Le Bon Dieu Est Dans Le Detail

the good God is in the detail

When I tell people that I prefer to write fantasy, I'm always afraid they think I prefer fantasy because I'm lazy and don't want to do historical research.  Yes, I'm lazy, but not too lazy to do research; and fantasy requires an equal amount of research in many though different ways.  History is (usually) already set and done, and you have only to rediscover it: even though there is a lot to go back and uncover, it won't create anything new to upset you.  Fantasy, on the other hand, in which you are literally creating everything as you go, is fraught with the danger of tangles in culture, setting, plot, and many aspects of life which are so essential as to be overlooked by us go unmentioned, being conspicuous in absentia.

Anne Elisabeth introduced this topic this morning in Research and the Fantasy Novel (part one).  If you have read any of her novels, you know that she has a lot of ground to cover and a lot of inconsistencies to avoid.  But on the plus side (I am discovering), writing multiple novels about a general place, time, and people group allows the writer plenty of opportunity to explore and create, and that's a lot of fun.  Definitely worth it.  She mentioned a few details to research such as what do the characters eat (what is available to their board, what dressings do they use, etc.), the ever important what do they wear (I have a deuce of a time envisioning clothing styles, so this is a kind of Achilles heel for me), hair-styles (a television show I watch had a character compelled to have her hair done up in a complicated style which was traditional for royalty in the new country she was ruling over), and also something so simple as how do the characters get about? There are a few other aspects of world-building and research which she mentioned, so feel pushed toward her post to read it!  At the end, she asked
What are some basics you think would be helpful to research to create a realistic world? 
1.  Landscape.  I think once upon a time I mentioned this before.  What does the land look like?  Landscapes impact people groups to immeasurable degrees.  Are they in a lush river-valley, prosperous, with good pastureland and crops?  They are likely to be a peaceable folk.  Do they live in empty steppe-lands, going from pasture to pasture, always on the move?  They are likely to be a patient people, broad-minded, but also wary and defensive.  The land matters.  Pay attention to it.

2.  Religion.  I know I have mentioned this before.  People don't always think about this much beyond cobbling together a rough pagan straw-man which will be quickly knocked down by an obviously superior Christian religion.  But man is a spiritual creature, and while his culture and his place in the world has changed over the millennia, he has held tenaciously to religion.  Whether right or wrong, it is undeniable that religion is very important to a people, and this, too, should not be overlooked.

3.  Language.  This is something I discovered with Adamantine and then Plenilune.  Everyone has an accent: depending on where they come from and what social level they stand at, people talk differently.  This is also a place for contradiction!  Because of where I live and my upbringing, my accent can vary between Southern and Trans-Atlantic.  Carrying this over into my writing, I may have a character like Eikin in Adamantine, whose people are admittedly barbaric: their language tends to be rough-and-ready, blunt and at the same to time the point, but they also couple that with an almost poetic arrangement of the words.  Within Plenilune, the lords and land-owners use a clear, clipped style of speech, the lower tenant and peasant classes speak in an older, heavier form of Franco-English with thees and thous.  At the same time, I've had a few lower-class characters who had made an effort to sharpen their speech, and some of the characters among the lords and land-owners pepper their speech with a "lower" form of language.
What kind of research have you done for your various projects? 
I think the most notable bit of detail I had to put into Adamantine (notable to myself, at least) was the post-rider.  In a big ol' world covered over by a powerful empire, who delivers the mail?  People have to get their Bi-Lo coupons, you know.  So I had to think about it: you might have private messengers, you would have standard short-range mail-stations and local deliveries, and you would also have the military post-riders with specially designated mounts at the inns, making them capable of crossing the entire empire in the space of four days.  I did neglect to look into the casualty statistics of people run down by post-riders every year...

You already know that Gingerune has required a lot of research.  In fact, that process is on-going.  I need to know something like, what are the common building-materials of an ordinary Theran house?  I need to know something which might appear a little more obscure, such as what are the body-types of the people of these areas?  I can spot the difference between a Theran and a Mycenaean face.  Little things: little things matter.
Come upon any interesting little tidbits recently?
Because of the location of Ethandune, I am making a synthesis of a Franco-English culture and a Persian-Arabian one.  This leaves me with plenty of research to do (architecture, clothing-styles, language barriers, foods, the types of amenities available), but also the opportunity to make something fascinating out of two people groups.  My most recent tidbit of research was milk baths, which sound scrumptious but also drying, as the lactic acid dissolves proteins while removing dead skin cells: be sure to use a good moisturizer afterward!

how about you? what have you researched?

"Dost Think We Are Here in Dreamland?"

Blogging appears to be very often a conversation tossed back and forth between blogs.  Bree posted a list of books which she not only loves, but which really changed her.  Brain cogs started turning: which books really changed me?  And I don't mean books like The Chronicles of Narnia, which are the types of books which shape you rather than change you.  I mean articles which flung me off course and changed the way I view things.  Which were those books?

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
I was young when I read this book, but old enough to have had my brain firmly set in Narnia and Redwall, that sort of thing.  The Eagle of the Ninth blew me out of the water.  Historical fiction was amazing: it was alive!  These people, this prose, they took my little frame and shook it.  I had never looked at the world the way Sutcliff (in a way reminiscent of Kipling, but I did not know that then) made me look.  She made you see and feel and understand things deeply - and that is perhaps why my writing now conjures such vivid responses from people.  This is where I first experienced that skill.

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers
This was a little less of a wild flinging off course and more of a sudden melting in the crucible the raw materials of my philosophy.  When I talk about creativity and God and man, a lot of what I mean can be found summed up within the pages of The Mind of the Maker.  Using the pervasively creating aspect of man, Sayers brilliantly makes a case for the three-fold nature of man built upon the same pattern of the three-fold nature of God. 
That the eyes of all workers should behold the integrity of the work is the sole means to make that work good in itself and so good for mankind.  This is only another way of saying that the work must be measured by the standard of eternity; or that it must be done for God first and foremost; or that the Energy must faithfully manifest forth the Idea; or, theologically, that the Son does the will of the Father.
The Worm Ouroboros by E.R. Eddison
Here it comes.  I got this book because it was said that it really influenced Tolkien.  Sounds like a good place to start, hmm?  I had no idea what I was in for.
There was a man named Lessingham dwelt in an old low house in Wastdale, set in a gray old garden where yew-trees flourished that had seen Vikings in Copeland in their seedling time.
Of course, it helped that I had read Sutcliff's The Shield Ring some months earlier and knew the Vikings of Copeland and all that - so that opening line of Eddison's novel wrenched my heart out of place at once.  And I think it helped that I read it at age twenty and not, say, seventeen: it is an odd style of plot, not at all traditional, which fact might throw some people off.  And yet the book is so rich and so good that you forgive it that - actually, you forget that.  You get caught up in "many-mountained Demonland" and the malicious grace of King Gorice XII, the beauty of Lady Mevrian and Brandoch Daha, the heady thrill of the Battle of Krothering Side...  It seemed all the rich emotions of love and hatred, virtue and vice which are found in people like Tolkien and Lewis were almost unbearably condensed in The Worm Ouroboros.  I fell in love with it, and I fell hard.
"Don't!" said he.  "Oh, Lewis, you don't understand.  Take me back to Malacandra?  If only he would! I'd give anything I possess..."
The Discarded Image by C.S. Lewis
Not your usual C.S. Lewis book.  I might have mentioned The Screwtape Letters, but Bree already summed up my feelings on that book.  The Discarded Image was given to me by my sister for my birthday, and bore the inscription "For Your Birthday, 2011 - Hope It Proves Interesting!"  In reply, having finished it, I scrawled underneath, "It Sure Did!"  This was his last book, based upon a series of lectures he gave at Oxford, unpacking and explaining the medieval synthesis of the ancients' world views.  In his typically engaging way, C.S. Lewis makes sense out of the bulk of medieval literature, as well as Tolkien's Roverandom, E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, and his own Space Trilogy - although, he does that incidentally: he does not actually mention any of those works in his lectures.  There is a great deal of history, philosophy, theology, romanticism, and practicality between the covers of this book.  I highly recommend it.
This I believe to be a stroke of calculated and wholly successful art.  We are made to feel as if we have seen a heap of common materials so completely burnt up that there remains neither ash nor smoke nor even flame, only a quivering of invisible heat.
What are the books that have changed you?

Revisiting Me

They talked to one another about old wars and old peace and ancient kings 
and all the glories of Narnia.
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Bree was able to direct me to a new writing blog that just went up, Every Good Word by Meghan Gorecki.  It's always a privilege to see a budding writer pushing out fearlessly into the blogging world, and I hope you will find her blog helpful and inspiring.

In her beginning forays into the writers' blogosphere, Meghan created a brief tagging exercise asking some great ice-breakers - essentially helping her get to know her new writing acquaintances better.  Having been tagged by Bree, and accepting the general invitation from Meghan herself, I'm happy to participate!

What was your first-ever piece of writing?

Something about horses, I think - one in particular (my favourite) was a black mare with multi-coloured flecks on her hide.  Went by the name of Twilight, I think, because of the dusky colours of the spots.  That should amuse my brother-in-law.

How old were you when you first began?

You'll be glad to know I was seven, not seventeen.  I was a young gad-about creature with a violent temper and the brain of a flea-bitten colt.  That lasted longer than I care to admit.

Name two writing goals, one short-term and the other long-term.

My short-term goal is to finish the first draft of Gingerune by the end of 2013 (judging by Ethandune's obtrusive nature, I worry about that not happening).   My long-term goal is to get Plenilune published by the time 2014's tailor bells ring, but I can't guarantee that will happen.

Do you write fiction or non-fiction?

I write fiction pretty much exclusively, except for updates here on The Penslayer and excerpts from my life on Facebook - and even those are couched in prose.

Bouncing off question four, what is your favourite genre to write in?

Definitely fantasy, as an overarching genre.  Often fantasy with a heavy historical bent, but definitely fantasy. 

One writing lesson you've learned since 2013 began.
Only one?  I'll give you my two most recent lessons.  One, Ethandune is the first novel I have brought anyone in at the ground floor.  I have been jabbering about it to my husband since I started and he is pretty fairly up to speed on what I have written on it and where I am going.  Not only do I know there is someone else in the universe who likes the idea and enjoys it, this helps decompress my brain so that I'm not cooking under the strain of holding several universes in my head.  And two, it really helps to plunk.  Even on my bad days, of which I have had several lately, I've sat down and told myself that I will write 500 words on Gingerune - maybe not all in one sitting, but certainly by the end of the day. 
Favourite author, off the top of your head!

...There are authors?  Oh, gee golly, I don't know.  I like bits and pieces of many people - which sounds like Dr. Frankenstein, I know, but what can you do?  And if I say one name, you'll take that away as done-and-done and you will have got a very wrong impression of me.  Honestly, one doesn't want to risk coming across as proud, but I like my own writing (when I'm not depressed), because I get the joy of creating it and seeing the finished work, and seeing other people enjoy it as well.  Can you beat that?

Three current favourite books.

"Current."  That's more like it.  I am really enjoying Practical Religion by J.C. Ryle, which you know I am reading currently; I love E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros (awesome fantasy of the highest order); and I am still in seizures over the hilarity of The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer.

Biggest influence on your writing (it has to be a person).

My husband.  I think I would have to say my husband.  If it were not for him, for his friendship during my budding years, our courtship, our marriage, I don't think I would have the honed creative flare that I do.  He is a fabulously bad writer himself and he has forever sworn off writing fiction, but he is a great inspiration to me and I would not be what I am without him.  Gush.

What is your go-to writing music?

I've said many times that my go-to music varies.  I managed to watch a yoinked version of "Equestria Girls" on Youtube the other day, so I'm still geeking out over its score.  Standard favourites are Loreena McKennitt, Audrey Assad, Rich Mullins, and some Carbon Leaf.

List three to five writing quirks of yours! Little habits, must-haves as you write, etc.

1. I always have a drink with me (right now I have a cup of kombucha tea).   
2. I almost always have to have music playing while I write and the flow of inspiration often stops when the music does - it's like musical chairs with writing.
3.  My spelling becomes monumentally atrocious when a scene becomes action-packed and exciting because I start typing very quickly.   
4.  I write in Microsoft Word's "read" mode; I have difficulty concentrating and getting inspiration otherwise.

What, in three sentences or less, does your writing mean to you?

To me it means excitement, adventure, exploration; it means getting the words to ring just right and the pictures to have their colours just so; it means creating and discovering; it means friendship and depravity and plumbing the depths both of God and man.  It means power and control and beauty and love.   It means I am making fantastic replicas of creation over and over, discovering more and more each time.

Thank you for this enjoyable exercise, Meghan!  I hope this link-up helps introduce you to many friendly, helpful bloggers.  The Penslayer's doors are always open.


Several people mentioned on "I Don't Think I'd Know How to Dabble" how glad they were to hear that I am not 100% productive 100% of the time.  I don't mean to come across as inhuman, though one always makes an attempt to show one's best side in public, but several of you seemed to visibly relax in your seats when you learned that.  No, naturally I am not on-the-go all the time.  Sometimes I push ahead into the manuscript and feel my way in the dark as I go; but sometimes I have to "run from the manuscript." Sometimes the last thing I want to do is sit down and write, often for various reasons.


Sometimes I feel like I don't know where I'm going.  Usually I can push through that, but sometimes that sensation lasts too long and I fall back in a huff of melodrama.  Sometimes I get burnt out.  I've been blazing on too long and I need to rest.  I flog myself and the horse has nothing more to give.  Sometimes I am overcome by the scourge of the artist - I believe that my writing is complete rubbish and will never amount to anything.  Of course there are people who are vastly better than myself, and I don't believe that my writing will never need editing, but when I am really tired and really depressed, I tell myself that it is all for naught and everything I have written today, yesterday, tomorrow, is junk.  I had one of these wretched moments just last night, squeezed in between exhaustion and twenty-four hours' worth of tension headache due to the stress of going to Scotland - I even had a bit of a cry over it.  I know the moments pass, but they are never fun while they last.

On top of that, Ethandune has completely broken out of the corner.  I don't dislike that fact too much, especially since my husband is enjoying every bit of it and I have the pleasure of writing a section and showing it to him, and that helps relax him.  But it does tear my resources between Gingerune and Ethandune, and at this juncture I have little energy to give.  These moments always pass.  Eventually I will be settled in my flat in Glasgow and I won't be stressing over getting there, but this next week or so could be very painful if I do not play my game very carefully and admit to myself that I can't give 200% of myself to two novels all the time every day.

Each and all cannot do better than be found doing his duty, but doing it as a Christian, and with a heart packed up and ready to be gone.
j.c. ryle

I have Gingerune open on my desktop, a cup of tea to hand, and some music playing in the background.  I will try to write 500 words, but not in a plunk: today I am taking it easy because that is what my brain and my body needs.  I'm not a Super Penslayer, just a penslayer, and even I weary in the way.
Where am I?  Perhaps it will help if I give myself a little perspective.   I started Gingerune in January (2013) and I am 146,986 words into the plot.  I think it is moving faster than Plenilune, but I wasn't paying attention to that aspect of Plenilune so I could not swear to that.  Ethandune has its own notebook, a main Word document, and several scenes written.  I have fifteen pages to the middle of Practical Religion, which I told myself I would reach before I get on the plane.  I have already said that I have several more novels in my head - that's cheering!  Not too shabby a collection of facts.
opening a vein
I'm told there is nothing to writing: you have only to sit down and open a vein.  This is probably true.  I've also noticed that sharing one's work is rather like the medicinal practice of blood-letting: it does seem to get the bad humours out, whatever else it does.

In the end she had not been sure how to do that, so she clung to the great shadow which was like the back of a god hiding its splendour and stood with the sensation of one about to be martyred upon the seaward threshold of the Temple of the Rammerowt. 

"It is a worm in my soul which eats at me that the Earth-Master would not bend down his head to accept my light and momentary yoke.”
“It is like the Earth-Master,” she pointed out, “to not bend down his head for anyone’s yoke.”

If I told you that you could do it, not merely that you had to do it, but that you could do it, and not to shrink back, you would have dug in your heels and resisted, and the despair would have lasted much longer than a night. But if I agreed with you, that you were not raised to this and that you would find it difficult, almost impossible, then you would chalk up your hands and grasp the bull by the horns."

Mazelin had dropped his staff and had both hands around [the other's] neck, squeezing until the muscles in his shoulders could be seen in relief through his tunic. White-hot light seared through the cracks between his fingers.

Thera is hollow-rotten. In what manner does one make the dead to live?

A man loves his life and will do much to spare it. Much, Mazelin, as you well know."

"I hung my scarlet thread for you."
"And the warlords of Israel have come."

By the twelve houses!” he swore up one side, “you abominable girl, why didn’t you mention that before?” He crossed the distance between the two of them and grabbed her by the shoulders, giving her a violent shake. “Did it not occur to you that perhaps my father and I might care to know that? The devil take you!” he swore down the other side, still shaking her. “I could wring your neck!” 

"Why is it that every time I see that man, I feel as though I've just been caught with my trousers down?"

"We are not doing a ten-penny romance novel!"
She hit him again.

Horse Sense

The last time I did a horse post, it was for Plenilune, and it was a lot of fun.  And recently I badgered Bree into making a horse post for Psithurism, and that, too, was lots of fun.  But then I began to feel left out again, and cross, so I decided to make an updated horse post.  Because every girl loves a good horse, and my characters often depend heavily upon their mounts.  I'll be referencing my recent post on my characters for this, even though that post has thrown many of my stories into the cocktail shaker and thoroughly bungled them together, but I should point out that some people like Ginger don't have horses, and some horses like Adamant's don't have names and so won't be on this list. 

Deborah, Goddgofang's horse.  Deborah is actually a resurrection of a horse I invented in my youth. Darcy-coloured dapple-grey mare courser - a good gentleman's horse.

Bloodletting, Theodora's horse.  A bloodletting is exactly what Theodora got the first time she mounted this feisty mare.  She's a handful, but Theodora, who is an excellent whip, relishes a challenge.

Devil May Care, Conn Dzale's horse.  Light dapple-grey gentleman's courser.

Elecampane, Avery's horse.  Nomenclatorial jokes!  Elecampane is a plant, also masquerading under the name "horse-heal."  And yes, those ears are real.

Eleventh Hour, St. Jermaine's horse.  Big-boned black courser, about as polite and no-nonsense as his master.  And no, this isn't the horse that pegged him in the face.  I don't believe he has much affinity for that particular equine specimen.

Essence of Amber, Jennalaide's horse.  "Essence of Amber" is her official registration in the studbook: familiarly she goes by "Amber."

Lapwing and Merlin, Rosawn's horses.  Or, well, ponies, rather.  This is a matched chariot pair.  Nothing much to look at, but they pull well together and Rosawn is no mean whip herself.

Griffin, Simon's horse.  Your standard chestnut beast, with very good manners and firm opinions - very like Simon himself.

Magellan, Bruin's horse.  A bay courser, pretty well behaved, but capable of showing a bit of kick when the mood passes over him.  You could let your friend have the loan of him without trouble, but you might think twice about lending his services to a lady.

Martel, Badger's horse.  A fine-boned, stomp-about courser gelding.  He can thrash out a 38 mph gallop for a sustained period of time, making his rider the go-to person when something has to be delivered in record time.  That's what happens when you have skills: you get exploited.

Maximilian Street, Perrelli's horse.  Try - please try - not to place Benedict Cumberbatch on this horse.  Nope, you just did it.  How could you.  Liver chestnut, flaxen mane and tail (which is a gorgeous combination, if you ask me); big and quiet, well adapted to city riding, but a bit lazy in the hindquarters, I confess.

Rouen, Maria's horse.  This blue roan creature was bred especially for Maria, unfortunately he does have a bit of a temper and sometimes gives Maria a white-knuckled time of it before he can get the fidgets out of his hooves. 

Twopenny, Golightly's horse.  And she does.  Go lightly.  Twopenny is a mongrel horse, consequently she is very laid-back and peaceable.  She is very eager to do whatever is required of her, has a good pair of lungs and a strong heart, and the best city manners you could ask for.  Thankfully, Golightly does not have many occasions on which he must ask the utmost of her.

Rembrandt, Sophia's horse.  A fitting mount for the pale Aphrodite.  Good-tempered, springy-footed, ready to take charge if his mistress needs him to, Rembrandt is almost as good a chaperone as Sophia's cousin.

"I Don't Think I'd Know How to Dabble"

I have two Word documents open on my computer at present, and one of them is Gingerune
"What were you typing on?"
"Ah, good."
"...Why, do I get a cookie if I work on the right story?"
"Essentially, yes."
If I am not completely stagnant, I am bombarded by everything at once.   I shot forward into Gingerune rather splendidly for a few days, and have hit a few more snags and so my pace has once more dropped back to the elbow-crawl.  Looking over what I managed to write this morning is almost depressing: all that labour, and so little return!  (Of course, it is also Monday, and I have had to do laundry, but I still have the notion that I must be 100% productive 100% of the time.)  I also spent a little time yesterday evening kicking my heels and playing with my next novel; this morning saw me tying a couple of strands together and putting them into a Word document - which is the other document I have open.  I began to play with the openings of a few more novels, all of which I rather like at present.  I have at least four more novels straining at the gate: as I told Rachel in my last letter to her, I don't think I will be lacking for material for many years to come.  They all have pretty sound beginnings, I think: I hope that will comfort me in my attempts to keep my hands off them. 

I'm sure you are all happy to hear about four more novels.  Four.  You read that correctly.  Four.  And they are all rather surprising creatures: I was taken aback by the forms they chose to take.  I'm keeping a notebook for them, and I wasn't planning on taking the notebook with me to Scotland (space, as I have made abundantly clear, is limited), but it is looking as if I'm going to have to drag that beast along too - or else go mad. 
Not that anyone will be able to tell the difference.
One other piece of book news on my end is that Adamantine's manuscript has been sent to a publishing house for perusal.  Nothing has been decided, and I won't hear back from the publishing house until probably after Christmas, but it's something!  One tends to grow giddy over the smallest of progressions in the writing world.  In case any of you were despairing in true diva fashion over Adamantine ever making it out of the gate, well, it's pacing in the paddock.  That's for certain.

Quite the Picture

Somebody - it was Mirriam - reviewed a young adult novel and decided to throw in a bunch of pictures of people who resembled her perception of the book's characters.  Totally frivolous? Yes.  Fun?  Absolutely.  I got to picking around my Pinterest boards and wondering if anyone cared what my ideas were of how my characters look (and, in the process, grumbling about how difficult it is to find spot-on shots for characters).  In the end I thought, "Eh, why not?"  It isn't as if I have any edits or first drafts to work on.
(I have no idea who most of these people are, I only know that they more or less look like my characters.) 

Ginger and Roxane.  Saw this and nearly flipped out.  Roxane's face needs to be smidgeon thinner, but otherwise it's perfect!

Mazelin.  Don't break his smolder.

Margaret, of course!  She looks spiffing in that gold, if I may say so.  I'm a silver girl myself.

Good old Skander Rime.

Okay, yes, I know who this is.  It's Rupert de la Mare, of course!



Rosawn, of Between Earth and Sky.

Sophia, the fairest of them all.

Theodora Pepperspur - she's a hell of a horsewoman, though you'd not guess it for the get-up.



Goddgofang.  The man should not be allowed out with that smile.

Badger.  A bit younger in this photo than when I write him, but pretty accurate nonetheless.

Bruin.  MUCH younger than when I write him.  This was actually a photo I found for his father as a toddler, but the one is the spitting image of the other in toddlerhood, so I made it work.  Isn't he adorable?

Ioan Perrelli.  Sorry, Abigail.

Jennalaide, characteristically saucy.

Aaron Golightly, characteristically serious.

Conn Dzale.


Raymond St. Jermaine.  Got the side of his face kicked in by a horse when he was little.  Looks quite the picture. Nice chap.
"I see you and the Fellows of Lamblight, and I think, 'Here come the pillars of the earth.' "

The Inscrutable Character

...your thoughts on Ginger's character have made me think that perhaps I have struggled too hard to 'understand' [my character] as a copy of me...and see her for who she really is! Which lends to a question I have been wishing to ask for a while and perhaps you can tell me your thoughts. As we write early on in a tale and encounter those type of main characters who decide to keep secret their temperament and nature to a great deal till chapter eleven in the book; until 'then' how do you work out the ins-and-outs of their character in reference to dialogue, thoughts and interaction with the other characters without becoming too contradictory or confusing? 

This is a splendid question, one which I had not thought of before.  There are countless factors that go into making the "inscrutable character," but hopefully I will be able to touch adequately upon a few of them.  Disclaimer: in writing this post, my subconscious yanked on my sleeve and reminded me that I like to write big, red-blooded people, not teenage girls in high school, and that severely dictated the tack I chose to take while writing this piece.  I have worn down the welcome-mats of the minds of Hercules and Adonis; the brain of the average teenage girl remains shrouded in mystery, even for me.

it's natural

First of all, as a way of limbering up to this new thought process, please remember that people are contradictory and confusing, and while you certainly don't want to make your characters bipolar (unless you intentionally want to write a bipolar character), it makes them realistic to allow them those contradictory beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and actions with which real people are plagued every day.  Pay attention to that as the writer, but do try to give them as unstudied an air as possible.

the great man

In a conversation with my father about keeping one's mouth shut, he remarked that he considered that great men have often been those who kept their own council.  I had to agree: the people I have looked up to in literature have been those whose gravity and silence have unintentionally lent them what some people might call an aloof air.  They were not blabs.  They kept their word, and they did not speak their words often.  They had integrity because of that, which is something that is often remarked upon in the chapters of Proverbs - and, indeed, is a virtue to be found in all cultures.  This is a trait that is independent of personality.  Some personalities will naturally tend against the keeping of one's council, but it can be done.  Protagonist and villain alike may express this virtue.  I know that mine have.  My protagonist of Adamantine is a great one for keeping his thoughts to himself.  My villain of Plenilune, also, has the habit of holding his cards close to his chest. 

the wild card

Some characters will keep their inside selves secret by presenting a different face to the world.  This is called duplicity.  Sometimes it is employed to keep the character safe, sometimes it is employed to save others; I have used both methods.  Sometimes a character is unaware of this Janus aspect: this is called irony.  And this is where the real problem begins: how do you portray these two sides in these situations? 

The back pocket character.  This is a ploy I use most often.  When I have a character such as the "great man," who plays his cards very close to his chest, I need to have an intimate character to come alongside him and interpret for the reader.  They are generally good friends, or the one is a great admirer of the other and able to be often in that character's presence, enough to get to know that character to a degree unknown to the rest of the people in the book.  To the others, the "great man" may be silent, brooding, distant, abstruse, bewildering, eccentric.  He is looked upon with a kind of mingled awe and misapprehension.  To the friend he is in many ways understood, and in those ways that he is not understood he is forgiven.  This method is used of the famous Artos in Watch Fires to the North.  The book is written from the character Bedwyr's point of view, and so the reader is allowed an outside view of the character Artos.  It would overbear the book too much to get into the great man's mind: we are allowed to see him through his friend's eyes, and so, in a way, we are able to come to an understanding.
"I have perhaps drawn his portrait clumsily, but he was not an easy man to know."
The first person.  In the first person, you get a front-row seat of the character's thought processes.  While he reasons why he is being duplicitous, the reader will naturally be abreast of the situation.  This can be seen in a novel like C.S. Lewis' Till We Have Faces - an excellent book, full of inner turmoil and duplicity masterfully delivered to the reader.

Making the reader the back pocket character.  I use this ploy in The Shadow Things and Between Earth and Sky.  While the main characters of both stories have good friends, in their way, there is no one quite equal to share the characters' thoughts and so the reflections are divulged through the process of third-person past-tense prose to the reader.  There is a great deal of introspection (though not, I trust, in the dull and drawn-out way that is like being tortured); when the character does do something spontaneous, the reader has come to know him so well that no explanation is needful.  The reader has become the character's friend.

Keep in mind the reason for the duplicity.  Unless the character is naturally quiet, there is usually a good reason for the character to keep his mouth shut.  A character of mine was badly betrayed: he has created the habit of keeping himself to himself to avoid being hurt, and laughing to cover the pain.   He has a naturally spirited disposition which demands a kind of outlet, but he has also a great reason for anger and resentment - which makes the "wild card" aspect of what he might say or do all the more interesting for on-lookers and reader alike!

Keep in mind the reveal.  If you do plan on pulling the sheet off your character's duplicitous nature, foreshadowing is a great ploy.  Everybody loves it.  Drop a few hints!  Make another character suspicious!  You choose!

We are all confusing, contradictory, duplicitous, and ironic at times.  Our characters will be also.  This is a good thing!  But the base of all these reactions, I have found, to make a situation comprehensible to the reader, is friendship.  It is impossible to understand anyone apart from some degree of friendship.  It may be another character, it may be the reader, but someone must befriend the inscrutable character to make any sense out of the inscrutable mind.

I, Thou

I've had a conspiracy of thoughts.  I was having a conversation with my husband about my relationship with my characters in Gingerune, and not twelve hours later Anne Elisabeth posted a very informative piece on infusing your characters with a part of yourself and still avoiding the pit-fall of the Mary Sue-type.
If you are not acquainted with Mary Sues in literature, they are self-inserts of the author, twisting the author into how he or she fantasizes himself or herself to be perceived: outrageously sexy, inexplicably endowed with convenient martial skills, can tell you the last digit of pi, probably possesses superpowers, half the cast hates the character and the other half is falling over each other in an attempt to win his or her affection.
I'm not really here to talk about Mary Sues today; Anne Elisabeth did an excellent job with that already.  But my problem was tangential to the whole issue of having a part of yourself wrapped up in your characters.  I don't know if any of you have reached this stage, or if it even is a stage, but I hope that you will find this helpful all the same.

There is always a degree of myself in my characters - even in my male characters.  While I always try to push outside of myself (or retard myself) to fit the place, age, and personality of my character, I can see how my own position, age, and personality affect the development of my character.  Adamant portrayed my shyness, naivete, and sheltered misunderstanding of the world.  It took a lot of development to bring out the harder core of the girl as I had to work through layers of my own idealistic attitudes which I found entrenched in my character's personality.  Margaret was almost directly opposite: all sharp edges on the outside, endowed with my cynicism, my quixotic tendencies, my stubbornness - all of the martial features which, in the right context, are acceptable and can be an excellent defense against the world, but once they become habit they are prone to hurt anyone around you.  Human beings are extremely complex, and I can explore such diametrically opposed personality traits which I have in myself by putting them in two separate characters.

But Ginger is different.  You have already heard me discuss how very different Ginger and I are.  Not only are our life experiences vastly different, our personalities are too.  This is one reason why the 500-plunk has been such a life-saver: writing Ginger is hard.  It is an uphill battle the whole way, against my own nature, against my own natural thought processes.  She has parts of me for sure, but those parts are small and far between.

Like any writer, when I began having difficulty writing Ginger I began to doubt my skills.  It is the instantaneous reaction of the writer: doubt.  Doubt, doubt, doubt, some despair, doubt.  All of my other characters came so relatively easily!  From my earliest writings (when I didn't even try to veil that I was self-inserting into wildly fun and fantastic worlds) to the sound footings of The Shadow Things, I could relate to my characters.  Maybe we weren't all that alike - Indi, for instance, while very relateable to me, is a better man than I am, Gunga Din - but somehow we always clicked.  But while Ginger makes sense and is a great character to write and explore, I do not feel as though I am walking around in her body.  And for a long time that has worried me.

But the fact is, Ginger is not me.  None of our characters should ever be us, and Ginger bears that truth out in unavoidably bold script.  I don't know if it is a place to "come to," but I have "come to" the place at which my characters are no longer dependent on me.  It is my task to capture the essence of Ginger, not my place to bring her out of myself.  And that's all right.  In some ways, she is more a real character than some of my others.

Your characters are not you.  Have you ever found yourself butting heads with a character you just could not relate to?  Maybe it isn't writer's block: maybe it's that that character is more than ever his own personality and you are depending too much on your own personality to colour all your characters.  It won't do.  It wouldn't do for me, and until I recognized that fact I was having a lot of grief over Ginger.  (I'm still having a lot of grief over Ginger, but that goes without saying...)  But on the encouraging side, all these people really are stuck in your brain, subject to your existence to maintain theirs.  They are not totally independent of you and you can learn their personalities without sacrificing your own.  It just takes more time with some characters than with others.
people are like that too

Update // Interview // Giveaway // Snippets!

August 11th - Notebooks Sisters 
Interview & Giveaway

Heads up!  The Notebook Sisters are interviewing me on August 11th on their blog (really cute - with owls!): it's going to be all about The Shadow Things, and my writing, and fun stuff like that.  I'm slotted for a Sunday, and Sundays on the internet are typically quiet in my neck of the woods, but please join us all the same!  There will be a giveaway and lots of questions no one has asked me yet (such as, what are my favourite pizza toppings)!  Be there!


Well, I have officially started packing.  I was excited before: the packing now makes everything real and makes things 20% cooler than ever.  My biggest concern is that my husband or I will trip in the dark over the luggage strewn across our bedroom floor, fall, and get a broken neck and then die and we will never get to go to Scotland at all.  At the moment, all of the books on my to-take list have made it into the luggage.  My car is halfway cleaned, I have approximately ninety-four pages until I reach the middle of Practical Religion, and I have not even started on any of the Georgette Heyer books which arrived the other day in the mail.  Yay me!

Some Snippets

I don't have a lot to offer you, but I haven't done an actual snippets post in awhile.  Gingerune's main document is now 134,426 words long (!!) and I actually have some breathless hope of finishing the first draft by the end of this year, which is my goal.  A loose, tentatively-held goal, but it is my goal. 

* * * * *
With a scream shredding in her throat she grabbed what seemed like the thing’s shoulders and bore backward, trying to bodily drag it off [Mazelin]. But [it] came whipping round on her with a ghastly face lifted against the roof-beams, eyes great pale disks and [its] mouth hanging open like a lamprey. 

"Why is the bower broken, and why is the lattice in shards?"

She had a glimpse of a tear-streaked face, wide, red-lined eyes, and smelled the scent of terror. “You pushed me away!” cried Roxane. “I thought you were going to die and you pushed me away!” 

Ginger had an awful crawling feeling in her stomach and, if she was not careful, the dark which had nothing to do with loss of blood began to encroach on her vision. She set her ears back and held out while the scent of scorched fig and grilled meat filled the room, and the men who wore swords at their sides jinked with light as the fire glanced off their metal. 

Sir,” said Mazelin levelly, “what mischief are you creating?” 

He stepped in closer to Mazelin with the gesture of one wanting to breaking the other off from the group to have a talk with him. Resistant to this pressure, Mazelin placidly stood his ground. 

Gods and lords of men, and you who crush small men under your feet.” The mask lifted toward them. “Here I sit, listening to your words rattling in the cup as you gamble for my life. Do you think I care?" 

Mazelin came back to tend to the cakes. “A man likes to use his hands now and again,” he fumed, half to himself, “and I have a strong mind to throttle him. The pretentious puppy, the upstart little mercenary, smooth as honey in a cat’s mouth...” 

...out of an armourless helplessness, those were the best words for her to hear. She lay broken under a blank hot sky at the bottom of a cold black pit, an alien in her own country. Not an exile song this time, she reflected: this time it was a song of home. 

Behind me, I heard [the lady] gasp of a sudden as if struck.
[My master] turned his head to her, brow searching and bemused. “Is something amiss?”
From high atop her Carmarthen mount, the strong wind blowing her veil into blue flame around her white features, she looked down on [him] with the expression of one having caught a momentary glimpse of something holy. She released her lip from between her teeth. “For a moment I thought you looked like Eros.”
His cool face broke into the All Hallows’ Smile. “No, not Eros. Adonis.” And he turned in a single fluid motion, brought up the great bow and bent it back, and let the arrow loose with breath-taking speed over the threshold of the steppes. 

All My Bags Are Packed, I'm Ready to Go

Mirriam had the audacity to say that August is "the last month of summer," whereupon I began a prompt panic session.  My year is twisted and grotesque: I barely recognize it.  Summer in my area has been remarkably (and I mean remarkably) rainy, so that, other than the mugginess and heat, it has felt a lot like spring.  I am going to miss autumn entirely: heading to Glasgow in September, when their cold weather begins, and with the blighting weather coming in off the sea (apparently, if you want kind weather, you go to Edinburgh), my year has effectively cut autumn out wholesale.  And I love autumn, so I rather resent that.

i'm standin' here outside your door
i hate to wake you up to say good-bye

July was swallowed up in Actually Finishing Something.  It went by alarmingly fast.  Now August is upon us and I no longer have that buffering month between me and Scotland.  Of course, I'm massively excited to be going, and the closer I get the more the excitement is outweighing the terror.  We've got our tickets to leave on the 3rd of September and a flat lined up in Glasgow.  I've got my scarf and my sweaters, my boots and my Oxfords.  I'm trying to figure out how to get my favourite umbrella over there.

This is the last month of summer and the last month I'll have here in the States until the middling of December.  I'll be home in time for Christmas.  Mirriam asked what August held for us, and I found myself asking my own self much the same thing.
// clean out my car
// do a massive cleaning of the house (currently in progress)
// get vaccinations to appease the authorities in Britain
// determine how I'm going to amuse myself during the 7-hour lay-over in Newark, NJ
// wrap my niece's present, which will be delivered by proxy in October
// NOT read all the Georgette Heyer books I bought
// continue my diligent work on Gingerune
// do a test-run of packing to make sure I can take everything I want to take
// write a letter to Anna at her new address under her new name (all grown up and savin' China!)
// clean out the fridge so we don't have a biohazard on our hands a month into our absence
// get half-way through Practical Religion, at least
// try not to throw Philip Morville out a window
// find a way to package sunlight so I can take it with me
// finishing reading Plenilune to my husband
// get a whole new website for myself from Bree Holloway Designs!

These are the last days.  I'll be cleaning out my house and putting my soul in readiness.  

"Always you are so glib."
"The glibness," he added introspectively, "is a soldier's kind of courage."

Thirty-Two Days in a Month

Actually Finishing Something July

Did you reach your goal?

Not strictly speaking, but not through lack of trying, I think.  This scene has proved to be a kind of watershed and, perforce, very difficult to plot.  I have been inching my way along by 500 words.  I did finish, but I finished today, August 1st.  Close, but no cigar.

If you didn't complete your goal, were you able to make a good amount of progress in your project?

"A good amount of progress" is a relative term.  Also, while I have sat down dutifully and written 500 words before getting back up, and have therefore got my way through this scene, I feel as if I have made little progress in the plot.  Puts one down, you know.  Perhaps I will find someone who is not paying attention to me and I will read it aloud, and that person will say, "Mmhmm, Jenny, quite good."  And I will go away heightened in spirit and write something fantastic.

Did you maintain a writing schedule?  How often did you write to meet your goal?

Half of my time was spent brain-storming (or flogging - felt more like beating my brain-pan than anything else), and the other half was spent in actual writing.  Can't write if you haven't got words.  Hadn't got words.  Piffle.  But when I did sit down to write, I forced myself to push ahead by 500 more words, and often I was able to push ahead a little farther than that.

List some of the musical tracks and artists you listened to most frequently this July.  Tell us why they inspired you and how they fit with your story.

I listened almost exclusively to Loreena McKennitt's performance at the Alhambra, which is one and a half hours long, so I can put it on and let it go without having to poke Youtube every three minutes.  Most distracting.  I particularly like this video because, while Gingerune is not at all Celtic, her music often bears an Eastern flare which is excellent for the mood.  Very few of the songs in this performance have anything remotely to do with Gingerune, but I like them, and playing music that I like sets me in a good frame of mind to feel any equanimity toward the whole writing business.  My favourites are "The Bonny Swans," "The Stolen Child," and "Bonny Portmore."  Of course, I can sing very little of any of them.

Snippets!  Share as many or as little as you choose.

"Egyptian princes,” he added with a delicate upward kick to his lip, “do not countenance shabby driving. Perhaps—” He, too, stopped at his perhaps, but in a moment he chose to go on. “Perhaps later, when you are feeling better, I can take you out for a real drive. You would like it. There is nothing to compare.”

The Earth-Master appeared only slightly mollified to find he was not, after all, to be used as a target for blame.

Everyone began looking at Ginger and Ginger, responding as she always did to such attacks, felt her blood drain from her face and her lips part a little from her bared teeth. 

then the soldier was on top of the archer, his movements made heavy by pain. Ginger pulled Roxane aside, falling back as the soldier grabbed the archer by the ears and slammed his head into the marble flags. Athanassoulis hung on for two more crashing blows and then his body fell open, the bow cascading out of his grasp and the sheaf of arrows clattering across the floor.

Pick a character from your July writing project and describe his or her daily wardrobe. Imagine how this character would dress is he or she were living in the year 2013.


We'll do Ginger, since Ginger is my main character.  She wears (for her culture) very simple clothing: belled skirt (which would be pleated if she had the opportunity to iron it), fitted bodice and three-quarter-length sleeves, all in white and without embellishment; she owns no shoes.  In today's fashion, I've fitted her out with a salmon-coloured maxi dress (she can get away with maxi dresses: she's tall), a plain pair of gladiator sandals with heels, heavy bracelets, and some sharp turquoise jewellery to set off her freckles and violent red hair.

Bonus Question (skip if so desired - I shan't be offended)! What was your favorite part of Actually Finishing Something [in] July? What could be done next year to improve the challenge?

 I was very glad for the motivation which this challenge lent to my writing, especially since the scene I just finished was such a finicky one. 
thanks, Katiebug!