Buff Coats and Green Vales

At the risk of totally hexing herself, Jenny would like to say...she's back! She is in the typing swing again, trucking away on Between Earth and Sky like nobody's business.

Yeah, several jinxes just rang the doorbell, wanting to be let in for tea. I suppose they can at least fold the laundry while they are here.

After NaNo (which is like saying "after the war..."), I was bushed. I was creatively wrung out. I was a limp noodle with no alfredo sauce. My proverbial muses had taken a trip to the Lake District and left me behind. Throughout December I told myself that, after the strain of the previous month, this was understandable. I needed to rest my little grey cells a bit. Come January, I would be right as rain.

Jenny isn't the best weather forecaster in the world. Come January 1st, she sat down like a good girl, opened her document, took a deep breath...and wrote a sentence. Then she tugged and pleaded and hammered and cajoled her imagination, and wrote another sentence. The war wasn't over. It was grueling! Much of January consisted of no writing and lots of guilt-trips. February, which had been intended as a sort of miniature NaNo, flared, sputtered, and died an obscure and lonesome death.

And then, one day, she sat down at her computer with Abigail scribbling in a notebook beside her, and she started typing. She typed and typed, and kept typing, and it was something glorious. The words just flowed. In the midst of a stretch of perfectly spring-time days, warm and sunshiny, Between Earth and Sky obligingly blossomed for me. I have, so far as I am aware, successfully introduced all the pivotal characters of the plot and made Anna good-naturedly furious that I left her hanging and haven't written even more. You can't please everybody.

Well, that's what I've been writing. As for what I have been reading, I managed to finally get my hands on a lovely little red hard-bound copy of Rosemary Sutcliff's Simon, a small novel about the English Civil War. Something Jenny does not usually tell people is that, when she was a child, her favourite imaginary friend was Oliver Cromwell. She could tell you, though she does not care to, about the adventures she and Noll and Dick had in the countryside of Cambridgeshire, and about London (which she never liked), and all sorts of wild and ridiculous things that a child can come up with which are at once magical and implausible. While she is now too old to carry on imaginary games, and the Civil War is rather too fixed in history to be tampered with, the spirit of her best childhood friend lives on in another of her characters, and the adventures continue.

"But why on earth...?"

I can't answer that. As dorky and as boring as it sounds, even a brief and passing mention of the English Civil War makes my heart skip a beat and my mind rush away to Harry falling in the fens and nearly drowning before we could fish him out again. So you can imagine my thrill when I finally acquired a copy of Sutcliff's little book, which is hard to find and not exactly inexpensive. I devoured it. Simon, blunt, kind-hearted, Devonshire Simon whisked my heart away; and Amias, who is very like her later Flavius with his wild red hair, mocking laughter and taste for adventure: those two seemed to embody the spirit of the war in a way only Sutcliff could pull off. I am sure that, if you really didn't care, the story would seem odd, a rush of several years' worth of action whirling by, touched on only briefly. Maybe that is why it is so hard to find, and so unheard-of. For myself, it was a different story. I knew these names and faces, these happenstances, and watching my favourite author bring some of my favourite people to life was splendid. Never did a cavalry charge grow boring, never did a siege grow dull. At the heart of it was always Parliamentary Simon and his heart-felt friendship with his Royalist best friend. I laughed, I cried, I held my breath at the moment Simon swung round to find none other than Old Noll himself standing by to talk with him in his gruff, familiar farmer's voice. Fiery Tom Fairfax, with whom I had never been well acquainted, was a shining light at the head of the story Simon followed; and, underneath it all, Simon's family and farm waiting for him to come back to them: an emotional touch with all the marks of Sutcliff's deftness upon it.

Thank you, Sutcliff. This is a treasure.

[the sketch isn't by me, it's by someone else of someone else's character, but i borrowed him to embody the Parliamentary Forces. thanks!]

Seriously, I Wrote That?

Yes, it's me, editing Adamantine. I am not sure I have met anyone who particularly liked editing. Having flogged yourself for months, sometimes even years, to cross the finish line and hold up the completed product of a manuscript...you have to go back and edit it? The whole thing? All of it? Really?

Well, of course you do. No work is perfect on the first run-through, and it goes without saying that any story will need plenty of polishing, sometimes even a bit of demolition and reconstruction. Adamantine is needing a good bit of both. Depending on the size of the story and the length of time you spent working on it, the daunting aspect of editing will vary. Flexing its muscles in the vicinity of 213,000 words, Adamantine is a bit daunting - especially since the first half of it is, in my own words, "lame rubbish!"

"Lame rubbish" is probably something every writer discovers has snuck in his manuscript when his back was turned. Now, everyone assures me, "It's not lame rubbish. It's fine! I liked it!" Ye-es, well...I don't. And that's what matters. Lame rubbish has got to be dwelt with. Soon. When I make another cup of tea. Tomorrow. When it's sunny. After I've thought about it for a while. These are all my excuses that I have used and a few that I have on reserve just in case I need them. Unfortunately, I can't afford to use excuses, and that lame rubbish of Adamantine's first half has got to be dwelt with.

"So, Jenny, why are you making a post about it?"

Yeah, well, you got me there. Chiefly because I know we all make lame rubbish, and unless we are very driven and angelic people (like Abigail), that lame rubbish will crouch like a fat hairy spider on the periphery of our awareness and grow and grow until it blots out all the good bits in the story we have written, and until our most feeble desires to edit sputters out like a candle in a gale. So lame rubbish happens. It happens to everyone. Take a deep breath, throw out your chest, and grab your red pen (or blue - mine happens to be blue). That lame rubbish dragon isn't going to slay itself for you.

Fairytales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
~ G.K. Chesterton

Grammar. If you're anything like me (and I do apologize if you are), you will be so wrapped up in what you are writing that you just rush on through without hesitation, murdering the English laws of grammar as you pass by. I'm not really in the habit of murder, but on reflection I have unearthed some rather hideous and occasionally embarrassing mistakes which I made in my haste to write out a section. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Unless you are Abigail, you can't keep track of everything at once, and sometimes spelling and grammar have to be put on the back burner while you pound out the plot, and then you can come back to it later.

English professors, please don't kill me.

And yes, you will probably run into some embarrassments. I committed the heinous crime of using the same word twice, quite close together in a paragraph, to describe two completely different things. I was mortified. I'm still getting over it. But it happens, and it has to be fixed, so put a bold face on it and don't worry. You're definitely not alone.

Where do I start? Well, that's really up to you. I like to tell myself that I edited the second half of Adamantine first because I wanted to really cement in my mind the way the characters and circumstances culminated, and to immerse myself still further in their final developments. Truthfully, I just like the second half better and I always save the worst for last. Julie Andrews will of course assure you that the beginning is the best place to start. But I do think that at least perusing the culminating chapters and fixing them in your mind will help you adjust the beginning ones. If you're a foreshadowing sort of person, this will definitely help. And even if you are not, knowing what your characters become in the end will help you smooth out the developmental paths in the story for the reader to follow. You know how your characters got to where they are in the end, but make sure the reader can follow that clearly. It's amazing the disconnect there can be between the author's mind and the reader's. Ho hum.

  • If you start at the end be sure to keep your whole story balanced. The end of your story should have much more developed characters, much more gravity, much more importance than the beginning because everything should be unfolding, and all the questions should be answered (unless you are writing a series). With all the finality of "It's done," the end of the story has the potential to seriously outweigh the beginning of the story. In terms of development and plot, this is as it should be. In terms of style and interest, this should not be. The beginning, in creating all the questions, should be just as interesting as the end which answers all the questions.
  • If you start at the beginning keep the end in mind. As you edit, remember what you are working toward. Your first draft will undoubtedly be rough with lots of unexpected plot-twists that need to be rounded off or cut out altogether because you were not sure where you were headed on the first pass through. On an editing run, you should be able to keep in mind what the goals are and how your characters reached it, and you will be able to smooth their story out toward that goal as you go along picking up stray commas and hacking out stilted dialogue. Also, don't get discouraged by those stray commas and stilted dialogue. On your first pass through writing, you didn't really know where you were going or how you were going to get there. Wrong turns, jerky driving, it happens when you are all but lost on the road to plotdom.
In summation: don't let either the grandeur of your ending or the aimlessness of your beginning go to your head. Both are perfectly reasonable to find at the completion of a first draft, and it doesn't mean that you are an awful writer.

My beginning and my end are lame rubbish. Well, Tolkien started The Fellowship of the Ring three times, at least. That's all I can say. If you love your story that much, keep trying. You may be a world-famous author and have your story turned in a film one day. A touch of blind "I h'am teh greatest" as you write may carry you far and hold off the wave of despair if you have someone to hold you down on earth and tell you where your dialogue is stilted and your commas go awry.

Practice makes perfect. As with any art, writing takes work, and work often means uncomfortableness and sweat. Editing isn't usually the most exciting of tasks, but it's another necessary step in getting your prized story to the perfect level. On every pass you will straighten out another kink. Don't be overwhelmed by the sheer number of them (if you're like me); keep in mind all the ones you have already straightened out. As Marthe pointed out, when you're building a sandcastle and it begins to crumble, you reach out to catch it. And all you think about is what you lost, not what you managed to save. Well, in this case, the sandcastle isn't going anywhere, and you are only improving on it more and more. Keep that in mind, and keep pushing yourself. When all is said and done, you'll be glad you did.

Don't take Prospero's approach and drown your book fathoms down, whatever you do.

Dancing in the Minefields

Not a whole lot is known about Valentine, except that he aided the Christians and that he was martyred for his deeds. The Roman Catholic church made him the patron saint of intended couples and, in general, love, which is where our odd ideas of 'Valentine's Day' have come from, no doubt. But what I find most worthy of note is the very fact that this man in another time and place not only lived but also died for the name of Christ. Hundreds and hundreds like him also were brought to the point of shedding blood for their love of the name of Christ.

What is love? The essence of love is to seek the good of its object. In multitudinous ways, throughout our lives, we display this love in varying degrees for the people around us and, too, toward our God himself. I need not go into detail. If you love anyone, even yourself, you have displayed your love in some way. But in this body we cannot escape that nagging, clinging selfishness that taints our warmest expressions of love. Somewhere in the loving, 'I' am always there, and not in the way I should be. 'I' always manage to impose my own image on the thing or person I am loving, so that it is not purely myself loving that other thing or person, but myself loving myself as well.

we are frail
we are fearfully and wonderfully made
forged in the fires of selfish passion
choking on the fumes of selfish rage
and with these our hells and our heavens
so few inches apart
we must be awfully small
and not as strong as we think we are

We mustn't kid ourselves. Love is something the Spirit must cultivate, and not something we can stir up to any purity within ourselves. In our most ardent, heartfelt desire for good for whatever it is we love, the law that is at work in our members infuses it with selfishness.

Is this an insurmountable obstacle to love? Yes and no. On the one hand, there is the law of our minds which the Spirit has renewed after a heavenly fashion, but it is at constant contention with the law of death that is at work in our members. While we are in this body of death, we will not be free of this struggle. But by way of great encouragement of truth, Paul assures us of the power of the Spirit's work within us:

[Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.]

The fruit of love, nurtured by the Spirit, is capable of growing in our souls; and indeed, history has shown that this fruit best flourishes in the desert, in some of the most inhospitable climates. And what is the most selfless gesture of love a man can give to another, to his God himself, than to offer his very life? Among our heroes, those who stab us most deeply with an aching joy are those who die for the sake of others - for the sake of the innocent. Why? For love. For love and the love of all good things. No one wants to imagine a world in which not a single man will offer his life for the sake of that which is righteous, that which is more truly worth dying for. We universally acknowledge this to be the greatest test as well as the greatest display of love: to die on behalf of another.

In the late shadow of another Valentine's Day, I find myself thinking of these things. It sheds light on the well-known passage "For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life." Here is a love so deep and wild that it prompted the very Son of Man to die on behalf of its object. Here is Love Itself, eternal and unquenchable, reckless and certain.

This is the sort of love we cultivate. This is the sort of love that drove men and women singing to the scaffold. It is more than a trite "dying for what we believe in." It is dying "for the love of Heaven," dying for truth, dying for our lives, dying for the life and name of Christ. On Valentine's Day, I remember all those who so loved the Person and Name of Christ as to give up their lives for him. Not as though, in so doing, they could in any way save the Person and Name of Christ, but for their extreme love they could not be brought to live without him, and if they had to die, then they would die for him. This is love. This is devotion.

The story lives on among our heroes, men and women in storybooks who give up their lives on behalf of friend and family. These stories are pictures of the truth of love. But there is an even closer picture, another sort of laying down one's life which each and every one of us goes through every day. Wherever Providence has placed us, the people of God around us, people whom we love, are people for whom we must daily lay down our lives. There is, perhaps, more danger for pride in this spiritual martyrdom, but to hell with pride! By God's Spirit of grace we will learn to die to ourselves day by day, and as our love grows more and more live to God and the people of God. It won't be easy. Death is never easy.

'cause the only way to find your life
is to lay your own life down
and I believe it's an easy price
for the life that we have found

and we're dancing in the minefields
we're sailing in the storm
this is harder than we dreamed
but I believe that's what the promise is for

There is nothing frivolous or sentimental about this love. This is love to the death and beyond. This is a love in which the selfish self dies and is born into an honest, frank, passionate frame of mind. This love is serious. It is up to God to determine, for God knows best, but surely a moment of death is easier to bear than years' worth of days of dying, dying after dying, and walking always through the hardships and aching joys of love. For all of you, all of us everywhere, everywhen, who are called to this love and cultivate it, knowing the cost -

the splendour, the love, and the strength be upon you.

Dramatis Personae - Between Earth and Sky

Liz, and I think Ara before her, posted fun Meet The Characters posts, complete with photos and all. Having nothing to do and nursing a bad headache, I blundered around looking for pictures of my own to make my own post. And I'm not going to offer any sort of apology or defense because I had fun.

Rede Tuanic [ reed twan-ic ]

Rede is the main character of Between Earth and Sky. He was born and raised in the small coastal village of Dunkerri in Northwest Britain, and from a very young age has pushed himself through the rigorous training to become a minister in the Church. His tutelage under the local brethren culminates in a drastic twist of fate when, on the eve of his last exam, he is taken captive by traders and sold as a slave in Arregaithel across the sea. Frank and sensitive, Rede is wise enough to rise to the new posting God has given him, while at the same time struggling in his heart for the lost souls in his new land. He earns the title of "Tuanic," 'one like the stag,' from his Arregaithel trainer because of his stalwart, passive, reserved demeanour. But as the manservant of the tribal prince, Rede's duties exact more of him than merely prayer and preaching, and the young man finds far more resting on his shoulders, and far more at stake, than he would have imagined.

Allar [ al-ar ]

Reared alongside Rede as his best friend, Allar too was aiming for the ministry when Rede's sudden capture tears them apart. Allar means well, but his friend's inexplicable departure leaves him scarred and callous against the unbelieving, and the young man's natural flippancy hardens into a dangerous hatred. In the name of God and the Kingdom of Heaven, Allar sets out to convert the unbelieving populace of Arregaithel or, if they will not believe, to kill them all and send them to the Hell where they belong. With his ardent beliefs clashing with Rede's, the two best friends find themselves suddenly pitted against each other with the lives of two tribes at stake.

Rosawn [raw-shawn]

Rosawn, a member of the Sperrae tribe, is one of the horse-girls, or priestesses, to the Earth Mother, their sacred goddess. She sports her own homely, yet fiery sort of beauty, not enough to make her the Skyprince's wife when it is time for him to take a woman - and she knows it. An orphan, she is content with her place among the other horse girls until she begins to have curious dreams about a man coming across the sea to them, a man with a countenance of light. Troubled and confused, she treasures these things in her heart until the day she chances upon a horseman's slave, a foreigner. Recognizing his face from her dreams, Rosawn's world quickly begins to unravel. With her heart in confusion and her sharp mind searching for an answer, Rosawn begins to sense a foreboding storm on the horizon, a storm in which the man in her vision is at the heart.

Wing Skyprince [wing skyprince]

Son of Opr Skylord and Red Branch the Dragon Lady, Wing is the heir of the Sperrae throne. Beneath his honeyed, lazy laugh and friendly, mocking demeanour he keeps a sharp wit and a keen intellect. He is at almost all times easy-going, but he is not quick to forgive. Anyone approaching his bad side will be warned by an almost physical sensation of dark disapproval from the Skyprince.
He is fond of Rede, finding in the young British slave more than a manservant, but a loyal friend. Unfortunately, though his affections are ready to include Rede, his paradigm is not ready to include Rede's notions about deity, damnation, and salvation - an unreadiness and unwillingness which pulls them both into a whirlpool of danger which will test both of their faiths and their friendship.

Opr Skylord [oh-pur skylord]

Quiet, enigmatic, aloof from the goings-on around him, Opr Skylord is a hard man to know. As a teenager he ascended to the kingship of his people, becoming their 'skylord,' or representative of their Sky God. Strong and diplomatic, Opr has managed to keep the peace with their northern neighbours for some time. But as the memory of Opr's great ancestor begins to fade, and as Opr begins to grow older, the unrest begins again, and Rede's arrival in Arregaithel finds the communications tense with war on the horizon. Though Rede at first observes Opr as an eerie, uncanny shaman, as time progresses he begins to respect the man.

Red Branch [red branch]

Chief among the horse-girls of her time, and the most beautiful, there was no doubt that Opr would pick Red Branch to be his queen. Besides being pious and lovely, Red Branch is in every way a perfect match for her husband. She, like her husband, has the power of penetrative sight, the gift of thoughtful solitude, and the tutored, honeyed patience which comes with good breeding. Her title as the chief of the priestesses is the 'Earth Mother,' and as the Skylord's wife she earns the name 'Dragon Lady.' She takes a strong motherly interest in Rede from the outset, seeing in him a curious new religious order which intrigues her very much. As with Opr, it takes Rede some time to warm up to Wing's uncanny mother, though he guesses Red Branch senses his reluctance and mocks him. But even Red Branch could not see the importance of her son's manservant in the succeeding dangers of their lives.

Terrigen [taireh-gen]

Independent, sharp, beautiful and power-hungry, the Queen of the Orrae is strong enough to go toe-to-toe with her neighbouring rival. After an unsuccessful bid to take over the Sperrae tribe, Terrigen has been biding her time and building strength for a single strong blow against Opr. More uncanny than the Skylord and the Dragon Lady combined, Terrigen hurls herself not only into diplomatic relations to strengthen her power, but into the dark arts and the spiritual realm as well. With Allar as a pawn in her hands, with the whole force of the Orrae behind her, she emerges from her northern county to deliver the Sperrae a killing blow.

[ this is not a complete listing of the characters, I'm afraid, but it will have to do. also, as Liz and Ara pointed out, steal from me and die! if I manage to publish this (which I fully intend to) you may glean from it all the inspiration you want short of plagiarism. but until then, NO STEALING. or I'll talk to your mother about you. thanks! ]

Quo Vadis?

Where are you going, and do you know what it will be like when you get there? As to that, where are you now? These are questions writers must ask of their characters. Some writers are very skilled in delivering a nearly descriptionless story to the reader without the reader feeling as though anything at all were missing. The bulk of us scribblers don't usually attain that skill in word twistery, so we have to stick to the basics.

Description. The amount will vary from writer to writer, from place to place. There are no hard and fast rules about how much description you should use. If, for instance, I were to mention a cloak, well, pfft, everyone knows what a cloak looks like, and Jenny would be very daft to go on for a decent-sized paragraph about it when all she needed to say was, Rede slung his cloak on and stabbed the brooch home. Done and done. The reader, cheered by the thought that Rede will now be unlikely to freeze in the cold, reads on without much more thought. But if I were to introduce the reader to a very intricate and symbolically important crown, I would be justified in taking some time off from the rest of the plot to inform the reader of what the crown looks like. The writer just has to know his priorities, and keep in mind what the reader needs to know and (also important) what the reader can put up with.

But the main thrust of my post today (this evening, rather) is about landscape. I spent an entire post a short white ago on weather, and knowing your weather where you are writing about. But equally as important, if not even more so, is knowing what your landscape looks like. Some people are good at this: landscapes spring into their minds without any help. ("Well, hurrah for you.") I know I'm not like this. Landscapes emerge as vague images, often in the form of heath (very boring), and it is with supreme effort that I remind my imagination that landscapes come in wildly changing forms and I need to be realistic. So Jenny, on one of those long Saturday afternoons in which nothing else was pressing her, flung herself into her chair and took the time to look up all those curious English terms for different landscapes. She had some surprises. She had some nasty shocks. She had an ache in her wrist by the time she was done writing in her Things Various English notebook. Here is what she managed to cull together:

Beck: (North England) a brook, especially a swiftly-running on, with steep banks; often running through "gills."
Burn: (Scotland, North England) a stream or rivulet from large streams to small rivers; "burna," "brunna," "bourne." - So Guy of Gisbourne is obviously Guy of the Gis Stream, which sounds dumb.
Carr: an area of fen or bog in which scrub, usually willow, has established itself.
Cirque: a bowl-shaped, steep-walled mountain basin caused by glacial movement; often containing a small round lake.
Coombe: a narrow valley or deep hollow, especially one enclosed on all but one side; "cwm," "combe."
Copse: a thicket of small trees or bushes; a small wood; "coppice."
Dale: (Yorkshire, Cumbria) an open, broad valley, usually in an area of low hills.
Dell: a small, wooded valley, vale; depression in the earth.
Down: (Norse) open, rolling upland chalk country with fairly smooth grassy slopes; from the Norse "dun" for "hill."
Fell: (Scotland, North England) a tract of upland moor, pasture, or thicket; a highland plateau.
Fen: low wetland, rich marsh.
Gill: (Yorkshire, Cumbria) a narrow valley; "ghyll."
Glen: a small, narrow, secluded U-shaped valley or gorge, often mountainous and wooded; Goidelic: gleann (Scottish/Irish Gaelic), gloin (Manx) - Brythonic: glyn (Welsh).
Hanger: a wood on a steep hillside, usually beech, growing on chalk in southern England.
Heath: a tract of level wasteland with sandy soil and scrubby vegetation; any member of the heather family.
Howe: (Scotland) a dell, a hollow.
Howe: (Norse) a hill, a knoll.
Massif: a cluster of hills, a compact portion of a mountain range containing one or more summits.
Moor: a very peaty tract of open wasteland, often overgrown with heath, common in high altitudes where drainage is poor.
Scar: a rocky cliff; a low or submerged rock in the sea.
Scree: a steep mass of rocky debris caused by landslides at the foot of a mountain; "talus."
Shaw: a strip of woodland between 15 and 50 feet wide.
Strath: (Scotland) a wide river valley; ystrad (Welsh).
Tarn: a small mountain lake or pool, usually in a cirque.
Tor: a rocky pinnacle; a bare peak of rocky mountain of hill; also the hill itself.
Upland: a range of hills or elevated mountainous plateaus.

This is, of course, a very short and slightly incomplete list. Many terms are merely repeats of others, used in different locations. But it is nice to know that when someone is talking about a glen, they aren't talking about a meadow (which was the impression I always got) by a deep gash in the ground covered in trees and moss with a river running through the bottom of it. So the moral of the story is to know where your characters are (vigilance, that's a virtue, right?) and be sure you are using the correct terms. These are obviously English terms. Know your countryside and the countrysides terms.

A caveat. Don't overwhelm the reader with terms. If I were to say of one of my Welsh characters, He dismounted and climbed down into the cwm with his hatchet in hand, the dark wolf-hackled shape of the coppice looming in front of him, how many people would know what I meant? It's fun to know the more obscure terms, "cwm" and "ghyll," but keep in mind the bulk of folk who are going to be reading. Don't lose them in a mass of overly period correct terminology. It would be far better for me to explain earlier on that my character was headed to the coppice to fell trees for fence making (this gives the reader an idea that a coppice is a stand of trees, at the very least), and I can use the perfectly acceptable term "combe" which the reader will at least vaguely be able to relate to, more so as I describe it detail as I move along.

But these terms can be used as spice! Spices aren't meant to be dumped on, but used wisely and sparingly to add flavour. Know your countryside, and know when to throw in a word your readers may not have heard before. Expand their minds and teach them too.