Monday, December 27, 2010

After Yule

On Christmas we have


Pudding that needs editing

+

Character (me) who needs rounding out

=

Perfect combination



But after boxing day we have



Over edited pudding

+

Far too rounded character

=

The New Years resolution



I've learned to be careful with resolutions. "This year I will get my book published" is a bad resolution. So are "This year I will lose weight", or "This year I will get a better job".

Good resolutions look more like "This year I will mail out a hundred queries", "This year I will work out three times a week" or "This year I will turn in a job application every day".

There are too many things in the publishing world, your metabolism and the job market that you will have no controll over and if you fail to meet your goals because of those obsticles you will feel like you haven't done what you set out to do even though you have. A new year is the perfect time to rethink goals and set up challenges but be careful about what you promise yourself. Focus your resolution on your own actions not the end results.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

One Stop Poetry

Dedication

Desecrate my temple with a candle
With flames that burn beyond the final sleep
Incense drowned in a bequeathed ritual
Lit by men long dead for us to keep
Prepare me for my burial with gifts
As scalded wax drips down sacred pillars
Teach me the truths that ceremony sifts
And learn the innocence hidden by scars
Hear cries of children never born as kings
And pay homage to their everlasting sire
Screams of purity torn from time's sweltering
Defile my memory for every missing fire
Defy the spark dimmed by the fall of breath
As vibrancy passes through strains of birth


To read the rest of the poetry for One Shot Wendsday or include your own click the link.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Logical Plotting, Part Two: Plot Fallacies

Last week I compared plot structure to argument structure in order to break it down into workable components but many of the fallacies that are easy to make in arguments are also easy to make in plots.

Arguments and plots are different in that appeals to emotion are not only OK but encouraged. If the reader feels no empathy for the heroes and loathing for the villains (or a delicious confusing combination of the two for both the heroes and villains) you are in big trouble. However, you can also run into trouble when you rely only on emotion and forget to make anything actually happen.

Appealing to pity –The sob story

Hallmark movies fall into this category rather often. A little girl who sends a father's day card to heaven via balloon is touching but it isn't a story unless it leads to something else or has been led up to in a way that makes it significant to the particular little girl in a particular way. It needs to have a connection to other events in order to be a story.

Appealing to fear --The horror flick

Horror flicks can be entertaining but a book requires more investment from the reader than a movie does from a viewer. they deserve more than teenagers running away from monsters and serial killers. Where is this teenager running to? Where are they running from? Why does one monster scare them more than another? Where will all this running lead them? What is the significance?

You might have noticed that there are two words I use a lot when I talk about plot. Significance and leading. A story takes the reader through a series of events to a climax. That is why I get bored with TV dramas after a few episodes. They don't go anywhere. If you have the concept of events leading to a climax in mind you probably won't get caught up in many fallacies but here are a few more examples.

Circular Plot

When the events leading up to the climax are the same as the climax.

Hero wins a race (event) Hero wins another race (climax)

This can actually work given the right circumstances but it's still worth watching out for. If you do it do it on purpose.

Pirates are stranded on a raft with treasure (event) pirates are rescued and scheme and murder on their way to shore in order to keep their treasure (event) pirates are again stranded on a raft with their treasure (climax)


False Cause

This occurs when the climax and events preceding it are not actually connected.

Girl thinks her fiance has died in the war and gets involved with his best friend (event) The Japanese attack America (climax)

When this happens the reader can't be biting their fingernails wondering what the characters are going to do because it won't actually affect the ending.

Disjointed Plot (Ignoratio Elenchii)

When the writer changes what the story is about last minute without leaving hints for the reader along the way.

Alice wanders through the backwards world on the other side of the looking glass (event) And it was a dream after all (climax)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Logical Plotting, Part One: Structure

While studying for finals this week I ran across this list in my logic notes:

Simple Plot
Linked Plot
Convergent Plot
Divergent Plot
Serial Plot
Unstated Plot

I probably don’t need to clarify that my logic professor wasn’t talking about plot structure when I jotted that down but, well she wasn’t. she was talking about argument structures. Still there are a lot of similarities between arguments and plots.

Definition of argument: A set of two or more statements, one of which follows from the other.

Definition of story: A narrative that follows a course of events (implying that one must follow from the other)

Mainly, arguments and plots both must have a conclusion. Even if it is vague or ambiguous a conclusion is what separates a story from a series of events whether they are real or imaginary. However, since using that terminology, almost all well written stories would have unstated plots and since the conclusion is capsulated in the climax, for our diagramming purposes we will substitute ‘climax’ for ‘claim’ and ‘event’ for ‘premise’.

Simple Plot

A single event leads to the climax.

This mostly applies to short stories.
The fox asks the crow to sing (event) and the cheese falls out of the crow’s mouth (climax).

But it could apply to a longer story as well.

Saroun creates the one ring (event) so Frodo destroys it (climax).
The stories aren’t always told in the order they are diagramed.

Linked Plot

Two or more related events lead to the climax.

This is a very common plot structure for novels and, for me at least, is the most impressive because the climax hits and suddenly everything else fits together.

Takeo is being trained by Otori (event). Kaede is being forced to marry Otori (event). Lord Ida Sadamu tyrannizes the land (event). Takeo uses the skills he has been training for and Kaede does not marry Otori, thus overthrowing Lord Ida. (climax)

Convergent Plot

Two or more events lead to the climax but don’t depend on one another.

Mrs. Hubbard stabs Ratchet (event). Mary Debenham stabs Ratchet (event.) Colonal Arbuthnot stabs Ratchet (event). Ratchet is killed (climax).

Most mysteries contain events that only appear to contribute to the climax

Divergent

One event leads to two or more climaxes

Common in disaster stories

The titanic sinks (event). Jack dies (climax). The captain goes down with his ship (climax).

Serial Plot

An event leads to a climax which in turn leads to another climax

Most evident in well crafted series of books

Cabarus is unrightfully ruler of Westmark (event). Theo overthrows Cabarus but saves his life (climax and event). Cabarus stirs an invasion in Westmark.

Because of the continuous movement this can be confused with a “page turner” pace in which nothing is ever quite resolved but doesn’t always build on itself.

Unstated Plot

The climax is implied but the reader never sees it happen

Boy sees girl and smiles (event). Girls sees boy and smiles (event). The reader guesses that boy and girl will get together even though there is no dialogue or action to indicate that

This is what is meant by showing instead of telling. The writer leaves the important things unsaid for emphasis.

Of course most stories are a much more complex combination of these types of plot but, for someone who usually runs away from anything remotely resembling structure, it makes sense for me to think of plot in this way.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thoughts on NANOWRIMO

For three years now I have sworn to myself that I would participate in NANOWRIMO and changed my mind by the time November came around. This may be a good thing. I don't think NANOWRIMO is always unhelpful but I'm not sure it would be a good thing for me in my current stage of writing and perhaps my circumstances know this better than I do. The past three Novembers, even though I didn't participate in the 60,000 words scramble to write a novel beginning to end, have been crucial to my development as a writer.

November 2008 was the first year I decided I was going to participate but the first week of November was midterms. I had a full course load and was already working on several novels. Starting one from scratch without finishing at least one of them first felt unfaithful. Still, I didn't want to let the month pass without challenging myself in some way. I remembered a friend had participated in a writing challenge to write 400 words every day for twenty eight days the year before at some point in the fall so I e-mailed her about it. It turned out I e-mailed her on the day it started and she was organizing it herself that year and could therefore e-mail me the prompts even though I did not attend her school. Fate? 400 hundred words a day is not as impressive as a whole novel in a month but it got me into the habit of writing out something every day and because I was so busy with classes I had to let go of my inner editor and stop pushing the backspace button every other sentence in order to meet my quota. I was surprised by some of the ideas that came tumbling out when I wasn't censoring them.

Last November I decided that rather than start a new novel I would just make it a priority to finish the one I was already working on. I carried my journal with me everywhere and wrote like mad on the bus and during class and jury duty. I didn't make it by November 30th. I extended my deadline to December 31st and I still didn't make it. I actually didn't finish it until this last August but forcing words out for those two months did force me to look at the plot as a whole instead of spending all my time harping individual scenes to death when they might end up being cut anyways. And I learned I don't write fast and shouldn't try.

That important revelation should make you wonder why I decided I would participate in the mad word chase this year but I have been experimenting with actual outlining instead of just jumping in and watching where the story goes. I thought it might be a good idea to start the Robin Hood novel I've been researching and outlining and re-outlining for the last year and a half to see how this method works for me but by the time November came along I still hadn't got around to editing the novel I'd finished in August. I decided that would be my November writing task. It only took me the first day to realize that editing actually took longer than drafting (for me) and that rushing it was not going to do me any good. I also still had the unfinished story for the Notes From The Underground contest dangling in front of me. So this year's November task was much simpler. Finish, edit and polish a ten page story. It's maybe 0.5% the size of a novel but I think (at least for now) I gain more satisfaction in doing one small thing well than a large thing sloppily and I was still able to draw inspiration from the idea that this last month writers everywhere were pushing themselves to find out where their limits are.

So what have your experiences with NANOWRIMO been?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Just a Story

When I submitted a piece to the Literary Lab's Notes From The Underground contest it was mostly to keep me on my toes submitting stuff. I was pleased but very surprised when I saw my name on the list of winners. I lost count of how many time I re-read the list to make sure I wasn't imagining it. When I was finally convinced that if this was an hallucination it was a detailed enough one to land me in the loony bin I got excited and told all my friends, decided which idea I would dig out for the final submission, checked out some books on the subject, scratched down a bunch of contradictory notes . . . and didn't actually get anything written down for a month and a half.

I tried. I really did. I sat in front of the computer with my hands hovering over the keys trying to decide what flavor this story would have. What themes I would use. Whether I should use first person or third. How snarky the protagonist should be. How creepy I would make the tone. How I would prevent it from turning in to a novel the way every other short story I'd ever attempted had. What reaction I was going for from my very first realio tuelio audience. All the rules I wouldn't break to prove that I knew what I was doing.

I'm sure you get the idea. I was over thinking. A lot. I had a ton of ideas but every time I was able to type them out on the screen they were immediately followed by a rigorous application of the backspace key. The irony is that the whole nature of this particular contest was supposed to liberate the writer from rules and the fear of rejection so that they could create the story they wanted. The freedom scared me. I would be the only person responsible for whatever I turned in and it would be permanent. I couldn't wake up in the middle of the night and say “What was I thinking? Taig Feargal would never use the word 'acquiesce'” and make the necessary amendments. It would already be printed and sent off to readers who have never met me and would judge their opinion on my entire existence on those words alone.

Then came the nasty part. I had to admit to myself that a large part of why I write is to improve other people's opinion of me. I didn't want to write a piece that I had a strong emotional connection with that expressed my innermost thought. I wanted to write something that other people LIKED. Of course it would be nice if it at least appeared to express my innermost being or managed to say something clever and profound sounding. But it had to accurately represent my other work and . . .

By then I was sick of the whole idea. The deadline was approaching and I had nothing but a handful of sentences and paragraphs that didn't make sense together. I was trying to make ten pages of story do more than any story possibly could. Too much clutter. Too much expectation.

I started over. I placed a stack of notebook paper next to my bed and started writing the way I did when I was thirteen. Long hand with no outline and no delete button at the end of the day when I was too tired to worry about whether it was making sense or had intelligent themes. Just me and my imagination and the calming sensation of pen against paper.

I am content with the result. It is flawed, I am sure, but by allowing it not be a masterpiece I was able to manage something much more personal and something I can release into the world without worrying about the reaction. It's just a story. I will tell many more and hear many more and if I don't let it go after I tell it I won't be able to focus on the next one while it is being told.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett's I SHALL WEAR MIDNIGHT concludes the adventures of the Wee Free Men and their "Big Wee Hag" Tiffany Aching who at Fifteen id now a good deal less "Wee" but still manages to wiggle in and out of tight places. As the chalk's witch she handles all the problems everyone else would rather sweep under the rug. Although everyone in the chalk needs her, they don't always like to admit it, and the fairy tale cliche` of witches being cruel and ugly is starting to wreak havoc on her love life, To Do list, and general safety.
Pratchett weaves his usual brilliant blend of humor, wit, and striking insight into human behavior into a masterfully paced adventure full of drama, witches of all shapes and sizes, and littkle blue men whho say "Crivens!".

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hazzah!

I have finished a draft of my story. It is a little too long and needs some polishing but I feel a lot better having it completed beginning to end. I will post an analysis of the process I used to write this story and what I think I've learned from it for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing. (If you aren't I completely understand. The analysis will be mostly for my own benefit as short stories are sort of a new teritory for me.)But for now I celebrate with these sonnets I've been tinkering with just for fun.

 
Erato
 
The black pulse of a thousand minds
Waits for truth to hold back time
Steeped in color and liquid light
The darkened roar demands its sight
With fists raised in unseen design
They cry for communion with the divine

Tonight the sky drops down its eyes
The silence drowns in lucid dies
Between the rifts of glittered strands
Hang the fates that mock demands
Beneath the pull of threaded sound
The tower falls, a toppled mound

Inspiration here at last
To join the present with the past


Food of Love

My forever faithless jealous lover,
Leaping from the fingers of another
Unresolved notes loose their effect
In punishment for my long time neglect
A word with a sonnet, a wink at verse
Moments when I was too lost to rehearse

My fingers slip and fall against your keys
Rough sounds flow through your hollow reeds
Nothing is left but your siren's screeching
A hand cramped from my ceaseless reaching
I am parched for the voice you will not grant
With a mind flailed with silence I recant
Flow back to my brain and out of my throat
Forgive if you can the false words I wrote


Motley

Whir of colorless gauze begging for dies
Shadow filled laughter drowning out sound
Paint covered eyes spinning round and round
Drink bitter delights to sustain the lies

A popinjay decked out in white and black
Swallow the emptiness. Wash out the hues.
Dance to the silence of a drunken ruse
With feathers and bells dripping down your back

With masks twisted out of charm and wits
Don't let them see that your eyes are their eyes
Don't look at yourself. Don't dare become wise.
Whisk your cloak full of glittering bits

Invisible in gilded finery
Wear the costume you expect to see

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Stolen Hours

So I guess I've reached the "apologizing for having a life" stage of blogging I've heard tell about. Classes take up more time than I remember and there are holidays to prepare for and actual writing to work on and . . . insert a million more half hearted excuses here. I am not planning on abandoning blogging entirely but if I make it on here once a week to read blogs I will be lucky. As far as posting goes . . .

Lately I have been having a really hard time getting words out of my fingers that aren't essays. And its not just time and mental energy. I think it has to do with Notes From the Underground and the terifying (but wonderful and absolutely fabulous) idea that people are actually going to read my writing. I'm used to workshops where the understanding is that the piece in question is a work in progress and I can always go back and change anything that doesn't work. The idea of permanence is scary. The idea that there isn't going to be an editor to accept or regect the piece and thus save me from the embarassment of publishing something that isn't ready even though I feel it is a masterpiece is downright terifying. I think it will be good for my writing and figuring out exactly what I am trying to acomplish with it but its still very scary. I set aside the entire afternoon today to get some writing done and yet find myself avoiding my own words drifting around on the web. I may have to vow not to post anything else until I have a working draft.

So all that is to say I shan't be here very often. Alas that days held time for everything one would wish to acomplish. I hope I shall be back full force soon.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Eyes Bigger Than . . . Well My Eyes

I hate skimming books for research instead of emerceing myself in every detail and digesting them slowly.

I hate passing books that look interesting in the bookstore without even reading the back.

I hate returning books to the library unopened to avoid late fees.

I hate turning in work I know could be better if I'd had another day to edit.

I hate only reading two or three blogs before I realize I have to be somewhere.

I hate sitting down in front of the computer and, instead of getting lost in the words wiggling out of my fingers, keeping my eyes on the clock and panicing when I see how low my word count is.

I hate only giving a sentence or two of commentary instead of anylizing line by line.

It may be time for me to do less in order for me to do more.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Scop of Gleeman?

Scop --Anglo Saxon poet who wrote and recited heroic epics about battles and morality and glory

Gleeman --minstral or bard, more interested in entertainment than heroic themes


Scop of Gleeman? Poet or entertainer? Teacher or creater of divertions? Sophisticated literature or genre fiction?

I sometimes feel like there is a line drawn for writers. On one side deep thinking social comentary chocked full of elaborate allusions to our predisesors and on the other J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown and Stephanie Myers. We must choose if we want to write 'real' inovative literature or best sellers.

My question is why not both? Or niether. Does every story worth telling have to be a great masterpiece? Is it only worth anything if it makes a lot of money?

The clasifications aren't really so different. I'm not afraid to strive for perfection but I don't think I'm the only who has read some of the great classics and felt like there were places they could be tweaked. I still enjoyed them, recognized genius in them but the perfectionist is never satisfied.

Not all the great classics were written with 'greatness' in mind. Kidknapped is a classic 'blood and thunder'. Shakespeare wrote histories that were more or less court propoganda but they managed to stick around. They were entertainments with enough thought provoking matter (or simply emotions that we can connect with) that we still find them worth reading hundreds of years later. We are still diverted and entertained by them. Profound doesn't usually happen on purpose.

Granted Twilight probably won't be taught in schools a hundred years from now and a lot of the books that are didn't make any amount of money worth mentioning when the author was alive. Still, a story is a story and the question shouldn't be "How much money will it make?" or "What is the great meaning behind it?" but "does it want to be told?"

Scop or Gleeman? Poet or player? Literary or Genre? What's the difference?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Study in Ink: "Jack" Lewis

Aparantly when Clive Staples Lewis was a boy he woke up one day and told his family to call him Jack. It stuck and after that anyone who knew him socially called him Jack. Names are odd like that. Oficially they can be one thing but you are really known by what you are called. I think I would prefer Jack too if my given name were Clive.

I'll begin our discussion of Lewis' work with the most well known and the first ones I read. The Chronocles. I like to call Narnia my first love in literature. It has that sort of sweet, outgrown, nostalgia for me. At the time they were perfect, full of adventure and magic, metaphysical truths and a certain brand of university humor that is in most of Lewis' books. The first concious observation I made on writing style was Lewis' tendancy to point out small details the reader is likely to have experienced like waking up on the hard ground, how thirsty eating toffee for dinner will make you or how much more frusterating it is to wait for something when you have no idea how long you will have to wait, in order to relate them to the story.

My second brush with Lewis was his space trylogy. I have very strong memories of reading Out of the Silent Planet during a tedius pep rally in high school and Perelandra while camping. I think more than anything else Perelandra whet my apitite for thought and discussions about life. I mean what better paradise can you imagine than a planet with land waves and perfect fruit to eat while sit around throwing ideas back and forth at each other?

The more I read of Lewis' works and his life the more I realize that he wrote mostly about himself. Professor Kirk was the name of one of his own proffesors and has a very similar personality as does Digory to Lewis as a boy. Pilgrim's Regress, even though he insisted he was seeking to generalize a logical series of beliefs, more or less chronicalizes his own intelectual/spiritual journey and even Ransom from the space trylogy is arguable a version of his friend Tolkien.

I have read Screwtape Letters three times I believe and written a research paper on it. It was, Lewis admitted, one of the easiest pieces for him to write because it was so easy for him to get into the head of the diabolical. Being nasty is never very difficult. It is interesting to be shown the life of a completely unremarkable man through the eyes of a creature who is contemptous of everything we tend to admire. Screwtape is witty and entertaining, and even makes some excelent points but Lewis always makes it clear when he is disagreeing with the demon. The quote that sticks with me the strongest is "Now is the closest time to eternity."

A Grief Observed is interesting because it was written after most of his books of philosophy (my favorite of which are The Abolition of Man and Discarded Images) and theology were already published and yet chronolizes all his carefully laid thoughts falling appart after the death of his wife. A testiment that a true thinker's thoughts are never done. Their conclusions are as fragile as anybody else's.

The C.S. Lewis book that surprised me the most was Till We Have Faces. It doesn't take place in an imagined land of metaphysical exploration like The Great Divorce, Pilgrim's Regress or Narnia or a university (the only profession he knew well enough to feel confident writing about) like Screwtape or his space trylogy. It is a retelling a myth narated by a woman set in ancient Greece and yet it is full of the same logic mixed with romantic longing that all of his books are held together with.

So what did Lewis teach me about writing? To long for the unknown. To think long and hard about what the little thing represent. To choose my details wisely. To not be afraid to write about the things closest to me. To read so that I am not alone. That now is the closest time to eternity.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Forgive Me While I Go Rogue Scholar For A Moment

My English 124 professor has an infatuation with the State, Explain, Examples, Illustrate format for critical thinking. What? A format for critical thinking? Isn't critical thinking the ability to think outside the box? Isn't format the epitome of a box? (unlike structure which can be tailored to fit the situation)

It's been awhile since I wrote much that wasn't purely creative or at least literary analysis. The last composition class I took was quite a few years ago and while it was when I developed my “Point of Inspiration” theory on forcing assignments I have no emotional connection with to . . . well develop an emotional connection of some kind I never really missed it.

It's not that I don't love writing essays. Or at least I love the things my mind does throughout the process of writing an essay. I'm not usually satisfied with the end result. There is just something frustrating about being asked to say something in a certain way without anyone actually caring what I say so long as it follows the format.

I'm also used to subjective critique. “I don't understand your character's motivation in this passage, do you think you could clarify without slowing down the pace?” or “This would be clearer if it were one sentence instead of two.” Instead of “Use an example here”. I like to be asked to rethink my work and what I'm trying to express with it not told what changes to make.

And for the final touch of irony the current piece I'm working on is arguing against complete relativism.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Study In Ink: An Invitation

When I when thirteen I wanted to be a dragon slayer and save the world from inevitable destruction but since Peter Pan only visited the Darings' window and the white rabbits I ever had the pleasure of seeing were locked in a cage with a conspicuose lack of wastecoat and watch I decided on the next best thing. I would write about dragon slayers.
If I couldn't be Sir George himself I would be his jongular and come along for the ride. Still something in the mind of a thirteen year old desires heroes they can emulate.
Enter the Inklings.
C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Roger Lancelyn Green, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams. They were the round table of fantasists. The inventors of the genre. I liked to imagine them sitting around the table in the back of The Eagle and The Child (or The Bird and The Baby as the locals called it) on Tuesday morning smoking their pipes, eating eggs and mushrooms and reading their work to each other. While most girls my age were obsessing over posters of N Sync and The Backstreet Boys I was hunting down as many books as I could find by these gifted authors, memorizing odd facts about their lives and --yes --learning elvish.
My Reasons for writing are different now, though perhaps not as different as I might imagine. Still, I feel a little flutter of hero worship when I hear the names of these, my first writing teachers. I would like to spend the next month or two discussing these authors, their works, and what they taught me. Please join me for this series of discussions entitled A Study In Ink.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Taliesin the zine


I finally printed the Summer 2010 Issue of my zine Taliesin. It is available for $2.00 or trade. Just send your mailing address to featherzines@yahoo.com.

I don't know how many of you are zinesters or ex-zinesters so I thought I should answer a few questions so you know what Taliesin is.

A zine is an independent self publication of absolutely anything. Poetry, stories, photos, journals. Kind of like a blog on paper. Most zines tend to deal with punk or other alternative cultures. There are also a lot of zine comics. Teens are big fans of zines because they are a nice outlet for angst or dealing with depression. They probably aren't something worth mentioning on a query but they are a fun way to share ideas and stories. There is also an intimacy in buying and trading zines that is lost in other forms of publication because, though there are some distos you can publish through, most zines are hand printed.

Taliesin is a fantasy literary zine I started two years ago. I originally started this blog to replace it because of the amount of time and money that went into it but, though blogging has introduced me to a whole new spectrum of sharing ideas and meeting new people, it doesn't have quite the same feeling of accomplishment that putting together a paper publication does. So far Taliesin contains mostly my own work but I'm looking to change that. If you have anything you would like to submit please send it to:

featherzines@yahoo.com

I say Taliesin is 'fantasy' themed but that really is too narrow a description. What it really is is 'bard' themed which is much more abstract. If you have something that is in any way connected to music, storytelling, history or the great mysteries of the universe chances are it will fit just fine in Taliesin. I will accept anything from poetry and flash fiction and short stories to book reviews, creative nonfiction pieces and factual articles so long as they fit in some way or another to the theme of that particular issue. If you are considering submitting for the upcoming winter issue (deadline December 30th) the theme is Masks and Hidden Magic. But if you send something else and I really like it I will likely (with your permission) save it for another issue or (with your permission) pass the submission on to my sister's zine Silenciues.

Let me know if you have any more questions and I hope to be able to publish a little piece of your work for you soon.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Haikus!

My much cluttered muse
Too often abandoned
Do not leave me yet

If I could pen words
For every mindspun thread
My fingers would break

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beowulf

I always thought that the plot of Beowulf went on too long. Monster attacks stronghold. Hero kills monster. Monster's mother takes her revenge. Hero kills her too. That should be it right? The stronghold is safe. Conflict resolved. A little about the victory feast makes sense but why follow Beawulf all the way home if nothing is going to happen for another thirty years? And why, oh why add another episode with a dragon when no victory could ever compare to his victory over Grendal? A bit anticlimatic isn't it.

If Beowulf were only an adventure story that would be true but I reread the peom this week and on closer examination I don't think its about a single exploit of bravery. Its about mortality and how the Anglo Saxons thought that a life could be worth living in spite of inevitable doom. Cheery I know.

Grendal himself is an example of doom lurking outside even the strongest most prosperous stronghold. Beowulf conquers him but there is yet another monster, his mother, his source. Even after Grendal's mother is destroyed Hrothgar warns Beowulf that strength and victory are not long lasting acheivments. That they will fade with age and if a hero is not courteous as well as brave so will his aclaim.

Beowulf's acheivements after Grendal are only told in flash backs just before the final show down with the dragon but it is clear that he took Hrothgar's advice and lived as a just and courteous king. But why do we need this final battle? Can't we just enjoy imagining the hero living a long and happy life without fast forwarding to the end of it?

Many old poems show us a character's life from beginning to end. Morte D'Arthur begins with the circumstances of Arthur's conception and ends with his burial but while Arthur's story is a tradgedy of how a great kingdom went wrong and fell prematurely the death of Beawulf is not a tradgedy at all.

Beawulf's death shows that even the strongest, most vireous and most honored man dies but he also shows that if one must die one might as well die . . . with his honor on. He died the best posible death for a Geat and a reader fully emersed in the culture of the tale can not be satisfied with his long and happy life until they know how he ended it. In the beginning of the story he conquers doom, holds it at bay so that the Danes can enjoy Heorot again but at the end the inevitability of doom catches up to him. He dies but conquers doom once and for all by behaving heroically up to the very last second of his life.

So its not anticlimatic after all.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

First Story

Once upon a time I decided to write a story. Once upon a time I did. Once upon a time I had so much exitement rolling around in my head that my pen could not fly across the page fast enough. Once upon a time I shared those stories with my friends and they loved them. Once upon a time I did too.

Later in time I decided to publish my stories. Later in time I read all the rules and realized everything I had been doing wrong. Later in time I went through my prose with a fine toothed comb made from my own bones. Later in time I deleted and re-typed and banged my head against the keyboard, wondering if I would ever be any good.

Now. I stiil write. I still agonize over my choice in words. I think my writing has improved but sometimes something is missing. Some days I have to force myself to sit down in front of the computer and I wonder if publication is worth the loss of that buzz of romance I'd had when I first started writing. Ultimately the story is the most important and when I change the question to is making the story the best I posibly can worth it the answer is always yes. Still, I sometimes miss those early flirtatious days as I writer so in tribute to that original romance I give you the first story I ever wrote.


Two Kings

Once upon a time there were two kings named George and James. Now King George and King James were the best of friends. They loved to get together and brag. Oh yes, they loved to sit over a hot cup of tea and brag about this and brag about that, about their tax refunds, about their latest balls. Those two kings would brag about anything.
One day King James happened to mention his army. “Well my army is the best the world has to offer.” he said.
“Why James my dearest friend,” King George said “Your army is very great but not as great as mine. No, my army is the best!”
“No George that is not true. Your army is wonderful but I do believe that if they were to meet in battle mine would win.”
This James should not have said for the very next thing George said was “And so they shall!”
At first King James did not know what to say for though he was sure that he would win and wanted to prove his point he knew what a battle could mean but realizing that if he refused he would prove King George right he said,
“Very well. In two days at exactly noon our armies will charge together in Rain Valley.” King George agreed and they went to make battle plans.
The next day after comparing battle plans it was decided that they would have tea together above the valley and watch. So the battle lines were drawn and everyone waited to see who would make the first move.
But alas! King George's army had forgotten to bring swords. Naturally they could not have a fair battle without them so it was decided that King James' army would share half of their swords with King George's army. George's army had finally gotten ready when it was discovered that King James' army had forgotten to bring shields. Naturally they could not have a fair battle without shields so it was decided that King George's army would share half of their shields with King James' army. Both armies had finally gotten ready when suddenly . . .
A stampede of elephants rushed into the valley, trampling the soldiers.
“Stand your ground!” shouted James.
“Hold them back!” ordered George.
From then on it was all a blur of clashing swords, stamping elephants and shouted orders. Within an hour they had driven the elephants back to where they had come from with only a few minor injuries.
Although there were no major wounds it was plain to see that neither army were by any means fit for battle. George suggested rescheduling but James decided that it did not matter who's army was the best so long as they were there to help each other in need. The truth was James had seen George's army with the elephants and decided he had better back out just in case and surprisingly George was not reluctant to agree for he had watching James' army and decided they were not to be trifled with.
“I couldn't agree more James.” he said, sipping his tea “Oh my cook makes the best tea.”
“No George, that is not true.” James said “Your cook makes very good tea indeed but I do believe that the most skilled taste testers, if choosing between them, would say that my cook's tea is the best.
This James should not have said for the very next thing George said was. “We shall see about that!”

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit --Oscar Wilde

"I am an artist . . . and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth."
--Ursula LeGuiun

"He taught me the difference between everything and nothing"
"Which is?" Vevey prompted, looking baffled
"Words."
---Patricia McKillup, Alphapet of Thorn

"The wrong words. They were true a hundred times over, yet they sounded like a lie. Hadn't he always know it? Words were useless. At times they might sound wonderful, but they let you down the moment you needed them. You could never find the right words. Never, and where would you look for them? The heart is as silent as a fish, however much the tongue tries to give it a voice."
--Cornelia Funke, Inkspell

"A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world."
--Oscar Wilde

There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.
--Ray Bradbury

All that I desire to point out is the general principle that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.
--Oscar Wilde

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
--Ray Bradbury

If the writing is honest it cannot be separated from the man who wrote it.
--Tennessee Williams

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.
--Ernest Hemingway

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.
--C. S. Lewis

"For while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, its the only light we got in this darkness."
--James Baldwin

It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.
--Winston Churchill

Monday, August 16, 2010

Oh No!

Last week I finished my first beginning to end draft of the novel I have been working on for five years.(Hooray!) Most of the individual chapters have all been edited a time or two though so I think I'll call it draft 1 1/2. At any rate as I sat typing the last few pages, a thrill of disbelief surging through me (five years really is a long time)my brain ran into some serious trouble. Ideas. For a sequel.

I've sworn up and down a thousand times that this book will not have a sequel. I have too many other projects squirming in line for a place on my front burner. Besides, a lot of sequels aren't done very well and suck the joy out of the original book after you read them. I tried to write one once. It didn't work. So when ideas started niggling at my mind awhile back about what happens to some of the characters I thought well, maybe a short story or two that happens in the same world. I could live with that. But here I was typing out the very last pages thinking "Ah, finished at last" (except for you know that whole editing process) and suddenly they aren't just vague ideas anymore. I'm seeing a plot direction, threads that pull together, flashes of dialogue, new sets, a connection to some folk takes I had wanted to novelize years ago but had forgotten about and a whole swirl of colors.

This may sound strange but I know I'm in trouble when I start seeing colors. Every manuscript I've actually finished has a very distinct color I associate with it.

"The Stable" --Chestnut

Sirela --Blue and Silver

Criminal Mastermind --White. With shades of gray.

Ruler of Geal --Amber. In Various shades and textures.

The colors aren't visible in the actual execution of the writing or any kind of theme or anything. They're just somewhere in the back of my mind when I think about that story, holding it together. Probably connected more to tone than theme. . .

So will Ruler of Geal have a sequel? Very possibly. A red and orange sequel,though focusing on a different protagonist altogether. I still say it needs to wait in line behind all my other projects but who knows? It's not like I'm in control here or anything.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Books on Writing

There are probably as many ways to write as there are writers and I'm just going to take the easy route and say they are all the right way to do it. However, different pieces of writerly advise have been more relavant to me and my writing. Here are some of the books that I have found helpful.

On Becoming a Novelist -by John Gardner

I love that this is not a how to book. It doesn't even focus on the craft of writing itself very much. It contemplates why someone would want to be a writer, whether they should, whether they have any chance, John Gardner's own experience with writing and his experiences with young writers. Plus its John Gardner. The prose is pure poetry.

Zen in the Art of Writing -by Ray Bradbury

I am sort of a diehard Bradbury fan. The odd thing is I was introduced to his writing through his essays on writing rather than the other way around. I came across this book and connected with it, thought he sounded like he might know what he was talking about but wanted to make sure his writing was decent before I bought into it. It was. More than decent actually.

The Modern Library's Writer's Workshop:a Guide to the Craft of Fiction -by Stephen Koch

I don't usually condone writing "methods" (That is if a method works for you by all means use it but I don't condone it as a difinative process that should never be strayed from) However if there were a method I used this book pretty much describes it. With the exception of the fast first draft. I tend to write really slowly the first time around.

How To Become a Famous Author Before You're Dead -by Ariel Gore

I hesitate to include this book because 1)I'm not sure that I would want to be a famous author. I think I would settle for one that got paid. and 2) I'm not a famous author and therefore couldn't say for certain if Ariel Gore's advice is sound. Still, what this book awakened for me was the knowledge that I didn't have to sit around waiting for an editor or agent to give me his blessing before I am a writer. I am a writer now and there are other avenues available (like blogs and zines) that allow me to offer what I have say to the world now. Ironically I don't feel the need to be published as strongly as I used to.

Workshops

Even if its not your work being discussed it is always worthwhile to listen to people pick apart a piece of writing. Even if you decide that no one knows what they are talking about in order to make that conclusion you have to think about why they are all wrong which will lead to a stronger understanding of the craft.

You're writing is different than mine. Maybe these books won't help you. Still, maybe they will.

Monday, August 9, 2010

. . .

Life. Breath. Dreams. Sleep. Death. The timeless image of a wheel turning, spiraling from nowhere to forever and back again.

Reason. Knowledge. Experience. Gained and lost, growing and shriveling, tangling in a withered knot that will never be unwound. Will never finish winding.

Movement. Love. Pain. Fear. Hope. Each moment passes as something new. Each moment scented with traces of the last. Each moment spiced with the anticipation of the future.

Time.

How long will my wheel turn? Where will it lead me? How long until I am here again?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Only So Many Ways To Die

I have been writing a lot of death scenes lately. Not surprising considering that the manuscript I am working on is a war story and I'm near the end. It's the climax. It's supposed to be dramatic but I'm worried that's its just coming off as numbers. So many at once seem to take the significance out of each individual's death. All the scenes are the same. The battle wound. The death tremors. The unseeing eyes. If I'm bored I'm sure the reader will be but how many other ways can I write a death?

There are only so many kinds of weapons. Only so many places on a human body for them to penetrate. So some of my characters scream and others don't. Some die instantly while others go feverish and rave. Some die off stage and I only have to describe their death grins and lifeless complexions. It doesn't feel like enough. The deaths are still mechanical. How do you convey everything involved in the loss of a life with mere words.

Maybe that's what I want. Maybe I want me readers to be sick of death to the point where they feel numb. Still, just because I want the to feel the repetitions of people dieing doesn't mean I want my writing to be repetitious.

The most effective death scene I have ever read was only two sentences (spoiler warning. If you have never read The Kestral by Lloyd Alexander go do so now and come back):

(paraphrased because I don't have a copy of the book handy) Theo saw a lump of something like a side of meat. It took him a moment to realize that it was Stock.

That's it. Two sentences. The death even happened off stage (I really think the Greeks may have been on to something there)

I say two sentences but really it was much more than that. The impact of those sentences were supported by the rest of the book.

First, the reader is irrevocably fond of Stock. He is enthusiastic, good natured, amusing and has for the last chapter or so been the only person Theo (the viewpoint character) can really call a friend.

Second, the scene before featured Stock doing nothing particularly heroic or companionable. No last huzzah or random oaths of friendship to tip the reader off. He was just there and now he isn't.

Third, (and this is very closely connected with second) shock. This is where Lloyd Alexander breaks the rules. He begins the passage leading up to the death with “The next week Stock dies”. Yes, yes he does. He tells. I had to read that sentence again the first time. But it gets worse. He then proceeds with narrative summery as he explains how Stock left on a routine raid, how long it took of him not coming back before the commander decided to send a party after him, how Theo insisted on being in that party, how long it took them to find the remains of the battlefield. All in a paragraph or two while the reader hopes illogically that they misunderstood the sentence in the beginning of the scene because it was so straightforward and had nothing (apparent) leading up to it. Then Theo find what you knew he would and it is Stock and he is dead.

Fourth, (or maybe this is the reason those two sentences needed to be so poignant?) is Theo's reaction. Until this point he has been as much a pacifist as someone technically fighting a war can be. He winces when spies are shot and prisoners are interrogated and hasn't actually killed anyone himself. But when he sees his friend's body he takes charge of the scouting party and slaughters the enemy soldiers responsible. The reader doesn't blame him. They loved Stock too.

Could I write six death scenes this strong in the closing chapters of my manuscript? I'm not sure I should try. For one thing it would be exhausting. For the reader as much as for me. But mostly because this was a major turning point in The Kestrel's plot. Six major turning points in the last five chapters? Too much. I can only focus on the deaths in the way that they impact the surviving characters and shape the direction of the plot. Anything else is going to be repetitive.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Conversation Inside My Head

Me: Hello, I'm Taryn. I am going to be your author.

Blokey: Charmed I'm sure but I don't actually have a story. I charge people to patch up their stories. Or destroy them depending on your perspective.

Me: Sounds like a story to me. What did you say your name was?

Blokey: I didn't.

Me: Ah, well do you think--

Blokey: No.

Me: Can I ask why not?

Blokey: You just did.

Me: Could you answer?

Blokey: The question or the name?

Me: Preferably both.

Blokey: Would you answer if you had a slew of unsatisfied revenge clients on your resume?

Me: Are you always this evasive?

Blokey: Do you always ask this many questions?

Me: I'm your author not a reporter. I won't tell anybody anything you don't want them to know.

Blokey: Except your readers, editors and people at cocktail parties.

Me: I don't go to cocktail parties.

Blokey: Nevertheless.

Me: I'll make a deal with you. You tell me your name and I'll let you narrate your own story. You don't have to reveal anything you don't want to.

Blokey: Blain Fairchild.

Me: I'm your author. I know when you're lying.

Blokey: Blain Thornton then.

Me: You're sure about the Blain are you?

Blokey: For the purpose at hand.

Me: Bugger it. All I need is a baby name book. I'll find your name eventually.

Blokey: Take your time.

(I read through a stack of baby name books and the archives at behindthename.com)

Me: Look, if you don't tell me your name I'll turn you into a hero. You'll come charging in the last few pages of the book and save the day.

Blokey: You already did that.

(with a sigh I read through the phone book, a list of America's most wanted and the church directory)

Me: If you don't tell me you're name I'll kill you off in the last scene.

Blokey: No you won't. If you kill me off I won't be around for the sequel.

Me: I'm not writing you a sequel. I hate sequels.

Blokey: I hate heroism.

Me: Bugger it.

Blokey: You already said that. You're not even British. Why do you fantasy nerds always swear in British?

Me: 'British' isn't a language and you're getting off subject. You're going to make mly dialogue ramble.

Blokey: I think its a combination of Tolkien and Pratchett influences with the subconcious knowledge that most western folk lore popularized in the U.S. originated on the British isles.

Me: Please don't monologue.

Blokey: I never monologue.

Me: Ha.

Blokey: Internal doesn't count.

Me: Tell me your name or I'll give you a white charger to ride while you save the day.

Blokey: Don't make me sick.

Me: I will. With a long mane flowing in the wind. You will be wearing armor that glints in the sunlight, a huge feather in your helmet and carry a glimmering sword.

Silence

Me: Well?

Silence

Me: Don't you at least have something frustrating to say?

Silence

Me: Oh my. Oh my, oh my, oh my.

Blokey: You sound like one of my clients.

Me: You don't know do you? Well of course you don't. You were a foundling. Madam Leona never bothered to give you a name. You were just the errand boy. An outsider. You never had a story of your own. That's why you got to be so good at manipulating the outcome of other people's stories. I'm right aren't I?

Blokey: I don't suppose there would be any point in denying it?

Me: I'm your author. I know everything about you.

Blokey: Except my name.

Me: Bugger it.

Blokey: About that white charger. And the shiny sword.

Me: Don't worry. Even I'm not that cruel.

Friday, July 30, 2010

In Which I Attempt a Sonnet

Ribon of ink, a soul's entrails
left from the dead, a story tells
A truth, a lie, a sentament forgotten
A word, a spell, world I am lost in
Incantation from long ago
Bound inside a rhyme I know
World held still with thoughts repeated
World spun on with life unheeded
Mangled mind unraveled with sore eyes
A scholar watches, stricked as he spies
A life lived and then discarded
Poet's words scrawled on empty space
What has a thousand times been said
He writes again for future eyes to trace

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Book Review: Tam Lin by Pamela Dean


The novel Tam Lin is a modernized retelling of the Scottish folk ballad by the same name. Janet Carter starts school at Blackstock College where her father is a professor. Despite her familiarity with the campus joke that all Classics majors are crazy she is not quite prepared for the strange, tight lipped, unearthly talented and eerily beautiful students she meets in that department, her adviser's adamancy in trying to recruit her into it or the ghost of a Classics major that haunts her dorm room. She settles into life on campus well enough with all the usual drama with classes, dating and trying to get along with her room mate with no idea of the secrets that lay hidden in Blackstock's history or that she is on her way to repeating it.

Every other page of this book is filled with quotations from Shakespeare, Keats, Lewis Carrol or C.S. Lewis. As a result I can only say that I enjoyed it immensely. Did it have good characterizations and a riveting plot? Probably. I didn't notice. I was too distracted. Still, I recommend it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Two Things

1) I have decided that I will submit at least one piece somewhere every month just as a way to keep me on my toes. For July I sent a short story "Over the Wall" to Realms of Fantasy Magazine. We'll see what happens.

2) I have decided to revive Taliesin in its paper form after all (not that the blogs going anywhere). If you have anything you want to submit (story, poem, essay, flash fiction, book review . . .) please send it to me (featherzines@yahoo.com) by August 7 if you would like it to be in the summer issue.

And that is all. Have a super fantastic day.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Things I Learned, Re-learned, and Un-forgot in Writing Class

Over the last six weeks I took a creative writing course for the summer semester. Here are some of the things I managed to learn.


A Raven is too like a Writing desk if that's what you say it is.

Sleep is Important. Sacrifice sparingly.

Writing what is real is hard.

Writing about myself scares me.

Sometimes I need to be a little scared.

There is no such thing as everything you need to know.

Anything can be salvaged. Never throw out anything.

I sometimes sketch ideas for blog posts in class instead of doing the assignment.

Like right now.

Busses are never on time.

I don't know anything about computers.

Some people pronounce 'prelude' 'pray-lude'.

Fresh cut grass makes me think of Hermione Granger.

Just because you already know something doesn’t mean you can’t learn it again.

Just because you already know something doesn’t mean it’s true.

Nothing is ever finished.

There is no such thing as perfection.

Humility. There are so many people who can write beautifully it is frighting. In a good way.

Monday, July 19, 2010

In Which I am Soppier Than Usual

I am not very good at "thank you"s. Especially when complements are involved. I always feel the urge to disbute or make light of it and undermine the person I am thanking's opinion or just babble. In short, complements embarass me.That doesn't mean I don't like them only that aknowledging them is dificult.
Nevermind.
I with to at this moment aknowledge you for paying me the highest complement one writer can give another. Reading my words.

Thank you.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Silverlock; A Review


John Myers Myers' Silverlock is an odessey like adventure with the action and cavileir aditude of Robert Louis Stevensons' Kidknapped and the metaphysical undertones of George MacDonald's Phantasies. A. Clarence Shandon is thrown overboard in a storm on his way to Chicago. With no particular taste for life he accepts his inevitable death until he is saved against his will by Golias (also called Orpheus, Wisdith or Taliesin) and dragged through the Comonwealth on one long rambling adventure in which he laughs, drinks and despairs with Robin Hood, Beawulf, The Green Knight, Tam Lin, Job, Faustopheles, Hamlet, Davie Crocket and many others on his journey through storytelling to a better understanding of life.

The character of Shandon is hard to like at first but grows on you pretty quickly even before he starts the more major aspects of his transformation. Silverlock is a wonderful book to explore the effects of storytelling with and a perfect book for summer because most of it is episodic and goes at a more languid pace so you can soak it in little bits at a time. I don't know that I've read a book that made me feel so refreshed upon finishing it in a long time.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Little Pep Talk

I was nine years old before I learned to read. No really. Nine years old. My mom spent hours trying to help me sound out words and fill my head with sight word flash cards but it was all in vain. I recognized some words. If I worked hard enough I could figure others out but it wasn't reading. It was a pain inflicted on me before I was allowed to go outside and play on the swing and had almost no connection to the real stories my mom read to me later in the day.
Then something awful happened. My mom stopped reading to me.
I had always loved stories, beginning with Curious George and the Bernstein Bears and moving on to the American Girl series and Secret Garden but the mystical art of deciphering them was lost to me. I don't know if my mom figured out that I would never read on my own if she kept reading aloud or if she just didn't have as much time but suddenly I was surounded by books and I couldn't get past the covers. They teased me with their titles and beconed me with their illistrations and I wanted nothing more than to crawl inside and see what was there
But I couldn't read. This was a fact. An unpleasant one but a fact. I had tried. I had failed. Over and over. Every atempt had been excrusiating. I could not read.
One day I decided to try anyways. Might as well. Woudln't hurt anything. I picked up On the Banks of Plumb Creek and read the first chapter. Then the second chapter. Wait! How was this happening? I couldn't read. But suddenly all the little pieces and rules I'd been agonizing over fell into place and I sailed through my first novel. When I was finished I read Mary Poppins and the Oz books and Alice and Wonderland (you can see the fantasy bug bit me early on), volumes of folk tales and (to my shame) the Babysitter's Clum books.
I don't think I need to emphasize that reading as since become an ireplacable part in my life. I read. A lot. Its not dificult. But I can still remember that feeling of imposibility, like a chasm between me and those pages that I was never going to cross. I had tried and failed too many times already. If there had ever been any posibility I would suceed I would have learned years ago with all the other second graders. But the barier was only in my head. I just had to be patient and try again. Its a silly little story but most things seem sillier and smaller in retrospect. At the time it was catastrophic.

So what can't you do? What have you already tried too many times?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Little Cat

Little Cat

Little Cat
Sitting on a ledge
Her balance looks precarious
Her place to sit is small
I approach
Feet fumbling in the morning
I am quiet but she looks up
Eyes wide, she sniffs the air
The same early grey as her fur
Between time
Between touch
I reach my hand for the sleek surface of her neck
Eyes wide, she sniffs the air
She turns her head
She looks around
No one there but me
She arches her neck
My fingers move closer
And for a moment
Trust

Monday, July 5, 2010

"I Wish I'd Writen It"

Before I begin I would like to say that this is not in retaliation to anything said to me or even based on any specific incident. Only a meandering contemplation based on general opservation. I hope I would never actaully mistake a kind encouragement for an insult and would not encourage anyone else to do so.

There is a phrase that circulates around criteques and book reviews writen by other writers that purplexes me. "That was so beautiful (stunning, witty, informative, insert-other-complement-here) I wish I had written it." I can only ask, "why?"

I can understand a small pang of jealousy. That is part of the elusive chase of mastering words. A longing not to admire, but to pocess, to create. The artist is never quite satisfied, never quite there, always getting closer, always getting further away but though that is a small part of the phrase when someone says "That was so beautiful I wish I'd written it" I feel a stronger expression of someone being inspired rather than jealousy and that is why the phrase baffles me.

You will never have the privlage of reading your own writing for the first time. You will never surprise yourself the same way that you surprise your readers. You will never be able to catch your own breath the way other authors can.

"So beautiful I wish I'd written it." Why? If you had you would never have been able to experience it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Touch of Nostalgia

Old Highway 80 used to be the main drag if you wanted to cross the mountain from Alpine to El Centro . In those days Jacumba was a resort town, thriving with glamour and important people on their way to important places. Some the hot springs are still there but like the volcano it is built on the town has gone to sleep.

Our house was on a neat little street, lined next to dozens of others. From the front it could have any suburb but on the other side of the backyard was the rail road track from a hundred years ago and the yard itself was buried in desert sand from a flashflood a few decades ago. It was a place with layers of time and history poking out of the seams.

Growing up with a whole brood of siblings we spent a lot of time outside. We did the normal things like riding our bikes with the neighbor kids, running through sprinklers and organizing soccer games in the front yard but it was an hour's drive to the nearest grocery store and farther to the nearest movie theater. If we wanted to be entertained we had to be creative.

The summer reading program at the library was a real event; every kid showed up for the watermelon spitting contest. Our greatest excitement was the summer a movie was shot at the abandoned building across from Gift's in Things and we collected 'movie star' bullets off the streets when they were done. We had a tire swing in the back and later a tree house that we played dress up in for hours on end. Even my brothers and the neighbor boy --though they stayed away from most of the lacier costumes. Sometimes we had a three foot pool up in the yard. Sometimes we walked across the street to the brush field to kill time. Sometimes we just dug holes and buried objects we didn't care about hours deep in the sand.

Jacumba wasn't the place we lived the longest. It wasn't the smallest town, or the one furthest away from civilization but it was where I left my childhood.

When we moved to Jacumba I had my dad. When we left I didn't. When we moved to Jacumba all the world I needed was my family. When we left I knew I would need something bigger. When we moved to Jacumba I was small, safe, and happy. When we left I was approaching adolescence, uncertainty and moodiness. Like lava exploding from the earth's core I erupted down the mountain’s surface, smoldering and looking for a shape to cool into. Eventually I found one. Or something close enough. I adjusted to the busier, more chaotic world of adulthood but I was forged in a small sleeping town on top of the mountain. A place that used to be boiling with excitement. A place that could be again. A mountain with deep feet that reach all the way down the valleys of El Centro , each road smothered in my memories. A place where --for now --the world stands still.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Things That I Love

I love stories. I love chanelling human experiences and emotions into something universal that we can all share.



I love the feel of a pen gliding acrosss the page beneath my fingers.



I love traveling and being in new places, exploring new ideas, savoring new experiences.



I love looking for beauty where no one expects to find it.



I love the tranquility of nature and the complexity of everything working together.



I love the busy chaos of the city where life has to be chased down or it will get away.



I love trying to make sense of things I don't understand.



I love standing on the edge of something bigger than myself and wondering if I might fall.



I love the smile of a stranger who takes a moment out of their own stress to pass on kindness.



I love watching things grow, quietly peeking out of the earth one fraction at a time.



I love the dawn and the sunset, swirling the sky in their endless cyle.



I love the excitement in other's eyes when they speak of what they love.



That is what I love. What about you? What do you love?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Forgive my Experimentation

A stranger apeared from deep inside the woods. Elizabeth stepped back, glancing at the knife in his hand, the bow strapped to his back. Then she recognized the green feather in his cap, the hunting horn hanging at his side. She relaxed.
"I know you. You are a hero."
"No," he said "I am a man."



He fell off time, spiraling outside the space of existance and then back again, straight down onto the lap of an old man with spectacles lowered over his nose.
"What happened? Where am I?"
"Another time. Another place."
He took in a breath of amazement. "How? Why?"
"How the hell do I know. Get off so I can figure it out."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Book Review: Perchance To Dream by Lisa Mantchev


Perchance To Dream follow the adventures of Beatrice Shakespeare Smith imediatly after Lisa Mantchev's first book Eyes Like the Stars as Bertie leave the Theatre Illuminate (where all the characters from every play ever written make their home) to rescue Nate, a pirate from The Little Mermaind from Sedna the Sea Goddess. She is acompanied by the mischevious sweets-obsessed faires from A Midsummer's Night's Dream and the wind sprite Ariel from The Tempest who is threatening to steal her heart even though she is on a quest to save the man she loves. The road is full of wolves, mysterious strangers with secrets to reveial, lack of cup-cakes, snow storms, sneak theives, a magical journal than manipuates the world around her in ways she never indended, dangerous type rope acts and the startling realization that the real world is nothing like the theatre but the hardest task Bertie faces is examining her own heart.

If you like books where the laws of magic are clearly defined you will probably not enjoy this book. The concepts of reality are hazy and many of the scenes take place in an alternate existance between truth and lies. Even the most whimsical of minds will have a hard time understanding what is actually happening in some places, masked as it was by poetical albiet beautiful prose but for some (like me) that is part of it's charm. The dialogue is riddled with Shakespeare quotes, the covered in glitter even outside the scenes involving show biz. The plot blurs --in true dream fasion -- and sometimes gets lost in the colors of the circus traid and the ramblings of Berties heart, leaving the reader confused and ever so frusterated. Still, the climax is beautiful and pulls most of the wayward threads together, leaving only a few to run rampant in the next book.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Outside My Mind

It was getting dark as I made my way down South Grade pulling on Rusty's leash to hold her in the heeling position. It wasn’t cold but there was a chill breeze. The roses climbing over the fence of the house next to me were in full bloom, brilliant and flagrant as always.
A familiar walk. A place I had been a thousand times before with Twilight drifting in the air around me like a cloud of smoke but suddenly it didn't seem so comforting. It was quiet, still. Unbelievably still. Frighteningly still. Suddenly, I stopped. Standing where I was, unmoving in the quiet anything could happen. Maybe I should turn back.
No. That was foolish. How many times had I walked this road? How many times had anything happened other than the setting of the sun? Nothing had changed. There was no reason to let my imagination run rampant.
Still, I reached for my cell phone to remind myself that I had contact with the world outside my mind.
Damn. it wasn't there. I must have left it charging on my dresser. Maybe I really should turn back.
The idea was ridiculous. There was no reason for a moment of fancy to obstruct my Sunday evening walk. No reason at all. Thoughts of the reaper in Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine floated through my head but I shook them out. I raised my head in determination and took a step.
The world went black. Colors bled away from my eyes and the ground beneath my feet gave way. The leash in my hand wrapped tight around my wrist burning into my skin and then it was gone. My last hold of reality disappeared and I was falling. A hundred feet. A thousand. I had no way of knowing. The scent of the flowers disappeared along with the sound of the cars whizzing by on the road. One by one my senses faded until they ceased to exist and I was left alone in darkness with nothing but myself.
"Who are you?" a voice asked, though I couldn’t hear it or see the speaker.
I didn't answer and a hint of panic rustled through me though I wasn't sure where it came from.
The voice sounded again from inside my head, this time more demanding, almost angry. "Who are you?"
I shook my head, refusing to answer.
"You will have to answer one day.” It was a murmur now, a cold sound brushing against my ear, hardly audible in all the darkness “Who are you?"
I tried to close my eyes but they were already closed, tight until they felt like they might explode.
I opened them instead.
The road reappeared in front of me, a long stretch of gravel with sidewalk on either side. Rusty tugged at the leash, no longer curious as to why we’d stopped. A car whizzed by.
“I am me.” I whispered. “I am myself, here now.” And I took another step.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reading List

I've decided to make a point of reading through all the books on my shelf that I for one reason or another haven't got around to yet. The books at the moment are:

Avalon --by Anya Seton

Silverlock --by John Myers Myers

Perchance to Dream --by Lisa Mantchev

The Wind's Twelve Quarters --by Ursula K. LeGuin

The Golden Apple of the Sun --by Ray Bradbury

The Lady in the Loch --by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

Tam Lin --by Pamela Dean

Artemisia --Alexandra Lapierre

I am also taking a vow to get my hands on Delia Sherman's The Porcelain.


So here's hoping I have time to get through them all. Wish me luck. There maybe book reviews some time in the near future.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Influence of the Theater: Symbolism and Blocking.

I am not exactly a theater buff but I sometimes take technical theater classes just for fun, and like to see plays when I get the chance. This last weekend I went to see King John with my sister(who is sometimes in plays herself and therefore an expert -- according to her at least) and as we drove home, discussing King John's crown and why she thought the two minor lords shouldn't have been the ones to hand him this all encompassing symbol of power because they did not themselves possess said power, something struck me.

My exposure to the theater has influenced a lot of the way I write.

It shouldn't really be that surprising. Everything in your life influences your writing in some way or another but there are two things that the people who seem to enjoy my writing will say about it. One is the subtle symbolism (sometimes unconscionably, but after I discover it I know that that was why I felt it needed to be there)in the characters surrounding and props and the other is the detail of my blocking. (aka beats, which I've always thought of as blocking long before I knew what beats were)I think both of these things are due to my dabbling with the theater.

A play is different than a movie in that the set is usually much more minimal and they can't do close ups to draw attention to a character's facial expression or a prop that will be important later. Everything is in the actors' movements. In what props the set designer chooses to use. And because there are so many actors and stagehands flying back and forth across the stage every time the curtain is down everything has to be there for a reason. It has to mean something or there is no point in tripping over it.

These are important things to keep in mind when you are writing a scene in a novel as well as a play. What are the characters' movements as they speak and what does it say about who they are and their part in the story? How does the set around them help express the mood (sometimes by contrast) or even insights to the character's true motives?

So now I have an excuse to go the theater more often.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

On Character

Lately I've been thinking a lot about Character. Not just 'characters' but Character in general. The character of a building or a lampshade or . . . more or less what makes something what it is and not something else.

Character changes. The house is painted, the lampshade is cracked. Now it has a new character. I don't think anything changes more than a human character.

I know it would be impossible to contain all the complexities that are a human being in a two dimensional fictional character (yes, two dimensional, no matter how complex and intricate we create them a fictional world or character will always be two dimensional in comparison to real life)but there is something to be said in remembering that a character can change --without changing who they actually are.

It is easy to draw out a character sketch.

Name: Charlotte
Eyes: Blue
Hair: Brown
Gender: female
Profession: Scuba diver
Height: 5'2''
Hobbies: Stamp collecting and stalking the neighbor
Residence: Hawaii

These are the things that make Charlotte Charlotte. Ok. But say she dies her hair? She quits her job, sells her stamp collection and moves to some small town in Oklahoma where she can no longer stalk before mentioned neighbor. She now wears contacts and works in a super market. Is she still Charlotte? of course she is. These things only define her life not who she is. What, then, makes her who she is?

The nervous twitching of her fingers when she is talking to someone who annoys her?

Say she goes to finishing school and talks to people who annoy her all day long until she learns to keep her fingers still. Is she still Charlotte? Of course.

Does her adventurous nature and business attitude make her her? Say she is one day cowed into staying home (or moving to a small town in Oklahoma and working in the non adventurous, job of a super market cashier) and lets everything around her grow slightly wild? Is she still Charlotte?

Even though I've made Charlotte up in the last five minutes and never plan to use her in anything ever I am already starting to get a feel for who she is. Everything I've just described seems quite in harmony with her 'character' and yet none of it has quite defined her. Everything I've described is subject to change and yet her ultimate character is not. What then, makes her her?

Anyways, that's soemthing I've been musing a bit about. Any thoughts? What makes a character their character but still allows them to change everything about themselves?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Literary Idol Replay: Write a “Book a Minute”

Last month I announced my intentions to begin a Literary Idol contest. It turned out no one had time to compete but maybe you will all have more time on your hands this month. I’ll go easy on you this month but don’t get used to it.
When I was taking a Shakespeare (are you scared yet?) class at our local community college my sister and I were trying to decipher some sort of meaning out of the play Henry IV and came across this site. Inspired by their brilliance here is the “Book a Minute” we compiled for Henry IV to help us better understand all the complexities that are Shakespeare.


Falstaff: I like to drink!

Hotspur: I like to fight!

Prince Hal: I like to drink AND fight!

(There is a battle in which Hotspur dies, Prince Hal does some heroic stuff and Falstaff takes credit for other people’s heroic stuff)


So this month’s assignment? Write a “Book a Minute”. Condense the essence of any novel, play or epic poem into something that can be read in a minute or less. E-mail your entries to:

Featherzines@yahoo.com

I will post the entries to be voted on Monday, June 14 so make sure you have them sent in by then.

Edit: A condensed version of your own work is also acceptable

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Interview with Lisa Mantchev, author of Eyes Like the Stars and Perchance to Dream

Lisa Mantchev, author of Eyes Like the Stars and Perchance to Dream kindly agreed to answer some questions about her writing.


Me: Where does PERCHANCE TO DREAM pick up after EYES LIKE THE STARS?

Lisa: Almost immediately after ELS ends... I don't like having too much time pass, or I just have to pause to explain what's happened in the interim, and it feels like an infodump.

Me: How will Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed survive so far away from all the sweets in the Green Room?

Lisa: They end up getting a bit... *ahem* creative about procuring dessert, which naturally causes problems for the troupe. I could say more, but it might ruin it (like a pie to the kisser!)

Me: EYES LIKE THE STARS began as a short story. How long was it before you knew it was going to be a trilogy?

Lisa: About the time I wrote the ending for the first book. I knew by then it wasn't a standalone, that I needed to write at least one more book to tie up all the plot threads, if not two. What's funny is my web guru and beta reader was teasing me from the beginning that it would be a trilogy, and I swore up and down that it wouldn't. Oops!

Me: How much did you plot before you started drafting PERCHANCE TO DREAM?

Lisa: It's strange... I always spend quite some time noodling out the story, in my head and on paper, and then that first draft ends up with its guts on the floor by the time I'm done rewriting. Someday, I will be come to terms with the fact that I can't seem to write a coherent first draft to save my life.

Me: Do you have a particular "stage" where you find it easier to write?

Lisa: If you mean where I prefer to set up my laptop, I can write just about anywhere (and do...) My office, my dining room table, my little writing nook, the coffee table in the TV room, coffee shops, outside on the porch. It just depends where my daughter is playing!

Me: How many drafts did you go through before your were finished with PERCHANCE TO DREAM?

Lisa: There were at least two major sets of revisions with PTD, including the deletion of several minor characters and their storylines.

Me: Many of your characters are characters from plays written by other writers. Was it challenging to capture the epitome of a character who already exists in a new story?

Lisa: With quite a lot of the Shakespeare characters, they are only "onstage" for limited periods of time. When it came to using them in larger roles (Ariel, Ophelia) I deliberately chose the ones I thought would be most suited to having my own characterizations superimposed upon them... for example, Shakespeare doesn't mention if Ariel is a boy or a girl, just an airy spirit with a yearning for freedom. And Ophelia's madness left plenty of wiggle-room for me to write around.

Me: Were there any advantages to using characters who are already well known?

Lisa: Absolutely... and I was usually playing it for the laughs. There are a lot of little theater-reference jokes when the Shakespearean characters turn up, from lines like "Is this a doughnut I see before me?" to the Ghost of Hamlet's Father wearing a flowered bedsheet and acting like a guest character on an episode of Scooby Doo.

Me: The lines between reality and the magic of the theater are difficult to draw in Bertie's world. Did you find that to be true at all while you were creating it?

Lisa: That was actually quite deliberate... I didn't want a set of hard-and-fast rules about how the theater's magic works. I felt that by letting reality be nebulous, soft about the edges, it did a better job of capturing the true magic of being backstage in a theater.

Me: I happen to think The Theatre Illuminata would make a fabulous musical. Any chances of that ever happening?

Lisa: I would ~love~ to see something like that happen. And hey, there's already one musical number ready to go, right? *cues "What Will Become of You"*

Thanks you so much Lisa for taking the time to answer my questions and I look forward to picking up Perchance To Dream next time I hit the bookstore.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Old Pages

I write everything in my journal. Well maybe not everything. I gave up on the long accounts of how my day went after High School but my journals are filled cover to cover with To Do Lists, facts I want to remember, notes for research, pieces of dreams I want to do something with, coffee stains, plans for the restaurant I want to some day open, the bookstore I want to own, phone numbers, first drafts of chapters, story outlines, poetry that will never see the light of day, directions to the doctor's office and anything else that my mind is too small to hold but I want to some day remember.
My current journal has only one empty page left. I don't want to write on it.
I carry my journal with me everywhere. When I can't remember something I know it is in those pages if I can take the time to finger through them. As thrilling as the sight of empty pages, yet to be filled, will be after I finally use that last page I know I will feel like I've lost a body part for a few days. I always do. I will reach for my bag to pull out my journal and double check . . . no wait. That was in my old journal, which I left at home, on my bookshelf, collecting dust. Many of the ideas immortalized in there will be discarded after all and I will never think of them again.
Before I fill that last page I must remind myself of the excitement of holding two hundred blank pages in my hand, practically begging me to write whatever I want on them. I must remind myself of the space and freedom new thoughts and new things to remember will give me. I must remind myself that the old can not be relevant unless they teach us where to go with the new.
Still, I think I will miss the old pages.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Small Poems

Emily Dickenson wrote small poems. Hundreds of them. She lived a small life. A short life, lived mostly on the same small piece of land. She never wrote about great battles or interesting adventures or fascinating things she had seen because she never saw much. Instead she wrote about life. A small life lived by a small woman who saw small things.

Then why, after a hundred years, do we still read these small poems?



I read my sentence steadily,
Reviewed it with my eyes,
To see that I made no mistake
In its extremest clause, --

The date, and manner of the shame;
And then the pious form
That "God have mercy" on the soul
The jury voted him.

I made my soul familiar
With her extremity,
That at the last it should not be
A novel agony,

But she and Death, acquainted,
Meet tranquility as friends,
Salute and pass without a hint --
And there the matter ends.

I fear I must apologize

I am dreadfully sorry. I don't have any Literary Idol entries for you to vote on today as planned. We'll try again next month shall we?

Friday, May 14, 2010

One Last Reminder

Just one last reminder that submissions for Literary Idol close Monday the seventeenth. Don't forget to send a retelling of a myth to:
Featherzines@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

An age old question

I came across this passage of an argument between a writer and a painter in Sir Walter Scott's The Bride of Lammermoor:


"Your characters," he said, "my dear Pattieson, make too much use of the gob box; they patter too much . . . . there is nothing for pages but mere chat and dialog."

"The ancient philosopher," said I in reply, "was wont to say, 'Speak, that I may know thee;" and how is it possible for an author to introduce the persona dramtis to his readers in a more interesting and effectual manner than by the dialog in which each is represented as supporting his own appropriate character?"

"It is a false conclusion," said Tinto; "I hate it, Peter as I hate an unfilled can. I will grant you, indeed, that speech is a faculty of some value in the intercourse of human affairs, and I will not even insist on the doctrine of that Pythagorean toper, who was of opinion, that over a bottle speaking spoiled conversation. But I will not allow that a professor of the fine arts has occasion to embody the idea of his scene in language in order to impress upon the reader its reality and its effect. On the contrary, I will be judged by most of your readers, Peter, should these tales ever become public whether you have not given us a page of talk for every single idea which two words might have communicated, while the posture, and manner, and incident, accurately drawn, and brought out by appropriate colouring, would have preserved all that was worthy of preservation, and saved these everlasting said he's and said she's, with which it has been your pleasure to encumber your pages."

I replied, "that he confounded the operations of the pencil and the pen; that the serene and silent art, as painting has been called by one of our first living poets, necessarily appealed to the eye, because it had not the organs for addressing the ear; whereas poetry, or that species of composition which approached to it, lay under the necessity of doing absolutely the reverse, and addressed itself to the ear, for the purpose of exiting that interest which it could not attain through the medium of the eye."

Dick was not a whit staggered by my argument, which he contended was founded on misrepresentation. "Description," he said, "was to the author of a romance exactly what drawing and tinting were to a painter; words were his colours, and, if properly employed, they could not fail to place the scene, which he wished to conjure up, as effectually before the mind's eye, as the tablet or canvas presents it to the bodily organ. The same rules," he contended, "applied to both, and an exuberance of dialog in the former case, was a verbose and laborious mode of composition which went to confound the proper art of fictitious narrative with that of the drama, a widely different species of composition of which dialog was the very essence, because all, excepting the language to be made use of, was presented to the eye by the dresses, and persons, and action of the the performers upon the stage. But as nothing," said Dick, "can be more dull that a long narrative written upon the plan of a drama, so where you have approached most near to that species of composition, by indulging in the prolonged scenes of mere conversation, the course of your story has become chill and constrained, and you have lost the power of arresting the attention and exciting the imagination, in which upon other occasions, you may be considered as having succeeded tolerably well.




There is a lot that could be discussed in this passage but I find it interesting to see artists --even fictional ones-- argue the same points a hundred years ago as we do now. And still we have no definite answers. Dialog or description? Show or tell? How much like drama should a narrative be? It is equally interesting that the popular answer to the question seems to have changed over the years. This was written by Sir Walter Scott who, to judge from his own work, strongly favored the painter's argument for description and he was possibly the most popular romance writer of his time, whereas now we would have more readers, as well as writers, favoring the author's argument for more dialog.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Something I am going to do anyways

I remember the first time the thought of exchanging my stories for money occurred to me. I was nineteen, walking to work at the local hamburger joint (yes walking, those who can afford cars that soon out of high school are blessed by the gods)after just having finished my third manuscript.

I was ten when I started my first story (not that I ever finished that one), thirteen when I started my first novel (not that it was any good) but even before that I wrote plays that me and my siblings performed in the living room with our box of dress up clothes. (Yes, we were --are?-- a strange brood but we have fun). I'm not sure exactly when I decided I wanted to write books and publish them but when I did that was all I thought of. Write a story I love. Send it to a publisher for them to print. Other people read it. The End. It wasn't until my day job was interfering with my time to celebrate just finished a manuscript that (I thought at the time) was actually ready for publication that money even crossed my mind. "Hey," I thought, "if I can publish this book I might not have to make hamburgers for a living. I would be getting money for something I am going to do anyways."

Something I am going to do anyways. I think sometimes I need to be reminded of that thought. I am not any closer to getting money in exchange for my words but the years of effort sometimes frustrate me. All that work, all that time and still nothing to show for it?

Not true. I have much to show for it. A story. I was going write it anyways.


EDIT: Oh yes, and there is only one week left to submit a piece of mythological brilliant to this month's literary Idol

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Do You Trust Your Story?

In doing research on alchemy for one of my manuscripts I was surprised by how much accuracy I had already put into my alchemist character (because, of course, waiting until I am finished before drafting is unheard of, involving, I don't know, logic or something). Some of this, like his involvement with the stars, herbs and explosives as well as turning metals into gold are logical enough. They are all different early branches of chemistry and physics, and probably filtered into my head from various sources I've read in the past and then forgotten about. But others, like his preoccupation with purifying the soul, I was surprised to discover were typical for alchemists. This is good because I won't have to make any major modifications to keep things accurate but it also proves that you can never go wrong in trusting your story. Sometimes you know things you didn't know you knew. You just have to Trust.

Trust. It's not quite the same thing as "believing in". That comes later. After you've finished and are sorting through piles of rejections every week.

Trust. That is when you follow your story even when it pulls you away from your original plan.

Trust is when a brilliant second opinion tells you to make a change that you just can't even though logically it would make sense (be careful with this one, I'm not trying to say not to be open to criticism. That's important too.)

Trusting your story is when you chase it through a draft at lightning speed or respect the fact that it wants to take things slow and enjoy the scenery.

Trust is knowing that your story knows what it is doing even if you don't.

Which actually means that you do know what you're doing and you just don't know it because your story is a part of you.

Do you trust your story?

(Don't forget to send me a piece for this months Literary Idol)