Tuesday, August 31, 2010


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
---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.


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.


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.


Me: Well?


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


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.