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.