In Little Room Confining Mighty Men

I said to someone once somewhere that writing novels does not get easier the more you do it.  Oh, you grow more dextrous with the craft as you work at it, that's certain.  I am losing my hack-job quality of going about it, much to my relief.  They say practice makes perfect (they are lying, of course, but it's a nice sentiment) but what they don't tell you is that, if you really love your art, it is only going to get harder.  You will get better at facing the challenge, but the wave beyond the next one is always going to be higher, colder, more blood-curdling - and if you've got an ounce of self-dignity in you, you're going to suck in your breath and plunge into that wave all the same.

I knew Gingerune was going to be a difficult wave.  What I did not expect was the speed with which it overtook me.  Only a few days ago I was bobbing merrily in the mellow seas of Plenilune, a year and a half of familiar waters, content with characters I had come to know, places I had come to love, a plot I had already well hashed out and was just fitting into form.  I look back on it and think, "Well.  That wasn't so bad."  And then I turn and look into the shadows at the shapeless form of Gingerune, as yet mercurial and mysterious, unwilling to give up its secrets to me, and I know I'm going to have to play the old going-down-the-rabbit-hole game with it: chasing after it word by word, taking sudden turns of thought after characters whose habits of mind I do not yet know, following where they lead, exploring a world beyond my cozy realm of tongue-in-cheek Shakespearean quotations and bizarre biblical references.  With Gingerune I feel as if I am going out alone into the dark, my imagination a bare, faint spark, my fingers stringing words together like beads, and I'm waiting for that magical moment when the formlessness of the idea in my mind suddenly clicks with the hesitant pictures my hand is making. 

My walls are changing.  Many of the old sticky-notes for Plenilune have been taken down, used up and ruthlessly discarded.  New notes are going up.  New pieces of paper, like the Standards of legionary companies, staggered in pink on a green background.  A drawing of my main character stares accusingly at me from beside Jefferies' monitor screen.  A new world is piecing itself together in my head.

A new novel has begun.

The Next Big Thing...Or So

I was asked by Anne Elisabeth Stengl if I wanted to participate in a blog hop featuring authors' "next big things."  Hmm...yes, please!  (Be sure to read her post on her soon-to-release novel Dragonwitch here!) Unfortunately, I've been reduced to dragging my heels about it trying to figure out which of my three novels I'm going to feature.  Adamantine is written, Plenilune's first draft has been completed (!!), and Gingerune I haven't even started yet, but I am actively working on each of them almost at once and none of them has an agent or publisher yet.  Except for the small differences of "finished," "nearly finished," and "unbegun," they are all fairly equal.

Which is why I'm going to feature all of them!

What are the working titles of your novels?
My "finished" novel is Adamantine, my current work-in-progress is Plenilune, and the novel to come is Gingerune.  With the exception of Gingerune, the titles are real words.  I don't remember making Gingerune up - it sort of made up itself.  Self-generation and all that.  Very Egyptian mythos.

Where did the ideas for your books come from?
The idea for Adamantine, as many of you know, came from my reading of Beowulf in highschool.  Where on earth the fairy element came from I confess I do not recall.  I seem to have a knack for throwing a bunch of otherwise incongruous articles together into the alchemical pot of literature and making something work.  I don't know how I do it.  We all seem to be gullible enough to let me continue.

As for Plenilune, that was a combination of necessity and, again, a number of books that I read.  Adamant's cousin Margaret, who makes a few minor appearances in Adamantine, wound up mysteriously needing a story and so I had to make one up.  I had read J.R.R. Tolkien's Roverandom not long before that, and I had recently completed the enjoyable yet exhausting sojourn through E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros.  Having always wanted to write a novel in such a vein, it was not a difficult step from there to the plot of Plenilune

Gingerune.  That's a tricky one.  It began, I think, as a one-shot that no longer resembles what it has been rapidly growing into over the past few months.  It was a bit more medieval then; it has since launched itself some 3,500 years into the past to an island that Plato has since made eternally famous.  I am not sure what influenced the story - it is not yet done percolating - but I know that several elements that came to light briefly in Adamantine and Plenilune rose to the forefront in Gingerune and will not only heavily influence the plot, but probably be the pivotal elements of the plot.  Concepts such as the abolition of man, the everlasting man, "magic," redemption, religion, several kinds of an abyss...  Oh, it'll be such a lot of fun, and I'll tear my hair out over it because each subsequent novel I write is harder than the one before it because I always get the notion that concepts and elements just a little beyond me are the sorts I want to deal with.  But it helps me grow.

What genres do your books fall under?
Fantasy, hands down.  This is not to say they're all lies and moonshine - the best fantasy, I find, is often some of the truest sort of fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in movie renditions of your novels?
Well, since you asked...

Adamantine: The time I saw my first Top Gear UK episode I saw Richard Hammond (with his hair cut) and I thought, "Rhodri?  What the devil are you doing on the BBC!"  But of course he's not strictly an actor, he's a television presenter - which is kind of the same thing, but not quite.  Second choice, and actual actor, would probably be Blake RitsonCarey Mulligan is a current choice for Adamant - she's got that cute smile and childish face which can easily pass for naivete.  With some of the super-duper CGI methods (courtesy, possibly, of James Cameron's Avatar), I'll bet Chris Hemsworth would make a pretty decent Eikin Thrasirson. Tom Hiddleston (support popular actors!) for the voice of the pooka - that sly, handsome, compelling voice that you like and half-suspect you oughtn't. 

Plenilune: For the fox - easy choice - David Tennant; Rupert de la Mare - also an easy choice - is Richard Armitage.  Abigail supports the role of Skander Rime going to Jonny Lee Miller.  The closest I have found for Margaret is Anne Hathaway, but I don't know if she could play the role.  Oh well, this is about looks, I suppose.  Anne Hathaway would probably do, provided she can be coached to imitate an English accent of a Manchester bent. 

Gingerune:  Give him that curious British style of extremely pale blond hair, and Michael Fassbender would play a good Dream.  I haven't seen her act, but give her ginger hair and Michelle Dockery would make a good imitation of Ginger herself; her daughter Rowena would be well played by Emma Watson.  Not to be cliche (or run the risk of confusing Dream and Maslin, though I hope they look significantly unlike), but I dare say Maslin looks enough like Hugh Jackman to let the Australian stand in for him.  Though, I think Abigail might have taken him for someone.  Oh dear.  We're going to have to shoot our hypothetical films simultaneously if we continue to share actors.  Yay, box-office money.

Give a one-sentence synopsis of each book.
Adamantine: A young Victorian lady must find the heir of Beowulf and restore him to power before the enchantments that hold him seal his death.
Plenilune: When she is shipped off to Naples to catch a foreign suitor, Margaret Coventry was not expecting a very foreign suitor to catch her - and use her to win or lose a world.
Gingerune: Once there were the Earth Masters, then there came the gods, but the old legends are not as musty and dead as Ginger once thought them to be.

Will your books be self-published or represented by an agency?
I am pursuing the route of agency and I would rather not try self-publication.

How long did it take you to write the first drafts of your manuscripts?
Adamantine took me about five years because I was young and foolish and still learning how to be diligent writing an otherwise good plot.  Plenilune I started in September of 2011, so a first draft took me about a year and a half to complete.  I have not yet begun to write Gingerune.  When it comes to the time it will take, your guess is as good as mine and will probably count for just as much in the grand scheme of things.  Which is to say, not much at all.

What other books would you compare these stories to in your genre?
Are we speaking of current novels or novels in existence from any old time period?  I suppose you could say any respectable let's-go-to-another-world fantasy novel (I don't seem to have many outside of Narnia in my library), and The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis, and probably Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books, now that I have read one or two of them and look ahead into the prospective future of Gingerune.

Who or what inspired you to write these novels?
I just had a conversation with my father about a single, simple phrase gleaned from Scripture which, when spoken in my hearing, is like a match struck and raised in the vault of a palace that time has buried and mankind has thought was lost.  That phrase is The Zeal of Thy House.  So much is encased in those five words: family, purpose, belonging, passion, a fight to fight, a race to be won, the honour of a name to be upheld.  No matter what books - Beowulf, The Worm Ouroboros - may prompt me to write a novel, that one phrase lies at the root of all my inspiration.
The Zeal of Thy House
And Abigail of Scribbles and Inkstains will also be joining in The Next Big Thing 
Keep your eyes peeled!

K - Kirke

What a strange illusion it is to suppose that beauty is goodness.
Leo Tolstoy

Kirke, or Circe. Perhaps you know the story of Kirke?  Beautiful enchantress whose island is violated by the wayward bands of Odysseus.  Odysseus being elsewhere, Kirke spreads a magnificent feast for the men, in the course of which she magics them into swine.  I have no real idea (not particularly enjoying the blunders of Odysseus myself) if this is a display of some kind of chauvinism in one direction or another, but as C.S. Lewis pointed out in his poem Vitrea Circe, one wonders if one can really blame her.

She watched those drunken 
And tarry sailors 
Eat nectar-junket 
And Phoenix-nests; 
Each moment paler 
With pride, she shrunk at 
Their leering, railing, 
Salt-water jests. 
They thought to pluck there 
Her rosial splendour? 
They though their luck there 
Was near divine? 
When the meal ended 
She rose and struck them 
With wand extended 
And made them swine. 

All the same, regardless of Lewis' reasonable exposition of the passage, the meaning of Circe has stuck: a woman of beguiling, irresistible beauty.  Usually she wants to be enchantingly alluring, but I have found that isn't always the case and sometimes the poor woman can't help it.  Sometimes it is the response of the male character.  I have found it to be a true statement that, in Greek literature at least, often in the literature of other countries, to be a beautiful woman is usually a curse.  You are often cursed by the gods (they don't like being outdone), kidnapped, fought over, and frankly unhappy.

So you see there are two sides to this shapely, beautiful coin, and it's a currency I use in Adamantine.   Infatuation and enchantment by beguiling are perhaps harder vices to write about that torture or abuse, because torture and abuse are easily recognizable as brutal, ugly, cruel, inhuman things.  Beauty, on the other hand, is very easily mistaken as a virtue.  The taste of it is at once delightful and galling: once the character tries it, it grows on him (or her), until he finds himself in over his head with no way - and no want - to get out.  For the reader it is probably harder to read because cruelty can be shored up against; however, the more insidious vices can be seen coming by "dramatic irony" in the sense that you know the woman is only trying to wrap the fellow around her finger and then drop him at the end of a rope, but he can't see it.  He's a complete cad without a single scruple, but she thinks he's charming and she can't see to what things are tending - and how do you know what horror of the mind is about to ensue, what soiling of the soul?  The agony can be intense. Will everything be lost forever?

If you've read The Shadow Things, you know I'm perfectly capable of - and willing to - rip your hearts out and stamp them in the dirt.

"Who's the Maid With the Nutbrown Hair?"

As she onward sped, sure I scratched my head,
And I looked with a feeling rare,
And I said, says I, to a passer-by -
"Who's the maid with the nutbrown hair?"
The Star of the County Down

This post is mostly written toward Rachel - not because I think she has a problem, but because I've noticed a kindredness of spirit in this regard; but this post is for you other girls too who are writers, hoping for and working toward publication.  I'll tell you about a little incident that happened to me a year or so ago.

We all know that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover.  We also know that nobody follows that advice.  As a rule, I have long since come to expect something unusual, almost inhuman, to show up on the back flyleaf of a book where they generally put the photograph of the author.  They call it the photograph of the author.  I have never been sure what the unfortunate thing really is.  Age is often unkind to humans, and that has to be accounted for (little as we like to admit it), but the fact remains that many of the photographs I have seen of young and middle-aged authors have left me startled and surprised.  Until I picked up a copy of Sharon Kay Penman's When Christ and His Saints Slept.  The cover of the immense hardback is a beautiful piece of work, intricately wrought in gold and painted with battle scenes.  Of course I turned the book over to read the back (I was wrong, of course; the description was on the inside flyleaf) and I was surprised by a black-and-white shot of the author on a lonely bit of countryside, author in a plain black blouse in the foreground and tasteful jewellery, the grim, rocky ramparts of a derelict fortress brooding in the background.  The picture was beautiful.  The author was rather lovely.  Of course she's no Audrey Hepburn - but then, who is?  With a quaint little smile and tilt of her head, windswept hair, simple but elegant clothing, she cut a charming, respectable picture on the back of her historical novel.  Needless to say, I was very surprised.  Had I a hat, I would have taken it off to her.

I wouldn't call myself a fashionista - I haven't the money for it - but I have become increasingly aware that looking smart is very important.  It is a(n unfortunate) fact that people are kindlier and pay more heed to smart, respectable, decent-talking folk, and while I don't mean for it to sound mercenary, it pays to look your best, be polite, and walk like you both own the place and would be willing yourself to lend a helping hand.  One half of manners is keeping your mouth shut, the other half is having your eyes wide open to know where and when you are needed.  There is more to it, of course, but that's the gist of it.  As far as looking sharp, everyone comes in a different shape with a different personality - styles vary widely.  However, I've learned a handful of basic things which can apply to any girl that will help her feel better and look better.  I thought I'd share!

Keep a clean house.  You may not own your own house, but you can always lend a hand in cleaning and you can definitely keep your own room clean.  Whatever other philosophies are involved, there really is something to the idea of zen: orderliness of one's surroundings brings a sense of peace.  Once I got into the habit of tidying and cleaning up my house on a regular basis (to the point that I can be ready for anyone to walk in my door unannounced without cringing), you would not believe how well I felt.  And what a great thing it did for my skin!  I looked clearer, felt cleaner, and was much more at peace than before.  Try it out!  If you're not in the habit of cleaning up regularly, I know it is hard, but once you break yourself of messiness it's hard to revert.

Drink plenty of water.  You hear this all the time, but that's because it's true!  You don't need to drink an insane amount, or even be overly conscious of it.  Just carry around a glass of water with you wherever you go in the house, and be sure to refill it whenever it is empty.  Tea is good when you need a little something extra, but whenever you feel the need for a drink (sometimes even the need for food), don't reach for the soda, grab a glass of water.  It's an easy way to be healthy.

Less meat, more plants.  I like meat.  My mother makes an amazing variety of meat dishes, and I'm pretty fond of my pork tenderloin.  But while I'm perfectly willing to eat these sorts of meals perhaps once in the day, I've learned that I feel and look a lot better if I counterbalance the meat with glasses of orange juice with breakfast, a package of blackberries for snack, a clementine with lunch, bunches of green beans with dinner.  I feel lighter and cleaner and so long as I take in the proteins and calories I need, I'm better off with more fruits and fewer meats.  (WARNING: if you switch wholesale to fruits and vegetables, which are a little harder to digest, your alimentary canal will not thank you - take it slow!)

Take a shower every day.  I take mine in the evening so that I wash all the grime of the day off before I climb into bed.  No one wants to sleep in a dirty bed.  (I also do that because my hair is long and thick and doesn't dry in the morning in time for me to head out of the house, and it frizzes something awful if I use a blow-dryer.)  Not everyone's schedule allows for an evening shower, but showers there must be.  Knowing, even subconsciously, that you are neat and clean allows for a more relaxed demeanour, which definitely shows to anyone you encounter.  And obviously, clean hair and skin is much better than the alternative.  Be clean!

Stay busy.  Not crazy busy, not running around frantically with too much to do, but steadily active.  I've noticed that I get really cranky when I'm stationary all day and don't get my blood flowing.  So get up and move - and I don't mean just occasionally, I mean often.  And keep your mind active.  Don't - (I'm guilty of this) - don't trawl Pinterest for an hour.  If you catch yourself doing something like that with your face glued to the monitor, and you have to be sitting still, grab a book instead.  Or go do something wild and crazy, like clean a bathtub.  I think cleaning bathtubs should be an Olympic sport.  Those things take a lot of elbow-grease, more than I have to give...

"Don't scowl, it'll make ya wrinkly."  Cheap as it sounds, I've been through Wal-Mart, and I know the power of being positive.  I've seen so many faces that would have looked so much better if the people had only smiled.  Don't be saccharine - there's no call for that: Christians, of all people, should have best cause for being kindly, pleasant, positive folk.  I'm no Anne Hathaway, I know I don't have the prettiest smile, but I've seen the magic of an honest smile at work.  It's wonderful!

Pay attention to the details.  People probably won't get close enough to you to notice, but you'll know.  When you get up in the morning, get dressed as soon as you can!  Brush your hair, wash your face, put on whatever level of makeup you are master of (I'm on level one and a half).  Read your Bible (very important!).  Make sure - of all the darndest things - your fingernails are trim!  You will know that you are put together, even if you never walk out of the house that day, and I know that, for myself at the very least, once I am put together I feel like I can face the day with cheer and gusto.

Seven relatively easy ways to look and feel like a sound, healthy individual.   We authors aren't a sloppy, absent-minded bunch!  Care about yourself as much as you care about your grammar.  You'll be glad you took the time: cleanliness isn't just a happenstance, it's a way of life.  It's a state of mind.

J - Journeying

"We actually see the scenery, not just writing good enough to imagine."

A snapshot of my life at the moment would show a brief but happy tour of the mall with my mother in search of birthday presents for my sister and sister-in-law (they were born, conveniently, within a day of each other, if about a decade apart), a haggle with the clerk at CVS over a handful of cold medicine type articles thinly veiled with a good-natured demeanour, a rambunctious cleaning of the house, the ministrayshuns of the medikals upon a sick patient, chicken noodle soup, and an endless loop of water glasses being filled and drunk.  In short, the angel of the cold has passed over this house and we who are in it have got the ills.  I am getting better, and having someone to care for is a remarkably empowering incentive to feel well.  My poor husband worked a few days into the cold and he is doing nastily bad; at the moment he lingers between waking and sleeping (probably waking) before dragging himself back to the not proverbial drawing board.

Which is one reason why it has taken me so long to get back to my A-Z series for Adamantine.  (The other reason is that I looked at J and thought, "J? I'll be dashed, who on earth wants to do anything with J?"  And it has taken me this long to hit upon a nice word for you.


You know that old trope of epic fantasies, the journey.  (My sister-in-law was contrary enough to make her main character crippled just so she could break out of the journeying rut, which I think came back to bite her in the end but I give her kudos for the bravery of the thing.)  I'll probably be a little more confined in terms of travel with Gingerune, but certainly Adamantine boasts quite the walking tour.  Now, anyone who has read The Hobbit knows a walking tour can be lots of fun (translation: lethal), but the trick is to make sure one's own rendition of the old trope isn't boring.

New to the neighbourhood?  Back in October I wrote a piece for another blog on world building and how I do it (it's here, by the way - I had to go hunt it down again), so you may know already how much I love discovering new worlds and showing them off to my readers.  I think the joy of that is half the battle - the other half is probably the skill to put it down on paper so that, as Lilly said, "We actually see the scenery, not just writing good enough to imagine."  The scenery isn't always wildly new.  In Adamantine they have mountains same as we have, rivers and hedgerows and chiff-chaffs rosy in the late winter light just as we do here.  But when you can make the reader feel the ominous height of those new mountains, feel the scrape of the hawthorn as you walk by, and hear the rattle of the rivers and the chreep-chreep chreep-chreep of the last chiff-chaff of autumn, then you have made the world come alive for them and as they pass through the long plot of the story, bound from goodness knows where to goodness knows what end, the world becomes not a mere surrounding but another character itself.

Are we there yet?  The fact is, readers don't like to stay in one place long.  They get itchy feet, and while it's nice to get some place and rest awhile so that you don't eternally feel as if you are walking and walking and walking as if this novel were some torment in Hades, you have to keep going to the climax.  Forward movement (up or down, either works), action, drama!  It helps to be running from something (nine riders bent on stealing the world's most nefarious piece of jewellery) or against something (time is probably overused, and yet one of the most nasty of enemies, especially when it comes to term papers).

An offer they can't refuse.  Of course, the reader has to want to get wherever the characters are going, to accomplish whatever they want to accomplish, to see the journey through to the end.  You don't want to build up the basic premise of the plot only to have the reader say, "You know what, guys, I've got another novel I wanted to get to.  You go on without me."  Adamantine has a slower beginning than I would like, and I'm going to be soliciting opinions from people who have read it on whether or not it is an acceptable slow, and whether or not I need to crank it up a notch to keep the reader's interest.  My premise needs to be engaging, my world worth traveling through, the promise of the destination worth striving toward.

The fact is, the reader is as much a presence in the novel as the author, and the author must remember, in all the nitty-gritty details of plot and grammar and character building, that the spectral genius of the reader is constantly there trying to fit in, trying to shadow the characters, trying to be part of the world as well.  And if there is no interest or room for the reader, that ghost will pass on elsewhere.  Maybe you will meet him again at Philippi, but don't count on it.

"Well, If That Doesn't Take the Salt Out of You"

It may just be the frappuccino and the NyQuil speaking: to think this is the first post of 2013 fills me with an unpleasant shivery feeling.  A brief update: I managed to get through another chunk of writing in Plenilune during December, which places me almost at the threshold of my endgame.  Now I am trying to get all my characters in position and hope to goodness everything works out.  There is, of course, always editing.  Additionally, now that I am approaching that stage of the game with Plenilune, I have been able to go back into Adamantine and touch up a few things, make sure of continuity, and tie them both together a little more.  That won't be done for a little longer yet, but I'm really hoping nothing more turns up because I would like to be done.  On the plus side, Gingerune has taken another step or two out of the shadows.  But don't even dream about reading Gingerune yet.  I foresee that one being my trouble child and while it may surprise me I don't expect it to surprise me.

There is always Between Earth and Sky.

January Snip-Whippets
(Not much to offer this month!) 

There was a sound like a hammer hitting a gong, a whirling planet of light, a ring in singing motion, a spray of stars—to Margaret it seemed the whole cosmos had met in the teeth and claws and angry, defiant wills of the two slashing and biting on the uneven green before her.

Half of it he shaved off, cutting her arm, but the rest, with a little cry of determination, she got wrapped round his head somehow and then it was her turn, with a sense of exultant power, to dig in her heels and heave over on him, driving him backward while he shook and writhed and swore and growled under her grasp like ten tomcats in a weakening sack. 

Under her feet Margaret felt Plenilune tremble—with fury and with colossal ecstasy...

They were close enough that she heard the drumming whoop of Brand’s war-hammer as he whirled it over his head.

They were facing west: the sun was in her eyes. She saw a confusion of battle-mass locked and grinding in the tiny valley—and upreared against the halo of sunlight, shining like a beacon, the eagle-Standard of Darkling, the tattered black cloth in a riot of wind hanging from its talons.

"You must needs watch your flank!" he roared over the din.

She set her hand on his shoulder and pressed hard with her fingers until his leather harness cut her; his face gashed sideways with a smile. That was all: they turned together to pack their own things and fill their faces with the familiar dust of the open road and the ominous glare of summer thunder on the horizon which was the colour of hard crimson, the colour of the hour.

...she yelled in [his] ear, hoping—but not really believing—that she would reach him in the red place to which he had gone.

Margaret stood...watching Skander’s blue banner dwindle into the purple thunder of the air on the shore of Holywood, a small panic under her heart which she was trying desperately to crush as one crushes out the life of a small broken bird for whom death is the only mercy. 

It was a city in itself, settled in a little lift of a valley at the bend of a wide, navigable river; with the angry golden sunset-sky behind it, it was a dream-silhouette of black spires and shadowed towers, gilt-edged banners and sable walls: a piece of imagery that had got lost and wandered from the old medieval poetry Margaret had once known on the other side of many bright, black turnings in life. 

"The sphere of Mars is calling..."