feels like a game system. For me it needs to be organic and natural to the world. (Tolkien's magic is a perfect example, though most people don't understand how it works because it's only explained properly in material outside the main novels.) And since I have been developing a society based on Ancient Egypt, I had also to account for the way the Egyptians viewed magic as well as for the existence of real and very powerful gods who do get involved in the world. And honestly, I've been having trouble figuring out how to put all this together.

Enter my knight in shining armor, my husband and all the obscure stuff he reads on blogs and leaves up on his computer when he goes to work. He's a big fan of Sci Fi author Mike Flynn and reads the author's Livejournal regularly. So recently I glanced at one of the entries that was sitting there after he'd left for work and got completely sucked into it. For various reasons, Flynn started talking about Aristotle and his theories of a fifth element he called Aether. Here is some of what Flynn wrote about the Aether:

Look at it through Aristotle's eyes: it is a material sphere of some sort within which the stars are embedded, and it turns slowly on itself day in and day out.

It is:

* simple (not a compound of elements) effected by only one internal principle or cause
* ungenerable and incorruptible, incapable of growth or alteration.
* although subject to change in place, not subject to changes in substance, quantity, or quality.
* inalterable.

If aether is incorruptible, its prime matter and substantial form must be so perfectly united that the latter must actualize and thereby exhaust the potency of the former. That is, aether's prime matter is inseparable from its form, and in this sense is not really distinct from it.

If aether cannot be destroyed (or even altered qualitatively), it must somehow be intangible. It is not susceptible to the action of the tangible qualities of temperature and pressure.

If aether cannot be pressed upon by ordinary matter, then if some body were to try to press upon it, that body would cut right through the aether unhindered (which is why Michelson-Morely did not lay a glove on the Aristotelian aether.) That is, aether can "push" on ordinary matter without being "pushed back."

"While usually the thing touching is touched by what it touches--for nearly all the things we come upon move while also being moved -- still it also occurs (as we sometimes say) that only the mover may touch the moved, while the thing touched does not touch the one touching it. But because things of the same kind are moved [in return] when they move others, it seems to be necessary that [movers] be touched by what they touch. Whence if something unmoved moves another, although it will touch the thing moved, nothing [will touch] it."
De Gen. et Cor., 1.6.323a26-32

Having never read Aristotle and not being a scientifically minded person in general, I was amazed and fascinated by all this. And immediately ideas started springing to mind about how I could use this Aristotelian Aether as a basis for magic in my fantasy world. The basic idea that came to mind was this:

Aether touches, but is untouched. But what if certain people could touch it and affect it? The Aether is invisible and undetectable. If one person was able to create an effect through the Aether, a person who did not have that ability would see it as magic.

I immediately went to read more about Aristotle and his Aether. I discovered many other very interesting theories as well. Particularly, Aristotle's ideas of Potentiality and Actuality and Plato's theory of Forms. I am going to be trying to adapt all of these ideas to my fantasy world. I still have not worked out details, but I think this will lead to a very interesting and natural form of "magic system" to explore. In a way, I'm coming back to the idea of elements, since Aether was classically the fifth element after Air, Water, Fire and Earth in Greek thought. Though I don't plan to work with the other four in my system.

I am very excited about the possibilities.

Monday, February 21, 2011

What Research Has Yielded

As I prepare to write my first novel, I've spent a lot of time doing research. True, it's a fantasy novel. But one of the societies in my world, and the one this first tale is told of, is heavily based on Ancient Egyptian mythology and belief. Ancient Egypt has always been a passion of mine and deciding to use it as inspiration for my story has given me a wonderful opportunity to learn more about it.

I have quite a few books about Egyptian history and Egyptian gods on my shelf already, but I wanted to dig deeper for my story. I wanted to try and really understand how Egyptians thought. After a simple online search, I discovered books by Egyptologist Jan Assmann. I began with "Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt". And that was when I realized that I wasn't diving into a pool, I was diving into an ocean.

Egyptian thought and belief ended up being far more complex than I expected. We here in the enlightened 21st century like to look back on ancient peoples with smug superiority. "They believed in dozens of gods. Ha. Savages. If only they had science!" Even when we owe so much to the ancients who did, in fact, establish the foundations of the science we know today, the majority of people fall into the logical fallacy of assuming that since people a long time ago didn't have cell phones they were all stupid barbarians who didn't know anything and whose beliefs were all patently ridiculous superstitions.

I soon realized that everything I had learned so far about Egypt was the barest tip of the iceberg. It was what condescending but oh so enlightened modern people see when they look back on ancient history. And yet, it occurred to me as I read "The Mind of Egypt", Ancient Egypt was possibly the most stable civilization to have existed. Yes, it went through some periods of unrest. But whenever possible after the periods of unrest the society went back to doing things almost exactly as they had done it before. Small changes in philosophy and structure had little impact on the overall form of the Egyptian state and culture... for THOUSANDS of years. Even when Egypt was conquered, the conquerors generally adapted themselves to the Egyptian culture taking on the role of the Pharaoh and often taking to themselves Egyptian beliefs and worship. It took the Romans and the arrival of Christianity to finally bring about a major upheaval to the Egyptian way of life. That was after about 5500 years worth of Egyptian history (at least, that we have archeological evidence for).

What I'm saying here is that Egypt, as a culture and form of government, worked. Can you imagine American democracy being here in another 1000 years? I can't. People nowadays like to focus on how Egypt had an absolute monarch and so it must have been simply awful for the peasant class, oh, and SLAVERY! (Now you see the violence inherent in the system!) Though apparently all those people who worked on the pyramids and such weren't really slaves. True, they didn't have much choice in whether or not they built the pyramids, but they were paid. It was a job and they weren't owned. And if people had any idea how Egyptians viewed stone monuments, they wouldn't believe that the workers were unhappy with their jobs.

You see, religion was paramount to all Egyptians. Their beliefs in their gods and the afterlife were the center of their lives. Monuments and tombs were important to them. They were what was real, what lasted. There was a cultural striving toward immortality, and monuments that were built to last the ages were a part of that. (If only they could see now how well their work succeeded!) The Greeks considered the Egyptians the most pious of all peoples. Modern people think that the primitive Egyptians just looks at nature and invented gods for it. (That's who polytheism works, right?) But the Egyptian system of belief reveals remarkable complexity in its worldview from very early on. The "myth" of Isis and Osiris, for instance, is not really a story. (It was only told in story form later by the Greeks.) It's a series of vignettes that illustrate and explain how the Egyptians viewed death and salvation, their transition to the underworld and eternity.

When it comes down to it, Egyptians did not view the world in the same way modern western culture does. But I find the way they viewed the world to be simply fascinating. It's very different, unique. There are concepts in Egyptian thought that do not correspond to anything we know now. The most obvious example is the concept of soul. Western culture is based on the concept of body and soul, a duality of physical form and spirit form. But Egyptians had no such concept. There are texts that name up to 14 different aspects contained within a single person. The most foreign to our understanding is the ba, which seems to have both spiritual and physical properties. The ba was very important and mentioned in many texts. Many scholars translate it as soul, but this appears to be mostly for convenience. In reality it is simply a concept we can never quite understand because we don't think the way the Egyptians did.

What a perfect sandbox for a fantasy writer to play around in!

I plan to explore as well as I can those unique and fascinating aspects of Egyptian thought and belief, adapted to my fantasy world. I think in a genre that has been saturated by fantasy worlds based on European societies of various times, particularly the medieval, something new and different will be welcome. I hope so, anyway. I want to create an entertaining story experience, but I also want to challenge readers to think in ways they aren't used to. That is what I most love about history, the attempt to see the world from the point of view of another time and another people. And that's why I've decided to use various historical societies and their mythologies as my inspiration for my fantasy world.

Side Note after a long rambling post: One of the annoying aspects of reading Jan Assmann's books is that he's German and apparently multilingual. Most of the books in his bibliographies are written in German or French. I snapped up any texts he referenced which happen to be in English. One of the texts in the bibliography of "The Search for God in Ancient Egypt" that I requested from the library apparently happened to be a very rare expanded transcription of a lecture given by an eminent Egyptologist. Well, it seemed I had no hope of getting it, even though it's subject matter was exactly what I needed. Then last night my husband came home from work at the library with a surprise. He handed me a large envelope. Inside I found full photocopies of the entire text... sent from the Library of Congress! So now I have my very own copy of "Worship and Festivals in an Egyptian Temple" by H. W. Fairman. I can wait to delve into it. I feel so special.

Looking for Wisdom and Guidance

I only have time for a short, halfhearted post this morning because I have a daughter who might have tonsillitis and needs to go to the doctor. When will winter be over???

But I would like to ask a question of the more experienced bloggers out there.

How much do you talk about your WIP on your blog?

I assume for all the writers out there that you have a WIP, maybe more than one, and maybe you have finished works that are as yet unpublished. I'm working on my first novel and I'm excited about it. I think I've got lots of really cool ideas and can really make something of them. (Don't worry, the hyper-critical part of me will kick in when I actually get those ideas down on paper in words.) So I have the urge to talk about it... a lot. I want to discuss my cool plot ideas, my characters, my world...

But I am also afraid to put that kind of thing up publicly on the internet. I've had ideas stolen before and it's not a good feeling. It's like getting punched in the stomach. And I really love some of the ideas I've been getting lately.

Plus, there's the question of, how much do I want to give away? By talking about it will I interest people or bore them? How much information about my story would be too much?

How do you talk about your writing?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ancient Egyptian Quote of the Week

This is an idea I picked up from Julianne Douglas of Writing the Renaissance. I really enjoy her Sixteenth Century Quotes of the Week and thought it would be fun to share some of the Egyptian quotes I pick up as part of my research. Though my posts tend to be much larger than just a quote when all's said and done, and end up as more of a mini lesson in some aspect of Egyptian belief.

This week's quote is not technically Egyptian, but Greek. The Greeks had a deep fascination and respect for the Egyptians. It was vogue for Greek sages and philosophers to visit Egypt to learn from the priests there. Even if a philosopher hadn't actually been to Egypt in their life, their biographers would often say that they had to give them more credibility. To Greece, Egypt was pretty much the font of all wisdom and knowledge. So we have this account found in one of Plato's Dialogues, Timaeus, about the Athenian statesman and poet Solon...

"In the Egyptian Delta, at the head of which the river Nile divides, there is a certain district which is called the district of Sais, and the great city of the district is also called Sais, and is the city from which King Amasis came. The citizens have a deity for their foundress; she is called in the Egyptian tongue Neith, and is asserted by them to be the same whom the Hellenes call Athene; they are great lovers of the Athenians, and say that they are in some way related to them. To this city came Solon, and was received there with great honour; he asked the priests who were most skilful in such matters, about antiquity, and made the discovery that neither he nor any other Hellene knew anything worth mentioning about the times of old. On one occasion, wishing to draw them on to speak of antiquity, he began to tell about the most ancient things in our part of the world—about Phoroneus, who is called 'the first man,' and about Niobe; and after the Deluge, of the survival of Deucalion and Pyrrha; and he traced the genealogy of their descendants, and reckoning up the dates, tried to compute how many years ago the events of which he was speaking happened. Thereupon one of the priests, who was of a very great age, said: O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are never anything but children, and there is not an old man among you. Solon in return asked him what he meant. I mean to say, he replied, that in mind you are all young; there is no old opinion handed down among you by ancient tradition, nor any science which is hoary with age. And I will tell you why. There have been, and will be again, many destructions of mankind arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes."

The Egyptian Priest goes on to describe how while the rest of the world has been suffering destructive natural disasters over and over for ages, Egypt does not because of its unique climate. Every time a disaster would strike only a small remnant of the Greek people would survive, civilization would fall and would need to be rebuilt. Therefore Egypt is the one land that has been able to preserve knowledge of all former times.

"And whatever happened either in your country or in ours, or in any other region of which we are informed—if there were any actions noble or great or in any other way remarkable, they have all been written down by us of old, and are preserved in our temples. Whereas just when you and other nations are beginning to be provided with letters and the other requisites of civilized life, after the usual interval, the stream from heaven, like a pestilence, comes pouring down, and leaves only those of you who are destitute of letters and education; and so you have to begin all over again like children, and know nothing of what happened in ancient times, either among us or among yourselves."

Solon is amazed and asks for more detailed information about the past. The priest tells him of various things including the story of Atlantis...

"For these histories tell of a mighty power which unprovoked made an expedition against the whole of Europe and Asia, and to which your city put an end. This power came forth out of the Atlantic Ocean, for in those days the Atlantic was navigable; and there was an island situated in front of the straits which are by you called the Pillars of Heracles; the island was larger than Libya and Asia put together, and was the way to other islands, and from these you might pass to the whole of the opposite continent which surrounded the true ocean; for this sea which is within the Straits of Heracles is only a harbour, having a narrow entrance, but that other is a real sea, and the surrounding land may be most truly called a boundless continent. Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent, and, furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia. This vast power, gathered into one, endeavoured to subdue at a blow our country and yours and the whole of the region within the straits; and then, Solon, your country shone forth, in the excellence of her virtue and strength, among all mankind. She was pre-eminent in courage and military skill, and was the leader of the Hellenes. And when the rest fell off from her, being compelled to stand alone, after having undergone the very extremity of danger, she defeated and triumphed over the invaders, and preserved from slavery those who were not yet subjugated, and generously liberated all the rest of us who dwell within the pillars. But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea. For which reason the sea in those parts is impassable and impenetrable, because there is a shoal of mud in the way; and this was caused by the subsidence of the island."

So there you have it folks, the legend of Atlantis comes from the Egyptians.

I find the idea that while the rest of the world is being destroyed and rebuilding its self over and over the Egyptians survived in their stable Nile Valley watching and recording the history around them to be absolutely fascinating. I'm not sure how yet, but I think it's something I would like to explore and build on in my fantasy world.

*Quotations obtained through Project Gutenburg, text is translated by Benjamin Jowett.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

In Which I Talk About My Writing

So I've got my shiny new blogsopt site and I've participated in my very first blogfest. A bunch of new people just signed up to follow my blog. (Yay!) So I figure I'd better make it clear what I'm doing here and why I feel I can call myself a writer.

I have since childhood loved fairy tales and myths and have always had stories with fantastical elements playing around in my head. (Though there was a brief phase where all of my stories involved me as a sort of female version of Indiana Jones. But I've got past that now.) While my mother encouraged me to write stories and assured me that I was a gifted writer, I shrugged her words off. She praised the Indiana Jones fanfics after all; I couldn't possibly trust her judgment. So I spent a lot of my teenage years writing stories about made up worlds that I did my best to keep private because it was just, I thought, a whim and I knew they weren't very good anyway.

Then I got married and started having kids and my writing completely fell by the wayside. I think I had always had a writing habit during my adolescence because I was one of those angsty teens (though only on the inside) who was never content with their life and so found escape in books and writing. Having a family changed that. I was no longer dissatisfied with my life and didn't need to escape, so I stopped writing. But I never lost my love for fantasy. If I wrote less then I began reading more, becoming more familiar with the genre as it is now. And this led to a new source of dissatisfaction.

I'm not happy with the fantasy genre today. I think in many ways it has fallen too far from its tree. Many fantasy authors go to extreme lengths to subvert the traditions of the genre because they think turning something that has become a cliche to its opposite extreme is clever and original. (Reality check: It's not.) Many fantasy authors are jumping on the "dark, gritty realism" bandwagon that seems to be sweeping our nation. These writers (who I don't mean to suggest are all fantasy authors) make me very sad. They've forgotten what the fantasy genre was all about, they've forgotten their roots. Because of these modern trends it has been increasingly difficult for me to find a nice, satisfying read among current fantasy fiction.

As my disappointment with recent fantasy offerings has increased over the past several years, the stories in my head have returned. But this time instead of Indiana Jones fanfic, I feel I might actually have something to offer the world. What I want is to create something in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien. Now, by that I don't mean a Shannara-esque ripoff complete with Elves and black robed sinister creatures. I mean that I want to create a secondary world with its own mythology that draws from the real world mythologies that I love. I want my tales from that world to draw from the traditions of myths and fairy tales that explore and illuminate basic truths about the world and the human condition in subtle and thought provoking ways without sacrificing story or characters. And I want to worry not one whit about grittiness or realism.

For the first time in my life, I think I might be able to do those things.

So I have begun the delightful work of worldbuilding. Though I think of it more in some ways as "world revealing". It's not really a ordered, logical process. The ideas come in visions and flashes and slowly, slowly reveal themselves to me. I think it will be a unique and varied world rife with enchantment. I'm very excited about the possibilities.

The first story to be set in my new secondary world is in a land that I am modeling on Ancient Egypt in many ways. I am attempting to use Ancient Egyptian philosophy and beliefs as the foundation for the land. Most people learned at least a bit about Egyptian belief in school and know they had a polytheistic pantheon of gods. You might even remember some of the more prominent gods like Ra, Isis, Osiris, etc. But I have found that there is a much deeper and more complex aspect of Egyptian belief and the way they viewed the world that is absolutely fascinating and in many ways totally foreign to modern western thinking. I'll be exploring it in my first story, my first attempt at a complete novel. I'm hoping it will offer a unique experience.

I'll no doubt be talking a lot about my efforts on this first novel here. About my research, how I will be integrating what I learn about Ancient Egypt into a fantasy setting, about the story its self and what I learn as I write it, about the larger secondary world I am attempting to create bit by bit... I'm still at the beginning of my journey and I think it's going to be a fun ride.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My First Blogfest Entry!

Blogfests are a curious phenomenon I'd never heard of until I started lurking around a lot of writer's blogs. I've always been intrigued, but intimidated by them. Well, yesterday I stumbled upon an interesting blogfest at the blog One Significant Moment in Time and was just in time to enter. The idea was to answer a series of questions, the same questions that typically are asked by James Lipton on Inside the Actor's Studio (though I admit I've never seen that). I liked the questions and I want to expand my blogging horizons so I decided to join in. Welcome therefore, dear reader, to my very first blogfest entry!

What is your favorite word?

Ancient. I've been a lover of ancient civilizations, particularly Egypt, since childhood. Once upon a time I thought I wanted to be an archaeologist (another good word) but it was not to be (mostly because I'm too lazy for that sort of thing). But the word ancient conjures up all sorts of delightful possibilities every time I hear it. The exotic allure of that which is gone but still leaves it's mark on the world... I can't resist.

2. What is your least favorite word?

Moist. It's one of those very uncouth sounding uncomfortable words. I just dislike the sound of it. I maintain that I am never moist, though sometimes damp.

3. What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Music. Music of various kinds stirs my soul like nothing else. Music is capable of eliciting all sorts of emotional responses in me. The right song will put me in just the right mood and the right melody with set off an avalanche of inspiration. One of my favorite pieces of such music is Beethoven's 7th symphony 2nd movement. It reminds me of the Music of the Ainur from Tolkien's The Silmarillion.

4. What turns you off?

A lack of and/or bad logic, often combined with intellectual dishonesty. I'm with the professor from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. "What do they teach in schools these days?" Well, I wasn't taught logic either, I somehow managed to pick it up through reading and luckily had a natural affinity for it. But no one learns it anymore and it's amazing the sort of flawed thinking that goes around as a result.

5. What is your favorite curse word?

I am one of those rare people that can never curse unless I'm REALLY mad and even then I feel bad about it. It was just the way I was brought up. Cursing makes me feel uncomfortable. But I do say the word "curses" instead quite a lot, like some sort of cartoon villain. "Curses! Foiled again!"

6. What sound or noise do you love?

The voices of my children. Two of them are still toddlers and their words are precious. I especially love it when I hear them conversing together in their half English, half toddler gibberish language. And when they are all laughing together in play it's like the chorus of heaven.

7. What sound or noise do you hate?

Whale song. I don't know why, but that sound just freaks the crap out of me.

8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Well, my current profession is "mother". After I finish writing my novel, I'll be trying my hand at "self published author" and see how that goes.

9. What profession would you not like to do?

Most anything else. I'm not a career type woman. I love being home with my kids.

10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

"Well done, my good and faithful servant." But I've got a LOOOOONG way to go for that.

Well, now you know more about me than you ever wanted to. Now, in keeping with the spirit of the blogfest, I am off to check out the other entrants.

Edit: Whew! I actually got through all 120-some entries. That was very educational for me, as a new blogger. I saw over 100 different blogs with all kinds of different formats and looks. I got a good idea of what attracts me in a blog and I hope that will help me to gradually make my blog more attractive. I find I mostly prefer blogs that aren't too cluttered and busy and that have a more personal feel to them. I also prefer it when the blogger doesn't try so hard to sound professional and lets plenty of their personality into their blog aesthetics and posts. All in all this has been a fun experience. I found several new blogs I want to follow along with and even picked up a few new followers myself! Thanks, Nicole, for hosting.

Monday, February 14, 2011


J.R.R. Tolkien was a genius.

I know, I know. It's not "cool" nowadays to be unequivocally enthusiastic in one's admiration for anyone or anything. But I can't help it. I am a total Tolkien fangirl and I unabashedly love everything he wrote. And I'm not just talking about his absolutely brilliant stories. Tolkien was, of course, a tremendous scholar not just of language but of literature.

Tolkien coined a few new terms related to storytelling. The term "sub-creation" refers to the creation of a secondary world with its own rules and laws. The term "eucatrastrophe" is, in Tolkien's words, "the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears" (from On Fairy Stories). Tolkien felt this mechanism was the "highest function" of fairy stories. I had read and been familiar with these two terms before. But I finally came upon a third yesterday.

Mythopoeia. Literally, myth-making.

Tolkien used the term to describe what he did, crafting a mythology that draws from and uses the essential elements and truths found in real world mythologies and legends. It is meant to illuminate those fundamentals of our real world mythologies by exploring them in a created setting, a secondary world. The word has now come to be used to describe the genre of writers who attempt this feat.

And I, who have been wandering lost and confused amidst the modern fantasy genre, repulsed by much that I see, and wondering if this modern fantasy is truly what I am writing and if it is truly what I want to write, have seen the light of day. The answer is no, I am not a modern fantasy writer. Tolkien described what I want to do. My goal is mythopoeic sub-creation. I am writing mythopoeia, not fantasy.

Thank you, Tolkien, for having just the right words.

I found and read Tolkien's poem called Mythopoeia and, as usual, was amazed by Tolkien's genius with words. Tolkien was apparently responding to C.S. Lewis who felt that myths were lies and therefore useless even though "breathed through silver". Tolkien's return argument is indisputably elegant and lovely. Here's an excerpt from the poem, which I found online here:

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
It is not they that have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organized delight,
in lotus-isles of economic bliss
forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).
Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,
and those that hear them yet may yet beware.
They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
and yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have tuned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.

I would that I might with the minstrels sing
and stir the unseen with a throbbing string.
I would be with the mariners of the deep
that cut their slender planks on mountains steep
and voyage upon a vague and wandering quest,
for some have passed beyond the fabled West.
I would with the beleaguered fools be told,
that keep an inner fastness where their gold,
impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring
to mint in image blurred of distant king,
or in fantastic banners weave the sheen
heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.

"Blessed are the legend makers"! Yes, sign me up for that! I think there is something fundamentally missing from much modern fantasy and I think it's tied to the loss of the genre's roots as myth and fairy tale and legend. I'll talk more about that in another post, but for now I am heartened and enthusiastic about digging back into those roots myself. And perhaps one day being an influence for bringing the genre back to its vibrant traditions. I love myth and fairy tale and legend and I think most fantasy readers do as well. I think there is a thirst for more offerings that draw from that tradition and that take on the task of mythopoeic sub-creation. I don't know if I'm up to the challenge, but I'm going to do my best.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Beginnings

Hello, readers! Welcome to my new blog. Perhaps some of you have seen me blogging for the past few months over at wordpress. I originally chose wordpress for ease of use (I was already familiar with the controls after having blogged for a year at and aesthetics. Wordpress seems to me to have a more intimate, comfortable feel. With blogspot I get a distinctly "THIS IS THE INTERNET!" type of feeling. Also, the name wordpress just sounds so much nicer than blogspot. (I can be shallow about things like that.)

However, it has become increasingly apparent to me that blogspot has certain important advantages. As I branch out finding more blogs by writers and for writers, I've noticed that most of them are on blogspot. The follow tool on blogspot seems to be an important aspect of using blogs as a social network. In particular, it seems to be used to facilitate many of the blog tours and things that I'd like to try to get involved in this year. Since one of my main purposes in blogging was to meet and connect with other writers, it seems worthwhile to go with the site that the majority of them use and connect with.

And now that wordpress is no longer holding me back surely I will take the writing blogosphere by storm! You are all now at my mercy! Muahahaha!


Anyway, I think I've managed to set myself up here in as aesthetically pleasing a way as I can manage. I'm still exploring the ins and outs and settings. But I should be settled in completely soon. I'll probably cross post with the wordpress site for a while at least. You can find the posts on that site here:

What can you expect from this particular blog?

I am in the beginning stages of writing my first fantasy novel. My intent is to chronicle my journey as a worldbuilder and storycrafter. I'll be posting about working on my world and my novel as well as general thoughts about writing, books and publishing. None of it is meant to be advice. I'm certainly not experienced enough for that. This is just an account of my personal journey to become a fantasy novelist. I hope you will find it at least mildly entertaining. Please make yourself comfortable and inundate me with comments. Let's get to know each other and maybe spark some interesting conversations.