Tea On My Keyboard, Ink On My Hands

I feel as if I owe my readers an update because I haven't posted in awhile, but the truth is that nothing has changed from the last update.  I am still quietly working on Gingerune; I'm not really at a place where I can talk about it a great deal, nor show much of it to anyone.  You all know how that goes.  So I must be content to prevaricate about it in the hopes that you and I will learn a little more about it as I do so.  So here I am, quietly typing away at it and learning my characters and my way.  Nothing new.

What about Plenilune?  The manuscript is making the rounds of my family and being proofed.  So far my initial feelings have been justified for no one, so far, has found much fault with the manuscript and very little other than typos needs correcting.  Other than the usual hiccups and difficulties which come with every self-respecting manuscript, Plenilune was an easy baby.  Writing, I think, must be a little like labour in that afterward you forget the struggle and agony and think it was pretty easy and wouldn't you like to do it again?  But I do remember the difficulties I had with Adamantine and I do know I fought Plenilune on occasion.  But compared to Adamantine and Gingerune, Plenilune came out of my head like Athena.

Speaking of Adamantine, I know people talk about the dangers of over-editing, but I really do have to continue editing Adamantine has I forge deeper into Plenilune and Gingerune.  Because they are all companion novels and have bearing on each other, after a fashion, I must be sure they are consistent on all accounts.  As things become subsequently clearer with my writing, I must, perforce, go back and edit to update.  So that is where Adamantine stands at present.

(I appear to be having a tea accident.  Please excuse me...)  One other piece of update is that I will be out of town for a few days.  Not that you will be able to tell, with my relative quiet on Blogger these days, but there you have it.  I'll purchase plane tickets for all my characters and take them with me, I'm sure, but I'll probably be too busy and too out of my comfortable writing zone to do anything productive.  So if you don't hear from me, this time don't assume I'm nose deep in writing - I'll actually be flying halfway across the continent.

happy writing!

My Mind Was Called Across the Years

My mind was called across the years
Of rages and of strife
Of all the human misery
And all the waste of life
"Beneath a Phrygian Sky," Loreena McKennitt

In the chill of March (albeit the March of the fickle, balmy piedmont of South Carolina), with a grey sky overhead, it is sometimes hard to feel the scorching spring sun of the Middle Sea, to see the cloudlessness of a merciless sky, to hear the endless pulse of that sea which is the heart of the whole world.  And so I look to the arts (that sea was the cradle of them, was it not?) to inspire me.  It is not much to offer you, but here are some of the things which are making the world of Gingerune a home to me.

a few books

There is the big curious creature of The Flowers of Adonis, by Rosemary Sutcliff, written in the first person but from the view of many people so that, from many angles and through many years, the reader may get a picture of the person of Alkibiades, the great general of Athens.  Like all Sutcliff novels, this one throws you head over heels into the world and you must pick yourself up very quickly or be lost.  It is, of course, a very war-like book, though not all the characters are students of war; but the laughter of it which is like the laughter of a knife that is going to kill you is a splendid inspiration for me.

I have begun Ben-Hur, after many, many years.  I don't remember when I last read it, I only know that I loved it.  But the intervening years had made me forget just how spectacular a book it really is.  The narration is superb, the scenes crystal-clear, and everything is alive.  Knowing more now than I did then, I trust this second reading of Ben-Hur will prove even more fruitful, even more enjoyable.  There is far more enjoyment to be got out of it than just the chariot race, let me assure you.

There is also A Crown of Wild Olive, a smaller story by Rosemary Sutcliff (the poor thing is dwarfed by the hugeness of Alkibiades), and I am reading it not for the similarity between her story and mine (none of these really bear any resemblance to Gingerune) but for the sheer familiar comfort of the thing, and the world in which I need to walk and look and see so that, when I have written, you can too.

a few songs

Loreena McKennitt's album "An Ancient Muse" has been most helpful in this way.  She knows how to find the musical spirit of a place and string it with complimentary words like a jeweler stringing jewellery.  There is Beneath a Phrygian Sky (which is north and very east of where I am) and The Gates of Istanbul (which is more north than east, but a little east too, of where I am).  There is Penelope's Song, which is just about perfect and tastes of wine and a sorrow which knows no bitterness; I like Kecharitomene for the music of it, and Caravanserai likewise - they are not quite spot-on, but they land me in the general area so I listen to them anyway.  And then there are odd songs out, like The Burning Bush from The Prince of Egypt soundtrack, and Now We Are Free from "Gladiator" (which is one of my favourite songs anyway); as regards lyrics (not the tune) Andrew Peterson's song Carry the Fire is applicable.  I have not decided if both the lyrics and the tune of Leaves From the Vine are applicable, but the song seems to go with Gingerune all the same.  (In a way they, too, remind me of the flowers of Adonis...)

leaves from the vine // falling so slow
like fragile, tiny shells // drifting on the foam
little soldier boy // come marching home
brave soldier boy // comes marching home
"leaves from the vine"

The Agony and the Ecstasy

My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you...
Galatians 4:19

 This is not really a manifesto.  I suppose if you want a manifesto, you might do worse than to look here.  If anything, this will be a talk (hopefully brief, but who is to say?) on being a writer.  This will be a delving into my reading of other authors on the subject and also into my own experience.  It will, hopefully, not over-gild the lily, but equally I hope it will not diminish the exultancy of art.

I am quietly making my way through Mystery and Manners, a collection of essays by Flannery O'Connor.  While I have not yet read any of her fiction, her thoughts on the subject of writing (excluding Southern fiction, of which I confess to know nothing) have continued to ring true with my own experience - and it is an experience of great passion immediately juxtaposed to the absurdly awkward.  Take, for instance, the author's own reply to the question, "Miss O'Connor, why do you write?"  She said, simply, "Because I'm good at it."  She went on to mention that this reply was instantly disapproved of - possibly because the remnants of both Catholic and Protestant sentiment argue that if we enjoy something, it must be bad, and to succeed is to commit a sin.  (That is a subject I have touched on elsewhere, and is too long to tackle again here, but I trust you all recognize the absurdity in such a repugnance toward being remarkably good at one's craft.)  But in my own experience, I have been met at every turn by these unavoidable and at the same time irritating questions, and I can think of a no more succinct answer than Flannery O'Connor's:  "Because I'm good at it."  There are other reasons, but no inquirer will give me the time to indulge them: the simple fact that I'm not a bad hand at the art and that I enjoy my own work - because I'm good at it - seems a pretty sturdy answer, even though I know, as with O'Connor, my answer will be received with disapproval.

There is another question which I think every author abhors and which every author cannot really blame the inquirer for posing.  That is, "What is your book about?"  Being of a very shy turn of nature and my efforts to overcome my inability to communicate adequately verbally being, as yet, ineffective, I loath this question.  It highlights all my natural weaknesses as regards social interaction, it embarrasses me, and as a result I do no justice to my writing while I am trying to explain myself.  But even before reading Flannery O'Connor's essay "Writing Short Stories," I had begun to formulate a more militant reply to the awful question, so the perspicacity of her essay was not lost on me.
You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate.  When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story.
Which is also something no one likes to hear.  People like to get the gist of the book's subject (which is why authors are made to write those little blurbs on the backs of their books), and they like to know right off whether or not the book is something they would be interested in.  They do not realize that the last person on earth they should ask is the author himself, who has just spent years and thousands of words, blood, sweat, and tea discovering and fashioning and living in a world, bringing characters to life with the thrill and agony of a mother.  Such a person is least able to condense the story into a few words or so.  Such a person is more inclined to take the question "What is your book about?" as an insult rather than hope it exhibits any interest in the story.  Very truly, if I could tell you what Adamantine and Plenilune and The Shadow Things are about, I would not have spent these past nine years building and shaping and agonizing and putting words together to make a sort of living, breathing creation.  I would not have subjected myself to making life out of law, I would have kept the commandments scrawled in cold, impersonal stone.  I would not have strained and hurt and cried and laughed and soared.  I would not have written novels, I would have written essays.

The life of the author is one of joyous suffering.   I almost said quiet joyous suffering, but I would only mean quiet in the sense that the suffering is largely unseen - I have only to look at my own tempestuous worries and listen to the large, loud words in the prophets to know that a creator strives, and strives mightily, and that the suffering can be keen indeed.  And yet we persist for the sake of achieving the perfect, and in the long quiet death we endure doing this terrible thing called art, we are imbued with life.  It is a very personal experience, one which we cannot share, an incommunicable attribute of the writing process which, unless the reader is also a writer, the reader will not understand.  This is not an elitist comment, just a fact, and the experiential difference between the author and the reader continue to clash over literature as the two minds try to meet.  I do not know if they ever could (unless, again, the reader were also a writer), and in Flannery O'Connor's statements I find a refreshing, if jarring, return to a recognition of the limitations and expectations placed on the writer and the reader.  Art is not a superfluity (don't ask me why I do it), nor am I really capable of saying in a few cold words what it took me many lives to communicate.

After all, even God did not do that.

The Cry of the Lonesome Gull

I am the cry of the lonesome gull ringing in your ears
And the smell of the sea on your freckled skin

I haven't said much of worth for awhile because...there hasn't been anything of worth to say.  I've been quietly working on edits for Plenilune, which has taken up most of my creative juice, and, like a sponge, have been desperately sucking in all inspiration for Gingerune which I can find.  Gingerune has endured several major overhauls from its original state: it has moved from the first person to the third (for no real reason, save that it works this way), and two characters have had name changes to varying degrees of severity. Surely you know how this sort of thing goes.  The upshot of it is, Plenilune is still too stark and loud and is demanding too much of my attention for me to submerse myself entirely in Gingerune, so that, other than edits, I have done very little writing in the past month or so.  Gingerune's manuscript is only 27,488 words and gestures at me empty-handed and askance, making no move to save me from a flogging by Plenilune.  On the plus side, I have got some reading done.  I finished Harry Blamires' On Christian Truth on the first of the month: very good book.  Well, anyway, here is a very little of what I have been up to when I have managed to write something.

snip-whippets of some hour, I know not which

Another ill omen upon a hill of ill omens, thought Ginger. Today is like the mounding of the dead. 

Then it was her turn, bracing against the wall as Roxane braced against her; her panels never quite formed the perfect triangle—almost, but never quite—and had never done so since she was sixteen.
Eighteen years ago. Ginger lifted her head and winced as the girl, taking as deep a breath as she could manage, hauled on the laces. Eighteen years is a long time.

Roxane’s hand dropped companionably on Ginger’s shoulder. She felt it, warm and familiar, like a touch, not to her skin, but to her soul.

Spring had come back to Thera, flown on the wings of the swallows. A good omen indeed.

...turning aside, they followed the gate through to a narrow, winding stair which they took under the wind-swept heads of the tamarisk trees, each in full red bloom; they sent soft dove-winged shadows skittering underfoot, and the high white walls of the buildings rising around them cut off the noise of the street above. Taking sudden turns, now and then, Ginger could sometimes catch glimpses of the sea between the buildings, far below.

...the imagery of them had stuck with her: the boldness of them, the way the light played a harsh song on their bronze breastplates and iron buckles, the drumming of so many feet, the thumping of so many shields. She remembered the easy tramping march, the little sea-sort of swing in their step as if the world lay uneasily beneath their feet and with each stride they met it at some different angle. She remembered their faces, grim and half-laughing with the exultancy of war, and she had wished very strongly that she could have been one of them.

"To be curious is to ask the gods for a speedy death."

But the flatterer and the rogue twisted his words into a kind of green peace-offering, and laid the thing gently on Ginger’s knees.

She fingered the cold, perfect stones. That had been a good day, a day of swallows and a laurel crown. If only…if only the crowns would last…

He did not answer, but continued to watch the way the sunlight played silver on the whitecaps and in the rushy silence they listened to a honeyeater calling from Phrygia: its laughter came down from a place high up on the cliffs, caught and lost and caught again on the sweeping waves of wind.

As if they were one, both she and Roxane craned their heads at him. He smiled, knowing he had got their attention—he was like a woman in that way, thought Ginger: very jealous in his quiet way that he should have their attention. In the light she could see the thousands of darker flecks that covered his sun-darkened face, and they all seemed to mock. 

Roxane looked up at her then with her face framed in her darkened hair, her dark brows clinched on a small, old pain that Ginger knew well, for she shared it herself. “Mauna,” she said just as quietly, “I grow old of hating.”