Saturday, October 30, 2010


I did it. I signed up. I have been shifting back and forth between my epic fantasy and urban fantasy...with little progress on either. But because the latter has a simpler plot, I'm choosing it for my NaNoWriMo project.

No More False Starts

I've seriously had plenty of these in the last year. but over the course of the past week, I've begun gearing up. After all, in order to make a novel-in-a-month possible, there's a lot of prep work to do. Because I've chosen something I've been kicking around, I have relatively less world building than normal.

What I'm Doing Differently

I generally spend time thinking of characters. I go through false starts, world-building short stories that end up in various of incompletion, but advance my knowledge of world/characters and the many players in the plot.

Right now, I'm composing written character outlines/backgrounds. Usually this bit evolves with the writing process. But in attacking a novel in a month, I have to have all my cards out. If feels like I'm composing a cheat sheet. When the whole novel comes together over the next few weeks, it'll be more akin to arranging puzzle pieces than my usual creative flow. Feels a lot more practical, I'll give it that :P

If you want to see the character cheat sheets, I can post them :) Let me know if you're curious.

Who else is doing NaNoWriMo? If is the novel prep process for the event different from your usual prep experience?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fantasy Societies and Our Modern World View

Now that I can see again, and read without eye-strain headaches I'm plunging back into reading.

glasses Pictures, Images and Photos

A month ago I had a post about my guy reading a series that I read about 13/14 years ago. And I've currently been reading Masques by Patricia Briggs. Which is awesome, because I have followed Briggs since her second novel came out. But I never could find the first :P so I was excited about the re-release.

But reading this novel and talking to my guy about his reading material has me thinking about the changes in depictions of society and how that (may) represent a shifting world view.

How so?

The Sword and Sorcery books of the 90's depicted watered-down quests, magical implements, and political intrigue. When characters traveled, they passed through any number of realms with various peoples. Think about Garion, from David Eddings' wonderful High Fantasy series The Belgariad and the Mallorean. Or Mercedes Lackey's uber-popular Valdemar books.

Garion starts out a farm boy, is hauled around by his magically gifted family from one country to another. The only time they encounter non-native people in any one realm these people are a) the enemy or b) allies looking for the wayward wizard and his awkward-but-special nephew.

While the Valdemar books carry a little more social complexity (Thalia and the Queen's Arrows Trilogy) depicts class relations, and a backwoods society that is of Valdemar, but estranged--Thalia still has to shed that connection to become a Herald of Valdemar. Karal, the outsider-who-gets-a-Companion in the Mage Storm Trilogy, is the closest the series walks toward acknowledging socio-cultural identities unrelated to national ones.

Now, I loved these books, but that quality never felt real. People don't acknowledge borders. I mean, really...there are American military bases everywhere except well, North Korea. So there are Americans working and living abroad. There are Mexican people, and Canadians, with work visas. The United States "owns" Guam and Costa Rica, so people living in those places are technically American and speak English + Spanish (and one of the few different languages spoken in Guam, if I recall correctly).

Nor is this merely because of the world we live in. Look at history.

Rome conquered Europe. The descendants of the kings who payed the Romans tithes and were part of the empire, ended up producing Charlemagne. The Carolingian Renaissance produced the early medieval artistry ...and the Holy Roman Empire. All of Europe was Christiandom, and Rome. There was such a difference of opinion about this that the Roman Pope and Eastern Patriarch ex-communicated each other (thank you Art History!:P ) but this means that all of Europe united under Charlemagne considered themselves Roman. (I have read a lot on this subject, an am forgetting the exact source but I *think* it is from Lyon's "The Origin of the Middle Ages," granted, this book is from Norton's Historical Controversies series)

The Renaissance's universal prestige of all things Greco-Roman conveyed a different perspective on the same inherited Roman-ness. That is to say, all of the European Realms, despite internal feuding, saw themselves as more similar than different. The exotic Africans and Orientals from Turkey--that was different. That was "not Christan." While ideology defined cultural connection, this doesn't mean all of Europe was "the same." Clearly different colloquial languages were spoken, even if the educated and the priests and monks/nuns all spoke Latin. There were different "takes" on art and architecture, on dress, etc. There was variation. Not to mention even smaller ethnic groups: Bretons, Basque, Jews, "gypsies," and so forth. There were Vikings in Ireland. There were the Manx, the Picts, the Scots, the Welsh--and that was on one tiny Island chain, that slowly became modern Brittain, centered in England where the invading-Angles had settled in the early Medieval period.

When the nation state idea emerged post-Renaissance, it was based on a different organizational system. One that failed to account for variety in culture, or our human unwillingness to maintain the imaginary-borders we continually create.

The 1990's saw the nation-state ideology begin to break down in the United States. With the dissolution of the USSR, the US stood as the lone super power. And, our nation, like it always does, responds to the situation--good or bad--by throwing money at it. Back then, we had lots of money.

And that was when the warlords-ethnic and ideological minorities from diverse backgrounds, which we had armed against the USSR in our desperation to stem the Red Tide-turned on us. Stateless peoples.

Movies of the 90's and now still depict "terrorists" as the bad guys. People without borders, who can go anywhere, and often have access to old Soviet tech.

Globe Pictures, Images and Photos

Meanwhile, the American school system also saw an influx of "minorities." So any white girl, like myself, attending an inner city school, was a minority. A real minority. In my 7th grade history and language arts class, I was one of 5 white kids. Here, the teacher spoke of American society and white society as synonymous, but from where I sat I was surrounded by representation of the ethnic communities my great-and-powerful Franco-German-Anglo-Saxon ancestors royally screwed. And in our multicultural classroom, we got to learn about all the amazing African, Asian, American, and Middle Eastern societies...Europe we never got to...

To me going forward, America was a diverse tapestry of subcultures influenced by a breathtaking array of ethnic inheritances. One national identity just didn't make sense.

But I loved my fantasy books. I thought, "That's what it would've been like in the past." But studying history independently, and pursuing anthropology in college taught me that the world was never that simple.

I think the love of vampires, werewolves, fae and the like in modern urban fantasy fill this change in our world view. They are the "others" next door, but also our family, our dearest friends, our enemies and our lovers. The magically diverse world can give us an exaggerated playground for a discussion of modern identity construction and differentiation. We are like these Others and we are not. All at once. The recurring questions in many of these novels (some of which I am greatly enjoying)is whether or not we can live with these recently-outed others.

Can we handle the global society that has led us to find so many friends--even fictitious family--with dramatically different religious/economic/cultural and sexual orientations than our selves?

I like to think so. But whatever the case, I think these are some of the issues reflected in modern literature. Subconsciously, of course :P

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Writing Life

Writing Pictures, Images and Photos

I'm not sure where I picked up the phrase "writing life," but it fit so well, I thought it was self-explanitory :( And it just slid into my vocabulary.

I recently released a survey, in order to see what SWS could do better. I have been doing my best to devise the best way to create a writing community in my city...and that has led me to looking at establishing a non-profit. The survey is intended (in part) to assist me in identifying what services will be most helpful to writers.

So I started out by asking what people need for their "Writing Life." And I learned the term was not nearly as obvious as I thought...

writing Pictures, Images and Photos

So here's my definition and rationale for the term...

We each need different things to continue writing. Life likes to toss obstacles in our way. But through seeking the balance that fuels our writing, improvement, inspiration (as much as I dislike that word) we find a way to continue.

Because we writers NEED to. No choice in the matter.
We might have multiple creative outlets....but in the end, life revolves around story, character, and plot.

I can't write regularly when depressed. But I also can't stay away from books or writing without somehow triggering depression. So in the end, I return to the story, to writing, and on a good day progress can make me forget for a few hours that I have no day job, no income.

But the day job, I've found, is essential to my writing life. Life experience and writing feed each other. It't like....

love recycle Pictures, Images and Photos an ideal world both recycling and life and writing will feed themselves back and forth forever. Likewise, we need particular things to keep writing.

Precisely like Virginia Wolf said in "A Room of One's Own." Which, by the way, was a book I seriously loved, appreciated and identified with. The idea that women need space, a modicum of wealth in order to write, that we need to be comfortable and not have other pressers that interfere with our creating...that's me. Maybe some people can write to escape the world, and I can certainly read to escape the world, but as I've gotten older it certainly has felt harder to escape.

A sentiment that makes me feel I need to tend my writing life all the more. I have to make time for writing now, not decide to write on an inspired whim. I need to be more pragmatic in my non-writing-life, but not permit that to taint my imagination, fantasy, or hamper my attitudes toward my work. Writing must still maintain priority, even if it must share with other concerns.

So Writing Life, in a nutshell, is how we incorporate writing into our life. The phrase indicates the place writing holds in our daily existence, but to be separated from our "scholastic/academic life" or "working life" or "family life" or "social life." While these spheres may overlap, and may feed each other, but their requirements are as different as the watering needs of a redwood and a cactus.

What fuels your writing life? What other "lives" or spheres have the greatest impact on your writing?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Time, It's On my Side--Not!

CLOCKS Pictures, Images and Photos

If I were to personify life, it would be as a greedy old man trying to devise new ways to hinder and distract. I can hear evil chuckling right now.

T.V. shows, friends and family, responsibilities that stack one atop the other. Squeezing in time for myself to read and write can be a struggle.

Off goes the phone. The laptop firmly closed and tucked away in a bag. No more Pandora. Don't reach out to me, don't see me--just let me slide into invisibility for a minute, to catch my breath. There.

I've got my new glasses, so I'm returning to reading before bed. I write in the afternoon, before cooking dinner. I have to plot my time, my days, around responsibilities and when I have an hour or two to sit alone, and pound out words on the keyboard--I take it.

But I try to keep those times regular. Anticipated. Scheduled.

That can be difficult. People are unpredictable factors.

goals Pictures, Images and Photos

Difficult isn't impossible. It makes the journey more worth it.

to do list Pictures, Images and Photos

With organization and a little time management everything falls into place...
And then, too, I have to forgive myself when everything doesn't go according to plan. There are days, weeks, moths, years--even--where allowing wiggle room is essential. :D

I will keep on going! I will improve each time. Just some hard work. Perseverance. But I did that with college right? Juggling work and school and writing? So I can do it now.

It's all about the journey :D

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What Should Fantasy Characters Eat?

A friend asked after reading my Blogfeast entry, "How do you decide what your characters should eat?" This friend mentioned that she thought the food was particularly detailed, so how did I come up with it? At the risk of lapsing into an anthropological rant...

Food is important to all societies. and in all cultures. Love of food, humor, and music seem to be some of the few human universals. But all of these are informed by culture, experience, etc. So for me to decide what some characters eat versus other characters I have to rely on world building.

The first questions:

A) where does this ethnic group originate?
B) What is the weather like there?
C) What makes sense as the "common" species?
D) Could there be any religious prescriptions about food that would make sense to the culture?

Next questions?

A) What Earth societies are geographically comparative?
B) What Earth societies am I drawing on for influence?
C) What is the socio-economic standing of my character?
D) What prestige within his/her group does my character receive?
E) What prestige within the larger society does my character receive?
F) What makes sense for individual relationship to food?

How does this play out in the story?

We identify food with home. So when characters are taken outside of the familiar, the little things that mean "home" gain a lot more importance. Add in societies that ritualize meals (my Maldians), individual characters' personality and you have a recipe for tension, world building, character development, and plot advancement.

There is more that goes into food-rituals than just what's on the plate.

Political games are particularly evident over meals.
How a character eats can reveal much of his/her identity, not only to the reader, but to the other characters attending the meal.
Also, the level of ritual speaks much for social status and the importance of the event. That means--how do your characters dress for the meal? Chara themselves? What sort of discussion transpires over eating (this could communicate gender roles, familial connections, social organization, wealth, prestige in community, what one has to do to earn respect--which communicates cultural value systems that can inform plot).

Then, to bring in reader emotion, think about prestige of food items in our own society.
Who drinks tea?
Beer or Ale?
Hard liquor?

What about meals served in courses?
how much food is available?

For Tati, who grew up an ethnic Maldian in the Meiseon realm, food rituals make sense because her people are the land's farmers. Maldians value food because they know the hard work it takes to get it on the table (so to speak) and because it is the time in which the family gathers, no one working. So it is doubly significant to a society that is trying to hide the fact they have retained memory of their once-noble lineages. Tati, being descended from a family that once ruled the Maldians is allotted more prestige in her agrarian society, and thus has had more access to food than others in the community. She just doesn't realize it. That, and her mother's reputation/skill at cooking inform her attitude about food and culinary education :P Which works for the character because it represents half of her internal conflict. Balance between her two "sides" is her personal, internal goal. The outward representation of her struggle influences the plot. As does the prestige/expectations her society places on her, and the limitations caused by being a member of a marginalized ethnic group with abilities the Meiseons should be afraid of...

So I need to be detailed with food whenever Tati is around because of the importance she imbues in it.

Does this translate to other pieces?

Yes, but it will be dealt with differently. In Kordic (where Silver Mask is currently taking place) food marks socio-economic status. The Rextians are the overlooked ethnic group, and Kyr's importing of Rextian tea and herbs for Gellayna permits her to have a sense of home when living outside her community. It says a lot about Kyr, who is a lord in a xenophobic Empire, and it gives the smugglers a reason to ferry goods to his castle...allowing their network to flourish and carry news of the Empire, and assist Kyr in planning a rebellion. So food, trade, and the like plays a different role in this piece, but no less important.

Europe conquered the world for resources after all. The settlement of the Americas was a result of seeking South Asian I think food, identity, socio-economic and cultural politics is informed (in part) by food.'s important to the whole world-building effort and should be integrated into stories with care.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What a Weekend

Sorry all! I know I failed to come through with a few blogfests. I was super excited that I would have internet at the Nevada County Fairgrounds that I planned to blog from the festival (or, more precisely, the tent) instead, after the concerts closed on the last tap of shoe and stroke of the bow...well, my laptop was co-opted for the guy's homework assignment. And frankly, academics have to come first. It's really, really essential that we both have degrees...

So My Guy and I piled into a rented car, loaded down with camping gear and food. We do this every year. My first year at this festival was 13 years ago. I've missed 2 festivals, mostly due to the fact that when in High School I dragged the parents along rather than the reverse. This was the 4th festival My Guy and I attended. (Naturally, he drove :P Which he does sometimes...)

The KVMR Celtic Festival is a two day festival put on by semi-local radio station. That is, KVMR can be caught on Sactown airwaves on calm nights in the summertime before overlapping stations squeeze them out. The station comes from Nevada City, California which is in the Sierra Nevada foothills. All that Gold Rush history :D

The drive is 40-minutes-to-an-hour, provided you don't get lost in picturesque Auburn. Which we didn't. This year. Thank you, Google Navigation!

So it's two days with a splash of RenFaire:
From 2010-10-02


Music Everywhere:

And some shopping:

Excuses to dress up:

Or be silly

and play with the merchandise.

Then off to watch more concerts:

And I went all out prepping food...

So it was an awesome experience. As always. Rejuvenating.

I always feel better able to tackle my projects after the weekend. Though I've been pretty exhausted this week...attended an Irish dancing workshop at the festival and I am sooo outta shape :(

Do you have any vacations that refocus you? An annual tradition that never fails to inspire you?

(Band was Leahy. Also saw The Elders who are AWESOME btw. Niamh Parson and John Doyle and Alastair Fraiser w/ Natalie Haas. Bagpipes were courtesy the White Hackle Band.)