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A Poem a Day Series – Day 17

Haunted Forest

Halloween

It was down in the woodland on last Hallowe’en,
   Where silence and darkness had built them a lair,
That I felt the dim presence of her, the unseen,
   And heard her still step on the hush-haunted air.
It was last Hallowe’en in the glimmer and swoon
   Of mist and of moonlight, where once we had sinned,
That I saw the gray gleam of her eyes in the moon,
   And hair, like a raven, blown wild on the wind.
It was last Hallowe’en where starlight and dew
   Made mystical marriage on flower and leaf,
That she led me with looks of a love, that I knew
   Was dead, and the voice of a passion too brief.
It was last Hallowe’en in the forest of dreams,
   Where trees are eidolons and flowers have eyes,
That I saw her pale face like the foam of far streams,
   And heard, like the night-wind, her tears and her sighs.
It was last Hallowe’en, the haunted, the dread,
   In the wind-tattered wood, by the storm-twisted pine,
That I, who am living, kept tryst with the dead,
   And clasped her a moment who once had been mine.

“Hallowe’en” was published in The Poems of Madison Cawein: Volume V: Poems of Meditation and of Forest and Field (Small, Maynard & Company, 1907). It is in the public domain. This poem is in the public domain.

Thoughtful Tuesday: Confessions

When I was in high school, (decades ago 😦 #BlackDon’tCrack, #I’mPartElf,) I had read Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann”. I was like, “Cool. This is a really creepy story with a really creepy ending!”

This was before information was so readily available and at one’s fingertips within seconds.

Dial Up_Internet

Perhaps the H & P in Lovecraft stands for “hateful person”. Boy, the irony in his surname is ridiculously thick.

Back then, I didn’t know the little idiot was a hateful, bitter, pathetic racist.

And when I found out?

My rage was over 9000.

vegeta raging super saiyan

Epigraphs? How to Increase the Depth and Tension of Your Fantasy World

An epigraph is a short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme. Epigraphs usually come from other artists, such as poets, authors, painters, or musicians.

For example, here’s the famous epigraph, written by D’Invilliers from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. If you’ve read The Great Gatsby, then you’re familiar with how the quote kisses upon (but doesn’t tell) what is to come (foreshadowing) and the tragic theme of gaining the superficial love of a woman — no matter what the price.

the great gatsby epigraph

I noticed that some of my favorite fantasy novels contain quotes in the beginning or at the ending of each chapter, which are both entertaining to read and build onto the story. I also noticed that one of my favorite role-playing games — Dragon Age: Origins — includes epigraphs, which though not immediately relevant to the story, entertain me with something to read while I wait for the game to load.

dragon age origins

What both of these mediums have in common is that these quotes come from fictitious works within the story’s or game’s universe. These quotes, or what TV Tropes brilliantly calls Encyclopedia Exposita, are excerpts from other fictional books “being used as an epigraph or part of the frame of the story”.

As I mentioned before, epigraphs usually come from other artists. However, since I’m writing fantasy, I want my own quotes from my own fictitious text. It took me a couple of days to create six texts for the first book in this trilogy and draft five decent quotes with imaginary authors, which makes a nice round number of 30 total quotes. I enjoyed writing the quotes and focusing each one on specific themes of music, immortality, religion, fairy tales, and so much more. Stuff I actually love, love, love to discuss! Seriously, if I’m going to be stuck with these pseudo-encyclopedias, I need to like it. Even a little, yes?

Oh, yes. In order to write epigraphs for your novel or short story, think about the underlying themes. Reflect on the conflict. Once you’re able to write one solid sentence that encapsulates what the main character wants, you’ll be able to start drafting your own mini-poems, quotes, religions tenants, or whatever it is your literary heart desires.

I had specific goals for the epigraphs that I noticed in books I’ve read and what my personal desired outcome was.

In a nutshell, an epigraph can and should relate back to the story by:

  • foreshadowing what’s to come
  • highlighting a point the author made
  • introduce a new theme or turning point (which will hopefully increase tension and suspense)
  • set reader’s expectations

All of these points should keep readers engaged, deepen the complex “reality” of your fantasy world, and perhaps even answer some questions you didn’t realize you needed answering as author and literary god.

Another great outcome of this kind of writing is that I realized how more three-dimensional I could make this world with its own encyclopedia of musicians, historians, and artists. These artistic individuals wouldn’t only need names, but backgrounds of their own. And even though these mini-biographies will most likely not appear in the story, this necessary information is essential for me while I write.

So, if you’ve fallen into a rut with your fantasy story, consider using epigraphs — your own or someone else’s — to spice up your novel.

Happy Writing!

 

 

 

 

Enter the Dragon: The Art of Beating the Sh*t Out of Your Characters

My toddlers and I love using our imaginations when playing with Little People action figures and Beanie Babies. However, I think my five-year-old has more fun messing with the carefully created plots that I craft for our playtime.

For example, I enjoy the mundane story with generic problems while playing with my kiddos. It’s typically G-rated, predictable, and relaxing. Or what my five-year-old describes as . . .

boring

Me: Let’s have the kids get on the bus for school. Next, they’ll learn about the zoo. After that, they’ll board a second bus for the zoo and visit the animals. The zoo guide will teach them amazing facts about the elephant, ostrich, the lion, the gorilla, and even the hippo. Finally, they’ll ride the bus home. Their parents will meet them there and take them to the park to swing in the tree house. The End. 🙂

My Five-Year-Old: But on the way home from the park, a giant dragon comes and attacks them! *Ka-BLAM!* ::He knocks over the school bus, sending miniature plastic children flying everywhere:: Then, Spider-Man comes and saves them, followed by Link (the plush kind) fights the Dragon. *Pow! Pow!* *Boom, Ka-CHUNG!*

Me: Why don’t the dragon and Link become friends? Hmmm? Wouldn’t that be nice?

(Understand that his preschool teacher has lamented to me how he sometimes enjoys play-fighting too much). 😦

My Five-Year-Old: Mom! This is a dragon and this is Link. Link’s a hero and doesn’t make friends with the enemy. Geeze. ::Link smacks the dragon with his sword::

Me: Okay. So, they fight and then Iron Man shows up and tells some jokes, right?

My Five-Year-Old: ::sighs, like a weary old man:: Okay. Fine. Let’s build some mega-block towers and have the dragon and Darth Vader knock them down while Spider-man and Link try to stop them.

Me: Okay. Cool.

At times, when creating conflict my toddler is clearly a better writer than I am. He shows no mercy on the adorable Little People action figures (characters) and enjoys making life very difficult for them without batting an eyelash. In fact, I think he sometimes enjoys it. Especially when Link, Iron Man, or Spider-Man arrive to save the day.

Now, not every story calls for a literal dragon. The dragon (or the wolf) often symbolizes The Problem that your Main Character faces.

The Problem could be one of the four types of conflict:

Different Types of Conflict

I have two main characters in the story I’m currently drafting. The main conflict is Man vs. Society and Man vs. Man. These two characters despise one another and in general the society they live in. But I needed something more to heighten tension and suspense and it worked perfectly in this world of magic, science, and mystery.

I decided to give one of them a debilitating disease that threatens her life and compromises a goal that both characters share.

And if she dies? All is lost.

Whelp. Get the casket ready.

dark link grinning

Sorry, not sorry.

Now, I’ve considered killing this character off, which would totally eff things up for the other main character. And he’ll have to work his butt off  trying to pick up the pieces and carry the torch to resolution. I hesitated going that route because I wasn’t sure if that was a Rule Breaker. Do I dare allow what the main character has been dodging, fighting, and hiding from to come to pass?

Do I dare?

After attending a writer’s workshop on heightening suspense, I asked the host writer, “Is it okay if the main character’s main fear actually happens?”

She smiled. A smile similar to Dark Link’s (above) and said, “Oh, yes. So glad you asked.”

Whoa. I was taken aback. I was blown away.  In most stories I’ve read the protagonist is trying to avoid the Big Bad or their Worst Nightmare from coming true and is successful in just the nick of time.

This devious route seems like some new-level gangster sh!t.

But it’s not. I think I was just a coward and didn’t feel like I could do it. I was afraid to do something so totally twisted. Isn’t the world already filled with enough suffering? Do I really need to add another layer of terrible sadness and heartbreak?

heartbreaks

Like Kyoko Mogami (from one of my most favorite mangas, Skip Beat!) I’ll take heartbreaks and unhappily ever afters (for now) differently. For example, in the Dresden Files series (spoiler alert coming) Harry Dresden’s love and mother of his only child, Susan Rodriguez, dies. I wasn’t expecting that. I was angry. Sad. And in need of counseling. I mean, I knew that Butcher often beats the crap out of Harry, but I didn’t think he’d go there. 

So did, Tsugumi Ohba, in the renowned manga, Death Note. About halfway through the series, she/he/they  (it’s a mystery) kills off (spoiler alert) L, Light Yagami’s rival and my favorite character!

L_Death Note Notes

Little did we know, that you’d die. 😦 

I hope this post helps any writer who struggles with being hard on their characters.

In one of my future post, I’ll discuss the importance of a sympathetic character. Otherwise, if and when the character dies the loss is genuine and doesn’t garner a “meh” response.

 

 

 

To Glossary or Not to Glossary: that is the question.

I’ve been writing the first draft of what I call The Novel. Some days paragraphs come in torrents. Most days? A trickle of sentences or phrases here or a sparse description of a character there. I count it a good writing day when I’m able to twist a cliched phrase into something wonderful and new.

While drafting, I noticed that having a glossary of need-to-know terms would help both readers and mostly myself along the way.

When I taught elementary school, there was a writing unit that focused on nonfiction text features, such as the glossary and index. I wanted my students to be successful and professional when creating their books (yes, yes, I know they were only second graders, but come on we’re talking about books here).

I made my own book ahead of time to use as a guide and teaching tool. Behold, the cover:

Japan at a glance

I had returned from Japan a few years before filled with memories and some knowledge about the country and customs. So, I decided to use it as my teaching model. 🙂 

I enjoy drawing and am pretty good at it. My intention for having a pre-made model was so that students had a goal to live up to. I didn’t want crappy work turned in. They needed to do it to the best of their ability and they knew I wouldn’t settle for less.

The appendix, index, and glossary are parts of a book called the “back matter” because they appear in . . . the back of the book. Lol. The word glossary comes from the Greek “glossarion,” with its root being “glossa,” meaning “obsolete or foreign word.” In fantasy stories, even though the world is steeped in strange, imaginary worlds and alien languages doesn’t mean that these creations aren’t anchored into reality (as we know it) or at least something we mere mortals can relate to while navigating the pages of these worlds. I think the glossary serves as a compass, for lack of a better word, by reminding the reader or redirecting them in the right direction. For example, in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, the glossary defines almost 40 words. One of these terms caught my eye — the Knitting Circle. Most fantasy readers could draw the conclusion that this must be an innocuous name for something else entirely.

Please, forgive me (especially you older brother) for not having read this series. Yet. I’ve been extremely busy writing my own books and as it perches on my bookcase flashing its gorgeous hardback cover and flirtatiously winking at me, my eyes prickle with tears as I look away. It’s book eight that I have, after all. (Gasp)! #ShameOnMe

That aside, the glossary helps new readers who have the audacity (or is it insanity?) to jump in the middle of a series and return to the “real world” unscathed all thanks to the aid of the trusty glossary. Heh, heh. Maybe the glossary could be compared to a shield because it shields us from ignorance? I dunno. All I know is that I lo lo lo love glossaries!

I’ve read several fantasy books that don’t have a glossary because these books clearly didn’t need one. The reader was able to understand what was happening without this tool. Most of those books were stand-alones and that makes sense. On the other hand, books that I’ve read with glossaries often were a series or a trilogy and possessed a magic system that was exciting, new, and so amazing that the glossary contributed and complimented the story rather than subtracted from it.

Now, since The Novel I’m working on relies on some scientific aspects and complicated world-building I think a glossary will come in handy. However, I’ve got to be careful while walking that tightrope because I don’t want the story to be so inundated with “foreign” jargon that readers will lose sight of the story’s heart and fling it across the room.

As I continue drafting, I think I’ll have a better idea of what not to include in the glossary. And at this point, I can safely say that the glossary is here to stay. 🙂

The War of the Genres and Why Fantasy Writing isn’t for Everyone! (I Feel Your Pain, George R.R. Martin)!

I love reading all kinds of genres. Whether it be poems, song lyrics, autobiographies, recipes, etc. I’m not a picky reader. In this post, I’ll discuss something few talk about.

The War of the Genres!

Publish America and the Hasty Generalization That Pissed Off the Science Fiction and Fantasy Community

Almost twenty years ago, a company called PublishAmerica asserted SF/F authors, “have no clue about what it is to write real-life stories, and how to find them a home,” are “not ashamed to be seen as literary parasites and plagiarists,” and believe that their preferred genres liberate them from such concepts as “believable storylines” or “believable every-day characters.”

not-sure-if-i-should-be-laughing-or-thems-fightin-words

Needless to say, this feud started by PublishAmerica’s needless criticisms of the science fiction and fantasy world didn’t end well for the company. Don’t they know this rule: when reputation is on the line NEVER, EVER go against a group of people that plays god for a living by weaving words into worlds.

Inconceivable_Princess Bride

A group of renowned authors got together and created a sting operation to show the world that PublishAmerica was indeed (at worst) a scam and (at best) a vanity press swindling naive writers out of their money while pretending to be a traditional publisher. They created an unpublishable and unreadable book called, “Atlanta Nights”. PublishAmerica being who PublishAmerica was or is (hey, is this company even around anymore?) published the book. You can read more about all of those juicy bits here.

On a personal note, I had almost fallen for the PublishAmerica scam. At that time, I may have been a teenager, but I sensed a disturbance in the force and stayed away. 🙂

I find it interesting that the way the Science Fiction and Fantasy genre has flowed in so many amazing directions that the hate would go away. Unfortunately, someone had posted this question on Quora: “What are the fatal flaws in writing fantasy?”

The responder, (whose name I won’t post) has his own opinions that for the most part I don’t agree with, but this gem . . . oh boy, this gem I found to be so untrue:

Fantasy for many writers is just a decoration. They don’t really need anything “fantastic” in their story, but they like it. It’s easier to write fantasy because it doesn’t really take that much research and you can explain a lot of things by how “this world is made”.

First of all, in order for fantasy writing to work, there needs to be the spirit of realism that not only breathes life into the author’s fantastically amazing world (setting), but also connects the reader so that the reader can then make connections. Second, fantasy does indeed take a heck of a lot of research. For instance, let’s say that your main character is a farm girl, and you, the darling author, know nothing about this profession. Well, you better start researching on agriculture. How are crops irrigated? What crops does your main character grow? You know, simple stuff like that to infuse realism into the story. Now, let’s say that your main character farm girl needs to travel for miles to reach the next plot point — how long will it take? How many hours are even in a day of this fantastical and fictitious world? Is she using a horse? Traveling by boat? How many miles? What, we don’t use miles in this world? Well, what are they even EQUIVALENT to?Oh Lord — bring forth the calculator!

We Need to Use . . . MATH

Here are some basic questions most fantasy writers know to ask themselves when planning their worlds:

GEOGRAPHY

  • Do you know the general layout of your world? Do you have some sort of loose map of it in your head? Where do different places lie in relation to others?
  • How does the location of different landmarks and countries influence their trade?
  • How does the climate and terrain differ in different regions of your world?
  • What are the weather patterns like? Are certain locations more vulnerable to certain elements of nature?
  • What plants grow in which areas? Do any of them have any special properties?
  • What wildlife is common in which areas?

NAMES

  • Are your names based upon certain cultures?
  • Do they translate to something?
  • Does the name fit the world and cultures you’ve built into it, or will it your reader find it jarring?

MILITARY

  • How are troops obtained? Through conscription or voluntary enlistment?
  • Who are the country’s allies? Why are they allied with them? Are the allies happy with the arrangement?
  • Is the country at war, or close to it? Why? With who?
  • What are the key military fighting techniques?
  • Are there any noteworthy weapons or transports?
  • What branch of the military excels? Do they have a particularly strong army, navy, etc.?
  • What about previous wars, alliances, and treaties? What prompted them? How did they influence interacting cultures, countries, and warfare?

EDUCATION

  • Is there any sort of public education, or is schooling reserved for the wealthy?
  • How about books? Do “peasants” and the middle-class have access to them, or are they solely in libraries– at schools and in wealthy estates?
  • Is it common to know how to read?
  • What are the basic tasks and facts people learn as children? Does it differ between genders? How about between social classes?
  • Are studies valued, or looked down upon culturally (generally speaking)?

GOVERNMENT

  • Is the government a monarchy? A democracy? A republic?
  • Who are some past noteworthy rulers or government officials? Who do the citizens remember now? And why are they remembered?
  • Is there an essential governing document (like the U.S.’s Constitution)?
  • Is it largely a patriarchal or matriarchal society? Or does it attempt equality?
  • What’s the currency?
  • How is incarceration determined? Is there any sort of court system?
  • What about capital punishment? Are people regularly executed– and what are the capital crimes? How about the method of execution?
  • What are the most important laws of the land? What laws are particularly unique to your world?

RELIGION

  • Related to the above topic of government, does religion have a place in the government or is there a separation between the two entities?
  • Are religious practices mandated by the state? Do those who don’t comply– or those who have a different belief system– face persecution?
  • What do people believe in this religion? What myths surround it?
  • Is the religion monotheistic? Polytheistic?
  • Are there holy texts? Scriptures?
  • What practices or services do worshippers attend? What’s entailed in them?
  • Who are the religious officials?
  • Are there particular holy days to note?

CULTURE

  • What denotes status in this world?
  • How does courting work?
  • What traditions are there surrounding life milestones (birthdays, weddings, births, deaths…)?
  • Are there particular superstitions?
  • What are the fashions like? The trends? What influences (modesty, climate, status) does it have?
  • What’s the architecture like?
  • What’s the food and drink like?
  • Are there any special festivals that people attend?
  • What are the typical gathering places for inhabitants of the world when they have spare time?

And that’s just scratching the surface! Click on this link (information provided by SFWA — Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) to see how deeper one can go when they’re seriously planning their fantasy world. The above questions were provided by Jennifer Elision.

Here’s a diagram of what we readers experience as we (automatically — this skill sometimes has to be taught to young readers) interact with the text:

Connections Readers Make to Text

Text to Self=connection between yourself and the book you’re reading. Text to Text= connecting characters, setting, or events from one book to another. Text to World= connecting the story to world history and events.

Most importantly, these three connections keep readers engaged from the beginning to the ending of a good book.

The Tortoise and the Hare

tortoise-hare-1

When you were little, you may have heard this fable and learned that the moral to the story is “slow and steady wins the race”, but I’m going to have to go with what Jacob Davenport deduced instead:

Success depends on using your talents, not just having them.

And when it comes to being slow, I mean reeeeeaaaaallllllyyyyy slow, three incredibly talented and fantastic authors come to mind and they’re making their fans lose their minds:

jim butcher

patrick rothfuss

george rr martin

My husband introduced me to Jim Butcher and Patrick Rothfuss. My oldest brother introduced me to George R.R. Martin. These three amigos are talented authors and I hope to meet them someday at conventions. Not to bask in their glory, but to soak up their great literary wizardry through osmosis.

But I digress. Apologies.

The simplest conclusion one could come to is that authors like Butcher, Rothfuss, and Martin aren’t doing their jobs because books are taking too long to “come out”. But again, like I said, it’s the simplest conclusion that doesn’t take much thought or consideration for the fact that these authors are also people with lives other than their books. Lives that include families, hobbies, and other personal attributes that may get in the way of their writing. In one interview, Rothfuss mentioned that he hadn’t finished the third book in the KingKiller Chronicles because he had to deconstruct it first. He also expressed that he wanted it to be just right. You know, he cares about impressing his fans.

Jim Butcher has endured a lot lately: divorce, death of his beloved dog, and I’m sure a lot more that the public doesn’t need to know about.

Nevertheless, some George R.R. Martin fans be like: “Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie, return to your Cave of Ordeals and complete the final book and kill off another beloved character so that we may cry!”

George be like:

george rr martin gives impatient fans the finger

Binders Full of Research

I’m reading 5000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox. The first day, I was able to crank out 1,964 words. I noticed that if I had all of my plans more detailed I could have written more. But every once in a while, I had to flip back to my notes, maps, character goals, fears, and so forth . . . or sometimes, I was quite naughty and chose to just keep writing even though I knew I’d have to go back and fix those wobbly bits during revision time.

Fantasy writers have so much to keep track of! In an interview, George R.R. Martin explained that he’s unable to write while he’s traveling to conventions and attending other meetings. He feels most comfortable at his home where he can easily access his notes.

I get it! Oh, do I get it and I empathize with both the readers that want the next book in the series, but I also understand how writers feel about the book being “just so”. After all, we are creating worlds from scratch. Now, I don’t personally know about other fantasy writers (besides those who have based their works off of medieval Europe), but I often base my worlds off of historical and current events that I find interesting. I even look to the geography and customs of real-life cultures and languages for inspiration. Not only am I learning more about the world I live in, but I’m able to create great plot twists and character sketches based off of historical places and people. Now, just because I may think that fantasy writers have it harder than a strictly mainstream fiction writer doesn’t mean that I have to demonize said mainstream fiction writers in order to lift up or edify the trials and tribulations of the fantasy genre. Unfortunately, writers of different genres sometimes treat one another poorly (even writers that belong in the same genre group — read about the sad puppies and rabid puppies to get an idea of what has happened and is still happening in the Science Fiction and Fantasy community).

“My Genre Brings All the Readers to the Checkout”

In Kelise’s Hip Hop R&B song, Milkshake she sings in a taunting and sensuous voice, “my milk shake brings all the boys to the yard and they’re like, ‘it’s better than yours’. Damn right, it’s better than yours. I can teach you, but I have to charge.” If the word milkshake is metaphorical for sex appeal, then when it comes to writers and their “literary appeal” it’s all about how well we craft words (and often worlds) in order to keep our readers spellbound page by page. There are so many different flavors of books! When I teach genre writing, I often compare the different genres to actual tastes. It’s like Baskin Robbins with all of those glorious 31 flavors. In other words, horror doesn’t have the same flavor to me as a space opera. Don’t ask me why, but horror stories have a medium-rare cheeseburger-ish quality to me while space operas make me think of popcorn and grilled cheese sandwiches. Oh, and a side of pickles. Can’t forget the pickles.

darth_pickle_by_star_wars_fan_club

See, I’m not the only one.

kwei quartey_author

Kwei Quartey

baskin robbins flavors

Baskin Robbins 31 Flavors. Gimme! Gimme them all!

 

 

 

 

Even when you’ve read a mystery novel, one book differs from another. Obviously because they’re written by two different people.

charlain harris_author

Charlaine Harris

For example, The Julius House, by Charlaine Harris in comparison to Kwei Quartey’s Wife of the Gods are worlds apart — not necessarily because one is a Caucasian-American woman and the other is an African man (he was born in Ghana) will be exceptionally different. Most importantly due to the settings. Quartey’s crime novel takes place in Ghana while Harris’ cozy mystery takes place in Georgia. Sometimes the settings of any good book (regardless of genre) becomes a character all on its own.

Now, back to the main debate. Critics of genre fiction, more specifically Science Fiction and Fantasy, believe that literary fiction is better because readers get a sense of “accomplishment” and “fulfillment” when they finish reading a book by authors like Haruki Murakami or Zadie Smith. While on the other hand, Science Fiction and Fantasy books are solely meant for escapism and entertainment.

grumpy cat disagrees

Yes, Science Fiction and Fantasy stories can also be a commentary on society and a way of seeing the world and understanding it. Not escaping.

lloyd-alexander-quote-fantasy

A fantastic example of an author writing stories that transcended this Tolkien idea of fantasy as a “glorious escape” is two-time Hugo Award Winner, N.K. Jemisin Her novel, The Fifth Season left me crying — not only because I wanted to read more — but because the book was so emotionally gripping! Before the first book in the Broken Earth trilogy even begins, Jemisin dedicates the book like this:

“For all those that have to fight for the respect that everyone else is given without question.”

Chills. 

As I’ve said before it’s unnecessary to denigrate one group in order to protect and uplift another. We don’t need to demonize one to uplift the other. Whether you like Genre fiction or Literary fiction there’s plenty of room for both. 🙂 Or even better . . . a hybrid of the two.

nk jemisin

N.K. Jemisin

the_fifth_season_by_n_k_jemisin