Thursday, November 15, 2012

the storytellers

So myths used to be the fabric of people's lives. Not just the big ones, like, arguably religion or patriotism or trickle down economics (okay. That really isn't arguable anymore). You could argue that today many scientific theories are our belief system. The big ones, I could offend anyone by keep on talking. I probably already have. I'm talking the every day myths. The folktales. The stories blood to the bone were told around fires when it got too dark to work. The folktales and myths that happened before the Grimm brothers called them children's work. If you look close enough at Joseph Campbell, we're still enraptured by these stories. Even Hollywood sometimes lives them out. We have a hero. The hero defeats great challenge. He gets his just rewards. Simplistic, I know. What Hollywood and other mass media often miss out on is the essential moment I left out above. That great challenge in someway changes our hero. It happens more often in fiction. But what better place to look than in fantasy? Or what I call a mish mash of fantasy, anyway? These are the stories, the good ones, that would have been told around those fires. Our magic and mayhem can't quite hide those metaphors and myths. Those Jungian archetypes--where these figures and moments in our lives are so bred in, they are bred in. It's subconscious each one of us share. The times when the delight of the story is how perfectly executed the new tale has distilled the old. And where the perfect delight is the slight twist--that end moment that turns the story into something it was never meant to be, but might start to be after this. Our stories are in the marrow of humanity. The fad in Literature (with that snide capital letter) is to more examine a philosophical turn or a lit crit method of writing. Fantasy bleeds. You see our meat from times past. You see us pay homage to those stories again as we tell them over and over with our slight twists, changes, and rearranges. How many times have we read Tam Lin? Patricia Dean (part of Teri Winding's Fairy Tale Series) Tam Lin. Peter S. Beagle's masterful Tamsin. Hell, Diana Wynne Jones felt it necessary to write it twice in Fire and Hemlock and Dog's Body. Mine's quite a set of twists, but at the end, all Weaver's Web is, is Tam Lin. Have we read Beauty and the Beast a lot? Have we read it so often we don't even realize it is a Beauty and the Beast retelling unless the back cover mentions it? Did Robin McKinley, always prone to fairy tales, have to write both Beauty and then much later Rose Daughter? Our unconscious brings us back to these places over and over again. Every time there is a little change because every time a new writer writes, and has a different point of view. Stories changed all the time and were born in dozens of ways around those fires. It's the printed word that has us thinking a story is one thing. Every time a reader reads, or listens, they interpret a different thing today. These are the grist of our lives, so it is no surprise that new material, material yet to be trapped. Yet to be accepted--the new grist--we are the ones who set it to paper, read it, and don't finch. Because we are not in the "real" world, we are allowed to explore concepts most genres lag behind on for years. Feminism and feministic worlds appeared in general fantasy when they still would have been stuck in women's literature if we didn't examine feminism through that particular class of sorcerous priesthood. These days, no one ever blinks when the first three paragraphs introduce you to the fact you will be in a matriarchal society. Sheri S. Tepper's fusion fantasy of fantasy and science fiction taught us around fifty years ago. Her books went on into feminism and from there to general fiction and from there to college classes. But we took her on first. She's ours. Margaret Atwood turned gender so tightly on it's head that general literature co-opted her and then put her in college courses. But we published her. Those feminists and college professors "found" her by hanging with us. If you write a book with gay characters and no magic, you still go in that special section for gay writers. Since I started reading fantasy, and I started in the single digits, if you wrote a book with gay characters and magic you were merely alphabetized with the rest of the fantasy. Mercedes Lackey has made a career of gender bending her characters any which way she can think of. And her career has been good. Because we aren't "real" we get to play with concepts that the "real" world scorns. Yet we are real. We're as real as it gets. We can shift and play and examine more concepts and include more of the "real" world that the "real" world can take because we are the storytellers. Our mythos of heros (those are female in fantasy, too. No heroines these days) face moments when the world challenges and changes them just as their readers meet challenges that change them.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

And I'm back!

And glad to see you, too. Head on over to "Bets Davies" on Facebook if you still can't get enough of me. Come on. I like you. Like me? We can stick our fingers in each others' pockets when we walk down the halls. Sorry about my extended absence. My car rolled down an embankment two years ago and a concussion and herniated disks and whiplash later blah blah blah skip ahead to the end of the summer where, shortly after the acquisition of a cat, I had a humiliating move home to my parents in mind destroying pain, could not look at a computer, had a lot of fun with ice packs and staring at my ceiling, I found out I had a new fun, problem related to the crash--arthritis. Yes. I have no gray hair. Arthritis. So an ergonomically correct keyboard, enough physical therapy so that if I ever hear the words "core strength" again I'll hurl (which is probably good for your core), I am in a test phase for surgery. I'm looking forward to neck surgery. Let's just get that clear. I am counting down the days till I can have neck surgery like it's a hot date. So I hope to be back here to play on a much more regular basis, but sign up for email alerts at the bottom of the page and keep checking back if I check out. I don't know the recovery time for my exciting surgery. So let's reel it back till before that whining started. I acquired a cat. No one ever really needs to buy a cat. Look around. There's one somewhere. Like dust bunnies. This one was crying and trying to get into my parents' place up north, scrawny and desperate. She'd been spayed and knew how to use the litter pan, so she was dumped. It happens a lot. For some reason on busy roads up north a lot. Dogs, too. I know this because my family has a knack for finding them there. Maybe we look too hard. I don't even want to go into what I think should be done to the people who abuse animals this way. Technically, this cat is my mother's fault. She opened the door and let the cat in. I was due up there to meet them, however, and the cat likes me, and my parents already have three cats and a fat mini doxi. And we all promise each other we'll give this one away. We take it to the vet. But it is a really good cat. You have to bond with a stray to make sure they know how to bond before giving them away. No one we reach out to wants a cat. We can't give it to the human society because who knows what kind of screening process they have? Then you let the cat out of the room you've been keeping it in so it can meet the other pets. Then the cat is "she" instead of "it". And you can't call it "stray cat" forever (my parents have a cat named "Black Cat") or that will be her name. Then you start bouncing around names. Then one sticks. Once you've named a stray, you are doomed. That animal is yours. So I now own petite but now fat Lucy Lui. These things happen. Now was that another diversion, or does the tale of Lucy Lui have a point? The closest I have ever come to living without animals was two years of undergrad. But my parents were near, and our mostly golden was getting older, you know. It was very easy to visit. Go home vacations. I was still miserable. I felt as if someone had taken a vital element out of the air I breathed. I mention this because I while back, I had a blog about what was up with all the animals in fantasy? I still don't quite get the wider connection. I know there simply pet people and non-pet people. Almost all my friends are pet people. We cluster in our insanity. Fantasy readers cluster in our insanity. I still don't understand how they meshed, but I can't get animals out of my writing. The one book I tried so hard to keep animals out of still has a fat cat named "Rosencrantz" near the end and the central image, the title, in fact, is Sheep that Stray (peer sideways to get a view of the book and a chance to buy it). But writing without animals appears to be as unimaginable as not having picked up Lucy Lui. What is interesting is that when I write characters I start from scratch. I do not model them after famous people, or roles, or people I know, or me. Most of them (humiliatingly, always a wide array of versions of me) get in anyway. But when I write animals, I steal shamelessly from animals I have known. Here's a for instance of someone you get a brief hint of in Weaver's Web, but get to know better in the sequel, Wooden Weft, is Sam's sidhe (fairy) dog, My Girl. So this is a sidhe (again, picture the scary, big kind of fairy)dog. I'm trying to decide who would bond with Sam, and who would have an intact personality after what they've been through together. Sam is forced to fight My Girl when he is young and on his own (yes, I did just spoil something from Weaver's Web. Sidhe are traditionally cold, nobel, ethereal, ruthless. The "ruthless" word caught me up back when I was sucking on a pen and first filling My Girl out. At the time, my eyes rested on my runt Pit Bull, Jobi. Yes, I just like that name, for you have read Rebirth. Plus, as the female version of "Job", and meaning "One has been through many trials," it fits my pit Jobi perfectly. I did go out of my way to get Jobi. I drove to the humane society on a damp night slightly after my birthday "just to look". Which is why I made sure I brought my hound mutt, Chloe, because I know in order to be adopted all other animals in the family have to be met. But I was just looking. Jobi curled in a pathetic lump in her cage. She would only give me the slightest of glances before staring at some, unknown horror. All around her dogs jumped and barked to be petted (I was in pit bull alley. Apparently the pit bulls weren't something to put out there with the sweet retrievers for the families to see). Jobi had been there for months, and was currently named "Bubbles". I asked for several other dogs, but they didn't really hit a sweet spot. I asked for "Bubbles". The staff didn't even know her by name. I stood out in the damp November wet in a patch of grass often utilized by dogs. Jobi came bounding around the corner, her grin wide, her tongue flapping, hoarse from yanking so hard at the lead. All of my cells lit up. I knelt. She got the better of the attendant and launched into my lap to bowl me over with kisses. Chloe loved her, too. They were playing so hard on leash we could barely get them to the play enclosure. These things happen. Jobi is black, sixty pounds, and her lunk head has to make up at least ten of those pounds. She knows she's a lap dog. Her response to almost any new stimulus is to lick it. She is terrified of water, especially storms, but really, if she's barking too much, you can spit on her to cow her completely. Yet when I walk her, many people are in the pit bull club, but some walk across the street. People get scared when she barks at the window because they can't see her tail wagging. To them, she's a Pit Bull. She's anti social fight dog. So looking at My Girl, quite a bit above average dog intelligence, with a history of fighting, and I don't want her to be that grim fight dog. I don't want her to be that nobel, shimmeringly other sidhe average. I want her to be Jobi. I want her to chase her tail when denied something she wants. I want her to still chase sun spots. I want her to sit in laps and embarrass the other dog and the wolves. I want this dog that should be so formidable, and even could be so formidable, to have an amiable sense of humor and dexterous, often kisses.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

First Drafts

Before I go and get all excited on my own account, please look to your right and the fabulous cover Stuart Downing has once again provided, this time for Sheep that Stray. I'm so lucky to have him as a cover artist. The first draft of Wooden Weft, the mid book in the Weaver trilogy, is done! This is the book that follows Weaver's Web, the first book I published. First drafts. For me, first comes the research. It is a bad idea to research second in case a foundation of your plot ends up being based on faulty info. For that I went to New Orleans for and got to visit my first really sleazy strip club. I had many other adventures, including dropping half my notes in a full toilet. Everyone has their own way to write a first draft. To write, period. I know those who set aside certain hours of the day. I know those who will not rest till they hit a certain number of pages for the day. I do a lot of back research. I get to know my characters inside out so that when they have to speak, they can do it, not me. I use my gigantic magnet board that takes up one wall of my office to stick up elements and scenes and move them around repeatedly across the entire process of the book. I scene sketch scenes I will never write, but need to know about. By the time I am ready to write, the book is ready to take over. I never thought I'd be a plotter. I used to go by the seat of my pants. Now it is as if I have written a first draft before my first draft. It saves some time and energy and not having quite so many of those scenes that run amok for no good purpose and never get anything I wanted said. Not to say I'm totally adverse to amok. I like amok. It is still my friend. Amok often has better ideas than I do. Hence all the changes in my magnet board. I write as much as I can during the day. I do the things I absolutely have to like take care of the pets and go to doctor appts and yoga classes, and let everything else go to hell. I do not suggest this unbalanced, obsessive manner of writing. Sure, you get good content fast, but when you wake up, as I just did, you realize your kitchen smells funny--probably because everything in it is dirty. There's some black scum in your bath tub, which no longer drains properly, and all your clothes are dirty. It's a harsh reality, especially since at the end of a big project, I always hit a low. Anyone else have that? I've met some other artists and writers who talk about it. You get done with a draft, and your adrenaline finally stops pumping and your mood takes a swoop down the downwards. I feel inertia, not sure what to do with myself. Other than wash the dishes and find that smell. I like to leave time between drafts so that I can see the book in a new light when I return to it. One of my rules of first drafts is never go back. I've known people who never get beyond the first ten pages because that's what an agent and editor will read. For now, fuck the agents and publishers and the sales demo for you craft. Write what comes to you. And never go back. Once the scene is down, it is down. Move on. There's a good chance you'll change it all anyway in the second draft. So don't sweat it. Put down what is important to you. Put down shit you think is awful and never want to see again. If you can't think of a period name for a new character, leave a blank or give her a tag like red haired girl fighter, though that one is long. Just put something down. That's my philosophy. So I am a plotter and not. I'm really excited about how this book came out so far. I'm not a fan of serial books, but it's a challenge, and I thought I'd give it a go. I admit. I was scared shitless. I read over Weaver's Web obsessively in attempts not to make contradictions. I made lists. Of how people were described, down to smell. Hey, I love smell. Smell is important to me. But once I got going, I left my inhibitions behind. Sure, I started the book with the characters emotionally basically in the same place. That wasn't hard. Wooden Weft picks up a matter of days from when Weaver's Web leaves off. From there, I did what I was afraid to do, and let the characters grow rabidly into what they felt they should become. I'm proud of that. I often find the second book in a trilogy is weak. The first book will be a strong introduction to the world, the characters, the problem. The last book is where your author wanted to take you the whole time, so is packed with fun. That middle one can hang there. Some plot needs to be put in and the characters might need to change some, but basically I often find them to be rope bridges from one place to another. And not any rope bridges but the kind of rope bridge Indiana Jones had to cross in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Yeah. You know what I mean. And if you don't you should watch the movies. Temple of Doom, by the way, was the weak second movie. So I work in a way on this trilogy in the only way that makes sense to me. I have no fucking clue what is in the next book. Well, I might have a few core concepts by the end of the book. But basically, I'm driving blind on where the next thing goes. This is the only thing that makes sense to me. My characters drive everything that happens--both their growth and the plot. I can't see at the beginning of the book exactly who my characters will be at the end of the book. Or the plot, for that matter, since they are leading the way. I can't conceptualize plotting all three books at once. For one, if I then stuck to these plots, I would become plot driven instead of character driven and I don't play that game. I was afraid of how it would work, but so far it has worked great. I believe that Wooden Weft and Weaver's Web mesh. I have a few ideas about the final book I'm excited about now that I've gotten to this point. When I was a kid, I use to write 600 page, 1000 page novels. These days they've shrunk, especially the word count. But I realize now what writing a trilogy really is: A chance to write a really complicated and long set of character arcs!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dazed and Confused Teaches Us "lyrical"

First off let me say happy Independence Day to you other Americans. If you are, or if you aren't, go out and take the day down with more than sparklers and watermelon. Do something independent. A wonderful example would to buy an indie book (cough) by a lovable indie writer (cough) whose fab work, such as newly out Sheep that Stray. Click on the lovely illustration by Stuart Downing on the right hand side of your page. As I said in my last post, I'm salivating over this one coming out myself as it is very near and dear to my heart. Today we are tackling some new, yet very familiar vocabulary word. Lyrical Writers want to be it. Readers chose books because of it. The backs of books abound with praise for what a "lyrical" book this is. Can anyone give me a well reasoned shout out telling me exactly what lyrical means? Just give me a solid example. There may be a brand spanking new copy of Sheep the Stray in it for you. The catch is that you may not use the definition or analysis below unless you choose to show me an example instead of define. If you choose to send me an example, please send me a paragraph of text and reasoning in my comments section. I am not digging through abebooks to find your text. Frankly, lyric or lyrical writing is similar to irony or pornography. No one can define it, but we all know it when we see it. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests something musical or having a musical quality. And there we go on a lot of the fantasy books people choose to stick "lyric" in front of. When read, they have a cadence, a rhythm that pulls us in. But is all "lyric" means? I say a resounding no, and take you far from our own genre to prove it. So I will be discussing how the movie Dazed and Confused is lyric. I have to give props to this comparison to a kick ass proff I had. I'd give him that props by name, but I can't remember it. So if he reads this, I hope he forgives me. I do remember a lot. I took his class in Medieval & Renaissance Lyric Poetry. Why did I take it? I had to take something old. However, the prof was on such a level that not only did I understand what we were doing, I really enjoyed it. He originally hypothesized that Dazed and Confused was lyric. I remember everything else about him. He had short, very red hair and a goatee. He wore dress shirts every day, even though we were in a non air conditioned building in up to ninety degree weather and we were at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where no one cared what you wore. Mostly we close read poems, which is how I learned to close read a poem--handy as an MFA. Sometimes he lectured with all the passion of a doomsday preacher. And he had a mysterious wife who he mentioned, and I even saw once, but who most of the female population of his class liked to pretend didn't exist. But I'm bad with names. So apologies and thanks to prof that I really liked. In order to examine a movie about kids coming-of-age in the seventies, aimed at stoners, I am now going medieval on your ass. And renaissance, for that matter. My prof's definition of lyric, and he wrote a dissertation on this stuff, was something that attempted to capture or evoke mood or emotion. Okay, so I'll give you one more hit of clean fantasy before I take you to Richard Linklater. This still fits a lot of what gets called lyric on covers. The beautiful words we already spoke of string together to create a mood for the overall world. Or evoke a tone in a specific mossy glade. Peaceful? Sleepy? This is stuff we all hope we do and hope to read, but some of us do it great. Here, before we dive into how Rich is one of those people, I'll give you a quick run down of Dazed and Confused so that you can finish reading this in case you want buy the physical copy on Amazon instead of the digital and therefore cannot immediately watch it so often that you see not just a kick ass movie, but the underlying why of the kick ass in the script and (ahem) lyric direction. Don't worry. Being stoned is not a prereq for enjoying the movie and you may understand the film's genius better when sober. It will merely make you think you are stoned. The last day of school. You are in 1976 and are going on to your glory as a senior or surviving hazing into being a peon freshman. In one day and one night, every clique in school will interface, change, rearrange or stay the same. In one day and one night, a core ensemble cast of friends will experience more than John Hughes ever had in his, yes, also brilliant skull. The triumphs are smaller, but all the more real for it. The let downs are less epic, and so on point it can get uncomfortable to watch. Now, Randell "Pink" Floyd (Jason London) and Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) on one, and more prominent side, and Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa) and Jodi Kramer (Michelle Burke) on the other side, are the four sets of character arcs that keep this movie alive. Linklater crammed almost every coming-of-age movie into one, and it should have been a gibbering mess. Thanks to careful throughlines and character arcs, it is an almost amazing dance. Let's examine a scene of driving around, getting high and drinking. Mitch, a freshman Pink has taken under his wing, has never been high before, but agrees to the journey. Kevin Pickford (Shawn Andrews), the res drug dealer, drives while the ride rounds out with Don Dawson ( Directly after Mitch's decision, we jump directly into the car and into rotation while "Tush" by Nazareth plays with the rhythm. We aren't moving at quite speed. Not being a film student, I cannot tell you for sure, but I think they did something to the color to brighten it. At the beginning of the scene, the soundtrack and laid back pace take over for the conversation we can't hear. Mitch gets high for the first time, and we feel it. Linklater stoned his audience. By the time they are having a beer bust out at the moon tower, Mitch has been both drinking and smoking pot for the first time. He's keeping up with the big boys, but in a marvelous piece of "I'm messed up" cinema (and perhaps if you haven't ever been this scene is not so evocative), Mitch wanders through the party alone. Dr. John's "Right Place Wrong Time" has all but eclipsed a faint sound of the party. Most of the time, the other people in the shot are slightly out of focus, but if Mitch turns his head to focus on people, they pop into definition. At times the camera moves as if it, itself, is Mitch. We are inside Mitch. Then Julie (Catherine Avril Morris) grabs him by the shoulders, and bam! Everything is back to normal speed. The background is in the background where it belongs. The soundtrack has receded so that Julie and Mitch talking is brought to the fore. Mitch behaves in an intoxicated, but conversational way. We now watch Mitch, instead of be Mitch. Until Julie touches him, we see Mitch's world lyrically. We have the actual experience of Mitch's mind and emotions. As soon as Julie touches him, we are drawn out of Mitch's world, and instead see the world as the world would see Mitch. So. Besides thinking my prof was awesome all those years ago, why did I choose Linklater over De Lint. Easy. When a book is called lyric in the fantasy world, it most often isn't lyric. I'll base my opinion of De Lint on the one book of his that I read that was very well written but stark cold of emotion and not much fun. De Lint writes atmospheres. De Lint writes the mood of a world, a forest, a novel. And he does it well. In my own private experience, I have found that fantasy books that are called lyric a) have very pretty descriptions and word choices but it isn't meant, or at least doesn't accomplish, creating a mood or emotion. b) is lyric, but all of the lyric is based on establishing the mood of a place. Wait, you are saying, people are lyric with characters all the time, it is called P.O.V. You are in the character's head. Yes, supposedly, you are. But, "God, I'm drunk," informs the reader yes, the character is drunk. Lyric (as I pull this out of my ass) requires more of: "Stomach turned inside out. Hand in pink margarita vomit. Arms holding me up. Andy holds me up. Flop head. No. No Andy. Tony and Robby. At door now." Thank you, thank you for the writing exercise for today. We don't do that as much as we should anymore. We don't read that as much as we should anymore. We may have plenty of lyric atmospheres, places, worlds, but rarely do we see a character written lyrically. So, staying the character girl as always, I'm calling for some lyric characters out there. If you wish to share, put it in my comments.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

And I am back!

So I disappeared for a while with the something and the somethings that were holding up my creative flow, but behold, I have returned and full of glad tidings. My next novel, Sheep that Stray, is now moving into production. It's the modern Breakfast Club, only instead of being stuck in a gym, the diverse band must do some fleeing--chased by an otherwordly mob. All the while, the group must discover some hard and odd truths about themselves. This book has a couple of interesting quirks for me, and is very near and dear to my heart. The first interest is that in junior high, the saga begins with a dream. Yes, yes, I know that many authors say a book began with a dream. This one included every core character but one, added later, pretty much as they are now. It still started in a classroom. The initiating events were the same. The characters basic attributes from looks to personality still exist in the characters today. Obviously, much of it has been changed by time, since I began writing when I was sixteen. I began this book at the final frustration that I could not figure out how to make the My Little Ponies grow up. There, obviously, time has healed all writing gaps (I must insert here that no one has gone out of their way to win my prize. One original name from the group of characters you saw on Youtube. All you need is one of the many My Little Pony databases). Sheep that Stray is another one of my babies that went fallow. In the end, it also saved my sanity. I fell in love with this book when I first wrote it. More, perhaps, than any book before or since. I sat in my room and hand drafted or later computer edited with one tape playing throughout the entire process. My brother had sent me, from University of Michigan, a tape that had Uh-oh by David Byrnes on one side and Squeeze's Singles and 45's on the other. When I went for walks to think about the book, I brought that tape. (tapes are the things we played music on even before CDs, if you are wondering) Some later critique groups, exchanging their affinity for Last of the Mohicans as writing music, felt my music choice explained some of my offbeat tone. I wrote the book in an obscenely short period of time I could never live up to again. Then I myself went away to the University of Michigan. Nobody but a literary novelist can make the word "genre" drip out of the mouth with such contempt and condescension you would think they spit out a mouthful of crude oil. I hid away my fantasy genre ways. Sure, I pulled them out and looked at them from time to time and even made a half hearted attempt to write another fantasy novel. It was college. I wasn't adjusting well. The freedom that the other new students reveled in as if they had found a new religion--that was my life back home. Now I just lived in an eight by ten room and had to put up with people so entitled they didn't know they were entitled. I spent my energy writing for my advisor Warren Hecht, who I owe a lot of refinement and tightening to, all in a gentle tone. But I worked in my narrative classes not just on short stories, but at first thinly veiled and then not at all veiled accounts of growing up in my artistic liberal house in a prison city town. I set the fantasy aside, and embraced memoir. I couldn't get much farther away. I went on to Mill's College, a small, female only underclass, all in graduate class campus in Oakland, Michigan. It was a beautiful place, and after U of M I reveled in the small class sizes and individual attention. My class mates were finally all people who got it. Some wrote novels, some poetry, some YA, some memoir, and some a mix. But we understood the strange thought processes and ticks of being a writer. The examination of the world all that more closely, because you are secretly all writing about it in their mind. Memoir was a strange place. We were still the red headed step child of the others. One step above genre. We were an odd bunch. We learned each other's most secret pains, greatest humiliations, and the huge joys, all before we learned each others' last names. Turning life to art is a creature with literary demands like no other. We learn different arc methods and ways to represent not what we can completely manipulate, but what we must carry the heart of to truth. I worked hard. My last semester I blew out my back. No worries, however. Mills had a program where you took one credit for one more semester so that you could write your thesis in a concentrated semester, rather than juggle it with every other class. It meant I could finish. It didn't mean I wasn't in pain. It wasn't the best of times. Theses, even creative ones, make decapitating yourself feel like fun even without wanting to rip your spine out of your body as well. One day as I read over my work for the thousandth time to make sure I had my throughlines and motifs correctly arced, I did a weird thing. I hit on my file off my old computer. It stared at me. The folder "Novels". An old drug bubbled through my veins. Two clicks later, and I stared at the last version of Sheep that Stray. I just meant to read a little, to clear my head. Well, then. Maybe this wasn't so bad. I bet that I could fix this. I could turn this into something good. I know. It is insane. My writing was driving me insane. Therefore I found something else to write. But fantasy was balm compared to everything else in my life I dealt with. I worked off paper and in bed or the only chair I could sit in tiny amounts till I finished my thesis. It was my treat between coffee and ice baths. When my thesis was finished, I returned to my first love. I was a fool to think I could ever stay away from it forever. I was amazed I left it alone for eight years. I write poetry. I have long and short memoir in my to do box. But, see, right now I have this trilogy to finish, and another book besides to write, and three other fantasy books to write. You might say for a long time I was like that kid with his finger stuck in the duck (name that quote, choose your book) to keep back the waters of fantasy. Only one day I took my finger away from the dike, and let the damn thing blow.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Talk New Orleans

I'm back, after some health problems of my own and some in the family. How I missed you guys. Last I was here I promised you juicy news from my trip south. I am currently writing the first draft of Wooden Weft, the second book in the Weaver trilogy. Of course the story starts in Weaver's Web, available on this site. I will not be writing spoilers other than you will find out some locals I plan to use. Elmaz Abinader, my advisor at Mills College, once related a story of an author who wrote her entire book with a specific kind of bird as the reoccurring symbol. Unfortunately, when she did her research afterwards, she discovered that the bird had not been introduced to the area until a hundred or so years after her book took place. Moral of the story: Do your research first. My trip to New Orleans and Missouri would be my biggest research trip yet. Usually I have used cities and areas I am already familiar with. However, there was no question this book started in the Ozarks (as Weaver's Web
left off with them heading there, and lead to New Orleans. The fact that I have always been fascinated by New Orleans and wanted to go of course had nothing to do with that decision. So my dad and I set off on this epic trip.
Why my dad? I didn't want to hit up a big city by myself, especially some of the areas I was considering going to. Also, my dad is the bomb when it comes to missions, and we had a lot of missions to hit different locals. The herniated disc in my neck behaved surprisingly well. Then again, I stretched it every three seconds.
Besides, in the Missouri Ozarks, we planned on staying with his sister and my aunt, Susan. She lives on the Land, the womyn's homesteading land that formed the basis for the Land in Arkansas where Weaver's, my protagonists, moms lived. More about that later since we went to New Orleans first and swung by Aunt Susan's on the way home. We stayed at a bed and breakfast a short walk to the French District:
The area was comfortably student oriented. It featured the famous shotgun houses.
Beads draped everywhere. I had a deep hunger to get beads, but I felt it was wrong to buy New Orleans beads, and I wasn't after getting them the traditional way. In the spring, New Orleans is seductive with a cradling warmth and the scent and color of flowers. At least, if you are coming from Michigan it is. The river also sets down heavy humidity that lends a cartoon underwater, slow air. The first day we took at tour bus, just to get the feel of things since after that we planned to strike off on our own. We stopped by Saint Louis Cemetery 3.
I was interested in 1, but we learned some fun facts. Like how do they keep stuffing families and descendants and all into those little houses. The answer is ingenious. When New Orleans was first settled, people buried the dead. Due to the water table, the bodies popped right back up. The solution was suggested by people who had been to the islands. A stone or brick house is built. For those with less money, they rent a much more temporary box in a wall of similar boxes. When it came time to inter someone, the stone house or box is opened. There are two iron rods, or just the floor in the small boxes. The body is slid inside on these rods. The stone house is then sealed up for a year and a day. New Orleans can get hot. On top of that, the body is in a bake house. The flesh dissolves off the body and eventually dries up. The bones fall to the dirt floor of the house. When someone else dies, the process is repeated. Now for those who had to opt for renting the square hole in an apartment building of the dead, they still decay down to bones, but when the apartment is opened again, there is no room to stuff someone else in. To solve the problem, a long shaft is built behind the apartments, open to each dwelling. When the apartment is needed again, the previous bones are simply swept into the shaft, and an anonymous mass grave. This practice coined the term, "Getting the shaft." Fascinating? Yes, to me. Some of you may be gagging by now. More importantly, if I was going to use a cemetery as a center of power at any time, I needed to understand what actually was in those little houses. For now I'll leave you. I have a lot more about my journey through research, plus, of course, all of my usual discussions.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The fund is full!!

Before all else, note that the book I promised you--the one that is no longer about little ponies but still holds a heart of my coming-of-age experiences--is now for sale to one side of this blog and on my web page. If anyone who reads the book can identify the pony that goes with by the pony's original name (so some research will be involved), you get a free be on a copy of Weaver's Web.

So I may have mentioned a few times that I want my own bassoon. It is a long standing obsession ever since I lost access to a bassoon to play my first year in college. Unfortunately, unlike playing the flute, a bassoon is a hefty investment I have never had the room to justify. However, after selling several family heirlooms none of us wanted to be heir to, I have the money for a midgrade bassoon and the search will start!

Some of you slicker readers may have put together that Weaver, in Weaver's Web, is a concert level bassoonist. Does this mean I use my own life as grist for the mill?

Absolutely. Somewhat. I do believe that reality works best in fiction. I know about bassoons. Why would I choose an instrument for my main character that I would have to pretend to know about? Though, yes. I also do research. Some obviously requires books. In Rebirth, I had to research ancient Celts. No way of getting that first hand.

The places in urban fantasies I most often have visited, if I specify them. Houses and apartments are usually ones I've visited. In a week, I'm taking a trip to New Orleans and the Ozarks to research settings for Wood Weaver, the next book in the Weaver series.

The other question becomes, do I use me in my characters. For years I denied it. I categorically denies it. I never set out for them to do so. I dedicate hours to creating characters lives, back histories, and quirks, but in the end an aspect of me always appears. For the same reason I end up using reality in other aspects of my writing. What I know best is me. When I relate to my characters, which I must to write well, I relate to a touch of me. What would make that character my friend if we lived in real life together (okay, I probably wouldn't be friends with most of my villains, but I do understand why they do what they do)

Hello, my name is Bets, and my writing reflects me.

Friday, January 20, 2012

My Little Ponies Massacred!!!!

So Shining in Darkness, my first non-urban fantasy is coming out Feb. 15. I've been thinking, maybe I need to find yet another way of whoring my thoughts to the world. Movie is generally my big bro's territory, but I figure I can handle a trailer. Have you ever seen book trailers? We've already discussed this. Pitiful. It is painful to watch them. So how could I be different, fun, and hip while examining sprites (as in fire sprites etc) doomed to a bloody Prophecy?

The answer was obvious: My Little Ponies and a lot of gore:

or click here

Now, you loyal few will be privy to what few have known before. The answer to why they are fat little ponies:

I got my start writing before I could actually write. Mom and Dad would staple together typing paper I would draw on. Then I would tell them the words I wanted and they would show me how to form them. I got a few awards for short stories, but my writing career swallowed my life whole when I was nine. My friend RoseAnna and I already had a so called friend teasing us for still playing with toys. Junior high loomed. We had to sit down and have a serious talk. Our childhoods were about to end, sitting there on my bedroom floor, my entire room made into a terrain for My Little Ponies. We knew every detail of our main character's lives. We knew every trial they faced, and could always elaborate on them or come up with another.

RoseAnna was glum and probably hating me for bringing this up. Neither of us wanted the fantastic out of our lives. Staring at the plaster and plastic Golden Knight, who was the Eldrins' (we didn't call them ponies) God. He had a whole tragic back story too, which explained his hated brother Exidor, also a God, who always tried to kill the Eldrins and the Golden Knight.

At this moment, I had a fantastic ah-ha. Now, let me explain my mother had already made me privy to the creation of novels. She spent my childhood writing them and trying to publish. I knew what to do with stories. And we had stories. "What if they were sort of novels--or two. One, like, about the Eldrins, and then a prequel about how everybody got to be gods and fated and everything?"

At 9, I began my ambitious project in a notebook covered in puffy endangered species stickers. RoseAnna ended up writing the prequel, while I wrote about the Eldrins. It was originally supposed to be the other way around.

Laugh. I know I do. But in less than three years, I had an, albeit long hand, 1500 page draft. RoseAnna topped me. By now the Eldrins were more like multicolored, slim elves. Horses were too hard to work with. Esp. since I'd ridden one twice. Also, privately, I thought the horse thing was dumb and babyish. I worked on editing that book until I was fifteen. I memorized characters, scenes. I knew when I had changed a word where and why.

Then it just became apparent to me. The duo books didn't work. It was impossible to keep all the connections between the two we wanted to draw on without crippling one or both of our writing. Plus, RoseAnna and my styles were pulling so far apart I couldn't guarantee someone who read one wouldn't have a rude shock reading the other. At that point, she was far more epic. I already tried to break the epic mood every chance I got. Hers were the characters getting married in the end, but mine were the ones having sex. She had an ethereal beauty in her words. True to my childhood, I liked to get down in the mud and sink my hands in. RoseAnna still struggled to make her book work. And it was unfair of me to make the decision without her, but my My Little Ponies and I finally parted. I simply told her I had finished the final draft, and I was more than ready to move on to the next book that had gotten into my blood.

RoseAnna eventually moved on to a different fantasy project, too. It must have been late college before we admitted to each other that our first novels were flawed, mainly in that they depended on each other.

But years later and a few fantasy books on, I found myself in a masters and certificate program in secondary education at U of Mich. Don't get me wrong, I love being a teacher. My student teaching placement kids will be etched in blood in my soul forever. But as it was a year long program, we pulled very long days. And three hour classes. I had been a great student, up till this point in my life, but I am tired, and they are talking jargon. The light is fluorescent and it is already dark outside.

Something deep, deep within my soul stirred. Covered in mud and made of bright plastic. One thing you learn in teaching school is what not to do. Telling all of your students they absolutely must bring and use a MacBook in your class--not so smart. I was on facebook more than the rest of my facebook using altogether. Everyone in class had friended each other, so a constant, second conversation took place. But I needed something even more. It was visceral, bloody and wild. It was childhood.

Almost all the ponies had belonged to RoseAnna. I had given away my handful to her when we broke off the games, rather than have them separated.

But eBay helped me get the old gang back together. Over the course of many classes, I searched out each of our most loved characters (so, like, 30). When I finally did get to go home, little boxes would wait for me, filled with magic.

As I sat, stroking plastic hair and drinking in the colors, I could touch each pony's personality. Each history. Each foible and triumph.

Of this moment, the ah-ha struck again. Divorced from the prequel except for some references, strip almost every aspect of the plot away--the characters weren't bad. I had to age them up a bit so that they felt like teenagers instead of what a kid thinks teenagers are like. At first it was just my doodling puzzle. But the temptation was too much, and the bait tasted great.

So my ponies rose to be sprites--beings of one particular streak of magic--fire sprite, dream sprite, rock sprite, fertility sprite--nothing left but the echoes of personalities that once had been.

Don't worry, the book doesn't sound like a nine-year-old wrote it now. But I sometimes wonder if we ever leave that which we truly love, that formed us.

So when it came time to publicize Shining in Darkness, I could only think of one thing. A stop motion, gore fest tribute to the book's humble beginnings. For those who didn't know me when I was twelve, who didn't read this blog--no earthly reason the two connect. Is the video still amusing and eye catching at least? How can you not like those cute little ponies kicking ass?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fairy Tales

Let's take it to the Way Back Machine, Sherman.  The way, way, way, way the hell back.

We're talking fairy tales, or so they are termed now.  We're talking fairy tales because we are still reading and writing and watching them.  Disney, of course, jumps to mind.  But our fantasy literature is rife with adaptations of fairy tales.  I've already mentioned Beastly, movie and book.  Robin McKinley spawned two "Beauty and the Beast"--the first, Beauty, being an all time favorite of mine.  Tam Lins crop up everywhere.  Beagle, Jones (twice) and Dean, among others, guilty.  Making me doubly guilty as Weaver's Web is a hard twist on Tam Lin and even Rebirth includes a Tam Lin sequence.  I even have a Beauty and the Beast slated, but I have to get through this series first.  So, why are we so fascinated?  Why do modern authors and readers return to these primal, Jungian stories over and over?  Where do they come from?

I had a fascination with fairy tales from an early age.  Even our Disney-ified versions are not the usual child's fair.  In Snow White, a step mother is so jealous she repeatedly tries to kill her step daughter.  Why were we fed this stuff?

So I did my high school term paper on Grimms' fairy tales.  Only they were originally Household Tales, and meant for adults.  The Grimms had changed up the stories to fit the every day sensibilities.  A father eating a stew made from his son being, obviously, the modern sensibility ("The Juniper Tree").

So here's the dish.  The Grimms used fewer sources than they made it sound.  Most of their sources were easily accessible.  These were the nannies and cooks of the places the Grimms frequented.  I do not believe for a second that a nanny of the Grimms' best friend told a perfectly honest account of what she told her friends.  That aside, the Grimms set out to save the oral stories of the common people to publish and save.  That was their platform.

Only many of the stories didn't quite suit their tastes.  Interestingly, the Grimms added violence.  A lot of the just deserts that were served, were served up by the Grimms, not their sources.  The original tales were chaotic folklore, based on chaotic folklore and myth that preceded it, past down through the ages by an illiterate culture huddled around fires at night, trying to out-do each other.

The only notably less disturbing thing the Grimms did before repackaging their tales--all those step mothers.  Why is the fairy tale obsessed with evil step mothers?  The answer, it isn't.  Snow White?  Her own mother wanted her dead.  Cinderella, the classic step mother?  Not a step.  Deerskin getting raped by a step father?  Um.  A little more incestuous.  At the time, mothers were held up as paragons of virtue.  They were saintly, even.  The angel of the household.  Man's better half.  We couldn't have them running around killing their children.  So the "step" got inserted.

As much as Grimms glorified in violent, bloody ends, there was something they could not stand about the tales they told, and certainly couldn't hand the high born gentry:  Sex.  We still like to skip it in our retellings.  Possibly because we don't know, and possibly because we are still a culture that would rather have blood, guts, gore, and child eating than a little rock 'n' roll (in its original sense).

Before the Grimms had their way, for instance, in one of the versions of "Little Red Riding Hood" passed around, she did a strip tease for the wolf and got called a slut by her grandmother's cat.  I love that one (another tale I'm considering adapting, once I get through the three or so books in front of it).  However, it can't be beat that in more than one version of "Rapunzel," the witch (*cough*mother*cough*) found out about Rupunzel's prince climbing her long hair because the next door neighbor (so much for a tower deep in the woods) informed the witch (*cough*mother) that by the smell of it, and the flies around the window, Rapunzel would soon be knocked up and would probably run away with the best silver.  Yikes.  That could even make me blush.

But we don't use it.  Admittedly, Rapunzel is a bit of a hard story to mess with (though I'd like to try) since she spends so much time in a tower, though if you kick it old school, she also gets thrown into a wasteland to take care of her twins (knocked up) while the prince got his eyes poked out and wandered around blind till he found her again.  Which might be more interesting.

My fav adaptation is a broad range of adaptations and goes not to a fantasy writer, but to Stephen Sondheim in the musical "Into the Woods".  He tackles a host of fairy tales with both the violence and some of the sex as each for their own reasons, one after another of his characters must go "into the woods".  The woods represent a archetype of leaving society, leaving reality, and entering a space of dream, emotion, danger, and change.  In the second act, the storyteller meets an abrupt end, and the confines of the stories we know and understand bust loose even more all over the place.  Even more than in the first act, stories meet each other, and at points confuse characters into the wrong stories.  Characters learn what they really want in their lives, somewhere in the woods.

This reputation of the woods--this is what I believe we are all attracted to.  Be it children's movie, YLP book, YA movie, adult movie, that kind of adult movie, or a myriad of fantasy books, we all strive to walk back into the woods, to retain this portion of our lives and share it.  Fantasy books and films are especially prone as the goal is so often the same anyway.  We strive for this archetypal space where chaos and learning meet in twisted metaphor.  This is why we write fantasy.  This is why we love it, and this is why we return to those ancient stories over and over again.