My overall advice though is this. (And it has always been this.)
Live an extremely active life which includes plenty of getting out in the real world, socializing with real people, and physical exertion. Get out in the sunshine – hike, chop down trees, box, lift weights, haul stuff, work the land, observe, discover, record, take note. I always do my best work, both physical and creative (writing stories, poems, songs, inventing, making scientific discoveries, etc.) while busy at other things or engaged in physical activity.
Then I memorize those things in my head (excellent and stimulating mnemonic practice) to write down or record later. I prefer to write absolutely alone and undisturbed, sure, but I best initially compose, create, and work out of doors, among nature, animals, and God’s great creation (the very best source and inspiration for sub-creation), while at physical labor, or among other people at fascinating and fun enterprises.
That entirely alleviates “loneliness” and “isolation,” keeps you physically, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually fit and happy (and I am immensely happy), and makes your work far more fun and meaningful. It will also likely keep your socially fit.
I for one cannot imagine any attempt at “isolated or inactive (passive, static, sedentary) creativity.”
That, to me, would be entirely self-defeating and the thought of that kind of “creative practice” both revolts and repulses me. (It’s not so great for your Word Hoard or your knowledge base or business reputation either.)
In general, writers do not do their best work in a group. The very nature of creative writing is a solitary pursuit, but without taking great care, can morph into a feeling of isolation. And this can occur whether an author lives in a quiet rural town or in midtown Manhattan. (The one in New York, not Kansas)So, how does an author, feeling isolated and alone stay motivated? How do they develop and maintain a marketing platform on their own? How do they maintain their creative edge when most of their time is spent in relative solitary confinement?First and foremost, they need to continually hone their skills. This agency has many resources available on our website and Steve Laube heads the Christian Writers Institute, providing anyone with mentoring through classes offered and great information. www.ChristianWritersInstitute.com
But how do you overcome the feelings of isolation and loneliness which afflict so many authors? When you need someone to hold up your arms, what do you do?
Left unaddressed, isolation can lead to discouragement, creative-paralysis, and a myriad of other bad things threatening to stop writers of all experience levels in their tracks.
I am going to suggest a course of action counter to what you might think. To “zig” when you expected to “zag.”
Please bear with me as I tell a short story.
Over thirty years ago I attended a people management seminar. It was a broad ranging presentation over several days with some excellent teachers. About a hundred people were in this particular group.
Breakout groups were for new managers, refresher skills for experienced managers, those at government offices, non-profits, public corporations, etc. I still recall some of the presentation material today as very helpful.
I clearly remember one session on developing employee worth and self-esteem. The presenter’s approach emphasized the need for a manager to first have a high level of self-worth and personal confidence and once they had a “full reservoir” of each, distribute them to their staff.
It made sense.
But as we learned how to develop a high level of self-worth, I recall thinking their approach was different than my Christian faith would have directed. It pointed to somewhat “artificial” means to puff up one’s self rather than anything of depth.
After all, repeating “I am good, I am great, I am wonderful” only goes so far.
In a breakout session, we went around the table giving our impressions of the material and I mentioned the concept of giving and receiving (never mentioning the Bible or Jesus).
You want to feel appreciated? Show appreciation. You want to feel loved? Love someone.
I suggested if a manager wanted to increase their own sense of worth, they should focus first on improving the worth of others.
The stunned silence around the table combined with the apparent appearance of antlers growing from my head (based on the looks I received) proved I was suggesting a foreign concept.
Of course, as believers we do give from our abundance as God has lavished his grace on us, allowing us all to give others grace from his overflowing supply. But I felt this level of theological discussion was too much for this particular business seminar!
So I just kept it simple at the “Give much, receive much” level, which was confusing to anyone committed to a “Get first, give a little” strategy.
Let’s consider author isolation in a similar counter-intuitive manner:
If you need encouragement, encourage another writer. Read the books of people you have met at conferences and correspond with them.
If you need mentoring, start by mentoring young writers (middle school students are a good start). You don’t need an MFA to mentor a twelve year old in creativity. Teaching is the best form of learning.
Register and attend a writer’s conference with the specific purpose of seeking out an isolated, discouraged writer (even if you are one) and offer to be their accountability/encouragement partner. (As opposed to going to a conference looking for someone to do this for you.)
Help another writer establish their author-marketing platform.
Help shape someone else’s work.
Start a writer’s group and devote yourself to others’ growth.
Start a creative writing group at your public library.
Start a writing group in your church.
Connect with homeschooler groups to discuss creative writing.
Recommend other authors’ books to your friends.
When you spend time helping someone else, your own writing,
creativity, sense of purpose and value improve exponentially.
The more you focus solely on yourself, the less you will grow.
So how do you overcome the dreaded Isolated Author Syndrome?
“You ask me how I know this and I can only tell you what I’ve seen.
High Fortune came upon me like a silent serpent, slithering from behind in such a stealthy manner as to conceal his true intent and to scarcely warrant my attention.
Low Fortune approached me like a titled lord, resplendent all in showy pomp and decorative circumstance, attired in the lofty regalia of finely whispered shadows spun from venomous spider silks.
Low Fortune is, you see my friend, the King of Seeming and the Prince of Cunning Craft yet I advise you eschew his long seducing and ever seductive company. For his court is all fantastic façade and fraudulent fashion and his manner and his manor are both estates of ruin.
High Fortune, on the other hand, wears no glittered crown of kingship nor rankish robes of high office nor encrusted jewels of state, he is as plain of face, as rough-built by effort, and as quiet in nature as if stable bred. Yet if on turning round by chance or calculation you find him standing nearby then reach out your hand quickly and grasp him in so firm a hold that he cannot escape, and never let him go until he promises to bless you as his friend.
Leave Low Fortune, brother, where he dwells, even if he home in temple renown or palace grand, for he is the sure slum-lord of soon-to-be sad misdeeds and the master of all unenviable fools.
Instead set your watch and wait patiently for High Fortune, for one day he will approach you in sly disguise, silent and unannounced, to see what can be made of you if you will ever dare. For he is your steadfast, stalwart, and subtle Friend and the Maker of that Fortune you truly seek.
Low Fortune churns like stormy waves, he ebbs and flows and never settles ought. High Fortune stands alone and trembles not, he shelters and secures all Men of Enterprise.”
Since the beginning of this year I have been in one of the most productive periods/phases of my entire life as far as the creation of poems, songs, short stories, novels, scripts, and other literary works are concerned. I have recently produced hundreds of pages of new works.
Above is a section of my novel series the Kithariune. In this passage the Welsh Bard Larmaegeon is trying to explain the difference(s) between High and Low Fortune to his friend and companion, the Spanish Paladin Edimios. And why he should wait upon the one and avoid the other.
Over the weekend I started a new fictional short story. A fantasy of sorts, you might say. This is the first draft. I have made no editorial corrections at all. I thought it would make an interesting experiment for others to see regarding how a short story develops over time and is edited, corrected, revised, etc.
I did not type this by the way. Because of my previously broken wrist my youngest daughter now does most of my typing. (My oldest daughter is already in college.) I write in longhand, she types. I owe her much for that, and I pay her, though it is also part of the life and practical and market skills development section of her homeschooling studies.
Since this story involves a mysterious stranger that the main character entertains and travels with from time to time (I had plotted that into the story from the beginning of my sketches for the work) and a Journey I decided to also link this to the Daily Prompt on WordPress for today
I will not be posting the entire story here, once it is completed, because I plan to publish it. But the section included here, when I make the necessary editorial corrections and revisions, that I will post later.
The story will also contain within it the poem, He Who Goes Alone. Which I actually wrote for a different purpose but last night I realized fit this story so acutely that I decided to include it as part of the story.
Ladies and gentlemen I give you The Last True Man. (And although he is not really a man, he is True to the end.)
THE LAST TRUE MAN
He lived alone. Once he had a wife, and a son and two daughters. Only one daughter had survived his thirty-third birthday. By that time he was too badly wounded to care for her and had been made permanently lame. Being unable to care for her properly, and his recuperation taking years, he had given her over to the care of his former wife’s sister. He still saw his daughter and her children occasionally, and treated her kindly though she was often in awe and afraid of him. But she did not know who he truly was. To her, as to everyone else, he was simply the old hermit who almost never spoke.
Now he was eighty-seven. Though he did not appear so, nor did he move like an old man. Nevertheless he was still partially lame from the wounds he had received as a young man. For even in his heart, as in his body, some wounds remained and never fully closed such as those injuries and wrongs that claimed the life of his wife, son, and oldest daughter.
So he lived alone. Alone among a set of ancient weathered, discolored, wan stone and marble ruins. Ruins left by a long dead and vanquished race, all of their works toppled and reclaimed by the forest, all except those he kept as a forlorn home and temple of remembrance. Yet to him it was not forlorn or even a ruin. It was the wreckage of another age he had reclaimed for himself. He who went alone.
The ruins stood beyond the horizon of the village in which his daughter dwelt. Though not far. They did not have to stand afar off for all manner of men shunned those ruins and the surrounding landscape, considering them accursed and haunted. None ventured there and aside from young boys filled with that spirit of adventure and exploration that sometimes overwhelms and possesses them view ever came within close sight, to almost all it was a place more imagined than ever observed.
Except to him. Despite the many pitfalls and the shifting rot and the persistent decay that nature worked upon the ancient place he knew it well and almost completely. He even knew of most of the most desolate and new long buried areas. He also dwelt at peace with all but a few of the surrounding creatures, be they large, small, tame, wild, fierce, or gigantic and fearsome.
His means were simple, his desires few, his quaint and modest satisfactions many in his deserted home, and his dwelling austere. He spent his days wandering, exploring and mapping the wide ruins in which he lived, drawing, sketching, mapping, writing and cataloging all he discovered. Many days he would also explore the nearby forest, visiting or entertaining creatures as they would accommodate him, or he they. At dawn he would pray, at sunset sing. At night he would take the telescope he had fashioned for himself and watch the moon and stars.
Sometimes at night he would also sit long in meditation, contemplation, or within the various memory palaces he had created in his own mind so that he could commiserate with the ghosts of his dead family and friends. In this way he would sometimes slip happily into dream and melancholy would leave him until he again awoke. When it might or might not return to him like an unreliable and unpredictable friend.
Or was friend the right word? Maybe Melancholy was his interrogator of habit, like Death was the companion of his more somber dreams and troubled visions. He was never really sure where he actually stood with the steady companions of his loneliness and exile. He only knew that he knew them well, and that they knew him as he truly was. In the center of his inmost soul.
His most steady companion however was his huge dog which so resembled a small bear in size and shape and appearance that some men took it for a strangely colored and tame bear and nicknamed him “Uroldas” or “Bear-Father.”
He built a dwelling of the old stones of what he surmised to have been the still standing remains of an ancient tower attached to the ruins of what was possibly an old wall or gate mount. Indeed he called it his tower and it was there stories tall, consisting of four levels all together, including the level he had dug underground for storage. His tower was part home, part hermitage, part-forge, (for he also worked his own metals and artifacts) and part observatory, and he named it Caerloron, after his dead son.
Occasionally he was visited at dusk, at dawn, or late at night by a mysterious figure in simple robes and a deep blue prayer shawl who would entertain him, or who he would entertain, and often during such visits they would talk long and in a familiar, friendly fashion. Though none else saw this odd visitor for two reasons; he would never approach if the man was otherwise occupied, and secondly due to the isolation and uncanniness of the old man’s dwelling. Which kept almost everyone else at bay in any case.
The man possessed a strange drinking vessel as well. An almost eerily peculiar cup he had recovered from a trove deep in the city, craftily contrived, decorated with bizarre devices and the cryptic letters of a long dead language. For in the future, many centuries hence it was whispered this cup never went dry, but that was just a rumor yet to be born. As for the man when he had first found the cup he had inscribed it with his name, Aelone. St that time he was still a young man and called himself by his name. in the years that followed everyone else forgot his name, and even who he had once been and so he took to himself, “me.” Or “I.”
My wife arrived home from a trip to the beach on July the First. The next morning we had get home sex. She went to sleep afterwards but I got up and wrote the following poem.
I like the poem a lot but I am having difficulty naming it. I like these potential names/titles: Rich Everafter, Those Treasures Within, The Labors of Love, The Harvest of Human Labors, or Sweat of Our Love.
If you have a preference among those or would like to make your own suggestion then feel free to do so. I look forward to reading your ideas.
Here is the poem. Let me know what you think, and what you would call it.
My wife’s body is naked and soft like broken ground
My wife’s body smells rich like fertile soil
My wife’s body is dark and moist like morning loam the restless Meander has watered at sunrise
I think that I shall plow her deeply again when she wakes and see what treasures within us both lie hid
Like the open fields of tended Pharos or the silty banks of the flooded Nile we shall suddenly sprout silver and salt and bare fecund Earth overflowing with milk and honey and blood dark wine and rampant wild oats and thus shall we feed ourselves a lifetime on the harvest of our human labors and the sweat of our love
My wife’s body is naked
My body is naked
Now shall we again labor in earnest, produce in abundance, and be rich everafter…
Well, it ain’t really a Tale for Tuesday, but it is a tale about how you should tell what you can’t really tell when you try. Not in words, anyway…
Poetry involves the minute manipulation of words in such a way that they are constantly and subtly altered in definition, either so that they take on a broader and more flexible implication than they have ever possessed before, or so that they take on a more narrow and peculiar resolution in terminology than they have ever before possessed.
Do this wisely and well and with patient and practiced craft and you will be considered a master of phrasing and sound, perhaps even possessed of real poetic genius. Do this sloppily or shoddily and in haste and without regard for the demands of true meaning in language and you will be considered a mere dilettante or perhaps even a hapless hack.
“And who, my father, deprives us of our better selves that when account is finally made of our inner and truest natures any other than we alone may be said to be the author of our tale and the shape-makers of our very souls?
Seek not to deprive me of my deeds and I will not deprive you of the Just outcome of your every act, for Zeus you are a god all told, but I am Fate Itself. You hold me no more in thrall and now all your thunderbolts are spent yet here I stand uncowed to judge you as you are.
Shall we then commence? Lay naked upon the altar of the autocrat all your countless sins and offenses dark?
Well then all we need do is look into the dim mirrors of your eyes and there we will find all you thought you might hide from Justice, Truth, and Time, but never will.
You can deprive mortal men for an untold age of what is most Just, but no one rightly can deprive the world of what must yet come. And what comes now is your judgment,and your overthrow!”
Herakles to Zeus, from my play Herakles and Aphrodyte
I began this poem around noon as a response to today’s Daily Postprompt on Voyage. I got two stanzas in and then my daughters needed my help and then someone working with me on one of my start-ups demanded my attention and so therefore I have had to leave it at this point. I apologize but that kinda thing happens in life.
I intend to finish it but cannot do so at the moment. I hope you enjoy it nonetheless, and have a good day folks…
TO PORT OUR HOME, TO STARBOARD STILL UNKNOWN
To port was home, to starboard unknown foreign seas, and
Lands bespoken of in dream, where endless roam great beasts
Not seen since man was in the cradle of his mother’s shore
The stars still young and uncertain in their unfixed course
Across the skies of night still bright with constellated myth
Prodigious like the unseen figures which grappled in the dark
Around the moon’s white lantern in desperate search of a world
So new, so full of wonder, that no other home would do,
Not, at least, to the Daring
To port is home but on every other course the waves break
Upon a soil unsown with the tares and tears that common habit
Bestrew along the Earth we know so well by mundane states
Unchallenged in their broad decay and rush to ruin
Across the fields of ancient countries whose ground is salted
With the misery of crawling empires and rotting kingdoms
Made of man beneath the shadow of what is most foul within him
So old, so full of apathy, that no such home can seem true
Not, at least, to the Wise…
Lately I have been doing a lot of what I call Cross-Over Work.
In this case I mean by saying that I have been doing a lot of work that cross-fertilizes itself in other works I am simultaneously creating. For instance I might be writing one novel and a particular scene or bit of dialogue I create will inspire another scene or piece of dialogue in another book or novel I am working on.
Though such things are not necessarily related to or limited to my various fiction writings. I might be drawing a map or making a sketch, designing something, working on a start-up project, developing an invention, writing a poem or song lyrics, or writing a novel or a non-fiction book and all of these things, or others, might give me an idea for another work I’m currently pursuing.
So today, and below (and in allusion to my previous post on actors), I am posting some of my latest Cross-Over Work. Little vignettes, or to be more accurate, often just little snippets (bits of dialogue, sections of scenes, sketch notes, etc.) of various Works I am creating and pursuing at this time.
Does your Work cross over in this way, from one work to another?
If so then feel free to comment below.
NOT A FAIR FIGHT
“Again I don’t get it. Take one shot at your actual target and three at yourself… don’t seem like much of a fair fight to me.”
From my Western The Lettered Men
“Not every possibility is true, that’s certainly true, but every possibility is always a clue – to something other than itself. If you keep forgetting that then it’s very possible the Truth will entirely escape you. And if it does then what other possibilities really matter?”
From The Detective Steinthal
“True darkness obscures. Few things can thrive in perpetual shade but those things that can definitely always wish to remain hidden. That is, until they are ready to be discovered. For reasons of their own.”
From The Detective Steinthal
“It is always best to hunt in silence.”
The Detective Steinthal
YOUR TRAINING IS OVER
“What are you training for kid? To train forever? Now who wants that kinda shit anyway? Only officers and politicians, that’s who. No, you get your ass in the fight. You’ve trained long enough. Time to be somebody.”
From Snyder’s Spiders
“And how now is your wound?”
“It itches fiercely, it hurts mightily, it swells darkly, but it bleeds freely and cleanly. It is good that it bleeds so and thus I will not complain of the other things. But if you have any more of that strange brew you drink then I will not complain of a skin full of that either.”
“I have not a skin, but I can manage a cup.”
“Then so can I…”
Suegenius describing to Fhe Fhissegrim the condition of his wound
From my fantasy The Kithariune (The Basilegate)
A RARE AND WONDROUS FEAT
“If you cannot stand up to your own old man then you will never stand up to anyone. If you can stand up to your own old man then you can stand up to anyone else, and everyone else.
If your old man ever forces you to rebel against him then do not hate him for it, respect him for it. He has done more for you in that regard, as regards the development of your actual manhood, than any other thing anyone else could ever do for you in the world. That man who forces his son into rebellion has bred a man. You owe such a father an enormous and generous debt.
That father who always insists his son obey him, right or wrong, has bred a mere and helpless and fearful slave. You owe that father your utter disdain and yourself nothing but shame for your own endless submission.
Drink to your father Edomios. Drink long and deep. He has bred a man in you. A man who can stand upright and unafraid. A rare and wondrous feat in our age.
Maybe in any age.”
Marsippius Nicea the Byzantine Commander of the Basilegate explaining to Edomios the Spanish Paladin why he owes his father a debt of manhood
From The Kithariune
THAT WAY YOU SPEAK
When Michael first lands in Thaumaturgis he is met by Harmonius Hippostatic who makes fun of the way he speaks and tries to explain to Michael where he is, and what life is like in the Lands. Michael does not at first speak in verse, but speaks in prose, but as he stays longer and longer in the land of Thaumaturgis he also comes to speak in metered, rhyming verse.
Harmonius: That way you speak, it’s quite a feat
But it will never do,
No meter, rhyme or rhythm,
It’s really quite obtuse.
Michael: Where am I?
Harmonius: Why this is Thaumaturgis,
Don’t you know your lands?
It’s one of the three countries,
Not earth, not stone, not sand.
No one’s ever figured
How it got this way
Tomorrow is the same as now
It’s always been that way.
If want you life miraculous
It’s really quite so marvelous
And never, ever dull.
But one thing in this country
You really must avoid
Speaking words in plain old prose
Is what will most annoy,
So put on your best rhyming
Your metered rhythm too
Don’t dally up a worthwhile speech
Without so much ado,
Be mannered in your speaking
Poetic when you talk
Or everyone will soon declare Your words taste just like chalk
The other day someone asked my advice on how to conduct myself as a writer. Or actually, to be more accurate, my advice on how they might better conduct themselves as a writer based on my prior experiences. Since writing is basically a “lonesome occupation” requiring a great deal of commitment, isolation (to a degree I’ll explain momentarily), focus, determination, self-discipline, and real work. They were having trouble dealing with the “lonesome” part of the occupation.
I repeat my advice to them here in the case this assists anyone else. Of course this advice could just as easily apply to artists, inventors, poets, songwriters, and even (to some extent) entrepreneurs of all kinds (all of which I am) with but a few minor modifications. So this is my Highmoot for this Wednesday.
THIS IS MY ADVICE
This is my advice after having worked for myself for decades. I’m about evenly matched between being an introvert and being an extrovert. I too do my very best work alone. However I prime myself by going out and observing people. Going to places that are active, like labs, industrial complexes, malls, museums, libraries, city streets, performances, college campuses, Vadding, to shops, exploring other towns, theaters, etc.
I do this for a day or two about once every two to three weeks. Although depending on my work schedule I may not be able to do it but once a month. Nevertheless I do this as much as I can and regularly schedule such things.
(Aside:One place though I never go to is coffee shops. Everyone there is on their computers or cell phones and the interactions are limited and about all you see anyone doing is staring at a screen. Coffee shops are, for the most part, horrible and pretentious work environments, with people tending to merely congregate together in order to appear to be working, when in fact they are not truly working – they are seeking to socially escape real work by the public appearance of a displayed but primarily unreal act of “business.” On this point I entirely agree with Hemingway, coffee shops and cafes are the very worst places to do any actual and real work, though they give the plastic social facade of appearing to be busy.
The very same can be said to be true about coffee shops as “observation posts” on true human behavior. The types of human behavior evidenced in most coffee shops is unnatural, artificial, pretentious, deceptive, and rehearsed. People in coffee shops and cafes are extremely aware that they are being observed, indeed this is one reason so many go there, to observe and be observed (in a sort of pre-approved, socially accepted and promoted play-act), in the place of actually working. I almost never trust the close observations of human behavior I make of people in such environments. Such behaviors tend to be no more “real” than the work supposedly occurring in such places, and just as artificial as the plastic illuminated screens they seem so utterly devoted to, and the technological implements they are eagerly seen to be worshiping. My advice is to skip such places entirely if you can and go rather to where real work can be done and you can make true observations about actual behaviors, be those human or animal. Places like I mentioned above. End Aside.)
Then I come home and my mind and soul are primed with observations and ideas and stories and poetry and songs and invention concepts and business proposals.
When I’m at home and working, and tire, or am bored, then I go outside and clear land, hike in the woods, explore the nearby lands (I live out in the country), go fishing, track and observe animals, climb trees, cut down trees, cut the grass, etc. I said I do my best work alone, but actually I do my best work alone while doing something physical, and then I work in my head as I labor. Both because it is excellent practice to work in your head as you labor (the bodily labor frees the mind to wander and work) and because working while you labor is an excellent Mnemonics Technique. Sometimes I’ll write entire poems, songs, scenes from my novels, sections of business plans, create prototype inventions in my head, etc., then memorize the same and store them in Agapolis, my Memory City as I am physically laboring and only after I quit and go back into the house will I write down what I created.
I know modern people are not big on memory or Mnemonic Techniques (so much the shame for them), but I learned such things from the Ancients and the Medievals and if you ask me a superb memory and good control over your own memory is a far better set of skills and capabilities for a writer (or most anyone) to possess than a thousand cell phones or a hundred laptops or tablets or even a dozen internets. A good memory increases not only your overall intelligence but is fundamental to establishing, developing, and properly employing an excellent vocabulary. So practice writing or creating first in your head (after all you can do such things even when you have no access to even pen and paper), then fully memorize what you do, and only then write it down. Such exercises are not only important to do (because of what I mentioned above), but will pay many dividends in any of your creative endeavours and enterprises. Rely not just upon mere technology for your best creations and for your most important works, but rather upon what you most deeply impress upon your own mind and soul. That is both where creation begins and where it will be properly shaped and forged and worked into worthwhile and well-crafted final products.
I don’t know if this helps you any in your own creative enterprises but my advice is go out at least once a month, or as often as you need it, and do nothing but observe and generate new ideas. Then let them ruminate and percolate through you and within you.
If you thereafter feel all cramped up and unable to work smoothly then do something strenuous and physical outside. The labor will do you good and also set our mind free to wander. Then when you are primed and relaxed go to work.
To simplify to a very basic formula: Prime + Observe + Labor + Work + Memorize = High End and Valuable End Product.
After the necessary revisions for proper refinement, of course.
But just because you work alone doesn’t mean you are a prisoner of your environment and just because you work alone doesn’t mean you always have to be alone.
Go wander, go labor, go explore, go meet new people, go people watch, memorize, and then actually Work. Don’t just wade into crowds and pretend to work.
Be extremely good for ya. And it will probably make you a helluvah lot better writer than you’ve ever been before. No matter what you’re writing. And it is awful hard to be lonely, or a slack-ass, when you are actually doing Good Work.
Some people think that I am primarily a mental man, or a “man of the mind” because I spend a lot of time studying, reading, attending and listening to lectures, mastering languages, writing stories and poetry and songs, conducting scientific experiments, etc. Some people think I am primarily a man of the spirit because I spend a lot of time talking about God and to God, examining scriptures, praying, meditating, etc. Some people think I am primarily a man of the psyche (of the soul) because I closely observe my own behavior and the behavior of others, because I watch and take note of other people and am very aware of how they actually behave versus just what they say or proclaim or pretend.
And all of those things are partially true. Not primarily, but partially true. I am in some respects a man of the mind, in other respects a spiritual man, in part a man of the soul and the human psyche.
But there is another part of me that is very, very earthy and physical.
Because I love, and am highly attracted to, and have always been highly attracted to, physical activity and things physical. (Except for eating, I could take or leave eating and if something better than eating existed I’d never eat again. Waste of time to me, and extremely inefficient and wasteful.)
Actually I often do my very best work when hiking, running, clearing land, having sex with the wife, exercising, exploring, climbing, etc. I am attracted to and have always enjoyed physical activity – strain, pain, pleasure, sex, exhaustion, etc. and to me all of those things are drivers and motivators. I have had to learn to correctly control them all and use them wisely and properly but they are all very dear and useful to me. They make me feel alive and invigorated. They are also both stimulants and inspirations to me. Doesn’t matter what I am doing, inventing, working on a business project, writing, composing, drawing, investigating, doing science, etc. physical activity is a stimulant to me.
For instance this morning I took Sam (my American Superior) for a run in the woods (rather than a hike, he’s getting a little fat and I want to work him back into shape with me) and while doing so I developed in my mind six good scenes for my Kithariune novel, a science fiction short story, a Real World invention based around the subject matter of the sci-fi short story (actually the real world invention came first), and had an interesting idea for a scientific experiment. (Physical activity is also an excellent mnemonic technique to me.)
Had I done nothing but sit on my ass this morning and tried to just “Think” (I have nothing against thinking by the way, I highly recommend it to everyone, it’s just I’m not much of a sedentary thinker, I’m an “active thinker” – physical activity stimulates my thinking) I doubt that a single one of those ideas would have occurred to me.
Yes, I am partially a man of the mind, and the spirit, and the soul, but also of the body. My body stimulates the other parts of me. In many ways my body is perhaps my single most important tool of creative expression, either directly or indirectly (as it feeds my mind, soul, and spirit).
I might not have the most excellent body but my body has done me the most excellent service. And just to give him his due, considering what I’ve put him through, he’s been tough as hell and I admire and respect him for that.
Is the body or physical activity a stimulant to you as well? Do you also rebel against the idea of “thinking” as being a sedentary pursuit, or the “thinking man” as a sedentary creature?
I finally have the ultimate titles for my set of mythic/high-fantasy novels. They shall be called Kal-Kithariune(Or, The Fall of Kitharia). Originally the series was to be called The Other World but I was never really pleased with that. It was only a preliminary and place-holder title anyway.
The Kal-Kithariune shall link back to another myth/history or time epoch called the Kol-Kithariad(or the Rebirth or the Establishment of Kitharia). I have not really decided if the Kithariad will refer to a period of time 300 years prior to the Kithariune (when Kitharia undergoes a Rebirth or Renaissance) or to a period 3000 years prior when Kitharia is first established and founded.
Ideally I’d like to work it out so that the Kithariad refers to the Rebirth of Kitharia, 300 years before its Fall, but realistically I’m having real trouble making that fit and so it may have to refer to the Founding. It may be better to use the Founding as the other reference point anyway, to contrast the Genesis with the Armageddon and End. But I’d prefer the Rebirth. Though that might be impossible.
Kitharia is a both an analogy and a metaphor for America. And all of the Eldeven lands for the West even though the events take place in what would in our world be The Orient (near our Real World Samarkand).
The individual novels in the series will be entitled:
The Basilegate (The Emperor’s Legate) The Caerkara (The Expeditionary Force) The Wyrding Road The Other World (or perhaps Lurial and Iÿarlðma)
The novels will be a tetralogy. Now that I finally have all of the titles, know the plots and endings of all four books, have the languages developed, many of the poems and songs written, some of the maps and illustrations drawn, have hundreds of entries in my Plot Machine and thousands of notes, and about 200 pages of the each of the first two books written I suspect I can complete the entire tetralogy in under 2 years.
This is by far the very most complicated thing I have ever constructed (to date), at least as far as writing goes and that includes a couple of epic poems I’ve written. I first conceived it in 2007 as a single book and I’m sure I have thousands and thousands of hours sunk into it since then. Despite my other workloads.
Eventually I plan to write a set of children’s short stories connected to it and to at least plan out or begin the Kithariad though that will likely have to be passed on to others.
Before I start either of those though I just want to complete the Kithariune and then move on to my other novels, such as my sci-fi series The Curae (which will be every bit as big as the Kithariune), my detective novels, and my Frontiers novels, such as The Regulator and the Lettermen. And I want to complete my literary novels such as Modern Man and The Cache of Saint Andrew. Plus I want to finish my epic poem America. And I want to write some scripts. Not just TV scripts but movie scripts. So once I finish the Kithariune it may be a long while before I return to myth and fantasy, such as after my “retirement” (though I don’t plan to ever really retire).
I have however learned much by writing the Kithariune. I now know exactly how to plot out both long, complex novels and series, and much simpler single books. So the learning and research and study period was worth it alone in that respect. And it should both add to the richness of the Kithariune and to all of the other novels I write thereafter.
Last week I sat down and wrote a song that I had originally intended for my Bard (his name is Larmageon and he is Welsh) to sing in one of my novels, the Basilegate. As a sort of a lament, and a dirge. It was supposed to be a rather dark song about a myth of a submerged city off the coast of Ireland that rises every so often at midnight on Samhain and the city is populated by ancient dead warriors. It was a symbolic dirge of a supposedly lost song that the Bard then used to analogously lament what had happened to his friends. That is the first version of the song/poem you see below.
Thereafter I looked at the song and said to myself, “This really is close to an Irish/Welsh real myth and I should rewrite this song as a real world song or poem.” So I did using real Irish/Celt/Welsh place and symbolic names. That version, the second version, came out to be much brighter and more upbeat, but the tempo is changed slightly. By the way after the less well known Gaelic names or terms I included, in parentheses, the more original pronunciations, and their meanings.
I like both versions but the first is a far more generalized version written for an English audience and specifically for my book. The second version is really more of a throwback Irish mythological song.
So that being said, which do you like best?
Or do you think I should keep and use, perhaps for different purposes, both versions? Or does one version strike you as good and the other bad? Let me know what you think and anyone is welcome to comment.
THE OLD STANDING STONES (version 1)
The old standing stones
Where the ghosts all still roam
Below the Seas of Sarsa
Submerged neath the Mere
They all still come here
To haunt the tides of Current
The walls in the waves
The moon long enslaved
Both shine so like the Danaan
The People long passed
The present now past
Upon the Road of Waters
Who sings of the chance
That tombs are remade Towers?
The barrows below
The streams that bestowed
The last Great Ship of Showern
To the old standing stones
Still guarding the road
Beneath the flood of Faran
Oh can you still hear
The chants and the cheers
When Chulainn took the Island?
And do you still dance
Or sing the Romance
Of the last men still left standing?
Submerged neath the waves
Deep waters their graves
The Green-men go a’feasting
The blue in their blood
The tides and the flood
Their numbers all decreasing
The stars brightly gleam
The moon often seen
To kiss the Ring of Rona
Yet still can you hear
If the night is all clear
The Lost Hope of Ilona
So tell me of old
Of the place far below
Of the dark halls deeply downing
Where the old standing stones
Still guard the last road
To the Hall of Sorrow’s Drowning…
THE OLD STANDING STONES (version 2)
The old standing stones
Where the ghosts all still roam
Below the Seas of Saorla (Say-la – the noble queen)
Submerged neath the Mere
They all still come here
To haunt the tides of Cara (meaning, the friend)
The walls in the waves
The moon long enslaved
Both shine so like the Danaan
The People long past
The present now passed
Upon the Road of Una (Oo-nah, or Wony, meaning unity, or lamb)
Who sings of the chance
That the tombs are to be Towers?
The barrows below
The streams that bestowed
The last Great Ship of Tara (tower, or crag)
To the old standing stones
Still guarding the road
Beneath the flood of Fallan (grandchild, or grandchild of the chieftain)
Oh can you still hear
The chants and the cheers
When Chulainn took the Island?
And do you still dance
Or sing the Romance
Of the last men still left standing?
Submerged neath the seas
Their limbs now at ease
The Gweneth men go feasting (Gweneth – fair or river men)
The blue in their blood
The tides and the flood
Their hall a loudly singing
The stars brightly gleam
The moon often seen
To kiss the Ring of Roise (roh-suh – a rose)
Yet still can you hear
If the night is all clear
The Last Hope of Isleena (Ish-leena – vision, the foretelling)
So tell me of old
Of the place far below
Of the dark halls deeply moaning
Where the old standing stones
Still abide all alone
In the Hall of Sorrow’s Gloaming…
The Tower above, the Earth below
I wandered the world, desiring to know
Where in my heart the frontier did lay
In the sky or the sea, in the night or the day?
Mountains I climbed, Life did I track
Waters I sailed, then sailed them right back
Sands in my hands ran through my fingers
What should I fear, where was the danger?
I’d live forever, forever a boy
Time everlasting, endless and cloy
The sun burned me brown, moon cooled my mind
The stars they did glisten, by God so designed
Happy was nothing – I was Alive!
The world was my oyster, of nothing deprived
Before I was man, I was a boy
Everything Holy, the Hope and the Joy
Fish splashed the clear streams, hawks roamed the air
I could lay in the green grass and anything dare
Nothing was memory, all was yet new
Impossibly certain was all that I knew
Hero I was in the depths of my soul
Adventure and gamble was all I did know
The past hadn’t happened, the future a dream
The present was ever, or so did it seem
The Tower above me, the Earth down below
I’d climb to the crown, how most apropos
For why should I care, the sun never sets
Upon the heart of the boy who will never relent
But I’ve climbed and I’ve climbed and I’ve climbed all my life
I’ve climbed in the cold, and I’ve climbed through the strife
I’ve climbed in the heat, through the dark and the death
I’ve climbed when impelled, and I’ve climbed without rest
I’ve climbed when determined, and when suffering lack
For I’m far too high now and cannot go back
Though the summit is still such a lifetime away
I doubt I can reach it, at least not this way
My hands cut and bloodied, my footing unsure
I question my efforts, my motives obscure
Yet sometimes when weary, I’ll glance far below
To see that young boy with his whole life to sow
And I wonder if warnings might cause him to stop
To stay in his valley, not climb to the top
For I want to just tell him, “The climb never ends,
Stay where you are boy, you can’t comprehend…”
But I see him look upwards, take hold of the stones
And I know that he’ll climb where he must all alone
For the Tower above us, a siren it sings
To the boy down below us who of towers still dreams…
I’m sitting here tonight (last night actually) working on the major characters that will be a part of my fictional book and novel series. I’ve spent much of the past week doing the same.
One invaluable thing I learned from James Patterson’s Master Class on commercial fiction is the importance of ongoing, serialized characters that others adore. I’ve known this intellectually for a long time based on my own reading history both as a youth and throughout my life (John Carter, Tarzan, Spock, Jesse Stone, Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, Batman, etc.) but looking back on my fiction writings I’ve realized that it hasn’t really sunken in until now. It had sunken into my mind long ago, but not into my soul. Not until now however. But now, finally, I am fully getting it.
I’ve always been a “Story-First” kind of guy and looking back upon it all I suspect I very much now know why. I was trained and self-trained to write stories through D&D (Dungeons and Dragons) and through game writing in general and D&D was indeed the very most excellent practice and training for story-development. But because I so rarely played and was almost always the DM or GM (Dungeon or Game Master) and was always the one creating worlds and writing the stories I never concentrated much at all upon “Character Development.”
That is to say I always let my players develop and run their characters with as little possible interference from me as I could ever get away with. Therefore almost all character development was in their hands and I become STORY AND PLOT AND WORLD FIRST and in many senses, I just habitually adopted the idea of STORY ONLY. Character-Work was for them, I was the World Man.
Not that I couldn’t write or develop characters, I did have several characters of my own I played and I developed some very complex Non-Player Characters (NPCs) but that kind of thing happened rather rarely compared to my World Building and plot and background elements development and so Character Development became a secondary and almost a background issue to me as a fiction writer and story teller. I realize now that I have for most of my life had this sort of subconscious psychological habit of developing stories in complex detail but sort of letting Character Development handle itself in a laissez-faire fashion when I did not outright ignore the issue.
But now that I realize this fault and oversight in my own writings, and the way I go about writing, I have decided that for me this will be the Year of the Characters. This year Characters and Serialized Characters become equally important to me as Story and Plot and World Building.
This is to be my Year of Character, and the genesis of the development of the Great Characters of my Fiction Writing Career.
This year I build Men and Characters and not just Worlds.
This year I have decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month. And this year I have several good ideas for a potential novel I’d like to write for NaNoWriMo.
However I am trying to solicit the opinions of others on which idea and novel they’d prefer to read. Of the three novel ideas/plots I’ve I’d like to write for this November and that I have personally shown to family and friends so far I have the following results:
13 votes for The Old Man
10 votes for The Cache of Saint Andrew, and
4 votes for The Wonder Webs (all have been kid votes)
So I’d like to ask you, as my readers and internet friends, which novel story would you prefer to read: The Old Man, The Cache of Saint Andrew, or The Wonder Webs?
Right now I’m leaning towards The Old Man but still have a couple of days or so to finally decide. So if you wish to voice your opinion then just let me know. If you want to tell me your reasons that would be appreciated as well.
The Old Man – The Old Man is a mixed genre novel/novella consisting of three or four related stories about the same character set in different eras and story genres. In the story the child or children of a deceased man discover some old and unknown recordings which reveal their father in a totally different light and engaged in a fantastic set of secret lives. One section of the book will involve the science fiction genre, another the fantasy genre, another the detective/espionage genre, and the fourth the horror/weird genre. Despite the complexity of the story and the various genres it should be very easy to research and plot.
The Cache of Saint Andrew – The Cache of Saint Andrew is a literary genre novel involving a white man who marries a black woman. Although I did eventually marry a black woman the book is not autobiographical because I first had the idea for the novel in college and began writing it in college and I didn’t marry until I turned thirty, and at the time I began the book didn’t ever expect to marry. The story involves an older established, fairly wealthy white man who marries a younger (college student aged) black woman. The book describes their courtship, marriage, and the things that eventually dissolve their marriage, such as the loss of their first child shortly after childbirth. The novel is called the Cache of Saint Andrew because of the fact that the man, for years, plants secret messages inside the cache of a grave marker at the Orthodox Church of Saint Andrew in North Carolina. The Cache of Saint Andrew is actually the third book I ever started writing and the first one I started writing as an adult, but I put it aside to start my first business. I have replotted it many times but never actually finished it. It will require fairly complex plotting although I already have the main story well sketched out.
Wonder Webs – The Wonder Webs is a young adult book I first started plotting out a couple of years ago in a writing class. It involves a fictional city, park, and zoo based upon Greenville, SC. It involves three main characters, two boys and a girl of late Middle School/early High School age. It also involves a secret “underground world” in which dwell three magical/supernatural spiders who are capable of building “Wonder Webs” or webs that help miracles occur. This book will be very complex to plot because of the characters involved but especially because of the complicated background/world involved, which is multi-faceted.
Due to a recent internet conversation on constructs I’ve decided to write a new series of short stories to add to my science fiction universe that will involve androids, drones, and robots whose primary function and programming is to provide protection to clients or organizations. Or even to protect specific areas/locales/geographic points.
These “danger droids” are designed to “sense danger” and respond by warning away potential threats. If the warnings or interferences fail, or are repeatedly ignored, then the Danger Droids are designed to respond in a defense pattern of three escalating steps: Disable, Cripple, and eventually, to Kill (or DCK).
If disable fails then crippling is applied and if the threat continues thereafter then the Danger Droid will kill the threat.
The story will center around the activities and experiences of these danger droids and how others attempt to overcome and thwart them and how the droids themselves adapt to these new threats and methods of attack.
Another set of stories, running parallel to those concerning the Danger Droids will involve the so-called “Murder Machines.” These are simply machines designed to exploit security lapses or human/target weaknesses and destroy/murder specific targets without being traceable. However if the machines are somehow located and trapped they are also designed to destroy themselves so as to make it very difficult to analyze and track evidence regarding who actually employed the “murder machine.”
In some ways the murder machines will be the exact opposites of, (although none of the machines or droids are actually alive) and the mechanical Nemeses of, the Danger Droids.
So much so that eventually people begin using the Danger Droids in an attempt to thwart and even anticipate the Murder Machines, destroying them before they can strike.
Of course in the stories these devices will not be called Danger Droids or Murder Machines, those are dumb and simple-minded appellations. Although they may, from time to time, be referred to Danger Droids and Murder Machines in a colloquial or slang fashion. No, I will devise basic and appropriate scientific terminology for these artefacts as my science fiction universe tends to be “hard and mundane science” in nature, and these stories will be no different.
I’ve had a series of serious personal problems to deal with lately (floods and storms in SC that damaged my house, my daughter was struck by a – probably drunk – hit and run driver who totaled her car, etc.) which I’ll explain in detail later on. Everyone is okay but the house is damaged and my daughter’s car was destroyed. Anyway that has prevented me working properly (I’ve been putting out fires and settling insurance claims) and has delayed me blogging.
Night before last however, for the first time in weeks I was able to work uninterrupted and I started three songs and wrote a piece of flash fiction. So here is part of a song I started two nights ago called Don’t Die. It is unfinished but I got pretty far along on it.
Don’t die in the leaving son
Don’t die at the dawn
Don’t die in the coming home
Don’t die while you’re gone
There’s a long, long way between here and there
There’s a short step between the night and grave
I wish I could tell you differently son
But that’s just the way the world is made
I went out when I was young, so deep into the dark
I saw things there I didn’t want, things so sharp and hard
I wish I could tell ya differently son
But believe me when I tell you now, I got the scars
Careful where you go now son
Careful when you’re coming back
Go there when there’s no one else
Go there when you can’t be tracked
Oh, the things I’d show you if you’d see
How far away from everything
How very close to me
Don’t die in the leaving son
Don’t die in the dusk
Don’t die in your wand’ring round
Just do what you must
The old things and the new things
You think they’re not the same
And yet they both are constant
And yet they both remain
A measure of the manner
By which all things are made
When more or less the answer
Is the last place that we laid
Our hearts upon the altar
Our flesh in foreign lands,
Our souls a’drift through nowhere
So we could not understand
Oh come and see us stranger
Oh come to see us friends
You’ll find us at the end of things
The place we all begin,
Home is endless miles away
Though always where we are
We started out for paradise
But never got that far…
This is a new song I began over the weekend. It is not yet completed, I just started on it.
Ah, Pinterest, you are both the bane and joy of writers the world over. On one hand we can use Pinterest to create stunning visual representations of the world we are creating with our words. On the other hand, we can distract ourselves for hours at a time in the endless sea of images.
But to me the price is worth it. There’s nothing I love more than creating storyboards for my novels. It’s in integral part of my creative process.
I also love following other writer’s on Pinterest, and glimpsing into the worlds they have created. Not only do other author’s boards inspire me and spark ideas, but I often find the perfect image on another writer’s board. (After hours of using the Pinterest search option to no avail.) We writer’s think in the same dramatic way. We’re drawn to the same types of photographs.
So I decided to compile a list of some of my favorite Pinterest storyboards. All of these are beautiful and inspiring. I’m mostly drawn to the historical, romantic, and dramatic, so that’s what most of these boards represent.
While you’re here please leave a link to your book’s storyboard in the comments!
Don’t have a novel storyboard?
No worries, these boards will be all the inspiration you need.
Had a great idea for a science-fiction short story while walking with my Great Dane Sam through the woods this afternoon.
The story involves Human Beings encountering an alien species while exploring deep space and the encounter (which initially seems innocuous enough) almost immediately leads to conflict and eventual war. At first it seems obvious that humans have the advantage as our technology seems to be far in advance of that possessed by the alien species.
But quickly it becomes apparent that the alien species seems to adapt amazingly fast. Every time humans use a new weapon or weapon’s system against them they immediately start to innovate and counter with the result being that within a matter of a mere few weeks, and sometimes in just a few days, they can produce either a defensive system that basically greatly mitigates or even nullifies human technology, or they develop a superior offensive system based on what they analyze and reverse-engineer of our weapon systems.
In under six months they turn the tide of the conflict and start to defeat humans.
After that human technological systems and weapon systems are quickly attrited or degraded to the point that humans have to begin to rely upon older and older systems and technologies (outdated and outmoded and scavenged systems) just to survive or to continue to resist.
The opposite effect occurs with the aliens however – their technology continues to make astronomical leaps forward in a very short period of time and within a year the defeat and possible eradication of human beings seems a very real probability. The last hope for the humans seems to be the discovery of a form of third party alien technology but eventually it is realized it is too advanced for humans to properly understand and utilize and that even if they could understand and properly employ it any real help the third party device might provide will come too late.
Human defeat therefore seems assured until, that is, the aliens create a technological leap forward so advanced that the totally unexpected happens. I’m going to call the story the Qoutien’s Point. *
I’m also going to integrate this short story into my larger science fiction milieu/universe.
* Quotien’s Point – a future scientific/technological term named for that point at which everything that has come before changes so radically that everything to follow is thereafter forever unrecognizable.
The Night that the Knight cursed evil a wondrous thing began
Men who once had cowered, together they did band
Beneath the Lonely Banner of the Knight who cursed the wrong
Once they had just whispered, now they sang his song
The High Lords and the Ladies corrupt upon their thrones
Had laughed to hear such curses when the Knight was all alone
Though when his profane blood-oaths thundered through the folk
Fury rose among them, with the tyrant’s whip and yoke
“Bring us now New Vows from him, make him swear to us!”
Shouted Lords and Ladies, roused now in their lust
Yet the Knight who cursed the evil would not bend to threat
Their embassies he spat upon, then harangued them ‘til they sweat
Then the High Lords and the Ladies began to see the Truth
That the Knight who cursed the Evil was fearless now forsooth!
And still the People rallied, hot now in the land,
The Knight who cursed the Evil gave heart for them to stand
“Send us an Assassin, experienced in crime,”
Said the Lords and Ladies, “to kill him ‘fore his time!”
So the black assassin crept upon the Knight
As he cursed the Evil in the shadows of the night
Yet darkness did betray him as he sought to strike
For the Knight who cursed the Evil caught him in the Light
A struggle hard and fearsome did they both attend
Blood in all directions, wounds as deep as sin
Finally the combat wound down to the Will
When the Knight triumphant the spent assassin killed
He took the ‘ssassins blood-stained blade with the warrant he
Then sent it to the waiting Lords in scribbled hand, “You’re next!”
Yesterday I took a little nap because last weekend I contracted poison oak, or maybe sumac. It’s been miserable and I hoped to speed the healing and reduce the itch with a nap.
Anyway I awoke with this poem/song running through my kind. I had to go and take an immediate shower because the itching was so bad and in the shower I composed the rest of the sections above in my head.
Then I got out and wrote out what i had composed. It is still unfinished of course though I already have the entire poem sketched out in my head and some other sections are worked out, such as:
“Your silence speaks to your intent more surely than your pleas
For action is the pledge of life, not promises like these
If you’re determined stand your ground, if not I know you well,
Passive is the heartless man, and icy is his hell…”
KNIGHT OF AGONY: “Strut of all conspiring women and bald intemperate Witch of thy sex, in these darkest charms you drive me on, and less now than my naked self, I am nonetheless repletely covered in the enchantments of your moist and damning sorcery.”
GREAT WITCH OF WOE: “Knight of anguished men, would you my powers any less than to wring from the sleeping Earth of night, and from thy inmost longing lower parts, those burning fires which wake the dead and melt away all obstacled defense?”
KNIGHT OF AGONY: “Fie! Acquiteth thou thy e’er contingent ends and thereby make rich embodiment of my piercing hot desire, that all conspire, as I envision, and portend…”
WITCH OF WOE: “So shall it be! And with a rueful laugh I grant thee all you hide and seek, though seek you more, and hide you naught. Yet in the attainment of the barren gap between the grasp of man and the groan of ghosts you may still discover deep in me far blacker things in motion, and far more potent sorceries. Now, does this bargain still allure, or have you acted premature?”
KNIGHT OF AGONY: “It still suffices, and allures. Now come to me, immortal hell and all, and in thy keen and cold embrace I shall endure…. Thus shall I endure.”
This morning I arose about 5:30. Immediately the above lines came to my mind, though I have since edited and improved them. I do not know why these lines came to me, but that is a common practice with me, to arise from sleep or a dream with a poem, a song, a story, or an invention in my thoughts.
So it was this morning with the Knight of Agony and the Witch of Woe.
It is part of a piece I intend to make into a short, one act play. Probably for Halloween.
While looking for an illustration or graphic to use with the post I stumbled upon illustration for TH White’s The Witch in the Wood and the Ill-Made Knight. That was not an inspiration for this piece, but when I saw the illustration I remembered the work which I read long, long ago, and found it apropos.
The Light that made the formless dark
Did crown and shape the outer world
Yet within it forged the Inner Soul
That fashioned all that lives and breathes
The Light dispersed gave birth below, yet
Solid all and made of substance in itself
A Secret spawns, a kind of Cosmos bred
Of the very Blood that feeds the restless
Ever-turning, Eternal Mind of God…
I apologize for my absence this past week. I’ve had a stomach virus which has been, just to be honest, the worst intestinal infection I may have ever had in my entire life. It made me violently ill, later exhausted (I still tire easily and it started last Monday, so I’ve had it for 8 days now), and I am just now really recovering. Still, I would say that I’m actually more of about 85 to 90% recovered rather than fully recovered.
Below is the first real work I’ve been able to do in a week or more. It’s unfinished but came to me this morning when I awoke. Hope you enjoy it and hope you are well. If not well, if you’re like me, then I hope you rapidly recover. Not slowly, like me.
THE EMBRACE OF WARM FLESH
The embrace of warm flesh
Ardent in its vigor
Constant in its desire
Purposed in its method
Relentless and intrepid
Determined in consummation
Fearless in elation
Without an accusation
On Sunday morning, as I sometimes like to say, “I awoke to a bright dawn, but the dark night had followed me…” or, variously, “I woke to the memory of black things.“
I once knew a man, dark as the winter
He went out all green, then grew up ‘mong sinners
A submarine self of dark troubled waters
He wondered, he wandered, but found not the matter
That murdered by day, by night only hidden
By graves buried wrong, all the secrets unbidden
Corpse of the night all twisted and tattered
An uncanny sight, the silence is shattered
Not by a sound for death is still cold
Kin (ken) to so many or so they all told
A heart is a heart if it beats not or still
A man’s inner sin only lives when it kills
For dead men will flower like weeds in the ground
When sprinkled by showers of blood still unfound (unbound)
So in such winters terrible deeds
Flourish like summers of infinite seeds, and
The man who made harvest as green as the grass
Came back with a crop just as black as the last
So he wanders, and wonders, and still to this day He searches inside him for someone to pay…
I meant to put this up for Tuesday’s Tale, but work and other things interfered so I’m putting it up here today for Highmoot.
What you see below are the creation materials (or some of them anyway) for my four novels of the Other World, specifically the first in the series, The Basilegate.
Actually I have 1200 to 1500 pages of research materials (mainly historical but also containing other materials) for all four novels already, most of it on CD or DVD and on computer files on my main work system. The rest is in hard files, collected notes (post it notes in the big white container that say BOOK I), in my notebooks and sketchbooks, outlines, timelines, etc.
I laid all of that out on Sunday and had my youngest daughter take pictures of it. This week I am taking all of that material, my chapter outlines for the first book (Basilegate), my notes, etc. and transferring it all to my Chapter and Plot Board. You might think of this as a Case Board by which I’ll run the plot and structure of my novels (in this case, the first in the series) as they progress. I already have about a hundred or so pages of the first novel finished, and various sections of all of the novels completed (as first drafts anyway), not counting the various scenes I have sketched out for each of them. My overall aim now is to collate and compile and arrange all of these scenes and what I already have written into a coherent and consecutive and consequential novel storyline, and thereby push on to finish the first novel while simultaneously arranging all of the other serial plots.
In this collection you will see all of my files, notes, the plot board itself (before being arranged), notebooks, research materials (on CD and DVD), some of the maps I’ve created, and the poems, songs, and music I’ve written and arranged to be included in the books/novels.
(You might ask, “Why does he have the AD&D and 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guides as apparent research materials?” Simple, not for the research itself, but because these two books are the best fictional writing guides I’ve ever read. Anywhere and on any fictional subject. If you are a writer and you do not have these writing guides then you really should, they are simply superb and extremely useful for all kinds of story arrangements, including plot arrangements.
You might also ask, “why the harmonica?” Well, because I often like to play the harmonica when I become stuck on some aspect of the story. It helps me think.)
Once I’ve gotten everything fully arranged and up on my Plot Board in proper Order I’ll take a new set of photographs and post those here too. I’ve been working on this novel series for years now, and as a general idea for a decade or more, but I’m finally in a position to push on and finish all four books now. I’m now satisfied that all of my major research and preparation work has been properly conducted and finished and I’m now ready to finish the novels without anymore large-scale or wholesale plot revision. Just minor tinkering at the edges left really, and then the finished writings.
Which is a big relief to me as I intend this novel series to be one of my Magnum Opae (one of my major Life Works – I literally cannot say Magnum Opera as that construction seems wholly silly and inappropriate to me in English).
THE SAME IS THE SAME (A Simple Ode to Not Getting It)
I once knew an old man who said this to me
“The same is the same til it isn’t you see.”
“What does that mean?” I asked of the man
“It means that the isn’t is part of the plan.”
So I queried again to see if I tracked
But he waved off my efforts, and asked what I lacked
“What I lack is your meaning, if you see what I mean!”
“Why I do,” said the old man, “and I highly esteem
That you haven’t yet got it, so let me help out
Though you’ll fare none the better I seriously doubt
If my statements seem lacking in substance and style
For my purpose is patent though soaked through with guile.”
”What mean you by saying, ‘your purpose is plain?’
When it’s riddled and wrapped in these vestments arcane?”
“Oh,” said the old man, “you’re confused by degrees,
‘See the same is the same til it isn’t you see!’”
“What’s with the riddles, the rhythm, and rhyme?
I haven’t the patience, the motive, or time,
Just tell me quite simply exact what you mean
There’s only one prophet, the profit foreseen,
So tell me quite clearly how true to do that
There must be an answer to fit in your hat
For all things are even unless they are odd
Just show me the method and on I will plod!”
”Exactly!” he told me, “You know it by now
A fox is quite crafty unless he’s a cow
The prophet who profits will see past the words
Everyone else will just think him absurd,
For the Wise Man his profit is built by the mind
Who sees into others to find what he finds
But the men who are stuck in the clay of the words
Cannot the future when once it’s occurred
That he can by convention control what’s to come
Or by formula master all things to succumb
So the same is the same til it isn’t you see
But to come to that meaning you must come quite free.”
So I left in a quand’ry, I left in some doubt
That he knew of his subject, or what he did tout
Yet since then I’ve measured the world and its men
Found them uneven, thrice even again
Not a king who could not be a pauper at heart
Not a peasant who might not some genius impart
Not a tyrant so strong I would bend once to them
Not a haughty pretender not given to whims
Not an expert or maven perfect in wares
Not a Wise Man among them whose Wisdom he shared
Without first giving counsel – as I counsel thee,
“The same is the same til it isn’t you see…”
This happens to be my favorite section of monologue from a play by Shakespeare (any play by Shakespeare), and there are many brilliant ones. This is from the Henry Cycle. (Henry discusses his past nature as scoundrel and the companion of scoundrels and his coming nature as king.)
Since I was a kid, a teenager actually, I have taken what I consider to be great sections of poetry, prose, plays, songs, etc. and rewritten them to see if I could improve upon them in some way (linguistically, poetically, phonetically, in meaning or emphasis, etc.). As an exercise in the improvement of my own poetic capabilities. Or towards the improvement of whatever other capabilities I happened to be attempting to exercise.
To me this is the very paragon of verse from Shakespeare’s plays, for any number of reasons, not least the undercurrents of shaded meaning, the psychologically acute self-analysis, and the prophetic pronouncements of the future. I have rewritten this section many times and in many different ways but did it again late last week as an exercise to keep myself from becoming rusty and out of practice at this type of verse and monologue.
The first section is the Work of Shakespeare. The second section is partially Shakespeare’s, the part in italics (in order to set the theme of the monologue), and the last part is my rewriting of the same. It is not only a rewriting, I’ve also altered the emphasis, slightly and subtly, but it also contains allusions to other subject matter and characters I have written about in my own poetry, such as Orpheus and the Tears of Iron.
I hope you enjoy it. I also hope you try such exercises for yourself to improve your own capabilities.
I KNOW YOU ALL – WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
I know you all, and will awhile uphold The unyoked humor of your idleness. Yet herein will I imitate the sun, Who doth permit the base contagious clouds To smother up his beauty from the world, That, when he please again to be himself, Being wanted, he may be more wondered at By breaking through the foul and ugly mist Of vapors that did seem to strangle him. If all the year were playing holidays, To sport would be as tedious as to work, But when they seldom come, they wished for come, And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents. So when this loose behavior I throw off And pay the debt I never promisèd, By how much better than my word I am, By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes; And, like bright metal on a sullen ground, My reformation, glitt’ring o’er my fault, Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes Than that which hath no foil to set it off. I’ll so offend to make offense a skill, Redeeming time when men think least I will.
I KNOW YOU ALL – WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE AND JOHN GUNTER
I know you all, and will awhile uphold The unyoked humor of your idleness. Yet herein will I imitate the sun, Who doth permit the base contagious clouds To smother up his beauty from the world, That, when he please again to be himself, Being wanted, he may be more wondered at By breaking through the foul and ugly mist Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.
Of temperance there is none found in me When overwhelming Wyrd o’ermasters All the conduct of my prior faculties Yet when I am come, and baring as I come The former foil that gilds me dull, yet sharp In indiscretions manifold who will vouchsafe all my claims and titles Young with new maturity, if not I? In reform well sprang like Orpheus From the chair of Pluto and his iron tears My coming crown unworn, my sins unshorn Shall outline the very shadowed limits That I so like the scorching sun of noon Shall burn away when the Dawn of Me Does unexpected rise from deep within And clotted clay, the seeming sepulchre That frontiers all I have ever been Will be seen to walk beneath the heavens As if a new king bestrode the mortal world In glory more like ancient gods than man…
This is part of a draft chapter from my book The Basilegate (from The Other World novels). Rather than explain or detail the background I’ll just let you read the story for yourself.
This chapter begins at the Iron Gate, winds through what today would be modern Russia and ends along the frontiers of the Byzantine Empire.
But this is only the first part of the chapter.
I will be serializing parts of this novel here, on Wyrdwend. For Bookends.
THE IRON GATE: PART ONE
He passed through the Iron Gate and none bothered to oppose him. Why should they? Death would come soon enough.
He had seen men watching him as he stumbled past them, had noticed them as they studied him, pointing, or whispering to themselves. He had seen the guards; skins burned dark by long life lived outdoors among the frontiers, their flesh the color of fine but sanded clay. He had seen them take notice of him, and realizing that he was alone, and doomed, had seen them finally turn away or gaze on at him in curiosity, but not in fear.
He staggered forward, impelled more by main force and force of will than by any desire to make any kind of camp, or achieve any end, other than the one he suspected lay not long before him. He was a mass of Northern muscle, and in a more carefree age, a mass of unconcern. But not this day. Not this hour.
He was a mass no more, except of wasted flesh, blood-clotted black and clinging to limbs still driven hard, but all a’quiver. His clothes were ragged, and perhaps more threadbare than he. His boots were tattered, consumed with holes by hard wear and patches from long poverty. His cloak was gone, it covered him no more. His helm was likewise long ago departed. His armor, what was left upon him, did creak and hung loose and much abused. His single weapon, his langsax, was chipped and knotted, bent at places, it’s sharpest tip now broken blunt. His skeg axe was missing, already lost a’field from many days before. His sword was shattered, having given its last service long before he himself had been likewise cleaved from himself, run to ground by desperation and long flight at night. His spear had been splintered along the banks of a river he had long traveled, but never heard named. And with it went his last hope of war when he found himself numbered among the doomed of his watch.
His shield had long lasted, but round at the edges it had been burst sharp through the center, till like the timbers of a battered prow it had been smashed to pieces, along with the spine of his arm. At that blow he had staggered, a man drunk with too much of the wine of close combat, and toppling like one of the frigid giants of old he had crashed from the cliff into the gelid waters below. And this, this fall from manly grace and the unnatural fire of a ferocious battle he could not have won, into the cold of the waters from the earth underneath, this had stilled his heart with shock and preserved his life with a flood of harsh ice. But only for a moment.
The cold had slowed his wounds, made blood freeze in his veins, made him sluggish, numbed the bright agony of his broken arm and shattered knee, had helped to staunch the long gash torn through his calf, had wearied his mind so that death approached slow and as bedraggled as he. The river had turned him, tossed him, oriented him away from his companions, and his brothers at arms. Yet deep in the recesses of his darkest thoughts he knew they were no more. Colder even than he. Once men, and large, and well made, trophies now to despoil.
He pulled himself from the waters, a mist of stinking furs and wounded flesh, injury the common lot that ran the entire life-course of his body. He was insensible of the pain of his catastrophe, or perhaps it is better to say that he was nothing but hurt. So much harm inflicted that he could no longer mark any particular pain, but rather pain seemed all he was, and all he wished to end. He tried to stand, collapsed, breathed hard and harshly, his mouth steam rising like that of a newborn calf, his stance no straighter or better. But he grimaced, and would not relent. He stood, and staggered, and felt something rend inside his leg each time his knee did make to support his weight. He shed his cloak as a serpent would his elder skin, in long and frustrating effort, it peeled away from him as if in regret and with the anchored weight of besoaked hide. He grunted. He stuttered. He could not speak, groans his only tongue. He rested, sought to scan the horizon with his eyes, the land having been made flat again by the time the river had disgorged him like a misspent meal. But his vision was blurred, dim, closed in and frozen. It extended no farther than his imagination, and his imaginings were all of darkness, and dread.
The sun made to collapse in the West, behind mountains he could sense in the distance, but not see with his eyes. The warmth of the day, what small comfort it had given, was already fading, his own heat wasted and stolen by the drench of his baptism by water and trial by ice. He made to the tall grass, then fell to the dry ground, rolling and coating himself in the dirt as he could, hoping it would absorb the wet and help dry his shaken frame. A frog scampered by and he caught it with his unruined arm, and tore off its head in his mouth. The cold blood was warmer than his and the skull of the frog he did gnash in his teeth as he chewed. The sound comforted him. He could still eat, and he could still kill. Therefore he could still live if the long night would let him. He found he was hungry, and that the gnaw in his guts did wear hard, and began to grow and inflame, and as it did so, so did his limbs. And the ache of his body was far worse than the hunger he felt. But as he ate he regained some lost measure of hope, and there settled into his mind a new will to press forward. He tore off one of the back legs of his catch, and then the other, eating slowly, watching the night fall. Then he pulled out his langsax from his battered belt, and used the blade to slice open the belly of the frog and he did, as he could stand it, smear the blood and the entrails of the thing onto the deep gash in his calf, and along the break in his arm, where the bone did protrude from the mottled blue skin. For he had been told in times past by the Rus that if he smeared the blood of a beast upon an open wound then the clot of gore would help seal his own cut, and help knit it together and scab it clean. He did not know if this were true or not, but he was full for the moment and it seemed foolish to him to waste the entrails by tossing them aside.
He slept uneasily for awhile within sound of the river, crackling sounds sometimes startling him, as if the ice sheets from further upstream were still washing down and clashing against each other to shatter like frosted glass. The dew came down and reminded him again of the damp that still covered him, causing him to shiver while shards of sweat and frozen drops did run along his back from time to time.
He was cold beyond reckoning, but with the rise of the moon he took once more to stand, and after several tries he regained his feet. He moved West, into the darkness, towards the mountains he had felt in the distance. Towards the land that the Rusmen had told him could not be conquered. Towards the land of the Roman, and the place they called, the City of God…
Linn Ulmann spent her childhood trailing her famous parents as they traveled the world. As the daughter of director Ingmar Bergman and the actress Liv Ullmann, two legends of 20th-century cinema, her “home” shifted time and again. The one constant was a Swedish island, Fårö, where she returned each summer to visit her father.
Now, she’s fascinated by the way our surroundings shape us. In her interview for this series, the author of The Cold Song used a short story by Alice Munro to illustrate the way setting drives her writing, and how place and memory help dictate the stories we tell.
The Cold Song concerns a cast of characters affected by the disappearance of Milla, a 19-year-old au pair working in a coastal town south of Oslo. After two years, her body—and the grisly manner of its death—is uncovered by three boys searching for buried treasure. With this act of violence at its heart, the novel explores the unexpected ways a crime haunts people who knew the victim, inflaming their secret sources of guilt.
Linn Ullmann is the author of five previous novels, including Before You Sleep and A Blessed Child; her work has been translated into more than 30 languages. She spoke to me by phone from her home in Oslo.
Linn Ullmann: When my father died six years ago, and we were selling off his property on the island of Fårö where I grew up, I kept a diary in a big, black notebook. It was a strange thing: a book that mixed notes on practical arrangements with ideas for the new book I’d started writing then. (This book was a mix of the book I did eventually write—The Cold Song—and another book I didn’t write, about the death of a father.) The notebook was a reading diary, too. In between meetings about the funeral, and what to do with his things, and how we were going to bury him, I was reading Alice Munro.
I’ve read her in many stages of my life. I love the way her voice just sucks you in, the way her stories walk you as if to the unexpected edge of a cliff, towards moments that—in their violence or sense of life-changing possibility—are like sudden free fall. During that time of mourning, I’d written down this passage from her story “Face”:
Something had happened here. In your life there are a few places, or maybe only one place, where something has happened. And then there are the other places, which are just other places.
This quote—“Something had happened here”—resonated so much with me. I found it very moving because of where I was right then: starting a new book, having just lost my father, in the only place I had ever really called home. At the time, this was a very desolate island with a few sheep farmers living on it. Fårö was my home until I was three years old—and though I moved very, very many times, I returned every summer for the rest of my life, until my father died. These lines struck me on a profoundly personal level, and I had no choice but to write them down.
I’ve just re-read the story now, and am again blown away by it. It’s impossible to retell a story by Alice Munro, because there are so many ins and outs and digressions, before everything comes together in this surprising, magical way—but this is a strange love story about a boy who has a wine-colored birthmark over half his face. As a child, he’s friends with a girl about his age. Twice, she tries to make her face look like his—once, using red paint, and again later in a more permanent, devastating way. She does this out of love, or a destructive thing that love can sometimes be: “I love you so much that I want to be you.”
There’s so much else in this story, which gives the whole broad arc of the narrator’s life. We learn about his relationship with his father (who, moments after his son is born, remarks, “what a chunk of chopped liver”). We learn about his career as a successful radio actor, before TV—an industry his birthmark bars him from—takes over broadcast drama. But what sticks, in the end, is the moment in the basement of the childhood home where the little girl splashes red paint on half her face and says, all hopeful, “Now do I look like you?”
At the time, this gesture deeply wounds the boy, and his family interprets it as an act of terrible, mocking cruelty. The two children are never allowed to see each other again. It’s only as an adult that he learns—the afternoon of his father’s funeral—that she later used a razor to cut his same mark on her face. This act—of fidelity? Of shame? Of atonement?—casts the moment in the basement in a totally different light. Perhaps she was a person who identified with him so completely, that she was willing to trade her unblemished face for his. The narrator begins to realize that exchange in the basement was a crucial moment of his life; even though he didn’t realize it at the time, it may have been the closest he ever came to having his marred face looked upon honestly but without reproach, with something like love.
There’s no big sign saying Here’s the turning point. There’s no Sliding Doors scene that tells you, “Here’s the big moment!” But by the end of the story, we sense that this is what matters most to this character, as he looks back. After the revelation at the funeral, he decides not to sell the house where he grew up, where the exchange in the basement happened, as he had planned. Instead, he lives inside it for the rest of his life.
In other words, he comes to see that the childhood house will always be his reference point, his stage of greatest significance. I think it is this way for many of us: There is maybe one place, when we look back, where something happened. Or only a few places. “And then there are all the other places,” Munro writes: important too, but not distinct, not above all else. Those precious few settings where something happened are where meaning resides—they contain the story, they are the story. Yes, I think that, to Alice Munro, story is place—the two are that deeply connected. You do not have a story of a life without an actual place. You can’t separate one from the other.
I think that’s why she’s intensely local in her fiction, like many other great writers (Faulkner, Joyce, and Proust come straight to mind). Munro’s stories unfold in remote places in Canada that I’ve never been to—but in these geographically small places, whole worlds play out. The best writers provide a sense of events unfolding in this specific place, a place that informs and feeds the characters and events. What comes first: the place or the story? The story or the place? With great fiction, it can be impossible to distinguish.
I’ve been a reader of authors who have a strong sense of place, because in my own life I’ve been somewhat placeless. I always traveled as a kid, and went to a new school every year. I lived in New York, I lived in Norway, I lived in Sweden—we travelled around, we moved, and I continued doing that into my adult life. I have been something of a placeless person—so I try to find that in literature, I guess. I seek out books and authors who are very place-specific. For me, in a way, the experience of sitting with a book is the closest thing I have to “home.”
And this reminds me of another Munro line, from her story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”:
There are places that you long for that you might not ever see.
Some places you never actually experience yourself, but are always important in your life anyway, even if you never go. Places you learn about through literature and other people’s stories can take on intense personal significance, as Munro’s Canadian hamlets have for me. I have this second quote written with the lines from “Face” in that big, black notebook; I probably wrote them on the same day. Somehow, I feel like these two passages—because they are about place in literature, and where things happened, whether a physical place or interior place—are what Munro is all about.
In my own work—the way I actually write—place plays an essential role, too. A choreographer I whose work I love, Merce Cunningham, was once asked, “How do you start a dance?” He said, “Well, you have to begin by showing up.” I think that’s brilliant, and it goes for writing, too. You can have all these novels in your head, all these characters and ideas, but if you don’t actually show up to your writing day—the physical place where you get the work done— you have nothing.
The characters, too, need to “show up”—the story needs to happen somewhere. Again, Munro: “Something happened here.” That line could be the epigraph to everything I write. The “here” is every bit as important as the “something happened.” For me, the two cannot exist without each other; setting and character respond to and inform one another.
When I begin writing, I need to have a place. It can be a small: even a single room, though I like to be able to see the layout, the colors, the objects inside. I need to have that stage so that my characters have a place to move around. If I can develop that sense of place—and that other crucial quality, the narrative voice—then I feel sure I will find a story, even if it takes some time. If I don’t have the place, and I don’t have the voice, I’m writing without a motor. It all becomes just words. But once the voice comes, the “here” comes next, and then the “something happened”—what we call plot—follows from it.
In this way, writing becomes a listening experience—a way of being responsive to what you have written, and letting it guide you. Some writers say “the characters come to me,” or the “characters become alive to me at night.” Bullshit. I don’t believe that my characters are alive. But the process requires a form of artistic listening, of understanding the consequences of the decisions you’ve made. If you are lucky enough to find voice and place, there are real consequences to those choices. Together, they limit the possibilities of what can possibly come next—and they help point the way forward. Your role, then, is to not stick to your original idea—it is to be totally faithless to your idea. Instead, be faithful to voice and place as you discover them, and to the consequences of what they entail.
That’s why it’s often more fun fumbling around with notes and good ideas before the writing actually starts—it doesn’t require as much intensive listening. Most writers start out thinking “I’m going to write about such-and-such grand idea.” That’s fine when it’s all up in your head. But the minute you start putting words down, you begin to confine yourself to certain possibilities, and you must be prepared to abandon what you thought you were writing about before.
There is a Norwegian novelist who says “Writers must beware of their own good ideas.” You have this great idea, and then you start writing—and maybe something happens, and your voice starts taking you places. But if you start to think, I’m going away from my great idea, I have this wonderful idea! I need to get back to my idea—you stop following the consequences of the place and voice you’ve chosen. This is a mistake. You see a lot of decent books and plots that are fantastic—the writing might even be really good—but still somehow feel completely dead. I think that’s because there’s a great idea, a compelling premise, but a lack of honesty that can only come from listening closely to your writing. Those beautiful moments when you’ve just got to put the book away for a while because it’s so intense—we have a Norwegian word, smertepunkt, which literally means “point of pain”—can only come from this kind of honest listening. And Alice Munro is an absolute master of it. She dares to take the consequence of a voice, and a place, and follow them to where it takes her.
Place dictates who we are and how we see—this is true in life, as well as fiction. I see it in the way my father wrote about his first impressions of Fårö in his autobiography, Magic Lantern:
If one wished to be solemn, it could be said that I had found my landscape, my real home. If one wished to be funny, one could talk about love at first sight …. This is your landscape, Bergman. It corresponds to your innermost imaginings of forms, proportions, colours, horizons, sounds, silences, lights and reflections. Security is here. Don’t ask why. Explanations are clumsy rationalizations with hindsight. In, for instance, your profession, you look for simplification, proportion, exertion, relaxation, breathing. The Fårö landscape gives you a wealth of all that.
He decided because of the shape and the light and the proportions that this was where he was going to live and work. And that place is the central place in my life, too. I think probably reading these Alice Munro stories right after his death was why I copied over those quotes. They struck me—because he was dead, and also because I was mourning the fact that I was also losing my place. The island, the house on it, that’s all going to disappear now—and all the memories there, too. You cannot separate memory and place. There are certain places, if we go there, either in our writing or in reading or in life, that conjure up our deepest memories. And memories are all about who we are.
I always wondered if it really was my place. That became the big dilemma in the years after my father’s death: Was it my place, or was it his place? Places are always complicated in that way.
The island is not a place that says “Love me. Look how beautiful I am. You’ll be happy here.” It is not a place that tries to charm or seduce you. It’s beautiful in its starkness, in all its different rocky greys. There are old stone formations, called rauks, that are millions of years old. Red poppies grow in the summer. In the winter, there are countless shades of white. The surrounding sea, the Baltic Sea, is a broken sea: it’s losing oxygen, is filmed with algae on it, and very still. A dead ocean. It’s beautiful, but severe. The nature and the temperament of the whole, stark place—yes, you might fall in love with me, but I don’t know if I’m going to return your love ever. I know that I love the place, but I don’t know if the place loves me.
With some of the greatest loves you have, that’s the dilemma you have to live with.
I meant to post this yesterday, for Highmoot, but I was out of the office.
Had an odd dream night before last about a set of murders that woke me up at about 4:00 this morning. In the dream there was a living, malevolent force which, and I kid you not, had twisted the hair of three girls into a weird, almost supernatural looking set of complex braids which I could tell from looking at had been “encoded” in some way. I only saw the partially disentangled braids after the murders had occurred at the various scenes though, so they were altered from their initial appearance. Apparently all three had visited the same salon where the braids had been twisted. Somehow, as the girls slept (all young, in their mid-twenties, and all lookers with no apparent other connections between them) their “braids” had become animated and strangled them in their sleep. All of them however had apparently awakened during the strangulation process. Except for one girl, the braids had slithered down her throat and slowly suffocated her.
Well, upon waking and thinking on it awhile (it was a very weird case and left me with an uncanny and disturbing feeling – you know, like when you’ve witnessed some evil at work and it takes awhile to dissipate) I realized I could use the same idea in one of my Other World novels. So I sketched out the possible scene and here is what I got:
The Samarl of Samarkand (who we would call Prester John) invites emissaries from all of the surrounding people and races to try and get them to ally together (for the first time in thousands of years) against a common enemy and threat he has foreseen. He even openly invites human representatives from the Byzantine empire who have accidentally ended up in his world.
While staying in the capital city and in the palace of the Samarl the ladies of the dignitaries are “attended to” out of courtesy – entertained, feted, etc. including being provided with free clothing for the upcoming counsel (which they are also invited to attend) and having their hair decorated and perfumed. Seven women are invited to be so attended, but one demurs, just out of a sort of uneasy instinct and because her people do not want to be beholding to, and are suspicious of, the Sidh, the Samarl’s folk. On the third night after their arrival all six women are murdered and dead, five by strangulation and the sixth by having been suffocated, all by their own magically woven braids (called Balial – which before this time are considered highly decorative, enchanting, and a sign of great prosperity and Good Fortune). I’ll save the how for both a political and Ilturgical (sorcerous) mystery later in the book.
The woman who refused to be attended survives, of course, but one of the women, the one who had been suffocated by swallowing her own braids, her husband was first killed by his wife’s braid. The murder incident causes a huge uproar in the capital, and a near Civil War breaks out, with some of the represented peoples either fleeing the city out of fear or outright and immediately refusing alliance, suspecting the Samarl or his supporters. A riot breaks out in part of the capital that takes another three days to put down.
This of course has almost exactly the effect that the conspirators behind the episode had envisioned.
But it gets worse. As those ambassadors who have either fled the city or decided against alliance return home they are misled by still more sorcery (Ilturgy) to take “Dead Roads or Dead Ways” (called Iaklits) as their pathways. The Iaklits are actually old and ancient roadways, long abandoned which no one but criminals now use, and even then rarely (because they are considered both useless and haunted), but to the emissaries they seem to be the normal and proper roadways, because of the sorcery and illusions lain upon them.
Upon coming to the still elaborately decorated but partially ruined Chavoeth (a series of ancient bridges that had once crossed mighty rivers) the parties momentarily hesitate and there is a debate. Confused because they don’t recognize the old bridges, but misled by the enchantments and not wanting to turn back they decide to cross. But as they reach the centers of the bridges the illusions fade and the bridges collapse killing many under the rubble but also drowning quite a few in the stinking morasses and fens and pits which the Chavoeth now span. A few survive from each party to tell the tale of both the strangulation murders at Samarkand and of the Iaklits and the traps at the bridges.
None of which has a happy effect upon the efforts of the Samarl (Prester John) to form a Grand Alliance against the approaching enemy.
But all of this happens due to the naiveté of the Samarl and the Sidh, and the other Eldevens (the related Peoples), to understand both what they truly face (they have bred war out of themselves through a long period of unchallenged peace and have become incredibly soft and unsuspecting) and the conspiracy within their own midst. Then rather than recognizing these potential dangers they begin fall to Civil War among themselves completely ignoring the real enemy, both the external one, and the one worming it’s infectious way through their own culture and government.
The Strangulation Braids and the collapsing Bridges and the “Dead Roads” therefore are not just events, they are also underlying metaphors for these facts and weaknesses.
I’m gonna write up a couple of drafts and samples containing basic work-outs of these scenes, maybe starting tonight, but for now I have a nest of wasps to kill and then I’m spending the day with the family.
This is the beginning of a short story about one of my detective characters. Well, he’s really a Deputy Sheriff acting as Sheriff while the real sheriff recuperates from a car crash as the result of a felon fleeing across county lines. This is my Tuesday’s Tale. I give you, Bootin Up Like a Boss.
BOOTIN UP LIKE A BOSS
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
He stopped tying his laces to look up at her.
“I’m bootin up like a boss,” he replied.
“What does that even mean?” she said, exasperated.
“It means, ‘I’m bootin up like a boss,’” he said evenly.
“But you are the boss!” she said loudly.
He went back to tying his laces.
“Funny how that works, ain’t it?” he said.
She paced around the room impatiently.
He finished lacing his boots tight and stood up slowly but gracefully and then he stomped both feet to see how they fit.
“Yeah, that’ll do…” he said out loud to nobody in particular.
She turned to look at him.
“Can we go now?” she pleaded.
He looked at her patiently and then walked to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup.
“When I’m good and ready. I ain’t really finished bootin up yet,” he said. “When I’m proper ready then I’ll let ya know.”
He sat down at his office desk and drank slowly from his cup of coffee. To himself and to all appearances he was alone in the room. Lost in his ruminations.
After five minutes or so he had completely drained his cup. She had tried to interrupt him several times during this interlude but he had silenced her with a single wave of his hand each time. Twice he had raised his hand an instant before she spoke, anticipating her attempts.
When his cup was empty he placed it before him on the old and weather-beaten desk, both palms cradling the still warm ceramic mug.
“Yep,” he said. “That was mighty gratifying.”
Then he stood, walked over to the high-rack and took off his field hat. He twirled it around in his hands a couple of times, running his finger along the brim as if testing it for something. Seeming to be fully satisfied with his investigations he finally placed the hat on his head, slightly askew, then took it back off, ran his fingers through his hair and settled it more evenly upon his head.
“I reckon that’ll work,” he said as if to himself.
Then he turned and looked at the woman as if seeing her for the first time.
“You ready to go now,” he asked, both casually and impatiently.
“What in the hell are you talking about!” she replied heatedly, her face reddening.
“I’m talking about doing my job,” he said as if her reaction puzzled him.
He brushed past her in a long legged stride and as stepped outside he said, “Lock up behind yerself. I ain’t yer housemaid ya know.”
He strolled out into the bright sunshine, looked around him a bit, and then crossed the street once he heard her hurrying up behind him. That’s what bosses did…
Lately I have been compiling the literary allusions that will appear in my Other World novels and inserting those allusions at the appropriate places in the plot structure of MY books.
My novels will have allusions to many previous works of literature but rarely will I quote or mention by name or source the allusion. Rather I will take the allusionary reference from the original source of literature and rewrite it to fit the events of my own novels, yet, nevertheless, the allusions will be there encoded within the works if you know what to look for or if you are familiar with the passages from the original works.
I will include allusions to the following works, among others:
A Song of Ice and Fire, GRR Martin
Acts of the Apostles
Aeschylus (various plays)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Book of the Fallen
Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis
Elric of Melnibone, Michael Moorcock
Harry Potter, JK Rowling
Jonathan Strnage and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke
Le Morte De Arthur, Tennyson
Lyonesse, Jack Vance
Oz Books, Frank Baum
Shakespeare: Henry the IVth, and MacBeth
The Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
The Song of Roland
The White Stag
Thomas Covenant Books, Stephen R Donaldson
As an example of how I intend to insert such allusions into my own novels here are two illustrations of my process of my process:
The Aenied, Virgil
Original Line: “Sleep! Sweet gift of the gods… It was the time when the first sleep invades languid mortals, and steals upon them, by the gift of the gods, most sweet.”
My Line:“And where will you go now?”
“I would lay down upon the ground and go to my death if I could, but failing that I would go to my dreams.”
“To your dreams? And who will you meet there?”
“I do not know, but this is too much and I must sleep. For I am weary and if God himself finds me in my dreams may he finally gift me with forgetfulness of all I have seen and done. That alone would be sweet and meet to me now.”
The Worm Ouroboros, Eddison
Original Line: “There’s musk and amber in thy speech,” said Juss. “I must have more of it. What mean they to do?”
My Line:“Musk scents your voice with something strong and dank, but amber seals and occludes your real meaning. Speak clearly to me now or I will slice open the rank resin of your speech with my keenest hunting knife and peer into your throat to smell for myself your true intent.”
As part of my reading today I came across this passage in a work of ER Eddison:
“My pleasure is my power to please my mistress:
My power is my pleasure in that power.”
Which, compared to the surrounding work, struck me as dull and listless and uninspired. I didn’t like it and thought it could have been much better, comparatively speaking. (If it is indeed a quote cited from another work I have not as yet found the original source.)
So I decided to rework the couplet (and thereafter expand it) to see if I could render a better and more apt and more fit version (given the surrounding context). As an experiment, such as the kind of experiments I did on rewriting verse as a young kid.
This is what I developed:
“My pleasure is my power to please my mistress:
Her power in that pleasure is to my pleasing
Such powers, pleasing to us both
Yield pleasures sweet and e’er unending
In memory and reminiscence all alike To the very powers of those pleasing acts.”
Tonight, while readying my Work for tomorrow I had an interesting idea for a science-fiction short story.
I’m going to call the story, “Breakpoint.”
It sounds like it might be a military sci-fi tale, or maybe a sci-fi espionage story, but it actually has to do with human longevity.
The story will be a sort of reverse Logan’s Run story (I don’t know how many of you are old enough to remember Logan’s Run), in a very loose way. Although it will have an altogether different point and moral.
In the future, for a very peculiar reason, it is discovered that if people over a given age undergo a certain taxing process then they will either die prematurely as a result, or they will reach their Breakpoint, and survive, and by so doing their lifespans will increase exponentially.
That’s all I’m going to describe until I write the story.
So for now I’m gonna go walk Sam and then make out my sketch notes for the story and go to bed.
A Little Murder Story – I was working on this in my mind on my way home from town one night about 11:30 or so. It has some rough language in it, and if that offends you then skip it. (I’m not a big fan of rough language myself just to have rough language, unless it is a matter of realism, then it doesn’t bother me at all.) I couldn’t write it in the car and didn’t have my tape recorder, so I had to reconstruct it from memory. Might not be exactly what I saw in my head, but it’s pretty close.
A Murder Story is as close as a title as I’ve got, but I kinda like that, so I might just stick with it.
It isn’t the full story, as I plan to publish it. But this is my Tale for Tuesday’s Tale.
“Man, you say that shit to me again and I’ll kill your punk ass.”
I sighed. Deeply even.
“Sure kid, I have a bad case of the ‘you scared me already.’ How bout we just go back on point now?”
“I told you, I ain’t got shit to say to you.”
I pivoted. More outta habit than necessity.
“Alright then, let’s try this. I’m gonna wave my left hand in the air and you’re gonna try and track it with both eyes at once. If you can do that it’ll prove to us both that you’re smart enough to do that.”
It took him a second, but I waited through it.
“Mutha-“ he stepped towards me with his chest bowed out, hands by his side, so I raised my left hand and when he looked I hit him in the mouth with my right. He rocked back for a second, kinda stunned. So as he was still figuring the right I elbowed him across the nose with my left arm. He sat down on his knees looking up, his mouth open.
To keep it moving at a brisk pace I caught him by the shoulders, bent him back double, and slammed his head back into the chewed up pavement. Hard enough his skull bounced. Then just to be sure I grabbed him by the sides of the head and did it again.
While he flirted with a concussion I rolled him over onto his stomach and cuffed his left wrist (I had been watching him, he was definitely a southpaw) to his right ankle. He was kinda fat and big boned so it was a bit of a stretch for us both, but I had come prepared for all contingencies. Sure, they always looked funny that way but then again it usually did wonders for cooperation. This guy looked like he’d at least try and dance under duress, once he was moving again, but ya just never knew. Nine outta ten times this setup did the trick.
After that I rolled him onto his side and watched for signs of life. Sure enough he began to display a few. So I pulled out my knife to firm it up a little.
“Okey-dokey, here we go city bang-bang. Now you do believe in blood at first sight? Right? Cause I think this is the part where you tell me all about how you’re gonna saw my head off with my own knife, rape my mother, eat my dog, and commit all of the other higher level functions you’re so expert at. Boo-yah and brimstones! Or, on second thought, we can just skip that part, if it’s all the same to you, and you can go ahead and tell me who murdered the girl. I mean I’m sure you’re frightful and all but that’s my real interest. And I’m salaried, so sooner is better.”
“Man I din’t kill no little girl.” His lip was already swelling and the blood around his nose was already blackening. That would be useful in a minute or two.
I started to step over him and when I did he tried to use his right hand to catch my leg. So I stomped on his hand. Hard. He groaned, I smiled.
“I thought we had a working negotiation. But I guess we’re still gonna hav’ta work out a few mutual misunderstandings. I’ll go first if you don’t mind.”
I kicked him in the solar plexus and all his breath ran out in a huff. I think he also started to cry a little. Sometimes I had that effect on certain people.
“Isn’t this exciting? Now first of all, I said murder, not kill. And secondly I said girl, not little girl. So clearly we’re still having definitional difficulties. But we can work that out. Let’s start over, for old times’ sake.”
I bent down and took my knife and cut his cheap windbreaker off him. Then as he caught his breath I cut his sweatshirt off too.
“Wooo-weeee. That really looks cold. Old Man Winter sure does bite iffin you give him a reason, don’t he? But that’s okay, I just had coffee and a hot Danish. I’m good for an hour or two.”
He spat and cursed some. Wiggled on the icy ground. I waited politely for him to finish.
“Boy, that was an illuminating display. Thanks for that. I’m gonna write that down for later, but for now you just try and track with me for a moment, won’t ya? See, you seem to be under two unfortunate misimpressions about our situation here.
First, I don’t have a murder warrant out on me, nor have I ever done time for a previous murder conviction. Bet you’re wondering if it’s because I’ve never killed a man, or if, unlike you, I’m just good enough to have never gotten caught. Well, we’ll get around to that part later this evening, during the entertainment interlude.
And I guess the second problem is, although I’d think it might be kinda obvious by now, even to you, that I’m not exactly what you’d call a real cop. Maybe I’ve never been a real cop. If we have time tonight we might get around to that part too. Just for giggles.”
“Man, I’m telling ya I ain’t KILLED NO GIRL!” He practically roared the last part and for the first time in our whole brief relationship he said it sincerely enough that I knew he really wanted me to believe him.
“Isn’t that sweet? We’ve finally reached the stage where you care what I think. Or think I care what you say. See, we can make progress. All we gotta do is really work at it awhile. Eventually we’re even gonna get at the truth.
But before that I’m gonna take my knife and cut off your pants. And just before you’re shivering so hard you go numb all over I’m gonna cut your balls off. You’d be surprised at the amount of truth that causes to spill out of a man. So hold on tight now, we might hav’ta go around the block a couple of times before you finally figure out where we’re headed. But I promise ya, it’ll be well worth the effort when we finally get there. And if at any time you wanna take a shortcut then just let me know. Like I said, I’m salaried. So the quicker we get at the truth, the better for everybody. Especially you.”
Written by Jim Beviglia March 9th, 2015 at 8:40 am
It’s been beguiling audiences for a half-millennium or so, perhaps longer than that. It’s been covered by artists ranging from the sublime (Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, The Everly Brothers) to the slightly ridiculous (John Travolta and, in the 1951 Warner Brothers short “Robin Hood Daffy”, Porky Pig.) So what is it about “Barbara Allen” that makes it so enduring and affecting?
The first known reference to this mysteriously captivating folk ballad dates back to 1666, in an entry by the famed English diarist Samuel Pepys. Pepys called it a “Scotch song”, and it flourished throughout the United Kingdom in that era until it was brought to the U.S. by immigrants. As the population of the America slowly spread westward, the song went with it, as noted by famed musicologist Alan Lomax in his book The Folk Songs Of North America. “This ballad, if no other, travelled west with every wagon,” Lomax wrote. “As someone remarked, they sang ‘Barbara Allen’ in Texas ‘before the pale faces were thick enough to make the Indians consider a massacre worthwhile.”
What transpires in “Barbara Allen” is simple enough on the surface. Yet since the lyrics provide little exposition or back story, the reasons for the behavior of the main participants are enigmatic. The song tells the story of young William who, as he lies on his deathbed, calls out for Barbara. She takes her time getting to his side, only to treat him coldly due to a social foul he committed against her at a tavern. On her journey home, she hears the “death bell knellin” and, knowing it tolls for William’s death, suddenly regrets her hardness and knows she will soon die of grief for him.
Harsh stuff, right? Maybe too harsh, even for audiences who were used to Shakespeare’s plays and their numerous deaths. As such, a variant on the song quickly arose that included a leavening epilogue whereby the lovers are buried side-by-side. From William’s grave grows a rose, from Barbara’s a briar, and the two flowers eventually intertwine, providing the deceased pair eternal unison.
It’s whats left out of the song that keeps us coming back for answers. If all William did was drink a toast to the wrong ladies, surely he didn’t deserve treatment so nasty from a girl he truly loved. Or was this single incident indicative of his wayward behavior as a whole? And what changed in Barbara’s mind and heart from the time she left him to when she heard that bell? In that short journey, she transformed from hard-hearted to sympathetic without any middle ground spent in consideration of all that had transpired.
This sort of unexplainable behavior from characters was also emblematic of Shakespeare (think King Lear or Hamlet), so maybe the original writer had that kind of strangeness in mind. It makes the song more psychologically realistic, since we all tend to do things when guided by passion or spite that defy logic and reason.
The murkiness of the motives and the beauty of the melody is an irresistible combination. As such, many legendary contemporary artists have found the song irresistible. Dylan, for one, not only covered “Barbara Allen” at various times in his career, but he also used Barbara’s home base of “Scarlet Town” as a jumping-off point for an equally mysterious song on 2012’s Tempest.
While there have been many powerful and moving renditions of “Barbara Allen”, Art Garfunkel may have given the definitive modern reading on his 1973 solo album Angel Clare. Whatever lesson you take from the song, whether it’s that even a moment of taking the one you love for granted can come back to haunt you, or that life is too short for petty grievances, you’ll likely be mesmerized by the mercy Garfunkel’s ethereal vocal grants these two lovers. It’s just too bad they didn’t show each other that same kind of mercy until it was far too late.
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